28 June 2010

George's Price

Below is a sample of George Jeffrey's handwriting. He has priced a 5 vol set of Arthur Mee's I SEE ALL( 'The World's First Picture Encyclopedia') once a desirable set which had lost favour even before the web. His usual price was £1 with the long flourish afterwards. £15 was serious money down Farringdon way in the early 70s. I once had the whimsical notion of compiling a monograph on dealer's pricing hands so that you could identify where a book had been bought, but it seemed an endless task with generations of pricers and, over time, 1000s of shops. There are probably a 100 different styles coming out of Hay on Wye alone. Iain Sinclair's neat little signed price (i/s) will one day add to the price of the books that he sold at Camden Passage. Did Orwell price books when he was as a part- time assistant in "Booklover's Corner" in Hampstead? Presumably Nancy Mitford priced books in her time at Heywood Hill and over in Berserkeley Jonathan Lethem must have pencilled in a few prices in his days at Moe's. Joseph Connolly priced books for decades, so far adding no discernible value; Graham Greene was involved with a bookshop or two - but may never have wielded a pencil and rubber.

Occasionally you get a collection where the buyer has left the price in and a neat note as to where, when and in which shop the book was bought. Who could not recognise a book priced by Mr Peake at the Scientific Anglian in Norwich, or the looped 'ff' of George Locke from Ferret Fantasy?

27 June 2010

Lost Bookstalls

No 1. Farringdon Road ( 1870s – 1994 )

There were bookstalls along London’s Farringdon Road from the 1870s, but the ones that collectors alive today remember with affection were a string of stalls run by the Jeffrey family from around 1909 until 1994. In 1932 the journalist Harold Massingham listed some of the volumes that were likely to be found on these stalls:
‘Mammoth folios, Old Strand Magazines, Andrewes on the Ten Commandments, Pindar’s Prolegomena in Olympionicas, A System of Gynaecology, Radium Therapeutics, A New Concordance, Moore’s Navigator, Moody’s Analysis of Railroad Investments, Cowper’s Companion to the Temple, Elinor Glyn’s The Man and the Moment, A New History of Methodism, Gall Bladder and Bile Ducts, Chitty’s Statutes, Booth’s In Darkest England, The Inventor of the Numerical Type for China, A Woman Sold and Other Poems, Tilyard’s Stones of Stumbling, My Friend the Curate, McHenry’s Spanish Grammar, Letters of Joseph Jekyll, The Life of Isabella Bird, Aurora Borealis Academia. ‘
Other grateful customers at this time included Betjeman, his friend Geoffrey Grigson, and the popular novelist Jeffery Farnol. Later on, Spike Milligan, rock music writer Charles Shaar Murray and the West Indian guru CLR James, were regular browsers This was during the early era of George Jeffrey III, an instantly recognisable figure in his blue nylon overall and thermos flask, who had taken over from his father in 1957. Many booksellers built their stock from these stalls. One dealer from New Zealand opened a book and found some letters from Lord Byron enclosed. Cult psychogeographer Iain Sinclair, who had a stall in Camden Passage at that time, found rare modern fiction, such as David Gascoyne’s novel Opening Day in the piles of books dumped onto the pavements at twenty-five pence a throw, and which I regarded with some disdain. Bewick expert Nigel Tattersfield discovered in a box a scribal copy of Thomas More’s Comfort Agaynst Trybulacion dating from the 1530s, but bound in Victorian cloth and priced at £20, which he later sold for £42,000, while a fellow Bewick man, Iain Bain bought the original plates of David Lucas’s Constable’s Landscape Scenery, which ended up at the Tate. Jeffrey sold original drawings too. According to the artist Geoffrey Fletcher someone found a Graham Sutherland drawing among a pile of original artwork. I myself obtained a large portfolio of prints and drawings for a mere £6 only to discover when I got home that half of them were by the portraitist Henry Edridge and the antiquarian Thomas Fisher. Not long afterwards I bought for just £50 an exceedingly rare second edition of Foxe’s Actes and Monumentes ( later dubbed the 'Book of Martyrs'- pic below) dated 1570, complete with gruesome woodcuts of ‘heretics ‘being burned, which is considered almost a Holy relic of Protestantism by American dealers of the Bible Belt, who offer single pages from such early editions for upwards of $200. Here too were numerous 18th and early 19th Court Guides, odd volumes of the Gentleman’s Magazine and the Annual Review and huge Cassini maps of France ( the precursors of our Ordnance Survey maps )from the late 18th century for £3 each . I recall one customer getting stroppy when he thought he had put aside a particular map only to discover that I had already laid claim to it . I seem to recall that I came off worse in that dispute. Some dealers I have spoken to recalled incidents of mild violence arising from such disputes. Many dealers crowding around the stall on the regular Saturday scramble circumvented any possible problems by grabbing any books that mildly interested them from the new stock that Jeffrey dumped on the trestle table. They would then retire like bibliographical squirrels to the nearby wall, leisurely go through their pile and select the few books they actually wanted to buy, before returning the rejected tomes to the trestle tables. I refused to take part in this unseemly ritual, thinking it highly unethical, but no doubt I was the loser by this decision. No-one was sure where Jeffrey obtained his eclectic stock, though judging from the nature of many of the books on sale, and the plethora of bookplates, many must have come from disbanded private and institutional libraries and from retired book dealers. For instance, when the famous poetry bookshop Turret Books folded, much of the stock ended up on Jeffrey’s stalls.

Jeffrey too had a strange attitude towards his stock. If you dared dispute the price of an item he was likely to snatch it back and rip it in half before your eyes. If he caught you stealing you were banned for life. And oddest of all, he seemed complacent about how items he knew were rare were handled by his customers. I distinctly recall the rare American first edition of Washington Irving’s Sketch Book (1819) which was priced at £20, getting tattier and tattier by the week as it passed through hundred of hands over a period of months, until it was almost in tatters. From being worth hundreds it ended up almost worthless and fit only for the bin. And doubtless, over the years, this relaxed attitude towards the source of his livelihood resulted in the relegation of many other once valuable books to the rubbish heap. And indeed rubbish bins in his part of Farringdon Road were a good hunting ground. When the trestle tables had been towed away for the day, it was sometimes worthwhile scavenging among the litter bins for mid eighteen century topographical prints and old book boards.

I was told by one dealer that Jeffrey handled so many books that he couldn’t keep up with the valuation of his stock and that he was probably just happy to make a decent profit from his business. And he did well from his trade, of that there’s no doubt. He was unlikely to have lost sleep over the disposal of the odd Washington Irving first, though I remain to be convinced that he regarded with equanimity the loss of a sixteenth century manuscript worth over £40,000. When Jeffrey at last went to that great book warehouse in the sky the local council took the opportunity to raise the rent for his pitch. His son decided to opt out ---and an era came to an end. [R.M.Healey]

Thanks Robin. Ah George! It is hard to join wholeheartedly in the sentiment about George being a wonderful old character, which he undoubtedly was, as to me he was a fierce and implacable business rival in book clearances and also could not be outbid at auction if he fancied a lot. He used the dangerous but effective cross subsidisation technique. If one lot came in cheap you put the amount saved on the next lot and so on. This can lead to one paying £500 for a lot only worth £300 but it frightens off the opposition. It tended to work, although as the wise dealer Roger Elliott once said--at auction when you get rid of a rival he is quickly replaced, sometimes the next week. On the subject of the More scribal MS George said a wise thing, something to the effect that he could have wasted a lifetime looking closely at his books and checking every unusual item but that was just not his style. Anyone would be slightly peeved to drop £40K (probably about £200,000 now) but he was not inconsolable and Nigel T always told me he was treated just the same afterwards - and found further treasures, but none as handy as the blessed Saint Thomas More...

23 June 2010

Ian McEwan. First Love, Last Rites, 1975

Ian McEwan. FIRST LOVE, LAST RITES. Jonathan Cape, London 1975.

Current Selling Prices
$600 - $1000 /£400-£700

A serious and collectable first edition from one of the big players in the 70s Brit pack of novelists--the others include Barnes, Amis and Rushdie. The New Yorker notes;' It is now a commonplace that McEwan has edged past his peers to become England’s national author.' Movies are made from his books and he has gone from an edgy cult novelist to a mainstream, middle class favourite--is he heir to the mantle of Nigel Balchin, Nevile Shute, C.P. Snow and J. B. Priestley or, as Martin Amis has suggested, a new Conrad ? If the latter then his current prices may rise in time and his early works may be, as several dealers put it, be 'ones for the vault' or 'the pension fund.' Talk of pension funds however usually indicates desperation, or that the price is too high now but you merely have to wait a few decades for a gilt-edged payoff.

First Love, Last Rites, a collection of eight short stories begins with a tale of incest -a boy so intent on losing his virginity that he settles on his sister. Further themes of sex, perversion, and the grotesque run through the stories, three of which have been filmed. Comparisons were made at the time with Roald Dahl, one story 'Solid Geometry' was especially fancied. The New York Times came up with painterly comparisons - "Ian McEwan's fictional world combin[es] the bleak, dreamlike quality of de Chirico's city-scapes with the strange eroticism of canvases by Balthus. Menace lies crouched between the lines of his neat, angular prose, and weird, grisly things occur in his books with nearly casual aplomb."

VALUE? It is hard to find copies in fine jackets for much less than £700 and you may have £1000 for a fine signed copy. There was a well attended signing shortly after publication at the Royal Society of Literature. OUTLOOK? Hard to call--probably good but not spectacular. Most of his books are fairly easily found, he is unlikely now to write a staggering masterpiece--a Magic Mountain or a Lolita or Decline and Fall- his works are said to be becoming very slightly duller. He is unlikely to do a Cormac and appear on Oprah, but movies may lift his prices. He could become the new Graham Greene in terms of collectability, but it seems unlikely. Buy modestly priced copies and hold until death or dotage. His best book is said to be The Child in Time which can be still be bought realtively reasonably.

Although never exactly a bliss-ninny McEwan was something of a hippy with the usual mystical baggage (and even according to Amis several kaftans) and often pictured in a three button hand me down and Lennonish specs. In this century he has fervently embraced rationalism, finds belief in God and the hereafter dim-witted, even abusive and hangs out with Christopher Hitchens (author of God is not Great, I am.) In going into the mainstream, the solid novel researched to within an inch of its life, he has vastly broadened his fanbase and there are those who feel his early works, now relatively scarce, should be priced as if he is a colossus of literature, one seller wanting £8500 for a fine/fine signed first of First Love. Book collectors are remarkably tolerant--if an ice cream seller wanted $25 for a lolly or a gas station $50 a gallon they would be hounded out of town by a braying, bloodthirsty mob. Possibly such dealers are prepared to wait a lifetime for prices to catch up or for a plutocrat collector to lose his mind and hit the buy button. Peter Howard always told me never to criticise another man's prices, because there may be something you don't know about their situation, Driffield used to say there was 'no statagem too strange' for a book dealer to use.

TRIVIA. Three years ago, McEwan culled the fiction library of his Fitrovia mansion. Instead of calling in a nearby bookseller he and his younger son handed out thirty novels in a nearby park. In an essay for the Guardian, McEwan reported that “every young woman we approached . . . was eager and grateful to take a book,” whereas the men “could not be persuaded. ‘Nah, nah. Not for me. Thanks, mate, but no.’ ” The researcher’s conclusion: “When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.”

17 June 2010

Lost Bookshops

‘Ralph the Books’, Swansea ( fl. 1930 – ca. 2007 )

As a schoolboy collector in Wales this was the shop that encouraged my early bibliomania. It was, of course, the bookshop to which Dylan Thomas ( who was the best-known old boy of my school ) sold the review copies for which he had no further use.
Ralph Wishart (1911 – 75) became a friend of the poet and was, no doubt plagued by American academics and young, earnest thesis writers. His shop—if indeed it was the one that Thomas visited—for there was another, much smaller one near the station at the other end of town—was a double fronted, bay windowed affair which went back a long way from the busy street . In each window there was always a display of what were considered to be the more striking books for sale, though these were not necessarily the most expensive. Welsh bibles, bible commentaries, books of sermons and other dull staples of the Welsh book trade of that time often served as stands for more modern, jacketed works on art or travel or whatever. Everything, including the books, seemed coated with dust and the books looked grubby and faded , though the windows were clean enough, but hardly sparkling. Entering the shop one’s impression was of books crowding every surface, even the long counter and under the counter too. On the left wall could be found dull books on Geography and adjoining the shelves small, cheaper books of all kinds were stuffed into a free-standing carousel. Opposite, exactly behind where stood Ralph or his brother—a lugubrious figure permanently clothed in a grubby grey overall-- lurked the best stock, which might have included recondite works in Welsh, modern firsts, cased late Georgian maps, Victorian illustrated books, leather bound antiquarian books on all subjects, and pamphlets. Getting to examine these choice items took a good deal of courage and guile. The space to manoeuvre behind the counter was so limited that placing oneself in a position to examine this stock comfortably involved shoving aside the shopkeeper. I was so conscious of usurping his space that I never felt happy as a browser here—and Ralph or his brother seemed unwilling to accommodate me. [Only available pic of the bookshop, an interior, on left.]

On the shelves next to the best books was the large, deeply dull-looking poetry section. I invariably made a beeline for these shelves in the vain hope of finding some forgotten slim volume from the twenties or thirties among the dross. I soon realised that this was not the place to locate anything of any appeal, and indeed it would seem that books hardly moved from here . I clearly remember seeing one slim volume called Wildtrack remain there for ten years or longer, though in Ralph’s such a non-movement was commonplace. Halfway down the shop on the right was Ralph’s cubby hole, where he presumably stored the books before they were shelved, but where everyone suspected he kept the really expensive stock. People were occasionally invited in for a chat , but not me. Maybe because I was not one of his long-standing collectors or a supporter of Swansea Town. I suspected it was because I was English. In Wales at that time there was a lot of anti-English feeling.

I used to visit the shop each time I came home from University and it always seemed much the same from when I had last seen it. And when I last looked around it in 2002, a few years before it closed for good, it had hardly changed since I had bought my first book there in 1968 . The back of the shop was twice the size of the front and was essentially a cold, dank, ill-lit warehouse with books jammed in from floor to ceiling and an island of books in the centre. Here were stocked all the cheaper fiction, from the classics to forgotten novelists of the late Victorian period onwards---Meredith, Marie Correlli, Dornford Yates, Annie Swan Warwick Deeping, Walpole, Priestley--- with nothing priced at more than 5 shillings or the equivalent. When it rained the roof leaked, showering boxes of books with droplets and creating nasty puddles on the uneven, cobbled floor. But Ralph and his successors never seemed bothered about this threat to their stock. Upstairs were the books in Welsh and the religious works—thousands
and thousands of them, many in attractive leather bindings—and I could never work out if the Welsh books were also religious in nature, despite having studied the language for two terms at school.

At the time it was easy to dismiss much of Ralph’s stock as irrelevant or just plain dowdy. He never seemed to prune the dead wood and I can’t remember if there was ever a bargain box or bargain shelves. But Wales has always been a happy hunting ground for book collectors --especially the larger towns and those with Universities ( ask Richard Booth ) -—and among the dross in Ralph’s shelves could be found books of real rarity. For instance, I bought here a scarce 6 volume pirated edition by Donaldson of Pope’s Works dated 1767, in light calf, which Ralph let me have for £1 17s 6d because, according to him, a rat had chewed off a corner of volume 6. And around 1970 I acquired for ten shillings volume two (July- December 1820) of the exceptionally rare Gold’s London Magazine, which I have never seen again for sale in 40 years of searching in shops and on the Net. This lucky buy introduced me to the writings of the brilliant parodist William Frederick Deacon, whose Warreniana is now recognised as one of the greatest works of its type. I have written and lectured widely on Deacon over the years and even wrote his entry for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography—and all of this I put down to Ralph’s.

Ralph died in 1975 and his brother retired soon afterward, leaving the shop in the hands of a peculiarly charmless younger man, who I was later told, was the son of Vernon Watkins’ cleaner. I don’t know whether this was true, but I do know that the shop was never the same exciting hunting ground in the twenty odd years that he presided over it. [ R.M.Healey]

Thanks Robin. Many of us carry around a lost bookshop in our hearts. For me it was the rambling old bookshop William Smith at Reading. I heard it burnt down about 40 years ago. That is where I first got the taste for finding old and forgotten books. Charles Knight's evocative title 'Shadows of the the Old Booksellers' (1865) comes to mind, although that is mostly biographies of eighteenth-century London publisher-booksellers. It would be good to hear from others of any lost bookshops, I know Robin has more...I have fond memories of the second hand bookshop on the Beach Road in Felixstowe that closed about 30 years back, many a 'sleeper' found there...

12 June 2010

Omar and the Grave Dancers

A strange coincidence occurred yesterday. I was reading about Robert Browning dancing on the grave of Edward Fitzgerald and shortly afterwards on the radio heard Groucho Marx's son talking about how his father danced the Charleston on Hitler's grave--at least in the rubble on top of the bunker in Beriln where Hitler took his own life. Pic of the Fuhrenbunker below. The Charleston is a difficult dance even without having to do it on rubble! Such coincidences are quotidian if you spend your days going through books listening to Radio 4--often you will hear a book mentioned and find you have it in your hand or you have just read a line that someone then quotes...

Dancing on graves is usually metaphorical, however talking of Marx there is a persistent internet rumour that a top young Tory 'flown with wine and insolence' (as Milton put it) recently danced on the grave of Karl Marx. David Cameron is a good candidate but it is more typical of our Lord Mayor Boris Johnson (a good customer at our shop.) Marx is buried in Highgate Cemetery North London and his tombstone bears the carved messages: "WORKERS OF ALL LANDS UNITE," - the final line of The Communist Manifesto. In 1970 someone tried to blow it up with a homemade bomb. Groucho, no stranger to grave dancing, also said that when Communism ended in Russia, he would also dance on the grave of Karl Marx (no relation). Unfortunately, he died in 1977, twelve years before the Berlin Wall fell.

Edaward Fitzgerald's grave is about 15 miles from where I am typing this. It is in beautiful countryside near Boulge in Suffolk. Fitzgerald was of course the translator of Omar Khayyam. The story of the books 'discovery' is well known. Fitzgerald paid publisher and rare bookseller Bernard Quaritch to print 250 copies of his translation; less than 50 are known to exist. They did not sell. After 2 years, Quaritch put them in a bargain box and reduced the price from 5 shillings to one penny. The Celtic scholar Whitley Stokes loaned it to Rossetti, who loved it and handed around the PRB and to poets like Swinburne whence it became the talk of the town. The excellent Stillman Books site points up the 'auspicious events' that occurred to bring this book to the fore:
'If Edward Cowell hadn't been able to interest EdwardFitzGerald in the study of the Persian language in 1852 and brought to FitzGerald's notice in 1856 a Persian manuscript in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, then FitzGerald would not have translated these "Epicurean tetrastichsby a Persian of the eleventh century". If Edward FitzGerald himself hadn't persevered, after being rejected by Fraser's Magazine, and paid to have his first translated version of 75 quatrains published, it probably would have been no more than a scholarly exercise. If, after publication by London bookseller Bernard Quaritch, Whitley Stokes hadn't passed by Quaritch's bookshop and plucked a copy from the "penny box", FitzGerald's book would have died on Piccadilly Street. If Whitley Stokes, well-known as a Celtic scholar, had not given a copy of FitzGerald's Rubaiyat to his friend Dante Rossetti on the 10th of July, 1861, then the translation would not have been introduced to the influential literati of the day...'

The 1859 first edition from Quaritch does not mention Fitzgerald as the translator and can command over £20000, even the second edition, which contains thirty-five quatrains that are not found in the First (which contained 75 quatrains) is also much sought after and can fetch nearly £3000. Copies owned by any of the PRB are much favoured - William Bell Scott's copy with the misprint on page 4, line 4, corrected by Fitzgerald in ink is currently online at $45000 and a copy bound without the wraps in 'a magnificent, ornate binding by Riviere' ( a goblet intertwined with a serpent; gilt peacock borders etc.,) is priced at a punchy $35000. There are collectors of every edition of Omar Khayyam and some magnificent looking books have been produced. At the recent book fairs in London given sufficient credit you could have filled a large station wagon with copies.

I read about how Browning ended up dancing on Fitzgerald's grave in The Ultimate Irrelevant Encyclopaedia (1984). Fitzgerald had written disparagingly of the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and when her husband Robert came across the article years later he is said to have made a special trip to Boulge in Suffolk to dance on his grave. Browning must have been at least 72 at the time so it must have been a rather measured dance. What kind of dance do you do on a grave? Jigs have been suggested, pogo dancing seems suitable, although highly energetic-- the Charleston has a joyous element, gay in the old sense, but it needs considerable practice.

Lastly I came across a poem by Browning that suggests the strength of Browning's animosity:

To Edward Fitzgerald

'I chanced upon a new book yesterday;
I opened it, and, where my finger lay
'Twixt page and uncut page, these words I read -
Some six or seven at most - and learned thereby
That you, Fitzgerald, whom by ear and eye
She never knew, "thanked God my wife was dead."
Aye, dead! and were yourself alive, good Fitz,
How to return you thanks would task my wits.
Kicking you seems the common lot of curs -
While more appropriate greeting lends you grace,
Surely to spit there glorifies your face -
Spitting from lips once sanctified by hers.'

09 June 2010

E-Books: Revolutionizing the College Experience

This is a guest posting from Thomas Warren from the frontline of American campus life--Bookride is always interested in Ebook usage (know your enemy) and we are glad to hear that real books are still used and loved...take it away Thomas...

Amazon Kindle. Sony Reader. Barnes and Noble Nook. Apple iPad. The list of e-readers currently available on the market goes on and on, each offering various options like touch screens, text-to-speech, web browsers, and more. Beyond the hardware lies a dizzying array of books to be had at the speed of download, from current fiction faves like Stieg Larson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to literary classics like Homer’s Iliad. And college students have begun to realize the true potential of these easy access devices.

Textbooks are expensive. At a state school, students can spend almost half the amount of their tuition on the texts they need for class (especially if it just so happens that the professor has written four or five books, all of them required reading). Textbooks are also heavy. The average college student carries around anywhere from 10 to 40 pounds of books in their bag, leading to poor posture, fatigue, and even injury. And this is where e-books come in.

They are often less expensive than buying a textbook new. As a random example, Applied Chemistry: A Textbook for Engineers and Technologists (by H.D. Gesser) costs about $120 for the Kindle version, while buying the book new on Amazon will run about $170 (although it should be noted , it can be had used for around $90). Still, this is a savings of $50, no small amount for most students, and they can have it now instead of paying shipping charges and waiting for it to arrive (meanwhile missing their first week of assignments). In addition, Amazon alone offers over 6,000 textbooks for the Kindle. For students, this equates to one easy haul as the Kindle weighs less than one pound (both slimmer and lighter than an average paperback). It also offers student-friendly features like highlighting, the ability to add notes, and a dictionary function. And with Kindle in particular, there is no charge for wireless access (most others come with Wi-Fi). Buyers could pay anywhere from $200-$800 for an e-reader, but considering most students spend upwards of $500 on books each semester, this price tag doesn’t seem so hefty (especially when the long-term savings are factored in). Finally, students interested in an eco-friendly option will enjoy the fact that all of their books are paper-free (despite the fact that they’re using electricity to charge the darn thing…which is worse?).

So what’s the downside? For one thing, students used to returning their wares to the campus bookstore for cash back will be unable to capitalize at the end of the semester (although for the pittance that is offered, they’ll probably do better with what they save on buying the e-book version). In addition, they may suffer from less tangible effects. Books carry with them a weight that is entirely separate from their physical bulk. There is something comforting in the feel of a book that simply doesn’t translate into a lightweight plastic casing. Books are meant to be held. They show the wear of many readings. They carry their own special history. They can be loaned. They can be passed on through generations. They can be loved.

In the long run, the benefits of e-books for a typical student seem to outweigh the disadvantages. The convenience cannot be overstated. However, for long-time fans of books, the return to paper is inevitable. There is simply no substitute for Dad’s worn, torn, and bent copy of Moby Dick, or the scribbled-in collection of fairy tales that Mom read to you as a child. These books hold a certain nostalgia that no electronic device can mimic or replace and while college students may turn to e-books as a way to make their secondary education a bit more manageable, true book lovers will always come back.

[Thomas Warren is a content writer for Go College, one of the oldest and most trusted resources to guide students on how to finance and succeed in college.]

Thanks Thomas. Wise and timely words from one embedded in campus life. I have heard that Kindle are having a hard time in the lucrative text book field--it's down to the way that people interact with textbooks--they 'use' them rather than read them and the paper book is more suitable for this (albeit more expensive.) One student from Princeton called the device a "poor excuse of an academic tool" in a recent Daily Princetonian interview. One wonders whether there is a class divide with these machines--with preppy Ivy league types swanning around with Ipads in Louis Vuitton leather cases ($350 just for the LV case, Ipads currently retail at about $600) and slackers at Bend University, Oregon with scratched Kindles they have lowballed on Ebay ($91 for a generation 1). Last word, beware off fake Kindles--they work for a while but the battery won't hold a charge properly or they overheat and can even melt…

01 June 2010

Oppose Book Worship!

Among a bunch of books and pamphlets de-accessioned from the Commonwealth Office we found this gem. This was part of a purchase of political and topographical items we acquired in 2009 which included such items as a run of a North Korean news weekly in English with a colour picture of Kim Jong-Il on every page (some unopened in their original mailing envelopes.)

This small pamphlet Oppose Book Worship is the first pocket edition from 1966 of a speech made in May 1930 by Mao Zedong (as he is now known). It seems to be worth a fiver. The amusing left-leaning Bolerium book consortium trading out of San Francisco sum the book up thus - 'Mao's message: "If you don't know what you're talking about, shut up!" ' I had hoped that the book was attacking the mawkish reverence for books that is now so prevalent on web book sites like LibraryThing but Mao has more serious fish to fry. Ironically he is appealing to people to think for themselves and to conduct their own investigations. The word from the Chairman was:
'...Whatever is written in a book is right — such is still the mentality of culturally backward Chinese peasants. Strangely enough, within the Communist Party there are also people who always say in a discussion, "Show me where it's written in the book." ...The method of studying the social sciences exclusively from the book is likewise extremely dangerous and may even lead one onto the road of counter-revolution. Clear proof of this is provided by the fact that whole batches of Chinese Communists who confined themselves to books in their study of the social sciences have turned into counter-revolutionaries... We need books, but we must overcome book worship, which is divorced from the actual situation.'
Another chapter goes into the methods of investigation and 'deep probing' - mainly a matter of discussion and 'fact-finding meetings.' Mao's mantra is - 'to investigate a problem is to solve it' and also 'you must not talk nonsense.' Nowadays it would be 'oppose Google worship...' and as Mao might have said 'whatever is said on the internet is right, such is still the mentality of the culturally backward...'

The first edition of Mao's 'Little Red Book' appeared in May 1964 and within 4 years 700 million copies had been printed. The first edition seems to command about £5000 and does not have to be red. Its title page should look like the pic below and there is much detail about it all over the fallible internet -especially at Bibsite. If you have one 'probe deeply.'