Say hello to our new Fall intern Jake!

August 31, 2022 Leave a comment

Hi everyone! My name is Jake, and I am the newest intern to join the team here at Oak Knoll. I am currently a Senior with a major in Marketing with a minor in English. While at the University of Delaware, I have been able to take a multitude of classes centered around marketing and writing, which have prepared me for exciting experiences in the publishing world. I have always known that I wanted to work in publishing, but was unsure where to start, until I became aware of the internship opportunity at Oak Knoll. It made perfect sense for me as someone who loved to read and often dreamed of working surrounded by books. From the second I walked in, I knew it would be the perfect fit for me. I found the quaintness of the small historic town along with the family owned business very familiar. Everyone was so kind and welcoming to me, especially the office dog Charlie.

I grew up in New England, which is very beautiful, but is quite far from New Castle, DE. This led to quite an unfortunate realization when I tried to squeeze all of my favorite books into my car which was already filled with college apartment necessities. If you ask any of my close family or friends, they will often explain how I am known to travel with a large selection of both books and notebooks. I have always loved reading and writing. When I am not doing school work or volunteering, I am often hiding in a local coffee shop somewhere reading peacefully and enjoying a strong cup of coffee. Poetry has always been one of my passions and I hope to one day publish a collection of written works.

I am grateful to everyone at Oak Knoll for this amazing opportunity and cannot wait to begin working on exciting projects here. During my time here as an intern, I hope to learn more about marketing for a small publishing house along with the inner workings of the antiquarian book selling world.

Categories: Uncategorized

Meet our Spring intern, Molly!

January 31, 2022 Leave a comment

molly

Hi, everyone! My name is Molly Ferguson, and I am a senior at the University of Delaware. Presently, I am working toward a Bachelor in Arts in English with a minor in Theatre Studies. Whether performing or running things backstage, assisting with dramatic productions is a favorite pastime of mine that I hope to somehow incorporate into my future endeavors. I’ve been a Delaware resident my whole life, having lived in Newark for the majority of my childhood. When I’m not devouring the contents of an epic sci-fi or fantasy book, I can most likely be found writing, drawing, or ice skating – no matter the time of year. I am beyond thrilled to have accepted this intern position at Oak Knoll!

When I first set off on my college journey five years ago, I had convinced myself that nursing was my ideal career, since science is something I’ve always been passionate about. After shadowing nurses within  various hospital departments, I enrolled in the nursing program at Delaware Technical Community College, where three years of intensive study told me it wasn’t an optimum fit, after all: turns out, needles and I do not make a great pair! Unsure then of what my aspirations were, I was left to search through UD’s offered list of majors, hoping that something would stand out to me. Remembering how much I enjoyed my English classes in high school, I chose my major accordingly, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Since then, I’ve developed a keen interest in book editing, my goal being to one day end up in New York City with one of the “Big Five.”

Thus, it was a no-brainer when my school’s English department informed me of this amazing opportunity with Oak Knoll. What better way to introduce myself to the world of publishing than with some of the leading experts in the antiquarian book business? The staff here are an absolute joy to work with – including the sweetest black lab ever, which is definitely a plus. I’m grateful to Oak Knoll for this chance to explore a career in publishing while gaining a wealth of valuable skills, such as marketing. I look forward to all that’s in store regarding this internship.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Joy of Reading about Reading

December 8, 2021 Leave a comment

GUEST POST: by Oliver B. Pollak, Ph.D.

Books about the book trade line my shelves. Tick marks and underlining identify references to reading, bookstores and libraries. What follows are some references I found during November 2021 casual reading.

I reviewed the harrowing  Innocent Witnesses (2021) by Marilyn Yalom. She presents the stories of seven friends who were children during WWII. Born in Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Indochina, and the United States between 1926 and 1938 they shared their wartime experiences. They endured hunger, air raids, bomb shelters and the temporary or permanent loss of their father. My antennae were sensitive to reading habits in extremis. Four of the seven wartime witnesses penning accounts several decades after 1945 thought mentioned childhood reading habits, perhaps injecting normality and continuity from troubled times.

The Nazi’s perpetrated book burnings, the writing of these survivors ensured they would  not be forgotten. Marilyn Yalom recalls that on December 7, 1941, she was reading one of the three books she checked out every week from Washington DC’s Petworth Library. The French mother of one witness, an omnivorous reader, distressed over the lack of available books. Another French mother salvaged about twenty books of history and biography, “the mutilated remains of the family library.” Finally, the Finnish witness reported that in Rovaniemi, Finland, “There was a German officer’s club, a German bakery, a bookshop and a library.” Not coincidentally the seven witnesses are responsible for publishing about forty books. My mother said she took me to the library in latter 1940s London, I wish I could remember. As a youth the Captain Horatio Hornblower series by C. S. Forester enthralled me. In early adulthood George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman series amused me.

The Sunday, November 20, 2021 issue of the New York Times Book Review featured Irina Reyn’s review of Squirrel Hill by Mark Oppenheimer about the October 27, 2018 mass shooting killing  eleven and wounding six Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg. Irina wrote, “As a Soviet Jew who emigrated 40 years ago from a country that never considered the Jews truly Russian, I was  reminded once again that some things never change. You can’t out-immigrate antisemitism.” Oppenheimer described the neighborhood containing a supermarket, a kosher shop, corner Starbucks, Asian bakery, cafes, ethnic restaurants and “used and new bookstores.”

In the Wednesday, November 24, 2021 New York Times Food section Brett Anderson wrote about 82-year-old JoAnn Clevenger closing New Orlean’s Upperline creole restaurant which she opened in 1983. Covid and aging are the impetus for closing. She reminisced about her customers including Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Jeff Bezos, Dean Basquet of the NYT and Walter Isaacson the biographer of America’s best known printer, Benjamin Franklin, An American Life (2003). JoAnn “gave a printed list of local bookstores she recommends to MacKenzie Scott, who was then married to Mr. Bezos.” JoAnn knew that Jeff Bezos and Amazon purchased AbeBooks.com in 2008 creating the world’s largest online bookstore.” She said, “It felt really good that I could give them a list of these brick-and-mortar stores he’s on the way to destroying.”

smellofbooksI did not need French Quarter aromas to purchase The Smell of Books, A Cultural-Historical study of Olfactory Perception in Literature (1992) by Hans J. Rindisbacher from a French Quarter bookstore. Rindisbacher earned his Ph.D. at Stanford and teaches at Pomona College. I recently sent a friend a used copy of The Coffee Train (1953) by Margarethe Erdahl Shank. I imagined it would evoke the scent of coffee, it so smelled of pickles she could not get near it, a feature not mentioned in the online product description. Perhaps I should recommend Orwell’s Nose: A Pathological Biography (2016) by John Sutherland.

As reading missionaries we gave friends copies of A Confederacy of Dunces (1980) by John Kennedy Toole, published eleven years after his suicide, making it undoubtedly America’s greatest posthumously published novel.

Marilynne Robinson was born in 1943 and published her first novel, Housekeeping in 1980 to much acclaim. The blurbs on the back cover of the early 21st century paperback edition includes Doris Lessing’s assessment, “I found myself reading slowly, then more slowly—this is not a novel to be hurried through, for every sentence is a delight.” I with Lessing in the 1970s while researching mid-century African labor unions. Lessing’s first novel, The Grass is Singing, set in Rhodesia, appeared in 1950. Lessing received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007. My wife and I curated a library exhibition, “The Nobility of Doris Lessing.” One Housekeeping sentence pertinent to this essay reads, “Now and then Molly searched Sylvie’s room for unreturned library books.”

The joy eked out of reading is subject to a baleful lament. Bookstores and libraries once omnipresent are now under attack by those who would fill reading rooms with computers. Our method of obtaining and conveying information has changed. Even getting an appointment requires negotiating with a communication system that does not have a human being at the other end. Newspapers are fewer and thinner. Advertising revenues decline, reportorial staff is cut. The internet replaces paper. The expectation of study, learning, staying up-to-date, and even fundamental research is increasingly laptop linked. The existence of public and private libraries is threatened by the allocation and reallocation of limited space, cutting professional overheads, culling, disposing and reducing public accessibility.

Oliver B. Pollak, Ph.D. is an emeritus professor of history at the University of Nebraska Omaha, a lawyer, the author of eleven books and hundreds of articles and a member of the Book Club of California and The Institute for Historical Study.

Categories: Uncategorized

My Friend’s Library, A Story of Association Copies

November 12, 2021 Leave a comment

GUEST POST: by Oliver B. Pollak

We spent a week in Los Angeles with my 1960s college roommate and celebrated our three days apart birthdays. Beryl and his partner Joyce’s bookshelves holding 1050 volumes, a half century accumulation, were overflowing. They have a lovely house but building more bookcases is not an option. They asked me to assist. She needed order and was bent on purging books she did not like and those she will never get to. Reluctant but not intransigent he consented to surrendering two of his three copies of H. W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage.

Pollak1

This Jewish household slants toward Judaica and Israel. Joyce favored fiction and has about 45 books on gardening. My penchant for association copies led me to sentimental treasures. Joyce’s parents fled Nazi dominated Austria in the late 1930s. They revealed their admiration for German literature by ownership of two books by Goethe including a Vienna imprint of Reineke Fuchs.

Pollak2

Hebrew books included a First Year in  Hebrew, Sixth Revised Edition, first published in 1911. Written in pencil in the 1914 imprint published by S. Druckerman [German for printer], 50 Canal St., N.Y., is the statement “Property of Harry Weisenfeld.” Another Hebrew book belonged to Sam Suplin, my friend’s grandfather, born in 1882 in the Ukraine.

Markings on books tell variegated stories. The Daily Prayers with English Translation by Dr. A. Th. Philips (Hebrew Publishing Company, 77-79 Delancey St., NY), initially owned by Bayla, my host’s sister, Beryl inscribed his name on the fore edge. The interior indicates he lived in Mexico City during the early 1950s while his father attended medical school there.

Pollak3

Upon returning to Los Angeles, he attended Fairfax High School in the late 1950s where he participated in the ROTC program and received the almost miniature pocketbook, Readings from the Holy Scriptures prepared for use of Jewish Personnel of the Army of The United States with facsimile signatures of President Roosevelt and Chief of Chaplains (United States Government Printing Office, Washington: 1942).

Pollak4

The copy of The Story of Bible Translations (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1917) by Max L. Margolis came from the library of Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern and leader in Jewish genealogy. I also know Leonard Greenspoon the author of Max Leopold Margolis: A Scholar’s Scholar (1987). ABE books is offering eleven books by Margolis for $4,500.

You can learn how friendships are cemented by common reading and interests. For instance, my friend and I share an interest in Alexander Calder and Carroll Summers whose artwork adorns our home and office walls with catalogues raisonnés lining our shelves.

A few books are signed by authors including Helen Hayes, Billy Crystal, and Michael Elias. Eight books by Ron Wolfson and myself, and four by his rabbis Naomi Levy and Edward Feinstein sit on the shelves. He has two copies of Never Alone (2020) inscribed by Natan Sharansky. Five signed volumes by Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis were purchased at a charity auction.

Pollak5

Quintessential Pleasures, Reflections on the Simple Joys of Life (1993) inscribed to Ruth by David in 1995 was an outlier. Ruth Erlich (1918-2012), an accomplished artist, lived three houses down the street. My friend went to the estate sale, walked through the house and for a pittance picked up the sweet museum bookstore, Hallmark-like book and a three ring binder filled with photographs of Ruth and her artwork. Would Ruth’s daughter, her family, or an art archive be interested.

We share favorite books. We sent a copy of The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish (2017). Kadish mentions Spinoza repeatedly. While reading the shelves I saw The Living Thoughts of Spinoza by Arnold Zweig (London: Green and Co., 1939) with a book plate of Harry Maizlish, a family friend. The two books now sit on the shelf next to each other. Joyce and I share an interest in books about bookstores, starting with The Bookshop (1978) by Penelope Fitzgerald, and most recently, The Bookshop of Second Chances (2020) by Jackie Fraser. Joyce and my wife Karen send each other cookbooks.

This is an expansive story for a diminishing audience. Observant readers can scan friends and family shelves and imagine literary salon connections. Marriage and divorce, like mergers and spinoffs, affect book  collections. Ex-spouses and ex-sister in law bookplates tell a story. Remarriage can start another chapter. My friends have four siblings and former spouses, tangents of a potentially larger story. Maybe their blended families of six children will be interested in their books.

We extracted 130 books, discussed Goodwill and the Salvation Army, and settled on the Council Thrift Shop run by the National Council of Jewish Women.

Oliver B. Pollak is an emeritus professor of history, University of Nebraska at Omaha, the author of eleven books and hundreds of articles and a member of the Book Club of California and The Institute for Historical Study.

Categories: Uncategorized

Stop and Go Reading, The habit of marking the place where you paused

September 29, 2021 Leave a comment

GUEST POST: by Oliver B. Pollak

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pollak-oliver.jpg

Do you find the book, does the book find you, is there a juxtaposition between thought and opportunity? English reading is left to right, top to bottom. Marginalia includes check/tick (American/English) marks, asterisks, NB (Latin abbreviation for Nota bene, “note well”), and comments. Heather J. Jackson, University of Toronto Professor of English studied reader engagement in Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books (2001).

Readers mark where they ceased reading, a sign where to resume. The dog eared page, slip of paper, napkin, paperclip, piece of papyrus, strand of hair, feather, pressed flower, a myriad of plastic, leather, and metal aids, fancy bindings with lace marker sewn into the spine, and front and back dust jacket flaps mark the reader’s progress. Promotional bookmarks abound. None of these indicate precisely where the reader left off. The start of new chapters speak for themselves. Multi-colored ubiquitous Post-its and plastic flags are impermanent.

Using a pencil, pen, felt tip, highlighter, and sharpie for underlining, the privilege of ownership, adds permanence.

Reading fiction differs from reading non-fiction. I read fiction for pleasure, imagination, enthralled by the author’s creativity, and as immersionary background to non-fiction writing. The flavor, intensity, quality and utility of the read varies. Precious memorable lines, words that drive you to the dictionary warrant circling.  Rachel del Valle asked the question “Why Use a Dictionary in the Age of Internet Search?” (New York Times Magazine, September 13, 2021). The Netanyahus: An Account Of a Minor and Ultimately Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family (2021) by Joshua Cohen has been regaled for its use of obscure words.

The following three novel adventures differ in reading techniques. I read so I can write.

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk (2008 in Turkish, 2009 in English) has 83 chapters, and 532 pages, 6.4 pages per chapter. As a museum visitor Pamuk’s title and stature as the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature winner inspired me. I purchased it at Mrs. Dalloway, a delightful Berkeley indie bookstore, in late May 2019 to read while cruising the Mediterranean. I read slowly, contemplatively, deliberatively, Proustishly, liberally marking in ink, a privilege given solely to book owners. Seventeen-year-old Dalloway’s was put up for sale in April 2021.

Back in California in June 2019 I acquired Pamuk’s The Innocence of Objects (2012), 74 chapters on 264 pages, 3.5 pages per chapter and finished it in July. Visiting Pamuk’s brick and mortar Museum of Innocence in Istanbul is on my bucket list in the sky. I followed with Pamuk’s 2001 novel, My Name is Red, intriguing but a commitment to 413 pages flagged at page 42..

I read Where the Crawdads Sing, by zoologist Delia Owens (2018), 57 chapters, 368 pages, 6.4 pages per chapter, like a non-stop express train during a pandemic retreat in Jackson, Wyoming . My wife “could not put it down,” went on a red eye reading binge and finished at 5 am. We recommended it to friends who did not read it with the same fiendishness. The protagonist observed, collected, sketched and wrote about North Carolina’s marsh world flora, fauna, and off beat humans. In Fall 2020 a Jackson Hole bookseller told me that nothing like its galvanizing popularity had come into the shop since. The film is slated for release in June 2022.

The Secret of Lost Things, A Novel, Sheridan Hay, (2006) has 25 chapters, 354 pages,  14 pages per chapter, double the Pamuk and Owens ratio. Reading it with many interruptions I noted the reading pauses. I purchased it on March 1, 2021 via Abebooks, less than 20 days later I could not recall the exact circumstances of the buy. Forgetful of keys, glasses, cell phone and papers, the title suggested empathy. Two clues, the title includes the word “lost” and the story is set in a New York bookstore.

These three novels are about obsessing the ordinary, love, relationships, observing, recording, understanding. They had in common the loss of a loved one at an impressionable age, unrequited love, and disequilibrium. Pamuk crafts a museum to remember the loss of love. Owens is obsessed with isolation nurturing reading, research and writing. Hay spins a yarn bookstore yarn set in a five story bookstore of oddball employees and customers and an unpublished post Moby Dick Melville manuscript.

Reading attention spans range from mesmerizing to disrupted to giving up. Within the genre of books about books many volumes are devoted to how to choose and read a book. Maureen Corrigan, Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing myself in Books (2005) is companionable reading.

Categories: Uncategorized

Four Used Books and a Professional Journal Arrive in the Mail, June 1, 2021

July 2, 2021 Leave a comment

GUEST POST: by Oliver B. Pollak

            Writing non-fiction requires research, libraries, interlibrary loan, archives, museums, professional booksellers, online warehouse book aggregators, and patience.

            USPS Informed Delivery advised me Tuesday after Memorial Day at 9:51 am that I would receive five packages. The products of Oak Knoll Books, Abebooks and my over 52-year membership in the American Historical Association filled the overflow mail box with five volumes, 6 inches high, 2175 pages in length. Egads, what was I thinking, and that is the question. If the books had arrived individually on different days I would not have experienced the compression and simultaneity frisson that conceived this story. The decision to acquire these books reflects my interests.

The best wrapped package, from Oak Knoll Books, is on top. The wrapping and tape showed the human touch of Millie Fleck the widow of Oak Knoll founder Bob Fleck. The other packages were mechanically, perhaps robotically wrapped.

            I purchased  John De Pol and the Typophiles, A Memoir and Record of Friendships (New York: The Typophiles, 1998) by Catherine Tyler Brody to thicken my research about Neil Shaver of Yellow Barn Press in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Neil published my biography of his brother Elmo in 2002. Neil, with progressive macular degeneration, offered me his library. I’ve enjoyed the 1200 volumes. When we moved to Richmond in 2016 I thinned my 65-year accumulation but kept Neil’s “books about books” intact, not wanting to dispose of them while he lived; he died in 2019 at the age of 95. I turned 77 during the Covid 19 pandemic and started to “weed” the least likely of Neil’s books pertinent to my scholarship. The imperfect storied process of donating or selling books which later had to be purchased is an occupational hazard shared by many divesting scholars.

            I preserved Neil’s core books and ephemera; Yellow Barn Press imprints, and volumes revealing connections with his collaborators, illustrator John De Pol (1913-2004), and bibliographer and William Morris specialist Jack Walsdorf (1941-2017).

            Dismantling private libraries creates an association copy diaspora. Parsing keywords on Abebooks suggests the inventories in certain Oregon and New Jersey bookstores were beneficiaries of this trio. Signed and inscribed, bookplates and keepsakes reveals mutual projects, influence, esteem, respect, and friendship,

            James H. Fraser and Neil Shaver produced a festschrift in 1994, John De Pol, A Celebration of His Works for $225. I will visit a copy at the University of Santa Barbara 296 miles away. The De Pol search also lead me to Madeleine Stern’s 1963 book, We the Women: Career Firsts of Nineteenth-Century America, with woodcuts by John De Pol, reprinted by the University of Nebraska Press in 1996, confirming a lifelong adage, one thing leads to another.

            People of the Book, Thirty Scholars Reflect on Their Jewish Identity (1996), ed. by Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky and Shelley Fisher Fishkin, came from ThriftBooks in Chicago for $8.16. It reflects my interest in Jewish intellectual history, how we become readers, book lovers and historians. I recently reviewed Conversations with Colleagues: On Becoming an American Jewish Historian (2019) with sixteen contributors, and am reviewing No Straight Path, Becoming Women Historians edited by Elizabeth Jacoway (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2019) featuring twelve women historians of the South revealing the career trajectory twists and turns.  In March 2019 I started working on the history of the Institute for Historical Study founded in 1979 in the Bay Area, currently at 53,000 words, 166 single spaced pages. Struggling with organization these books gave me ideas. Most early members were women unable to secure tenure track appointments during the 1970s who became Independent Scholars.

            The Saul Brodsky Jewish Community Library in Saint Louis,  moving to a new smaller location, deaccessioned the book. Many titles had to be eliminated, especially fiction. No deletion records were kept on the computer or manually. Downsizing the collection took longer due to Covid.

            Louis Menand received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama in 2016. He gave a zoom talk for the National History Center and Washington History Center on May 24 on his new book The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War covering 1945-1965. He mentioned The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (2001), his Pulitzer Prize winning study of the relationships between Oliver Wendell Holmes, William James, Charles Peirce, and John Dewey. Menand’s descriptive power in the New Yorker competes with John McPhee for attention and affection. Discover Books in Toledo, Ohio delivered it for $8.21. On the first day I covered 63 of the 546 pages.

Three email letters in June from a Massachusetts public library explained weeding:

“The library deaccessions or weeds items according to our Collection Development Policy. Typically the most popular reasons an item is weeded is lack of circulation/community interest (meaning no one has borrowed it in a long time) or if the information is out-of-date and more up to date information is available.

It looks like it was deleted on April 30, 2021. Unfortunately our system doesn’t allow us to input a reason an item is deleted. I can tell you, the library acquired this book in 2012 and it was checked out 3 times but hadn’t been checked out since January 2017. This leads me to believe it was a lack of circulation that led to the book being weeded but it could also have been the condition of the item if that was poor (ripped spine, water damage, etc…).

Books that are in good condition are either given to the Friends of the…Public Library to be put in a library book sale or given to Better World Books….Book dealers and used book store owners are a common sight at library book sales so it was either purchased by a book dealer for resale from one of the library book sales or purchased from Better World Books. Unfortunately we have no way of knowing for sure which group individual books went to.”

I thank librarians and booksellers for explaining deaccession and acquisition processes. 

            The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer (2019) is a novel about Varian Fry. Prompted by viewing the PBS seriesimage-3 “Atlantic Crossing” I explored the activities of exiled Norwegians in London and Hans Roger Madol, antiquarian book dealer, journalist, diplomat, biographer of royals, and a friend of on my mother’s side of the family. He interviewed political exiles in London, and published The League of London in 1942 including interviews of Norwegian royalty, the prime minister and foreign minister, Trygve Lee, first United Nations Secretary General. Madol’s brother Berthold Jacob, a WWI veteran, pacifist, journalist and implacable foe of Nazi militarization placed Berthold’s life in jeopardy. Rescuer Varian Fry failed to save Berthold from Nazi clutches. Thus was I lead to a historical novel on Varian Fry’s rescue activities at Discover Books in Toledo, Ohio for $3.80.

            I read John De Pol first. Searching for a Shaver-De Pol-Walsdorf strategy I used post-its rather than mark up the book. I marked  Menand’s Metaphysical Club to facilitate the Institute for Historical Study project. I plucked “Using Proust’s Jews to Shape Identity” by Seth L. Wolitz from the thirty contributions in People of the Book. I can’t say when I’ll get to the 566 page novel on Varian Fry, perhaps on a sea cruise.

(GUEST POST: by Oliver B. Pollak)

Categories: Uncategorized

Becoming a Bibliophile, 1950-1970

May 18, 2021 4 comments

GUEST POST: by Oliver B. Pollak

My mother read me Curious George, I read it to my children and grandchildren. The earliest books in my library were gifted and inscribed midcentury. My uncle, Eric Bonner, an antiquarian book dealer in London, gave me Speed, one of my sons added his book plate. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe came from Leslie who I do not remember.

My 1950s tastes were adventure, war and heroism and stamp collecting. I pedaled my bike to Audubon Junior High School which had a library and to Leimert Park Library, consuming Horatio Hornblower Napoleonic War series by C. S. Forester, and the Battle of Stalingrad.

I crossed the threshold of my first used bookstore around 1961, age 18, near Manual Arts Senior High School in Los Angeles. I paid a quarter for Modern Library edition of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. During the early 1960s I shelved books at the Baldwin Hills Branch Library on La Brea Avenue. I completed my Bachelor’s degree in 1964 at California State College, Los Angeles, with an eclectic Social Science major. UCLA graduate school beckoned.

Some undergraduate CSCLA Social Science major readings, 1961-64

The CSCLA and UCLA academic cultures differed. CSCLA teachers and the J.F. Kennedy Library were adequate. UCLA’s infectious motivation of publish was in the air, the library expansive and bookshelves surrounded professors in their offices. Visits to Wilbur Smith Acres of Books in Long Beach netted Moscow editions by Lenin. Gene de Chene Books on Santa Monica Blvd opened in 1968 (sold to Samantha Scully in 2003, Gene died in 2008 at the age of 88) provided Stanley Wolpert’s Nine Hours to Rama). Wilbur and Ida Needham’s Books Finders (est. 1930s to at least 1970?), provided review copies. Zeitlin & Ver Brugge on North La Cienega Blvd. displayed books beyond my means, thrift shops had affordable curiosities.

After one semester at UCLA The American War in Vietnam (as the Vietnamese call it) heated up, President Johnson called up the Reserves and in May 1965 I went on active duty in the U.S. Navy, a case of graduate school interrupted. I took an academic reading list along but seasickness and nausea interfered with concentration.

As a Personnelman I managed the ship’s small library. Military book culture included dirt cheap pirate editions of best sellers, and as Robert Timberg described in Blue-Eyed Boy: A Memoir (2014) “Hong Kong fuck books, which just seemed somehow to materialize….the products of an enterprising publisher in the British Crown colony….Many of these books [were] replete with misspellings, capitalization, and exclamation points.” As I recall they were mimeographed. HKFB have not been recognized by Wikipedia, bibliographies, abebooks, collectors, eBay or library special collections status, treatment that has been accorded to Mexico’s Tijuana Bibles.

In Fall 1967 I returned to UCLA with Southeast Asia under my belt. During the interim quarters had replaced semesters. I completed my History Ph.D. program on the G.I. Bill supplemented by a working wife, managing the UCLA bindery and an out of the apartment discount bookstore, Briti-Books. I felt intellectually attached to my purchases, inspiration being more important than possession. I had a rubber stamp prepared, “Ex Librus, Oliver B. Pollak.” The printer caught my misspelling of Libris.

Friends of the UCLA Library held book sales in front of the University Research Library. They filled my shelves with small press books, curiosities and ephemera. Retiring professors left books to the library, duplicates sold at bargain prices. Some of Professor Frank Klingberg’s (1883-1968) English and Caribbean history books went my way. I picked up a couple of seedling Grabhorn and Ward Ritchie imprints.

Robert Schaeffer, a campus bookstore employee, had a small press. We gave this 2 x 2 inch miniature to my mother-in-law and it came back to me after her death. I have been composing Haikus since the late 1960s.

In 1970 we went to England to do research for my dissertation, a combination of English and Burmese history, potential future Southeast Asia troubles. My father wrote author and title on graph paper and put numbered labels on 225 book spines. Mother typed a corresponding list of left behind books on onion skin paper with her mid-century Hermes 3000.

The list is heavy with Burma. About 40-years later some of the Burma books were donated to the University of Nebraska at Omaha Library from whom I had to check them out when I wanted to use them.

Acquisitions started in 1970 in London’s fabled antiquarian bookstores, extending to Zimbabwe, Nebraska, and poring over book catalogues, then the internet. My enthusiasm for print culture took a giant leap in 1999 when I met Neil Shaver of Yellow Barn Press in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He introduced me to “books about books” and Oak Knoll Books. I acquired the Oak Knoll catalogues 1-202 in 1999. Book lovers contemplate the perfect book, I envision a perfect working library, that the internet has made possible. Twenty years later about 300 Oak Knoll catalogues were donated to San Francisco’s American Bookbinders Museum.

Fifty-one years on from 1970, a half-century filled with teaching, reading, research, writing, publishing, lawyering and travel, provided opportunities to acquire books to support the intellect and pleasure. They are educational building blocks, a crafted reference library

As a young graduate student in the 1960s I gathered books as intellectual investments. My teachers were cosseted in their offices by bookshelves. Preparing to leave Nebraska in 2016 few undergraduate, graduate students or faculty members were interested in my books. I could not give them away. Afterall, they were available in libraries, were old, online, and economically available on the internet. We disposed of about 2,000 volumes by sale, gifts to friends and donations to libraries. The majority of the English history books were disposed of in Omaha.

In 2019 I visited the home library of Ellen Huppert, a deceased colleague. She had lived in the same house for over 40 years. We were in graduate school around the same time. I was taken aback and gratified by the sameness of the books on her shelf and that familiar sag in the center. It could have been my bookshelves. Ellen had 33 books on the shelf, I owned at least 25, eight came to Richmond; a library or a museum of like minds reeking of Victorian England.

A shelf from the library of Ellen Huppert (1936-2018) who earned her doctorate in 1970. My remaining 1960s matching volumes reflect essential canonical readings and symmetry.

Books are emblems in our lives. New interests and acquisitions require shelf space. The 1960s acquisitions were veterans, totems, retained more for sentimental than professional reasons. I proceeded to dismantle and dispose of books. I have not looked at the contents in over two decades. Inertia and inability to let go explains retention. I harbored an idea that there might be an overarching story in the kept books, a retrospective. I started this essay on May 1, 2021.

One of my mentors, D. Cresap Moore (1925-2001), studied under G. Kitson Clark (1900-75) at Cambridge. I read Clark’s An Expanding Society, Britain 1830-1900 (1967) 53 years ago. Marginalia, underlining, blue and black fountain pen and yellow highlighting on page 88 tellingly revealed that I thought print culture significant.

The books on my shelves are bay windows into my interests as student, educator, missionary for reading and fervor for books about books.

(GUEST POST: by Oliver B. Pollak)

Categories: Guest Post

Q & A with Reid Byers, author of The Private Library

April 29, 2021 Leave a comment

Learn more about the story and the research behind The Private Library directly from the author!

What inspired you to research and write about the private library?

In Princeton we lived directly across Nassau Street from Toni Morrison. Dr. Morrison once said that if there was a book you really wanted to read and it didn’t exist, then you had to write it. When we decided to add a library to our house, I looked for a book of private library architecture. Not finding anything like it, I started reading around the subject, and I eventually built up a substantial collection (and a passion for libraries). There is a problem in collecting, of course, because when books are allowed to get together there is always a danger that they will generate another book. Twenty years (and four libraries) later, here’s that book.

 You describe the private library as eliciting a feeling of being book-wrapt­. What about a library most contributes to this feeling for you?

I searched for a long time for the right word to describe the feeling that makes a library different from any other room. I tried feeling imbooked, beshelved, inlibriated, circumvolumed, and peribibliated before settling on book-wrapt, because it carries so many meanings. It implies the traditional library wrapped in shelves of books, and the condition of rapt attention to a particular volume, and the rapture of being transported into the wood beyond the world. At one level this feeling is of course produced by the books, but underneath it’s produced by the framework, the structure that holds the books just so. This book is about the history of that structure and that feeling.

I noticed your passage on round libraries, and I understand that your library when you lived in Princeton was in a round room. Could you tell us about your own libraries, past or present, such as this one?

Our Nassau Street library was a first floor addition, a clean rectangle, with precise, permanently fixed mahogany shelving, seven-high, under an eight foot ceiling. It had a modest Palladian window with a window seat and a couple of display niches. The second was in an A. Page Brown shingle-style on Bayard Lane: it was octagonal, a tower room on the second floor. The shelves were tall, nine-high, and although it had a lovely Putnam ladder, it was hard to get at the highest shelves, and octagonal rooms are difficult spaces in which to arrange furniture. It did however have a fireplace and a ib door to a secret room, which I rather liked.

The third library was in the big house in Maine, a fine L-shaped space with a nice fireplace, rooms full of convenient six-high shelves, and another jib door, this one hiding a study. And we’ve now come to rest in a down-sized condo in the city, where the small footprint of the library requires Brobdingnagian shelving and an industrial ladder, but at least everything fits. The stacks are off-the-shelf, as it were, twelve shelves high, over the top.

What aspect of private libraries and their history surprised you the most in your research?

I’m constantly amazed by the variety of people who see their library as important enough to give it a dedicated room. Some of rooms are of course spectacular, some modest, all very different. Harold Otness said, “The residential library . . . is once again becoming the preserve of only the most wealthy and the most cultured among us.” To an extent that’s true, but I think he could have cast a wider net. Personal bookrooms are important to a lot of people, even in these digital days.

What are your favorites among the libraries you visited and why?

The best libraries are those that combine a lot of big space with some cozy alcoves. People like to be able to see lots of their books at once, but feeling book-wrapt in a cozy space is equally important. Bishop Ken’s library at Longleat House is perhaps my all-time favorite, because although it is very large (a whole wing of the top floor), it has lots of separate bays and nooks, and wonderful box windows. It would make a world-class hide-and-seek venue.

What are your expectations for the private libraries of the future?

Collectors’ libraries will of course continue to look much as they do today. Many readers’ libraries will become digital, but in several different ways – we’re seeing remixed libraries already that are different combinations of digital and paper books. But even in the distant future, after the singularity, even if everything becomes digital and people become completely virtual, libraries will still be with us and will still use the book/shelf metaphor, because the book-wrapt feeling is such an important part of the reading experience.

What do you hope readers gain from your book? How do you think your book will change the way readers view the private library?

I hope that readers get ideas. The history of libraries is interesting not just because it tells us about the development of an architecture, or about stylistic influences, or about the social and economic forces that shape our spaces. Some of us, all of the time, and all of us, some of the time, like to look at great rooms to imagine how it would feel to live in such surroundings, and to get ideas for our own. Any book of historic architecture will also perforce serve as a pattern-book. I hope this one does.

The Private Library:

The History of the Architecture and Furnishing of the Domestic Bookroom

Now available for Pre-Order!

Expected to ship late May.

Categories: Oak Knoll Press

August 6, 2020 2 comments

hendrikvervlietWe received sad news today… Hendrik D.L. Vervliet, who authored four titles published by Oak Knoll Press, has passed away, peacefully and surrounded by his loved ones. Hendrik’s accomplishments in the fields of typography and printing are monumental, and his wonderful career greatly influenced book history. May he rest in peace.

Hendrik D.L. Vervliet worked until 1968 at the Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp, and, from 1969 onwards, he served as Librarian of the University of Antwerp. He held the Professorship of Book History at the University of Amsterdam from 1974 up to his retirement in 1990. In 2011, he was honored with the Individual Laureate Award by the American Printing History Association for distinguished contribution to the study of printing history.

Pictured is a drawn portrait of Hendrik by Anne van Herreweghen.

Categories: Uncategorized

Interning from Home!

May 8, 2020 Leave a comment

Kiersten

An Update from Intern Kiersten Campbell

Hi all! I hope everyone is staying safe in this strange time we are living in. We are quarantined to our homes, schools have moved online, and most of the time, no one knows what day it is! I for one was not the happiest my last year of college is being spent in my living room in New Jersey. Lucky for us, Oak Knoll is open and providing us with the books we desire in these perfect reading days!  Even though I might not be in Delaware to assist Oak Knoll, I am so glad they have given me the opportunity to complete my internship from home.

Interning remotely can have its challenges, but in the end, the rewards are worth it. Even from home, I have been able to help out in engaging and fun tasks. I had the opportunity to proofread a manuscript for an upcoming publication. This was exciting for me, as it’s what I want to do one day. I also had the opportunity to contribute my own marketing ideas for the book. For our upcoming publication about Theodore Roosevelt, I assisted the Oak Knoll team in marketing research. It’s been really great to not only gain publishing experience, but marketing experience as well.

The greatest challenge, of course, is the distance in communication. Emails and phone calls are helpful, but nothing is the same as hands on learning and access to a mentor, someone with experience and knowledge. I miss being able to go to Oak Knoll in person, to see the multiple shelves of books, but in the end, working from home has given me a different kind of experience and lessons you can only get during this time. The circumstances may not be ideal or what I had imagined, but I am eternally grateful to Oak Knoll for this opportunity, and I will enjoy the remaining weeks I have to be a part of the team.

Categories: Uncategorized