Guest Post: 12 Year Old Reader Finds Chills and Adventure at Serenbe

We are so excited to share this lovely essay by one of our favorite patrons at our sister store, Hills & Hamlets Bookshop in Serenbe! Jaya is twelve years old, a student at Gwinnett County Online School, and a proud member of the Hogwarts House of Ravenclaw. Some of her favorite books include the Harry Potter series, the Percy Jackson series, and the poetry of Shel Silverstein, and she’s an avid fan of Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes. Jaya first found us after attending last year’s performance of The Snow Queen by the Serenbe Playhouse (playing this year from  November 30, 2017 to December 30, 2017). We later worked with her mother to surprise Jaya for her 12th birthday with a custom display of her favorite books at Hills & Hamlets. You can read along with the Serenbe Playhouse’s current season with us; peruse our list of Serenbe Playhouse reads!

Serenbe: Home of Books and Snow Queens

When you think of Christmas gatherings, with friends, family, and others, what do you think of? A warm night inside by the fire? A trip to the movies? Well, when I think of my favorite Christmas gathering, I think of when every year me and one of my best friends Anna, my mom, and Anna’s mom all go to do something for the holiday. But this past year, we went somewhere magical… a place of utter enchantment… a place called… Serenbe!!

“Yay!! I’m so excited!!” I half-squealed to my mother as we drove to Annalisa’s house in my mother’s old car that smelled like all of the memories that had been made in it. “I know I know! I am too!” my mother said excitedly as we pulled up to Anna’s house. A few minutes later Anna and I were already in the car talking excitedly about what Serenbe might be like. Soon enough we had exhausted our mouths from talking and settled in for the long ride. Eventually, we came upon a small, brick building covered in rain that was an Italian restaurant and the only good food source for miles. We were all starving and didn’t care that we could eat dinner at Serenbe. We ignored the cold rain running down our hands and necks and ran inside, hoping we wouldn’t be turned down and have to go somewhere else. We managed to get inside the restaurant without being too wet, and eagerly waited to be seated and have a warm meal. A waitress came and directed us through the restaurant. As we walked through the restaurant we could smell the amazing smell of garlic bread and marinara, the sweet smell of homemade cakes sitting on display, just waiting to be eaten. The four of us ate like dogs who hadn’t been fed in days (although we tried to eat as politely as possible considering that the company around us looked like the most posh people in the world). After we finished our food, we set out on the road again and anxiously waited to get to that magical place, Serenbe! When we finally got to our enchanting destination, Anna and I set out to go find what we had ventured so very far for. Unfortunately, Anna and I weren’t thinking and stepped right into the rainy gutter we parked next to. We got right back into the car and grabbed an umbrella and set out once again into the cold pouring rain to go see… The Snow Queen!

An in person and live theatrical performance done by the college students living in the dorms right down the street. We made our way down the cobblestone street of Serenbe and found our way to the small and hilly area where the play was going to be. Anna and I started walking after our moms and talked excitedly about what we thought the Snow Queen would be like. Then I looked farther up the hill and saw her: “She’s breathtaking” I muttered as I tapped Anna on the shoulder “Anna look! It’s the Snow Queen!” I exclaimed, pointing at the gorgeously snowy white and elegant figure, making her way down the hill on the other side of the road. “Wow. Your right!” said Anna.  We watched in fascination at the beautiful figure as she came down the hill in a beautiful dress with such an amazing glow that it was almost hard to look at. We pointed the radiant figure out to our mothers and we made our way excitedly to where there was the most light (by now it had gotten rather dark) without taking our eyes of the alluring Snow Queen. Anna and I made our way to the very front of the crowd and the play began! “Trolls” who were played by two students wearing ridiculous hats and clothing came out and talked about the Snow Queen’s origin. “Anna look. She’s so close…!” I said under my breath. Anna looked behind us and saw that the Snow Queen was indeed much closer now and through the rain that was still pouring as hard as possible, the Queen looked like she was a gorgeous white ghost. I turned and looked at the play once more and saw that all the actors where moving over to an even more fire-lit area with even more “trolls” and then suddenly, “The Snow Queen!” I heard one of the trolls shout and she, the magnificent Snow Queen was right behind me and Anna! I stared in awe at the breath taking figure who was about to steal the show. And she did. She whipped every one of the characters into a battle of snow that fell everywhere and somehow the Snow Queen was able to move the whole crowd over to a whole different part of the hilly area where we watched with utter fascination. The whole crowd suddenly started moving with no instruction! Maybe the Snow Queen really did have mind control powers as she had mind controlled the unfortunate boy who was now battling his best friend! The play finally ended with the Snow Queen vanishing in a cloud of snow and…bubbles??

Photo by AIR Serenbe


Happy and surprised and scared and angry and full of all other possible emotions, My mother, Anna’s Mother, Anna and I began to walk back up the hill, wishing the night could last longer, and then suddenly, “Hey! What’s that building over there?” Anna shouted. All four of us turned our heads and looked at the most elegant, beautiful bookstore we had all ever seen. Suddenly, it began to rain harder than it had the whole time we had been at Serenbe! We saw no other choice but to go inside the safe haven of the book store. As we went inside shivering in our almost entirely soaked clothing I looked at the sign hanging on the side of the store. “Hills and Hamlets…” I said aloud, as my mother called me into the store. When I walked in I saw so many books and could almost hear all of the different conversations going on inside of them and could smell… mmmmm… the most delicious smell of warm cinnamon cookies fresh from the oven. Unfortunately, it was not actual cookies but the smell of a freshly lit candle that the kind

Photo by Jessica Ashley

looking bookstore owners had just lit at our arrival. After saying thank you for being open so late, the four of us began to look around the enchanting book store and I soon found what is to this day, one of my most prized possessions- Nimona! A book destined for greatness! I bought the book and the four of us left with happy minds and warmed hearts.

I will forever remember this adventure and I will always cherish these memories. I will never forget the pure beauty of the Snow Queen. Nor the amazing performance in which she was featured. Neither will I ever forget the amazing hospitality of the bookstore owners, or their amazing book selection. Finally I will never forget the amazing time I had with my even more amazing friend.

Bringing Back the Home Library: Gilbert Huey’s “Out Of This World” Book Collection

Welcome to the first in what we plan to be a series of features on book collectors and home libraries in Georgia and around the South.  

Collector Gilbert Huey with the first book he ever bought with his own money.

For the first year after opening Underground Books, I continued working part-time at my previous job, bar-tending at the Alley Cat, Carrollton’s wonderfully grungy college hipster dive bar. In the early days of the shop I was still doing the spring and summer circuit of Saturday morning yard sales in the region, hunting for inventory for the shelves of the still new store (this was before hundreds of books were pouring in the door every week).  One particular Saturday morning, I had dragged myself out of bed before 8am (despite having closed the bar late the previous night and gone to bed at 3am) to scout the numerous sales happening that day. Not only do you have to go early to find anything on this circuit, I had a narrow window to scout before opening the store at 11am. At a neighborhood-wide community yard sale, I ended up in what turned out to be Gilbert Huey’s driveway looking through a couple boxes of books.

“Hey, you’re the underground bookstore guy aren’t you?” he said.  “You want to see my library?” Gilbert had been in the store several times, and my first memory of meeting him was when he told me about  an exhibit he had put together of collectible and first edition children’s book classics in the local public library’s gallery room.  I had gone to check it out a week or two later, and had really enjoyed it, but hadn’t seen him since. Through my bleary eyed and sleep deprived fog, I nodded and told him I’d love to see his collection.

As I followed him into the house through the garage and up some stairs, he explained that he and his wife Sandra had finished out a section of their second story attic as a dedicated home library. This did not prepare me however, for what I saw when he opened the door at the top of the stairs and he welcomed me into a home library unlike any I’d seen. I think I turned around to look back out the doorway to make sure it wasn’t a magical wardrobe we’d just passed through.

The Hueys’ library evokes the classical ideal of a home library, with comfy leather chairs, warm lighting, darkly built-in wood bookshelves and wainscot panels, fine art, accessories like an antique telescope, typewriter, and globe. Beautiful, inviting, and cozy, this screen-free and windowless retreat is the perfect place to escape the chaos of the world outside and quiet the mind with a good book or thoughtful conversation with a friend over a drink.


I recently enjoyed the opportunity to return to Gilbert’s extraordinary home library and explore his impeccable collection. I’ve gotten to know Gilbert better a little at a time over the 5+ years since that initial chance visit to his home library, learning to appreciate his particular collecting interests and habits. An engineer by trade, he’s meticulous – not only about the condition and care of his collection, but in his steadfast completism (the collecting of every title by a specific author, in a series, or of every major work in a niche area of interest).  Inspired to collect books from a young age, he recounted the story of the first time he purchased a book with his own money, when he was just 9 years old. It was in a drugstore in Wedowee, Alabama in 1962, and the book was from a series of short sci-fi novellas called “Ace Doubles,” small pulp-style paperbacks with two novels in one book. There’s cover art for a story on one side, then you flip it over, and there’s cover art for another novel on the back half of the book. The second book he bought was the The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. “I reread it again in my twenties, I knew I didn’t ‘get it’ when I was nine. I only liked it then because it had the map of the United States split with Germany and Japan, with the two countries’ flags. I thought it was going to be all about actual battles.”   A true collector from the get-go, he still has both of these initial book purchases.

Like many baby boomers, President Kennedy’s announcement in 1961 that the USA would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade captured his imagination. The incredible proliferation of science fiction writing at the time gave ample opportunity to imagine all the possibilities of the coming space age. The exposure to all these new ideas through his reading had a tremendous influence on Huey and eventually led him to study engineering. “I wanted to become an aerospace engineer and work for NASA or Boeing or Grumman, but by the time I started college the space program was winding down,” he told me. “There were no aerospace jobs anywhere in the country much less in the south. So I became a Quality Assurance Engineer, a much less exciting career path, but it did allow me to buy books.” After decades of collecting, Huey now has complete collections of first editions, most signed, of all the Hugo and Nebula award winners (the two major awards for work in science fiction and fantasy awarded by World Science Fiction Society and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America respectively) and collections of most or all of the works of many of the giants of 20th century science fiction such as Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Roger Zelazny, and many others.

While he started out collecting science fiction, Huey eventually started collecting books and materials related to NASA and the actual real-life (not science fiction) space program. Out of the substantial collection, he picked one specific title to share that really stood out to me as exceptional:  a leather bound Easton Press first edition of First on the Moon (by the first three astronauts on the moon) that he sent to the famous space illustrator and official NASA artist Robert McCall, who added an amazing hand drawn illustration on the endpapers. Huey then proceeded to get everyone he could find who was close to the space program’s moon landing to sign it. Here’s Gilbert, explaining just a sampling of the signatures in the book:

Huey:  Robert McCall, this famous space artist, he called me one night after I sent him the book, he said, “What exactly do you want me to do in this book?” I said, “Just draw me the moon module landing.” Well he did this whole thing, then Buzz Aldrin signed it. Ray Bradbury was in London during the landing of Apollo 11, and he appeared on TV, Dick Cavett was interviewing him. [He was the] London voice for Apollo. That’s Walter Cronkite over there. Wally Schirra was one of the announcers. Paul Haney, he was the P.A.O. (Public Affairs Office) for NASA, the voice for NASA back in the 60s. Most of these guys are dead now. All of them. Every one of these actually. I did this several years ago. It’s full of them. Thomas Kelly was the engineer that created the lunar module. Dee O’Hara was the nurse. Here’s the head of NASA.

He continued listing some of the other names. They went on for pages, all the blank space in the front and back filled with names and inscriptions from people related to the moon landing. It’s a truly amazing, one-of-a-kind treasure.

As time went on, Huey’s collecting interests broadened. In addition to science fiction and the space program, he has first editions of all of Stephen King’s works (mostly signed), every James Bond book (mostly first editions), there’s collections of military history, aviation, Easton Press leather bound special editions, and more. His recent interest has taken him into fine press editions of his favorites, including a complete set of the Hyperion series by Dan Simmons, who Huey cites as his favorite author. Subterranean Press printed all of Simmons works in very limited “lettered editions” (meaning there are only 26 copies of each made, usually bound by hand and with exceptional paper/materials and art/illustration).

I could go on at length about the wonderful books Gilbert shared with me, but I’ll start to wrap up with the story behind this very cool drawing of Ray Bradbury I saw framed in the stairwell on our way out of his library that day. Gilbert shares the story behind it in his own words:

Huey: Ray Bradbury was appearing at Oxford Books (a legendary Atlanta bookstore) at the Peachtree Battle Shopping Center around 1995. Sandra and I stood in a long line to get a couple of books signed. I believe 1 or 2 books for each person was the limit. I took the pencil drawing of Ray Bradbury I had done a few years earlier just in case he would sign it. When I presented the drawing to him he looked at it a minute then looked up at me. He said, “I wish I looked like that now, you did a good job.” He took his pen and started writing on the drawing. I watched and held my breath. He scribbled a large “A+” and then signed his name under it. He said, “That’s your grade. You should draw some really important people and not waste your time on an old pulp writer like me.”

Quick aside — there’s a substantial facebook group of Oxford Books fans HERE that encourages people to share their stories, memories, and photos of good times they had there. It closed down in 1997, before I moved to Georgia, so I never got to experience it.

I want to also highlight the fact that Huey is not only a serious book collector, but an author as well. His book The Free State of Carroll is a historical novel based on real events in the 1830’s here in Carrollton, then on the western edge of the Georgia frontier.  Indians, horse thieves, and a desperate vigilante group collide with an indomitable sheriff in a true-life adventure rivaling the best westerns. Readers get a glimpse of the hardscrabble life early Georgians endured and a feel for the volatile political climate that eventually led to the Civil War.  You can purchase copies of The Free State of Carroll at Underground Books.

I’m very grateful to Gilbert Huey for making time to share his library with me, it was an extraordinary treat. If you have a home library or book collection you’d be interested in sharing with Megan or Josh, let us know at as it is our intention to make this into a regular series.



Author’s Bookshelf with Paul Feather & Terra Currie

In celebration of their new book, we invited authors, farmers, and longtime friends of Underground Books Paul Feather and Terra Currie to give us a peek at the bookshelf that went into Sacred Violence: A Family’s Quest to Uproot Hitman Culture. Peruse the books that influenced their lives and their book here or at the bookshop, where you’ll find Paul & Terra’s recommendations in our homesteading section!


About Sacred Violence: A Family’s Quest to Uproot Hitman Culture

Whether it’s the meal on our dinner table, the clothes we wear, or the electricity powering our homes, so often our necessities arrive at our doorstep without us ever knowing what it took to get them there. In Sacred Violence, Paul Feather and Terra Currie identify our culture’s lethal disconnect from our fundamental needs and its disastrous result: hitman culture–the widespread practice of paying others to enact the violence required in producing our basic needs.  From spearing voles in their sweet potato patch to the community supported home birth of their daughter, Feather and Currie candidly share their quest to bring production of these basic needs back into their community and to find the sacred within the violence at the root of daily life.

Sacred Violence is an inspiring call to join a solution-oriented back-to-basics revolution that will reclaim our connection to the necessities of life and ensure a viable future for our children.



Worldchanging 101: Challenging the Myth of Powerlessness 

by David LaMotte

This book provides powerful tools and approaches for breaking through the stagnation and inertia that paralyze so many of us.  Mr. LaMotte’s insights will be very valuable for anyone looking to cultivate their power to change the world.




The Vagina Monologues 

by Eve Ensler

Ms. Ensler’s 2017 monologue I Call You Body, which is the newest addition to this play, says everything that needs to be said right now.  It draws together themes of empowerment and urgency in a poignant call to face the real challenges that have all of our lives on the line. The entire play intimately explores some of the most challenging issues that women face today.




A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

by Eckhart Tolle

This book is a necessity for your consciousness shifting toolbox. Read this book when you are ready to look for clarity beyond words.





Apple Farmer Annie

by Monica Wellington

Children’s books are somehow the simplest way to explore the most radical ideas.  Painting a picture of a fulfilled, capable, independent, happy woman farmer, and placing that image in a young child’s head is powerful.  If we want our children to grow up and be happy farmers, which I most certainly do, then this book is a great start. (Zinnia’s Flower Garden is also good!)




Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants 

by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Ms. Kimmerer has some really wonderful ideas about gratitude.  We can’t thank her enough for sharing them J.  This book is a brilliant weaving of personal stories, science, and traditional wisdom that produces a very perceptive cultural commentary.





The Hidden Half of Nature:  The Microbial Roots of Life and Health 

by David Montgomery and Anne Biklé

This book ties together the role of microorganisms in human and soil health in an intelligible and interesting way.  Montgomery and Biklé do an excellent job of exploring extremely complicated systems with clarity and a keen insight into the potential and implications of a largely unexplored realm of science.





We Have the Right to Exist: A Translation of Aboriginal Indigenous Thought, the First Book Ever Published from an Ahnisinahbaeojibway Perspective 

by Wub-e-ke-niew

This book has some of the most penetrating insights into the nature of human behavior that we have found.  The chapter on identity, in particular, clearly outlines the role that our identities have in determining our behavior and how we may be manipulated through definition of who we are. It is also a valuable historical perspective for anyone looking for an accurate representation of the fall of indigenous culture in the United States (particularly the upper Midwest).

The full text of this book is available here.



A Conversation with Earlene Scott of Scott’s Books

Among the scholarship, discovery, and biblio-adventures of our profession, community is one of the greatest characteristics that define the book trade. Whether in antiquarian books or new, we have enjoyed deep camaraderie and generous mentorship from fellow booksellers. We recently had the chance to spend time with Earlene Scott, whose bookshop Scott’s Books served readers in nearby Newnan, Georgia from 1976 to 2013. Earlene was kind enough to share some of her experiences selling new books in West Georgia for 36 years, including her enduring love of books, her family’s history with the notorious John Wallace, and her (often revealing and humorous) observations on some of her favorite Southern authors that passed through her bookstore over the years.

Earlene Scott stands beside a horse sculpture in her garden.

Earlene Scott at her home in Newnan, Georgia, posing with the horse sculpture that once stood outside Scott’s Books. This horse was decorated with pages from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margary Williams by the artist Michal Taylor-Phillips and entitled “The Skin Horse.” The horse was sponsored by “fans of Earlene Scott” as the sculpture reads on the placard at its base.

What gave you the idea to open the bookstore?

I just loved books. When I was a child growing up, my parents had a business locally downtown. After school, I would go to the public library and just read in the library. A friend of mine told me not too long ago, “I would come spend the night at your house and I was scared the books would fall over and kill us!” I said, “I still have stacks of books everywhere!” I just always loved books, so it doesn’t matter what; I read mystery, romance, biography, nonfiction, whatever I’ve got my hands on. I get two newspapers a day, the local paper and the Journal.

What business did your parents have? Did you feel you had a lot of preparation, watching your parents?

They had a grocery store on the square in Newnan, an independent grocery store. My brother and I both worked in the store. We stocked the shelves and later on checked customers out. I got used to dealing with the public and just really enjoyed it. With the bookstore, I had great customers. Once in a while, you’d have a complaint and try to solve it. Some people you cannot make happy. You try. A lot of them would come in and say I can get this cheaper at Walmart. It used to bother me, but I got to the point where I said go ahead, this is what I have to get. You know, they didn’t understand. I can order two or three books, Walmart can order cases. I did have the support of most. I had a lot of children’s books. I love children’s books. I had a whole section of nothing but children’s books. The teachers would come in and shop. They would have me order sets for classrooms. I had the support of the school system and the teachers, and it helped. Then, we would gift wrap. If there was a birthday party, they’d call ahead and would ask to have a book wrapped and ready. We charged people, sent out statements every month, which was a job, but in a small town, it’s part of customer service. People say, “Charge it!” or they teach their kids to say that, the kids were old enough to come to a town shop, they’d say charge it to us and let the kids have it. I miss seeing the customers. There’s not another bookstore here, just Barnes & Noble right now.

What made you decide on the name?

So many of the downtown businesses had the name of the owner. The jewelry store was Morgan Jewelers; they used their last name. My parents’ store was Strickland’s Market. The Mansours had a store here called Mansour Department Store. Everyone just used their last name.

“Just a Southern Girl Opening a Bookstore”

I did good with the different sales representatives from New York; I was just a Southern girl opening a bookstore, and you would get the look every once in a while—she don’t know what she’s doing—or they would call and want to speak to the boss man, and I would say I am the boss woman, there’s not a boss man. A man can answer the questions and run the business; you don’t know what you’re doing. I would get that reaction quite a bit.

The exterior of Scott's Books

Scott’s Books on Newnan Square (from Shelf Awareness)

What are some of the most memorable authors you had at Scott’s over the years?

Lewis Grizzard would come the day before Thanksgiving. After he signed, he could meet his friends. He would stop at Sprayberry’s and get his barbecue; they have a plate named after him. He would get his barbecue plate and lemon pie. He married I think three times. I met all three wives. I have two of the wives’ books they wrote about him. Nice as he could be, but you never knew if he would come in in a good mood or if was coming in having a late night out. Sometimes I’d have to check him and say you need to go the restroom and comb your hair, because your teachers are coming that you had in high school. Sometimes if he’d had a late night, he’d keep his sunglasses on, and I’d know. He’d sign between 400-600 books at one time. Nice to everybody because he knew them all. He’d had one heart surgery with pig valves, and he’d always joke about that at Sprayberry’s.

Stuart Woods. He’s from here, well not here but Woodbury, a couple of small towns over. Very arrogant, not a nice person, but I love his books. I read all of Stuart Woods’ books. I figured it was him. He’d grown up in a small Southern town and got famous. He wouldn’t even look up and speak to customers. I still read him. He had said as long as his mother was living, he wouldn’t have sexy scenes in his book. After she died, he started adding a few. It seems like now Stone Barrington is jumping into bed with everybody!

Anne Rivers Siddons, she’s from Palmetto. She’s my age. She had a couple of boyfriends from here she used to date in high school. She’d always come. My husband and I were invited to Charleston College one weekend when one of her books came out. Pat Conroy was there. I loved Pat Conroy. He and Anne were real good friends. I never got him in to sign, but I went to two luncheons in Atlanta given for Pat. I’ll never forget he hugged me and said, “You’re wearing White Shoulders!” That’s a cologne. I asked how he knew that, and he said his mother always wore White Shoulders. He was a delight. He’s one of my favorites. I hear there’s book in the works he started before he died. I’m hoping his wife or someone will finish it. He was one I always wanted, but I never got him.

A mural outside Scott's Books featuring prominent Southern authors and buildings

The mural at Scott’s Books (from Shelf Awareness)

I had local authors. Erskine Caldwell is from here. He was gone by the time I opened the bookstore, but then Margaret Anne Barnes wrote Murder in Coweta County. I had her in several times and then Dot Moore on John Wallace…hard of hearing, you had to yell at her. I hate that she won’t wear hearing aids. Margaret Anne would always have a body guard. She was nervous over what she wrote about Meriwether County and she was always scared that some of John Wallace’s family would show up and do her harm or act out. She always had this fellow with her.

My family knew John Wallace, and he was in the jailhouse down in Newnan close to my parents’ grocery store. They would let John send notes up to the grocery store with an order like for cokes and cheese and crackers. My daddy would send it down to him. I have the notes they sent back and forth. The Christmas before he went to the electric chair, they let him go out with a trustee, and he went out and bought my mother a box of handkerchiefs and bought my daddy and all the men that worked for him socks and wrote notes about how much he appreciated them taking care of him with food and all. He was very wealthy and he’d give money to the church and help the poor but then he would kill people [laughs]! I’ve got quite a few letters that went back and forth. I found one Daddy had written, a charge ticket with Coca-Cola like a nickel and cheese and crackers like a nickel or a dime. That was back in that time.

Vince Dooley. Several times. That was always a big deal because he was Coach at Georgia. And I’m a Georgia Tech fan, so I had to be nice to him. He did a beautiful gardening book and a couple on football, and I had him each time. But then he started at Christmas signing in Krogers everywhere, and I thought, if you’re going to start doing that, why aren’t you going to bookstores instead of a grocery store? I didn’t like that idea, so I didn’t have him back. I might as well just go to Kroger! I guess he signed a contract with the Kroger owner. He would start around Thanksgiving and sign in Krogers all over during the holidays. I guess he’d bought up a bunch of his books that hadn’t sold. I thought you need to support the bookstores that are selling your books all the time and not just at the holidays.

A painting of Scott's Books above Earlene Scott's mantle

An artist’s rendering of Scott’s Books above Earlene Scott’s mantle


Two customers’ children work [in publishing], one with HarperCollins and one with Random House in New York. The one with HarperCollins is the children’s editor now, and he sent me a couple of his books that he has written and a note with one that said you’re responsible for all of this, because I would come in and go to the classics section of the store, and he said, you’d always recommend something. The other one is with Random House, which is really big, and every once in a while she’ll send me a reader’s copy of something she thinks will be big. It’s always neat when you know they’ve moved on with their love of books, and to go from Newnan, Georgia to New York!


A Bibliotour of the Twin Cities

Josh and I recently had the great fortune to attend the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute 12 in Minneapolis, on a scholarship from Rare Bird Books and Dzanc Books, both independent publishers of exceptional books. WI 12 was a whirlwind of new knowledge, new friends, and new books, all of which we are so excited to share with you! This slideshow covers our first day at Winter Institute, where we boarded a bus and visited just a handful of the incredible bookstores of the Twin Cities.




Staff Picks, Part V: Nicole

A new addition to our staff means a new addition to our blog series on staff picks! 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.”

How do we describe Nicole? She’s a perfect, pregnant sunflower…a cunning, effervescent, chesnut-haired unicorn…a brilliant, talented, powerful blood moth…a clever, glorious, organized, sun goddess…nicoleblog

She’s the Ann Perkins to our Leslie Knope.  If that’s not enough, she’s a total triple threat: she has two B.A.s and an M.A. (studio arts & humanistic psychology), she’s a professional researcher, and she’s a total nerd.  Nicole brings her Vulcan mind, her expertise in fine art and antiques, her skill in paper arts, and her experience in online selling to our operation. Whether it’s astrophysics or knitting, John James Audubon or Doctor Who, Nicole is passionate, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic. We’re all so excited to introduce the newest member of the Underground Books family to you!


nicole1Raptor Red by Dr. Robert T. Bakker

Raptor Red really appealed to the little Nicole in me. Educational, gripping, and unique, it’s a raptor’s story of love and loss, almost like Pride and Prejudice with dinosaurs. It’s completely told from the perspective of animals, which is incredibly difficult to do, and the author does it so well. A female Utahraptor during the Cretaceous period loses her love and is on a mission to find her sister again. I later found out that the author, Robert T. Bakker, is a paleontologist who changed the whole world’s perception of dinosaurs, not only consulting on the film Jurassic Park and even inspiring much of the character of Dr. Alan Grant. At the time, there was a lot of confusion between Velociraptors and Utahraptors, which are the main characters in Raptor Red. Bakker was saying they would find the bones someday and that they were more intelligent than expected and that they descended from birds, all important theories that would play out prominently in the films. The author also does an incredible job explaining the social structure of these animals, all the while telling it from their perspective. Bakker is and his theories are secretly responsible for why people of this generation are fascinated with dinosaurs. People didn’t have that bug in them before Bakker. I would recommend this book to young adults and adults alike. Trust me, you will never read another book like this. I’ve recommended this book to all kinds of people, and no one is ever disappointed.


The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (pre-1997)nicole2

Everyone’s read Fahrenheit 451, but really everyone should read The Martian Chronicles. It is quite frankly one of the most apt and lovely examples of science fiction acting as an observation of timeless issues within the human condition. There are three sections (past, present, and future) to this collection, which you can read as a progressive novel or as short stories, and Bradbury’s tone changes throughout so you get to experience all of the different languaging that he is famous for. Unfortunately, in 1997, publishers took out two stories from this important collection. In the publisher’s note, he says these two stories were cut because they are no longer socially relevant, but I couldn’t disagree more. Those two stories are significant because they were about Civil Rights, discrimination, and bigotry. The choice to cut them seems ugly, privileged and perhaps even telling of assumptions in the literary world that some fall victim to. On top of that, all of the dates Bradbury used in the chapter headings have been changed in the 1997 version, rendering the Cold War context of the writing almost meaningless. I consider this censorship too. The core of sci-fi is commentary on our social and cultural predicaments, using various outlandish plot devices or narratives so it doesn’t feel so threatening on a personal level. There’s a reason Bradbury was writing these particular things in the middle of the century, and we can learn from that context and apply it to the world today. So I prefer the pre-1997 copies of this book. I believe that Bradbury, a fierce champion of free speech, would as well.


nicole3The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road is different in its tone and cadence than McCarthy’s other books. People say it’s bleak, but I haven’t left a book feeling so grateful before. I’ve read a lot of apocalyptic books, but there is something different about The Road. It reminds you of the importance of family and what it means to have mindfulness in the moment even when it’s bleak and awful. Reading this book left me with everlasting gratitude, it felt like a spiritual reading because his language is so simplified, and it goes back and forth between the father and his child. It only leaves room for me to experience the most pure emotions. Unlike his other works, a lot of the overt intellectualism starts to dissipate and you fall into the melody of what it means to just simply live. Within the text, you are captivated and taken to this unimaginable place, and because of that it is more bodily, more physical than his other books. I wouldn’t recommend this for vacation reading (which is what I actually did with my first experience with it) and instead prepare yourself for an emotional rawness that will linger for quite sometime.


Ready Player One by Ernest Clinenicole4

I picked this book up because of the gamer community. For my fifth birthday I got the Nintendo NES system. It was an amazing new escape, this new technology the world had never really seen before and I have been hooked ever since. Ready Player One combines reading and video game “nerd culture,” my two favorite ways of escaping. It is also an endless slew of pop culture references that manifest in finding that one video game “Easter Egg.” It’s a fun, easy book IF you span the gamut of nerdom; you’ve got to have an affinity for 80s references. The language is accessible, but it’s all about reference, good clichés, and nostalgia, even the way he structures his sentences. The story itself is actually tons of “Easter Eggs” within “Easter Eggs,” and if that term is not already part of your lexicon, I would say that this book is definitely not one for you. It’s an adventure book for nerds of media, movies, and music of the 1980s, the decade that brought us the advent of the internet, and it’s especially cool for those born in the early 80s, who can remember the world before and after the internet. Some criticize this work for pandering to a certain demographic, but for me personally, I found it to be a wonderfully fun escapist read. There are ways that Cline could have certainly expounded upon social and cultural issues presented in his story, but again, I don’t think that is the overall purpose of this book. It’s instead about indulging your inner geek and letting go of all those heady intellectual criticisms.


by Haruki Murakami

This is another book that takes multiple stories and merges them. What I love about this writing is that, like the protagonist, you really feel lost; you understand the words, concepts, references (1984), but everything is new and you are searching. Hurakami gives reflections of where you are, and I’ve never experienced a writer doing this before. Keeping readers in a liminal space is difficult, and you start to realize that is part of his method. It’s also really funny, and then there are moments that are really heady. If you’re looking, this has a little bit of everything. But you have to focus. This is a meditation time kind of book, it’s not beach reading. Vivid. Like The Road. It’s vividly written, with these two worlds intertwining, you feel the tension of them coming together and you are an active participant in it. With the original 1984,  I think that some of its drawback is that it still felt distant. 1984 is linear: Big Brother, that’s a good warning, it’s far away from happening. With 1Q84, it’s about two worlds merging, and you’re wanting them to be drawn together, grasping for a way for these two narratives to come together. It doesn’t feel distant, it feels more participatory, because you’re more present and involved. You wonder if it’s all going to come together. You have to be present for the magic to happen.


The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwoodnicole6

I love Atwood. Everyone who is looking to explore more feminist ideals, Margaret Atwood is a strong woman who, despite her age, is so on the pulse of current socio-political issues. You need to be reading Atwood. Or if you’re just a dystopian sci-fi nut, it’s perfect. In the world of The Heart Goes Last, resources are limited, and we only have so much to go around, so you experience this life only for so much time, and you share your home, even your relationships. The concept of dystopian prison systems is not new, but the way Atwood presents it is, and if you’re going to read about it, do it with her. She’s going to take you on the best journey of that nature. It is creepy, and you do feel disrupted the whole time. It’s uncomfortable, and you’re not sure why. But as you’re reading about this couple’s everyday existence, how they look forward to things like going to get a scooter repaired, you feel not only unsettled, but grateful, with a renewed appreciation for what you do have.


nicole7Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl

Everything I’ve read has left an impression on me, but this one engraved something on my soul. Man’s Search for Meaning gave me something I could go back to and reference every time I need it. To know that he lived, that this was his experience, and a brand new phenomenal philosophy came out of it is incredible. Man’s Search for Meaning changed me more than any other text I read in the psych program at UWG. Out of all the books I’ve read in my academic career, I would say that this alone was worth all of the years. It’s about making meaning out of choosing, more so than any other religion or ideology that I’ve ever read of could accomplish. And it all comes out of his experience in a concentration camp. You cannot believe that this man chose to find meaning in being on his knees, being degraded, and still in every second he chose to create his own meaning. I refer back to this book daily.


Stardust by Neil Gaimannicole8

Stardust is the reason I read Neil Gaiman. I was looking to relate to other quirky comic book readers and that sort of thing, but I also wanted to read something with “real’ words and paragraphs, which is what I told the guy at the comic book shop, and thankfully he introduced me to Neil Gaiman’s graphic novels. It has a special nostalgic place in my heart. You’re reading a fairy tale, but all the characters are not at all what they’re supposed to be. Princesses are supposed to be pleasant. Princes are supposed to be able to easily save the day. With Stardust, the fairytale concept is very original and unexpected; completely turned on it’s head. She’s a fallen star, he’s in search of a fallen star as if she’s an object, he needs one to complete his quest. She doesn’t know she’s an object. Gaiman writes objects into people! That’s magic. If you are in search for quirky and fun, look no further than Neil Gaiman.


nicole9The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

This is such a haunting memoir. Of all the books about trauma and healing, this one felt to me like the most honest. It is not manipulative or attention-seeking, it didn’t feel like therapy for her either. It is not disrespectful to members of her family, though they were atrocious; it’s not voyeuristic, not sensationalized at all. Instead, it is a gentle exposure of the truth. The truth is never bad, it may be ugly, but it’s not bad. Walls very carefully weaves her story, both her tragic childhood and her current success into this tapestry, and she ultimately shows that these parts of her weaving are just as important as the part of her that is capable and privileged enough to tell you her story now. Gentle and brutal at the same time, I have never experienced that in a memoir about trauma. Plus, there is excellent cover art.


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foernicole10

Sophomore books are never good, and this one is better than Everything Is Illuminated. There are multiple viewpoints to this emotional story surrounding an historic event and an historic city, and I don’t think it could be told without them. One of them is a child, and, you’d think the adult chapters would be a way to add reality as a counterweight, with the child being more imaginative, but it’s actually the other way around. Because of the child’s autism, he’s actually the more linear one. You hear the internal monologue of the adult, which in this time of loss surrounding 9/11, is more ethereal and less linear. The images in this book make it an important one to read physically; it’s the greatest example of why we shouldn’t have e-readers.

5 Reasons to Collect Vintage Mass Market Paperbacks

14804915_10154242246851865_850845774_nAh, is there any humbler figure in the book world than that grocery store staple, the mass market paperback (MMP)? Other than that very shade of a book, “e-books,” of course. You know the kind–the Lee Childs thriller, the latest Mary Higgins Clark mystery, those V. C. Andrews books you read way too young. Like the hobbits of Middle Earth, MMPs are of a much smaller stature than their peers, less showy, less refined. They’re also cozy, unassuming, the salt of the earth. A collection of luxurious leatherbound tomes or pristine signed first editions is a worthy goal, but here are five reasons why you should consider throwing in a few MMPs along the way.


Reason No. 1: The Cover Art 







There is nothing wilder, trippier, or campier than a 1970s/1980s MMP, particularly the sci-fi/fantasy ones, even when it comes to important works of literature: Joanna Russ’ influential work of feminist science fiction The Female Man, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds AND The Time Machine in an epic doublefeature, or Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The cover art on these MMPS is bold, it’s imaginative, it can even make you see an old classic in a new light.



Reason No. 2: Childhood Photos


In fact, an old MMP can be like going through a photo album of a loved one’s childhood, sometimes wonderfully embarrasing, always an important part of a life story. Who knew movie tie-in editions could be so visually striking?





Reason No. 3: The Copy Writing


This is the copy of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel Far From the Madding Crowd that’s pictured above and that I just read. Sure, some classic novels were banned or censored or challenged in their day, like Lady Chatterley’s Lover. But this one never was. So that’s why the blurb on the back is all that much more ridiculous: “Her rustic love-romps shook the English countryside.” Her RUSTIC LOVE-ROMPS?! I’ll have what she’s reading!






Reason No. 4: Pop Some Tags14825664_10154242246921865_2145605487_n14826344_10154242246916865_1555587520_n

Head over to your charming local used bookshop, thrift shop, or yard sale and get ready to pop some tags like Macklemore, because you can have a veritable shopping spree if you’re collecting MMPs. This 1980s copy of one of my favorite books of all time, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, cost me a whopping $1 at a recent book sale, and it has one of those cheesy cover flaps–priceless!



Reason No. 5: Rare Birds & Originals

14804762_10154242246861865_2032268654_nYou may have heard back in March of this year that Harper Lee’s estate killed the mass market edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. Usually decisions like these don’t make the news, but the classic novel is assigned every year in schools across America, and the sudden loss of $8.99 copies is a big deal for teachers and students. Classroom sets will no longer come cheap; the trade paperback costs almost twice that of the MMP. Though this form of Mockingbird will no longer be produced, a mind-boggling number of them were printed over the decades, so they’re hardly collectible. Still, it’s nice to have this testament junkie_william_s-_burroughs_novel_-_1953_coverto Mockingbird‘s power in American schools around, a reminder that though often taken for granted, the MMP has a special place in the world of books. Making a book affordable for students can secure its endurance as a beloved classic for years to come.

Mass market copies of Mockingbird may never fetch vast sums at auction, but some MMPs do. Take William S. Burroughs’ first published book Junkie, which first appeared in 1953 as an Ace Double, a mass market edition featuring two books in one. First printings of Junkie often sell for upwards of $1,000.00. So next time you pass by an old mass market paperback, you might take a second glance. In other words, don’t judge a book by its cover.

A Bloody Book, A Bawdy Binding: Celebrating Banned Books Week 2016


In celebration of Banned Books Week 2016, we are pleased to share a unique copy of D. H. Lawrence’s oft-censored masterpiece, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. This now classic novel, which focuses on the affair between a married upper class woman and a working class man, was not only banned and censored when it first appeared in 1928, an unexpurgated version was not published in the U.K. until 1960. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Lady Chatterley was put on trial not only in Britain, but in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Japan, and India. As you can see in this clip from the AMC show Mad Men, it was still quite scandalous in 1960s Manhattan.



When we first laid eyes 2627_1on this particular copy of the infamous romance, we knew we had to have it. We were immediately taken with its recent rebinding, which shows a great deal of…wit. What we discovered when we looked past its cheeky exterior was even more exciting.

This is the Paris popular edition, the third authorized edition of the novel that would cause so many whispers and so many shouts. The first authorized edition was printed by Florence’s Orioli Press for the author in a 1,000 print run. A second printing of only 200 copies followed the first, again privately printed. Pirate presses took advantage of the novel’s censorship, printing unauthorized versions all over the globe. This third authorized edition includes a new introduction, “My Skirmish with Jolly Roger,” by the author that details his struggle with the proliferating pirated editions of his novel.

2627_4When sales of these wildly profitable piratizations were capped by booksellers and readers who felt morally bound to abstain, publishers sought an authorized, sanitized version from the author, and he considered, but chose instead to release this unexpurgated “little cheap French edition,” as he writes in “My Skirmish with Jolly Roger”:

“English publishers urge me to make an expurgated edition, promising me large returns…and insisting that I should show the public that here is a fine novel, apart from all ‘purple’ and all ‘words.’ So I begin to be tempted and start in to expurgate. But impossible! I might as well try to clip my own nose into shape with scissors. The book bleeds. And in spite of all antagonism, I put forth this novel as an honest, healthy book, necessary for us to-day. The words that shock so much at first don’t shock at all after a while. Is this because the mind is depraved by habit? Not a bit. It is that the words merely shocked the eye, they never shocked the mind at all. People without minds may go on being shocked, but they don’t matter. People with minds realize that they aren’t shocked, and never really were…”14467113_10154162429591865_1552358855_o

We’re utterly infatuated with this unique copy of D. H. Lawrence’s masterpiece. The Paris popular edition represents all the author’s beleaguered integrity toward his work, and here his “little cheap French edition” is pleasingly bound by a binder with a sympathetic, if mischievous, sense of humor.

Learn more about this unique copy here, or come by our new location, Hills & Hamlets Bookshop, to see our Banned Books Week display! 


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.


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.


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.



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!



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).


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. 


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.


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.



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


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.


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.”



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.


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!