Saturday, January 15, 2022

Every Book Its Story

KZ's Office / Cataloging Room.  Wife afraid to enter.

I’m cataloging a few of my recent acquisitions.  They usually arrive one at a time and the backlog is manageable, but this last year has been a deluge.  I’m way behind in bringing order to the chaos.   Stacks of book everywhere in my office: desk, chairs, table.  But with the big exception of pamphlets, I can find what I’m looking for as needed.  My in-house catalogue goes light years beyond an orderly list-keeping: most of the items are association copies and each one merits at least a brief explanation that often expands with research into a mini-essay.  But this is part of the fun for me—story upon story to discover, expound, resuscitate.   I find time when I can to catalog, usually in the evenings and sometimes during the day when work is slow.  It also can be an excuse when yardwork is required or a welcome respite when life takes a stressful turn.  The results of this thirty plus year pursuit of biblio-bliss is a current file of 1,112 pages in 10 point type, and 755,027 words. 
            The bookseller Dorothy Sloan, one of my early mentors, encouraged me to catalog my collection in some form.  Thankfully, I listened, which has not always been my strong suit.  Someday I’ll polish this mighty beast of a document up and formally publish it.  But for now, the catalogue remains open on my computer screen 24/7, always beckoning me to add to it – to feed it new and exciting acquisitions.   And believe me, I do, and I also back the file up to the cloud with religious regularity.
              So, what of it the last couple of weeks?  What books and stories have found the top of the stack to input?  They range from blockbuster associations to more minor items in my biblio-opera.   Come along and catalog with me and get your mind off an upcoming meeting, a thankless task, or an irrational person.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Kurt Zimmerman: A Talk to the FBS About Bookseller Dorothy Sloan

 I gave a zoom talk recently to the Florida Bibliophile Society about antiquarian bookseller Dorothy Sloan (1943-2021). She was an important mentor in my youth.  The focus is the acquisition of the core of her reference library and portions of her archive.  Jerry Morris, president of the FBS, provides the introduction and the ending presentation.  There were a couple of technical glitches, but all's well that ends well.

Here is the youtube link (talk approx. 37 minutes).

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

William P. Barlow Jr. (1934-2021): Personal Rewards and Universal Benefits


Bill Barlow in his library 2011

William P. Barlow, Jr. (1934-2021) collected books for almost 70 years – an admirable run achieved by few collectors, and rarer still was his ability to recall just about every acquisition going back to the beginning.  A CPA by vocation, Bill was organized, and in case he needed to refresh his memory, he could consult his large, hefty ledger book in which he had written in chronological order each book acquired since the early 1950s.  And there were thousands and thousands of them recorded within.  I saw this ledger first-hand on a memorable visit with my friend Douglas Adams to Bill’s home in Oakland, California in 2011.  News of Bill’s passing on October 21st at age 87 from a heart attack shocked me and stirred many thoughts.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Revolution, Redoute, and Why Collect Books?


The stray bullet shattered the hotel window narrowly missing the young American railroad engineer, Will Winterrowd.  He would save it as a souvenir.  It was February 1917 and Winterrowd was watching the plaza below from his hotel room in Petrograd (now called St. Petersburg).  He recalled the chaos he witnessed, “a hooligan with an officer’s sword belted over his overcoat, a rifle in one hand and a revolver in the other; a small boy with a large butcher’s knife, a soldier with an officer’s sword in one hand, without the scabbard, and a bayonet in the other hand; another with a revolver in one hand and a tram-railer cleaner in the other; a student with two rifles and a band of machine-gun bullets around his waist. All were singing, shouting, and repeatedly firing off their weapons into the air.”

Thursday, April 15, 2021

McMurtry, Pass By

Larry McMurtry & Kurt Zimmerman in 2012

Larry McMurtry died recently, and both the writing world and the antiquarian book trade mourn his passing.  McMurtry thought of himself as a bookseller as much as a writer, although that is not how he will generally be remembered.  For he was a good and prolific author of fiction; a natural storyteller that also ventured successfully into history, screenplays, and insightful essays which covered many topics.  I enjoy his essays the most.  But I still a have a tough time forgiving him for killing off Gus McCrae’s pigs at the end of Lonesome Dove.
        McMurtry scouted and sold used and rare books since his college days.  These scouting adventures were loosely drawn upon for example in his novel Cadillac Jack about a rodeo cowboy turned antiques hunter.  McMurtry had a predilection for buying whole book collections rather than straining out the rarities and leaving the rest.  He told me in 2012 he’d purchased the stock of twenty-six used / rare bookstores and over 200 private collections.  So, he dealt mainly in quantities of better used books rather than focusing on rare ones, although he sold plenty of the latter over a long bookselling career.  He would go on to establish used bookstores in Houston, Washington, D.C., and his hometown of Archer City, Texas.  He eventually closed the Houston and Washington, D.C. stores and doubled down on the Archer City location.  Here he filled a number of buildings he owned on the town square with over 300,000 books in all subjects.  He may have had an American vision of Hay-on-Wye in mind.  That didn’t quite happen, but he did attract a steady stream of book hunters to the tiny north Texas town far from big city amenities. 
I made my first book buying pilgrimage to Archer City in 2001.  I arrived on a toasty August day, stopped at the Dairy Queen for an Oreo blizzard, and got situated in my room at the Lonesome Dove Inn.  The Inn was owned by friends of McMurtry.  They were used to having a variety of book hunters come through – in fact, I think book people were their primary guests.  I still have my Lonesome Dove Inn t-shirt. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Nettie Lee Benson on the Development of Special Collections

Nettie Lee Benson

Library Special Collections are fundamental to preserving historical materials and providing resources for students, professors, and independent scholars.   But how were such collections formed and how do they continue to thrive?  I have encountered no better concise explanation than one given by Nettie Lee Benson (1905-1993), librarian and later director of the Latin American collection at the University of Texas from 1942-1975.  The revelatory essay came to my attention recently after the purchase of an offprint from the University of Texas Library Chronicle of Benson’s “The Making of the Latin American Collection” (1962).
            Her essay pertained to a state institution but is generally applicable to any library special collection.  The thoughtfulness of her answer brings together often compartmentalized ideas and forms them into a wider vista—a deceptively simple task.  Being able to grasp both the big picture and the details within is a decidedly uncommon talent.
            Benson’s outstanding career as a librarian, teacher, and scholar is outlined well in the resources linked below.  Benson natural curiosity combined with her historical bent guided her along an unlikely career path in a field dominated at the time by men.  From her small-town Texas roots she became an acknowledged expert in her field and rose to the directorship of a major library.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Eternal Passion: Nicholas A. Basbanes and the Making of A Gentle Madness. A Video Tour


Pandemic or not, there is still room for celebration.  Currently on view by appointment is the exhibition at the Cushing Library at Texas A&M University, “The Eternal Passion: Nicholas A Basbanes and the Making of A Gentle Madness.”  The exhibition was originally planned for a March launch but delayed by the Pandemic.  A much-anticipated opening day event featuring Nick Basbanes himself had to be cancelled.  Nonetheless, curator Kevin O’Sullivan was determined to keep the exhibition available.  The exhibition was rescheduled and is now running from Aug. 3rd – Nov. 30, 2020.

This is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books.  Basbanes’ work on bibliophiles and book collecting is now considered a classic.  But it almost didn’t get published.  O’Sullivan does a magnificent job selecting material from the Basbanes archive at the Cushing and other sources to present a well-rounded look at the making of A Gentle Madness.   He also highlights Basbanes’ career generally with material about his later publications.

I contributed a number of items to the exhibition.  I was also scheduled to speak at the opening event.  So, the cancellation affected me personally.  When the exhibition reopened, I arranged a tour for myself and wife Nicole with Kevin O’Sullivan.  Also present were Francesca Marini and Beth Kilmarx of the Cushing Library.  Nicole videoed the tour.  It is not a professional production, but she captures Kevin’s talk and our banter, along with a detailed look at the material on display.  May this serve as an imperfect but entertaining record of an exhibition that faced unprecedented challenges.

Link to video:

Basbanes Exhibition. Cushing Library. Sept. 2020. Kurt & Nicole Zimmerman with Kevin O'Sullivan

Here are details about the exhibition and how to see it in person.

Basbanes Exhibition Information