Love Felt at Shakespeare & Co

Shakespeare & Co. founder George Whitman died two weeks ago. In the L.A. Times' obituary, he's quoted saying "I never had any money, and never needed it. I've been a bum all my life," which sounds about right for anyone involved in selling books.

Related only by chance, this past fall Spike Jonze released a short stop-animation film that takes place in Whitman's shop (Mourir Aupr├Ęs de Toi). The film is a collaboration with designer Olympia Le-Tan, whose cut-felt and embroidered book bags inspired the story. No better way to be immortalized than in film.


You Should Collect

The Globe & Mail recently ran an article about Michael Torosian and his Lumiere Press. Online commenters (photo above of one caught in action; source unknown) being one of the lowest forms of (arguably) sentient life, as a rule we ignore their existence, but in this case our eyes happened across their blather. It was no surprise that their theme was the predictable "how can us regular folks afford books like this?" Profiles of painters, weavers, sculptors etc. never seem to generate this immediate & singular focus on the price of their works, but books do. They're just commodities, one no different than the next. A price that reflects the materials, craft and labor involved is elitist.

The Globe & Mail commenters also perpetuate the fallacy that book collectors are necessarily rolling in extra cash. Most of the people we know of who collect books are just working stiffs who make choices and sacrifices to obtain the books they have. As Gertrude Stein told Hemingway in Paris, if you don't eat out too often, and buy second-hand clothes, you'll have money to buy art and books.

And so, in the hope of recruiting a few from the hordes who think book collecting is only for the likes of Nelson Rockefeller and Montgomery Burns, some suggestions on where to jump in. Really good and interesting book collections often are the result not of capital resources but time, effort and creativity. It's easy to buy modern firsts or signed copies (and in this day & age, anyone who "collects" contemporary books that aren't signed is wasting their money); what's more interesting is figuring out something that people don't value or care about, but which will be of interest in the future. Our suggestion for an inexpensive collection in a field full of cheap pickings: pop-up and activity books (also, apparently, known as "feelies"). Some of the most inventive design and packaging work is being done here, but the books' interactivity (and usual focus toward a younger audience) often results in comparatively short lives. Just like the volvelle in George Wither's book.

A few examples: The Murder at Wayne Mansion, a sort-of comic containing various clues and items to help the reader join Batman in sleuthing. This kind of crime dossier was popular in the '30s. Dennis Wheatley did a few, including Murder Off Miami. No surprise that we were introduced to them by Barbara Hodgson, who has a couple of cool ones.

The Lady Gaga paper doll book. Just don't punch out any of the designer outfits. Or buy two copies, one to play with & one to shelve.

Recent tours through the bargain & discount sections of several local bookstores turned up a number of candidates for this kind of collecting, all priced under $10. So, the next time you hear someone whine about the price of a book, ask them when they last actually bought a book.


Pixie Meat is Good

Not much to say lately, no new books to show off, just stuck in the studio working away at Occupied By Colour. Today it finishes, we run the last sheet, an odd-sized insert that requires we tear apart the frisket window & completely change the lock-up.

And so, while enjoying the morning coffee, we spent a few minutes poking around for information on a comic called Pixie Meat, and found this post about the book. (That blog, The Oxen of the Sun, looks to have a lot of interesting posts on books & design.) It was printed by our friend Robert R. Reid and his partner, Terry Berger, in 1990, and features the combined talents of Gary Panter, Charles Burns and Tom DeHaven. The pages were reproduced with metal relief blocks and printed on Bob's Vandercook. He struck upon the idea of livening up the spreads by interleaving sheets of clear, colored cellophane (some copies are red, some yellow). A few more images from the book can be found on Bob's micro-site, here.

Most people who bought copies were impressed simply by the creators' signatures; people who would recognize and appreciate how the book was designed and printed, i.e. the usual "fine press" crowd, were much too proper to be interested in the content ("A comic?"). All this reminded us of our own plans to one day do a fine press comic, the narrative taken from a track on MC 900 Ft Jesus' album Hell With the Lid Off (which, coincidentally, features art by Charles Burns on the cover). We'll get to it eventually; have to track down the MC first and get permission. He's been MIA for many years, last reported working in air traffic control in Texas...

This all came up because Terry recently sent a spare copy of Pixie Meat, and asked us to sell it to a good home. So if you know anyone...


Playing Games with Geo. Wither's Emblems

Next year HM will be publishing a book featuring leaves taken from a broken and incomplete copy of George Wither's A Collections of Emblemes (London, 1635). The book's full title is
A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne Quickened With Metricall Illustrations, both Morall and Divine: And disposed into Lotteries, That Instruction, and Good Counsell, may bee furthered by an Honest and Pleasant Recreation
and those lotteries will be a featured part of our project. The book consists of four parts, each containing 50 "emblemes," which were exhortations in prose on various aspects of living a good and moral life. Each emblem (one per page) was printed beneath a detailed intaglio illustration. The page shown below is from Book 1.


At the publisher's (i.e. booksellers') request, Wither created a game ("recreation") that pointed readers first to one of the four books, and then to a specific emblem. This was done by using two volvelles with spinning pointers, printed on one page and bound into the back of each copy (sounds like something from a Hodgson/Cohen book...). Wither also provided instructions for how to play the lottery. Not surprisingly, most existing copies of the book lack the volvelle, which probably often was torn out for use.

The broken copy that will supply the leaves for HM's project came to us via Rare Books & Special Collections at the University of British Columbia, which received it as part of a donation. As the library already has a complete copy in a lovely early binding, with the volvelles, and has long been a supporter of HM's work, they suggested the broken copy might make an interesting leaf book.

We're still finalizing plans for the HM project, but it will definitely include a facsimile of the volvelle page, presented along with Wither's two introductory notes to the Reader (the first about the book in general, the second an apologetic explanation for how the lottery came to be included - to make the book more appealing to potential buyers!), and his instructions for playing the lottery.

The broken copy's leaves measure about 6 x 12 inches (they were brutally trimmed at some point in time, with loss to the head), so our page will be slightly larger than that. As per usual the edition will hover around 50 copies, with between two and four leaves included in each copy. Claudia Cohen has signed on to bind the edition. We hope to have copies issued before the end of 2012.