The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Altered Books

Usually any changes an owner makes to a book are cringe-inducing: inane inscriptions scrawled with a sharpie, underlining every sentence on a page, "yes!!!" declaimed in the margins...

I could do a whole series of posts on egregious sins committed against a book (in fact I think I will. Like the Gatsby 1st I sold with a modern phone number inked on the flyleaf. Grrr).

But this post is about those rare occasions when a book is altered in a good way: Interesting clippings (or ephemera) layed-in, evocative and revealing inscriptions (in pencil), helpful corrections to a plan or recipe. Additions that increase your appreciation or the usefulness of a book.

I saw a term for this once. "Babbittism", I think? It ain't Googling so I probably have it wrong. It was definitely taken from the name of a character in an American fiction classic, likely by Sinclair Lewis....(little help?).

Anyway here are a couple of my favorite examples:

First, a nice 1896 edition of Thackery's History of Henry Esmond in which all of the plates (by artist T. H. Robinson) have been neatly and skillfully hand painted in what looks like water color or some kind of ink wash:

Nice, right? A well-chosen color palette, texture highlights in the clothing, subtle tone variation. This person could "colorize" all my books.

Next a plain and anonymously written pseudo-Victorian sex memoir entitled: Amorous Adventures of a Gentleman of Quality altered by a co-worker to make a bawdy bachelor party or going-away present.

I hope you had a fun night Mr. Frank Martino.

Anyone have any other examples of books artfully altered?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Buffy Spin-off

I'm starting to hear noise that the long rumored BBC Buffy spin-off is back in the works.

Entitled "Ripper" (after Giles' punkish teenage nickname) the show "will follow Buffy's mentor ...after he decides to come out of retirement in his native England to solve ghost stories and other mysteries".

The show is slated for production next year. Something to look forward to. "Cuppa tea, cuppa tea, almost got shagged, cuppa tea."

Hopefully it will follow the standard BBC format of a 6-episode arc with a long break in between. I often thought that Buffy would have benefited from that.

Speaking of Buffy spin-offs, I've been reading Whedon's "Buffy: Season 8", the comic book follow-up to the 7 televised seasons.

It sometimes captures the spirit of the show, but it lays on the fannish detail too thick, and implausibly tries to ramp up a couple of forgotten/secondary characters into major villains. This makes the project feels hermetic in a way that the emotionally and metaphorically rich early episodes of the show never did.

And is it too much to ask for Dark Horse to find competent artists? In single panels the figures resemble the show's cast, but they're so inconsistently modeled, that between panels you frequently lose track of who or what you're looking at. This is a large problem given the importance in Whedon's writing of snappy patter and quirky reaction shots. And forget trying to figure out what kind flip-triple-gainer-limbo-slide Buffy used to get from one place to another. Convincing dynamic action is a lost art in modern super-hero comics.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Monday, August 27, 2007

Best of Lady Churchill's

Bookgasm just posted a review of The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet. It's a collection of fiction and non-fiction pieces from Gavin Grant and Kelly Link's long running slipstream literary 'zine.

I read most of the pieces in their original appearance and you're in for well-selected set of genre-redefining stories.

And a couple of film essays by yours truly.

Pre-order a copy on Amazon here.

Reflections in a Golden Eye

More additions to the pulp fiction cover gallery. This is the last big batch for the moment. My scanner is very tired.

Friday, August 24, 2007

How do you store your books?

So I'm contemplating a move soon and I thought it would be a good time to rethink the way I store my inventory.

Right now I have a 12' X 17' space with high ceilings and I'm at about 2/3 capacity with approx 4000 books.

Here's a photo tour of my "shop".

NOTE: Since I'm the only person who accesses it, my principles are density and organization rather that it ain't exactly pretty.

The shelving is from True Value (I think this is the unit). It's rated at 150 pounds per shelf, 750 pounds total). They're light and disassemble completely so all the shelves fit into a medium-sized trunk. I have them wired to the wall--and together--to delay my eventual biblio-pulverization.

The books are stacked 2 rows deep; divided by first letter of title (excepting articles) and then by size. Large format books go on a separate set of shelves (visible in the foreground).

Here's my packing station. It's pricey metro shelving that I lucked into for free. B-Flute goes on top, plastic roll is suspended beneath, Brodarts and cleaning/restoration supplies go on the lower shelves. For photo sessions, I clip a piece of poster board to my work surface, set up the tripod and I'm off.

Off to the side is my trusty dehumidifier which handles the room nicely, keeping it around 38-42% humidity.

Here's a shot down the left aisle. In the back I have a monstrous filing cabinet (dumpster-dived) where I store all my pamphlets, ephemera and other spineless material. On top of the cabinet are boxes of comics and magazines. These are likely to tear open my innards one day, because I have to reach over my head and unstack/restack them all every time I sell a magazine.

I put these dandy shelf podiums together (2X4s & 3/4 inch plywood) because I needed more space for crap storage. I considered going above the shelves but that would have taken much more lumber. Alice has promised to help me make "skirts" for these, but they're barelegged for the time being.

That's pretty much it.

In an ideal world I world my book room would look like this:

But this isn't that world.

So how do you do it? Send photos if you like and I'll collect them for another post.

Video games for the reflex challenged

This is a fan-created hack of Super Mario World that uses the game's classic platform-hopping physics to create a lazy man's Rube Goldberg paradise.

...and several more here.

Watching these, I realized that Mario is the greatest silent clown since Buster Keaton.

Link via Joystiq and Wii Fanboy.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Recycling Materials

I have a new post over at the Bookshop Blog on stretching/recycling your non-book supplies. Please visit and add more ideas in the comments.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I Came to Kill

Just uploaded a nice batch of new pulp covers, all scanned flat and color corrected. If anyone can identify uncredited artists, I'll update the titles. I'd like this to become a useful reference.

The Hard-Boiled Aesthete

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fever Heat

Guardian: Tony Wilson's Funeral

The Guardian just ran a really touching account of the funeral of Tony Wilson, pillar of the 70s-80s Manchester music scene and subject of the film 24-Hour Party People. Engraved vinyl invitations; A wreath in the shape of a turntable; A black and silver coffin marched to the strains of New Order...I'm all misty.

Convincing Amazon Phishing E-mail

Received a fairly convincing--and shockingly grammatically correct--phishing e-mail targeted at my Amazon account this morning:
Date: 21 Aug 2007 11:50:27 -0000
From: "Amazon Payments"
To: [my e-mail address]
Subject: Billing Issue regarding your account
X-ELNK-Received-Info: spv=0;
X-ELNK-Info: sbv=0; sbrc=.0; sbf=00; sbw=000;

Hello [my e-mail address],

Greetings from Amazon Payments.

Your bank has contacted us regarding some attempts of charges from your credit card via the Amazon system. We have reasons to believe that you changed your registration information or that someone else has unauthorized access to your Amazon account Due to recent activity, including possible unauthorized listings placed on your account, we will require a second confirmation of your identity with us in order to allow us to investigate this matter further. Your account is not suspended, but if in 48 hours after you receive this message your account is not confirmed we reserve the right to suspend your Amazon registration. If you received this notice and you are not the authorized account holder, please be aware that it is in violation of Amazon policy to represent oneself as another Amazon user. Such action may also be in violation of local, national, and/or international law. Amazon is committed to assist law enforcement with any inquires related to attempts to misappropriate personal information with the intent to commit fraud or theft. Information will be provided at the request of law enforcement agencies to ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

To confirm your identity with us click here:[...]
[Actual host:]

After responding to the message, we ask that you allow at least 72 hours for the case to be investigated. Emailing us before that time will result in delays. We apologize in advance for any inconvenience this may cause you and we would like to thank you for your cooperation as we review this matter.

Thank you for your interest in selling at Customer Service

This message and any files or documents attached may contain classified information. It is intended only for the individual or entity named and others authorized to receive it. If you are not the intended recipient or authorized to receive it, you are hereby notified that any disclosure, copying, distribution or taking any action in reliance on the contents of this information is strictly prohibited and may be unlawful. If you have received this communication in error, please notify us immediately then delete it from your system. Please also note that transmission cannot be guaranteed to be secure or error-free.
Looks like they read Amazon's security warning page and tried to cover their tracks as much as possible, including having the redirect begin with

They state that "your account is not suspended" yet because that's too easy to check, but it will be within 48 hours. Also they advise the recipient to not contact Amazon for 72 hours after clicking on the phishing link because it will only "result in delays". Sinister.

A digg user referred to this kind of attack (i.e targeted at a specific user group) as "Spear Phishing". Good term.

Most people with internet businesses should know to never click on an unfamiliar link, even--actually ESPECIALLY--if the source appears legit. You should always search the information independently on the supposed originating site (in this case I just looked on my Amazon seller homepage and saw that there was no such credit issue).

Monday, August 20, 2007

Brian Lehrer Show: Take My Books, Please!

The Brian Lehrer show this morning featured several booksellers in a segment about emotional attachment to books and how to cut the cord when they take over your life.

The pieces was related to a New York Times article by Alina Tugend (which will go behind a paywall soon) and featured: Fred Bass of The Strand; the dude from a Midwestern bookstore who torched his crap stock in an "art" "protest" against declining literacy (his 30-second, incoherent rant proved him every bit the pretentious d-bag I expected); and photographer Marc Joseph who authored a coffee table book on used bookstores called New and Used.

Several callers offered anecdotes from lives walled-in by books and offered tips on letting go.

Interesting listening for those in the trade.

Too late, I overcame my public speaking anxiety and called in. The lines were full. But I posted a comment here. I just realized I forgot two of the best ways to keep your shelves under reign. 1) Give books to friends who you know will read them. Then talk about the book with that friend. 2) Become a bookdealer.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sin Show - Carny Smut

"They Sold Sawdust and Sex in a Rolling Love Circus!"

mmmmmm. Sawdust

After reading a great and inspiring article in Paperback Parade #56 entitled "Carny Cuties and Killers" by Kurt Brokaw, I've been tracking down genre novels set in the carnival/ sideshow world. My first was Fredric Brown's Madball (which I read over vacation) and I just finished Sin Show by Don Holliday (likely a pseudonym of Victor J. Banis).

This one wasn't mentioned in Brokaw's article (it's possible he wasn't looking at under-the-counter lit) but it's worth a read. In the book a carnival barker is trying to buy half interest in the show he's traveling with, which is in danger of foreclosure from a corrupt small-town judge. The barker needs to raise a three grand stake which he attempts through blackmail, seduction and coercion. The barker is an amoral shit but he wants to save the show from the even bigger, towny shit so you kind of root for him.

Holliday doesn't include any of the barker's spiel which was disappointing but there's some nice detail about 1960s carnival games. I also discovered a vintage put-down which I hadn't heard before: when the barker saves a town pretty boy from two aggressive gay clowns, he tells the kid to beat it and that his "feet don't fit no limb". I have no idea what that means but I'm going to use it at the first opportunity.

There's also a really funny sex scene where the barker is pounding away at an over-the-hill, yet stacked fortune teller while feeling around for her stash. "My hands tightened beneath the mattress for leverage as I drove and hammered and thrust and then . . . I found her dough."

I wouldn't read any of these vintage smut titles unless you can take the misogyny and racism with a cinder block-sized grain of salt. The attitudes aren't any worse than films or television of the period, they're just more explicit (which makes them more historically interesting IMHO).

Next up: Side-Show Girl by Steve Harragan and Jungle Girl by John Moore.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Man-Crazy Flappers

I found this great cartoon captioned "O poor man's life in International House" in a 1933 yearbook (click on image for larger version). I believe it was the work of Maurice F. Bilton (who appears in the student gallery).

International House is a graduate and professional residence hall shared by several prominent NY universities. It's meant to foster cross-cultural relationships and understanding. Looks like it was a madcap, screwball place in the 1930s.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

More musing on book packing

I just added a long explanatory addition to the "A Nicely Packed Box" image. It required more thought than one should give to such a topic. Enjoy the fruits of my disorder here.

Professional Courtesies

Ian Kahn of Lux Mentis, Lux Orbis published a useful post on bookseller to bookseller business etiquette. I don't do a lot of face to face buying and selling so the only one of these folkways I've encountered myself (and abide by) is the dealer discount but this post is a great reference should these situations come up.

One rule that I made for myself is that when I trade in books at a B+M store, I always go over my credit so I'm giving them a bit of cash. It makes them more receptive when I keep coming back.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Amazon's self-publishing and galleys program

According to PW, Amazon is launching two interesting new initiatives: a self-publishing service and a program to distribute galleys to "elite" reader/reviewers (based on user rankings).

If anyone is participating in these programs, I'd love to hear about it.

Bookmobile circa 1940s-50s

Reader Nathan just sent in this great image of a formidable 1940s-50s era bookmobile that he found in a batch of old estate sale photos. He hazards that it's from Silver Springs, MD judging from the "Montgomery County" stenciled on the side of the truck and some details in accompanying photos.

According to Wikipedia the first Bookmobile in the United States was conceived and deployed in Washington County, Maryland so this beast of a vehicle has a long pedigree.

If Clint Eastwood was playing a tough-as-nails librarian in The Gauntlet this would have been his ride.

Anyone have any old photos from inside one of these behemoths of literacy?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Wee Naked People

I've been collecting Rockwell Kent ever since I first discovered his stunning illustrations for Moby-Dick (haven't landed the Lakeside Press edition yet but one day...).

Looking through the Strand dollar tables, I came across a beat-up copy of Candide that Kent did for the Literary Guild in 1929. Not a work that moves me particularly, but Kent's illustrations are gruesome and funny so I picked it up.

On closer examination I noticed that not only had Kent done a spot illustration for every page he also designed tiny nude figures that cavort in the type.

and the full page here.

Annoying as hell to read but a cool and unique example of book design. Wish I could make them into a font.

COMPLETE TANGENT WARNING: I heard another right-wing, douche-bag defending a "The Cannon" on the radio the other day. As usual he trotted out Melville. Have they read Moby-Dick? A protagonist who owns nothing, sleeps with Cannibals, and has an enormous love for nature; A ship of state run by a monomaniac who will sacrifice anything and everything for an irrational vendetta? Doesn't really reinforce the party line. At least Ahab would have found Osama.

Found in a Book: Broken Tennis Racket Charm

Just found this broken tennis racket charm stuffed inside The Beginnings of New England; or the Puritan Theocracy in Its Relations to Civil and Religious Liberty by John Fiske 1889. Definitely one of the less likely items I've found used as a bookmark.

I've yet to see a strip of bacon used to mark a page yet but I expect to any day.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Bookshop Blog Contributor

I was recently invited to contribute to the Bookshop Blog, maintained by Zeeba Books of Montreal. If you're not reading it already, BSB is a clearing-house for useful ideas and resources for the bookseller (both online and B&M). It's only a few weeks old, but there are already a number of valuable articles posted.

My first post for BSB went up today. It's a short testimonial on why you should always look through the ad pages at the rear of old books (thanks to the BSB editor for providing the graphic).

I'll continue my free associative ranting here and send any self-contained, polished nuggets of wisdom I turn up over to the Bookshop Blog.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Sexy Picture

Kirsten Berg, over at the Powell's Books Blog recently posted on the Care and Feeding of Your Books and included this stirring "visible" photo of "A Nicely Packed Box" of books.

Delicious. This is my new desktop background.

Even as a green, untrained youth, I always packed boxes like this. I came to books from a very OCD, comic-book collector's mentality so I have my once near-complete collection of the appearances of Dr. Doom to thank for my formidable packing chops.

UPDATE: A reader asked that I explain why this is proper way to box books. This is a bit like explaining how to breathe for me but I'll give it a try.

The horizontal stacking distributes the pressure evenly. It keeps the boards flat and prevents/cures warping.

The vertical books in between fill the void space in the box which minimizes shifting and prevents the corners and page edges of the horizontal books from bumping together. The vertical books should always go on end (as if on a bookshelf). If you place them open-side down, eventually the weight of the text block will weaken the hinges and binding.

The vertical books should never extend higher than the horizontal stacks, otherwise the box you place on top will mash them.

Always fill your boxes to the top edge (but not beyond) otherwise the boxes will compress and split when stacked. If you don't have enough books to fill your last box, mark on the outside that it should go on top.

If you any have large, folio volumes keep them together. Mixing them into boxes with average size books can apply uneven pressure and deform the larger books

Seal your boxes with tape and try to avoid the "criss-cross" method (which has caused me to destroy a delicate paperback or two).

If you have to stack books in a damp/musty environment for any length of time:
A) don't
B) keep them off the floor/ground on a table or palette
C) Add desiccant packets
D) Get them back into a humidity controlled environment ASAP

Lastly (and this isn't pictured) if you have numerous mass market or trade paperbacks of the identical trim size, alternate the direction of the books in your stacks (ex: five facing one way, five the opposite, etc). The spine edge is slightly thicker in paperbacks, alternating corrects for this and make for more even stacks (and healthier books).

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Dealbreaker Books

Invited into a home for the first time, a book lover will take great pleasure in combing through the owner's bookshelves. Some do it brazenly, some wait for the host to get up and refill the drinks, but we all do it. That peek into the psyche is irresistible.

But there is risk involved. Have you ever found a title that you just can't accept? a book that makes your skin crawl? a book that creates serious misgivings about going forward with the dinner party/new friendship/one-night stand that you thought was in the cards?

These are dealbreaker books. And I want to know what yours are....and why.

I'll start:

Ayn Rand. If someone has more than one Ayn Rand title and they appear well-thumbed/hi-lighted/color-tabbed, I'm out of there. It has to be at least two though, just one could be a youthful folly or a misguided recommendation. Of course, I've never read her but the association with Reaganomics, 80s excess, and free-market devil cults turns my stomach. Sure, I'm a selfish bastard too but I don't make a big thing out of it.

Okay, your turn...

Don't Be a Wall-Flower at the eBay Dance

Ina Steiner at AuctionBytes recently gave warning that eBay may be preparing for a re-indexing of the site (referred to as a "Dance", I guess) and new factors will be given weight in the searches.

Apparently in the near future "seller quality" will partially determine where an item appears in the search results (rather than just ending time). Seller quality will be derived from some combination of feedback rating, Power Seller status, and fielded "item specific" information.

I don't think this will hurt me too much (more than eBay's general downward trend and the expected seasonal slump that is), but every change from eBay puts my teeth on edge these days.

Read the fill article.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Taking 'zines for review; also book want lists

I'm accepting 'zines for review for what I hope will be a regular feature. I'm particularly interested in lit, art and perzines (less interested in music 'zines but I wouldn't rule them out). I can't promise a full review of everything I receive, but I will at least give a summary of the contents with contact information.

Also taking book want lists. Please include all pertinent info about the item you're looking for (minimum condition, dust jacket needed yes/no, publication year if known, illustrator, etc) plus your price range. I will clarify any needed details and let you know if I can secure you a copy.

My e-mail is on my "About Me" page.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Stubborn library on the hoof

The University of Momboy in Venezuela is using mules to bring library resources to rural villages.

Maybe I can pick one up at their next library sale.

Link via BoingBoing. Story and image via BBC.

The August 6 New Yorker...

has three very bookseller-friendly articles. Michael Specter's "Damn Spam" is a good account of the history and current front lines of the spam war (until I read this it hadn't occurred to me that the better the spam-catching technology, the more spam is created and sent); Elizabeth Kolbert's "Stung" addresses Colony Collapse Disorder in bees and gives an overview of the history of apiculture (always a flashpoint for booksellers); Lastly Benjamin Kunkel provides a short biography of author Robert Walser, who seems insufferable and fascinating in equal measure. Walser's fiction reads as if Bartleby the Scrivener had broken his silence and taken up pen.

I usually whip through the New Yorker in about 10 minutes but this was one of those rare issues that follow me from the bathroom to the bedroom (TMI? Yes, I believe so).

More Galleries

I just added several more book galleries, titled the photos (including book title, year and cover artist when known) and broke them into semi-logical sets. Have a looksee if you've some time to kill.

I added a permanent link to these Flickr sets in the sidebar at right (below "About Me"). I'll quietly make new additions as I find things

NOTE: I realize the 3/4, askew angle isn't ideal for showing-off cover art but these were existing photos, meant to indicate book condition as much as design. In the future I may take photos straight-on if I include them in the gallery.

ALSO NOTE: Many of these faithful and adorable books are available for adoption. I would let them go to good homes in exchange for donations to continue my good work. Search the book titles here if you're interested in something.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Elizabeth and Ben Lieberman Bookplate 1941

Just found this beautiful and homey bookplate inside a collection of short film scripts called One-Reel Scenarios from 1938.

Looks like it was drawn from a photo. I love that the owner info "The Library of Elizabeth and Ben Lieberman, est 1941" appears backwards since it's written on the outside of the library window. I played with this on my bookmark/logo but I wasn't brave enough to force people to read it backwards.

I haven't Googled too deeply, but it looks like the Liebermans were the proprietors of the Herity Press that specialized in books about printing. Also they were the one time owners of the Kelmscott/Goudy Albion iron hand printing press that was used by famed designer William Morris.

Pulp Fiction Cover Gallery

I just created a Flickr set of my favorite pulp fiction and comic covers that have passed through the store. I'll add to it regularly and I may eventually organize and add tags. Right now it's about 170 covers in one big set.

Speaking of pulp fiction If you haven't seen Black Snake Moan drop everything and rent it now! Christina Ricci plays the greatest Jailbait Trailertrash Nympho ever captured on film...and I would know.