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I’m a bit of a collector of publishing ephemera. From a first edition of War All the Time that Bukowski signed 200 copies of in order to avoid his publisher’s threat to send him on a book tour, to the limited run of F. N. Doubleday’s The Memoirs of a Publisher, I have probably taken my obsession with inside baseball stories a bit too far. That said, nothing prepared me for the incredible gift given to me by my friend Mark for Christmas.
The whole thing is a bit of a regifting, of sorts. The original receivers were friends and acquaintances of Blanche and Alfred Knopf in 1949. For Christmas, the Knopfs asked the Grabhorn Press in San Francisco to design and print 500 copies of the judge’s notes in Commonwealth v. Gordon, et al., an obscenity trial brought against five booksellers in Philadelphia. The case came in response to a challenge by Houghton Mifflin, Vanguard, Knopf, two authors, and a handful of booksellers who decided to stand up for free expression. It’s printed on fine Ingres VGZ paper, cloth bound, with wide, red margins to accommodate the case law citations.
It’s a remarkable bit of history, a lovely insight into the courage of those in the book business, and the tender affection the Knopfs had for beautiful books. It makes me proud to work in this business.
Here’s the full introductory note, written by Blanche and Alfred:
On March 20, 1948, members of the Vice Squad of the Philadelphia Police Department, at the direction of Inspector Craig Ellis, head of the Vice Squad, commenced a series of mass raids upon book stores and booksellers in Philadelphia. Inspector Ellis gave his men a list of books that in his opinion were obscene, and directed them to seize the books wherever found. Fifty-four booksellers were raided, and nearly twelve hundred copies of the books were confiscated.
These raids were remarkable not only because of the scale on which they were conducted, but in several other respects. First, they were directed in major part against books written by authors in the forefront of American literature and published by some of the leading publishers in America. Second, the raids were conducted and the books were confiscated without warrants of search or seizure or court order of any kind. Third, the list of books to be seized was compiled by Inspector Ellis and a patrolman in his office, without consultation with the District Attorney’s office or the obtaining of any legal opinion as to whether the books were obscene under the Pennsylvania statute.
For once the publishers took the offensive. Houghton Mifflin Company, publisher of Raintree County, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., publisher of Never Love a Stranger, and The Vanguard Press, Inc., publisher of books by James T. Farrell and Calder Willingham among those seized, commenced actions in the Federal District Court in Philadelphia to restrain further police seizures of these books and to recover damages from the police officers for their unlawful acts. In these two actions the authors Harold Robbins and James T. Farrell, as well as Charles Praissman, a courageous bookseller whose stores had been raided, joined the publishers as parties plaintiff. The District Attorney of Philadelphia countered by commencing criminal proceedings against five of the booksellers whose stores had been raided, and on June 30, 1948 the grand jury, upon presentation of the District Attorney, indicted the booksellers on a charge of having violated the Pennsylvania statute prohibiting the sale of obscene books.
In the meantime the Federal court cases brought by the publishers had come to trial before Judge Guy K. Bard, and at the conclusion of the trials Judge Bard had enjoined further seizures of the plaintiffs’ books, as well as police invasion of Praissman’s stores or seizure of his books without a warrant. At the time of this writing, the Federal court cases have not been finally decided.
On January 3, 1949, the criminal cases came on for trial before Judge Curtis Bok of the Pennsylvania Court of Quarter Sessions. The defendants pleaded not guilty and waived trial by jury. They stipulated that at the times and places mentioned in the indictments they had had possession of the books for the purpose of offering them for sale to the public. The books were then placed in evidence, and the prosecution rested its case. The defendants “demurred to the evidence,” the effect of which was to raise the issue of whether the court, in the light of the constitutional guaranty of freedom of the press, could hold, beyond a reasonable dout, that the books before it were obscene within the meaning of the Pennsylvania obscenity statute.
Judge Bok reserved decision, and on March 18, 1949 sustained the demurrers and entered judgment in favor of the defendants. Because we believe that his opinion, in which he states his reasons for this action, is, in the words of Bernard De Voto, “a great document in democracy and a great document in human freedom,” we have asked our friends the Grabhorns to give it this permanent and beautiful dress.
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Edited for Rachel being smarter than me: “I also like the subway one much, much better (and have a copy on the fridge) but I think the new ones is Clowes”
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I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day.
When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.
So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.
What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.
And all music is.
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The new biography of Kurt Vonnegut, So It Goes by Charles J. Shields, is up for sale now. I highly suggest you buy a copy.
An audio clip of Shields talking about the book is up on the publisher website, but I haven’t been able to get an embed code.
Update: The good folks at Henry Holt were kind enough to send me an audio embed code for the entire Charles Shields clip. To quote the first chapter of Breakfast of Champions: Listen
Here’s an excerpt:
He [Kurt Vonnegut] called himself a Christ-worshipping agnostic, and went out of his way to criticize religion. Yet on the last day I saw him, I asked, “Do you believe in God?”
"I don’t know," he said, "but who couldn’t?"
Two hours later he fell in front of his brownstone in New York, and collapsed in a coma, from which he never recovered.
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The main effort of arranging your life should be to progressively reduce the amount of time required to decently maintain yourself so that you can have all the time you want for reading.
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If you want your writing to be taken seriously, don’t marry and have kids, and above all, don’t die. But if you have to die, commit suicide. They approve of that.
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“The writer Elizabeth Wurtzel got to know Franzen and Wallace in the mid-nineties. ‘Do you know how there’s some people that when it’s raining it doesn’t rain on them?’ Wurtzel says. ‘On a sunny day it would be raining on Jon Franzen.’”
-from the amazing New York Magazine article Just Kids. Highly recommended.
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Comes out October 25, 2011.
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Two days after finishing Michael Crummey’s Galore, I still cannot get this book out of my head. You won’t be able to either. I can’t recommend you buy this book enough. Here’s why:
I’ve been describing this novel as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude set in Newfoundland. But this description, while evocative, fails to encompass just how grand the story truly is.
Like One Hundred Years of Solitude, Galore is not just the story of a family, it’s the story of a people. It’s not just a tale of settlers on the rocky coast of Canada (indeed, the book is ambivalent to both time and place until its latter half – it could as easily be set in Canada as Nantucket or elsewhere), it’s a tale of how families hew out lives. It’s a pleasure to watch how Crummey takes a story that is both indistinct and mythic in its time and place in its first half and then sharpens until we see the story of Paradise Deep as part of a larger narrative about the evolution of Newfoundland. Like Moby Dick, the setting is almost a character, and it holds its own against some of the most finely wrought personalities I’ve ever read. Of course, Galore also has its share of mystic realism, including, but not limited to, a ghost who falls through a ceiling, an albino mute born out of the belly of a beached whale, and masked revelers who see people’s secrets while stinking drunk. You don’t get much better than that.
Unlike One Hundred Years of Solitude, it’s the women of Galore who carry the novel. Their knowing presence and long suffering act as the story’s center, as the maypole around which the male characters dance. I haven’t read characters as well drawn as Devine’s Widow and Mary Tryphena Devine in a long time.
It’s a beautiful book y’all. I had a chance to meet Crummey a few weeks ago at the Brooklyn Book Festival and my only regret is not having read this book before so I could tell him how great it is. I’ve never been particularly compelled to write about a novel on here, but Galore is an exception. Go out and buy it. You’ll be glad you did.
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I have a friend Peter Osnos, who publishes books, and what Peter told me was that what they call “e-books,” electronic books, are now selling better than paperback books. *laughs* I doubt it, but that’s what Peter says, and he’s in the business.
Andy Rooney hates ebooks.
Under the influence of characters, setting, and plot, a number of artists have recently taken it upon themselves to recreate book covers of some of the most beloved literature, often with fantastic results. Whether it be through illustration or painting, collage or embroidery, reimagined cover art isn’t limited to the cardboard backings of books, but takes on a life of its own that ranges from extravagant and crafty, with kaleidoscopic-colored thread twirling on the page, to simple but powerful, with bold graphic designs and eerie color pallets. And while each piece is aesthetically different, these book covers have one thing in common — they all pay homage to the authors and works we hold so dear. See 20 of our favorite works inspired by the likes of J.D Salinger, The Brothers Grimm and Roald Dahl after the jump.