The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books




March 2007


Buchnarr, 1494. Ware! Ware! Ware the Book-Fool!

30 March 2007

Cover Story

I am pleased to report that my review of The Darkening Garden. A Short Lexicon of Horror  by John Clute is the cover story of the March issue of NYRSF , with the witty portrait of Clute by Jason van Hollander (see under FUSTIAN ).

Send for a copy of the issue ; send for a copy of the book.

Another post this evening.


Public Transport Reading Project 07

30 March 07 : Hoboken PATH train, four women readers : late forties, Chesterfield coat of black and white houndstooth check and red grid, Shopaholic & Baby  by Sophie Kinsella, hardcover ; and three others, paperback (Me : The Library Window  by Margaret Oliphant ).
Uptown F train, four women readers : young woman, The Secret Garden , paperback ; and three others, paperback ; one man, twentyish, paperback.
Downtown N train, crowded, five men : The Selfish Gene  (Japanese edition), paperback ; technical manual, thick paperback ; The Storm of . . .  by George R. R. Martin(partial sighting), paperback ; and two others ; three women : The Inheritance of Loss , paperback, and two others.
NJ Transit : distinguished older man, Six Frigates. The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy  by Ian W. Toll, hardcover. [HW]


29 March 2007


Mundane Journeys. Field Guide to Color  by Kate Pocrass

I received another great book in the mail, Mundane Journeys. Field Guide to Color , the latest production from Kate Pocrass and Mundane Journeys. This is a scan of the inside front cover and title page :

Mundane Journeys. Field Guide to Color

This book is a direct outgrowth of the earlier book, rooted in careful observation of specific places in San Francisco. The principal focus is upon color in context, and the book makes good use of design cues to embody the integrity of form and function : I particularly enjoyed the play of number and color along the bottom of pages 8-9. The artist’s sense of humor is everywhere apparent, and also of note is the way Pocrass constantly urges the reader to become a participant and not merely a spectator. Some time back my brother had sent me a color card made by Pocrass for a site-specific event, which gave some indication of where her work was going, and her attention to a new order of visual information. This little gem demonstrates that a quantum, evolutionary leap has occured. Pocrass gives us actual tools to see the city (cities) we never see.
The Field Guide to Color  is divided into four sections, Mundane Façades, Mundane Things People Eat, Mundane Systems & Eccentricities, and Mundane Coincidences & Interjections. I enjoyed the look at bubble gum flavors and colors (24-25) ; and the passage about the books on the SF Public Library shelves. The anecdotes accompanying the observations are a little more discursive than in the first book ; which allows the reader see the artist/author exploring the association between color and memory. The methodlogy works : already by the time the morning train entered the swamps of the Meadowlands, I had begun to look (and think) in terms of variations of browns and greys. This is a fun and provocative work — a book whose implications spill beyond its pages.


Public Transport Reading Project 07

29 March 07 : NJ Transit to NYC, white-haired gent on the seat near me, halfway through The Aeneid, Fagles translation (I asked), black hardcover, without dust jacket. (Me : Mundane Journeys. Field Guide to Color ).
Penn Station, NYC, escalator, black-haired gent in dark grey raincoat, Marathon Man  by William Goldman.
Uptown W train, four women readers : Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer , paperback ; Breaking Open the Head. A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism  by Daniel Pinchbeck, paperback ; and two others (paperback) ; one man, skinny book or pamphlet.
Downtown N train, five women readers : twentyish woman with dyed brown and blonde hair, The Twentieth Wife  by Indu Sundaresan, paperback ; young Asian woman, Never Let Me Go  by Kazuo Ishiguro, paperback  thirtyish woman, Dune , (old) paperback ; one man, fortyish, rimless glasses, grape necktie with yellow dots, The Queen’s Fool , paperback. [HW]

28 March 07 : 42nd St. uptown 6 station, stiff-looking fortyish guy, belt too tight, long shirt sleeves too short, reading Tuchman’s The Guns of August , paperback. (Me : old Penguin paperback of Northanger Abbey ). Routine observation / query : Why do so many middle-aged men, mostly business types, favor fat biographies of statesmen ? [TW]


27 March 2007


Public Transport Reading Project 07

It’s SIMPLE !  It’s FUN !  Ask yourself !  Ask others ! 

What BOOK are you reading on the bus or train or subway ?
What COLOR is the cover of the book you are reading on the train or subway or bus ?
What BOOKS have you seen PEOPLE reading on the subway or bus or train ?
Which city or town are you reporting from ?

Please let us know — e-mail to wessells [at] aol [dot] com or by postcard to :
Temporary Culture, P.O.B. 43072, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043 USA

I had been prepared to abandon the public transport reading project until yesterday evening, when, after a day filled with computer woes (has the hard drive in fact devoured itself ? and other joys) I saw two readers on the downtown R train :  a standing woman intent upon Lone Eagle  by Danielle Steele (mass market paperback) ; and a seated woman reading Valis  by Philip K. Dick (trade paperback).  As my friend TW said, it is the exceptions that will prove the most interesting ; but seeing a book that I would rank as one of PKD’s two best (the other being Time out of Joint ) reminded me that there will be other serendipities to encounter.
So once I regained control of my computer, I designed a flyer to print and to hand to people when I ask, What are you reading ?


26 March 2007


The Reason for the Visit

Anonymous Bookshelf

This anonymous bookshelf will serve as visual record of a recent trip. (Early morning, in a moderate degree of haste. Another post this evening.)

Bonus picture from a hotel library :  left behind.

Hotel Bookshelf : Left Behind
  18 March 2007


Livres de Chevet

Livres de chevet

“ Je n’ai pas de livres de chevet : je ne m’endormirais jamais. ” (I have no bedside reading : I would never get to sleep.) — Charles Dantzig, Dictionnaire égoïste de la littérature française .
I do have a bedside table ; and I am reminded that the very first book reviews I wrote for AB Bookman’s Weekly were of Mark Samuels Lasner’s Selective Checklist of the Published Work of Aubrey Beardsley  (Thomas G. Boss, 1995); and of an anthology published by David Godine, Reading in Bed. Personal Essays on the Glories of Reading selected & edited by Steven Gilbar (1995 ; new ed., 2007).

Michael Dirda has an interesting review essay on Howard Waldrop in today’s Washington Post Book World :

Italo Calvino once said that he was “ known as an author who changes greatly from one book to the next. And in these very changes you recognize him as himself. ” Much the same could be said of Howard Waldrop. You never know what he’ll come up with next, but somehow it’s always a Waldrop story.

Old Earth Books are publishing a new collection of stories : Things Will Never Be the Same. A Howard Waldrop Reader. Selected Short Fiction, 1980-2005 . I can’t wait to read it.

  14-15 March 2007


First Things First

Small Beer Press bookshelf disaster. Photo by Gavin Grant
Photo courtesy of Gavin Grant, Small Beer Press

The Week in Books : Readings and Sightings
Reader TW called me up to remind me of the need to enable direct comment on the Endless Bookshelf and to inquire about the dimensions of the Modular Semi-Transparent Plastic Bookshelf and to discuss the ongoing Public Transport Reading Week. How many titles by Sue Grafton do you want to list ?  he asked, it is the exceptions that will prove most interesting.  I said that I had not sighted any  titles by Sue Grafton to date but had learned of authors such as Catherine Coulter.  And if you were to see what I have been lugging around, it would be decidedly exceptional, I said. I’m reading Out of Print & into Profit.  A History of the Rare & Secondhand Book Trade in Britain in the Twentieth Century , edited by Giles Mandelbrote (The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2006). I’m reading that too, remarked TW. Thereby making two of us commuter-readers in the metropolitan New York area and dispelling any notion of exceptionalism. Oh well, someday this project will find its stride.

Out of Print & into Profit  is a hefty, well-illustrated book, twenty-two essays by divers hands. Parts of it are dry as sticks, but three or four of the essays are nimble, funny, and really do try to probe behind the “ discreetly uninformative ” autobiographies and the evasiveness and selectivity of bookselling memoirs. “ Foreign Dealers in the English Trade ” by Arnold Hunt, “ Reminiscences of a Book Buyer ” by Robert S. Pirie, and especially “ Booksellers’ Memoirs : The Truth about the Trade ? ” by Marc Vaulbert de Chantilly are three of the more interesting pieces. I cannot recall so colorful an account of the American bookselling world since David Magee’s Infinite Riches.  The Adventures of a Rare Book Dealer  (Paul S. Eriksson, 1973), and he was a transplanted Brit, too. The best things I have read of late in this mode are The Times Deceas’d.  The rare book department of the Times Bookshop in the 1960s  by Timothy D’Arch Smith (Stone Trough Books, 2003) ; and the recollections and fictions of Driffield aka drif by Iain Sinclair (a moving target glimpsed through a kaleidoscope).

The Life & Death of a Book  by William MacAdams

Literature is a pebble :
The Life & Death of a Book  by William MacAdams, with wood engravings by Frank C. Eckmair (Birch Brook Press, 2003) is another small book that makes large echoes, a reflection on impermanence, literary fashion, and entropy. In deceptively simple prose, MacAdams takes an idea from its origins to its utter logical end ; his honesty is refreshing even while there are aspects of the story that are appalling. Charles Dantzig writes (in the Dictionnaire égoïste de la littérature française ), La littérature est un caillou. Literature is a pebble. . . .  A book can remain closed for a hundred, two hundred, a thousand years, it does not die any more than a pebble does. Well, yes, as long as the book can eventually be opened by a future reader. MacAdams reminds us that for every book there comes a time when there will be no more readers.

Other reading :
The Fate of Mice  by Susan Palwick (Tachyon, 2007) is a collection of eleven stories that play with many of the conventions of fantastical literature. The title story is complex, integrating a feminist viewpoint into a subversive narrative that goes a step or two beyond “ Flowers for Algernon ”. I also enjoyed “ Gestella ”, a werewolf story like no other, but found myself questioning the implications of the second-person singular voice. “ Stormdusk ” (previously unpublished) is a particularly successful deconstruction of a fairy tale from within, a haunting piece with some interesting turns.  “ Beautiful Stuff ” (SciFiction , August 2004) is another that resonates beyond its pages, a tale of surprising courage and honesty : “ Rusty desired that paperweight with a love like starvation . . . ‘I said I’d do the right thing,’ Rusty said. ‘I never said my version of the right thing was the same as yours.’ ” In this story even moreso than in others in the collection, Palwick shapes a different perspective on the world, earning every step of the transition from “ None of that mattered any more ” to “ Enjoy the beautiful stuff while you have it. ” A fascinating and chilling tale.

Bony and The Kelly Gang  by Arthur Upfield (Heinemann, 1960) one of those rare tight-rope novels (like Janwillem van de Wetering’s Hard Rain  and The Japanese Corpse )  where the detective turns criminal in order to solve the murder. This one takes inspector Napoleon Bonaparte to an isolated valley of Irish-Australian moonshiners who do not welcome strangers. Like the remote valley of Waldrondale in Sterling Lanier’s “ His Coat So Gay ” (F&SF , July 1970 ; collected in The Peculiar Exploits of Brigadier Ffellowes , 1977), there is more to Cork Valley in New South Wales than meets the eye ; just how Bony earns, and keeps, the trust of the residents, even while accomplishing his investigation, is one of the pleasures of Upfield’s novel. I sense parallels between the account of the Cork Valley festival and the party thrown by the gangster daimyo in van de Wetering’s The Japanese Corpse .

I note that James Tiptree, Jr. The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon  by Julie Phillips (St. Martin’s Press, 2006) has won the National Book Critics Circle award for best biography.

  7 March 2007


Modular Semi-Transparent Plastic Bookshelf

Modular Semi-Transparent Plastic Bookshelf

The Swallows & Amazons books by Arthur Ransome (and one other).


Finished my review of Portable Childhoods  by Ellen Klages (Tachyon, 2007) for an upcoming issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction , and what a book ! “ In the House of the Seven Librarians ” is a playful, feminist mirror to Borges’ “ The Library of Babel ” : a tale of an almost wholly self-contained universe of books (in a small American town), but a library whose librarians have names, and who are competent to deal with eruptions of the unexpected into their routine, such as an infant girl returned in payment of overdue book fines. Tachyon continues their tradition of outstanding collections of short fiction. Well worth reading.


Bruce Sterling, in his Beyond the Beyond blog, has been finding some interesting signals about the impending death of print (including a good graphic image from the Jeff Gomez blog).  The death of print discussion resembles the death of science fiction discussions that seem to recycle themselves in spontaneous fashion. In some areas — compilations of facts and information that become outdated before the ink is dry — this has been a trend for twenty years or more.  I think the electronic book reading device has a few more iterations to cycle through before it really competes with the printed book.  Anyway, I expect to make a few more books before the medium vanishes.  Even the printed newspaper seems to have a few more miles to go ;  or is the proliferation of free dailies evidence of such overcapacity at printing plants that one must view them as the last swirling leaves before the dead of winter ?

I am reminded of Jim Crace’s first novel, The Gift of Stones  (1988) about a village of flint-chippers at the dawn of the age of bronze. Crace spent time in the Midlands rust belt ; when he read on the radio from The Gift of Stones  he recalled a Birmingham factory worker saying, we’ll always have the steel works. His first book, Continent  (1986), is a collection of linked short stories dealing with an entirely imaginary land. Crace seems fond of the hoax and I turned up his amusing account of a “ ghost book ”, Useless America , on the Crace website maintained by Andrew Hewitt.

Beyond the Beyond is also where I learned about the excellent Strange Maps blog.

  Public Transport Reading Week (continued)

This project, to gather impressions of books that people are reading on public transport :  train, subway, ferryboat, bus,  has not quite come together yet. I need to wear my spectacles (to see titles at a distance), as well as to design a way to engage readers instead of using the stealthy approach. So it is always Public Transport Reading Week.

I will continue to invite readers to send lists (or images) of books seen on public transport to me :  wessells [at] aol [dot] com.


This creaking and constantly evolving blog of the endless bookshelf : I expect that some entries will be brief, others will take the form of more elaborate essays and eventually I will become adept at incorporating photos or comments and interactivity. Right now you’ll have to send links to me, dear readers. [HW]


electronym : wessells at aol dot com

Copyright © 2007 Henry Wessells

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