Saturday, December 12, 2015

Rare Books Uncovered:
True Stories of Fantastic Finds
in Unlikely Places
by Rebecca Rego Barry
Reviewed by Jerry Morris

The book-hunter whose heart is in his quest never tires of tales of lucky discoveries, and of rare books bought for a song. This is natural enough, and moreover, authentic details of some great find invariably stimulate his eagerness, and encourage him to persevere in the search for what he is repeatedly being told—as though he of all men did not know it already—is only to be met with casually, and by the merest of accidents (32).
                               The Romance of Book-Collecting
                               by J. H. Slater, London: 1898

Books about books is my forte.  And I have a number of books by or about book hunters in my library that I enjoyed reading:  The Book-Hunter by John Hill Burton (1863), The Book-Hunter in Paris by Octave Uzanne (1893), A Shelf of Old Books by Mrs. James T. Fields (1894), The Book-Hunter in London by W. Roberts (1895),  Diversions of a Book-Lover by Adrian Joline (1903),  A Sentimental Library by Harry B. Smith (1914), The Amenities of Book-Collecting by A. Edward Newton (1918), The Book Hunter At Home by P. B. M. Allan (1920), Penny Wise & Book Foolish by Vincent Starrett (1929),  Carousel for Bibliophiles by William Targ (1947), The Adventures of a Treasure Hunter by Charles P. Everitt (1952),  Gold in Your Attic by Van Allen Bradley (1958), Old & Rare: Thirty Years in the Book Business by Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern (1974), and Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone (1997).

And then there is A Gentle Madness:  Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas A. Basbanes (2005).  Looking back, I believe the dust jacket of A Gentle Madness made a statement about the book.  Striking, it was:

And it is the lack of a dust jacket  that makes a bold statement about Rare Books Uncovered:

The word, uncovered, in the title of this book has a double meaning:

This book, Rare Books Uncovered, is not covered by a dust jacket!

This book is about rare books that were discovered in unlikely places.

Yes.  You can add Rare Books Uncovered to the list of books about book hunters that I enjoyed reading.  Thousands of people read A Gentle Madness. And I expect thousands more will read Rare Books Uncovered.

You don't have to be a book hunter to enjoy reading these 52 tales of lucky finds revealed in Rebecca Rego Barry's book.  And you don't have to be a book hunter to find rare and special books either.  Some of the finders whose stories you will read in Rare Books Uncovered didn't know the first thing about book collecting.

But knowing a little bit about books helps to know how fantastic your find is.  Of the 52 finders in Rare Books Uncovered, at least half of them identify themselves as booksellers.  At least six of the finders identify themselves as book scouts, which is a modern-day term for book hunters.  And at least 15 of the finders identify themselves as collectors.  One book collector even describes himself as a bibliomaniac!

Bookwise or not, you will enjoy reading Rare Books Uncovered. And you will even pick up some of the book lingo, for Rebecca has included marginal notes for the "newbie," defining such words and phrases as incunabula, point, doublure, provenance, flyleaf, watermark, printer's device, and, my favorite, an Historiated Initial.  Sounds painful, doesn't it?

It was not painful for some of the finders when they learned the value of their lucky finds—especially the one who found at least $8.9 million worth of comic books while cleaning out the house of a recently departed relative.  This finder was neither a bookseller, a book scout, or a collector.  But it was months before he realized the value of his find.

Of the 52 finds, three were found while clearing out houses, three were found on eBay, three were found at library sales, one was found in a dumpster, another was found in a trailer park, two were found at flea markets, two were found at book fairs, at least four were found in bookstores, and five were found at auctions.  I won't tell you where the others were found, or what the finds were.  You will find out when you read this book.

Finally, did I mention who wrote the Forward to Rare Books Uncovered?  Nicholas A. Basbanes, the author of A Gentle Madness.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Separate Fountains
by Patti Wilson Byars
Reviewed by Jerry Morris

This book is identified as an historical fiction novel—meaning it is a novel describing imaginary events and people.  Tell that to Katie Jane Taylor!  She's the young girl who is the lead character in the story.  The Ku Klux Klan was real.  And what the Klan did in the 1950s was real.  My wife read this book first.  And she couldn't put it down.  I read it and I can't wait to meet the author, who will be the guest speaker at the November meeting of the Florida Bibliophile Society.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Blue Blood
by Edward Conlon,
Reviewed by Jerry Morris

An exceptional book about a "man in blue" in the Bronx.  Blue Blood was written and published before Blue Bloods appeared on television.  And although there are some similarities, the book and the tv show are two separate entities.  Most of the book was an enjoyable and enlightening read. I say "most" because the author didn't spare the pen in complaining about a certain unnamed few of his superiors.  But then again, the book is fact and not fiction.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

One Righteous Man:
Samuel Battle and the Shattering of the Color Line in New York
By Arthur Browne
Reviewed by Jerry Morris

Langston Hughes wrote Samuel Battle's biography, Battle of Harlem, more than fifty years ago.  It was about the life of the first black policeman in New York City.  But no one wanted to publish it.  So Battle had another friend revise the manuscript, and Eleanor Roosevelt wrote the Forward.  Still, no one wanted to publish it.

Now, Arthur Browne, who has probably written more about New York and prominent New Yorkers than anyone else, has gotten Beacon Press to publish his book on Samuel Battle.  Arthur Browne has taken the revised manuscript, interviewed Battle's surviving friends and relatives, researched more, even changed the title, and presented his book on Samuel Battle, not in color, but in black and white—and sometimes black versus white.  Because when you pull the shade up and look out the window on race relations in America, it's not a pretty picture.  I am, of course, referring to Black and White America as it was from the early 1900s to the 1950s.  Or am I?  There will be those who will adamantly refuse to read this book, yet will still sing God Bless America.  Are you one of them?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Groaning Shelf
And Other Instances of Book Love
by Pradeep Sebastian
Reviewed by Jerry Morris

Most American bibliophiles have missed the boat on reading The Groaning Shelf;  it was published by Hachette in India in 2010.   I recently traded duplicate copies of two books in my library for a copy inscribed to me by the author himself. And I'm glad I did!
   Pradeep Sebastian, author of Endpaper,  a column about books which appears in The Hindu, wrote The Groaning Shelf primarily for the bibliophile in India.  But bibliophily has an international flavor, as evidenced by the titles used in this book:  The Pleasures of Bibliophily,  The Browser's Ecstasy, Editions, A Gentle Madness, The Book Eaters, Writers, Ruined by Reading, Loved and Lost, and Bookstores—and those are just the titles of the sections!  Here are some of the titles of the 53 essays: Shelf Life, The Bookman, The Mystique of First Editions, For the Cover Alone, True Tales of Bibliomania, Marginalia (& Other Literary Curiosities), The Book Borrower, A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Library,  A Genius for Suspense, Reading in Bed, Lost Books, At the Museum of Books, The Ultimate Bookshop, and The Book in the Movie (extra kudos for the last one). Pradeep closes his book with an afterword about attending the New York Antiquarian Book Fair in 2010 and meeting Rebecca Rego Barry, editor of Fine Books & Collections, and Nicholas Basbanes, "the collector of collectors," at the book signing table.  In his inscription, Mr. Basbanes referred to Pradeep as "his colleague in India, and a fellow chronicler of the gentle madness."
  A small  number of copies of The Groaning Shelf are available online.  Several booksellers in the UK list Mr. Sebastian's book for $6 plus shipping.  Amazon has two copies listed for $255 each (not a misprint).  And Alibris currently has a copy listed for a whopping $435.90 plus shipping.  Hachette has an ebook version, which is available via Barnes and Noble's Book Nook for $12.99.
   In this bibliomaniac's opinion, Hachette would do well to have one of its American book publishing groups publish a hard copy of The Groaning Shelf —expressly for those American bibliophiles who prefer "book in hand."

Monday, February 9, 2015

Whistle Stop:
How 31,00 Miles of Train Travel,
352 Speeches,
And a Little Midwest Gumption
Saved the Presidency of Harry Truman
by Philip White
Reviewed by Jerry Morris

   This book should be required reading for all those who failed to vote in the last election.  All told, over sixty-three percent of eligible voters never showed up at the polls last November—the worst voter turnout since World War II.
   Only thirty-seven percent of the voting population voted in the 1946 midterm election.  And the Republicans took control of both houses, stopped the New Deal in its tracks, and overrode Truman's veto no less than six times.  Moreover, all of the polsters predicted a Republican takeover of the White House in the 1948 election.  But President Truman had something to say about that, and say it he did, with the help of his newly-organized research team.
   President Truman didn't tell the people what they wanted to hear—he told them what they needed to hear—What the Do-Nothing Congress was doing for the rich and not doing for the people.  Day in and day out, Truman's research term provided him with the facts and the "local inside information" that directly affected the people he met and talked to on his whistle stops.  And the people listened.  And they showed up at the polls.  Fifty-three percent of the voting population voted in the 1948 election.  President Truman was re-elected.  And the Democrats took control of both houses.
   It remains to be seen what our Republican Congress does and doesn't do for the American people in the next two years.  And how many times, if any, they can override President Obama's veto.  They must, however, keep in mind that the handwriting is on the wall, so to speak: in Philip White's new book.
   Do nothing and Hillary will be in the White House.  And the Democrats will take control of both houses—provided they learn to tell the people what they need to hear.
   And if the people listen.