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The Art of Reading and Everything At Hand to Make It More Enjoyable --

     Highly-desirable vintage and modern books,accessories and art


a selection of the very best vintage books & authors

Filtering by Category: books worth reading

On Annie S. Peck, Pioneering Feminist Mountaineer/Author, 1913



Hassan Cigatette Trading card showing Annie Sm... Let's now raise a toast to Annie S. Peck, author/photographer, world-traveler, and the climber of many mountains , all accomplished in the early 1900s.  She was a trail-blazing feminist, and adventuress.

Just below is her book: The South American Tour, published in 1916 (revised from a 1913 first edition). It is a detailed travel guide to well-known and un-known South America, including The Panama Canal (prior to its opening), and such cities as Lima, La Paz, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and Rio. Peck traveled by sail, rail steamer, and one would guess, some times,  by foot and by horseback.

The Well-Traveled Suffragette

And in between her various stops along her South American route, Peck climbed mountains, including, in 1908, the North Peak of Peru's Mt. Huascaran (21,812 feet, some 1400 feet higher than Mt. McKinley). At that time, "greater than any man in American has yet (1916) achieved."

Climbing & Touring  South America, 1900s

In her travel guide, Peck not only described the countryside, but also offered a sampling of hotels in each city. She noted a stay at the luxe Hotel Plaza in Buenos Aires, would run $4.40/day (the lowest price). "The Plaza, under the management of the world famed Ritz Carlton people, is naturally the grand affair that one would expect, the pompous, uniformed British attendants easily leading one within to fancy himself in London"...

Peck's book is yet another wonderful example of the surprises you can find inside the covers  of a well-traveled, 100-year-old book. Here, the history of the author seems equally, if not more,  important than the book's contents. Reading Peck's biography, you can learn about how she planted a flag calling for Women's Right to Vote on a Peru mountain-top. And how she climbed in pants, at a time, when women wearing pants was a great scandal. Some times, Peck wore a disguise as a man, but only when it was the only way to climb with others.  Peck wrote deftly about all of her experiences and often with a wry sense of humor. Her book offered readers a rare view of South America, from the ground-up.

Fold-out map of South America

Though denied entrance to Brown University, because she was a woman, Peck persevered in her classical studies and Greek education in Rhode Island, in Michigan and in Europe. Her background helped her write knowledgeably about the countries she toured and the mountains she conquered.

For all of her accomplishments, Peru awarded her a gold medal and a cigarette company created a trading card for her. But today, she is largely unknown. Found books, like this, can rectify that.

The South American Tour, A Descriptive Guide by Annie S. Peck. George H. Doran Co., 1916.  398 pages, with fold-out map.

Books and Bookstores as Movie Stars


Hollywood Book Stars Just in -

Woody Allen stars as the owner of a failing bookstore who becomes a pimp in order to make a living. "Fading Giglio" is an upcoming film, written & directed by John Turturro. Given the current state of the economy, Amazon and the Nook Niche, there may be more truth than poetry to this film, ( said to be released here in late 2013 or 2014).

I am a fan of most movies with book store scenes (over, say, scenes in auto repair shops or cupcake bakeries). That is because, for me,  books are It. 

Over the years,  books and bookstores have played both starring and supporting roles in many movies. Here's my short list, in chrony order:

- The Big Sleep (1946)

-Funny Face (1957)

-Manhattan (1979)

-When Harry Met Sally (1989)

-You've Got Mail (1998)

-NottingHill (1999)

Those are the movies I actually saw, but there are other notables, featuring book stores, I have yet to see (including Hugo, 2011).  Plus, there are TV shows featuring books and book stores (too numerous to list here, but the recent one that come to mind is Sundance Channel's Rectify).

As a book collector/purveyor, I love all bookstores, especially those on the brink of extinction. I am always rushing around, attempting to support these stores, buying, tweeting, word-of-mouthing, dragging relatives and friends in by their shirt collars. I even supported endangered book stores that weren't Independents (like the late Borders). Before Borders closed in Carlsbad, I bought boat-loads of books there and even a wooden bookcase that had once been screwed to the wall.

But, as the saying goes, any publicity (or movie role, for that matter) is good publicity, so maybe Woody's turn in the Turturro movie will showcase the plight of  struggling book stores - Independents and (gulp) even their big brother,  Barnes & Noble. You know, we just need to get out there and shop (before they drop).


*special thanks to

A Book for a Buck: Ancient Philosophers


In the 1940s and '50s, if you read magazines, especially the adverts, you could reasonably teach yourself to draw, collect limited edition prints of famous artists and also enrich your library by joining a book club. One of the biggest reprint publishers was Walter J. Black. Black published book club editions of detectives, Zane Grey and often esoteric literary antiquities (The Classics Club). Clubbing with the Classics

If you signed up to be a member of The Classics Club, you could get three free books and thereafter, as a subscriber, a book for a buck. Some of the titles in this series included the more familiar Robinson Crusoe and works by Poe. But, if you were home-colleging yourself, you could order Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things," Erasmus' "The Praise of Folly" or even "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius. I can't say I was familiar with any of those titles. My education in philosophers stopped way, way short of Greece & Rome, settling on the more recent Sartre and Kazantzakis.


So, when I recently came across a set of nine books from the Classics Club series, said to be "Deluxe" editions (tweed cloth covers with gilt-stamped  titles), I knew only one title: Daniel Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe." But I didn't buy them to read, but to sell. Look below: They are "vintage-worn" attractive; they would like good in a study bookcase.

Worthy - on & off the shelf

However, when paging through some of them (to check their condition), I came across  the "Meditations" from Aurelius that seemed to make quite a lot of (current) sense.

     Now Aurelius (161-180 A.D.) was perhaps the last great Roman emperor, before the Decline. Apparently, he was regarded as a Stoic, which today, would be a good thing. But, by measure of this book,  he was also a deep & prolific thinker, as were many of the authors  with works contained in these classics, including Homer and Aristotle.

If I had world and time enough, perhaps I'd extend my education with a home-schooled Masters in Ancient philosophy. Alas, this will not likely be the case, as I neither have time or world enough. Just ask anybody who knows me. Also, long ago, I synthesized my own philosophy into one sentence "Go with your gut."

And, in this case, my gut told me to buy these books. Even though they originally only cost a buck, and are cover-worn, someone will surely find them worthy, either on or off the shelf.  Because, inside these "Deluxe" covers, the Ancient Philosophers would likely say, is what matters most. That is, unless you're an interior decorator

It's Written in the Stars - Or Was, in 1894 and 1928


Here we have two Astrology books, and one, on the left, is better looking than the other. IMG_5067

But, heh, you really can't tell a book by its cover, because to my mind (which is quite accustomed to thinking cosmic), the older, plainer-looking book is by far the more interesting and entertaining. The Influence of the Zodiac Upon Human Life (at right) was written and published in 1894 by Eleanor Kirk (whoever said self-publishing was a new thing?)

Kirk's book divides the 12 Zodiac Signs into the elements we all know so well (fire, air, earth and water) and then offers insights into how each Sign influences a person's life - especially when it comes to big things like marriage and work and little things like getting along with others. Inside this plain brown book, there's a nifty little chart showing a man's anatomy, with lines pointing to the various effects of each Sign on his body. As you can see, below, Cancer/Moon Child, (the Sign we are about to enter), is said to affect the breast. As Kirk wrote, Cancer affects the "maternal functions of the Grand Man or Microcosm."


This conclusion makes a sort-of-circa-2013-sense, given so many men (probably some of them, Cancers) stay at home, these days, to care for their babies and small children, while their wives/girl friends work. But while the chart is interesting, what I like most about Kirk's 189-page book are her nearly specific Character Readings of Persons Born on the Cusp.

In all my years of  collecting old Astrology books, I've never come across an astrologer who gave as much thought (or paragraph space) to people born on a Cusp. Sure, Cusp births are usually mentioned in most Astrology guides, but not in as much detail as in this one. If we are talking about The Cusp of Leo-Virgo (Aug. 22-28) and, we are, Kirk describes women born in this period as "fond of everything that grows, from the babe at the breast to the seed in the ground." And Kirk describes those born on the Cusp of Aquarius-Pisces (Feb. 19-25) as "peculiar.  ...Although they are "usually well and tastefully dressed," their great love of color sometimes leads them into unpleasant combinations..."  (Rihanna, Drew Barrymore,Smokey Robinson).

In the past, author's biographies weren't generally listed within their books. Neither of these Astrology books describe their authors. But, we can guess about them. In Kirk's case, it's likely she earned (or supplemented) her 1890s income by casting horoscopes and counseling clients about their futures as The Turn of the Century approached. (Kirk  also wrote a few esoteric books, including The Christ of The Red Planet  in 1901.But she is best-known for this work).

The second Astrology book is Simplified Scientific Astrology. With its gold and green Art Deco cover, it is far more beautiful - but, inside more technical, offering detailed steps on how to chart a Horoscope. Written by Max Heindel, the book was published in 1928 by the Rosicrucian Fellowship.  (In the early 1900s, the Rosicrucian Fellowship, which Max Heindel led, was active around these parts).

Unlike Eleanor Kirk's book, Heindel's 198-page book makes for dry reading. But, there's a  bonus at the end: the Philosophic Encyclopedia of Astrology (largely definitions of Zodiac terms).  After reading about "Lights" (the Sun and the Moon), I learned  The 14th Lord Napier invented logarithms, in the 1500s, to make his Astrology calculations easier. I always thought Napier was a brand of popular 1950s costume jewelry . But apparently Napier, in the body of the 14th Lord-Astrologer, was so much more:  he basically married metaphysics and Astrology to Science and numbers. I doubt anybody I know learned his back-story in Calculus.


The Art of Chinese Cooking, 1956: Woking the Wok



Here's a picture of my new favorite cookbook: The Art of Chinese Cooking. It didn't sell recently, and boy, am I happy about that! 1956 Artful Chinese Cooking

Yesterday, I scooped it out of the failed-to-sell pile and hurried it over to a place of honor on my kitchen counter. Because, I believe,without doubt, it will turn me into a more accomplished cook, as fast as you can say: "Better that a Man should wait for his meal, than the meal should wait for the Man." (ancient Chinese proverb, according to the book).

The Sisters Signed their book

Thus far, after many, many years (but who's counting?), my culinary efforts currently consist of killer meat loaf, killer tuna noodle casserole, killer potato salad, and if I am very motivated, killer Quiche. But when I discovered this charming cookbook,I realized it was time to move on to something more exotic and challenging (at least, in terms of cooking): Vintage Chinese Food!

Who better to teach me Old-School Chinese Cooking than The Benedictine Sisters of Peking, who not only wrote this 94-page, spiral-bound book in 1956, but signed it, also (see the Title Page).

According to the blurb on the back, "These two delightful and courageous American women (Nuns) came to Japan from a war-ravaged China with little else than their skill in Chinese cooking. To earn their living, they started to teach, and, as their celestial cuisine won (so much) fame in Tokyo, they could not keep up with the demand...." This cook book, the blurb continues, contains their Secrets and their Tricks of the Trade. "Use them - and good eating." I ask you - isn't there something so motivating about Chinese cooking secrets divulged by the Benedictine Sisters of Peking?

The Secret of poorly-cooked Rice

So there it is - in a chestnut shell! I am about to embark on DIY cooking. Tonight I start my culinary journey by creating Chicken with Eggplant, or, Chi Ch'ieh Tze , as it is also known.

Once again, I am so very glad a vintage Chinese book collector or cookbook collector did not recognize the potential and promise of this charmingly illustrated little cookbook. Because soon, very soon, I hope, with the encouragement of the Sisters, I will get the Rice right.

Some of the Vintage Cooking Art

The Most Beautiful Vintage Cookbook in My Collection: Charlie Trotter's


nullCharlie Trotter's (1994) is one spectacular cookbook - in fact, the most beautiful in my entire vintage cookbook collection. Although just a few years short of what is now considered "vintage" (the 1980s), this cookbook, as it ages, will likely still reign supreme among the most beautiful. It is that gorge. Charlie Trotter's Cookbook

Lest you think I don't know what I'm talking about, let me say I've been collecting and selling cookbooks (older and newer) for decades. Among them, Julia Child First Editions, the vaunted early Larousse, the ever-popular Vincent Price cooking volume (A Treasury of Great Recipes), early Betty Crocker books, and so on. Over the years, I've developed an eye for food beauty, even if I lean mightily towards the 1940s graphics (both illustrated and photographed) in cookbooks of that era.

Over the years, within my own collection, I've developed a sub-genre: artist cookbooks. These include recipes from Georgia O'Keeffe, Monet and Picasso, artist anthology cookbooks, and so on. But given all of the cookbooks I've bought, sold and am now selling, I have to say, I never saw a cookbook as beautiful as Charlie Trotters. Please consider  this  my homage.

The esteemed chef, Charlie Trotter, closed his Chicago townhouse-restaurant in 2012 and is now presumed off globe-trotting and/or studying philosophy. But 16 years before he shuttered his name-sake restaurant, photographer Tim Turner turned 72 of his favorite dishes into works-of-art in this book. Take a look:

If wishes were dishes--

Rabbit & Braised Turnip Lasagna with Sweet Pea Sauce

Nominated at least 5 times for a James Beard award for food photography, Turner elevated Trotter's food masterpieces into four-color plates worthy of framing (at least, I think so. but, mais non, I would not).

If you are a foodie, Hunt high & low for this book, as it is likely to grow in esteem. It's a treasure.

The Culinary Artist's Just Desserts: A Study in Apricot

Hollywood Beauty, Linda Darnell and the American Dream



Image Lately, many of us (thanks to reality TV) now believe the American Dream (whatever that is) can be ours by winning a singing or dance contest or picking the right Bachelor or storage locker full of antiques. Suddenly, as TV confirms, we're rich or famous or hopefully both.  It looks so easy now, doesn't it? Well, maybe that's how it seems today, as so much reality TV is, in reality,  scripted. But the route to the American Dream was much rockier in the 1930s and '40s, when young girls dreamed of  movie stardom in Hollywood - a place, for some, that is still the epitome of greatness.

Hollywood Beauty, is the biography of Linda Darnell, the late, ill-fated film star of the 1940s. It is surely as riveting and striking as any book of fiction I've read of late. Here, the truth is Stronger than fiction, tracking the life of "a naive teenager from a dysfunctional middle-class family" as she lands in Hollywood during its glory days and big studio star-making machines.Image

Darnell's life is not strictly a rags to riches story. As it unfolds, it becomes a cautionary tale about Hollywood's single-minded focus on fame, and how quickly the star-makers can build you up and tear you down, seemingly at will. This is how dreams become nightmares.

And, speaking of nightmares, although little is made of it in this book, shortly before she died at the age of 41, Darnell told her brother about a scary dream she had about dying in a fire. Days later, she was dead, the result of extensive burns suffered in an accidental fire at a friend's home.

Linda Darnell's most famous movies can still be seen, and they include Star Dust (1940), Blood and Sand (1941)  Forever Amber (1947) and A Letter to Three Wives (1949). She also appeared on TV and on stage in the 1950s and '60s. Her biography was written by Ronald L. Davis, 1991. The copy below is a First Edition.Image