Letters Home from Camp Book Nerd: A Week at Rare Book School

Special and heartfelt thanks to the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America’s Southeast Chapter, whose generous support allowed me to attend Rare Book School this summer.

Rare book rager, 00011rbsblogsummer camp for book nerds,” bookseller grad school, antiquarian Acapulco, call it what you will, Rare Book School is heaven for lovers of the word in all its varied forms. So much of my RBS experience truly was like a sleepover camp, full of skits, songs, and inside jokes, which share equal space in my notes with terms, dates, and figures. From Mark and John’s Rare Book Schoolhouse Rock spoofs to dinner, drinks, and roaming about grounds with new friends, RBS is certainly more than the sum of knowledge gained. I’ll do my best here to draw a rough sketch of my RBS experience, focusing on the “write home moments” from camp.

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The lovely grounds of the University of Virginia

Founded in 1983 by Terry Belanger, for whom it earned a MacArthur genius grant, Rare Book School (RBS) is an institute for the study of books located at the University of Virginia. This may sound simple, but RBS offers over 60 courses spanning the fields of bookbinding, collection management, bibliography, history, illustration and printing processes, manuscripts, typography and book design, and references and resources. Whether you’re interested in “The Art of the Book in Edo & Meiji Japan, 1615–1912” or “Digitizing the Cultural Record,” or any number of other subjects, if you’re ready for serious fun, RBS is ready to teach you a thing or two.

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The Men, the Myths, the Legends (Photograph courtesy of my lovely classmate & RBS Admissions Officer Shannon Wilson)

Or, maybe like me, you’re looking for something a little more introductory, like “The History of the Book, 200–2000,” a survey of books covering 1800 years, from cuneiform tablet to tablet computer. No matter what course you take, you’ll be studying under the foremost experts in the field, and History of the Book is no exception. My instructors were John Buchtel, Head of Special Collections at Georgetown University, and Mark Dimunation, who has been Chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress since the first time I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1998!). By the way, that’s a first printing of Jane Eyre John is handling in the picture to the right.

 

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One of the required texts of my course, all of which paired well with lots of coffee.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, just a bit, because a great part of RBS is the required reading list for each course. (By the way, all of the advance reading lists are available for free, online, for every course, along with many of the installments in RBS’ lecture series!) Spanning slim, well illustrated books just on one aspect, like illuminated manuscripts, to entire (albeit titled “short”) histories of the printed word, the readings covered a lot of ground. Though definitely challenging (read: they involved a lot of frantic googling), each book was immensely rewarding and pleasurable, too. Because the history of the book involves quite a bit of other history, including religious, political, scientific history, etc., I learned more than I bargained for (thanks, public school!). My favorite book was Elizabeth L. Eisenstein’s The Printing Revolution in Early 0009rbsblogModern Europe, which was a dizzying and powerful cultural history of the printed word and a seminal text on the subject. I was saddened to find, while excitedly looking up Eisenstein, that she passed away earlier this year. She was the first scholar in residence at the Library of Congress, and, obviously, a total badass, and I wish I’d known her.

As you might have surmised, I was feeling a little out of my league by the time I arrived in Charlottesville. I mean, I had to find a youtube video to help me pronounce “vade mecum.” I was surrounded by Ivy League special collections librarians and folks from places like Sotheby’s and the American Antiquarian Society. Not to mention, there’s a whole Game of Thrones style Hall of Faces as you walk into the RBS reception room, with a Polaroid of everyone attending the classes this summer, and everybody was looking significantly better coiffed and air conditioned in their registration snapshot than I was. Fortunately, book people are book people, and they tend to be empathetic towards introverts and generous when pouring wine, and so I survived the first night jitters!

 

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Each day a new name tag greeted us, reflecting the preferred typography of the time period we were covering (except for the Wednesday field trip, here represented by my blessed coffee).

When our first class started the next morning, I was ready for action. As my cohort gathered in our classroom, the lovely Byrd/Morris Seminar Room, located at the very top of the Beauty and the Beast style spiral staircase in UVA’s Special Collections Library, we found our places, each marked with a folded name tag tent in scribal-style curlicued letters. Mark and John called the class to order by introducing each other, and their humor, warmth, and affection for each other were evident immediately. We each proceeded to introduce ourselves, and I found myself in a room full of biblio-badassery, including many special collections librarians and, my personal patron saints, English professors. I was ready to make some BFFs (Book Friends Forever).

After a morning filled with all things Medieval manuscripts, we headed down the spiral staircase to Special Collections. So, in addition to the BEAUTY AND THE BEAST STYLE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library is mostly underground, like a glorious literary iceberg. Under the quad pictured at the beginning of this blog, lies one serious collection of rare books. Embedded in the landscaping on the quad, you can see the skylights that filter exceptional reading light down into Special Collections. So, underground, in the gloriously sunlit reading room, we viewed illuminated manuscripts from the thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries, books of hours, a French pocket Bible, a massive choir book, all written by hand by monks and scribes on parchment, a writing surface made from animal skin. All of these book were beautifully inked, most really were illuminated, decorated in gold leaf within elaborate initials and miniatures (hand-painted panel illustrations).

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Illuminated and illuminating, so meta.

Spoilers ahead, do not read this paragraph if you intend to attend The History of the Book. Mark and John fortuitously let us go to coffee break, so as to keep us from fainting over all the shiny manuscripts, instructing us to wait afterward in the reception room instead of returning to class. One of the distinguished RBS staff came to fetch us, joking that we were going to “the edge of darkness.” She led us through the maze of RBS stacks, through a big, heavy door, and told us to step carefully. After the door all was dark, and we closely followed her down a flight of stairs. Up ahead we saw flickering, glowing light and the vague shape of many, many, many cases of beautiful books (the RBS teaching collections). Out of the darkness, we hear John call, “Greetings, sisters and brothers,”and see a long table with seats down each side, a small electric candle at each setting. We all sit down and John says, “No one told you to sit down.” And so we stand back up, to hear John say, “Take a seat, brothers and sisters.” Then, John goes on and on about “how was your day, brothers and sisters, feeding the pigs, cleaning, farming, etc.?” Then John and Mark agree there’s too much light (and there’s like no light), we’re wasting wax, so they have us turn off 3 candles, making it even darker. Then they pass out our readings, thin little folders, each with a section of old Bible, circa 18th to early 19th century, inside. “No one told you to open them…You may open your readings…Now read until we tell you to stop.” It was really hard to read, and we “spilled wax” everywhere on our booklets as we moved the candles about to illuminate the pages. It’s an exercise they call “scriptorium,” meant to illustrate how most monks actually wrote manuscripts. Only the fanciest monk-scribes got to write by daylight, most of them had to do work all day, then scribe and pray and read devotions after sundown. End spoilers. 

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Ye Olde Common Press

We finished out Monday with papermaking and bookbinding, tracing the development of writing surfaces from cuneiform tablets to papyrus to parchment and finally to paper. On Tuesday, we entered the 15th century with its good ol’ Johannes Gutenberg and its early printed books. Tuesday was full of printing euphoria for me. First, we printed in class on a common press, the kind Gutenberg likely printed the B42 on (the first Western book printed from movable type, Gutenberg’s 42 line Bible). We took turns inking and pulling, and it was glorious and difficult. Few of us managed the perfect “kiss” of plate on paper, which requires a good deal of muscle and control, neither of which I’m known for. I would soon find out that the common press was mere puppy love, for that evening I met the love of my life, the Vandercook.

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The Glorious Vandercook

Tuesday night was ornament night. Katherine Ruffin, the Book Studies and Book Arts Program Director at Wellesley College, and John Kristensen, the proprietor of Firefly Press, demonstrated how type ornaments are used in letterpress printing, and each participant designed a keepsake of ornamental type and printed it on a 1950s Vandercook, a flatbed cylinder printing press. It was love at first print. 0004rbsblogI saw our future flash before my eyes, our life together as jobbing printer and her press, making authentic letterpress invitations to fancy parties and business cards for hipsters, maybe even popping out a few broadsides or chapbooks down the road…Of course, right now I’m a penurious bookseller, but if I put in the hours, maybe someday I could be a penurious letterpress printer too…It’s pretty tempting. I went back to my dorm full of dreams that night.

 

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Minerva keeping guard at the Library of Congress

It was a short night, because Wednesday was field trip day for History of the Book students, and we left at 7 AM sharp, DC or bust. I don’t know if I mentioned earlier, but Mark, one of my instructors, he’s the Chief comma Rare Books and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress (LoC), you know, the people’s palace of books. And each year, Mark and John take their students to the LoC to see wonders upon wonders and miracles upon miracles, the rarest books in the land. We saw an elaborately embroidered Book of Common Prayer from 1641, a block book from around 1470, Vesalius’ 1543 The Human Body, a Geneva Bible of 1560, a King James Bible of 1611, a Shakespeare First Folio, all before lunch. Then there was an original Audubon wild turkey, a Bay Psalm Book (the first book printed in the Americas), the wanted poster for the assassination of President Lincoln, and William Blake’s First Book of Urizen, with his hand-painted illustrations. And more. It’s ridiculous, but with so many 0009rbsblogstunning rare books and printed materials to lose our minds over, we still managed to have a clear favorite: Galileo Galilei’s Siderius Nuncius, commonly called The Starry Messenger. Published in Venice in 1610, The Starry Messenger is the first published work of science to come from observations using a telescope. It contains the first ever image of the moon through telescope, an image that is completely ubiquitous these days, but can you imagine seeing the moon with all its mountains, valleys, and craters for the first time ever? This book was powerful, so powerful that it sparked the series of conflicts that would lead Galileo to refute his own work and eventually die under house arrest. Galileo’s observations were a brand of heliocentrism that ran contrary to the Church’s views of the cosmos, refuting the “rising” sun and “unmoving” earth of Scripture. Of course, any original of such an important and controversial text would be worthy of admiration, but this isn’t any old Starry Messenger

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A Dirty Copy of Galileo’s Starry Messenger

Do you see those smudged fingerprints over there? They’re Galileo’s. This was a printing copy, with his notes, his typos, his ink smudges. Our minds were seriously blown. On the bus ride back to base, we felt like we were returning to earth. Also, because we were well-behaved, we stopped at a little place called The Moo Thru and treated ourselves to ice cream made from the milk of real Virginia cows, and of course reflected on the many splendored wonders of this world.

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Daedelus Bookshop, 3 Stories of Books!

On Thursday, we met John Milton, Samuel Johnson, Thomas Jefferson, and Phillis Wheatley, entering the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and encountering cheap print and the rise of literacy. Thursday evening was Bookseller Night, when the antiquarian and rare book dealers of Charlottesville keep their doors open late for RBS students. Charlottesville is a great book 00012rbsblogtown, and I had the pleasure of wandering the aisles of Blue Whale Books, Daedelus Bookshop, Heartwood Books, Read It Again Sam, Oakley’s Gently Used Books, and Franklin Gilliam: Rare Books, along with the indie bookshop New Dominion. I might have found a few things that made my luggage risk Amtrak’s 50lb limit, like this phrenology self-instructor, filled out with results for a “superior specimen.”

 

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Rare Book School: Caffeinating the Bibliosphere for 33 Years

Our last day dawned much too early. How had we reached the 19th and 20th centuries so quickly? I couldn’t complain, though, because I am rather fond of the Brontes, and then there’s Dickens and Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Charles Darwin. Best of all, fine press printing. We saw glorious examples from the Kelmscott Chaucer, the Doves Bible, and, my favorite, the Golden Cockerel Four Gospels. After covering the rapid developments in printing processes the 20th century brought (or wrought), we finished out class with the vast Jane Eyre collection John began when he was curator of collections at Rare Book School. RBS’s collection includes not only a first printing of the novel, but seemingly every edition in all kinds of languages and with all sorts of covers, even a CD from a 90s band named Grace Poole. Having picked up Jane Eyre in 8th grade because my copy had an introduction by Meg Cabot, illustrious author of The Princess Diaries, I deeply enjoyed the presentation of but a fraction of RBS’s Jane Eyre holdings, most sourced from EBay for under $30.

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An older, wiser, more caffeinated, and super cool RBS alumni

As we learned earlier in this long-winded blog, bibliophiles know how to party. The RBS Farewell Reception ended our week with a bang, and I picked up some killer RBS swag too. Then I came home to talk everyone’s ears off about book history and printing presses and Galileo. And everyone thought I was really cool and way smart and not a nerd at all. THE END.

You made it to the end of this thing! Thanks for reading; take 20% off your next order from UndergroundBooks.Net with promotional code CAMPBOOKNERD (valid until August 3, 2016).

 

Coming Soon from Underground Books: Hills & Hamlets Bookshop

We have big news…

The Underground Books team is opening a second bookstore in nearby Chattahoochee Hills’ Serenbe community!

Read more over at The Carrollton Menu!

Check back with us here on the blog, on Facebook, and on Instagram for more information as we move closer to opening the doors at Hills & Hamlets!

Down the Rabbit Hole with Megan Bell; Or, What I Do All Day

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Introverts–We Can Sell Books, Too!

If you’re one of our beloved locals, you probably don’t see me much behind the counter at Underground Books and might be surprised to find out that I work full time (and, quite happily, beyond) for the bookstore. That’s because, away from charming, historic Adamson Square, out on busy Bankhead Highway, amid the gas stations, used car lots, and family owned buffets, there’s another Underground Books–the UndergroundBooks.Net office/warehouse/annex (we’ve never really settled on a name).  This is my dominion.

The office is where we store large collections we buy while we put on our Sorting Hats and research the books to decide whether they will go to the bookstore, to one of our dollar sales, or to my “to be cataloged.” These fateful decisions are based on a lot of quantitative information–market price, whether a book is signed or a first printing, whether we have a lot of copies in stock already–but it’s often also an intuition-driven decision as well–do we think you’ll walk into our bookshop and be surprised and delighted to find it there? If not, it might be better suited for our online inventory, which I catalog, photograph, list for sale on UndergroundBooks.Net and other online platforms, and eventually pack and ship all over the country and the world.

The books that end up on UndergroundBooks.Net are1667_1 usually niche in one way or another. Here are two examples of books that never glimpsed the inside of 102 Alabama Street: 1) Goethe’s Chinesisch-Deutsche Jahres-Und Tageszeiten bound by design and fine art binder Edwin Heim of the Centro del Bel Libro in 1336Ascona, Switzerland with illustrations by Swiss-Hungarian printmaker, painter, and type designer Imre Reiner and 2) Trade and Conflict in Angola: The Mbundu and Their Neighbours Under the Influence of the Portuguese 1483-1790. Though very different books, the former being the most beautiful binding we have ever handled, the latter a scholarly study of economics in Sub-Saharan Africa, they were both online for the same reason–their target audiences were people on the other side of the world from us. On a side note, we’re not always right about where a book should be. For instance, we just sold The Spanish Republic: A Survey of Two Years of Progress, a book from our online inventory, to a local patron who came in the bookstore looking for it.

When I have a book in front of me, I don’t alwayslondon know how much time it will require. If it’s like Trade and Conflict in Angola, and there are many copies available online, and it’s not signed by the author or it doesn’t contain the bookplate of some famous economist, I catalog it quickly and put it aside. Some books, however, require significant research. Perhaps the book is inscribed by the author to someone I’ve never heard of but research might turn up was the author’s lover or their writing partner who later accused them of stealing credit. That could potentially add a lot of value to what would otherwise be a common book. Take the handwritten Jack London letter we wrote about previously on the blog, it’s of course valuable in that it is a letter penned and signed by Jack London, but the fact that it is written to Charmian Kittredge, his mistress at the time, and that it contains some scandalous content, adds further value. Sometimes booksellers spend years researching books. Such was the case of George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler who, after buying a copy of John Baret’s An Alvearie, or, Quadruple Dictionarie, published in London in 1580, from Ebay, came to believe it was Shakespeare’s own, annotated copy of the Elizabethan dictionary, a fascinating scholarly process which you can read more about in their book, Shakespeare’s Beehive: An Annotated Elizabethan Dictionary Comes to Light.

I spent a considerable amount of time researching the 006Edwin Heim binding, in part because I needed to find out who Edwin Heim and Imre Reiner were and what this work by Goethe was all about, but particularly because almost all of the information I could get from the book and from online resources was in German. I often had to type directly into Word, carefully finding the German letters, just to paste into Google Translate and get a rough idea of what a webpage said. It was painstaking and really very fun. When my own resources weren’t enough to satisfy my need to do justice to this book, we sought the consulting services of Abby Schoolman, an expert who represents many contemporary fine art bookbinders (like Christine Giard, a former student of Edwin Heim’s) and who writes American Bound, an excellent blog on the subject. I didn’t spend much time on Trade and Conflict in Angola, simply quoting from the front flap in my catalog. The time I spent on each book was proportionate to its value (and its mystery), at the end of the day.

That said,009 I sometimes go a little overboard…I’m a scholar at heart, and I chose professional bookselling in part as a way to fulfill my need to learn continuously. Learning weird new things is what makes the long nights worth it for me. Recently, we purchased the estate collection of an Atlanta-based author of women’s military history and metaphysics. Among her large, diverse, and constantly surprising collection of books, she had several on the subject of Frances E. Willard (1839–1898), the women’s suffragist and prohibitionist who was instrumental in the passing of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. One of these books was inscribed by Willard, quite warmly, to a Mrs. Bishop Eastburn. Who was this Mrs. Bishop Eastburn? Why did Willard call her sister, inscribe a book for her “with warm love,” and refer, oh so obliquely, to a “happy meeting by the sea”? I had to know.

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If you’re good at discerning handwriting, bookselling may be the job for you.

I googled away for a few hours, trying to find some connection. After finding more and more about Bishop Manton Eastburn, diocesan bishop of Massachusetts, her husband, I became determined to find Mrs. Eastburn’s first name. I even found a digitized copy of The Eastburn Family, Being a Geneological [sic] and Historical Record (1903), which alas was able to tell me a whole lot about Bishop Eastburn, but only “There is no account of his marriage…” when it came to Mrs. Eastburn. I did find many references to “Mrs. Bishop Eastburn” or “Mrs. M. J. Eastburn” in Our Dumb Animals. You read that title right; it was a magazine founded in 1868 by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA). Though mostly mentioned as a subscriber, Mrs. Eastburn does make an appearance in the July 1887 issue, which credits her as playing an influential role in the founding of the Maine State Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Frances E. Willard comes up in several volumes of Our Dumb Animals, as well. She was a member of the MSPCA. Though I never found any further connection between the two women, I did eventually find Mrs. Eastburn’s name, through Vital Records of Cambridge, Massachusetts to the Year 1850, Volume I. Births. Mrs. Bishop Eastburn was born Mary J. Glover in 1804. You can see the eight volume collection of books by and about Frances E. Willard, including the rare inscribed volume, here on UndergroundBooks.Net.

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Be Curious.

I don’t know how much value I added to this book by hunting down Mary Eastburn’s name, but I do know how much the search for it added value to my day. Every day, I handle some book that has a title I’ve never heard of and an author I’m crossing my fingers has a Wikipedia page, and every day, I handle some book that has something to teach me, even if it’s just that Frances E. Willard had a shepherd collie named Prohibition, or “Hibbie,” for short, or that she was the first woman represented in Statuary Hall, or that Lady Henry Somerset (a British suffragist and temperance advocate who wrote introductions to several of Willard’s books) was voted the woman readers of the London Evening News would most like to see as the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom.

Yours in curiosity,

Megan Bell

Co-Owner, Online Inventory Manager, & Ravenclaw

Underground Books

The Underground Books Holiday Gift Guide

If you’re having trouble finding the perfect gifts this holiday season, Underground Books is here to help! We hope you enjoy these selections from UndergroundBooks.Net, and if you’re local, remember we carry litographs, Out of Print t-shirts, Frostbeard Studio candles, and our own vintage book journals in the shop.

For The Christmas Caroler

What do you get the Elf-watching, hall-decking, mistletoe hanging Christmas fanatic in your life? A few suggestions: a first printing of beloved children’s classic and Christmas staple The Polar Express would be perfect, a first printing of W. Somerset Maugham’s political, prostitute-starring novel Christmas Holiday would certainly be an interesting choice, or maybe Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales, nostalgic, magical, and illustrated in woodcuts by Ellen Raskin.

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For The Daydreamer

For the one whose head is past the clouds and into other worlds, perhaps a handsome leather bound edition or a lovely vintage copy of a children’s, fantasy, or science fiction classic would delight.

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For The Adventurer

For the globetrotting, spelunking, geocaching explorer who’s charmed by a little wear and tear, why not a 1912 romp through China or a wild journey with the infamous Bampfylde-Moore Carew, rogue, vagabond, impostor, and self-proclaimed King of the Beggars? Maybe a “topsy-turvy” exploration of Himalyan Tibet, a “tramps opera” by the original supertramp himself, a voyage with Captain James Cook, a trip through the West with Thomas Wolfe, or a tour of travels, myths, and legends in the New World?

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For The Raconteur

For the yarn-spinner, we have a dragon’s hoard of fairy tales, folktales, songs, myths, and legends from Bengal, medieval England, pre-Columbian America, ancient Scotland, Kashmir, Russia, and more.

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For The Stargazer

Whether their pursuit is that of the stars, the solar system, or extraterrestrial life, we’ve got you covered with a 1944 illustrated primer with a fold-out diagram, a 1973 NASA publication on Project Cyclops, and this stunningly bound 1934 exploration of the “cosmic cycle.”

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For The English Major

If you want to please a lover of literature, you can’t go wrong with the classics, whether illustrated, scholarly, or beautifully bound. No matter which you choose, the leather bound copy of Fahrenheit 451, the Arthur Rackham illustrated edition of Tales from Shakespeare, the first book club edition of The Catcher in the Rye in custom clamshell box, these limited editions of Candide and Moby Dick, these annotated editions of Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens, these first editions of The Jungle and Native Son, or this 1931 edition of The Red Badge of Courage from the Grabhorn Press, you’re sure to get an A+ in gift-giving and an eloquent thank you letter in your mailbox.

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For The Cowboy

For the John Wayne in your life with the shelf of worn and creased Zane Grey paperbacks, we have a first edition Ernest Haycox, a handsome leatherbound account of British sportsmen in the West, an extensive survey of percussion Colt firearms, and a signed, first edition Glenn Shirley, because “there are some things a man just can’t run away from,” and one of those is a good gift.

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For The Connoisseur

Fine bindings, with their rich leather, elaborate gilt tooling, and stunning marbled paper, are indubitably on the list of the finer things in life. Whichever catches your eye, Mrs. Andrew Lang’s The Strange Story Book, the Tamerlane Edition of The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe, Disraeli’s Venetia, the first edition of Anecdotes, Observations, and Characters, of Books and Men in full polished calf, the Edition de Luxe set of The New Century Shakespeare, or the Rubaiyat illustrated in color by Edmund Dulac, each of these beautiful bindings is veritable shelf candy and certain to please even the most discerning aesthete.

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For The Film Buff

The film was excellent (but we all know the book was better). We’re pleased to present… this first edition of The Brick Foxhole, basis for the 1947 noir film Crossfire starring Robert Mitchum, Strangers May Kiss, inspiration for the pre-code dramatic film starring Norma Shearer, this signed, first edition of Bright Leaf, basis for the 1950 film starring Gary Cooper and Lauren Bacall, this first American edition of Seven Years in Tibet, and this first edition of Grand Hotel, the source of the 1932 film starring Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, and Joan Crawford.

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For The Psychedelic

For some far-out reads for far-out minds, we suggest this memoir by folk singer Richard Farina introduced by Joan Baez, this special edition of Pentagram containing Israel Regardie’s “Roll Away the Stone: An Introduction of Aleister Crowley’s Essays on the Psychology of Hashish,” and this signed copy of Alex Grey’s The Mission of Art.

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For The Chef

Your cook deserves more than a kiss, so here are a few books sure to spice things up: a 1917 collection of recipes enlivened by the narrative of newlyweds Bettina and Bob, Family Favorites from the Kitchen of Castle Dreadful, and a guide to making some well-deserved honey wine.

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For The Special Someone

Whether they go by sweetheart, lover, beloved, beau, or bae, we’ve got you covered. For the romantic, consider this sumptuously bound collection of wild ancient Greek romances, complete with imperiled lovers, pirates, nymphs, raiders, bandits, and the great god Pan. For the wild one, you can’t go wrong with a private reading of Leonore Kandel’s infamous little pamphlet of erotic poems responsible for, at its time, the longest running obscenity trial in San Francisco. For the ruler of your heart, this 1929 copy of The Private Life of Louis XIV is sure to charm. And, if those don’t do it, there’s always Strange de Jim’s Metasexual Exercises. 

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The Runaway Couple: Our Scouting Trip to Chattanooga

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Talk to any antiquarian book dealer over the age of 50 and you’ll hear about the glory days of book scouting, back before the internet. There was a time (especially in larger cities with lots of bookstores) when a person could make a living hunting for books to sell to used & antiquarian bookstores. They would learn what bookstore owners in their region would buy, and they would scour yard sales, thrift stores, auctions, and estate sales for books that matched the buying interests of those stores, and they could make a living doing this. This involved a lot of expertise and finely honed knowledge about books.  It was an art form, and there were book scouts who became legendary in bookseller circles for their ability to unearth amazing books.

The internet, as everyone knows, changed everything in the book world.  Anyone with a mobile phone can scan a book with a barcode and instantly know what it is selling for on Amazon or its online competitors.  Search “book scout” today and you’ll learn a lot about specialty tools for scanning books in thrift stores to resell yourself on Amazon. There is a huge subculture of people doing this and making a modest living doing so. This, in fact, is how Underground Books started, as an online hobby-seller. The problem with this, the old-timers say, is it requires no expertise. The books are just widgets the “scout” scans into a database. Fortunately, you can’t scan antiquarian or pre-ISBN books (pre-1970 or so), but the market for these books is smaller and more specialized than ever.  Fortunately for us, some of the crazy people trying to run an open brick and mortar, used and antiquarian bookshop in the age of the internet, it does seem like we may be at the beginning of a revival in interest in vintage books and paper. Millennials and the so-called “digital natives” who follow them, generations who are more comfortable in the world of e-books, seem to have their own brand of nostalgia for old books. Perhaps the tactile feel and scent of real paper is in our DNA at this point.

In any event, while it is rare for us to get a long enough stretch of time away from the store to do the kind of leisurely book scouting we hear romanticized in the time of yore, we relish it more than anything. All of our travel out of our region gets organized around finding out of the way book scouting opportunities at antique malls, junk shops, and thrift stores.  There is no greater joy than finding a gem of an old book buried in some out of the way place. Even in a world crawling with people scouring shops for things to resell online, we are still usually able to find profitable scores by sticking to older books overlooked by the scanners.

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You can’t go on a trip without good reading material!

We try to make it up to Chattanooga at least once a year for many reasons. Our excuses for our getaway include that we almost always find a good book or two for the shop, it’s a supremely beautiful, walkable, and well developed city, Megan grew up there, and it’s one of the first places we went when we were 1700dating. On the trip up from Carrollton, taking 27 North, there’s plenty to see: scenic byways framed trees lit up with fall leaves, the bookshops in charming downtown Rome (Dogwood Books, a used, new, and rare shop and Alan’s Used Books, formerly Paradise Lost Books), and Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden, one of Georgia’s visionary folk art sites.

 

12177992_10153322890672672_396979469_nOnce arriving, we checked into the lovely Bluff View Inn, part of Chattanooga’s historic Bluff View Art District, on the south side of the Tennessee River where the Hunter Museum of American Art and the Tennessee 12181928_10153322891057672_1054458920_nAquarium are located. We stayed in the Chambliss Room of The Thompson House, a Victorian-style home built in 1908. The Bluff View Inn is just steps away from the Walnut Street Bridge, a beautiful pedestrian bridge that links the north and south shores of downtown Chattanooga. After getting settled, we immediately took across “the 12188413_10153322890492672_603545866_nWalking Bridge” to the North shore, walking through Coolidge Park and the eclectic shops on Frazier Avenue (including Winder Binder Books, Art & Music) to reach one of our favorite places to scout: Knitting Mill Antiques on Manufacturer’s Road.

 

 

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The Knitting Mill

Housed in a two and half story, all brick, 040restored turn-of-the-century sewing factory, Knitting Mill Antiques has over 100 booths of vintage wares, and we’ve had some good scores there before. We were able to pick up several titles as well as a nice vintage-style tool carrier to display old postcards in at the shop. Among our finds were The Runaway Couple (a selection of children’s stories from Dickens, circa 1920), a first printing of On the Psychology of Meditation, Masterpieces of Eloquence and the World’s Great Orators in beautifully illustrated cloth, and a first edition of Mark Twain’s The American Claimant. Pleased with our trophies, we walked 12180057_10153322890997672_817633411_naround Frazier Avenue and treated ourselves to happy hour cocktails at Beast +Barrel Gastro Smokehouse, returning for dinner (and more cocktails) after a quick turn around the shops, stopping in Winder Binder and Blue Skies, an excellent gift shop with many book-related items and paper goods. Walking back to our 12179627_10153394748606865_1904994578_nroom, we enjoyed all the public art Chattanooga boasts, from metal dance patterns inlaid into the sidewalks of Frazier Avenue to the sculptures outside the Hunter Museum.

 

 

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Star Line Books: Come and Be Literated

The next morning, we woke to complimentary breakfast at Rembrandt’s Coffee House, then hit the pavement, walking several miles through the Southside to check out Chattanooga’s new independent bookstore, Star Line Books, located across from the Chattanooga Choo Choo. We were heartily impressed by Star Line, which had only been open seven weeks at the time, and chatted away the morning, talking shop with the delightful owner Star Lowe, all while attempting to touch all the shiny, brand new 12182317_10153322890877672_994056495_nspines. A two-storey, 1,300-square-foot store, with an airy, completely charming atmosphere, we could have wiled away the entire day at the bookstore. Megan picked up a copy of Big Little Lies by  Liane Moriarty (because she’ll read anything Reese Witherspoon acquires the film rights to). We finally left Star to the work of running her shop and hit up the Hot Chocolatier for truffles on our way to second breakfast (or brunch as some people call it) at The Bitter Alibi, enjoying more of Chattanooga’s public art on the way, especially this mural featuring Megan’s favorite familiar, with which she poses here, Star Line prize in hand.

 

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They were good drinks.

After getting properly buzzed on12178182_10153322890867672_1576379043_n “Champagne Thing” and “Mother Mary” and finishing up a delicious second breakfast, we wandered around the Southside, looking in to see if one of our favorite haunts was open, Estate of Confusion, the best junk shop we’ve ever seen. Alas, it was closed, but the sketchy hours are part of the charm! On the trek back to the Bluff View Arts District, we checked out a cool art gallery called Area 61 (“The Art Is Out 12178305_10153394748896865_239517496_nThere”), The Crash Pad, Chattanooga’s hostel, and Chatts, Chattanooga Coffee Co. We were pretty worn out once we got back to the inn, so we read and napped for a couple hours before heading back over the bridge to get dinner at Good Dog gourmet hot dogs and dessert at Clumpy’s Ice Cream.

 

 

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Death of a Bookseller

In the morning, we headed out, 002
back in the car for the first time since we
arrived, and visited McKay’s Used Books, which is really where Megan grew up. Our real score there was a vintage book on astrology, but we left with several other books to put on our own TBR shelf at home, including a copy of Room for lending. On the advice of003 one of the innkeepers, we stopped at the East Ridge
Antique District off Ringgold Road, a square of
eight antique shops. Inside one of the shops, we found quite a few books to take home, including a charming little vintage book of Audrey Beardsley’s artwork, as well as an Easton Press Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

 

 

smart stop

The once grand facade of the Smart Shop

We headed homeward on 27, looking forward to our traditional stop back in Rome to Smart Shop
Antique Mall and Flea Market, where we had our first date (scouting for books, of course). Though unassuming from the outside, Smart Shop had multiple floors, ramps off to platformed areas, and what seems like hundreds of booths– you could literally get lost in this antique mall. Even Josh, who has an excellent sense of direction, called it disorienting. After driving in circles, we finally looked it up on our phones, only to find that Smart Shop had been 12179169_10153394748771865_341951992_ndemolished, the property purchased by a local church. According to North West Georgia News, where we found this picture, Smart Shop had frequently received citations from the Fire Marshall’s Office throughout the years (we weren’t surprised at this news). We’ll be mourning Smart Shop for quite a while. We cut our losses, though, investigated the local, massive Goodwill, and grabbed a coffee from Swift and Finch for the ride home.

RIP Smart Shop. Until the Runaway Couple rides again!

Cheers,

Megan & Josh

 

Gone But Not Forgotten: Our Favorite Sold Books

Handling rare and antiquarian books, you’re bound to fall in love from time to time. We consider placing a treasured book in the right hands an honor, but sometimes we wish we had just a little more time to admire them. These are just a few of the ones that got away, along with our current obsessions.

Songs of Love and War by William Allan

1803_1Megan: I dearly loved this 1900 collection of Scottish poetry because of the sad little love story its accompanying ephemera told (with the beautiful gilt-stamped burgundy cloth adding to its charm). This association copy was inscribed by the author to a Miss Juliette Williams, with laid in ephemera: a signed photograph of the author, a love letter on House of Commons stationery with a thick wax House of Commons seal (Sir William Allan (1837-1903) was Member of Parliament for Gateshead), and a slip of paper containing Miss Williams’ thoughts of her admirer. From the included letter, William Allan felt quite warmly about the “fair” Miss Williams: “Wert thou! Juliette, the sparkling wine/That glistens in this crystal cup!/I swear! ‘twould give me bliss divine/To know I had to drink it up.” Unfortunately, in what appears to be a later note to her son, Williams says of Allan: “This Scot was a character, tease, and also my beau, but I thought him too old.” Sold: 2015 Fall ICE Salvage.

 

Original Hand-Written Jack London Love Letter to Charmian

707_6Josh: One of my all time favorite items was a 1904 hand written love letter from Jack London to his mistress. In addition to titillating content relating to London’s affair with Charmian, who would later become his second wife, there is a reference to a “George” who London kisses “on the lips”, possibly a reference to London’s longtime friend and poet George Sterling. A delightful bit of tabloid-style-gossip-insight into London’s romantic life. The letter is unsigned, as London and Charmian were keeping their affair secret at the time.
Contents of letter, in full:
707_1“God knows I love you, my woman. I know it now, as never before. And I know, also, that I shall see until I die the picture of a woman’s gray form – stark against the black crowd – as she stood on the pier-end and kissed, and kissed, and kissed her lover goodbye. I see you now, as clearly as I saw you yesterday and it was better than the last kiss, my darling. It was you, all you & all abandon, there on the ______-piece of the pier kissing your love to me.
And because you could not get the last kiss, no woman got the last kiss from me yesterday. I kissed George on the lips by the gang-planks. Dear Charmian, dear my own. I shall come back, & soon. And we shall be happy, so happy.
There are two correspondents on board with their wives, & how I envy them – not their wives, but the fact that they may take their wives with them, while my true wife remains at home.” Sold to The Jack London Bookstore in Glen Ellen California in 2014.

 

Your Hidden Skeleton: A Novel Autograph Book Which Reveals915_3 the Secret Skeletons of Your Friends Through Their Handwriting

915_1Megan: This 1900’s autograph book completely had me. Here’s how it worked: “Sign your name with full pen of ink on folded line. Use stub pen. Fold paper while ink is still wet. Writing and folding must be done quickly to obtain good results. Be careful to dot the i, and to place the period at the end of the name.” With 21 “skeletons” ranging from 1910-1939 and a printed facsimile example following directions attributed to a twelve year old George Washington, this was a very amusing and truly novel autograph book from the early 20th century. Sold: 2015 Florida Antiquarian Book Fair.

 

Easton Press 100 Greatest Books Of All Time

Easton Lot 2Josh: Often considered the most popular leather bound series ever printed, Easton Press’ 100 Greatest Books of All Time includes famous works of classic literature, history, science, philosophy, and autobiography. They are beautifully bound in leather with 22k gold page edges and accents. Complete sets are uncommon. There are actually 125 volumes that have been printed in this series, but any 100 are considered a “complete” set.  This is a strikingly beautiful set and a decorator’s dream. It was my stubborn romantic insistence that the set remain whole and complete, though we probably could have done much better with them by selling them off individually. Sold: Ebay auction in 2014.

 

Edo Satirical Verse Anthologies by R. H. Blyth

948_3Megan: This was my first big score (found in a Goodwill in the middle of Nowhere, South Georgia), but that’s only one of the reasons I loved it so much. For one thing, it had beautiful plates, and each had a delicate tissue guard with printed information regarding the artwork. The author was also a fascinating figure. Reginald Horace Blyth was a serious Japanophile, even unsuccessfully trying to gain citizenship during WWII, who wrote prolifically, passionately, and critically on Japanese literature, art, and culture, particularly Zen philosophy and Japanese poetry, aided in drafting the Ningen Sengen, and even tutored Emperor Akihito in English when he was Crown Prince.  You can see the complexity of his relationship to the country he loved in his preface: “The satirical verses composed during the 18th century in Japan are hardly known to the Japanese people themselves. The present book may help to call them to their sense to their innate sense of humour; to the sense of their unused, unusual heritage of literature; to a sense of power of being understood and appreciated fully all over the world….May this book add to the real, unmilitary, poetical power and glory of Japan.” Blyth died in 1967, leaving behind this death poem: “Sazanka ni kokoro nokoshite tabidachinu,” translated: “I leave my heart to the sasanqua flower on the day of this journey.” The sasanqua is native to Japan. Sold: 2015 Georgia Book and Paper Fair.

 

Our Current Obsessions:

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Behind the Bookcases: How We Stay in Business

We love running a real, live, brick and mortar bookstore. We love being surrounded by books and book-lovers. We love looking for that elusive book you need that has no title or author, but only “a blue cover.” We love setting up new displays, recommending our favorite books, and stocking the shelves with unusual titles. We love providing a space for creative, cultural, and intellectual events in the town we love. Here’s how we do it, with hard work, sweat, and all of the internet.

While working the counter at Underground Books, we frequently hear some variation on the following: “I can’t believe you’re still here,” or “How do you guys make money?” or “You must be rich to keep a used bookstore open.” We get these comments frequently enough that we thought it might be worth sharing a little about our business model. It’s nice to be understood, and maybe some of our patrons would like understanding a little bit about the evolving nature of the used book trade. Much has been written about the death (and recent resurgence) of bookstores in general (new, independent, or big-box chain stores) but for our purposes, we are only talking about the used & antiquarian side of things.'Mom' and 'Pop' box with the 'Super dooper Mega Stores'

Put simply, the old idea of a small mom & pop used bookstore that sells only to the public that enters into their shop is indeed a dying breed. There are still some holdouts— old timers that own their building outright, or bookstores with heavy tourist traffic – but the regular old small town used bookstore, that survives off of only in-store sales is an increasingly rare bird. The well documented trends of book buyers turning to e-books and Amazon are largely to blame, as well as difficult economic times.

Yet some of us remain. An increasingly popular model for used bookstores is to simultaneously sell books in their shop as well as online. Some used bookstores have a “blended” inventory, meaning books on the shelves in their public store are also listed online. This is good for low-traffic stores where it is easier to keep up with inventory. Underground Books started out this way. We would list books online, but they would be for sale on the shelves in the shop as well. We would get a sale through an online venue like Amazon and would go find the book and pack it up to ship. As we grew, this became increasingly complicated. Customers would buy books at the counter, and we would not get them “unlisted” from the internet, and chaos ensued. Because we were getting more foot-traffic than we expected when we opened, browsing customers would also put books back in different locations, so sometimes we could not find a book to fulfill an online order we had received.  This led us to separating our in-store/retail and online inventory. Eventually, we kept all books listed online in the back of the store, away from the rest. About a year ago, we outgrew the back room, and now have an entirely separate office/warehouse, staffed full time just like the store.

If you browse the books at our website www.UndergroundBooks.net , these are the books that you will find at our warehouse. They are often 003books of interest primarily to collectors. Antique or out-of-print books. We recently sold a book for $75 on South Asian Farm Economics published in the 1950’s. That book would have NEVER sold on the shelves of our shop, but somewhere some scholar wanted that hard-to-find book. Earlier this year, we sold an original love letter hand-written by Jack London for $900. Currently we have a rare pre-publication edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s very first book. Or these late 18th century books on horse racing.

Without these rare, antique, out-of-print, and collectible books that we’re selling in the “background” of the more public bookstore operation, Underground Books would not be a profitable endeavor. In some ways, having an open storefront becomes about getting books as much as selling them. Having a nice open shop lends you a certain credibility—we are overwhelmed with people wanting to sell us their books. There are online booksellers everywhere – you’ve probably seen them at Goodwill scanning books on their phones—but having the shop gives us a huge competitive advantage over these lone book scouts. We are invited to buy huge personal collections of books at private estates, not to mention the flood of books that people bring right in the door. We are currently processing in the ballpark of 1,000 books every week. A certain percentage of these get listed online, some go to the shelves of the open shop, some get set aside for our periodic $1 sales, and some get donated to charity. Antique damaged books we recycle into crafts like our vintage book journals which we now carry not only in the shop but online at our Etsy store.

Fortunately for us, we also happen to love running an open shop.  We’ve fostered a real sense of community at the shop through nearly 5 years of special events and beloved regulars, and people constantly tell us how grateful they are to have the store in Carrollton. We get loved up a lot, so that “social payoff” doesn’t hurt. It’s nice to be appreciated.

For those wanting an even deeper understanding of our business, check out the following list of websites that we either maintain stocked with online inventory or use for social media marketing:

www.UndergroundBooks.net

ABE Store

Biblio Store

Amazon Store

Etsy Store

The Underground Books Blog

Facebook Page

Twitter Page

Pinterest Page

Instagram Page

Tumblr Page

Maintaining all of this requires herculean effort. People in the shop also often say “Oh, it must be so nice to sit around and read books all day.” We wish! We work constantly, usually 7 days a week, often 10-12 hours a day. Fortunately we LOVE our work, but it’s a serious career commitment. Megan and I read and study constantly to continue to educate ourselves about rare and collectible books, trends in the book trade, types of bookbindings, etc.

A growing part of our business involves exhibiting at rare book fairs and antique shows. We have a busy fall calendar of events we are excited about this year, and we’ll share more about that in our next post.

Staff Picks, Part IV: Josh

This is the final installment in our series of blogs featuring the favorite books of the Underground Books staff. Here are Josh’s favorites!

 

Josh 1Watchers by Dean Koontz

At about age 12, I was probably too young to be reading Koontz. Like Stephen King, he’s a master of suspense and horror. Not usually my genre of choice today, Watchers was one of the first books to really ignite my love of reading. When the protagonist, Travis, encounters two genetic experiments escaped from a government lab, he’s drawn into a dark and dangerous tale of adventure and secrecy. The story is most famous for its exceedingly intelligent and lovable golden retriever character, Einstein. A definite page-turner and “beach read” that won’t be too taxing for the already mentally exhausted.

 

 

Chronicles Dragonlance Series by Margaret Weis & Tracy HickmanJosh 2

This epic fantasy novel franchise is what inspired my teenage obsession with dungeons & dragons and role playing games (and eventually introduced me to Tolkien as well). I credit (blame?) these worlds of elves, dwarves, and magic with later inspiring me to question the world, and eventually study philosophy and religion in college. The heroes in the world of Krynn, introduced in Dragons of Autumn Twilight, have since spawned over 190 books and games. If you’re one prone to getting addicted to a series, and then having to read all of them – beware these books!

 

Josh 3Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

When I read Ishmael at age 16 or 17, it blew my mind.  An older friend (herself studying philosophy in college, like I eventually would) gave it to me, and it forever changed my perspective on the world. It examines the mythological thinking at the heart of modern civilization, its effect on ethics, and how this relates to sustainability and societal collapse on the global scale. The novel uses a style of Socratic dialogue to deconstruct the notion that humans are the pinnacle of biological evolution. It posits that anthropocentrism and several other widely accepted modern ideas are actually cultural myths and that global civilization is enacting these myths with catastrophic consequences. As a work of fiction, it will leave something to be desired – consider this purely a philosophical/historical read for exercising your brain and examining our culture’s basic ideas.

 

Tropic of Cancer by Henry MillerJosh 4

Another one read initially as a teenager, it was given to me by my older brother as if it was some kind of dangerous and sacred object.  Famous for its candid sexuality and the 1960’s free speech trials it aroused (ha!), Tropic is the semi-autobiographical tale of Miller living as a nomadic-bohemian-expatriate in Paris in the early 1930’s. The book meanders around and among Miller and his musician, artist, and writer friends as they drink and carouse. As a story it really goes nowhere linear, with a lot of stream of consciousness chapters leading toward big epiphanies, meditations on the human condition, and social critiques. If you can overcome the pretension, it’s a fun and dirty romp through 1930’s Paris, with a good dose of lyrical philosophy and social criticism.

 

Josh 5

God is Red: A Native View of Religion by Vine Deloria

This book was the primary textbook of my college course “Introduction to Native American Religious Traditions” at Western Kentucky University. God is Red is not just an introduction to native religious ideas, it is an in-your-face challenge to Western Christianity. It details the hardships faced by Native Americans as their country was quickly flooded with foreigners eager for land and other resources. Deloria links the anthropocentrism of Christian orthodoxy and subsequent American economic philosophies with increasing environmental upheaval. Deloria also explains how religious views are rooted to “place” as opposed to being universal. God is Red is a challenging and important read that transformed my understanding of all religions.

 

Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom RobbinsJosh 6

During my four (okay, almost five) years as a philosophy undergraduate, I read only nonfiction. After graduating, the first work of fictional pleasure reading I picked up was Tom Robbins’ Still Life With Woodpecker. It concerns the love affair between an environmentalist princess and an outlaw. The novel encompasses a broad range of topics, from aliens and redheads to consumerism, the building of bombs, romance, royalty, the moon, and a pack of Camel cigarettes. The novel continuously addresses the question of “how to make love stay” and is sometimes referred to as “a postmodern fairy tale”. Still Life is a fun, easy read, but still full of witty, thought-provoking, and quotable aphorisms.

 

 

Josh 7The Making of a Counterculture by Theodore Roszak

A “counterculture” is a subculture whose values and norms of behavior differ substantially from those of mainstream society, often in opposition to mainstream cultural mores. The term is credited to Theodore Roszak, who originally published his chronicle of the 1960’s European and North American counterculture in 1969. The book captured a huge audience of Vietnam War protesters, dropouts, and rebels–and their baffled elders. Theodore Roszak found common ground between 1960s student radicals and hippie dropouts in their mutual rejection of what he calls the technocracy–the regime of corporate and technological expertise that dominates industrial society. The book satisfied my personal preoccupation with better understanding the dramatic social transformations of the 20th century.

 

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt VonnegutJosh 8

Vonnegut’s 1973 novel is set in the fictional town of Midland City, and is the story of “two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.” Breakfast introduced me to the offbeat, brilliant humor of an author who thinks like a kind of zany alien anthropologist. Illustrated throughout with Vonnegut’s own childish drawings, the book also explores serious and troubling aspects of U.S. history by providing simplistic explanations of things like racism, oppression and inequality without the contextual explanations that are often used to excuse these trends.

 

Josh 9The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise & Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape by James Howard Kunstler

This pop history of urban planning and architecture in America opened my eyes to the ways our built environment has contributed to so many of the social problems we face today. Kunstler was an early critic of suburban sprawl and an advocate of “New Urbanist” design, emphasizing walk-able & bike-able neighborhoods and mixed use village-style planning. Part of my love for downtown Carrollton was explained to me by this book, celebrating the human scaled intimacy of pre-automobile urban village design. Kunstler’s biting sense of humor makes learning about the dark and sad history of America’s urban planning a less bitter pill to swallow.

 

 

Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia by Rob BrezsnyJosh 10

Pronoia is the suspicion that the universe is a conspiracy on your behalf. Rob Brezsny, one of America’s most popular astrologists and the author of the “Free Will Astrology” column appearing in most of the country’s alternative newsweeklies (like Creative Loafing), persuasively argues that we attempt to go along with the Universe’s good intentions.  He uses witty parables, tender rants, cultural riffs, pagan wisdom, and lively rituals to make a case for a cagey optimism that requires a vigorous engagement with the dark forces. He asks us to rethink life as a sublime game created for our amusement and illumination. It’s easy to dismiss Pronoia as ridiculous new age fluff, but for those with less deeply ingrained cynicism, it can be a playful and enjoyable breath of fresh air. In fact, I credit it with the inspiration to be foolish enough to open a bookstore!

Staff Picks, Part III: Megan

This is a continuation of a series regarding our new in-store display featuring the favorite books of the Underground Books staff.

Megan here! I’ve been a part of the Underground Books family since just after the shop opened, shelving books to woo Josh (totally worked), scouting, pinch hitting at the register, and hauling boxes at book fairs, house calls, and dollar book sales. In January, I joined the team full-time as the rare book cataloger and online inventory manager, though they like to call me “the Muscle,” or maybe that’s just how I refer to myself.  I graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of West Georgia and the UWG Honors College, where I binged on postmodern lit and poetry. I’m pretty serious about cats.

 

Megan 1The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

When my older brother finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and said I was too little to read it (age 8), one of the best reading events of my life was ushered into existence. Complex, dynamic characters, rich world building, meditations on friendship and loss, the Harry Potter Series has earned its fame as one of the most beloved series of modern times. The good vs. evil storyline that gives the series its structure has never been a major focal point for me. As a child, it was Hogwarts I was enamored with; I was a nerdy little girl who dreamed of a magical academic environment. As a young adult, I appreciated Rowling’s treatment of the difficulties of human relationships, of not really knowing the pasts of parents and mentors, of grieving, of racial, gender, and economic inequality, activism, and, well, growing up, standing up for what’s right, and coming to have compassion for those who’ve mistreated us. Read these books (if only to finally understand all the pop culture references you hear)!

 

 Room by Emma DonoghueMegan 2

I always describe this book as the perfect balance between literary fiction and airplane reading. I read it three times and wrote two papers about it in the space of a month while in UWG’s English program, and I always have an extra copy on my shelf for lending. Thrilling and thoughtful, Room plays with the mother-child relationship, gender, captivity, postmodernism, television and the media, and the ways in which we come to interpret the world around us. Because this novel is so smart and fast paced, I’d recommend it to those who loved Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

 

Megan 3Good Poems edited by Garrison Keillor

My middle school librarian—bless you Ms. Phillips—gave this poetry collection to me when I was 13, and it’s been a major touchstone throughout my life since. An eclectic collection, this book has a poem for everyone, each one featured on Keillor’s popular public radio show “The Writer’s Almanac.” Beginners will find much to like, and poetry veterans will rediscover many of their favorites.

 

 

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinleyMegan 4

I have no idea how many times I read this book growing up. With a dragon-fighting princess, her faithful steed, and a dire threat to the kingdom, this book could easily fall into gratuitous YA fantasy, but, trust me, it doesn’t. Well crafted, the heroine is no mere strong-willed, butt-kicking female character, but smart, persevering, introspective, and struggling with common self-limitations as well as limitations put on her as a mixed-race, mixed-class woman. This is an excellent book for young people of all genders that stands up to more mature reading as well. Also: a Newberry Award winner. Check out the companion to this novel, The Blue Sword!

 

Megan 5The Bloody Chamber & Other Tales by Angela Carter    

This collection of mature, feminist reimaginings of classic fairy and folk tales (including Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast, and Little Red Riding Hood, among others) doesn’t flinch in its examination of the violence and sexuality latent in children’s bedtime stories. Carter writes her brutal, erotic fables in vivid, sensuous prose; the result: a pleasurable read that packs a serious punch.

 

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret AtwoodMegan 6

A tour de force, urgent and relevant, this is a book I’d be willing to die for. Speculative fiction, this novel imagines a U.S. in which American fundamentalist Christianity’s rhetoric about women is taken to its logical conclusions, with the establishment of a theocratic military dictatorship that employs biblical brutalities. Read this if you want more from your dystopian fiction (and prepare for more than you bargained for). Nolite te bastardes carborundorum!

 

Megan 7The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Jesuits in space! A philosophical, psychological, moral, theological, anthropological science fiction novel that explores the intersections of science and faith, this book asks all the big questions and resolutely faces all the sweetest and bitterest moments that arise from great discovery and horrifying sacrifice. This novel is a true work of art and won all the big science fiction awards upon its publication. It’s an utterly brilliant, wondrous, and harrowing tale that will leave you both satisfied and shaken.

 

 

Beloved by Toni MorrisonMegan 8

Beautiful and unflinching, this is to me that elusive thing we call the great American novel. Simultaneously a memorial to the 60 million and more people brutalized by the Atlantic slave trade and an exorcism of the repressed memory of slavery in the American unconscious, Beloved is a powerful masterwork of American fiction. It’s also gorgeously written, haunting, heartrending, and ultimately hopeful.

 

Megan 9Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

Orlando blew my mind in college. Time-bending, genre-bending, gender-bending, if Woolf’s literary technical innovations don’t awe you, her lush lyricism and witty satire will. All hail the queen.

 

 

 

Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthyMegan 10

This ain’t your papa’s story of manifest destiny and the founding of the American dream. I love this book because I think the only thing more crushingly, brutally violent than its depictions of the massacres, scalping, and rape with which we won the West (there’s a tree of dead babies in here, by the way) is its depiction of the ways in which, on our compulsive thrust westward, we obliterated everything autonomous from us, naming and classifying and ultimately destroying these things, from plant and animal life to American Indian cultures and systems of meaning. There’s a brilliant juxtaposition here of physical violence and the violence of language. This book is admittedly brimming with these kinds of horror, and many a reader has abandoned it for this reason. It’s McCarthy’s language, which has drawn comparisons with the Bible and (another favorite of mine) Melville’s Moby Dick, that brings an overwhelming, magnificent beauty and splendor to the novel. Get ready for the most gorgeous sentences about sunset carnage you’ve ever read.

 

Megan 11A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Nao is a suffering young girl in Tokyo who plans to kill herself, but decides she must first record in her diary the life of her great-grandmother, a centenarian, novelist, feminist, anarchist, and Buddhist nun who lives in a temple on a crumbling mountaintop. Ruth, a struggling writer in British Columbia, finds Nao’s diary in a Hello Kitty lunchbox when it washes ashore as part of the debris from the 2011 tsunami that ravaged Japan. Funny, tender, and heartrending, this is a story full of desperate and complex characters who will break your heart, all while stimulating your mind with awesome big ideas, including but not limited to: metafiction, quantum physics, Zen Buddhism, the vicious lack of anonymity on the internet, WWII kamikaze pilots, Proust, the Neocene, environmental art, Taisho era Japan, and the relationship between reader and writer.

 

Staff Picks, Part II: Miranda

This is second in a series of posts about our new display, featuring the favorite books of our Underground Books team.

Miranda is our bonfire-building, southern drawling biblio-goddess and has been with Underground Books before we even opened, helping Josh prepare the space for books and book lovers. She’s been with the bookshop through the purchase of the building and our expansion and had complete charge of the bookstore for nearly 3 weeks while Megan and Josh were on their dream biblio-honeymoon. Fortunately for us, she’s on the 10 year bachelor’s plan for her psychology degree at UWG, so we get to keep her as our Tuesday & Wednesday bookselling rockstar. She’s been the real genius behind our book-crafting operation, for all those fans of our vintage book journals, buttons, and magnets. Miranda’s not just a keystone in the bookstore’s foundation, she’s one of our very best friends in the world!

 

Miranda 1Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung

This partially autobiographical account of the life of Carl G. Jung was hugely influential in my decision to study psychology. As an eager young freshman at Georgia State I was assigned to read this book in a creative writing class and I still remember the “Oh wow!” life-changing moment I experienced while reading it in a park in downtown Atlanta. Jung opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about old concepts and ideas in this account of his life, spiritual experiences, and growth as a man. Definitely worth the read for those interested in a unique understanding of human nature and one man’s beautiful attempt to make sense of it all.

 

East of Eden by John SteinbeckMiranda 2

Often described as Steinbeck’s most ambitious novel, East of Eden brings to life the intricate details of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, and their interwoven stories. If books can be described as amusement park rides, this one would be a roller coaster (“I’m on a roller coaster of emotion!”) as it often had me laughing, crying, outraged and jubilant all in the turn of a few pages. I remember finishing it and just thinking, “Wow”.

 

Miranda 3Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

Robbins pulls no punches with his sharp wit, hilarious dialogue, and curious philosophy in this self-described epic. The major themes of the book include the striving for immortality, the meaning behind the sense of smell, individual expression, self-reliance, sex, love, and religion. Beets and the god Pan figure prominently. Robbins masterfully navigates this funny, often absurd, saga with four distinct storylines, one set in 8th century Bohemia and three others in modern day New Orleans, Seattle and Paris. If you enjoy your philosophy with a good belly laugh, then this is the right book for you.

 

American Gods by Neil GaimanMiranda 4

Written by one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, this novel is a blend of Americana, fantasy, and various strands of ancient and modern mythology, all centering on the mysterious and taciturn Shadow. Little did I know when I first picked up this book I was about to experience one of the most interesting and engaging stories I’d ever read. I was blown away by Gaiman’s ability to effortlessly fuse old concepts of myth and gods with our modern world. With each page I got more drawn in and by the end I was left aching for more.

 

Miranda 5Owning Your Own Shadow by Robert Johnson

Though at first glance this book can come across as “just another self-help book”, Owning Your Own Shadow delves much deeper into the reasons why people behave the way they do. Johnson explores the concept of the “Shadow” and sheds light (ha!) on this mysterious beast lurking inside us all. By recognizing and owning our shadow, we begin to accept others and ourselves more fully.

 

 

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia MarquezMiranda 6

Written in the beautifully poetic style of “magical realism”, Gabrielle Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude leads the reader on an enchanted journey spanning generations. This book is no fairy-tale, however. A dominant theme in One Hundred Years of Solitude is the inevitable and inescapable repetition of history in Macondo, the Latin American town in which the book is set. A wonderful read for those who enjoy complex, interwoven themes and storytelling.

 

Miranda 7Watership Down by Richard Adams

This is a must-read for the summer. Set in south-central England, the story features a small group of rabbits. Although they live in their natural environment, they are anthropomorphized, possessing their own culture, language, proverbs, poetry, and mythology. Evoking epic themes, the novel follows the rabbits as they escape the destruction of their warren and seek a place to establish a new home, encountering perils and temptations along the way. Every time I finish this book I can’t help but feel like I’ve lost some very dear friends.

 

Dune by Frank HerbertMiranda 8

Set in the distant future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which noble houses, in control of individual planets, owe allegiance to the Padishah Emperor, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides, whose noble family accepts the stewardship of the desert planet Arrakis. As this planet is the only source of the “spice” melange, the most important and valuable substance in the universe, control of Arrakis is a coveted — and dangerous — undertaking. The story explores the multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, as the forces of the empire confront each other in a struggle for the control of Arrakis and its “spice.”

 

Miranda 9Maus by Art Spiegelman

Graphic novels (or in this case, a graphic memoir, technically) are not a genre in which I often indulge. However, if there was ever an exception to the rule, Art Spiegelman’s Maus is it. The book uses “postmodern” techniques to tell its story of Germany during WWII—most strikingly in its depiction of a race of humans as different kinds of animals: Jews as mice, Germans as cats, and non-Jewish Poles as pigs. Spiegelman’s fiercely honest account of his father’s experience as a Jew during the Holocaust, and later as a prisoner at Auschwitz, is so engrossing, real, and touching that it is often a challenge to put the book down.

 

His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip PullmanMiranda 10

I remember a few books from my childhood that really affected me in a profound way, and the His Dark Materials trilogy is among them. An epic trilogy of fantasy novels by Philip Pullman consisting of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, it follows the coming of age of two children, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, as they wander through a series of parallel universes. From witches and armored bears, to physics, philosophy, and theology, these books deliver hard truths mixed with magic and mystery. Though Pullman’s publishers have primarily marketed the series to young adults, Pullman also intended to speak to both older children and adults. I cannot recommend them enough to young and old readers, alike.

 

Staff Picks, Part I: Maria

“What’s your favorite book?” is a question booksellers get used to hearing. And for the type of brainy bibliophiles who end up as booksellers, it’s a frustrating one. “How can I pick just one?!” We love so many books, sometimes we just go blank in the face of this daunting question. We look around the room in a panic for a book we like to just jump off the shelves and save us, or we mumble awkwardly about how there’s just so many….

After the success of our “Banned Book Wall” display for the last couple months, we have now launched a “Staff Favorites Wall.”  Stop in the store and browse 10 or so favorite picks from each of the four people you find behind the counter at Underground Books: Maria, Megan, Miranda, and Josh.  These are our responses to the question: “What are 10 books that are memorable for having some kind of impact on us as readers?” Many of them are titles that spoke to us at different points in our lives, and may not be our current favorites. We captured a kind of “highlights of our individual reading histories.” In case you can’t stop by the store to browse our selections, we’ll post one of our individual lists each week for the next month. First up is Maria.

Maria is our Swedish intellectual. You’ll find her at the shop most Sundays from noon to five, shelving books furiously to compensate for the rest of us slackers, or battling neglected dust bunnies. When she isn’t at Underground Books, you’ll find her working at the local Farmer’s Fresh CSA, building her tiny house, or nose buried in some heavy volume of Russian literature or other brilliant giant of classic literature.  We love Maria for her gorgeous, brilliant, dreamy, wise, philosophical mind. You can also catch Maria at her and her wife’s blog Tiny House Big Dream, where they detail the creation of their beautiful tiny house in the woods. Maria is currently at work on a book about their tiny house adventure.

Maria_1Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

It was one of the first books that really impressed me, I must have been fifteen when I first read it. I remember thinking that he (Dostoyevsky) truly saw the human mind in all its wretchedness and paranoia, but also in its ability for redemption and glory. Moody and gloomy—it seemed about right to my teenage mind, but also held in it a warning crawling from the gutters: “Beware, beware.” The Karamazov Brothers and Notes from Underground are also fighting for a place among my all-time favorites.

 

War and Peace by Leo TolstoyMaria_2

Despite opening with a couple of hundred pages of war battles and ball scenes, it is probably the best book I ever read. Somewhere half way through the 1200 pages, I felt my spirit elevated, my back straightened, and I thought that it was perhaps not too bad to be a human, after all. Besides being somewhat of a historical chronicle, it reads as Tolstoy’s philosophical opus. If you only plan to read one book by Tolstoy, I recommend War and Peace over Anna Karenina, which I didn’t find nearly as philosophically interesting.

 

Maria_3Mrs. Dallaway by Virginia Woolf

I have a huge crush on Virginia Woolf, whose intellect shines through everything she ever wrote. Mrs. Dalloway was probably the first book of hers that I read, and it captivated me from page one with its cleverness and poetic prose. To follow Mrs. Dalloway for a day is to travel inside someone’s consciousness, which could easily be tediously intimate, if it wasn’t for the fact that Woolf is anything but sappy or redundant. To the Lighthouse, Between the Acts, and A Room of One’s Own are all high on my list.

 

Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, and The Bead Game by Herman HesseMaria_4

I really can’t pick one of them…I discovered Steppenwolf first, and loved the existential theme, which was hugely influential, but then Siddhartha spoke to my Buddhist inclinations, and The Bead Game tickled intellectual aspirations. All together they spoke to my longing to transcend and grow out of a fettered “normal” life.

 

Maria_5The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

This is also a book that I have read more than once and whose heroine, Isabel Archer, speaks to my heart. It’s a coming of age story, a story of freedom and individuality pitted against the restraints imposed by money, class, gender, and moral codes. It is beautiful world moving in between the old English society and the new America, a world of aristocrats, country houses, and trips to Italy—all tainted by greed and social ambition. The psychological portrait is one of the most pitiless and most interesting I’ve come across.

 

Walden by Henry David ThoreauMaria_6

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” I had heard the quote long before I read the book, and was predisposed to love it without glancing between the covers. Thoreau is my curmudgeonly friend who refuses to accept anything but a full and authentic life. His Walden is poetic and quiet, and feels like home.

 

Maria_7The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

Like Marquez, another one who should really be on my top list, Allende is a magical storyteller, and The House of Spirits oozes with rich characters, magical realism, and epic family lore. This was the book that made me think that I could never write a story as full and brimming with life as this one…and then really, what’s the point of writing at all? I fell in love with the character Clara, so stubborn and strong, loving and wise, quirky and wonderful.

 

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan KunderaMaria_8

This is probably my most frequently re-read book. Philosophy, love, eroticism, Prague, revolution, art, loss—it has all I ask for in a novel. It is clever, fun, and sad, but not in a maudlin way. You feel the book, and you feel with the characters, but the weight comes from the fleetingness of things rather than from their importance.

 

Maria_9Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

A new favorite, Oryx and Crake, a speculative fiction about a post-apocalyptic future in which most humans have died, and a new race is created. (Did I say too much?) This is one of the most juicy, smart, fun, scary and captivating books around. Atwood’s future sounds like our reality amplified, and with a triangular love story, and the apocalypse upon us, this is a book to discuss over coffee. Glenn/Crake is one of my all-time favorite characters, who it is easy to feel conflicted about.

 

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal Maria_10by Christopher Moore

My last book on the list is really just for fun. The title says it all, really. An absurd account of Jesus/Joshua’s coming of age through the eyes of his best friend Biff. Despite the outrageous language and sacrilegious themes, it is actually rather sweet, and you can’t help but love Joshua. He’s the best.

 

 

Maria_11The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

I’ve recommend this book to all my friends. It is a great story that is epic yet personal, with a sweet and tragic love triangle, loss, war, and escapism. It feels like a boy book and smells of cigarettes, N.Y.C., and comic books. I love Chabon’s use of language and his amazing vocabulary—it is not often that I need a dictionary when I read fiction, but I want to have one ready whenever I read his books. Kavalier is another one of those long-legged, broody, character crushes… For the slightly younger (or not) audiences I recommend Chabon’s Summerland, which is the best adventure you’ll ever be on. (Note the Coyote, a superb villain.)

 

Tune in next week for a peek at Miranda’s favorite books. 

Guest Post: “Underground Books” by Jason Oldham

Jason Oldham, dear friend of Underground Books

Jason has been a regular and a favorite at UB since we opened in March of 2011. He wrote this wonderful piece honoring our store and we’re honored to share it with you here! You can read more from Jason at www.macezra.com.

 

Note: This piece was to originally be published by the now, sadly, defunct Squared magazine out of Carrollton, Georgia.

The lady taking my blood pressure stared intently enough at the gauge, listening through her stethoscope, before turning her face up to me in a look I found all too reminiscent of what I received from the dean when I showed up to my Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony wearing a dress. She started again, wearing even less of a poker face, before scurrying out to gather another nurse so that I might receive that same stare in stereo…two more times.

“You need to go to the hospital right now,” she said.

“Can I make a quick stop first, or am I likely to keel over in the parking lot?” I asked.

Grudgingly they acquiesced that I could run my fool’s errand as long as I got to the ER quickly for what they assured me was excessively high blood pressure.

I went and got my book.

My favorite quote pertaining to the importance of books and reading is, sadly, unprintable in this medium. The quote comes from the ever questionable John Waters*. The gist of the quote is the rather simple admonition that should you meet someone out and about and go home with with them, upon finding they own no books, do not engage in physically amorous activities with them. If you’ve seen Pink Flamingos you’re that much closer to the original sentiment.

I’m inclined to agree with the above paraphrasing and all too tempted to add to it by typing the statement: “people who read are better than those that don’t.”

Now, I don’t necessarily believe the previous statement to be true (I’m an each to their own strength kind of cat), but I’m increasingly curious as to what arguments might be presented to refute it. I’ll stand by it for the moment. Refutations can be presented to Squared via email and I recommend any and all grammatical inconsistencies just to keep things hopping.

Believe it or not, I sat down to write about Underground Books; but, oddly enough, the book mentioned above in the high blood pressure fiasco didn’t come from Underground. I’d ordered it online. It’s a sequel to a book that I purchased at Underground. You see, Underground doesn’t really do special orders on current and otherwise easily available books. It’s not their niche. If that upsets you, you’ve not met Josh, the ever-pleasant owner of Underground (seriously, so consistently pleasant that I’ve little doubt he could keep his cool and polite manner indefinitely in a Flat Earth Society convention).

Here’s the rub: I occasionally shop at Underground with a specific book in mind, but, more often than not, I like to empty my head a bit and peruse. I like to see what’s crept in while I was away; to see just what it is that I didn’t know I was looking for, to find that ever elusive new author that I can never understand how I’d never found before. And I like a nice place to meander in while I search them out. Underground delivers on all fronts, often making me feel as if I’ve failed somehow when I don’t walk out with at least one book.

I, myself, love character and Underground Books, just around the corner from the world saving Highland deli, has got character and charm to spare. The space itself is warm, a soft descent from street level, now coffee scented with old vinyl often crooning you ever forward, ever backwards amongst the myriad comforts of pages. Those better people of the reader community know the welcome of a new author, that beckoning ebb and flow of the mere possibility of a new book. Umberto Eco has said that an unread book is more valuable than a read book, but you knew that didn’t you? Of course, you did. They’re all right there. Just look under the wedding gift of the arch of books (further testament to the decency of character inherent there: anyone who might receive such should be weighed and measured as someone worthy of such a gift) or ask anyone working, or any of the regulars for whom Underground has had an appreciation night (with a superb band that my soul, bettered for reading, is battered all the worse for forgetting their name**).

I’ve always loved book stores (especially used, voraciousness always comes at a cost), but Underground has a comfort beyond your usual haunts (Gods help me, if they served beer with a noise rock soundtrack I might never leave). With hours like 11-ish to 7-ish you can rest assured inside that door is something beyond the mere making of a living.

Chances are, if you’re one of the better people always searching out some new books to add to the libraries of your past, you’ve already shopped Underground. If you’re further obsessed with the character and individuality of a comfortable space you’ve been back. But, if you’ve missed it (or even single and hip to advice from someone like John Waters) maybe you should visit.

Be a better person. Make better children.

*Apropos of nothing, but fun: my buddy Shawn Murphy, currently acting in New York, was once watching an interview with Mr. Waters when his father, who grew up in Baltimore, wandered into the room and stared at the screen for several seconds before making one of those odd chuffing sounds that emit from all of us at random moments of sudden mental cohesion and said, “I know that guy…I used to beat him up before school.” As Vonnegut was wont to say, “So it goes.”

**Mayhayley’s Grave. Dig:

Underground Books’ 4th Anniversary Celebration

 

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The Banned Book Wall

This past Sunday, we celebrated 4 years of open doors at Underground Books with music, food, and the opening day of our new exhibit, the Banned Book Wall, which seeks to raise awareness of the most popularly banned books of the 20th century. We are truly overwhelmed by all the love and support we’ve received over these four years, and it was so special to all of us at the bookstore to mark the beginning of our fifth year surrounded by patrons who have become dear friends and family. We are so grateful for this beautiful, smart, book-loving, local-shopping community! We couldn’t have chosen a better place to pursue our dream. View our slideshow below to see the Banned Book Wall and all the wonderful folk who came out to celebrate, feast, and boogie with us!

We would like to give a special thank you to our musicians, Rob Ervin and Phil Mengel, our catering friend and jack-of-all-trades Rob Duve, who made delicious sandwiches, and Mimi & Pa, Josh’s parents, for all their help and support (and the meatballs).

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A big thank you from all of us at Underground Books!

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Hometown Legend: A Stunning Piece of West Georgiana Comes To Carrollton

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The first edition

In 1948, a wealthy, influential landowner of Meriwether County pistol-whipped a young sharecropper outside of the Sunset Tourist camp in Moreland with such force the gun discharged. John Wallace’s execution by electric chair would be the first time in Georgia that a white man was given the death sentence on the testimony of two men of color, Albert Brooks and Robert Lee Gates. Wallace’s murder of Wilson Turner, a crime which involved three counties, would rock not only the state but the entire country, making legal history in Georgia and inspiring an acclaimed book and celebrated made-for-television movie, both titled Murder in Coweta County.

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Photograph by Susan Orpin of Andy Griffith as John Wallace

Murder in Coweta County, the film, is dusty with Georgia red clay and stars Andy Griffith as John Wallace and Johnny Cash as Lamar Potts, the Sheriff of Coweta County who brought Wallace to justice. The two men are true foils, Griffith an unrelentingly vicious and irredeemable Wallace and Cash a gloriously heroic Potts. Both men, however, must consult “Oracle of the Ages,” resident fortune-teller, and local numbers runner Mayhayley Lancaster, portrayed in the film by the incomparable June Carter Cash, who aids in the prosecution, testifying against Wallace.

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June Carter Cash as the incredible Mayhayley Lancaster, photograph by Susan Orpin

Amanda Mayhayley Lancaster is a legend around these parts, in turns beloved and feared. Our own Miranda McMillan recalls driving with her mother thrice around Mayhayley’s grave to see if the legend was true and the engine would suddenly quit. It seems everybody’s grandmother or grandfather has some story about Mayhayley Lancaster, many of which are recounted in Dot Moore’s wonderful biography Oracle of the Ages: Reflections on the Curious Life of Fortune Teller Mayhayley Lancaster. Carrollton-based band Mayhayley’s Grave pays homage to the legendary woman in its name, and if you see lead vocalist James Davis on Adamson Square, he can regale you with all the tales, tall and otherwise, surrounding this bigger than life figure. To add to the portrait of this complex, honestly fantastical woman, Mayhayley was also a lawyer, a political activist, and the first woman to run for Georgia legislature (on the very practical platform of extending roads and railroads to rural communities). To say the least, Miss Mayhayley, as many call her, is a significant figure in our local history.

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A first edition and advance review copy of the award-winning book

 

Recently, a wonderful collection of material concerning the 1976 book and the 1983 film came into our possession: a first edition of Margaret Anne Barnes’ Murder in Coweta County, signed and inscribed by the author, the director of the film, many cast members, including Johnny Cash, Andy Griffith, and June Carter Cash, and even by Sergeant J. C. Otwell, who uncovered incriminating evidence for the 1948 case (and who is an important figure in Dot Moore’s “Oracle of the Ages”), along with an advance review copy of the book, a February 1983 edition of Atlanta magazine featuring an article on the making of the film, and nine 8 X 10 photographs of the cast (two shown above) by one of the film’s photographers, to whom the book is inscribed.

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Front endpapers truly filled with inscriptions from the cast of the 1983 film

Click here to see the full listing on our website for this incredible piece of West Georgiana.

What We’re Taking to the Fair

We attend several book fairs each year, and the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair is a definite favorite. Several days in sunny St. Petersburg, thousands of book lovers thronging the aisles, pulled from one booth to the next by the most interesting, beautiful, and rarest books the community of antiquarian booksellers has to offer…in short, it’s dreamy. Here’s a peek at just how wondrous it is!

So that’s it! We’re running away to join the fair! Here’s a look at what’s in our knapsacks.

 

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Click through this picture for more of this beautiful book.

Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb

With 12 stunning full-color plates and numerous black and white illustrations throughout by Arthur Rackham, Tales from Shakespeare is a wonderful example of the delightful work of a master of illustration and a leader of the golden age of literary illustration.

 

 

 

 

 

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Click through to see the stunning painting hiding in the fore-edge!

A Round Of Days Described In Original Poems By Some Of Our Most Celebrated Poets, And In Pictures by Eminent Artists, Engraved By The Brothers Dalziel  

A fore-edge painting of a pastoral Mediterranean village graces this beautifully bound mid-19th century title from the prominent Victorian era engraving operation of the Brothers Dalziel.

 

 

 

 

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Click through for Frost’s signature.

North of Boston by Robert Frost 

A truly lovely collection of Frost’s poetry, signed by the poet, with several of his best loved poems, including “Mending Wall,” “After Apple-Picking,” and “The Death of the Hired Man.”

 

 

 

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Click through for more pictures of this obscure work.

The Dragon In Shallow Waters by Vita Sackville-West 

A lesser known work by Vita Sackville-West, most famous for her exuberant aristocratic life, her love affair with Virginia Woolf, and as the model for the title character of Woolf’s Orlando.

 

 

 

 

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Click through to see the signatures.

True Travellers, A Tramps Opera in Three Acts by W. H. Davies 

A limited edition copy, one of 100 signed by both the author and illustrator William Nicholson, of the wonderful play by the poet and original “supertramp” W. H. Davies, whose time spent hopping trains and hitchiking across the U.K. and U.S. informs this “tramps opera.”

 

 

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Click through to see more of this gorgeous binding and its stunning plates.

Beauty: Illustrated Chiefly by an Analysis and Classification of Beauty in Woman by Alexander Walker 

You may remember this beauty from an earlier entry on our blog, 19th Century Beauty For Sale. We’re still in love with its luxurious burgundy leather, its lavish gilt decoration, and the many lovely plates by Henry Howard, a professor of painting at the Royal Academy, depicting many nude studies of the female form.

 

 

 

 

 

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Click through to see more of this rare Vonnegut gem!

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

A personal favorite by one of our favorite authors: only 25 to 30 advance review copies were produced of Vonnegut’s first book, of which this is one.

 

 

 

 

 

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Click through for more of this handsome example of the work of the great philosopher.

Thus Spake Zarathustra A Book For All And None by Friedrich Nietzsche

A very attractive early English copy of the famed philosophical novel by the philosopher and cultural critic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Click through for the whole, glorious set.

Audubon’s Birds of America (The Audubon Society’s Baby Elephant Folio) with Ornithological Biography, or an Account of the Habits of the Birds of the United States of America (7 volumes) by  Roger Tory and Virginia Marie Peterson and Waldemar H. Fries

This is another beauty we featured on the blog in A Field Guide to Ornithological Eye Candy. A set of 7 volumes all handsomely leather bound and celebrating the work of John James Audubon, “The American Woodsman,” signed by the royal family of American bird identification, Roger Tory and Virginia Marie Peterson.

 

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Click through to see the mysterious binding!

The Subtyl Historyes and Fables of Esope. Translated out of Frensshe in to Englysshe By William Caxton at Westmynstre in the yere of oure Lorde. mcccc. lxxxiii. by Aesop

Bound in handsome, unmarked leather, which happens to be just as mysterious as the book itself. The colophon tells of 200 copies printed and bound at the Grabhorn Press in San Francisco, but no number accompanies this volume, which appears unfinished in binding. A curious and beautiful book, with colored title woodcut, featured in the picture, and initials in color by Valenti Angelo.

 

 

We hope to see you at the fair March 13th through 15th! We encourage you to like and follow the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair on Facebook as well as its new companion the SunLit Festival, which will be hosting several literary events during the fair, including a literary pub crawl through St. Pete!

Literary Love Songs to Woo Your Valentine

Your friends at Underground Books have you covered this Valentine’s Day with seven literary love songs with which to serenade your lucky valentine and four songs with which to console yourself should things not have gone so well with your last valentine… From bookish lyrics to lyrics straight from the book, we hope you enjoy these as much as we do! Scroll to the bottom to listen to the whole playlist.

For Wooing:

The Book of Love by The Magnetic Fields

“The book of love is long and boring
No one can lift the damn thing
It’s full of charts and facts and figures
and instructions for dancing
but I, I love it when you read to me
and you, you can read me anything”

 

“Wrapped Up In Books” by Belle and Sebastian 

“We’ve got a fantasy affair
We didn’t get wet, we didn’t dare
Our aspirations, are wrapped up in books
Our inclinations are hidden in looks”

 

My Ántonia by Emmylou Harris and Dave Matthews

“Now I understood that the same road was to bring us together again. Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.” ― Willa Cather, My Ántonia

 

Open Book by Cake

“She’s writing a novel.
She’s writing, she’s weaving,
Conceiving a plot.
It quickens, it thickens.
You can’t put it down now.”

 

The Sensual World by Kate Bush

“I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.” ― James Joyce, Ulysses

 

My Favourite Book by Stars

“How I know your face, all the ways you move, you come in, I can read you
You’re my favourite book”

 

Me Gustas Cuando Callas by Brazilian Girls

Just as all living things are filled with my soul.
you emerge from all living things filled with the soul of me.
It’s as if, a butterfly in dreams, you were my soul,
and as if you were the soul’s word, melancholy.

-Pablo Neruda, “Poema XV” translated by Robert Hass from City Lights’ The Essential Neruda

 

 

For Crying & Eating Ice Cream:

Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, Performed by Rufus Wainwright

“Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah”

 

Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush

“Out on the wiley, windy moors
We’d roll and fall in green.
You had a temper like my jealousy:
Too hot, too greedy.
How could you leave me,
When I needed to possess you?
I hated you. I loved you, too.”

 

Calypso by Suzanne Vega

“My name is Calypso
And I have lived alone
I live on an island
And I waken to the dawn
A long time ago
I watched him struggle with the sea
I knew that he was drowning
And I brought him into me
Now today
Come morning light
He sails away
After one last night
I let him go.”

 

Samson by Regina Spektor

“And history books forgot about us and the bible didn’t mention us
And the bible didn’t mention us, not even once

You are my sweetest downfall
I loved you first, I loved you first”

 

The Whole Playlist:

 

 

7 Weird Books From UndergroundBooks.net

You may have guessed that some strange books cross our desk from time to time here at Underground. Read further to see just how weird it gets, and let us take you on a wondrously educational ride through our strangest offerings that will leave your skies clear and your colon clean.


 

  1. Mo-Ped: The Wonder Vehicle by Jerry Murray

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    Alternate title, MO-PED: The Biker Gangs of the Future

Is there any more miraculous vehicle than that of the “mo-ped”? This book doesn’t waste time answering stupid questions. If you want to know how the Peugot, “deservedly the snob of the mo-ped world,” stacks up against the Batavus, whose “racy look…will appeal to the sportsman in you,” then this is the Moped Bible you’ve been waiting for. If you want tasteful black and white photographs of models both sleek and curvy, then this is the Sports Illustrated Moped Edition you’ve been looking for. Either way, you’re sure to feel as badass with this book in your hand as you do cruising through town on your wonder vehicle.

 

 


 

  1. 101 Ways to Avoid a Drunk Driving Conviction by William C. Head and Reese I. Joye, Jr. Attorneys at Law 
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Read responsibly.

Not only will your lawyer bros William and Reese tell you how to wriggle free of that DUI charge, they include the very helpful Appendix K, a set of “Drivers Rights” cards, conveniently sized for your wallet and drunk driving kit. Never be unprepared again. As our catalog says, “a useful book if you are one of the many fools who drink and drive on a regular basis.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

  1. Keeping Fit by the Department of the Interior Bureau of Education 

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    Uncle Sam Wants You! (Not like that.)

Soldiers, your government cares about you, as evidenced by this 1918 pamphlet from the “Bureau of Social Hygiene,” which helpfully explains the “four great handicaps” preventing soldiers from “keeping fit.” “Defective eyesight, poor teeth, bad feet, and venereal diseases,” there are the enemies on the battlefield of your health. Within the first two pages, you will learn how to combat eye, teeth, and foot problems. The rest of the pamphlet, 11 pages, will scare you out of contracting V.D.

 

 

 

 


  1. The One Rose, Mother of the Immortal Kewpies: A biography of Rose O’Neill and the story of her work by Rowena Godding Ruggles
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One rose, a million reasons to sleep with the light on.

We hear you can get a degree from Hogwarts with a name like Rowena Godding Ruggles (we’re just jealous). Ruggles delves deep into the world of Rose O’Neill, the American illustrator, artist, and writer from whose mind the world received the Kewpies, popular comic characters and the disturbing bisque dolls your grandma likes. This nicely bound book comes heavily illustrated throughout for more nightmare fuel.

I bring the darkness!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

  1. Colon Hygiene by John Harvey Kellogg 
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Just let this informative text run right through you.

John Harvey Kellogg, co-creator of the popular corn flakes cereal and superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitorium, was a man of many passions, including abstinence, masturbation prevention, eugenics, and the health of the “most despised and neglected portion of the body, the colon.” Kellog’s refusal to include sugar, or the white devil as it’s called in some circles, in the secret recipe for corn flakes led to his split from co-creator and brother Will Keith Kellogg. John Harvey certainly had projects that required a healthy breakfast. Examine the colon through the eyes of the (non)master(bator).

 

 

 

 


 

  1. Subduing The Earth, Controlling The Elements, And Ruling The Nations With Jesus Christ by Franklin Hall
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Thanks for the climate change, Frank.

This pamphlet certainly takes that verse about doing all things through Christ to the next level. 1950’s and 60’s healing evangelist and preacher Franklin Hall’s various fixations included miracles and weather control.  With chapter subtitles like “Interplanetary Tourist Information,” “Controlling the Sky Is Not Too Difficult,” and “Holy Ghost Beauty Treatment,” Hall will have you looking fabulous under a tin foil hat and a cloud-free sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

  1. Bisba by Timothy Burr 

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    The fuchsia top stain and the gilt lettering really make this an attractive book.

We have to let this one speak for itself, or risk using NSFW language. From back flap: “No matter how little or much breasts have meant to you before, you’ve now reached a turning point. Once you have read even a few chapters of BISBA, you can never again have only a detached interest in the myriad variety of breasts you daily encounter. From here on, every one of them will be seen as an open window that lets you peek into the mysteries of its possessor.” Just in case you needed more convincing, here’s the full cover title: “Why and how–WOMEN’S BREASTS REVEAL THEIR CHARACTER BISBA BARING THE BREAST’S INTRIGUING MYSTERIES from its INFLUENCE (on man, mind and history) to its INSPECTION ANALYSIS IDENTIFICATION RATING AND INTERPRETATION PLUS– A uniquely valuable dictionary-commentary on a thousand ways to describe women.” Instructively illustrated throughout with exactly what you’d expect.

 

 


 

We hope you enjoyed the ride! If you’re a local patron and would like to see any of these fine selections in person, please contact us at (678)977-5517 to make an appointment (we keep our online inventory at another location). For more of the weirdest books of West Georgia, check out our Weird category back at UndergroundBooks.net.

A Field Guide to Ornithological Eye Candy

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Abbeville Press’ Collector’s Edition of Audubon’s Birds of America (The Audubon Society’s Baby Elephant Folio)

Since its publication over the years 1827 to 1838, John James Audubon’s The Birds of America has not only stood as the standard for ornithological art, but a testament to book arts.

Paired with the accompanying text to his stunning collection of plates, Ornithological Biography, or, An account of the habits of the birds of the United States of America, Audubon’s hard won magnum opus finds completion. The two works were separated to avoid the British law requiring a copy of every publication containing text to be donated to the Crown libraries. Taking into consideration the substantial expense involved in reproducing Audubon’s artwork, including the making of hundreds of copper plates and an assembly line of aqua-tint colorists, as well as the fact that Audubon had to resort to self-publication, furnishing each Crown library with a copy of the text and plates would have been a considerable financial burden.

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Ornithological Biography, or an Account of the Habits of the Birds of the United States of America (7 volumes)

The Abbeville Press editions marry these masterworks with matching fine bindings. Handsome green leather and intricate gilt adorn Audubon’s Birds and their Biographies, resulting in a truly stunning set and the centerpiece of any shelf.

 

The Abbeville Press editions also wed Audubon, “The American Woodsman,” with the royal family of American bird identification, Roger Tory and Virginia Marie Peterson, renowned environmentalists and founders of Peterson Field Guides. Abbeville’s collector’s edition of Audubon’s Birds of America comes signed by the Petersons, and the Ornithological Biography 7 volume set includes commentaries on Birds of America by the Petersons.

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Signed by Roger Tory and Virginia Marie Peterson

Audubon’s indefatigable spirit is truly honored in this collection of and commentary on his work, as the concluding words of the Petersons’ introduction to this edition attest:

“Audubon will always live in the minds of nature-oriented Americans. Creative forces were at work within him; he had everything essential to greatness, the ingredients of which artists, poets, and prophets are made: charisma, energy, and talent. He was closely attuned to the natural world, and because of his tremendous vitality and enthusiasm for life, which found creative outlet in his art, he has become more than a myth. As long as our civilization lasts, America will be in debt to Audubon for what he symbolizes.”


birds1Audubon’s Birds of America (The Audubon Society’s Baby Elephant Folio) with Ornithological Biography, or an Account of the Habits of the Birds of the United States of America (7 volumes)

Peterson, Roger Tory and Virginia Marie; Audubon, John James; Fries, Waldemar H

New York: Abbeville Press, 1981;1985.

Leather bound. Audubon’s Birds of America (The Audubon Society’s Baby Elephant Folio). New York: Abbeville Press, 1981. 15 1/2″ X 12″. 435 Full Color Plates. Signed by Roger Tory and Virginia Marie Peterson on half-title page reading: “This Collector’s Edition of The Audubon Society Baby Elephant Folio Audubon’s Birds of America Is Handbound in Leather and Signed by the Authors.” Handsome green leather pictorial hardcover binding, with gilt decorations and lettering to cover and 5-banded spine. Very light edgewear with light rubbing to back cover. Attractive marbled endpapers and silk ribbon place marker. Binding is tight and sound. Contents are clean, bright, and unmarked.

Ornithological Biography, or an Account of the Habits of the Birds of the United States of America (7 volumes). New York: Abbeville Press , 1985. 10 3/4″ X 7 1/8″. Set of seven volumes, including: Volumes I-V of Audubon’s Ornithological Biography, Fries’ The Double Elephant Folio: The Story of Audubon’s Birds of America, and the Petersons’ Commentaries On Audubon’s Birds of America. Mild shelfwear and some rubbing to all green leather hardcover bindings, with intricate gilt decorations and lettering to covers and spines. Stunning marbled endpapers. Bindings are tight and sound. Contents are clean, bright, and unmarked.

Near fine. Item #806

Price: $1,000.00


For more information on John James Audubon and his legacy, we suggest the Audubon Society website.

If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: A Rare Vonnegut Gem

“I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point,‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’

vonnegut— Kurt Vonnegut, our patron saint


“If this isn’t nice, what is?” has become a motto around our shop and home over the past year, and when   we look (read: gaze adoringly) at this scarce advance review copy of Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano, we can’t help but murmur it ourselves.

Drawing inspiration from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, and his own Post-WWII experiences working for General Electric, Vonnegut prognosticates a future of know-how and no labor. Player Piano is Vonnegut’s dystopian vision of automation, in which machines have replaced   human effort, eradicating for many “the feeling of being needed and useful, the foundation of self-respect.” Charles Scribner’s Sons produced only 25 to 30 advance review copies, making this a treasure among our   acquisitions of 2014.

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Backed by a beloved author of ours, we urge you to make declaring   your happiness a new year’s resolution for 2015.

We end with just one more point of advice from Vonnegut, from the closing remarks of his 1999 commencement address at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia:

“Don’t give up on books. They feel so good — their friendly heft. The sweet reluctance of their pages when you turn them with your sensitive fingertips. A large part of our brains is devoted to deciding whether what our hands are touching is good or bad for us. Any brain worth a nickel knows books are good for us.”


Player Piano

Vonnegut, Kurt

New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952.

First Edition. Paperback. 295pp. Softcover. 8vo. Pale green stiff paper cover wraps, soiled and mottled. Corners bumped, with some losses at head and tail of spine, light splitting of front hinge. Text from two jacket flaps pasted in to front endpapers, with previous owner’s name and penciled prices/notations present (text otherwise clean). One of only 25 to 30 advance review copies were produced of Player Piano, his first book. A good copy of a rare Vonnegut gem. Good. Item #624

Price: $1,100.00

Click here to see this listing on UndergroundBooks.net


For more information on Kurt Vonnegut, his life, and his writings, we suggest the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, which we had the pleasure of visiting on our honeymoon in May of 2014, in Indianapolis, Indiana. You can find them online at VonnegutLibrary.org.

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from our guestbook at the shop

Juicy Hand-Written Love Letter From Jack London to Mistress

Photo of the young Jack London

Photo of the young Jack London

Underground Books recently acquired a small archive of materials related to famed American author Jack London. London, most well known today for his works The Call of the Wild and White Fang, was a dramatic and controversial figure in his time. His passionate activism, outspoken socialism, and racist ideologies made him a polarizing figure whose personal life has been widely studied by scholars, fans, and critics alike.

The highlight of our recent acquisition is a love letter from London to his mistress Charmian Kittredge in 1904. London was married to his first wife at the time, Elizabeth “Bessie” Maddern. They were open about the fact that they did not marry out of love, but the desire to produce “sturdy children” (a nod to some of London’s controversial views on eugenics). As the letter below shows, London’s fiery love of Charmian stood in stark contrast to his passionless marriage to Maddern. In 1905 London divorced Maddern and married Charmian, who would be his partner for the rest of his life.

A passionate love letter from London to Charmian, who would soon become his second wife.

A passionate love letter from London to Charmian, who would soon become his second wife.

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The complete text of the letter reads as follows: God knows I love you, my woman. I know it now, as never before. And I know, also, that I shall see until I die the picture of a woman’s gray form – stark against the black crowd – as she stood on the pier-end and kissed, and kissed, and kissed her lover goodbye. I see you now, as clearly as I saw you yesterday and it was better than the last kiss, my darling. It was you, all you & all abandon, there on the ______-piece of the pier kissing your love to me. And because you could not get the last kiss, no woman got the last kiss from me yesterday. I kissed George on the lips by the gang-planks. Dear Charmian, dear my own. I shall come back, & soon. And we shall be happy, so happy. There are two correspondents on board with their wives, & how I envy them – not their wives, but the fact that they may take their wives with them, while my true wife remains at home.

Interestingly, there is also a bit here about how he “kissed George,” most likely a reference to his long-time friendship with poet George Sterling.

Other items in our collection include programs for Bosworth’s silent films of London’s books The Sea Wolf and John Barleycorn (2 copies of each), reproduced photographs of London and his horse, and magazine first appearances of several London short stories and novellas.

Movie programs from the release of two London works by filmmaker Hobart Bosworth.

Movie programs from the release of two London works by filmmaker Hobart Bosworth.

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See details about purchasing this collection on our website at http://www.undergroundbooks.net/pages/books/707/jack-london/original-hand-written-jack-london-love-letter-to-charmian-other-misc-london-ephemera