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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: vintage authors

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.

1964 Venture Magazine, Volume 1, #1, Takes an Early Look at Young Authors & New Orleans Street Art



Sometimes a magazine is not a magazine, it's also a book. And in this case, the #1 issue of Venture (a travel magazine first published in 1964) was bound in cloth, which made it a book.   Image These days, sophisticated readers are not only attracted to rare antique and much-desired vintage volumes. We (and they) also are collecting old paperbacks (especially pulps) and even magazines, especially if they contain the works of not-yet-discovered authors & artists.Image

Case in point, Venture #1 which featured articles by John Knowles, then writing his second book of fiction (The Collector was his first, runaway hit & The Aristos, non-fiction,followed) and a young Tom Wolfe, who wrote about New York's "Helping Hands", and did not even merit a by-line here for his trouble. (To be fair, he was credited by name in the table of contents, but to young writers, by-lines & contributor attributions are every bit as important as the rolling credits at the front or back-end of a new movie).


This Venture issue also contains an article by Craig Claiborne on New York Restaurants (he was an already well-known New York Times food critic, but not so much as an author of  cook books . (Hee wrote many after penning the classic New York Times Cookbook). Still, a Claiborne collector (and he has many passionate fans) might relish reading this early 1960s away-from-The Times --desk critique.


One of my favorite articles in the magazine is a photo-essay on New Orleans' old wall-painted signs, presaging the street art explosion to come that would rock the U.S. urban art core in the 1990s & beyond. Unlike the handiwork of now well-known, stratosphere-selling street artists like Banksy and Basquiat, these art works were largely advertisements - some with words & some without: art sign-language to advertise the merchandise sold inside.


It's 50-year-old magazines like Venture that can help you appreciate and understand the roots & routes now famed artists and authors took to find their calling - not always so deftly explained on sites like Amazon & Google.

Some Odd Volumes from Our Vintage Book Collection



Over the many years we've collected books, we've run across some vintage titles others might call "odd." For example, (and for the sake of blogging),we've lugged home  Is anybody listening?,  Good Lord, You're Upside Down!, and, The King With Six Friends. Among others. While other book collectors might pass, as soon as we saw books with odd titles, we knew we had to have them.  Love at first sight. And a love that never disappoints, even when it turns out to be not to be as first imagined.

Oddly Interesting

Good Lord, You're Upside Down!, is a 1963 book, written out of genre by the well-respected western author, Clair Huffaker. Huffaker's work shows up in the credits of many famous vintage Western movies like The Comancheros and Flaming Star (starring Elvis).  On the blurb (back of the book), Huffaker says some of his books and scripts "have been bought by people who drink lots of martinis." Nothing odd about that.

  Odd, I thought you said something?

Is Anybody Listening?, was also written by an esteemed author - William H. Whyte, Jr., Assistant Managing Editor of Fortune,in 1952. Forget how timid and inconsequential the dust jacket looks, because its appearance belies the book's content. Back in the 1950s, Whyte predicted how "A new system of social engineering, through group participation,  threatens us with a new and dismal kind of conformity. We are in real danger of becoming a nation of system lovers" -- Whoa, I say to that! Whyte's prediction may have seemed odd in 1952, but as he warned, we were all destined to be LinkedIn. Is that so very odd? I think not.

With friends like these --

Then, there's the odd youngster in the group:  The King With Six Friends by Jay Williams. Williams was a relatively well-known author of children's books, (including the co-author of the popular Danny Dunn series). Written in 1968, The King With Six Friends is about an out-of-work King. Given the nation's dreary job situation, the King's plight does not seem all that "odd."  It's his new six friends who are a bit quirky. They include  an elephant, a mouse and a serpent (each with magical powers).  The book's oddest coincidence is that one of  the King's new friends is named "KINDLE." (The guy who named the Kindle Reader reportedly said  the name reminded him of a "candle."  But, not necessarily).

* * *

I started this blog because I was thinking a book collector does not have to be a member of The Club of Odd Volumes (Boston, 1887) to have a library full of odd books. Including some that morph, over time,  into something else entirely.

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 Raggedy Story of Raggedy Ann and Cookie Land



Behold a copy of the original 1931 book, Raggedy Ann and Cookie Land.IMG_5136 Written by Johnny Gruelle, after the doll he designed in 1915 for his daughter, Marcella, this is one of the more prized vintage Raggedy Ann books. If, and this is a big IF, it had its original box and was in excellent (likely unmarked) condition, it might sell for $1000 or more.


But this copy is likely far raggedier than the original rag doll whose face Gruelle artfully first decorated for his daughter. It is said that after Gruelle created the doll's face, he decided to name her "Raggedy Ann" - a combination (or should we say unsolicited collaboration) between James Whitcomb Riley's famed poem, "The Raggedy Man" and the popular cartoon, "Little Orphan Annie." Copying (borrowing) is always the sincerest form of flattery - or in Gruelle's case, genius.

My copy, found at a sale of antiquarian books, was marked $1 due to its condition - which, if I were being truthful, (as I am, always), would be considered South of "Poor." First Edition aside, its hinge is weak,  a few pages are loose and/or tattered, and some  still bear the grimy fingerprints of the 1930s-era children who owned this.


Nevertheless, as a fan of both Raggedy Ann and of cookies, I snapped up the book, as fast as you can say "Ginger". It has value to me - not only sentimental value, but also as a very good reminder about future book scouting adventures. Paraphrasing the old saw about buying real estate, there are only three words that must be considered when purchasing an old book for value.


And those three words are "Condition, condition, condition."

The Castro Conundrum: Who Wants This Book?



Every once in a while (or maybe even more than that), I come across an interesting vintage book, which I am compelled to buy, not always knowing why. This small volume, Fidel Castro's History Will Absolve Me!, is an example. Portrait of a Revolutionary

Published by Lyle Stuart in 1961, at 79 pages long, it is a quick read if you are interested in the volatile history of Cuba and its longtime leader, the controversial Fidel Castro. The contents of this book consist entirely of Castro's five-hour-long speech to the court, when on trial, in 1953, for leading an unsuccessful uprising against General Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar. The speech (which I have not read in entirety), is, a first glance, complex, rich in historic detail, and even somewhat professorial in tone.

In his foreword,Robert Taber describes a meeting with Castro in 1957, where Castro described "the little book" he had written in 1953, during months of solitary confinement in jail, before his trial. Under close guard in prison, he wrote the text in lime juice, invisible, between the lines of ordinary letters in his possession.

"You would be surprised," Castro said, "how much trouble it was. I could write for only twenty minutes or so each evening at sunset, when the sun slanted across the paper in such a way as to make the letters visible, glistening on the paper." Castro's motivation, Taber writes, was to preserve the history of the  defense  he "delivered entirely ad lib and without the benefit even of notes." 

As Taber writes, acting as his own attorney, Fidel Castro not only held the courtroom spellbound, but  the book arose out of  "Fidel's own ingenuity and gift of total recall," supplemented (of course) by the records of shorthand reporters present at the trial.

The book ends with Castro's memorable summation: "...I do not fear prison,  just as I do not fear the fury of the miserable tyrant who snuffed life out of 70 brothers of mine. Sentence me. I don't mind. History will absolve me."

Therein resides my conundrum. I now own an important book on Cuba, potentially of interest to researchers and historians. But I can't sell it.  I'm reticent,  given both the subject and the subject matter.
Perhaps, down the road, time will change public opinion, and I can then put it up for sale. But, for now, the slim little volume sits on the shelf, biding its time, in a sort of literary confinement.

The Great American Writer's Cookbook: Ray Bradbury, Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates



Image As the old saying goes, "Writers write," and, so I suppose, Cookers cook, and some times they do both. When I'm in the mood for a laugh or even a self-indulgent "I can do better than that," I turn to one of my most-treasured books: The Great American Writers' Cookbook. 

Inside this 1981 spiral-bound beauty are 200 "recipes" from 175 writers, including those alive back then, and those not (Ernest Hemingway, for one). The recipes range from Appetizers and Beverages to Soups, Stews, Meats, Poultry & Game, Seafood, Eggs & Pasta, Vegetables, Breads & Cereals and (as all's well that ends well )- Desserts. The 221-page book has an introduction by Craig Claiborne, which gives it legitimacy as an authentic cookbook, since he was both writer and chef. Although some recipes are more legitimate than others.


Take, for example, Joyce Carol Oates' recipe for "The Career Woman's Meal" - "1 Campbell Soup can (any variety), 1 can-opener, 1 saucepan, 1 can water, 2 soup bowls". (and now you can see why I laughed). And how about Allen Ginsberg's "Mushrooms & Steak Pork Fish Etc Broiled"? He writes, "Whenever you broil a meat, etc. scatter a dozen mushrooms in,  5-6-7 minutes before the cooking's done. The mushrooms retain their juice but are dry-broiled outside." I think this recipe is a Howl - or, at least, a Hoot.

Speaking of Mushrooms, one of the more complex recipes contained herein is from Norman Mailer :"Stuffed Mushrooms." This is a five-paragraph recipe, longer than I am allowed to quote in a blog, but if you would like more description, please consult your Larousse, as Mailer's Mushrooms are a derivative of recipes in that venerable French cookbook.

Lest I leave you with the wrong opinion, there are, however, some fine recipes from other writers, including Tom Wolfe, who offers up his "Ten O'Clock Compote" (a breakfast dish) and Katherine Anne Porter's "Variation On My Feesh Deesh." (8 raw lobster tails, a pound of raw shrimp and a pound of raw scallops to start).


Although I've owned and coveted this book for more than a few decades, if I didn't own it, I I'd surely want it -  for one recipe alone: Hunter S. Thompson's "Open Face Cigarette Special Hot and Cold Sandwich With Artichoke Appetizer." This recipe is even longer than Mailer's, with a step-by-step guide to creating it, including "Drink good whiskey while boiling artichoke and frying bacon"... and so on. I suppose a glass or two of good whiskey might well pave the way for Dr. Thompson's finished dish, which consists of ingredients like cold cottage cheese, a can of Orega green chilis and toasted dill rye bread, among others.

Perhaps I've whetted your appetite for the recipes, including one from the late Ernest Hemingway (it's a cocktail, natch) and, likewise, for those from William Faulkner and F. Scott Figzgerald. (Hint: none of the three required a stove).

In the long run, all of these recipes  have something to say about what writers put in their mouths when they weren't writing, or even when they were.

Cheers for a vintage cookbook, like this,  that can make our mouths water - for all the right reasons

Michener on Michener: Losing Mexico


I never was much of a fan of James Michener, although he certainly was one of the 20th Century's most prolific authors, if not THE most prolific. Starting with The Tales of the South Pacific and continuing on to more than 40 books about countries spanning the globe, he took his many  readers on detailed journeys, sometimes meandering back thousands of years to ancient times. Lost and Found

two of the many Micheners

I read only one of his novels - Hawaii - and I remember it took me most of a long, hot summer to get through it. It was a reward in itself to finish the massive book. I never looked back or read another Michener. That is, until I found My Lost Mexico, (1992), a slim book (more to my liking, see above) describing how Michener resumed writing his novel-in-process, Mexico, some 30 years after he stopped writing it. The manuscript went missing, and only after his agent and the publisher nagged him about completing it, did a synchronicity occur. In a corner of a storage room, Michener's cousin found the draft of the book and the many photos of Mexico and Spain that Michener snapped in the 1960s. And so, he went on to finish what he'd started. And not only that, he wrote another book (above) about what caused him to stop writing (Publisher Bennett Cerf's gentle suggestion to correct a segment). Surprise! I'd never imagined an established author like Michener could lose his confidence over a mild suggestion to revise his work. But lose, Michener did - both his confidence and his manuscript.

In describing how he re-read the draft of Mexico, completed it and  revised it, as Cerf originally  suggested, a reader can see the painstaking research, notes and outlines Michener undertook - both in the 1960s and later,in the 1990s. Copies of his copious notes to himself and his many chapter outlines, as well as his musings about adding and subtracting characters, confirms just how hard and how much he worked at his art.

If anything, after reading My Lost Mexico, my admiration for this genius globe-trotting author soared. Both gifted storyteller and historian, his work endures.

a Michener photo for his book on Mexico