Monday, December 29, 2008

The dark side of bibliophiles

One might think of bibliophiles as a friendly lot. Biblio-friends, so to speak. So what did artist Oliver Herford have in mind when he offered up this dark interpretation of, not biblio-friends, but biblio-fiends for A.S.W. Rosenbach's "Unpublishable Memoirs?"

This drawing is from Rosenbach's
Books and Bidders in the previous post.
Click on the image for an enlarged view.

Decorate your mind with books

I'm rereading Books and Bidders, by A.S.W. Rosenbach; Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, 1927. Rosenbach was one of the giants of the bibliophile/bookselling world and any bibliophile would enjoy reading about his book exploits.

I came across a gem of a quote that I wanted to share here. Rosenbach wrote this in the Roaring Twenties, a necessary frame of reference for the quote below. He writes a sentence about increasing wealth in the country and, with it, an increasing appreciation for material things such as old books, old prints, paintings, and antique furniture. Then he offers this:
Books are the final appeal; when the collector is through with the things that decorate his house, he turns to the things that decorate his mind--and these last forever.
I like that. A nice collector metaphor applicable to anyone, collector or not, who opens a book and feeds (decorates) his mind.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas Day Visit to Christmas Cove, Maine

What do Maud H. Chapin and Theodore Roosevelt have in common? They were both authors, autographed one of their books, and donated their signed copies to a little library in Christmas Cove, Maine.

On Christmas Day today, it seems doubly appropriate to revisit The Cowboy Christmas Ball and follow the journey of its author, Larry Chittenden, all the way from Anson, Texas to Christmas Cove, Maine, where he started a very unique library.

The Poet Ranchman of Texas, as Chittenden was known, had a second home far from the panhandle plains of Texas. This unlikely place was Christmas Cove, Maine. Yep, the old rancher, seemingly out of place Downeast, was right at home with his library concept. He got authors to autograph their books and donate them to his little library. The town folk could then check these books out, read them, and return them. Sometimes they might keep them all winter while the library was closed and return them in the spring.

Word got around about this “autograph library” and its donated signed books. It attracted the attention of more and more authors, some some vacationing nearby, who liked the idea and thought it worthy of a donation. One of these authors was Theodore Roosevelt. He may have been the most famous. Can you imagine going to your local library and checking out a book out that was signed by a President?

After Chittenden’s death, the books in the library eventually scattered hither and yon. Roosevelt’s book recently wound up at an auction house in Dallas and sold for $1,434. I found these pictures on Heritage Auction Galleries’ site.

I was able to find and purchase one of the library’s books earlier this year, but it did not have the library label pasted inside the front cover, which would have become one of my bibliophemera collection’s more interesting pieces. Nor was its signature that of a well-known author. My book is Rush Light: Stories, by Maud H. Chapin.

Different from the Roosevelt book are the stamps used to identify the Chittenden library. The front endpaper stamp identifies the library's location as The Autograph Library in the Sea Bird's Nest, Christmas Cove, Maine.

And the rear endpaper sports a different stamp from the front endpaper, inviting readers (in addition to authors, it would seem) to donate signed copies of their books:

Finding one of these books with the Chittenden library markings and author signature makes a nice souvenir of a very benevolent concept that epitomized the spirit of giving in a place with a name that is synonymous with giving.

Merry Christmas and a Happy Reading New Year!

Monday, December 15, 2008

A letter from the Great Depression

Sometimes what you find tucked inside an old book is more interesting than the old book. And when the two work in concert to reveal clues about a life or lives touched by both, an imaginative mind has at its disposal the necessary tools to flesh out the characters and situations that spring to life from old ink and paper. That was the case with this book: How to Criticize Books, by Llewellyn Jones, W.W. Norton & Co., 1928.

I like to do a little time travel when I find something like this. I find it interesting to create an historical context for analyzing the artifact I’ve found and see if there is a story there worth exploring. Here, I think there is, with relevance to the tough economic times many find themselves in today.

Inside the front cover of this book was a letter written about 70 years ago from Horace to Bess in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I don't know where Horace was, but he was very unhappy. I'm guessing Bess is Horace's sister back home and he is thrilled to get a letter from her. I thought she might be a romantic interest until he signed off with "love to you and Floyd."

Two possible assumptions about the letter and the book:
Assumption #1: The book belonged to Bess and she saved her brother’s letter in this book. If so, she was interested in reading writing and possibly had a desire on some level to write book reviews.

Assumption #2: The book belonged to Horace. He was an aspiring book reviewer. He wrote this letter, but never sent it. Maybe because it was too depressing. He stashed it inside one of his books (he evidently read a lot) and forgot about it.
Both assumptions have some common ground, but each veers off into dramatically different stories. I’d love to write a story for each, but for now I’ll just give a general overview of what I found and why it’s interesting to me.

This brief one-page letter reveals many pages about a man struggling psychologically as well as financially. This is a life not being lived well. From Horace's lines, we learn that Bess seemed concerned about his mental state and urged him to focus on the things he has that he can enjoy and don't require money. Evidently, Horace is feeling quite a financial pinch and generally hating his life at the moment.

I also learn in the first paragraph that the things he enjoys are books and music and studying because he states that his present job is so demanding that it keeps him from indulging in them. Except for reading metaphysics. This subject must be important enough to him that whatever free time he can muster will be devoted to reading and studying that subject. From that piece of information, I think I can safely assume that Horace has a nice little stack of books and old 78s for his intellectual stimulation and pleasurable diversions.

The date of the book and the tough times Horace seems to be going through indicate that the Great Depression has a grip on the country and on Horace. The book predates the stock market crash by a year, but the letter could easily have been tucked into an older, used book.

Further down in the letter, Horace critiques a book Bess gave him for Christmas:
It was so sparkling and refreshing that it was sipping a long cold drink. That Margaret Halsey has a flow of language and the most marvelous gift of pertinent synonym.
He goes on to say that although he hasn't had time to read, that doesn't include metaphysics, which he still indulges in, if in an unorthodox way.

So is he the wannabe book reviewer or is it Bess? Sounds here more like Assumption #2 is the likely scenario. This mention of Margaret Halsey is the clue I need to pin down the approximate year this letter was written. Halsey’s first book, With Malice Toward Some, was published in 1938. The Great Depression was in the process of bottoming out after nearly a decade of ravaging the economy and lives of millions.

He pines away for an opportunity to return home to Louisiana or Mississippi (they must have lived in both places growing up) and just have a normal life where he could work for enough to be comfortable and have time to enjoy leisurely pursuits. One of the most poignant lines in the letter reveal his resignation and frustration:
I realize we are always in our rightful places, but it is difficult sometimes to understand it.
His present employer is having trouble, much like his previous employer, whom he names as Saenger Co., which appears to started business as a chain of theaters for both vaudeville and movies in the early twentieth century.

This sad letter finishes with advice for Bess to make a change in her life by leaving Hattiesburg. He believes the change would be good for her. This opinion injects a new idea about just how well Bess is doing. Likely, she is not too happy with where she finds herself at this point in time, else why would Horace suggest a leaving Hattiesburg? I wonder if that change of address would include Floyd?

Also in the closing paragraphs, Horace laments a busted relationship between Bess and her girlfriends, and then Horace lapses into memories of a happier time when he and Bess would visit and play among friends, travel to the Gulf coast, etc. Horace seems to be retreating into the past to escape the present. A sad commentary on circumstances of the day, soothed somewhat by fragmented escapes into the pleasure of a book and memories of a happier time.

I'll never know whether Horace or Bess saved the letter. Whether it was sent or not. Times may have gotten worse before they got better. Did Horace's prospects ever get better? Did he eventually prosper and build a respectable library of books (emphasis on metaphysics, of course!) and music? Did Bess stay in Hattiesburg? Did either sibling ever find happiness?

Parallels to our present economy and its southward sprint of late makes me wonder what current-day ephemera of an unsatisfied or unhappy life will offer a future reader a time-capsule glimpse into that life and today's times. Maybe 70 years from now, sometime around 2075 to 2080, something laid in an "old" book from 2008 will give that reader pause to stop and consider it. And, hopefully, the chain of relevance will be broken, with respect to the economy.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Quiz: Name the authors

For the one or two readers I have on this thing... This husband and wife teamed up to write a book together in the 1980s. Who are they?

DING DING DING... We have a winner! Anonymous correctly stated that the authors are Lynne and Dick Cheney, "America's Sweethearts!" (Anon's comment, not mine). Dick was still a young guy with only five heart attacks and three hunting accidents under his belt.

Here is the 1982 book they co-authored (their photo was on the back of the jacket):

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Message of the Bells

I set this book aside last month in advance of the holiday season. As Christmas is "in the air" now, I thought I'd share it here. The Message of the Bells, or What Happened to us on Christmas Eve, was written and illustrated by Hendrick Willem Van Loon, with music by Grace Castagnetta, in 1942. As it's a small, 16-page book, I thought I'd put the whole thing here for anyone to enjoy. An inscription indicates the book was a Christmas gift. The giver may have had the book's subtitle in mind with instructions to read the book on Christmas Eve, 1942. The story and the publication date occurred during World War II. One wonders what special significance Van Loon's tale had for the original owners of this book during a war-time Christmas celebration... or might have for present-day readers with family members fighting in a war overseas?

Click on the images for an enlarged view in a new window.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Mormons in the Major Leagues

Major League baseball concluded the 2008 season more than a month ago, but now the Hot Stove League is in full swing. After a lengthy layoff from this blog, why not come back with a baseball entry as winter sets in? Here's one of the more unusual titles you'll find in baseball literature: Mormons in the Major Leagues: Career Histories of 44 LDS Players, by Jim Ison; Action Sports, Cincinnati, 1991.

I was actually surprised to learn about which players were Mormon. Many, I grew up watching or following and never once heard anything about them being Mormon. Quite simply, it was not relevant to hitting, itching, fielding or anything else baseball. So why this book?

You'd have to ask the author, but he acknowledges in the book that this project (writing the book) began out of boredom with all the sports card shows he was attending with his kids. He began collecting cards of Mormon ballplayers as a diversion and the interest grew and dveloped into the idea for a lengthy treatment of the subject. I would assume the author is Mormon also. Either that or he came across a Mormon ballplayer and wondered how many others were of that faith.

Not all Mormons who played at the big league level wanted to be included in this book for various reasons, and the author has honored their requests. I found it interesting that one of my Houston Astros players, Alan Ashby (a fan favorite in Houston for years), was Mormon. Had no idea. And there is another Houston Astro connection: Ron Brand, the first Astro to get a base hit in the Astrodome, is also Mormon. Others around both leagues could almost fill an All-Star roster: Harmon Killebrew, Wally Joyner, Dennis Eckersley, Dale Murphy (him, I knew about), and Jack Morris. Pictures of some of these players follow.

Harmon Killebrew

Dale Murphy

Dennis Eckersley

Alan Ashby

Ron Brand

UPDATE: Thanks to Ron at (see comments below), I remembered something I meant to include in this entry. Spencer Adams was the first Mormon to play in the Major Leagues. He played in back-to-back World Series; 1925 for the Washington Senators and 1926 for the New York Yankees. He got to room with Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri. There are a couple of interesting anecdotes in the book I should share.

Quoting the author verbatim: When Babe Ruth was on a trip to Utah, he was asked whether he knew Spencer Adams. Babe said, "Sure I do, he was the best poker player in the American League." This unexpected praise had its origin in a train car carrying the Yankees to a game. The Babe was engaged in a favorite pastime, playing poker. When he needed to leave game temporarily, he said to Spencer, "Hey Rookie, sit in for me." When Babe returned, he was $300 richer!

A second anecdote involved the great Ty Cobb, as mean a player as there ever was. He regularly sharpened the steel spikes on his shoes and intentionally tried to spike any fielder trying to tag him out on the base paths. One game, he came in hard against Spencer Adams at second, spikes flying. Adams held his ground, got the out, and paid for it with scars across his chest that lasted the rest of his life. As Cobb started to leave the field after the play, an angry Adams threw the ball at Cobb, missing his head by inches. This cleared both benches and triggered a screaming response from Cobb: "The base path is mine. If you're in the way, I'll kill you!" And despite Cobb's violent actions, Adams always regretted losing his temper with him that day. Sounds like a class act, but Cobb deserved to get conked on the noggin.