28 March 2010

Collecting John Betjeman

Current Selling Prices
£2 - £2,000+

A friend, the biographer Geoffrey Elborn, once told me how in 1977 John Betjeman awarded him two signed firsts of his books for rescuing a dog from a burning house next door to his own in Radnor Walk. He was visiting the Poet Laureate for the first time when the smell of smoke alerted everyone to a blaze in an upper storey. The emergency services were called, but the police who arrived first refused to enter the house, whereupon Elborn valiantly groped his way through the billows of poisonous smoke to rescue a terrier from a certain grilling.

After returning to his host and downing several medicinal whiskies offered by the poet’s mistress, Elborn was delighted to receive signed firsts of An Oxford University Chest (1938) and Collected Poems (1948), from Betjeman himself. These were suitably inscribed with characteristically jocular references to Elborn as ‘ Chief Fire Officer ‘ and were decorated with helmets, hoses, and other symbols of the profession. Unfortunately, poverty necessitated the sale of these mementoes of a sensational first meeting with the poet, a decision Elborn still regrets. So somewhere out there is a puzzled Betjeman fan who may possibly wonder at the inscriptions in their book or books. He or she will get no enlightenment from the Letters edited by Betjeman’s daughter, nor Bevis Hillier’s exhaustive Life, though Elborn himself has written of the incident elsewhere.

All this brings me to the rarity of certain titles, inscribed or otherwise, by Britain’s best loved poet. There is no question that ( Auden and Eliot excepted ) Betjeman is the English poet who attracts the most interest from collectors, something that unscrupulous dealers cynically exploit. Top of any collector’s list must be Betjeman’s debut slim volume Mount Zion (1931), which was printed in a trade edition for 5s 6d a copy and a deluxe limited edition of 100 for 12s 6d, by the publisher and connoisseur Edward James. The Rare Book Price Guide suggests a sensible range of £500 - £750 for the trade edition, but three of the four copies on ABE are listed at over £1,500, with a signed presentation, but ‘ neatly rebacked ‘ copy from Gekoski selling at a gamey £2,250. Some of the high prices demanded for Betjeman’s second collection, Continual Dew (1937), a much more common title, are even more vertiginous. You can buy a respectable copy from several dealers online for a very reasonable £30 or so , but one carriage trade dealer insists on charging $1,006 for a signed copy in no better condition that most of the others. Betjeman’s first prose book, Cornwall Illustrated (1934),the first title in the Shell Guide series, and an admittedly coveted book, is similarly overpriced. Deighton’s of Bournemouth is the principal offender ( see my blog on ‘Collecting Shell Guides’ ), with their copy a whopping NINE times the price of a similar one offered by Toby English, while two other spiral bound copies come in at $270 and $339 each.

Pursuing this logic, the exceedingly rare three or four titles by Betjeman, all of which were issued in tiny editions, such as Sir John Piers (1938 ), Ireland’s Own (1958) and Some Immortal Hours (1957 )would be, if available, stratospherically expensive, but of course these hardly ever come up for sale, so we’ll never know. Apart from such peripheral rarities, most of the other Betjeman titles were printed in largish editions and are consequently relatively inexpensive, though the intriguing A Handbook on Paint (1939) seems impossible to find, and the Shropshire Shell Guide (written with John Piper) can fetch more than £50. Of the prose titles the best by far remains First and Last Loves (1952), which should be acquired, if at all possible, with its striking wrapper, which is usually missing. Note also the two buggered up book titles on its ‘ By the same author ‘ page.

With Betjeman, it seems that association is all----or nearly all. A presentation copy, especially with a jokey inscription, is always pricey. It would be interesting to see what the Elborn Fireman copies could make if they ever came up. Meanwhile, I’ll just continue to gnaw myself with envy for missing what was surely the Betjeman bargain of the century. Less than ten years ago I was in the saleroom when some Bartholomew maps used by Betjeman while he was editor of the Shell Guides were knocked down for a paltry £100 or so. I forget exactly why I didn’t bid for them, but maybe I hadn’t noticed that they were decorated with the master’s pencil notes and squiggles. At all events, some dealer did well that day, for the maps ended up in the British Library. [R.M.Healey]

Thanks Robin. Wise and pertinent words on this Spring Sunday. Every few years Betjeman is revived and prices go up. One wonders what Betjeman will mean to our ap-happy younger generation in, say, 2025. Will they care about a Death in Leamington Spa or Miss Joan Hunter Dunn and her '...strongly adorable tennis-girl's hand...' ? One hopes so, but I wouldn't bet on it. The highest auction record ever for Betjeman was $6000 in 1996 for the Onassis copy ( Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy) of Summoned by Bells inscribed "Christmas 1960. For Jackie, with love on a memorable Xmas. John". This is closely followed by the great rarity Sir John Piers (Mullingar: Westmeath Examiner,140 copies) and ridiculously rare whimsiana such as Some Immortal Hours: A Rhapsody of the Celtic Twilight Wrought in Word and Water Color by Deirdre O'Betjeman (12 copies 1962). Just now I need these - ship and bill.

23 March 2010

Odd vols / Odd bedfellows

I have finally got round to sorting out a five year accumulation of odd vols. The most common are odd volumes of Churchill's 'magisterial' The Second World War (Cassell 1948 to 1954 6 vols) followed closely by odd volumes of Proust's 'incomparable roman fleuve' the 12 volume Remembrance of Things Past (A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu). Odd bedfellows. Churchill and Proust--the undisputed odd volume kings. Would they have got on? Proust had served in the 76th Regiment of French Infantry (see Powell's 'Proust as Soldier' in Weidenfeld's centenary volume) and was interested in military tactics, so there was some common ground. Somewhere on the web someone claims that WSC never read Proust ('the wrong kind of eloquence') and it is doubtful Marcel ever ploughed through The River War or even Churchill's only novel Savrola. Pic left of Proust in uniform--not exactly Audie Murphy.

Third in line used to be Toynbee's 12 volume Study of History but it is now of so little value that attempts to make a set are futile -odd vols get recycled, tossed or put in the £1 bin. This does not stop the entrepreneurial Bookbarn demanding £99 for an ex-library reprint of the ninth volume. There are a 1000 odd vols on ABE. Across the pond I am told that fellow dealers have to sort out sets of Lincoln and the Papers of John Adams. With Churchills WW2 there is a predictably logical process in their relative rarity. We have 210 odd vols and have made up at least 7 sets from very nice in jacket (£100+) to acceptable and sound sans jacket (£40). Volume one is the most common, closely followed by volume two, volume 6 being the most difficult. Beware- volume two is often a reprint. Churchill signed a lot of sets, sometimes in volume two--signed sets always command a £1000+ even in baleful condition. Fine and fault free sets are something of a rarity, the jackets tend to fade. They are routinely bound up and usually fetch over £400 for handsome examples. American tourists use to buy them almost as a matter of course. For serious money (£2000+) you need Gilbert's 21 volume official biography. Odds of the early Randolph Churchill volumes tend to accumulate but most of the money is in the 'Companion Volumes' (especially the fifth volume- parts 1,2,3.)

As for Marcel, I have 180 odds and made just 4 decent sets. The vast majority are the Philippe Jullian illustrated Chatto edition from 1957 onwards (£60 to £150), then there is the atractive smaller ink blue Phoenix Library edition Traveller's Library (1929 onwards) and the original Chatto / Knopf edition from 1922 onwards, often seen in limited edition. The complete 11 vol set can get into 4 figures (just) but the number punters wishing to pay that sum is unknowable. The newer Kilmartin translation is easily found in 3 fat vols but the 2002 Lydia Davis translation 3200+ pages in six vols is oddly elusive. We sold a copy last year at £150 within seconds of uploading. C.K. Scott Moncrieff's translation still finds favour and other early works by him are also much sought after...

20 March 2010

Collecting John Minton


I guess most people’s introduction to the work of John Minton are those vignette line drawings in Elizabeth David’s first book, A Book of Mediterranean Food (1950) or perhaps her follow-up, French Country Cooking, but I think I first came across his work when I was urged in the early seventies to look out for the bright covers of those Penguin New Writing paperbacks by a fellow student John Archer, who later ended up as head of BBC Arts TV in Scotland. I remember him rooting out three or four copies from a pile of dog eared paperbacks outside a junk shop in Balsall Heath, Birmingham. I took the hint and began myself to seek out copies, which back then seldom cost more than 5p each.

Minton belongs with those other British Neo-Romantic artists—Sutherland, Piper, Craxton, Ayrton, Colquhoun, McBryde, and assorted lesser lights, who seemed to dominate, not only the pages of Penguin New Writing, but just about every other little magazine of the period. All except Craxton have been the subjects of biographies —the two Roberts, Colquhoun and Macbryde, being the latest .The fact that Minton, who was essentially an illustrator, has had the rare honour of being chronicled by the acclaimed Bloomsburyite Frances Spalding, is a telling testament to his cult status.

His greatest influence was Samuel Palmer, though equally had Graham Sutherland not lived it is unlikely that Minton would have developed in the way he did. Unlike Sutherland, Minton would have been too young to have been inspired by the ground-breaking Samuel Palmer exhibition of 1926, though no doubt he came to know Palmer and his fellow ‘Ancients ‘ through the exhibition catalogue and indirectly through Sutherland’s pastoral etchings of the 1920s, which were re-interpretations of Palmer’s vision. And like all his fellow Neo-Romantics he saw the significance of Sutherland’s ‘Entrance to a Lane ‘(1939) as a symbol of an English romantic revival So, Minton’s present popularity seems wedded to that of Palmer-- and as long as the English continue to be in love with the pastoral dream, Minton will remain a collected illustrator. But there are other factors that make him attractive. He was gay and depressed/repressed with it. He had a private income ( scion of the famous crockery company ), which gives him an added allure and he was a veteran of the Soho and Fitzrovian drinking sets, which are also currently in vogue.

He is probably at the height of his popularity just now, if the prices in ABE are any indication. His most celebrated book is probably Time Was Away (1948), Alan Ross’s diary of a holiday in Corsica. Geoffrey Grigson ( who was ambivalent towards neo-romanticism) absolutely slated it in a review, but it cannot be denied that this unremarkable narrative is improved by Minton’s 52 full page illustrations, eight of which are in glorious colour. Expect to pay between £70 and £90 for a copy without wrapper, to double that for a copy with one, though any Corsican bandit might shrink from asking the £250 that Clearwater demands for their near-perfect copy. I think I shelled out forty pence for my wrapper- free copy, but that was thirty odd years ago.

Other high points include the charming vignettes of Arcadian epicurean bliss in the aforementioned A Book of Mediterranean Food by St Elizabeth of David, a perfect first of which retails on ABE at a tasty $1,200,though fans of the artist prepared to tolerate a second impression with or without grease spots could save a bit of cash. Minton also illustrated ( with Denton Welch ) Contemporary Cookery by someone called Doris Lytton Toye. Contemporary novels with Minton illustrations come in at around £40 - £60, though other, more celebrated fiction, such as Alan Fournier’s The Wanderer (1947) at $200 and Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1947 ) at $133 are visually a bit special. Also worth tracking down are copies of the forties arts magazine Counterpoint, which features work by all the usual forties suspects. Copies in poor condition can be had for £30 or less, but mint ones can cost as much as £ 80. But if you are just looking for Penguin New Writing, there are loads of copies around for £2 or less. Lastly, it’s worth keeping an eye out for a sleeper—certain dealers on ABE offering copies of the dull sounding Football Association Book For Boys (1949), for prices ranging from £5 - £30, don’t seem to have noticed that Minton was one of the illustrators. The only one who has noticed is the astute Peter Ellis, who asks a socking $140 for his copy. [R.M.Healey]

Thanks Robin. I always look out for Minton d/ws (mint in d/w). He seems to have done a lot. Above is his jacket for The Scamp by Roland Camberton, one of Iain Sinclair's favourites. Barry Miles has a new book named after the Clash's tedious song 'London Calling.' It is a good account of London's counterculture since the Second World War and John Minton turns up there as a member of the raffish hard drinking Colony Room crowd. Robert Irwin in his T.L.S. review, a sort of kindly hatchet job, says:-
'Miles presents Minton as a “character” who was better at talking than painting, and a man who could not hold his drink. According to Miles, “today no-one has heard of Minton”. Well, I have. I believe that he was a superb illustrator of books, and I do not regard book illustration as a minor art form.
You can buy a Minton painting for less than a 100th of a Freud and 200th of a good Bacon. Whether that is a good investment I'm not sure, art is tricky right now. Best to buy books. A propos des bottes the American bookdealer Breslauer destroyed a Lucian Freud portrait of himself because it was unflattering - he objected to the way Freud had painted his double chin. Breslauer was one of the richest dealers who have ever lived but art history will not look kindly on this act, nor his heirs.

The portait above is by Cecil Beaton. The image middle left is a London Transport poster by Minton from the 1950s.

16 March 2010

Do judge a book by its cover...

Some gratuitous advice for dealers, collectors and people of the book -some of it untested and some possibly erroneous. Inspired by Nelson Algren's three bits of advice in his 1956 novel A Walk on the Wild Side -"Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own." The woman in question may well have been Simone de Beauvoir with whom Algren was in a triangulated relationship, the third person being Jean Paul Sartre. Whether she had more problems than Algren is a moot point. By all accounts Sartre and Algren got on well... Anyway here goes with some bookish advice, caveats and absolute no-nos.

I. Do judge a book by its cover. Don't spend ages looking through every book to see if it is worth buying, avoid the recent books of major publishers, off copies of books of this century, ex library, fat books, memoirs of celebrities, politicians and nobs. Avoid all book club, Reader's Union, Folio Society, Franklin Mint and Heritage books (unless foolishly cheap). Almost all recent novels can be ignored...

2. Don't judge a book by its cover. If you find something worthwhile look under the jacket (if it has one) and check contents for underlinings, non authorial annotations, torn or missing pages, stamps, remants of attempts to disguise their ex library status and simple things like missing rear endpapers. Also look for good things like an unnoticed association, loosely inserted letters, ephemera and $100 bills. Do not, as one of our customers used to do, start shaking books to see what falls out -he was after bus tickets.

3. Don't buy from dealers who threaten legal action in their catalogue descriptions. Can say no more. A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse.

4. Distrust dealers who describe books as 'extra fine.' 'Super fine' is equally problematic. In my opinion fine is as good as it gets, if you want to go one better 'as new' is acceptable. Books in new bookshops are fine, or 'as new' -it can't get any better; 'mint' is also suspect being associated with coins, sometimes comics.

5. Avoid exaggerated or ingratiating descriptions. Anyone who describes Churchill's World War Two as 'very rare' is seriously ignorant or misguided. We also know that WSC was 'a very great man.' Likewise any book where 20 dealers have fine copies is not rare. They may be expensive, in which case they fall into the category 'common rare book.' Anyone buying an expensive edition of Ulysses doesn't want to hear that it is "...perhaps the Greatest Novel written in the Twentieth Century and certainly one of the Rarest volumes sought by collectors. Ulysses is a work of towering genius and of inestimable importance." Resist such blandishments.

6. Take a walk on the wild side. In a new town if you are seeking books don't assume they are all in the main square or even in bookshops. Antique shops and junk shops have to be checked out. Avoid those with grubby old books with notices like 'appraised at $200.' Most appraisers are ignorant slimeballs.

7.Avoid dealers who describe a book as 'good for its age.' It almost always indicates a lousy copy. Condition standards do not change because a book is 50 years old. Even 100 year old books can turn up in fine condition.

To be continued. Suggestions welcome.

15 March 2010

Céline, the Glitter paradox and writing in public...

I have the outlines of a piece somewhere about writers who wrote in public; sadly I cannot work up the enthusiasm to finish it so am using it here. The most famous is J.K. Rowling, writing and keeping warm in an Edinburgh cafe, then T.S. Eliot putting the finishing touches to The Waste Land in a seaside shelter (image below) now the subject of a preservation order -('On Margate sands I can connect nothing with nothing.') Samuel Beckett would write on the back blanks of post office forms while hanging out in Parisian post offices, Scott Turow wrote his first novel Presumed Innocent riding the commuter train to and from New York. The oddest example was told to me by a customer from the Medway town of Chatham. There was a cafe there where Louis-Ferdinand Céline had sat writing one of his novels. He had lived, even married in London, so it was possible. Maybe somewhere in London there is an old pie and mash shop where Rimbaud and Verlaine (residents here in the summer of 1873) wrote poetry.

Celine is of course a towering figure in world lit -Bukowski wrote "'first of all read Céline. The greatest writer of 2,000 years." He was championed by the Beats -both William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg visited him in his Paris apartment during the 1950s and he is regarded second only to Proust among French writers. He became virulently antisemitic - in his 1938 work L'Ecole des Cadavres he calls for a Franco-German alliance in order to counter the pact between British intelligence and "the international Jewish conspiracy". Here you have what I call the Gary Glitter paradox -- do we stop listening to his music because of what we now know about his life? In the case of Celine, his antisemitism has not stopped him being admired by Jewish writers like Ginsberg and George Steiner. In the TLS of 12/2/10 with Celine on the cover ('Once again, Celines hour') George Steiner reviews a new Gallimard volume of his letters. He invokes an amazing story from WW2, possibly apocryphal although Celine is known to have claimed that Hitler was Jewish- it is a scene worthy of Mel Brooks or more likely Quentin Tarantino with the part of Celine played by a demented Cleese:
"At a soirée in the German legation, he leaps to his feet and performs a dazzling imitation of the Fuhrer's voice and gestures, and instructs his terrified hosts that Hitler will lose the war because he is not anti-Semitic enough! The assembled dignitaries are said to have scattered in panic…"
What of Celine values? In my cautious judgement he is a buy and will rise in value. As time goes by the ghastliness of a person's life tends to matter less, and can even enhance interest, he also appears to be joining the list of the giants of the last century along with Borges, Nabokov, Proust, Kafka, Joyce etc., He was admired by Queneau, Jean Genet Le Clézio, Robbe-Grillet, Barthes, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Billy Childish, Henry Green, Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., William S. Burroughs, Ken Kesey. A Canadian dealer wants a gamey £10,000 for a trade first edition of Voyage au bout de la Nuit inscribed to surrealist publisher George Reavey. Although not in good enough condition to tempt French collectors (who are less impressed by signatures than us) it is not totally unthinkable it might sell. In a 1971 George Sims catalogue a Celine manuscript (5 pages from a late work heavily revised) appeared at £35, then the equivalent of £650. If sold now it could make £5000, representing an impressive return. Steiner singles out Celine's late works as masterpieces with scenes which ('using the word with care') can be qualified as Shakespearean.

09 March 2010

Collecting Enid Blyton

Current Selling Prices
£3 to £3000+

Enid Blyton is still one of the most read children’s authors. And that’s official. Although her heyday was fifty or more years ago, children are still lapping up her books, despite the efforts of the PC apparatchiks, including the BBC, who apparently blackballed her ( ‘ fourth-rate, don’t you know ‘) for thirty years. More significantly, adults are still collecting firsts of her titles, which have sold more than 600 million copies worldwide and have ( according to one source ) been made available in 3,544 translations. So, Blyton has answered her critics, at least in terms of sales, even J.K. Rowling, Jacqueline Wilson Helen Cresswell and Roald Dahl have some way to go.

Born in 1897 above a shop in Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, London (blue plaque), the daughter of a cutlery salesman, Blyton trained as a teacher and it was during this period that she published her first story in Teacher’s World aged 20. Blyton’s middle name was versatility. She began with poetry, then in the late thirties turned to adventure stories that catered for all age groups. At the same time she was producing countless fairy stories, pop-up books and other material for pre-school and early school-aged kids, including her best known creation, Noddy. Much of her huge output is not well known and indeed the full Blyton bibliography cannot fail to impress even the most sour-faced anti-Blytonite. It suggests that the woman just couldn’t stop writing, which may explain why she never had time for her own children.

Going against the trend a little, the earliest Blyton titles can be cheaper than firsts of the middle period , rare editions of which in good condition are breathtakingly expensive. Copies of Teacher’s World can be had for a mere £8 and in you can find them, £35 or so will buy you issues of Nash and Pall Mall magazine, where her work appeared in 1917 and 1918.Not surprisingly, her first published book commands a high price. The one copy of Child Whispers (1922), a pamphlet size collection of her verse, in a wrapper is listed in ABE at a very adult $2,400. Skip a year to her second book and the price plummets. Real Fairies is almost identical in format and size, has the same publisher ( Savile & Co ), but there seem to be more copies around and on ABE prices range from £60 for a poor copy of the hardback to £141 for a ‘ super copy ‘ from the Blyton specialists Rose’s & Stella’s Books, who also ask £132 for a ‘super copy ‘of Silver and Gold (1927), another verse collection featuring truly charming black and white drawings by Ethel Everett, a truly gifted artist who deserves to be better known.

Blyton’s greatest creations were of course, The Famous Five, the Secret Seven and Noddy. I was shamelessly brought up on all three, and can still visualise the Eileen Soper illustrations that accompanied the Famous Five books. Most of these adventures were actually published during the last world war, when doubtless children liked to be thrilled by rumours of spies and tunnels to caves and double agents posing as shopkeepers, and mad scientists - all hilariously parodied by The Comic Strip chums on Channel Four ('hot buttered crumpets and lashings of ginger beer') and now sent up in Viz magazine. Most of the stories have dated rather charmingly. I remember being astonished to read around 1962 that the Famous Five had to watch TV in someone else’s house because Uncle Quentin didn’t have a set. We’d had ours since 1951 !

Presumably it’s the well heeled baby-boomers who are now buying the firsts in these series. Five on a Treasure Island (1942) was the first Famous Five adventure, but as with most sought after firsts, on ABE you have to plough through innumerable horrible library copies of sixth, seventh and eighth editions, crayoned-in copies of ditto, charmless paperbacks etc to get to the very few really nice copies in wrappers, all of which fetch big bucks. A dealer in Leicester, an undoubted specialist in this field hass two copies described as having ‘ highly skilled archival restoration.' They ‘ show well ‘, to use his regrettable jargon. He rates this title as ‘very scarce’ and wants a stupefying £3,250 and £3,750 for his copies , two grand more than the price quoted in the current Rare Book Price Guide 2010. Perhaps it’s time the Famous Five investigated his fiendish plans for the Blyton market.

The Secret Seven series seems to be slightly less popular. At Seaside Cottage is rated at a mere £30-40. Others, depending on condition. command modest sums of between £5 and £40.The much collected Mystery Books are similarly cheap, even with wrappers, except for the first title, The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, which is rated for some reason at £650 – £750 with wrapper and a risible £10 without-- a good example of the Brighton Rock Syndrome (BRS)—an incurable condition characterised by an irrational obsession with wrappers ( more of this in a later blog ).

And if you are a true fan of Blyton you’ll probably also want to own some of her less well-known titles. You could, for instance, thrill to the adventures of Jo, Bessie, Fanny and Dick in the queer lands at the top of the Magic Faraway Tree (1943), although you’ll need £1,718 to read about them in one first edition from ABE. Until recently Jonkers had another, which despite a ‘ small swirl ‘ in green biro on an endpaper was priced at around £2,000.

But if all you can afford is a first of Noddy you can secure one for the appropriately small price of £8. The same can be said of the many other more common titles by Blyton, especially if they are child-damaged. The plain truth is that most of her huge output is cheap enough and most bookshops with a children’s section will have firsts, albeit somewhat battered, for £3 or less. [R.M. Healey]

Wise and timely words Robin. I am old enough to remember the fuss about Jimmy Edwards remark that he "liked to curl up in front of the fire with Enid Blyton." It was echoed recently by a row about remarks by Frankie Boyle about another national treasure, Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington, ("like someone who's looking at themselves in the back of a spoon" and worse ). I once had an estate agent's brochure for a mansion that Enid had owned, it was a good size but nothing like Galsworthy's Kingston Hill palace, Hardy's country house or Edgar Wallace's villa. It was bought by a developer, torn down and replaced with flats. No blue plaque there. I used to subscribe to the DNB which tells you how much each person left in their will (especially those who died in the last 100 years). If anyone subscribes, or has the 60 volume set (now only £1500) about their person, they might let us know what Enid left (and Galsworthy while you have the book open.)

I remember being surprised that Agatha Christie left less than £1 million. Possibly Sir Max Mallowan, as an archaeologist, was high maintenance. Edgar Wallace left nothing but debts all of which were paid off within 2 years from royalties. Best selling writers have little motivation to save, as the money rolls in for years, way after their death. We used to have an Uncle Quentin who came in the shop, but that's another story...

03 March 2010

12 Must-Have iPhone Apps for Book Lovers

[Guest post contributed by Anna Miller.] There’s no doubt that Apple has taken the world by storm with its iProducts, and love them or hate them, there’s also no doubt that we admire their beauty and envy their owners. But what’s making more news than the products themselves are the apps that have been written for the devices that this tech giant dreams up every now and then – from useless to must-have, from controversial to boring, and from innovative to also-ran, a host of applications have been written for the iPhone ever since Apple opened up its SDK to third party developers. And if you’re a book lover like me, you’re definitely going to appreciate the apps that have been written with us in mind, 12 of the most interesting of which I’ve listed belong:

1. Kindle: This great app not only allows you to save hundreds of dollars when you don’t want to buy the actual Kindle device, it also allows you to sync your Kindle books on both your iPhone (or iPod) and your Kindle if you do own one. Using this, you can buy ebooks from Amazon and read them on your phone.

2. B&N Bookstore: This app allows you browse through the books available at the online Barnes and Noble store, read their reviews, and also buy and download them to your iPhone.

3. eReader: A popular and free e-book reader for the iPhone, this app allows you to browse through online libraries and bookstores and read any of the more than 100,000 available titles.

4. BookSearch: If you’re worried about the cost of an online book, this app allows you to use either your GPRS connection or WiFi to search for cheaper versions of the book at other stores.

5. Classics: As the name suggests, this app offers access to and lets classic lovers read their favourite books on their phone.

6. IndieBound: This app shows you a list of current bestsellers in both the hardbound and paperback forms. You’re also able to search for traditional bookstores based on the zip code, a feature that allows you to locate your nearest bookstore when on vacation or out of town.

7. Stanza: This app supports the e-pub book format and allows you to download free books stored in this format from various online domains.

8. Local Books: This app allows you to find bookstores and libraries near you – if you love books and want to have constant access to them, this is the app for you.

9. Library List: If you have a virtual library on your phone, you’re bound to love this nifty app – it lets you mark which books you’ve read and which you’re yet to read and also allows you to jot down notes for each book.

10. TomeRaider: This app allows you to download educational e-books and other resources like dictionaries, encyclopaedias and guidebooks that are available in the digital format.

11. SnapTell: If you want to know everything there is to know about a book, this app does the trick – once you click a photo of the book’s cover, you’re provided with details like the price, rating and description of the book. (See left, just loaded it for free--selective but awesome- ED.)

12. Clickwheel Comic Reader: As the name says, this one is for those who love comics – it’s free and brings your favourite characters to your iPhone screen.

[Thanks Anna. Great stuff--have downloaded Stoptell and BookSearch already (both Free.) Anna Miller is a journalist who writes on the topic of online degree. She welcomes your comments at her email id: anna.miller009@gmail.com]

02 March 2010

Iphone Apps

I was in a noisy pub in Covent Garden the other day and through the shouts for beer and the general post work rowdiness I could vaguely hear an old Pogues song coming from a juke box the other side of the room. I wasn't sure what it was called but dimly remembered it from the late 80s. An American fantasy collector I was with held up his Iphone for a second and declared it was Streams of Whiskey a ditty about writer and bevy artist Brendan Behan. What an app! I have an Iphone with a few apps and a few books to read in waiting rooms (300 short stories for £1) but this guy had a 100 apps including one that let him paint like Jackson Pollock. He also had one Iphone for England and another for America to avoid punitive roaming charges. I suspect he has private money.

The posting above is a guest entry by Anna Miller full of useful app info for bookloving Iphone users. What I currently need is an app that works when you point your Iphone at a book - it immediately catalogues it with condition, a puff and the right price, then uploads it to online book malls. A little later it sells it and puts the money in the bank for you. This can almost be done already with books with a barcode on the back (or a good clear pictorial cover - see the amazing Snaptell) but I need one that can handle leather bound books, incunabula and livres d'artistes.

01 March 2010

Bryher. Region of Lutany (1914)

Annie Winifred Ellerman. (Bryher) REGION OF LUTANY. Chapman & Hall, London, 1914.

Current Selling Prices
$1500 /£1000

A serious sleeper and now almost impossible to find. The writer's first book. I once called up the British Library copy and as I recall it is like a little gift book, 16mo in size ( the Bodleian copy gives the height as 13 cms which is taller than I recall--possibly it had yapped edges) published in limp suede covers. I have never seen or heard of a copy in commerce and my evaluation may be cautious. Here are a few lines:

Where is the way to thee, 
Region of Lutany?

I cried to the swallow and lark in their flight,

I cried at the dawn, in the day, and the night,

I cried to the cloud, and the wave, and the tree,

None knew the way to thee,

Mistress imperious,
O thou mysterious

Region of Lutany.

A cryptic poem reading almost as if it had been channelled from another world. I imagine that there are a lot of lutes in Lutany. Bryher mentions lutes in another poem in the book Poem Addressed to Corfu:
Are thy quivering sea-shells an argent lute,

Strung with the whispering amethyst spray,

Breathing such songs to the dawn-lit bay,

That even the wind of the South is mute...

' Bryher' (Annie Winifred Ellerman 1894 - 1983) was born out of wedlock at Margate in Kent; she was her parents' eldest child and only daughter. Her father Sir John Ellermann was said to be the richest man in England (like Nancy Cunard the money was from shipping.) She travelled in Europe as a child, to France, Italy and Egypt. At the age of fourteen she was at boarding school and at around this time her mother and father married. On one of her travels, Ellerman journeyed to the Isles of Scilly off the southwestern coast of England and acquired her future pseudonym from her favourite island, Bryher, home of Hell Bay.

Like many writers and intellectuals of her time she migrated to Paris. With her husband, the American writer Robert McAlmon, she founded the Contact Press. Bryher was an unconventional figure in Paris and was acquainted, even intimate, with Ernest Hemingway. Bisexual, she has been linked with many men and women of that period, including James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach and Berenice Abbott. Her wealth enabled her to give financial support to struggling writers, including Joyce and Edith Sitwell. She also helped with finance for the Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company (started by Sylvia Beach) and started a film company POOL Productions. She also helped provide funds to purchase a flat in Paris for struggling artist Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven the ultra eccentric Dadaist artist and poet. Shakespeare and Co published her brother's anti-public school book Why do They Like it ? also something of a sleeper and one of their very few non Joycean publications. Sir John Ellermann wrote it under the name of E L Black at the age of 16. He also wrote The Families and Genera of Living Rodents. There are two decent copies of the Shakespeare and Company work online at £450 and £500. I sold my last one at £300 in the later Blair years. The highest price being demanded for a Bryher book is a stroppy £2400 for a decent jacketed US first of her 1920 novel Development. This from a firm who seem never to reduce their prices so it may stay as a useful marker until, say, Blair is banged up for war crimes in the Eurozone.

Bryher is now slightly neglected but she has her admirers and her early works are uncommon and collectable. The academic Jayne Marek describes her as an 'invisible' woman". For JM Bryher is 'even less recognized as a writer than a patron: most of her texts are now out of print and have received little critical attention. Her novels, poems, memoirs, and criticism, together spanning much of the twentieth century, form a significant contribution to the development of Anglo-American modernism, particularly through their French and Imagist influences, and their explorations of topics including women's education, gender mutability, psychoanalysis, and film technology...' Bryher's contribution to avant garde and experimental cinema is well documented. With the poet H.D. and director Kenneth Macpherson (her second husband) she started the magazine Close Up, and formed the POOL cinema group to write about and make films. Only one POOL film survives in its entirety, titled Borderline (1930), starring H.D. and Paul Robeson. In common with the Borderline novellas, the film explores extreme psychic states and their relationship to surface reality. Another short film has recently emerged and can be seen in its entirety at the Beinecke Library site. The shadowy shot above is a still from the film Monkey Moon a silent film featuring two of Macpherson's and Bryher’s pet monkeys. Humans are absent with Bryher or possibly Macpherson only seen in silhouette or as a stout pair of shoes (Lobbs?) walking towards the camera. For me it was a very slow 8 minutes - to enjoy it you have to be a monkey person.

Bryher's 1929 book Film Problems of Soviet Russia can make £200, the film magazine Close Up can make £40 an issue and a complete run is valuable and fairly easy to sell... Almost all books published by Pool are worth money and a few are great rarities (mostly by H.D. --rare, but somewhat hard to sell at ambitious prices.) Her second book Lament for Adonis, Bion the Smyrnaean (London: A.L. Humphreys, 1918 ) is currently on the web at a £1000. It is one of a very few copies specially printed on handmade paper, and specially bound, for the author's use. It might sell, but Lutany has a greater caché and can also be sold to collectors of modernist rarities and first books - the Black Tulip of Bryheriana. Her later works, historical novels, are hard to sell -even signed ( I have had 3 signed novels, unsold and online, at modest prices for many moons.) It is gratifying to discover that with all the wealth from her father (her brother got even more and kept a permanent suite at the Savoy) she did so much good. The Wikiman informs us - 'Bryher used her wealth and influence to rescue innocent people, including many writers and intellectuals, from the Nazis during World War II. She was very private about her efforts to assist her friends in their flight from Nazi-occupied areas and so she is not commonly recognized for this remarkable effort.'