The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Found in a Book: Restaurant Gift Certificate

Of all the things that have drifted to me from the pages of a book, hot fluffy pancakes are the most welcome. Can you imagine the time I would save listing, selling and packing books, if they just fed me directly?

Unfortunately these hot fluffy pancakes from "Sytje's Pannekoeken Huis" are waiting for me in Rochester, Minnesota. Since I'm not likely to make it out that way anytime soon, I'm offering this ticket to a North Star state resident for merely the price of an SASE (send an e-mail and I'll give you my mailing address).

Doubly unfortunate the chain of "Dutch Family Cooking Restaurants" has since gone out of business.

Micro-focused Grammar "Humor": The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks

In its fourth year with over 1200 posts. You'd think the battle would have been won by now.

Thanks go to Mark Hurst for the link.

Friday, May 30, 2008

New Plates and a Ticket

I recently went though every vintage book in the fiction section of [redacted] Books in [redacted] and came up with some nice plates.

First this one belonging to Charles H. Jordan found in Fruits of the Earth by Gide (Secker & Warburg, London 1949):

I like the way the cigar smoke has a calligraphic feel that matches the lettering. Anyone read Japanese?

Next this plate belonging to Ragnar K. Hedberg, found in Panama and Other Poems by Stephen Phillips (John Lane 1915):

Simple but striking.

Next this oblong, oversize plate belonging to Louis J. Elsas and Bertha R. Elsas (nee Rothschild), found in After Such Pleasures by Dorothy Parker (Viking 1933):

(Click for larger image)

This wedding announcement from the New York Times, April 25th, 1909 [pdf] that refers to the couple. Cupid is riding on the knight's fallen gauntlet, like some kind of challenge.

Next this wind-blown nature plate belonging to B. June West found in Tom Jones (Modern Library c1950):

Lastly a beautifully colored and embossed printing press-themed book ticket from Dutton's, 681 Fifth Ave, New York (c 1920s).

As always if anyone knows anything more about these items (the owners or the artists) please leave a comment.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I'm back

Alice and I just got back from a much needed vacation / friend visit in Lexington, Kentucky. We drove through 7 states in 14 hours (well I rode through 7 states while everyone else round-robined at the wheel) for four days of barbeque, camping and bourbon tippling.

Some trip highlights:

A roadside replica of Noah's Ark, somewhere in Maryland. Saw this out of the corner of my eye coming and going. It's just a skeleton of the back section with a sign that says "Noah's Ark Being Rebuilt Here". According to Google there are a few of these in the works (one in the Netherlands and one on Mt Ararat). I'm glad the great Northeast won't come up short. We don't want an Ark Gap when the hard rain falls.

Cornhole: A regional variant on the horseshoes/Bocce ball/Jarts variety of lawn sport where you toss bean bags at a slanted board, trying to make them stick or drop into the "cornhole". There are many schools of thought on proper stance and bag grip and we fought them out over a marathon tournament while developing serious farmer tans. We want to bring Cornhole to Brooklyn in a big way.

The Lexington Art League is currently running Wall-to-Wall: An Exhibition of Monumental Drawings. Spread out in an historic "castellated Gothic Revival villa", the show highlights the work of sixteen artists who test the boundaries of drawing. Some pieces are nearly invisible, drawn directly onto the walls in faint chalk, others invite the viewer to alter and rearrange the drawn elements. Though massive in scope these works are very approachable. The simple techniques give the viewer a way in, then the high level of detail invites the creation of a narrative. View a slideshow here. As an extra bonus, the house may be haunted.

Pop's Resale and Consignment: A massive record, clothing, video game and junk shop the likes of which you just can't find in NYC (because of the damned real estate prices). This past weekend was their 12th birthday and they had a big sale, live music and free BBQ. I spied a 60s era pinball machine, a 45 jukebox and an electronic dartboard all for less than $400 each. If I lived in Lexington, these things would be mine.

Favorite place names: Coon's Run (even with the apostrophe, I'm not sure this isn't an imperative statement); Nitro, a two-street town with great Slurpees and massive Springfield-style cooling stacks that feel WAY too close; Schartlesville (see our above enthusiasm for Cornhole).

All in all a great vacation.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Strange Adventures in Bookselling

Bookride is running a series of posts on bizarre bookbuying housecalls. The latest installment includes an account of browsing a collection during an orgy, and the purchase of Clockwork Orange firsts splashed with blood from the murdered previous owner.

Fascinating stuff. Though not quite of this caliber, I've had a few lulus but I usually have to bite my tongue (or sit on my hands) because telling all would sour a commercial relationship.

Maybe booksellers should trade and blog each others stories.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bottomfeeder Books

So the editor-in-chief of Nightshade Books called a jihad on me. Thankfully it was brief.

"Whispersmith", a commentator on the Nightshade boards whose name also happens to be William Smith (there are MILLIONS of us...I am Legion), was taking issue with the publisher's sale and discount policy because it cuts into his bottom line as a bookdealer. This went back and forth over a few threads and eventually--like most threads of more than 5 comments--got ugly. The editor carried the feud to his LiveJournal blog and offered this analysis of my business/web presence (which he took to be that of Whispersmith).
He's not even a bookstore. He's an online only book dealer. Kind of a bottom feader from what I can tell... doesn't even have his own web sight... just listings on ebay, and biblio and other used book indexes.
I came into this fairly late when a friend and former co-worker corrected the Nightshade editor and clued me in. The editor had already amended his original post and apologized profusely before I even found the thread but I'm picking it up here because A) It's amusing and B) It ties into things I want to blog about anyway.

How is one "not a bookstore" if one sells books as a full-time occupation and has--let's see--3483 individual titles available for global delivery (and the packing calluses to prove it)? No, I don't have an open shop but this is true of many high-end stores as well who sell only by appointment or through auction houses. Also I visit "real" bookstores constantly and more often than not I have better stock and--minus overhead--make more money.

At the moment I don't have a standalone website. This is something I plan to remedy but even when I do most customers will still find me via Amazon, eBay or ABE (at least for the initial sale which is all you get from 95% of internet customers) and I can hardly hope to keep up with their Google presence which is how most used book searches are performed. Once you hook someone and deliver a positive experience and a good product, you may make a loyal customer but for a one-man operation the cost/benefit analysis keeps pushing this to the back burner (on top of this ABE's recent purchase of Chrislands has shown that when you strike out on your own in a sensible and cost effective way, you can get gobbled up again anyway).

On bottomfeeding: While sitting around my apartment/place of business the other day, drinking a blood-orange and vodka cocktail in the middle of the afternoon, I was picturing myself as a hermit crab, happily adding shiny bits to his shell, while the nervous and toothy fish rush around and tear each other apart up above. Yes I was drunk but the point is I respect the bottomfeeder and if I didn't already have a perfectly good bookstore name, I would change it right now.

Alright that's that. All is forgiven and I will continue to enjoy Nightshade's output (which thankfully is mostly fiction since their fact-checking leaves something to be desired).

Pics is Down

My web host is having issues. Hopefully they'll be back soon.

Cumbersome and Moldy

My love affair with Apartment Therapy continues as they link to this NYT article by Alberto Manguel, author of The Library at Night and caretaker of a very respectable 30,000 volume library. Housed in a 15th-century stone barn in France, Manguel sees his library not a single monolith, "but a composite of many others, a fantastic animal made up of the several libraries built and then abandoned, over and over again."

Apt therapy thought this a good example of the "cumbersome" nature of books with their "moldy pages and almost exponential growth of paper." It did spawn an interesting discussion thread on the role of a personal library as resource, comfort and decoration...and the book lovers seem to be getting the better of the Eames shock troops.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Junk in Your Trunk" Flickr Pool

Flickr user apricotX has started a photopool to show off stoop/yard/garage sale hauls (and used phototagging to simulate "robothrift" vision that I wish I could have installed)

Join up and make everyone jealous of your gorgeous crap!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mister Bookseller: Croatian Comic

Reader Mark Hurst (whose grand scheme I'm following by cleaning out my inbox right now) sent this link to an Eastern European comic strip about a magic bookseller (it must be the soul patch) who has every book in the world "except one".

It's well drawn and touching.

I've been responsible for a few of these magic book reunions in my time. It keeps the job interesting. Soul patch should have gouged him more on the price though

Photographer Lori Nix

A reader sent me a link to the work of photographer Lori Nix, an artist who:
photograph[s] miniatures and models which illuminate her interest in the disaster movies of the 1970s and her memories of growing up in Kansas—a place that seems to attract disasters like no other. In her series titled Accidentally Kansas Nix creates scenes of floods, tornadoes, snow storms, lightning strikes, and insect infestations, all epic and defining events recalled from her formative years in rural Kansas.
These are some really stunning photos that bring together two of my favorite thing. desolate/broken/abandoned spaces and meticulous miniatures.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Art's Magazines: Seattle Headshop

I found this label for Seattle's "Art's Magazines" pasted to the inside back cover of Lesbian Love by Marlene Longman (generally thought to be the work of Marion Zimmer Bradley) Nightstand, 1960.

Art claims that, "neither of the establishment newspapers would touch this ad with a ten foot pole" so he stuck these in the books. Art's carried "Detectives, Westerns, Science Fiction... Girlie magazines, Danish Magazines from Copenhagen, Nudist Magazines, Bondage...and books on that 'ole suppressed sex'"

Sound's like a very well-stocked head shop. Anybody have pictures from insides Art's or similar defunct 1960s smut shops?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Recent Bookplates: Second Installment

Here's the second chunk from my recent batch of bookplate acquisitions.

First this Thomas Balmer plate engraved by J. Winfred Spenceley Frederick Spenceley in 1912 found in London Films By W. D. Howells (Harper 1905).

Next this plate belonging to Madge Carr Cook (an actress with a few Broadway credits around 1900) . This one is signed. Looks like "H. Badirian 19XX" but is way too tiny to make out. Found in History of Frederick the II (Chapman 1859)

This one belonging to Leoh Waldman is perhaps the strangest I've encountered. It features an Ostrich with a globe body hiding its head while a horse in a checkered jockstrap looks on smugly. Found (appropriately) in Freud's Psychopathology of Everyday Life (Macmillan 1920).

These last two plates belonging to and designed by George Gates Raddin, Jr., historian and bibliographer, were both found in The Bedouins by Huneker (Scribner's 1922).

The first plate was on top:

pasted over this one (which is the first bookplate I've encountered that should be labeled NWS).

I wonder if Mr. Raddin became ashamed of his "money shot" design or if he suddenly became more besotted with Rockwell Kent than Aubrey Beardsley.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

106 Unread Books

Picked up this Library Thing meme from Bookn3rd. This is a list of the top 106 titles on LT marked as owned but unread. Adjust the list to reflect your experience

I used to play this game when I worked at B&N trying to one-up people on how many titles I'd read off the summer classics table. See how much I've matured?

The rules:

Bold what you have read, italicize books you’ve started but couldn’t finish, and strike through books you hated [and yes it's a bookseller's prerogative to hate books you've never read]. Add an asterisk* to those you’ve read more than once. Underline those on your tbr list.

Jonathan Strange & M. Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment**
One hundred years of solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick *****
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov**
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveller’s Wife
The Iliad**
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A heartbreaking work of staggering genius
Atlas shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury tales (I've convinced myself I need to read this in middle English)
The Historian
A portrait of the artist as a young man
Love in the time of cholera
Brave new world
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A clockwork orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Inferno**
The Satanic Verses
Sense and sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les misérables
The Corrections (loathsome)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The curious incident of the dog in the night-time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes
The God of Small Things
A people’s history of the United States : 1492-present
A confederacy of dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The unbearable lightness of being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse :
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey (After giving this gothic parody the old college try, I've decided I never need to read Jane Austen. It was very liberating)
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood
White teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

Monday, May 5, 2008

1919 Electrical Engineer's Notebook, Abstract Plumbing Poster and 1950s Telefilm Pressbooks

I posted a few unique items on eBay last night that are worth a mention.

First this leatherbound notebook dated 1919 containing the field notes of an Electrical Engineer / Electrician. The author had an engineer's perfect handwriting and he illustrated the notebook with precise and intricate color-coded diagrams covering radio, fire and burglar alarms, the properties of batteries and much more. It looks like he was compiling this with an intent to publish given his preface:
In view of the fact that most books on electricity contain much elementary and theoretical explanation unnecessary to the journeyman in the trade, I am endeavering [sis] herewith to compile useful data and drawings, giving the same as simply as possible, making this a handy reference book. -- Carl Weimer Schwarz, July 1919
but I wasn't able to find anything more about him. Here's a few images:

and more here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10

Along the same lines this fascinating poster from "United Plumbers Supply Company, Inc, New York City" which is a full graphic "Interpretation of the Plumbing and Drainage Code of the City of New York, Copyright B. Hoffman, Domestic Sanitary Engineer, NYC".

I don't see a date but it's c1950-60.

Basically it shows all of the possible variations in NY Plumbing in one apartment building cutaway.

I love looking through Edward Tufte's Envisioning Information and this poster belongs in there. Because of its size and delicacy I wasn't able to get a decent shot of the whole thing but here's a section.

Lastly this 1950s-era binder from National Telefilm Associates called "Rocket 86" which is a collection of the pressbooks of 86 films from the 30s and 40s packaged for television. It contains classic film noir (Laura, The Dark Corner), horror (Chamber of Horrors, The Human Monster), westerns (Riders of the Purple Sage, My Darling Clementine), etc together with the ads and promo spots that were suggested for TV and newspaper use.

This is an interesting archive of early television and film history and probably layed-out the way many cineastes originally encountered these films during their television broadcast.

A full title list here.

These items all end next Sunday evening (May 11, 08).

Friday, May 2, 2008

How to Fit 6,000 books in a One-Bedroom; or, Apartment Therapy Can Suck It

For some twisted, masochistic reason--unknown to even ourselves--Alice and I decided to get our apartment in order and enter the Apartment Therapy "Small Cool 2008" contest.

Entry requires you push to all of your crap out of the way and prepare 5 photos (plus an essay) showing off how you've creatively utilized a limited space. Then you submit your home to the votes--and snarky comments--of a thousand Pottery Barn Fascists who want everything painted white and own NOTHING.

Before you get your chance to run this bourgeoisie gauntlet though, you have to make it past the regional editor...which we didn't (though plenty of--and I'm being totally objective here--dull and ugly apartments did).

So for the edification of anyone whose last name happens to be Smith or Stevenson, here's a quick tour of our apartment (aka: the Hang Fire Books Fortress of Solitude).

First the foyer where I store most of my inventory.

Regular readers of this blog will remember the exciting erection of the built-in bookcase saga from back in January. Skillfully cropped from those photos was the groaning and hideous aluminum shelving carried over from my old office. Thanks to some Ikea curtain sliders and sharp, Alice-selected fabric panels, those shelves are hidden now and my stock is protected from sunning and dust.

Here's the living room.

The cool coffee table is one-of-a-kind from the estate of a cabinet maker whose house was filled with beautiful built-ins (that we should have taken if only to store them until they fit somewhere). The art is from a folio-sized catalog of antique textiles. The one on the right has all of these curious severed feet worked into the pattern. We busted that doorway through to the kitchen ourselves...very therapeutic.

Here's the kitchen/dining room.

The hybrid aluminum + wooden table is from Craigslist, the china cabinet is from the street, Alice reupholstered the wooden school chairs, and the scrollwork thingy over the right-hand window is an architectural detail from another estate. My packing station is under the cutting board. When I ship books, I take off the board + skirt and get to work.

Here's the living room from my office side.

I found this vintage wooden cubicle divider at the Housing Works thrift shop but it was over priced. It ended up on their auction page a few weeks later and I got it for the opening bid of $150. It took 1/2 a bottle of Murphy's oil soap to clean the nicotine and depressing work lunches from it. The smoked glass window is nice and my monitor glows through it in a very soothing way. The creepy outsider art--visible over the top--was salvaged from this crazy crap shack. A recent addition is this red enamel clock from the 40s-50s.

Lastly the boo dwa.

The pirate trunk is a family heirloom, the dresser was a craigslist find (that I snatched up for $100 before like 1000 furniture dealers found it), the art is a vintage travel poster from Zermat Switzerland (that used to serve as my air conditioner before I could afford one), and a limited edition Eric Drooker poster from Blackout Books--an anarchist bookshop where Alice used to work.

That's it for now. I just purchased a huge sign from an old tattoo parlor and some vintage Mexican wrestling movie posters. I'll take a picture of that wall when I get everything framed and mounted.

New Pulp

Lots of new covers in the Pulp Fiction Cover Gallery, including Dead Ringer by versatile, genre-crossing writer Fredric Brown. I've been looking for a nice copy of this for a while. It's got a showgirl and a peeping-tom gorilla. That makes it a classic in my book.