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Friday, May 20, 2016

IOBA Scholarship for Book Collectors

The Independent Online Booksellers Association is offering a $750 scholarship for book collectors to go to a book seminar.  Details can be found here.  You do not need to be a bookseller or be a member of any organization to apply.

I have attended CABS and Rare Book School and recommend both.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Moomin Madness

Moomins are not as well-known in the United States as they are in Europe, but the albino trolls are stepping up their world-wide quest for domination of the child mind-- and the alternative adult mind too.  Moomins are the invention of Swedish-speaking Finnish authoress and artist Tove Jansson (1914-2001).  To your correspondent they look like unarticulated relatives of the Michelin Man (1894), or bestial cousins to the Pillsbury Doughboy (1965).  Others have compared them to upright hippopotami. 

Moomins came to fruition in 1945 when they appeared in the first of the Moomin books, The Moomins and the Great Flood.  You know you've arrived when you have your own theme park, and Moomin World is giving Disney a run for its money in Finland, with a satellite slated to open next year in Japan, where Moomins are wildly popular.  Hello Kitty, watch your back!

Jansson was the child of artists and led a bohemian life even by Scandinavian standards of her time, eventually partnering with another woman, artist Tuulikki Pietil√§.  The moomins share Jansson's predilection for living close to nature and prizing tolerance as a virtue.

There are nine moomin books, the last having been published in 1970.  Original editions with their charming illustrations are now prized by collectors.  Get yours while they last.  Tie-in merchandise sold separately.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Ludwig Bemelmans--Dipping Deeper than Madeline

Ludwig Bemelmans (1898-1962) was an Austrian-born writer and illustrator, naturalized in the United States in 1918.  He led a colorful life, working in hotels and restaurants, consorting with gangsters, and joining the US army, as a non-combatant. 

Though famous for his children's books featuring Madeline, Bemelmans was exceedingly prolific and wrote numerous books for adult readers, both fiction and non-fiction. 

His books are collectable on account of their charming illustrations done in a naive style reminiscent of the work of Raoul Dufy (disclaimer: not that there is anything naive about Dufy's art).
He travelled widely between the wars, and his books also furnish interesting accounts of daily life in the countries of Europe, written by a sympathetic exile.

Above illustrations from The Blue Danube (New York, Viking Press, 1945).

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fumitized for Your Protection

One of the tasks of the online bookseller is to give accurate descriptions of her book listings, noting all flaws and defects so that the prospective buyer has a good idea of the condition of the book that is being offered.  For this reason, booksellers use standardized condition grades and terminology to describe their books.  These condition grades and terminology were created long before the advent of the online marketplace, as they were used in bookseller print catalogs.  The "Resources" section on the IOBA (Independent Online Booksellers Association) website is a great place to gain an understanding of condition definitions.

Occasionally we have come across a book that must be downgraded from Very Good condition to a mere Good, because frankly it appears to have been nibbled by a small animal.  Usually this manifests as a chewed-looking corner of a book, probably the markings of a bibliophile chihuahua.  Besides being good reading, books can be mighty tasty!

Recently, I was entering a book into our database by Thornton W. Burgess, the early twentieth century American author of children's books featuring such creatures as Happy Jack Squirrel, Peter Rabbit, Billy Possum, Jimmy Skunk, Reddy Fox, and Danny Meadow Mouse.  This book was The Adventures of Prickly Porky and the book had super cute endpapers showing the animals of the forest wearing charming tops and bottoms (but not both).

As I was admiring the illustrations by Harrison Cady in Prickly Porky, I noticed this copy had a pink "fumitized" label attached to the rear free endpaper.  I have not been able to find a definition of "fumitized," but for me it has the connotation of fumigation or rodent extermination.  In any case, this book had not been nibbled.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Anton Bruckner: Wagnerian Toady or Symphonic Genius?

The jury on Anton Brucker's originality is still presumably out, although it is probably safe to say that those who find Wagner's music too grandiose for their taste will be equally impatient with Bruckner.

Bruckner was everything that Wagner was not: devoutly Catholic, personally unambitious, and professionally obscure for most of his life.  But he was as great a champion of the new musical world opened up by Wagner as anyone.  This earned him the opprobrium of the conservative symphonic school in Vienna, headed by Johannes Brahms. 

To get technical, Bruckner took the chromatic tonal language of Wagner, with its frequent enharmonic modulations, as the basic for a series of 9 symphonies that stretched the temporal framework of the form as far as it had ever gone until Gustav Mahler (another Wagner disciple) appeared on the scene.

Derek Watson's book in the Master Musician Series (J. M. Dent & Sons, London, 1975) gives special attention to the many extant versions of Bruckner's works.  Bruckner was sensitive to criticism and frequently revised his music; the critical consensus is that his revisions were not always in the best interest of his art.

Another biography is The Life and Symphonies of Anton Bruckner, by Erwin Doernberg (Barrie and Rockliff, London, 1960.  This was the first British book devoted to Bruckner, directed "at the general musical reader who may be impatient with too much detail in the dissection of the music."

A reading knowledge of musical notation is nevertheless recommended for the enjoyment of both these volumes, as each includes musical examples.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Musical Oddities I by Kamposer*

Richard Wagner is said to be one of the most biographed (if one may coin the word) historical figures, alongside Napoleon.  His music has been exhaustively analyzed, as have his writings.  Yet there remains room for fresh approaches.  For instance, Richard Wagner: A Mystic in the Making, by Alan David Aberbach (1991, Longwood Academic).

A bookplate featuring a winged horse bestriding a rainbow beneath the crescent moon (a nighttime rainbow, no less) seems appropriate to the esoteric subject matter treated within.

According to the preface, "no study has tried to systematically explore the development and evolution of Wagner's religious, spiritual, and mystic ideas."  The two parts of the book are entitled "Self-Realization" and "God-realization."  The author touches on Wagner's remarks on Jewishness (inevitably), as well as his brushes with Sufism, Schopenhauer, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Meister Eckhart.

A skim through the volume (which your correspondent intends to read some day) suggests the thesis that, like Proust, Wagner came eventually to believe in salvation through Art.  This sort of mysticism may be well-tailored to the artist, but: what about the rest of us?  Happily there remains garden-variety mysticism, which is so to speak an open book-- and of course reading; though few can be famous composers, all may read about them.

Next up: Anton Bruckner:Wagnerian toady or symphonic genius?

*Kamposer is a composer manqué and musical correspondent (plus book photographer) for Pistil Books.