Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Indian author Muk Raj Anand dies

Muk Raj Anand, one of the first Indian authors to master the novel in English, and a fierce critic of the caste system, has passed in Pune at age 99.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Raymond Danowski poetry collection goes to Emory

Emory University has become a significant center for the study of modern English language poetry, with the donation of the collection of Raymond Danowski. More on this soon...

happy idiots burn books Posted by Hello
suit over restrictions on editing

The NYTimes report on a suit against the Treasury Department for restrictions on editing works from a varieties of countries.
where do these remainders come from anyway?

I was recently asked about remainders and the court decision which created them. The facts around the tax decision which created the remainder market, (and also created the "cut-out" record market, if you remember back that far) are pretty dry, but their effect has been profound. The case (IRS vs. Thor Power Tools) was essentially about widgets, and in many ways the application of the the Supreme Courts decision made sense for widgets (which were expected to become obsolete someday, and therefore companies were depreciating them), but not for books (or records) where publishers wanted to keep a backlist in the warehouse to meet demand without having to reprint in small, expensive batches. The decision made it more expensive for companies to keep inventories of all types, and felt the need to a) print smaller runs, and b) dump the inventory which doesn't sell quickly. It also lead to publishers speeding up the cloth/trade paper/massmarket cycle to the point where we see it today, with cloth editions going out of print ridiculously fast.

I had the pleasure of working for Powell's Books Chicago for a few years beginning in the early-nineteen eighties, and witnessed first hand some of the small publisher's warehouses which were emptied as a result of the decision. Sometimes Powell's stepped in to buy the inventory, occasionally unearthing treasures in the process. Two of my favorite examples of this were the small esoteric publisher Open Court and the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. Open Court had a large warehouse filled with titles which stretched back to the 1910's, many still in warehouse paper wrappers, with prices of 80 cents or $1.15 printed on them. Titles included the first English translation of a work by Kant, works on origami, philosophical and scientific work by Ernst Mach, and the eccentric works of the press' editor, Paul Carus .

The Oriental Institute held yearly sales of slightly bruised books, including many stunning folios of various archaeological projects in the Near East. But a few years after the Thor decision, the Institute held a much larger sale, clearing the shelves of many huge, expensive volumes. Everyone I knew at the time bought armloads of the books, and years later I sold mine for a very good profit. Now most of the works sold at the sale are either no longer in print, or only available as expensive reprints or in microfiche.

While the idea of "remainders" had existed prior to the legal decision, every publisher was driven to deal with them (or chose to pulp unwanted inventory, and write off the production costs. The ramifications extended to publisher's relationships with authors, which is its own story. A number of companies like Daedalus, Scholar's Bookshelf, Texas Bookman and Powell's have done a very good job of using the remaindered materials. Some even create books especially for the remainder market, with the annual remainder trade show in Chicago, CIROBE, turning into a major event on its own terms.

Some additional links:

. the actual decision
.. a pretty good technical description of the tax aspects
... a librarian's take on all this
.... effects on small press poetry

Friday, September 24, 2004

a retraction from the ethicist

I couldn't have been the only book dealer horrified by Randy Cohen (the NYTimes' Ethicist)'s column a few months back rationalizing the destruction of Medieval books of hours and the like. The expert opinion supporting book destruction was given by Glenn Horowitz, a dealer I know well enough to think it likely that his response was taken out of context. This past week Cohen retracted his original green flag to book breakers, and it was interesting to note that he mentions no book dealers (but a number of librarians and medievalists) among those who wrote in to correct his stance. I've been fortunate enough to know dealers most of my life who recoil at this common practice of map and print dealers, and who see book breaking as a method of the stupid and greedy. There are, of course notable exceptions, and I recall a recent auction at Christies, where one could feel a sigh of disappointment in the room as an established dealer noted for breaking (and not much else), took home a lovely copy of Redoute's Roses. Unfortunately, a significant part of the buying public remains driven by the whims of decorators, for whom a bird on the wall is worth more than two on the shelf.
a seventh first folio in private hands

The Scotsman reports that a housewife from Bramhall, Stockport has inherited a first folio of Shakespeare from a close relative, the widow of a tailor from North London. This will be only the seventh known copy currently in private hands. The book will be auctioned at Bloomsbury, October 7th. We all like to believe that items like this are out there, in the most unlikely of places, waiting to be discovered, and it's one of the wonderful things about books that they are not only found in the hands of the very wealthy.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

oh for a few grand and more shelf space

There are some types of scholarship which are just slow plods, but which in the end yield magnificent results likely to help us all for years to come. The new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, to be published November 1st, is just that. On what must be a strange publicity tour, both the Guardian and the NYTimes have covered the release. The editor Brian Harrison, in a piece of deserved admiration for his own creation (with the help of over 1000 scholars), describes it as, "a great Victorian monument revamped for the 21st century. It is an important cultural event, and a commercial one, and it has been published on time." One of Harrison's favorite entries is Sir Charles Isham, thought to have invented the British garden gnome. Purchase the DNB now and save 1000 pounds off the post-publication price of 7500 pounds.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

a long interview with Naipul

The Guardian has a long interview with Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipul. It includes this remark on the current state of affairs:

'Well, clearly Iraq is not the place to have gone. But religious war is so threatening to the rest of us that it cannot be avoided. It will have to be fought... there are certain countries which foment it, and they probably should be destroyed, actually.'
new Garcia-Marquez novel on its way

Word on the street is that we will need to wait longer for the two additional volumes of Garcia-Marquez' memoirs. But the good news is that a new novel is due out in a matter of weeks. Titled Memorias de Mis Putas Tristes (Memories of My Sad Whores) it's being described as "a history of love narrated in little more than 100 pages". No word yet on a date for an English language edition.

Friday, September 10, 2004

a 'timeline of timelines'

Sasha Archibald & Daniel Rosenberg's 'Timeline of Timelines' is available online at Cabinet Magazine. The timeline is a visual history of man's attempt to use the timeline itself to explain a myriad of human issues. The relevant efforts of Eusebius, Macrobius, Maimonides, Da Vinci, Spinoza, Newton, Bayle, and many others are charted through to the present. An example is below.

"10th CENTURY - An anomalous graph appears in an edition of Macrobius's commentary on Cicero's In Somnium Scipionis, an analysis of physics and astronomy. The drawing, probably added to the text by a transcriber, plots planetary and solar movement as a function of time. Although the graph does not seem to convey accurate information, it is nonetheless the first known example of changing values measured against a time axis. "
Seamus Heaney on Milosz

Today's Guardian has yet another beautiful tribute to Czeslaw Milosz, this one by Seamus Heaney. It's full of wonderful quotes, as might only be selected by the ear of another fine poet. A new favorite line particularly fresh to me is about the poet who constantly heard "the immense call of the Particular, despite the earthly law that sentences memory to extinction" ("Capri").
site of the week - Weed's London Oz Magazine

My recommendation of the week is for Weed's London Oz Magazine (1967-1973) Index. A complete collection of cover art and tables of contents of the British experimental counterculture mag. Similar to the London Oz Rough Guide, but with better images.
sort of a break

More than a week has passed since my last post, and the interim has included a trip to Maine. We've reclaimed my old apartment, as my friend Bud has moved out to begin yet another chapter in his peripatetic life. Much of our time was spent relaxing at home, enjoying the cool temperatures, low humidity and some meals at home. My one book related activity consited of buying a library of 5000 French books. The books, packed in more than 100 banana boxes are being delivered to my sister's barn in Maine, where I'll sort them and hopefully whittle the collection down to a manageable size. I through a few boxes in the back of the vehicle before I left Maine, and I've already found firsts of Sartre, Maritain and Chekhov, and many interesting oddball printings. The good stuff is still to come, with signed and inscribed literature, as well as large paper copies and other books in their etat definitiv.