Holiday Book Drive and Christmas 2013 Catalog

We have been hard at work putting together what we think will be a great program for this holiday season. Partnering with several local charitable organizations, we will be hosting a holiday book drive to collect books for donation to those less fortunate. Interested in participating? It’s simple. If you have new or gently used books you would like to donate, please contact us or drop by our store with them. If you would like to buy books for the purpose of donating them, you can purchase from us and receive a gift certificate towards your next visit, or you can purchase elsewhere and drop them off to us.

We want to make this easy – the idea is to make books available to those who might not otherwise have access to them. We want to promote literacy, and spread a little holiday cheer at the same time. We understand not everyone has the financial ability to offer donations. If you cannot personally contribute, please consider sharing the information about our book drive program with friends and family. The more people who know about it, the more successful it will be.

Interested in contributing, but not sure what to donate? We’ve put together a catalog of holiday titles that will be sure to put smiles on the faces of those who receive them as gifts. Make sure to check out the book drive flyer and catalog below! Please feel free to contact us with any questions about the book drive program. Happy holidays!

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View this document on Scribd

 

Jonathan Smalter, Bookseller, ABAA, ILAB, IOBA
Yesterday’s Muse Books
32 W Main St Ste 1
Webster, NY 14580
585-265-9295
www.websterbookstore.com
musebooks.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/yesterdaysmuse
www.twitter.com/ymbookseller
http://pinterest.com/yesterdaysmuse/
www.linkedin.com/in/yesterdaysmuse/

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September 2013 Newsletter

For those not on our mailing list, here is a look at our latest newsletter. We’ve also embedded our latest new acquisitions list at the end of the post:

 

Another month has come and gone, and as always we have been busy booksellers. This past weekend we exhibited at the 41st Annual Rochester Antiquarian Book Fair. We had more dealers than usual this year, and enjoyed a record turnout of browsers and bibliophiles. Everyone seemed very pleased with the Main Street Armory, the new venue for this year’s event. Here is a photo taken by one of our colleagues of myself and my fiancee Kristine:

Booths were bustling with activity throughout the day as customers inquired about books on display, or asked questions about their own collections. We purchased a number of items ourselves, including a first American edition of George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, a set of Shakespeare’s works in an attractive silk-lined publisher’s case, and a small collection of travel literature featuring decorative cover designs by A. & C. Black publishers.

Watch for these, and a number of interesting and scarce items acquired at the end of August, in next month’s newsletter. But first, have a look at what we have been working on for the last month:

New Acquisitions – Highlights

New Acquisitions – Complete

See a few things you like? Enter coupon code S10TWO013 during checkout, and when you buy three books you get another FREE! (Please make sure you have at least four books in your shopping cart, or the discount won’t work.)

Below is one of our favorites from this month’s acquisitions, a limited edition of Shakespeare’s complete works inspired by the famous Shakespeare Head Press edition printed in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon (commonly known as the Stratford Town Shakespeare).

The Works of William Shakespeare, in Ten Volumes – Shakespeare Head Press Limited Edition, #585 of 1000

 

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August Newsletter

I thought followers of this blog might enjoy seeing our monthly newsletter, so I have copied our August issue below in its entirety, and embedded a PDF of our most recent highlights catalog. Those interested in receiving our newsletter monthly, please visit our website at www.websterbookstore.com and complete the web form on the homepage.

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Before I get to the usual fix for our loyal bibliophiles, I have some news to announce:

I have officially been accepted as one of the newest members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA). This is a respected trade organization which promotes professional and ethical bookselling, and sponsors several of the largest, most respected book fairs in the world. This is a big step in my career, and a bright spot in the history of Yesterday’s Muse Books. Big thanks go out to those who encouraged me to pursue membership, and to the other booksellers who were kind enough to give their time to be my sponsors during the application process.
And now to the rest of this month’s news:

The sidewalk sale we launched last month is going strong – thank you to everyone who has stopped out for great deals. For those who have not heard about the sidewalk sale – every Friday and Saturday through the middle of August, we will be offering bargain books outside our shop. All books are $1 each, or you can fill one of our bags for $8.

A big project we just began work on last month is the Rochester Antiquarian Book Fair, which I am co-organizing this year along with Franlee Frank from Greenwood Books. This year it will be held on Saturday, September 7th at the Main Street Armory. Check out the fair’s Facebook page for more details:

Rochester Antiquarian Book Fair

While you’re at it, drop by the store’s Facebook page to view our This Just In album – check it out regularly to find the latest deals.

Speaking of deals, in addition to the usual in-store coupon we include with our newsletters, here is a coupon for use this month on our website:

Enter coupon code A8TWO013 during checkout, and when you buy three books you get another FREE! (Please make sure you have at least four books in your shopping cart, or the discount won’t work.)

Here are links to our usual new acquisitions lists:

New Acquisitions – Highlights

New Acquisitions – Complete

This month we were lucky enough to acquire a signed first edition of Ayn Rand’s masterpiece Atlas Shrugged, as well as a sumptuously bound copy of Thomas A Kempis’s Of the Imitation of Christ. We also cataloged a few examples of early stock market material, a set of Theodore Roosevelt’s works, numerous books dealing with book arts and decorative arts, and a science fiction serial featuring the first appearance of Orson Scott Card’s Hugo Award winning Ender’s Game.

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Below is the full highlights list:

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This Just In – Hand-Painted Chinese Portraits; Marie Bonaparte’s Five Copy Books; Etc.

Here is today’s crop of new books, which includes two very interesting items – if you’d like any of these, comment to claim them! Prices and other details are listed in the captions – click the image to zoom.

The first image shows some of our usual bargain fare. The sets of pictures following it are of two particularly interesting items, just acquired today.

The first is a set of Marie Bonaparte’s Five Copy Books, a scarce collection of facsimiles of the notebooks of a ten-year-old girl, originally discovered in her father’s files. She was a contemporary of Freud, and these formed the basis of some of her psychoanalytical studies of girlhood. Our price is $325.

The second is a collection of hand-painted portraits of Chinese women, some notable historical figures, others noted for their beauty. They are excellent examples of Chinese art, all done on fine silk mounted on sturdier backings and bound in the accordion style popular for collections of eastern art. The covers are wood, with a carved emblem on the front board. Our price is $300.

 

Jonathan Smalter, Bookseller
President, Yesterday’s Muse Books
Vice President, IOBA
Sellers of fine books in all categories, with specialties in:
Castles & Military Fortifications; Dystopian Literature
32 W Main St Ste 1
Webster, NY 14580
Phone: (585) 265-9295
www.websterbookstore.com
https://musebooks.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/yesterdaysmuse
www.twitter.com/ymbookseller
http://pinterest.com/yesterdaysmuse/
www.linkedin.com/in/yesterdaysmuse/

 

$5 each (buy 2 get 1 free)

$5 each (buy 2 get 1 free)

Photo Jul 12, 3 42 41 PM

Page from Marie Bonaparte’s Five Copy Books

 

Page from Marie Bonaparte's Five Copy Books

Page from Marie Bonaparte’s Five Copy Books

Photo Jul 12, 3 41 33 PM

Marie Bonaparte’s Five Copy Books, shown with publisher’s slipcase

Photo Jul 12, 3 41 45 PM

Page from Marie Bonaparte’s Five Copy Books

 

Page from Famous & Beautiful Chinese Ladies

Page from Famous & Beautiful Chinese Ladies

Page from Famous & Beautiful Chinese Ladies

Page from Famous & Beautiful Chinese Ladies

Page from Famous & Beautiful Chinese Ladies

Page from Famous & Beautiful Chinese Ladies

Cover of Famous & Beautiful Chinese Ladies

Cover of Famous & Beautiful Chinese Ladies

This Just In

Here is today’s crop of new books (lots today!) – if you’d like any of these, comment to claim them! Prices and other details are listed in the captions – click the image to zoom.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

$5 each

$5 each

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

$3 each (front cover of Dubus volume creased)

$3 each (front cover of Dubus volume creased)

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

$5 each, or $50 for the stack

$5 each, or $50 for the stack

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

$30

$30 (signed)

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Top two $3, others $5 each.

Top two $3, others $5 each.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

Individually priced - please inquire for details.

Individually priced – please inquire for details.

July 2013 Newsletter

At Yesterday’s Muse Books, we are in the habit of releasing a monthly newsletter detailing goings-on at the shop, and highlighting our most recent acquisitions. Below is our most recent newsletter:

 

This month’s newsletter comes a bit later – we wanted to make sure everyone had the time to relax and enjoy the July 4th holiday weekend.

This has been a great month for us. We revived our Musings blog, acquired some exceptional and important first editions, and launched our local weekend sidewalk sale.

For those who have not heard about the sidewalk sale – every Friday and Saturday through the middle of August, we will be offering bargain books outside our shop. All books are $1 each, or you can fill one of our bags for $8.

Our commitment to better book images has paid off by allowing us to better promote our stock on social media, our blog, and through catalogs. If you have yet to see our This Just In album on Facebook, check it out to find the latest deals.

For those interested in collecting, and purchasing books online in general, we have posted a number of helpful resources on our blog:

Condition Definitions

Identification of First Editions

 

Here are our usual new acquisitions lists, followed by a few samples to whet your whistles:

New Acquisitions – Highlights

New Acquisitions – Complete

This month we were lucky enough to acquire first editions of the two books shown below – the first the very first book published by the inimitable Dr. Seuss; the second is is a Pulitzer Prize winning play that inspired an award winning Broadway production. We also cataloged a nice collection of Rockwell Kent titles, and close to a dozen Philo Vance mysteries by S.S. Van Dine (mostly first editions). Have a closer look at the lists, as there is far too much to enumerate here…

And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street First Edition

Death of a Salesman First Edition

 

Books as Self-Education

I have always believed in the ability of books to be among our best teachers. Many of the fundamental principles that have guided my intellectual development were obtained not from family, not from school, but from the pages of a favorite book. I certainly do not want to diminish other forms of education at all, as they are certainly useful in many ways; I do, though, want to discuss the power of books as tools for the autodidact (i.e., ‘self-teacher’), with special reference to The Harvard Classics as a prime example of this power.

First of all, the use of books as self-teaching tools implicitly involves literacy, which has been demonstrated to be an indispensable skill in the development of the individual, and in successful interaction with other members of the community. It is no coincidence that ‘community’ and ‘communicate’ have the same root; language is what connects us, and allows us to discuss ideas with one another.

Verbal communication is acquired first, because it is used most frequently, generally for simple or current concerns (e.g., ‘please pass the butter’; ‘Help, I hurt my ankle’; etc.). Written communication comes later, and – at least traditionally – is more formalized, allowing communication about more complex topics (e.g., the nature of the human soul), and also about communication itself (e.g., dictionaries; philosophical essays). Where verbal communication focuses on immediacy, writing – again, traditionally – concentrates on exactitude.

In today’s world, it is easy to identify those who read regularly, because their style of verbal communication tends to sound similar to written communication. It is also easy to spot those who do not read at all, because their writing very much resembles speech. A more recent phenomenon is the resemblance of speech to the telegraphic style of text messages, which is a distressing trend, but one I will not elaborate on here.

Back to reading as education. What makes reading particularly suited to imparting knowledge to the reader, and how is it more effective than, for instance, just talking with others? I have my own theory, which relates to the distinction drawn earlier: written communication, by its very nature and construction, is designed to teach concepts (as distinct from verbal communication, which seems best suited to furthering awareness of immediate surroundings or situation – e.g. “Watch out for that car!”).

I believe there are several reasons for this. First, our minds are placed in a specific context when reading. The world is shut out, and I commit myself fully to interacting with the text. My mind tells itself, “It is time to focus on doing this one thing,” and as a result is ready to receive information in a complex form. Second, the very fact that the text itself was printed in the first place- again, traditionally – implies several things: that the writer considered the message worth spreading; that the writer, knowing he/she intended to transmit ideas to many other people, was invested of a certain level of responsibility related to what was said, and how it was said. In other words, if we went to the trouble of putting pen to paper, the ideas are worth considering. Third, the very form of the information itself causes us to use a part of our brain that is functioning at a more conceptual level. This ties in with the context mentioned earlier. My mind understands the difference between thinking about the idea of freedom, and seeing an example of freedom. In the same way, it is in a different mode when it ponders what it means to be free, than when it makes my mouth say, “I’m free!”.

Now, up to this point, this has all been very technical and theoretical. Time for a concrete example, I think:

In the early twentieth century Charles W. Eliot, the Dean of Harvard University, claimed that a decent education could be had by reading for fifteen minutes a day from a five foot shelf of books. In other words, we can teach ourselves most of the concepts we need simply by reading books. P.F. Collier, a prominent publisher at the time, seized on this idea, and requested from Eliot a list of works that he would place on this bookshelf, and upon receiving it published a uniformly bound set of these works, known as The Harvard Classics. Ever since, it has been recognized as a monument to the world’s great works of literature and history, and has been eagerly collected since it was first published in 1909.

The first set included 50 volumes. Subsequent reprints have included the original material along with supplementary volumes, so some sets have as many as 54 volumes. Material ranges from poetry to politics, memoirs to monographs, science to fable, all carefully chosen to provide a well-rounded collection. Below is a complete list of the works included. It is likely you will recognize many of them, while others will seem foreign. While Eliot likely did not envision that his selections would be used to teach us something about the state of academic and intellectual life in 1909, they do this too, by showing us what thoughts survive the onslaught of time, the changes in ideals, and the inevitable march of progress.

And this brings me to perhaps one of the most important distinctions I will make about reading, which is that every written work implicitly includes its own historical context. Every piece of literature, every historical treatise, every philosophical theory, is firmly placed in a very specific slot within the larger chronology of the printed word. Its production was informed by this placement, the nature of its production relates to this placement, and the content of it speaks always from this placement. Unlike any verbal utterance, printed works occupy a place in history. They are historical objects. Even verbal statements recorded for posterity maintain their authority because they were immortalized in ink.

The ability of books to teach may draw some of its power from this phenomenon. Those who understand the historical implications of the simple existence of a particular book are immediately struck with a sense of wonder when in its presence. To think that we are, effectively, drinking history into ourselves with our eyes and our minds when we read, inspires awe, and keeps us coming back for more. Those who truly commit themselves to exploring the vast world that books offer will find that the sea of information is unending, that there will always be more to learn, and that reading floats us from one ocean to the next.

The Harvard Classics, in Fifty Volumes

THE HARVARD CLASSICS

Vol. 1: FRANKLIN, WOOLMAN, PENN: His Autobiography, by Benjamin Franklin; Journal, by John Woolman; Fruits of Solitude, by William Penn

Vol. 2. PLATO, EPICTETUS, MARCUS AURELIUS: The Apology, Phaedo and Crito, by Plato; The Golden Sayings, by Epictetus; The Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius

Vol. 3. BACON, MILTON’S PROSE, THOS. BROWNE: Essays, Civil and Moral & The New Atlantis, by Francis Bacon; Areopagitica & Tractate of Education, by John Milton; Religio Medici, by Sir Thomas Browne

Vol. 4. COMPLETE POEMS IN ENGLISH, MILTON: Complete Poems Written in English, by John Milton

Vol. 5. ESSAYS AND ENGLISH TRAITS, EMERSON: Essays and English Traits, by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Vol. 6. POEMS AND SONGS, BURNS: Poems and Songs, by Robert Burns

Vol. 7. CONFESSIONS OF ST. AUGUSTINE, IMITATIONS OF CHRIST: The Confessions of St. Augustine; The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis

Vol. 8. NINE GREEK DRAMAS: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Furies & Prometheus Bound, by Aeschylus; Oedipus the King & Antigone, by Sophocles; Hippolytus, The Bacchae, by Euripides; The Frogs, by Aristophanes

Vol. 9. LETTERS AND TREATISES OF CICERO AND PLINY: On Friendship, On Old Age & Letters, by Cicero; Letters, by Pliny the Younger

Vol. 10. WEALTH OF NATIONS, ADAM SMITH: Wealth of Nations, by Adam Smith

Vol. 11. ORIGIN OF SPECIES, DARWIN: The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin

Vol. 12. PLUTARCH’S LIVES: Lives, by Plutarch

Vol. 13. AENEID, VIRGIL: Aeneid, by Virgil

Vol. 14. DON QUIXOTE, Part 1, CERVANTES: Don Quixote, Part 1, by Cervantes

Vol. 15. PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, DONNE & HERBERT, BUNYAN, WALTON: The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan; The Lives of Donne and Herbert, by Izaak Walton

Vol. 16. THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS: Stories from the Thousand and One Nights

Vol. 17. FOLKLORE AND FABLE, AESOP, GRIMM, ANDERSON: Fables, by Aesop; Household Tales, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm; Tales, by Hans Christian Andersen

Vol. 18. MODERN ENGLISH DRAMA: All for Love, by John Dryden; The School for Scandal, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan; She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith; The Cenci, by Percy Bysshe Shelley; A Blot in the ‘Scutcheon, by Robert Browning; Manfred, by Lord Byron

Vol. 19. FAUST, EGMONT, ETC. DOCTOR FAUSTUS, GOETHE, MARLOWE: Faust, Part I, Egmont & Hermann and Dorothea, by J.W. von Goethe; Dr. Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe

Vol. 20. THE DIVINE COMEDY, DANTE: The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri

Vol. 21. I PROMESSI SPOSI: I Promessi Sposi, by Alessandro Manzoni

Vol. 22. THE ODYSSEY, HOMER: The Odyssey of Homer

Vol. 23. TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST, DANA: Two Years Before the Mast, by Richard Henry Dana, Jr.

Vol. 24. ON THE SUBLIME, FRENCH REVOLUTION, ETC., BURKE: On Taste, On the Sublime and Beautiful, Reflections on the French Revolution & A Letter to a Noble Lord, by Edmund Burke

Vol. 25. AUTOBIOGRAPHY, ETC., ESSAYS AND ADDRESSES, J.S. MILL, T. CARLYLE: Autobiography & On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill; Characteristics, Inaugural Address at Edinburgh & Sir Walter Scott, by Thomas Carlyle

Vol. 26. CONTINENTAL DRAMA: Life Is a Dream, by Pedro Calderon de la Barca; Polyeucte, by Pierre Corneille; Phèdre, by Jean Racine; Tartuffe, by Molière; Minna von Barnhelm, by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing; Wilhelm Tell, by Friedrich von Schiller

Vol. 27. ENGLISH ESSAYS: SIDNEY TO MACAULAY

Vol. 28. ESSAYS: ENGLISH AND AMERICAN

Vol. 29. VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE, DARWIN: The Voyage of the Beagle, by Charles Darwin

Vol. 30. FARADAY, HELMHOLTZ, KELVIN, NEWCOMB, ETC; Scientific Papers: Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy, Geology

Vol. 31. AUTOBIOGRAPHY, BENVENUTO CELLINI: The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini

Vol. 32. LITERARY AND PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS: Montaigne, Sainte-beuve, Renan, etc.

Vol. 33. VOYAGES AND TRAVELS: Voyages and Travels: Ancient and Modern

Vol. 34. FRENCH AND ENGLISH PHILOSOPHERS, DESCARTES, VOLTAIRE, ROUSSEAU, HOBBES: Discourse on Method, by Rene Descartes; Letters on the English, by Voltaire; On the Inequality among Mankind & Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar, by Jean Jacques Rousseau; Of Man, Being the First Part of Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes

Vol. 35. CHRONICLE AND ROMANCE, FROISSART, MALORY, HOLINSHEAD: Chronicles, by Jean Froissart; The Holy Grail, by Sir Thomas Malory; A Description of Elizabethan England, by William Harrison

Vol. 36. MACHIAVELLI, MORE, LUTHER: The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli; The Life of Sir Thomas More, by William Roper; Utopia, by Sir Thomas More; The Ninety-Five Theses, Address to the Christian Nobility & Concerning Christian Liberty, by Martin Luther

Vol. 37. LOCKE, BERKELY, HUME: Some Thoughts Concerning Education, by John Locke; Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous in Opposition to Sceptics and Atheists, by George Berkeley; An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, by David Hume

Vol. 38. HARVEY, JENNER, LISTER, PASTEUR: The Oath of Hippocrates; Journeys in Diverse Places, by Ambroise Pare; On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals, by William Harvey; The Three Original Publications on Vaccination Against Smallpox, by Edward Jenner; The Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever, by Oliver Wendell Holmes; On the Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery, by Joseph Lister; Scientific Papers, by Louis Pasteur; Scientific Papers, by Charles Lyell

Vol. 39. FAMOUS PREFACES: Prefaces and Prologues

Vol. 40. ENGLISH POETRY 1 CHAUCER TO GRAY

Vol. 41. ENGLISH POETRY 2: COLLINS TO FITZGERALD

Vol. 42. ENGLISH POETRY 3: TENNYSON TO WHITMAN

Vol. 43. AMERICAN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS: American Historical Documents: 1000-1904

Vol. 44. SACRED WRITINGS 1: Confucian: The Sayings of Confucius; Hebrew: Job, Psalms & Ecclesiastes; Christian I: Luke & Acts

Vol. 45. SACRED WRITINGS 2: Christian II: Corinthians I & II & Hymns; Buddhist: Writings; Hindu: The Bhagavad-Gita; Mohammedan: Chapters from the Koran

Vol. 46. ELIZABETHAN DRAMA 1: Edward the Second, by Christopher Marlowe; Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth & The Tempest, by William Shakespeare

Vol. 47. ELIZABETHAN DRAMA 2: The Shoemaker’s Holiday, by Thomas Dekker; The Alchemist, by Ben Jonson; Philaster, by Beaumont and Fletcher; The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster; A New Way to Pay Old Debts, by Philip Massinger

Vol. 48. THOUGHTS AND MINOR WORKS, PASCAL: Thoughts, Letters & Minor Works, by Blaise Pascal

Vol. 49. EPIC AND SAGA: Beowulf; The Song of Roland; The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel; The Story of the Volsungs and Niblungs

Vol. 50 INTRODUCTION, READER’S GUIDE, INDEXES; LECTURES: The last volume contains 60 lectures introducing and summarizing the covered fields: history, poetry, natural science, philosophy, biography, prose fiction, criticism and the essay, education, political science, drama, voyages and travel, and religion.

 

Jonathan Smalter, Bookseller
President, Yesterday’s Muse Books
Vice President, IOBA
Sellers of fine books in all categories, with specialties in:
Castles & Military Fortifications; Dystopian Literature
32 W Main St Ste 1
Webster, NY 14580
Phone: (585) 265-9295
www.websterbookstore.com
https://musebooks.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/yesterdaysmuse
www.twitter.com/ymbookseller
http://pinterest.com/yesterdaysmuse/
www.linkedin.com/in/yesterdaysmuse/

Published in: on July 6, 2013 at 10:24 AM  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

More Than You Can Chew

NOTE: This post was originally written in June of 2012.

Well, with the exception of attending the Buffalo Niagara International Antiquarian Book Fair with several dozen other dealers, I spent the month of May furiously working through the collection in my last blog post.

The result? I would be more than halfway done, but the consignor has added even more!

It got me thinking about the challenges we face in life, and how we approach them.

In this instance, my strategy was to divide and conquer – watch for the release of Part I of the collection as an e-list very soon. Looking at the scope of the collection, how much more work it will entail, and the fact that it won’t generate income for me until I start making it available for sale, this decision to release it in parts was essential.

Trying to offer it as one piece would be like drinking the ocean so I would never be thirsty again – not only am I incapable of doing it, even if I were, it just wouldn’t work. Better to take small gulps.

Now that got me thinking about the way we, as individuals, process information, and how that fits in with the way things are laid out these days. We live in the information age, so things should be pretty good, right?

Well, maybe not. It turns out that, though we are surrounded by information that is readily accessible, it is still very much an ocean. As individuals, we need this ocean split up into small, manageable chunks. We can’t digest a whole ocean at once. Now, you will probably say, “That’s what a search engine is for – it drills down to get what you need.”

Let’s say, for this discussion’s sake, that that’s true (though I would probably have some arguments counter to that belief). In order to use a search engine to get to that manageable chunk of information, I need to already have some information. I need to have a question, and I need to translate that question into a group of words that a search engine will understand.

If I am looking for a recipe for cheesecake, or directions to a local movie theater, that’s fairly straightforward. Even more complex questions are pretty easily answered (e.g., What caused World War I?; What is existentialism?).

I see two problems here. First, these answers aren’t gulps of information; they’re droplets. There’s a whole world in between the ocean and the droplets, and I want to be able to get at it. Second, what happens if I don’t know the information I need to get at an answer. Put a different way: What if I don’t know that I don’t know something?

Let’s start with the first problem – simple searches don’t get us to manageable chunks of complex information. It turns out, that’s something that computers and the internet still just aren’t that great at. If you do manage to find a well-researched, capably-written response that goes deeper than a trivia-show-length Q&A, you’ve probably located either an online article, or an excerpt from a book.

Which brings me to problem two: what if I can’t find that article, or that excerpt, because I can’t generate the magic sequence of keywords to bring it up as a search result? Or what if I am ignorant of my own ignorance, and never do a search in the first place? I am a better search engine user than many, in my opinion, but I often give up when I am unable to quickly generate useful results. And I’m fairly sure an internet search for ‘What don’t I know?’ would be vague enough that we’d just end up with the ocean again.

So what does this mean? It means that we are faced with an unlimited amount of knowledge, to which our access is limited based on how much we already know. What’s worse, the way search engines work is designed around what you’ve already done, what you’ve already searched, but in a way that returns sameness, that repeats your previous experience, not in a way that adapts to show you new things.

Instead of playing the role of teacher, the internet as viewed through a search engine is the consummate yes man. It will lead you to pages that affirm what you already think, sell what you’ve already bought, and encourage what you already do.

So what is the alternative? My answer: Read books. Now, you might say, “Certainly there are books that do the same thing.” And you’d be right.

My new answer: Read old books. Ones that have stood the test of time. Read works by authors whose names we still remember, though they lived decades or centuries ago. Read Dickens. Hugo. Tolstoy. Read Plutarch. Marcus Aurelius. Plato. Darwin. Rousseau. Dostoevsky.

And when you read them, don’t look for answers to specific questions. Learn. You’ll realize the questions they’ve answered were ones you hadn’t thought to ask yet. And eventually you’ll realize that, though you came to the ocean hoping to understand a few things and move along, now…. now you can swim.

Published in: on June 24, 2013 at 11:40 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is a book by Nina Sankovitch, whose blog Read All Day began when she decided to read a book a day for an entire year. So, it is a book about a book blog, and this is a blog about it. And yes, I mainly phrased it that way for my own amusement — I find joy in both a well-turned phrase, and a deliberately silly manipulation of words.

But I digress.

Let me begin by saying that this book was loaned to me by a customer at my shop, who grew up with the author’s husband right here in my hometown. It was just released this year, and being primarily a used and out of print dealer, it had not yet made its way onto my radar. I devoured it this morning, and straight away fired off an e-mail to the author through her website. I feel that I have found a kindred spirit, someone whose relationship with books is a mirror for mine, and who shares the same sort of understanding in regards to the power of books to help us remember, to inform our thoughts, and to shape our futures.

She begins in a very personal way, honestly portraying her reactions to her sister’s death from cancer. She shows us how this led her to commit to a book a day for an entire year. She explains the power she believes books have, and how she hopes to use that power to heal herself, to make herself understand her place in life — as she puts it, “Why do I deserve to live?” The lessons she learns through literature serve as affirmations for her, and not in an empty pat-on-the-back sort of way — she applies heartfelt passages from works of fiction to real situations in her life, and arrives at complex realizations that are entirely personal. I have always believe this is part of the magic of books — they are marvelously versatile tools, in that their contents can be repurposed for the use of countless readers.

What struck me early on was her introduction of a purple chair, smelling of cat urine, and nominated for a trip to the dumpster. She describes the nobility of the chair before it was ‘marked’ by the cat, and explains her loyalty to that nobility. She faithfully deodorizes the chair for a year, the odor fades, and it reclaims its place. Whether she intended it as such or not, I took this as an analogy about books. Old books, which often look a bit ragged around the edges, and perhaps smell of smoke or basement, or routinely discarded as having lost their luster. The author’s recognition that the chair holds important significance (she relates it to several important life events) mirrors my recognition of the significance of books. To me, they act as conduits of memory. They are physical representations of intellectual and emotional turning points in my life. I remember the first time I read The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl… the list could go on for pages. I remember what these books meant to me then, and that informs and defines what these books mean to me now. They were building blocks for the current me.

I particularly enjoy the author’s description of her commitment to the year ahead: “I was ready — ready to sit down in my purple chair and read. For years, books had offered me a window into how other people deal with life, its sorrows and joys and monotonies and frustrations. I would look there again for empathy, guidance, fellowship, and experience. Books would give me all that, and more… I was trusting in books to answer the relentless question of why I deserved to live. And of how I should live. My year of reading would be my escape back into life.”

I think this is important, because it explodes the widely held belief that books are an escape from life. Really, books are points of entry into areas of life, be they thoughts, emotions, or experiences, that we may not otherwise have explored.

I could provide a more comprehensive review, with insights into the different books the author read and what I think of her take on each… I believe, though, that doing so will give readers of this blog the sense that they get the point, and don’t need to read it for themselves. The opposite, of course, is true about this book and most others. I would urge every bookseller to add this to the inventory, every book lover to add it to the home library, and everyone skeptical of the power of books to add it to their list of things to try. An added bonus: at the end is a list of all 365 books the author read, so once you’re finished you can dive right into another great book.

Published in: on June 24, 2013 at 11:26 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Book Review – Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach

An intriguing premise ably realized. Ecotopia explores what would happen if the American Northwest seceded from the United States to form a liberal, environmentally conscious country. Many of the specific ideas proposed are quite innovative, and the society as a whole is thought out well enough that this country seems to be not only an ideal, but a real possibility.

The technique of portraying the new community through the eyes of an American reporter is a good choice, as it allows the author to switch between fact-heavy, topically focused news articles, and the reporter’s diary, which relates day-to-day activities and personal experiences.

One criticism of the book that many readers will likely advance is that the portrayal United States in contrast to Ecotopia feels rather one-sided, even in passages where the main character seems to criticize the latter. It seems like the author is setting up a straw man, and then tearing him down. That being said, this technique is meant to put forth his viewpoint, and it works effectively. Despite the lack of a more balanced back-and-forth of perspectives, I was stirred by some of the ideas, to the point of developing a sort of bittersweet hope that a world like this may some time in our future come to exist.

A must-read for those interested in the current ‘go green’ movement, a notable example of utopian literature, and an interesting study from a unique voice on the subject.

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