Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Organic Bookselling


Eddy Nix and Kurt Zimmerman loading up Z book cruiser

I’m seated in an outhouse thinking fondly of antiquarian booksellers.  The outhouse is complete with wood board butt rest, bucket of sawdust for odor control, and a guest book.  Book hunting can certainly lead to unexpected situations.
            The outhouse is the inexplicable sole restroom for an otherwise fabulous, dodecagon (twelve-sided) home nestled on acreage in the beautiful Driftless region near Viroqua, Wisconsin.  Driftless refers not to a land of unmotivated wanderers, but to a geographic area that lacks glacial deposits known as drift.  The gorgeous landscape is composed of deep river valleys, steep hills, forest, spring-fed waterfalls, and cold-water trout streams intermixed with scattered farms. 
            I’ve spent the last three days in Viroqua in Driftless Books culling five boxes of goodies from the remnants of the reference collection of legendary Berkeley, California bookseller Peter Howard.   Nicole has gathered four boxes of books related to Frank Lloyd Wright from another uncatalogued stash.  

Friday, June 30, 2023

Booking in the Big Easy

Kurt Zimmerman and Russell Desmond

  The Big Easy is.  I am in the middle of Bourbon Street at night, leaning over, elbows on knees, head down.  Lined up next to me are five other middle-aged white guys in a similar stance.  The man beside me is groaning, saying his bad left knee isn’t going to hold up much longer.  A lively crowd surrounds us including our disconcerted wives.  The smell of spilt beer and less amenable odors permeate the surroundings, the whole scene lit up by the neon glow of the Hustler Hollywood sign nearby. 
        Within a few moments there is a whoosh over my head and a lithe, athletic black man lands just past me.  He has hurdled all six of us as the finale to a street show.  He grins widely, shakes my hand, and thanks me for my participation.  He and his other two cohorts have spent the previous minutes regaling us with gymnastic / break dancing moves, and energetic music blasting from a portable speaker.  Their lead MC is a running comedy show.  He pokes fun at racial stereotypes, extolling the crowd to cheer louder, all-the-while appealing for generous tips. 
        I am selected from the revved onlookers to participate in the finale by the MC who is looking for “rich, white guys.”  He’s one for two in my case, but I’m rather tall and make the mistake of standing in the front row.  The MC leads us in absurd dance moves before the mighty leap.  I see a lot of phones recording.  At the end, I tip the enterprising trio all the cash in my wallet totaling $12, confirming their poor choice (I spent most of my cash on books earlier).  I make my way to my wife Nicole who is wiping tears of laughter from her eyes and still holding the book bag. 
        This is our anniversary trip to the Big Easy – the first visit for us to New Orleans as a couple (why did it take us almost twenty years?).   More unexpected experiences await us including further pillage amongst a bevy of used bookstores. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Condition Isn't Everything


A Rough and Ready Copy of Burton's THE BOOK-HUNTER (1863)

 Books are tough.  Raging fire or lengthy submersion in water can do them in, but otherwise they often survive hard use, neglect, inquisitive children, pets, lack of climate control, insects, and with a little luck, many natural disasters.  These rough and ready reading copies are found almost everywhere.  But they are rarely encountered on the shelves of fastidious collectors or in special collections libraries.  Unless you collect association copies, then you must take a book’s condition as it comes.
            This thought struck me as I held a book with a Titanic connection.  The book is Luther Livingston’s First Editions of George Meredith. . . Offered for Sale by Dodd & Livingston, New York [1912].  It is inscribed to English book collector Clement K. Shorter.  Tipped-in is an excellent autograph letter from Livingston to Shorter, discussing, among other things, an upcoming visit by fellow bibliophile Harry Widener to Shorter.  Widener is the famous young American collector who perished on the Titanic along with his father, only a few days after seeing Shorter.  His mother survived and built the Widener Library at Harvard in his honor.  She then placed her twenty-seven-year-old son’s already impressive book collection within.  Bookseller and bibliographer Luther Livingston was close to Harry Widener. He was selected as the first librarian of the Widener Library, but he died tragically of a rare bone disease before he could assume the post.  His ongoing illness is also mentioned in the letter to Shorter.  So, there is a lot to unpack with this association copy and the appeal to me was irresistible, condition be damned. 
            Bookseller Howard Mather of Wykeham Books knows my interests and offered it to me.  His condition description was accurate, but I hoped it might be better than advertised. Nope.  The book literally looks as if it had gone down on the Titanic and later swept ashore.  I passed this feedback onto Mather giving him a good laugh.  Perhaps Shorter was reading it in the bathtub and let it slip.  Maybe it was fire-hosed during the London Blitz of World War II.  Whatever the case, it is thoroughly dried out now, a little wavy, somewhat crinkly, certainly stained, but a survivor.  A relic.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Good Books at the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair


“Are you sure you want a beer guy to order the wine?” said friend and bookseller Jay Rohfritch, as I scanned the vast and mostly incomprehensible (to me) wine list at Sauvignon Wine Locker & American Trattoria in St. Petersburg, Florida.  It is Sunday night, March 12th, and the 2023 Florida Antiquarian Book Fair has just finished.  Celebration is in order.  I’m sitting with Jay, Dennis Melhouse of First Folio Books, and Bryan & Kelly Young of Grayshelf Books. 
            Dennis is a man who knows his way around a wine bottle.  He asks if the restaurant has a sommelier.  I’ve never heard this term actually spoken before.  Only read it in books.  We’ve already polished off the first bottle selected by Bryan & Kelly, a Napa red that I can’t recall the name of, but I drink heartily.  Bryan and Kelly are into wine like I’m into craft beer, so the selection is a good one. 
            But now I’m feeling cheeky.  I intercede and say I’d like to select the next bottle.  There is a brief look of consternation from the others.  I insist and I find a moderately-priced (okay, relatively cheap) bottle of cabernet from Paso Robles.  Dennis diplomatically says he has had some good cabs from Paso Robles in the past.  I seal the deal by guaranteeing to drink the whole bottle if it doesn’t meet expectations.  The merriment continues as we talk books and Jay once again expresses skepticism of my selection abilities.
            The waiter is an interactive, humorous fellow with hair like Albert Einstein.  We don’t know if this is a trending fashion look, or he was simply running late to work and forgot to comb his hair.  He arrives with my bottle and ceremoniously unscrews the cap, no cork removal needed.  Muffled laughter ensues and the waiter places the cap before me and pours a glass to have me approve.
            Bryan states in my defense that many better wines have screw tops nowadays, but I know he is lying.  I swirl the wine around, inhale the bouquet (“Smells like wine to me”) and take a swig.  Tastes pretty good, actually.  The rest are soon swirling their glasses and sipping. 
            “It’s getting better as it opens,” Kelly says.
            “I can drink it,” Jay smirks.
            “It’s a bit tannin-forward,” Bryan chimes in.
            I’m not sure what to make of this comment, but Dennis, who is sitting next to me, leans in and clarifies, “That’s not a good thing.”
            More funnin’ continues at my expense, but I asked for it, and rather enjoy it.  Just one of many memorable episodes from a bibliophile’s escapade to St. Petersburg, Florida.  But how did I get here?  That is a serendipitous story.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Encounters with Bookmen E. L. “Shorty” Shettles and J. Frank Dobie

J. Frank Dobie

I was a book greenhorn when I first encountered Elijah L. Shettles (1852-1940) and J. Frank Dobie (1888-1964), two legendary Texas bookmen and personalities.  My early discovery of Shettles and Dobie did much to inspire my interest in the history of book collecting and rare bookselling. 
            This momentous event happened while I was cataloging the Dudley R. Dobie collection of J. Frank Dobie material, the finest Dobie material to appear on the market, offered in a 1992 Dorothy Sloan catalogue.  (Dudley was J. Frank Dobie’s cousin and a noted bookseller.)  I discovered J. Frank Dobie’s eulogy “E. L. Shettles, Man, Bookman and Friend.”  Dobie read it at Shettles’ funeral in 1940, and it was published in the January 1941 issue of the Southwest Historical Quarterly.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Susan Halas Interview with Kurt Zimmerman: Dorothy Sloan and More

 Susan Halas, book dealer and writer, contacted me to do an interview for Rare Book Monthly, the online newsletter found on rarebookhub.com.  It came out in December.  I thought I'd share it on my blog for those who didn't see it.  

Happy New Year!  I've already got a couple new essays in the works so stay tuned.

Kurt Zimmerman, book blogger, shares memories of Dorothy Sloan