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Novel Reading: one of the reasons you could be admitted to the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane.
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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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You cannot live in this city together. You must create a new city. Or if not a whole city at least a small space.
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Nick Laird is a phenomenal poet. His book, On Purpose, is available here.
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"This is so good."
"I am so ready to play baseball."
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This is what Quentin is, we start to see, and what Southerners are or used to be: walking concatenations of stories, drawn or more often inherited from the chaos of the past, and invested here with a special, doom-laden meaning, the nostalgia that borders on nausea — the quality that most truly sets the South apart from other regions, its sheer investment in the meaning of itself.
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy’s much-prized effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life’s vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one’s enemy’s book —
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and banks of duds,
These ponderous and seeminly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.
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Happy Bloomsday (tomorrow)!
From tomorrow’s Writer’s Almanac:
The first modern celebration of Bloomsday was in 1954, the 50th anniversary of the fictional events in Joyce’s book, and about three decades after Joyce published his novel in 1922. Irish writers Flann O’Brien and Patrick Kavanagh got together with critic John Ryan and a dentist cousin of James Joyce, named Tom Joyce, to make a daylong pilgrimage around Dublin. They were to have stops at the Martello Tower (the opening scene of the novel), Davy Byrne’s Pub (where Bloom eats a gorgonzola cheese sandwich) and 7 Eccles Street (where Bloom and his wife, Molly, lived). They role-played, acted out the dialogue, and rode in horse-drawn carriages like those described in the scene of Paddy Dignam’s funeral. They were supposed to end up in the red-light section of Dublin, where the 15th chapter of Ulysses ”Nighttown” is set, but the literary pilgrims got a bit drunk and distracted at a pub about halfway through the route and lost their ambition to finish it.
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Umberto Eco is reporting on twitter that Gabriel García Márquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Love in the Time of Cholera, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, has died is alive! As with all twitter death notices, I’m waiting for confirmation. Julieta Lionetti tells me that the Eco account is a fake. Fantastic news.
Although there’s no bad reason for a picture of García Márquez with a black eye on your dashboard. Also, here’s a picture of him flipping off the camera.
The final lines of One Hundred Years of Solitude remain the most haunting and beautiful I’ve ever read in literature:
Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth
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If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated persons would, you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue in favor of wildness of any kind. They beg that people be kinder and more responsible than they often are. It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely. That is because people speak coarsely in real life. Especially soldiers and hardworking men speak coarsely, and even our most sheltered children know that. And we all know, too, that those words really don’t damage children much. They didn’t damage us when we were young. It was evil deeds and lying that hurt us.
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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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