__construct()instead. in /home2/thewhom6/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 3457
Be that as it may, Edith Wharton has been treated better than almost any other woman besides Jane Austen by the fine presses over the years. In addition to the 2004 Arion Press edition of The Age of Innocence I am reviewing here, this work by Wharton was published by the Limited Editions Club thirty years earlier. That the LEC published this most popular book of Wharton’s is not surprising. I mention it here mainly because this particular Arion Press edition reminds me of many of the LEC books with their classic, simple, and clean designs.
The design starts with a simple and elegant full cloth binding whose color is reminiscent of the brownstone houses lived in by many of the characters that inhabit the novel. The spine label is superb with gold stamped lettering and a small photograph of an urn. The spine is classically rounded with the textblock of all cotton mouldmade Velata paper from Italy’s Magnani mill mimicking the rounded spine on the fore-edge. The paper smells marvelous every time the book is opened. The Potlatch Vintage paper was chosen to highlight Stephen Shore’s photographs while matching the tone of the Velata. Another nice touch.
While photographs are not usually my favorite medium for book illustration, in this case I feel that Stephen Shore has captured the feel of Wharton’s New York quite remarkably. And I really like the striking photograph of central park that wraps around the slipcase for the book. I’m a big fan of slipcases for functional reasons and it is nice when some design thought is also put into the slipcase, making it an integral part of the overall presentation. I did find it amusing, however, that one of Shore’s photographs contains windows with a couple of air-conditioning units. I’m not sure that the pediment in the picture was beautiful enough to justify a picture that ruins the period feel of the photograph.
The page design and type choices add to the elegance of the book. The Typo Script on the title page is a nice touch along with the DeVinne Outline for the initial letters of each chapter. But for me, it is the Ronaldson used for the text that adds that extra touch. I’m not sure I’ve seen that type before but it works exquisitely here.
Edith Wharton was a remarkable woman in many ways. Although she came from the New York society so vividly portrayed in The Age of Innocence and other books like The House of Mirth, she was very independent. She believed women should be educated and elevated herself above the standards of education typically applied to women of her time and societal standing. She was obviously very autodidactic in that way, as she had to find a way around the barriers put up around the classic female education. She was a gifted interior and garden designer, and traveled extensively. World War I broke out while she was in France and she became very involved in supporting the war effort and helping refugees. Despite being a foreigner, she managed to get close enough to the front to write several articles for Scribner’s Magazine that were later published in a popular book entitled Fighting France: From Dunkerque to Belfort. I inherited this book years ago from one of my grandmothers and didn’t realize it was written by “the” Edith Wharton. I’ve moved it up in the “to be read” queue as a result. The Age of Innocence won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1921, albeit at the expense of Wharton’s friend Sinclair Lewis, whose Main Street was the first choice of all the fiction judges. The judges were overruled by the conservative board for the prize. Nevertheless, she was the first woman to win the prestigious prize. It makes me wonder if her novel was really read by the those who had the final say. I would be interested to see who would win if the Daphne Award was done for 1921.
All of this is to say that Wharton is much closer to Countess Oleska than May Welland, the two main female characters in the book. May Welland can be summed up by a couple of passages where her fiancé and the book’s protagonist, Newland Archer, is contemplating women in general and her in particular:
That terrifying product of the social system he belonged to and believed in, the young girl who knew nothing and expected everything, looked back at him like a stranger through May Welland’s familiar features; and once more it was borne in on him that marriage was not the safe anchorage he had been taught to think, but a voyage on uncharted seas.
And, in another passage,
And he felt himself oppressed by this creation of factitious purity, so cunningly manufactured by a conspiracy of mothers and aunts and grandmothers and long-dead ancestresses, because it was supposed to be what he wanted, what he had a right to, in order that he might exercise his lordly pleasure in smashing it like an image made of snow.
Archer is also a product of his social system, trapped as well, but with much more room to push against the boundaries than women. Early in the book, he is contemplating the Countess after seeing her at the opera:
The case of the Countess Olenska had stirred up old settled convictions and set them drifting dangerously through his mind. His own exclamation: “Women should be free–as free as we are,” struck to the root of a problem that it was agreed in his world to regard as non-existent. “Nice” women, however wronged, would never claim the kind of freedom he meant, and generous-minded men like himself were therefore–in the heat of argument–the more chivalrously ready to concede it to them. Such verbal generosities were in fact only a humbugging disguise of the inexorable conventions that tied things together and bound people down to the old pattern.
Another passage that gets to the heart of the dichotomy between men and women occurs later in the book as he muses about an affair of his younger days before becoming affianced to May:
The affair, in short, had been of the kind that most of the young men of his age had been through, and emerged from with calm consciences and an undisturbed belief in the abysmal distinction between the women one loved and respected and those one enjoyed–and pitied. In this view they were sedulously abetted by their mothers, aunts, and other elderly female relatives, who all shared Mrs. Archer’s belief that when “such things happened” it was undoubtedly foolish of the man, but somehow always criminal of the woman.
The Age of Innocence treats a mostly vanished time and the city of New York in much the same way that James Joyce treated Dublin. Immortalizing the city of her time and making it as much a character in the book as the people. That’s one reason that Shore’s photography of those places works so well for this particular book. In her insightful introduction, Diane Johnson, writes of the book that “The Age of Innocence, loving in its depiction of New York as a physical entity…is severe on the mores of New York society.” Johnson continues to develop the ties Wharton uses between places and those mores, stating that
Throughout the novel, her observations of building and decorations as the emblems of the spiritual and intellectual condition of the characters or the community form an essential part of the narrative.
Along with the contrasts between innocence and experience, and between conventionality and originality, the underlying and central opposition of the novel is that of Europe and America, in the minds of Wharton’s New Yorkers, “the Siren Isle” compared to “the haven of blameless domesticity”. It is a subject sill timely and perplexing today. The attitudes Wharton portrayed as unattractive in her countrymen she might still find to deplore–preoccupation with money, indifference or even hostility to culture, puritanism. Wharton, writing The Age of Innocence in 1920 from her vantage point as a permanent resident of Europe, prefers the Siren Isle, the realm of art and love.
Indeed. I also prefer the realm of art and love even as I remain a rebellious resident of this “haven of blameless domesticity.” And I prefer the brave Countess Oleska to the other characters in the book, having closed it after reading the last lines with a severe distaste for Newland Archer. Her confession in one of the penultimate scenes between Archer and her showed her strength as well as displaying Wharton’s prose at the height of her powers:
It was impossible to make the confession more dispassionately, or in a tone less encouraging to the vanity of the person addressed. Archer reddened to the temples, but dared not move or speak: it was as if her words had been some rare butterfly that the least motion might drive off on startled wings, but that might gather a flock about it if it were left undisturbed.
Edith Wharton well deserves of her accolades as a writer and definitely deserving of her inclusion into the “club” of fine press editions. Arion Press has definitely done her justice here and I hope to someday see how the Limited Editions Club treated her.
AVAILABILITY: I believe the Arion Press edition sold out in 2012. (My book is Copy 300 of 300, and was purchased in December that year). Information is still available on the Arion Press website here and occasionally a copy will become available there. It is also occasionally available on the rare books market.]]>
I’m a feminist. And I try very hard to be a good one as well as a consistent ally to the women in my life and around me. I watch my male privilege closely but oft times one can’t help but unconsciously or unknowingly support the patriarchy. Lately I’ve been wondering exactly how women writers fare in the fine press world. After reading so many statistics over the years about how men get represented disproportionally to women in the publishing industry in general, I decided to embark on a year of reading women writers. In 2015, I will try my best to reverse my unconscious reading habits away from writers that identify as men. And if I run out of them, I will read non-English speaking writers, non-binary gendered writers, and writers of color, all of which are also published in surprisingly small numbers in the English-speaking world.
The first step, of course, is to figure out the gender statistics of my reading habits. In 2014 I read 40 books, broken down as 23% women and 77% male writers. In 2013, it was 25% and 75%, respectively. These statistics cover everything I read in book form and not just fine press. So my goal in 2015 is to read at least 75% women-identified writers. I’m off to a good start, with 34 books already read, and 74% of them women.
This all lead me to wonder how well I could do with the books I read for this blog, i.e., fine and private press limited edition books. In looking back, I haven’t done very well at all, again with no conscious intention or inclination towards male writers. In 2014 and 2015 I did not review a single book by a female writer. In 2013, it was 1 out of 9, or 11%. Here are the reviews I have done here: Sonnets From the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Orlando by Virginia Woolf, The Sundial by Shirley Jackson, The Wolf’s Carol by Nancy R. Jackson, and Undersea by Rachel Carson. I’ll include A Flame in the Heart by Littoral Press as it is an anthology that is almost equally inclusive of men and women writers, the way you would think it should be.
To see if that was skewed compared to the fine press titles available out there, I looked at four presses that have at least 50 titles published. I wanted the number to have some statistical significance. Two of the presses, the Limited Editions Club and the Arion Press, I have reviewed regularly. Because I have a fair amount of their titles, I also included the Barbarian Press, even though they don’t quite make it to the 50 publication mark. I picked two others because I had access to detailed bibliographies for them and thus could do a quick analysis. Those were the Allen Press and the Tern Press.
The Limited Editions Club has been publishing books since 1929, transitioning ownership and changing it’s focus a couple of times. They published 589 books through 2010. The first woman published was Mary Shelley. Her Frankenstein was title number 53 and was published in the fifth series in 1933-1934. Another 44 books were published before Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published in 1938. In the next series, the tenth in 1939-1940, they published two women writers in the same series for the first time, Edith Wharton and Jane Austen. They did not repeat this until 1993-1994, when they published Maya Angelou and Emily Bronte. All in all, Jane Austen fared best, with five of her books published to date. In total, books by women accounted for 23 of the 589 books, or a paltry 4%.
The Arion Press does better with 9 books by women out of 103 titles, or 9%. The women published are more eclectic and quirky than the LEC’s titles, including Gertrude Stein, Shirley Jackson, Sappho, Jorie Graham, Virginia Woolf. On the “safer” side were their titles by Emily Dickinson and Edith Wharton. The only woman published more than once is Diana Ketchum, wife of owner Andrew Hoyem.
The Tern Press published 137 titles of which 6 were by women. That puts them right there with the LEC at about 4%. They shared one one woman writer with the LEC, Jane Austen.
The Allen Press also fell right in with the Tern Press and the LEC at 4%. They published two women among their 51 books. One was Getrude Atherton and the other was Edith Wharton, where they published Quartet, a book containing four of her short stories.
The final press I looked at, and the one with the highest percentage of women titles, although at a less statistically significant number of total titles, was the Barbarian Press. Despite what you might expect given their moniker, they have managed to publish 4 titles out of 31 by women writers. This puts them at 13% and the top of the pile.
All this points out that while I can certainly do better with my reading and reviewing of fine press books by women authors, it’s pretty grim out there. It would be problematic to get to a 50/50 split, so even if I can read standard issue books to achieve my goal overall, I won’t get there here on the TWBE. Edith Wharton was represented across 3 of the presses I looked at, and the Arion Press edition of The Age of Innocence is up next for review here. Jane Austen had the most titles at six across two of the presses I analyzed. There are certainly other presses out there publishing women. Jarrett Morrison over at the Bowler Press has the audacity to hand-set Pride and Prejudice in a three-volume edition of less than 150 copies. When that
herculean amazonian (see what I did there?) task is finished, I hope to review it and hopefully own it. That will also keep the fine press crown firmly atop Jane Austen’s head. Foolscap Press did a wonderful edition of a short story by Ursula Le Guin that sold out quickly and the Nawakum Press published a beautiful edition of Rachel Carson that has been reviewed here. The Larkspur Press, which does wonderful books of poetry, publishes a significant amount of poetry by women.
What would I like to see get the fine press treatment? How about Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird? Kate Chopin’s The Awakening? Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits? Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel? Some Clarice Lispector, Simon de Beauvoir, Marguerite Duras, and Violette Leduc. Maybe some Margaret Cavendish? I know that more recent publications can be problematic due to copyright and cost. On the poetry side, I would love to see some Mary Oliver, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Nikki Giovanni, Juana Inés de la Cruz, Patrizia Cavalli, and H.D. There are so many delightful writers out there; many of them happen to be women. I hope to see more of them on mould-made paper, printed letterpress, and appearing on collector’s and reader’s shelves and on this blog.
me, myself, and the monkeyface eel is a wonderful start and a statement of intent towards the goals of the Press. The author, Kirk Lombard, is a Bay area local writer and eccentric. The artist, Leighton Kelly, is also based in Oakland and did an amazing job of imagining the perfect illustrations for the book. I believe he came up with the illustration facing the colophon with only a limited amount of information about the book and was considered the illustrator fait accompli as soon as David and Mark saw it. The intention to do as much of the production in-house went so far as to see Mark go eel fishing with the author in order to catch, skin, and tan enough monkeyface eels to half-bind the reserved edition of the books. I can only think of one other book bound in eel off the top of my head: The Flounder by Gunter Grass, published by the Limited Editions Club. And I doubt Sidney Shiff pulled on waders, grabbed a poke-pole, and went out to catch his own binding leather! The eel half binding is finished with handmade cotton rag and seaweed cover papers that the pressmen hand-dyed a fitting shade of green. I was very happy to note that the faint nori-like smell of the leather I had noticed on my tour of the press was completely absent from the finished book. (And believe me, I smelled it several times to check. As fitting as it might be for the subject matter, I don’t think I’d like that sitting in my library next to my other books!)
Upon opening the book, the first feature to catch the eye is the brightly contrasting end papers in red, black, and gold. Then another little bit of design magic appears with the gold foil stamped title on the title page. These colors then continue throughout the handmade paper pages with the main text employing Hess Old Style in black, Libra section headings in red, and gold foil for the headings for Parts I & II. The page numbers and separator lines for the footnotes are also in red, presenting a pleasing contrast on almost every page. The book comes with a separate appendix contained in a chapbook using the same green cover papers and containing poetry and haikus extolling the virtues of the monkeyface eel. The book and chapbook are housed in a sturdy slipcase stamped in gold with another wonderful illustration by Kelly, this time a (reverse?) mermaid with the lower body of a human and the head of a monkeyface eel. As the book itself does not have any spine labeling, it is nice to see that the press saw fit to label the spine of the slipcase, thereby avoiding a pet peeve of mine in having a blank spine on the shelf. Another nice little touch is the paper band around the slipcase giving a little bit of information about the book, a thoughtful design feature considering there is no titling on the front board.
I have close to zero interest in fishing, unless it’s on the banks of a bubbling, or better yet, torrential, mountain stream with no actual fish to disturb my relaxations and reflections. But Lombard’s tale of himself was quite entertaining, even as you scratched your head to figure out how much of it is real and how much tongue-in-cheek comedy. As the (imaginary?) Paczkowski states in the introduction, “only Lombard would write a book about Lombard and his decidedly questionable angling achievements.”
Part I of the book outlines Lombard’s history and his discovery (thanks to Cambodian Stan) of the best way to fish for the monkeyface eel and other denizens of the shoreline. He goes on to describe his experiments with tanning eel leather. Presumably he had this pretty well worked out by the time David and Mark decided to cover the books with it.
Part 2 then dives into some of the nuances of fishing for eels, going into their behavior, how they bite, what they eat, etc. One of my favorite parts is where he is questioning why an eel that only feeds on seaweed would want to take the squid-baited hook. He goes on to draw the parallel with all the vegans he believes sneak off to Wendy’s for a burger several times a week. He then dives into several recipes featuring the monkeyface eel.
All in all, I really enjoyed my couple of reads through this book. Despite the topic being pretty far outside of my usual reading, I would be happy to have this first book of The Prototype Press in my library. I’m really excited to see where they apply their talents next.
AVAILABILITY: me, myself, and the monkeyface eel is published in two states: a standard edition of 75 books and a reserved edition of 25 books. Both are available directly from the press. The reserved edition is reviewed here. There is also a fine review of the standard edition on Books & Vines.
NOTE: The Whole Book Experience would like to thank The Prototype Press for the generosity that made this review possible.
What miraculous seed has he swallowed
That the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth…
This line from the poem The Man Born to Farming pretty much sums up how I feel about Wendell Berry. I’m a huge Berry fan; I love his non-fiction activist works, his poetry, and have recently become enamored with his fiction. I’m really pleased that he has a couple of private presses that are also fans so that some of his work gets the fine press treatment.
In his introduction to Wendell Berry’s Roots to the Earth, illustrator Wesley Bates writes, “Farming is the most essential of human activities and its vitality is of utmost importance to us and to future generations.” If you have read much Berry, you will know that he is NOT talking about corporate farming but more of the traditional family-based small farms that this nation was founded on and which have increasingly been pushed aside as mechanization and corporatization have replaced the sweat-equity of farmers. Berry’s roots reach deep into the earth in his native Kentucky, so deep in fact, that after spending time at Stanford University, Europe under a Guggenheim Fellowship, and New York University, he re-settled on a homestead in Henry County Kentucky close to where he was born. He’s been there ever since, farming and writing, writing and farming. Deeply influenced by the Gospels but somewhat critical of modern Christianity, he fell into the habit of taking walks in the woods around his farm on the Sabbath. From those meditative walks came much poetry that has been published as the Sabbath Poems. But Roots to the Earth eschews those meditative themes for the earth and the farming thereof.
In The Buildings, Berry portrays the farm buildings as having feminine characteristics, while the labor around them is masculine. Wesley Bates achieves his intention of making his engravings “companion pieces” to the poems, as the engraving following the poems hints of a woman supine, legs out, belly swollen with fecundity, breasts ready to feed the earth. In The Current, Berry ties the act of putting your hand in the ground to farm with all the farmers who have worked that ground before, all who are cleared the land for their lodges and graves only to have the forest close back upon them, and to possibility of his descendents reaching into the same ground. Bates again following the poem with an engraving suggesting a son or grandson helping to clear a field and enclose it with a stone wall. The Fearfulness of Hands That Have Learned Killing describes the awe of learning to kill that comes with farming and hunting, “the shedding of predestined blood that lives for death.” The acts of marrying and fathering balancing the acts of death and teaching restraint, wisdom, and pity.
There is no life I can think of
without sensing in my hands the answering power.
I shall not go free of the art of death.
Bates selected the poems in this collection “for the way he expresses what it is to be a farmer.” And he has certainly done found a way to marry those poems to his engravings.
Larkspur Press’ edition of Roots to the Earth is a stunning book. The paper used to cover the boards is exquisite. The use of two papers, mouldmade Somerset Book from St. Cuthberts Mill and handmade Gampi Torinoko by the late Masao Seki in Japan, provides a nice contrast throughout the book. Both are creamy papers sensuous to the touch, with the illustration paper (the Gampi Torinoko?) providing an interesting visual contrast to the solid uniformity of the paper used for the text. Unlike all of my other Larkspur Press books, this is a large book measuring about 9.3” wide by 10” high, adding to it’s uniqueness.
Wendell Berry is a national treasure. I hope the 80 year old has plenty more time to enlighten and entertain us. And I hope that the Larkspur Press continue to delight us with lovely editions of his work.
Like a tree, he has given roots
to the earth, and stands free.
AVAILABILITY: 100 copies were printed for this edition and may still be available directly from Larkspur Press.]]>
The Prototype Press will be publishing first editions by local writers and local artist. Admirably, their vision is to create fine press books entirely in-house, from design to casting to binding. To that end, the press has been acquiring the necessary equipment and is now housed in a nice space in a old warehouse building in Oakland that houses many other artists, artisans, and businesses requiring industrial type space. A monotype composition caster, hand fed presses, a guillotine, foil stamper, and hot glue machine have all been gathered into their compact space. A couple of chairs, a ukelele, and a guitar sit in one corner for those inevitable times when they need a break or are seeking inspiration.
They are currently at work on the first book that will bear the Prototype Press imprint, a book by local eelman, writer, and poet Kirk Lombard titled Me, Myself, and the Monkeyface Eel. Oakland artist Leighton Kelly created the illustrations for the book using linoleum carvings.When they say the press is striving to do everything in house, they mean it. Mark went out with the author to fish for the monkeyface eels using the traditional “stick and poke” method, caught enough to skin and cure for the half eelskin binding of the reserved edition, and even ate some of the eels. They hand-dyed the seaweed and cotton rag paper made by the Shotwell Paper Mill in San Francisco. This is a very unique and beautiful book. Alas, I was so engrossed in the discussion about the book that I neglected to take a picture of it. But there are some great pictures on the press’ website (as well as a video showing the book AND some eel fishing!). The reserved edition has a limitation of 25. They did not have a finished copy of the standard edition to show us but that will be in a limitation of 75.
At some point, I hope to get a review of Me, Myself, and the Monkeyface Eel up on the blog. But regardless of that, I’m looking forward to seeing where David and Mark take the press and hope to see many more creative and unique books from them in the future.]]>
My CODEX day began with a tour of the Prototype Press led by Mark Sarigianis and David Johnston. I have already reviewed some books from Prototype Press’ predecessor, the David Johnston founded Sharp Teeth Press, and so I am looking forward to the output of this talented collaboration. More on that in a future post.
The first thing I realized upon entering the Crane Pavilion in Richmond, is that CODEX had gotten bigger, too big for a single day. I remembered struggling to see everything two years ago and now was just going to have to do my best. I had two presses I specifically wanted to see because of their recently published books and a lot of old favorites and new participants to check out.
The first press I made sure to see was The Salvage Press, a first time CODEX exhibitor from “dear dirty Dublin.” That’s how James Joyce referred to the city of his birth in Dubliners and Ulysses, although it morphed into “teary turty Taubling” in Finnegans Wake. I love all things Joycean and so it seems does Jamie Murphy, founder and proprietor of the Salvage Press. He has printed two titles that simply must find their way onto my shelves, The Works of Master Poldy and Gas from a Burner. The first is a distillation of Joyce’s Leopold Bloom into a “collection of his wide-ranging thoughts and quips” and the second was written protesting the malicious burning of the 1st edition of Dubliners. Master Poldy in particular is a striking book printed in multiple fonts and colors. Even more impressive is that there was literally nothing on the Press’ display table that didn’t appeal to me, especially after hearing Jamie talk enthusiastically and lovingly about each of them. His Four Poems by Jonathan Swift are beautiful slim volumes. Interestingly, the poems were chosen because they were written over the same six years (1725-1731) that the Caslon type was being developed. His latest book, Maldon, is also beautiful. The amazing Simon Brett illustrates this Anglo-Saxon fragment describing a battle in 991. If you enjoy Beowulf, the Pearl, or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, this would be a nice edition to add to your library.
I had also wanted to see the Ninja Press and their recent publication of W.S. Merwin’s Lives of the Artists, a long poem inspired by the lives of two Native Americans, an Arapahoe and Northern Cheyenne, who recorded their experiences in the Plains Indian Wars of the 1860’s. Some of the drawings made in their ledger books were used to illustrate the edition. Alas for me, but good for the press, this latest edition of theirs had already completely sold out by the time CODEX rolled around. I will have to search a copy out in one of the Rare Book Libraries that have Ninja Press books. Despite my disappointment, time is never wasted with Carolee Campbell’s books. I spent some time looking through her magnificent edition of The Persephones by Nathaniel Tarn. Her books are wonderful indeed.
There were two standout books for me, one of which is definitely in the “ oh da actual money needed!” (OHDAMN!) category. The first was an emotional resonance with my long time love of Bob Dylan’s music. Edition Schwarze Seite was showing their very cool Bob Dylan, a collection of 15 lyrics with accompanying original illustrations of Dylan or inspired by his work. The pairing of illustration with lyrics was very well done. Unfortunately, I noticed the edition is not yet showing on their website and I’ve forgotten some of the particulars. The editions is selling well and may not make it on the website before selling out. But it is something that definitely appealed strongly to this Dylan fan.
The second standout, and probably my pick of the show, was 21st Editions edition of Les Fleurs de Mal or The Flowers of Evil. Having just read Roberto Calasso’s La Folie Baudelaire and started in on Les Fleurs de Mal, seeing the striking pairing of Eikoh Hosoe’s photographs with some of Baudelaire’s poems was an interesting coincidence and a great treat. I’d love to spend more time with this book. It’s simply stunning. Credit to Kat Ran Press and 21st Editions for the beauty of this book.
There were so many other books that caught my eye that I just couldn’t make enough notes to remind me to mention them here. I spent a good deal of time at the Claire Van Vliet’s Janus Press table and really enjoyed looking through her Gospel of Mary. My favorite, in part due to my love for Spanish literature in translation, was her edition of García Lorca’s Romance de la Guardia Civil Espanola. I especially liked how she alternated lines in Spanish and English in different colors. I’m not sure I’ve seen a bilingual text done that way and it created a pleasing visual effect and would probably be a joy to read and puzzle through the translation. I don’t remember all the details but it is an older book, either from 1963 or 1974, depending on the edition. As a Whitman lover, I had an intriguing discussion with Barbara Henry of Harsimus Press about her edition of Whitman’s 1855 poem Faces. Whitman spent time as a typesetter and thus knew a lot about (type)faces, and this book reinterprets the poem in light of that knowledge.
I’m primarily interested in fine press books that provide a significant literary or reading experience, but occasionally smaller books and book art objects catch my eye. Usually they resonate with me because of a relationship to a favorite author or piece of literature. One such book object was Ximena Pérez Grobet’s alteration of Finnegans Wake. She has taken a 1965 edition of Joyce’s book, unbound it, cut each page into strips, knitted them back together, and then rebound the pages in order back into the original cover. The knitted pages will end up in four volumes by the time it is done and there will only be the one unique edition. So she will have each page of the book photographed and published in a small paperback edition of 100 under her Nowhere Man Press. The first volume is done along with its facsimile edition. The Joycean in me could not resist. Sue Huggins Leopard of Leopard Studio Editions had a beautiful set of miniature books titled Thanks, Walt that was wonderful (OHDAMN Again!). Just hearing her talk about the creation and genesis of the books was a joy. And finally, my favorite objects were Diane Jacobs’ woven paper undergarments made of strips of paper listing every derogatory name, allusion, or slang she could find for the corresponding body part that the object usually covers. Hilariously naughty and quite simply an incredible look into the errant creative energy used by the patriarchy to exploit women and denigrate breasts and vaginas. Her book Alphabet Tricks is another exploration of words in a similar vein that I would definitely like to have in my library.
By closing time, my legs were beat and I was only halfway through the Pavilion. Next CODEX I’ll try to allow two days. As I left I realized I had missed a lot people and presses I had hoped to see. I didn’t get a chance to check in with the Nawakum Press, the Littoral Press, Foolscap Press, Sherwin Beach Press, Barbarian Press, and so many others. I’m already looking forward to 2017 and I strongly encourage everyone with an interest in fine press and book art to add CODEX to their bucket list of book-related adventures.]]>
There’s a little bit of everything for collectors at the Book Fair, from true antiquarian books and manuscripts to modern firsts to ephemera and incunabula. What I like the Antiquarian Book Fair best for is it gives me the opportunity to see fine press books from presses that are no longer in existence. Presses like the Allen Press, the Grabhorn Press, the Limited Editions Club (Macy era), and the Black Sun Press. There are also out of print editions from existing presses that are obviously not available direct from the presses anymore.
The holy grail of older fine press books for me is the Limited Editions Club Ulysses, because of my love for all things Joycean. And there was indeed a fine copy of it there, along with a couple of true firsts. This particular LEC was one of the 250 or so out of the edition of 1500 that was signed by Joyce in addition to Matisse. I didn’t even look at the price or give the book itself much of a look other than to laugh at the booksellers’ statement about installment payments. I’m happy to have my Easton Press facsimile. That’s close enough to the grail for me right now. A more realistic goal is to one day acquire the Black Sun Press edition of Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Cohderlos de Laclos. Every time I see it I fall more in love with it. Published in 1929 in two volumes in soft wrappers and illustrated in amazing colors by Alistair. Someday, someday. It passes my first test for purchasing books: I would definitely read it and enjoy it immensely while doing so. And at only a third of my monthly mortgage payment, it might be doable at some point.
There were quite a few other fine press books I was really impressed with and that I enjoyed the opportunity to see and feel. I saw Grabhorn Press’ edition of The Taming of the Shrew. This is a beautiful edition in multiple colors and exceptional typography. There was a dealer who had a good 10 or so Allen Press titles. Those are some beautiful books for a fine press lover. I especially liked Conrad’s Youth with its beautiful illustrations, Henry James’ The Beast in the Jungle with its text printed in seven different colors corresponding to the emotional theme of each chapter, and the Greek plays of Antigone and The Oresteian Trilogy. I also saw one of the Arion Press back-catalog titles on my wishlist, Nabokov’s Pale Fire, but it looks like that one might also have crept out of a comfortable price range as well.
The Antiquarian Book Fair was an excellent side adventure and warm up for CODEX. Stay tuned for more on that in an upcoming post.]]>
This is a vision of a future population control institutionalized to keep the population constant after medical breakthroughs eliminated aging. The story begins:
Everything was perfectly swell.
There were no prisons, no slums, no insane asylums, no cripples, no poverty, no wars.
All diseases were conquered. So was old age.
Death, barring accidents, was an adventure for volunteers.
Well that does sound swell, right? But there’s a catch. Now if you wanted to have a child, or I suppose if you accidently got pregnant and wanted to keep the baby, you had to find someone willing to die so that the child could take that persons’ place. Otherwise the child would be terminated. And this was all bureaucratically provided for by the swell sounding Ethical Suicide Studios, part of the Federal Bureau of Termination. People being people, of course, there were much more colorful names for the facilities. Vonnegut describes it as
an institution whose fanciful sobriquets included: “Automat”, “Birdland”, “Cannery”, “Catbox”, “De-louser”, “Easy-go”, “Good-by, Mother”, “Happy Hooligan”, “Kiss-me-quick”, “Lucky Pierre”, “Sheepdip”, “Waring Blender”, “Weep no-more” and “Why Worry?”.
There are even popular songs that celebrate the usefulness of such an institution in curing the blues:
If you don’t like my kisses, honey,
Here’s what I will do:
I’ll go see a girl in purple,
Kiss this sad world toodle-oo
If you don’t want my lovin’
Why should I take up all this space?
I’ll get off this old planet,
Let some sweet baby have my place.
It kind of reminds me of another dumb solution imposed on a society in a Star Trek episode. In that scenario, two planets had replaced war with a computer simulation because it was “too messy”. So the simulation would come up with the number of people killed in each virtual battle, come up with a list of names, and you would be required to show up and be terminated. But just because these visions of the future sound dumb, doesn’t mean that they couldn’t happen. Well intentioned laws and solutions sometimes have unintended and ridiculous consequences.
There is plenty of Vonnegut humor packed into this story. Such as his description of what happens to the attractive women they hire at the Ethical Suicide Studios:
The woman had a lot of facial hair—an unmistakable mustache, in fact. A curious thing about gas-chamber hostesses was that, no matter how lovely and feminine they were when recruited, they all sprouted mustaches within five years or so.
I also liked the irony of the scene where the painter is talking to the orderly, a title that suggests order:
“The world could do with a good deal more mess, if you ask me,” he [the painter] said.
The orderly laughed and moved on.
I’ll leave you to enjoy the details of the story on your own without spoiling it here.
The Sharp Teeth press has created a very attractive edition for this story that I think Vonnegut would be happy with. I’m not sure what the paper is but it is quite nice to the touch and nicely textured. The website simply describes it as “fine German paper”. The illustrations by Jesse Balmer follow the story very well. I especially love the full-page spread illustration of the painter and his painting. Balmer has really captured a fitting imagining of the painting as described by Vonnegut. The illustrations are printed in magenta and provide a eye-catching contrast to the neon green endpapers and the black text. The book is hand-bound with a rendition of a badge for the U.S. Department of Termination stamped into the vinyl-like cover. A paper wrapper band around the book with a short description is another elegant touch in the design of the edition.
This is the third title I’ve reviewed for The Whole Book Experience and I’m looking forward to more from Sharp Teeth. I hope they keep up the good work and the quirky selection of titles.
AVAILABILITY: Printed in an edition of 80. Copies still available directly from the press.
NOTE: The Whole Book Experience would like to thank David Johnston and the Sharp Teeth Press for the generosity that made this review possible.]]>
A Consent and Andy Catlett: Early Education would later be collected into books containing other stories in Berry’s cycle of stories and novels concerning the fictional Port William Membership and the land they inhabit. While I’ve read many of his essays and much of his poetry, these are the first two fictional pieces I’ve read. A trade edition of Andy Catlett: Early Travels has been on my “to be read” pile for eight years and moved to the top of the queue after reading reading A Consent.
A little jewel of a love story, A Consent is a heartwarming tale of two Port William residents, a farmer and a schoolteacher, who have admired each other from afar for a good long while before fate intervenes to prompt them into action. In Berry’s clear and straightforward telling there is simplicity and humour and an ability to catch the awkwardness of that first step that many of us can relate to. I will definitely be searching out the collection that contains this story, Watch With Me and Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, Née Quinch, to learn more about the two subjects of this Larkspur gem.
My A Consent is in the cloth hard back state. It has a dust jacket in two colors with two of Carolyn Whitsel’s illustrations that also appear in the book itself printed on the front and back. The paper is Mohawk Letterpress. The book was handset and printed on a handfed C&P press, which I believe is standard method of operation for Larkspur books, and then sewn and handbound into it’s case. This is a beautiful book that fits easily in the hand and is a pleasure to read over and over again.
In Andy Catlett: Early Education, we meet the titular hero recalling how he went from a “sweet, tractable child” to a handful for teachers and parents alike. Berry brings us into the humorous recollection of some of the shenanigans that young Andy gets up to as if we are sitting at the table of a Catlett family reunion laughing along as he comes to his deserved come-uppance.
I was lucky enough to snag one of the special editions of Andy Catlett: Early Education. This state is handbound by Carolyn Whitesel using her own specially designed papers over boards. In addition, it is printed on Zerkall Book paper instead of the Mohawk Superfine used for the cloth- and paper-bound regular states. The book is signed by author and accompanied by a separate printing of the engravings signed by the artist, Wesley Bates. Definitely worth the extra cost in my book; and a bargain compared to some of the other fine press book prices out there. But I’ve never been anything but delighted by any of the different states of Larkspur Press books that I’ve been lucky enough to read and keep on my library shelves.
Wendell Berry has been an important influence in the way I think about food, food security, and the practice of farming. The Port Williams books are well-crafted stories that bring us the beauty and comfort of a way of living that is almost gone while illustrating the struggles and difficulties that face our farmers. I’ve been thinking about the corporatization of our food system a lot lately, and these books showed up right when I needed them. I’m glad there is a fine press who loves his writing as much as I, and continues to put out editions of his works.
AVAILABILITY: A Consent was published in 1993 in an edition of 1050 in two states, both of which are out of print. Andy Catlett: Early Education was published in 2010 in an edition of 1050 in three states. The special edition of 100 is out of print but both the cloth hard back and paper back show still available on the website.
Here are a couple more page shots of A Consent:
And a couple more of Andy Catlett: Early Education:
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, reexamine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
So Walt Whitman instructs us in the Preface to the 1855 edition of his seminal and landmark book of poetry, Leaves of Grass. This is why I love him. Even 160 years later, the book still strikes like a lightning bolt of profundity. At the time of publishing, no less a personage than Emerson stated in a letter to Whitman that
I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of “Leaves of Grass”…I rubbed my eyes a little, to see if this sunbeam were no illusion…
In her introduction, Helen Vendler, writes that another hero of mine, Thoreau, said
In an 1856 letter, Thoreau, after an initial flinching at Whitman’s candor (“It is as if the beasts spoke”) continued by saying “He is awfully good”, and with an early insight, suggested that Whitman’s apparent “egoism” was earned: “He may turn out the least of a braggart of all, having a better right to be confident.”
Whitman speaks to everyone about everyday things without pretense and in language that is understandable to the masses. He does it in unrhymed free verse without the sometimes intimidating formal structure of other poets and poetry. He addresses issues that were groundbreaking at the time. Some may seem mundane now, some have new urgency or interpretations within his lines, and some need new poets, writers, artists, activists, and everyday people to carry the torch forward.
There is too much that I love here. I can only touch on some of the flashes of genius that have always touched me, and others that strike me with new meaning each time I open the book depending on what my country, culture, or I am struggling with when I reread him.
For example, in other writing and volunteer work I have been involved in the issues of body image and imposed gender expectations have been front and center. But no worries, even back when body image was not necessarily a articulated concept, I find that Walt has covered it:
The bodies of men and women engirth me, and I engirth them,
They will not let me off nor I them till I go with them and respond
to them and love them.
Gender expectations? Sexuality? No problem. Way before androgyny and choosing personal pronouns, Walt was mixing his pronouns and confusing believers in the sexual binary with his poetry of the gray area in between:
If you meet some stranger in the street and love him or her, do I not often
meet strangers in the street and love them?
Darkness you are gentler than my lover….his flesh was sweaty and
I feel the hot moisture yet that he left me.
Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am
The scent of these arm-pits is aroma finer than prayer,
This head is more than churches or bibles or creeds.
If I worship any particular thing it shall be some of the spread of my body;
Translucent mould of me it shall be you,
Shaded ledges and rests, firm masculine coulter, it shall be you,
Whatever goes to the tilth of me it shall be you,
You my rich blood, your milky stream pale stripping of my life;
Breast that presses against other breasts it shall be you.
My brain it shall be your occult convolutions,
Root of washed sweet-flag, timorous pond-snipe, nest of guarded
duplicate eggs, it shall be you.
Mixed tussled hay of head and beard and brawn it shall be you,
Trickling sap of maple, fibre of manly wheat, it shall be you;
Sun so generous it shall be you,
Vapors lighting and shading my face it shall be you,
You sweaty brooks and dews it shall be you,
Winds whose soft-tickling genitals rub against me it shall be you,
Broad muscular fields, branches of liveoak, loving lounger in my winding
paths, it shall be you,
Hands I have taken, face I have kissed, mortal I have ever touched, it shall
My lovers suffocate me!
Crowding my lips, and thick in the pores of my skin,
Jostling me through streets and public halls….coming naked to me at
Crying by day Ahoy from the rocks of the river….swinging and chirping
over my head,
Calling my name from flowerbeds or vines or tangled underbrush,
Or while I swim in the bath….or drink from the pump at the corner….
or the curtain is down at the opera…or I glimpse at a woman’s
face in the railroad car;
Lighting on every moment of my life,
Bussing my body with soft and balsamic busses,
Noiselessly passing handfuls out of their hearts and giving them to
Come closer to me,
Push close my lovers and take the best I possess,
Yield closer and closer and give me the best you possess.
What is known I strip away…I launch all men and women forward with
me into the unknown.
If there is one thing I don’t connect with Walt on, it is his occasional jingoist digressions while singing his nationalistic praise of the United States. But bear with the poet, he has much good advice that our country needs to hear. Confused about our immigrant past or wanting to scapegoat the latest group to want to come here? Walt says,
Here is not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations.
Dismissing the importance of literature and the arts? Alas Whitman’s vision has not quite come to pass…
Of all nations the United States with veins full of poetical stuff most need poets and will doubtless have the greatest and use them the greatest. Their presidents shall not be their common referee so much as their poets shall.
Need encouragement to fight for your particular marginalized rights? Walt has you covered there too:
Not a grave of the murdered for freedom but grows seed for freedom….in
its turn to bear seed.
Which the winds carry afar and re-sow, and the rains and the snows nourish.
Morality and spirituality? Whitman was well read in the western canon and drew off of Christian and Jewish sacred writings but his writings also seem to reflect some of the eastern beliefs and ideas. I hear the Tao in some of his verses.
The vulgar and the refined….what you call sin and what you call
goodness….to think how wide the difference;
To think the difference will still continue to others, yet we lie beyond the difference.
I swear I see now that every thing has an eternal soul!
The trees have, rooted in the ground….the weeds of the sea have….
The beautiful thing about Whitman’s poetry is that it is affirming poetry that most people will find some affirmation within. What you pull out of and what you get from reading Leaves of Grass depends on your own personal history and experience.
My love for Whitman makes resisting new editions especially hard, particularly fine press editions but also quirky new ones like the recent Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself. The Arion Press edition was a no-brainer.
In keeping with Whitman’s desire for his “barbaric yawp” to appeal to the masses, this 100th Arion Press edition was kept simple but elegant. No converting Whitman into a livre de artiste here. The illustrations are confined to the familiar portrait of Walt from the original edition and an image of grass by Arion Press binder Rochelle Youk. The binding is beautiful with oak veneered boards and green Nigerian goatskin. The book block and spine are nicely rounded, a welcome departure from the disappointingly frequent flat spine of recent Arion books. My one nit with the design is that the titling on the spine of the book is very fine and hard to read. I would have liked the title to stand out as boldly and saucily as Whitman does in his portrait. The book is cased in a nicely done and equally elegant slipcase. As usual with me, the paper is the clincher, a special 1985 run of Langley from the Barcham Green Mill with watermarks of the mill and of the Arion Press’ lyre pressmark. And rough deckle edge seems like just the right touch for Leaves of Grass.
In her lucid foreword, Helen Vendler states that the opening poem, which later was named “Song of Myself”, is “…the first masterpiece of American poetry, and has influenced not only every subsequent generation of American writers but also foreign poets from Russia to Chile. Indeed, I love finding references to Whitman among the words of writers. One of my favorite recent poems of homage to Whitman is by Rudulfo Anaya. I found “Walt Whitman Strides the Llano of New Mexico” in The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. It’s a long poem and worth seeking out. I’ll just quote a small part:
Hold me in the safety of your arms, wise poet, old poet,
Abuelo de todos. Your fingers stir my memory.
Leaves of Grass should be our National Poem, if such a thing existed, though I’m not sure we still deserve it, if ever we did. Walt might have a few things to say about how our nation has strayed. But that is part of the beauty of Whitman’s gift. He gives this gift freely, without judgment of our need or worth. Open the gift in whatever form you can: fine or trade edition, used or new, graphic adaptation, paperback, e-book. Take a turn together….it will repay you.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop some where waiting for you.
AVAILABILITY: The Arion Press edition is limited to 275 copies at a price of $1250. It was almost instantly out of print.