Tuesday, January 31, 2023

My Favourite Vintage Bookshops: Waikato

William Fisk: George Catlin (1849)

Raglan - for those of you who haven't been there - is a scenic little town on the West Coast known mostly for surfing and beaches. It also boasts a rather interesting second-hand bookshop. In My Good Books opened some ten years ago. It's still going strong - albeit under new management, and with a new name: Well Read Books.

But what, you may ask, is the connection with American artist and traveller George Catlin, pictured above?

George Catlin: The North American Indians (1844)
George Catlin. Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians, Written During Eight Years' Travel (1832-1839) amongst the Wildest Tribes of Indians in North America. 1844. Introduction by Marjorie Halpin. 1965. 2 vols. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1973.

Well, I was in the shop a couple of years ago when I noticed a considerable pile of books about Native American history and culture over in one corner. I chose a few - most notably the ones pictured below - to come home with me.

Angie Debo. A History of the Indians of the United States. 1970. Pimlico 174. London: Random House, 1995.

As I lugged them over to the owner of the shop, I commented that someone must have sold her their entire Native American collection. "They're mine, actually," she replied.

John Ehle: Trail of Tears (1988)
John Ehle. Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation. 1988. Anchor Books. New York: Random House Inc., 1989.

Which sparked a conversation. She said that she'd only creamed off a few of her books on the subject. In particular, as a direct descendant of George Catlin, she had a lot of material related to him, including a first edition of his classic Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians. All that she'd hung onto.

Charles C. Mann: 1491 (2005)
Charles C. Mann. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. 2005. 2nd ed. Vintage Books. New York: Random House, Inc., 2011.

It's always nice to meet a fellow enthusiast for some fairly recondite area of study. Native American culture is certainly something that fascinates many people, but it seemed to surprise her not only that I knew who George Catlin was, but that I already owned a copy of his magnum opus (only as a Dover reprint, mind you, but those can be very useful at times).

James Wilson: The Earth Shall Weep (1998)
James Wilson. The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America. New York: Grove Press, 1998.

All in all, we had a great old natter. I was able to reassure her that her books would be going to a good home, where they would be read and appreciated, and congratulated her on her courage in feeling able to part with so many of them.

She mentioned that much of this downsizing was due to the fact that she was looking for a buyer for the business, so it came as no great surprise to hear some short time later that her shop had closed.

What did come as a surprise was the news that it had been bought, and would soon be reopening. I've visited it a few times now in its new guise, and am glad to report that it's still a delightfully unpredictable bookshop, with unexpected treasures to be stumbled upon.

Well Read Books

Well Read Books
[2 Wallis Street, Raglan 3225]

Here's one of those treasures. I wrote a post a year or so ago about the great Scottish writer James Hogg. Well, it was in Raglan that I found a pre-loved copy of his classic Gothic thriller The Confessions of a Justified Sinner in the wonderfully comprehensive Stirling / South Carolina Research Edition of his Collected Works:

James Hogg. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Written by Himself: With a Detail of Curious Traditionary Facts and Other Evidence by the Editor. 1824. Ed. P. D. Garside. Afterword by Ian Campbell. Chronology by Gillian Hughes. The Stirling / South Carolina Research Edition of the Collected Works of James Hogg. 2001. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010.

I suppose that it must have been abandoned by some international visitor: Raglan is, after all, an important stop on the tourist itinerary for surfers and adventurers generally. This guarantees a steady supply of new books, as well as a constantly shifting audience of readers.


Browsers Books
[298 Victoria Street, Riverbank Lane, Hamilton 3204]

Just a short drive across country from Raglan, in the heart of the region's capital, Hamilton, you'll find the delightfully eclectic bookshop Browsers.

It's hard to count up all the books that I've purchased from them. I suppose one of the most dramatic finds was a copy of a three volume edition of The Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë which had been presented to her old school by the editor, and then (presumably) callously culled in some subsequent library purge:

Charlotte Brontë: The Early Writings (3 vols, 1987-91)
Christine Alexander, ed. An Edition of the Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë. 3 vols. Shakespeare Head Press. Oxford & New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987-91.
  1. The Glass Town Saga, 1826-1832 (1987)
  2. The Rise of Angria, 1833-1835. Part 1: 1833-1834 (1991)
  3. The Rise of Angria, 1833-1835. Part 2: 1834-1835 (1991)

I've written a post about that one, too.

Another, equally unexpected find was a multi-volumed edition of the Complete Essays of Aldous Huxley. Or rather, vols 2-6 of the set (I subsequently located volume 1 online). You may well ask why anyone would want such a thing, but I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Huxley's writing, ever since I first read The Devils of Loudun and Crome Yellow as a teenager.

Aldous Huxley: Complete Essays (6 vols, 2000-02)
Aldous Huxley. Complete Essays. Ed. Robert S. Baker & James Sexton. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000-02.
  1. 1920-1925 (2000)
  2. 1926-1929 (2000)
  3. 1930-1935 (2001)
  4. 1936-1938 (2001)
  5. 1939-56 (2002)
  6. 1956-1963, and Supplement: 1920-1948 (2002)

In any case, it looks great on the shelf, and given that his essays have probably lasted better than his fiction, I'm glad to have it to dip into.

Just as the Raglan bookshop benefits from a constant influx of beach-loving visitors, so Browsers is indebted to the staff and students of Waikato University and Wintec for a good turnover of books. Retiring - and itinerant - academics often have shelves of books they need to get rid of in a hurry, and there can be some real treasures among them.

Hamilton is a great place to visit at the best of times: the gardens, the art gallery, but the bookshops - both new (Poppies) and second-hand - are really the icing on the cake: so far as I'm concerned, at any rate. Long may they prosper.

Next: back to central Auckland!

Friday, January 20, 2023

My Favourite Vintage Bookshops: North Shore

Bronwyn Lloyd: Book Nook 1 (3-1-23)

They are an endangered species: there's little doubt of that. It's not that the second-hand booktrade is going to wither up and disappear; it's just that increasingly it's shifting online, and turning exclusively to mail-order instead.

Bronwyn Lloyd: Book Nook 2 (3-1-23)

And yet, we each have in our mind's eye an image of the perfect antiquarian bookshop: perhaps a bit like this one Bronwyn and I - well, mostly Bronwyn - painstakingly assembled from the kitset she gave me for Christmas ...

Bronwyn Lloyd: Book Nook 3 (3-1-23)

Look at those cute little miniature books! You wouldn't guess that each one had to be made up separately, along with all the pieces of furniture, windows, wall-hangings, and so on.

Bronwyn Lloyd: Book Nook 4 (3-1-23)

But wouldn't you like to walk in there, sit down in that armchair, and stare up at that big boookcase with its shelves weighed down with stock? There'd be bound to be some treasures there, some gems that you'd heard of or read about, but never seen in the flesh. There they'd be, waiting for you ...

A few years ago I wrote a similarly elegiac post called Lost Bookshops of Auckland where I tried to list some of those I remembered from forty-odd years of haunting the backstreets of the city.

In it I tried to give a sense of how real they remain to me. This time round, though, I thought it might be better to concentrate on all the lovely shops that are still with us, open for business, and dependent on our patronage to survive.

Of course I'm in two minds about revealing some of my secret haunts like this: but then if I don't, and nobody visits them, then they'll end up disappearing anyway, so it turns out that the best and most practical (as well as the kindest) solution is to share.


[15 Victoria Road, Devonport]

I've bought a lot of books at Bookmark over the years, both in its previous location just off Hurstmere Rd in Takapuna, and at its present home on the main street of Devonport.

What were a few of the highlights?

Eugène Vinaver, ed.: The Works of Sir Thomas Malory (1947)
Eugène Vinaver, ed. The Works of Sir Thomas Malory. 1947. 3 vols. Oxford English Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1948.

Well, first on the list would undoubtedly be the magnificent 3-volume set of the complete works of Malory which I picked up there some six or seven years back (as I recorded in this post at the time).

Since then there have been finds too numerous to count. I suppose the most spectacular might be the two Folio Society sets of George Orwell bought there at different times (one was my Christmas present from my mother last year):

George Orwell: Reportage / Novels (1998 / 2001)
George Orwell. Novels. Ed. Peter Davison. 1998. 5 vols. London: The Folio Society, 2001.
  1. Burmese Days (1934)
  2. A Clergyman's Daughter (1935)
  3. Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936)
  4. Coming Up for Air (1939)
  5. Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
George Orwell. Reportage. Ed. Peter Davison. 1987. 5 vols. London: The Folio Society, 1998.
  1. Down and Out in Paris and London. Introduced by Michael Foot (1933)
  2. The Road to Wigan Pier (1937)
  3. Homage to Catalonia (1938)
  4. My Country Right or Left, and Other Selected Essays and Journalism (1986)
  5. Funny, But Not Vulgar, and Other Selected Essays and Journalism (1986)

It's always been a friendly, relaxing place to browse in - though a perilous one from my point of view!

Anne of Never Ending Books

Never Ending Books
[Shop 4/1 Moenui Avenue, Orewa]

Here's a rather less well-known shop, well worth a look if you happen to be driving north up the Hibiscus Coast rather than just barrelling along the motorway.

It started its life as a book exchange rather than a bookshop proper, but that doesn't alter the fact that the retirees of Orewa have provided it with a good deal of interesting stock: medieval and military history in particular.

Mari Sandoz: Crazy Horse (1942)
Mari Sandoz. Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas, A Biography. Fiftieth Anniversary Edition. 1942. Introduction by Stephen B. Oates. Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.

I've made some nice discoveries there, particularly in the field of Native American studies: a nice paperback edition of Mari Sandoz's classic biography of Crazy Horse prominent among them.

A. L. Rowse, ed.: The Annotated Shakespeare (1978)
William Shakespeare. The Annotated Shakespeare: The Comedies, Histories, Sonnets and Other Poems, Tragedies and Romances Complete. Ed. A. L. Rowse. 3 vols. London: Orbis Publishing Limited, 1978.
  1. Comedies
  2. Histories and Poems
  3. Tragedies and Romances

Another rather more oddball find was the elaborately annotated edition of Shakespeare pictured above, edited by eccentric Cornish scholar A. L. Rowse.

I'm told by Shakespeare experts that I should be ashamed to offer such a fundamentally unreliable tome shelfroom, but I'm afraid I'm unrepentant. Rowse may be a little prone to exaggerating the merits of his latest theories, but he's always entertaining and even, on occasion, distinctly thought-provoking.

So there you go. Hopefully there'll be further instalments in the series if you find it useful.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Edgar Allan Poe and The Pale Blue Eye

Scott Cooper: The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

Le tombeau d'Edgar Poe

Tel qu’en lui-même enfin l’éternité le change,
Le Poëte suscite avec un glaive nu
Son siècle épouvanté de n’avoir pas connu
Que la mort triomphait dans cette voix étrange !

Eux, comme un vil sursaut d’hydre oyant jadis l’ange
Donner un sens plus pur aux mots de la tribu
Proclamèrent très haut le sortilège bu
Dans le flot sans honneur de quelque noir mélange.

Du sol et de la nue hostiles, ô grief !
Si notre idée avec ne sculpte un bas-relief
Dont la tombe de Poe éblouissante s’orne,

Calme bloc ici-bas chu d’un désastre obscur,
Que ce granit du moins montre à jamais sa borne
Aux noirs vols du Blasphème épars dans le futur.

- Stéphane Mallarmé (1887)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Stéphane Mallarmé (2022)

I thought I'd start off my discussion of the recent Netflix movie The Pale Blue Eye - which I very much enjoyed, in case anyone's wondering - by quoting Mallarmé's immortal poem "The Tomb of Edgar Poe."

I was going to add a literal translation of it, but then I ran across the one below, by American poet Richard Wilbur, which it's hard to imagine improving on:
The Tomb of Edgar Poe

Changed by eternity to Himself at last,
The Poet, with the bare blade of his mind,
Thrusts at a century which had not divined
Death's victory in his voice, and is aghast.

Aroused like some vile hydra of the past
When an angel proffered pure words to mankind,
Men swore that drunken squalor lay behind
His magic potions and the spells he cast.

The wars of earth and heaven - O endless grief!
If we cannot sculpt from them a bas-relief
To ornament the dazzling tomb of Poe,

Calm block here fallen from some far disaster,
Then let this boundary stone at least say no
To the dark flights of Blasphemy hereafter.

Is it just me, or do you see some resemblance between the whiskery face of France's greatest symbolist poet and that of Christian Bale, above, in his role as "Landor" in the movie?

Mallarmé's implication that it is poets who are meant to give "a purer sense to the words of the tribe" [Donner un sens plus pur aux mots de la tribu] lies at the heart of Modernist aesthetics. It ranks with Baudelaire - another Poe fanatic - and his view of the poet as a wave-riding albatross, expounded in his verse of the same name:
Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées
Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l'archer;
Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées,
Ses ailes de géant l'empêchent de marcher
The Poet is like that wild inheritor of the cloud,
A rider of storms, above the range of arrows and slings;
Exiled on earth, at bay amid the jeering crowd,
He cannot walk for his unmanageable wings.
(The translation, this time, is by George Dillon, Edna St. Vincent Millay's collaborator in their joint 1936 version of Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil)

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

Edgar Allan Poe ... yes, we know all about him (or think we do): the inventor of the detective story; the misunderstood genius, betrayed by the vindictive jealousy of his literary executor, Rufus Griswold, who almost single-handedly constructed the myth of his drunkenness and infamy; the visionary poet, first recognised by the French before the English-language world reluctantly followed their example; and - somewhat surprisingly - once, briefly, a cadet at West Point, where the film is quite correct in placing him.

What then of the Holmes to Poe's Watson, Augustus Landor? Well, the "Augustus" comes, presumably, from Poe's own prototypical detective Auguste Dupin, the protagonist of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt", and the distinctly Borgesian "Purloined Letter".

As for "Landor", rather than English poet Walter Savage Landor, it seems probable that his surname is meant to refer to the little-known vignette "Landor's Cottage" - the last story Poe ever wrote, in fact - which describes the house he himself was living in at the time. The Landor of the film, too, inhabits a particularly picturesque and bookish cottage.

Louis Bayard: The Pale Blue Eye (2006)

Mind you, most of this inventiveness must be attributed, not so much to the film-makers as to the author of the novel the movie is based on, Louis Bayard. I'm guessing, like many of us, he found frustrating the inconclusiveness of "Landor's cottage": a long descriptive preamble to a promised story to be told in a next instalment which, alas, was never to appear.

All this trivia aside, I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised to find so lukewarm a response to the movie in a number of quarters. Most of them criticised the film's "implausibility" and "inaction", which struck me as a little perverse, given the prevalence of both factors in Poe's own published writings.

As critics then and now have often failed to grasp, with Romantic artists such as Poe, it's all or nothing: you're in or you're out. If you have a problem with orangutans committing murders or with the propensity of Poe's heroines to get themselves buried alive or have their teeth extracted post-mortem, then you'd better stick to realists like Dickens or Trollope.

Or, in this case, you'd better stick to bad parodies of Agatha Christie, such as the dreadfully tedious and poorly plotted recent whodunit above. I was interested to see that many of those who'd awarded The Pale Blue Eye two or three stars had given See How They Run four or five.

It's not, you understand, that I have a problem with Agatha Christie or the other luminaries of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction in their own right - just with the decision to replay them badly as farce. It does make me realise, though, that in detective films as well as in novels, I'm not really looking for the same things as most aficionados of the genre.

For me, it's all about atmosphere and character. I like the kinds of scenes - so abundant in The Pale Blue Eye - where characters wander around deserted graveyards, or sit in crowded taverns trading witty banter. Best of all are the occasions when large books are taken down from dust-laden shelves and opened to salient passages - translated impromptu, in this case, by Poe himself as Robert Duvall and Christian Bale look on approvingly.

Does any of this advance the plot, or assist us in unmasking the criminal? Not really, no. I don't care. Murders don't really interest me very much - but I do like a picturesque detective, with lots of hidden demons, and a taste for bamboozling even his closest collaborators.

All of this, of course, is anathema to the true devotees of detective fiction. They like an ingenious solution to the mystery, and such curlicues as believable characters or well-painted backdrops are largely irrelevant to them. Hence their preference for the pasteboard mechanics of See How They Run over the ice-bound dramatics of The Pale Blue Eye.

Rian Johnson, dir.: Knives Out (2019)

I suppose, in the end, it's best to have both. I did enjoy the original Knives Out, as well as its sequel Glass Onion, I suppose mainly because Daniel Craig was so obviously having the time of his life playing absurd anti-Bond chicken-fried Southerner Benoit Blanc.

There was, as I recall, some kind of a murder being investigated at the time, but I was more interested in watching the characters score points off one another as each of the superannuated stars tried to steal scenes with ever more outrageous business.

Rian Johnson, dir.: Glass Onion (2022)

Poe, too, could be ridiculous at times (some would say all the time). But he was, in the end, a very serious guy. He felt strongly about the need for rigorous critical judgements in the infancy of American literature, and the hatchet jobs he performed on many of his more celebrated contemporaries were legendary. Funnily enough, many of those authors are now known simply because Poe decided to critique them.

Harry Melling - perhaps better known as Harry Potter's spoilt cousin Dudley Dursley - does an excellent job of animating the touchy, emotional, fiercely intelligent contradiction that was Poe. Some viewers have commented on the incongruity of a Southern accent for someone born in Boston, but Poe did like to portray himself as a Virginian, so this is certainly an arguable quirk to impose on him.

After all, somewhat closer to our own time, Boston Brahmin poet Robert Lowell affected a Southern accent in his own poetry readings - presumably as a salute to his Southern Agrarian mentors John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate - as you can hear in this recording of his 1964 poem "For the Union Dead".

Jane Bown: Robert Lowell

Talking of poetry, there's been a certain amount of discussion of the verses - allegedly dictated to him by his dead mother - Poe quotes halfway through the movie:
Down, down, down
Came the hot threshing flurry
Ill at heart, I beseeched her to hurry
She forbore the reply
Endless night
Caught her then in its slurry
Shrouding all, but her pale blue eye
Darkest night, black with hell
Charneled fury
Leaving only
The deathly blue eye
Needless to say, these were not written by Poe - he may have used some dodgy rhymes at times, but I can't see him combining "hurry" with "flurry" and "slurry". Nor is the syntax precise enough for his almost over-controlled style. They do have a pleasing ring in context, though.

His own poem "Lenore", which presumably inspired these lines, is somewhat more conventional in form:
The sweet Lenore hath "gone before," with Hope, that flew beside
Leaving thee wild for the dear child that should have been thy bride -
For her, the fair and debonair, that now so lowly lies,
The life upon her yellow hair but not within her eyes -
The life still there, upon her hair - the death upon her eyes
Presumably the flimmakers also had in mind the narrator's sorrow for "the lost Lenore" in "The Raven":
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; — vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow — sorrow for the lost Lenore —
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore —

Nameless here for evermore.

Somewhat bewilderingly, Poe has more than one grave. The simple headstone above - with its appropriately superimposed raven - is in Baltimore, Maryland. His remains were, however, disinterred in 1875 to be shifted under the rather more pompous monument below - presumably the one which inspired Mallarmé's poem.

A somewhat less accomplished verse - by an equally distinguished admirer, Alfred, Lord Tennyson - was composed for the occasion:
Fate that once denied him,
And envy that once decried him,
And malice that belied him,
Now cenotaph his fame.

What more need one say? If you love the hothouse atmosphere of Gothic extravagance, thrill to the overblown prose of H. P. Lovecraft or Ray Bradbury's early collection Dark Carnival - why not return to their admitted master, the divinely gifted Mister Poe?

As his literary soulmate and principal French translator Charles Baudelaire put it in an 1864 letter to Théophile Thoré - with, perhaps, a mixture of admiration and chagrin:
The first time I opened a book he had written, I saw with equal measures of horror and fascination, not just the things that I had dreamed of, but actual phrases that I had designed and that he had penned twenty years earlier.
One thing's for certain, there will always be a certain region of the imagination identified with Poe's name. If you'd like to explore it further, I strongly recommend a viewing of The Pale Blue Eye.