As an undergraduate student, I studied a plethora of innovative fields: creative writing, film history, investigative journalism, social media, persuasive writing, and researched the complex minds of Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick. As an English major with a concentration in film studies and a minor in journalism, I aspire to have a career in film and television production. One may wonder why I chose an internship with a publishing company given my experience with all things media. I made the decision to intern with Oak Knoll Books because I wanted to learn the business behind books. Since I was a English major who read countless books over the course of four years, I always had an interest in how the books I read were published and distributed. I have always had a keen interest in press releases, book signings, and publishing companies. I know writing a novel requires a lot of work, time, and energy; then trying to find a publisher was an even bigger challenge. Hence why I came to Oak Knoll, to figure out the difficulties and intricacies behind book publishing. Throughout my time here at Oak Knoll, I expect to be challenged. I also expect to gain knowledge, a new set of skills, and a new outlook and appreciation of the world of publishing.
When I first set foot into Oak Knoll I was enamored by old historic New Castle. Being a Delaware native, seeing this part of New Castle in all of its glory was an awesome experience. Walking down Delaware Street was a pleasant surprise. Oak Knoll is such a quaint, historic, hidden, and antique gem which New Castle should be proud of. It has a feel of an old classic book store with its hardwood floors and brown bookshelves holding collector’s items. When I am not surrounded by the paperbacks and publications of Oak Knoll, I can be found at home in the kitchen whipping up a meal for my family. Whether it’s stuffed French toast topped with bananas foster or, at dinner time, grilled chicken parmesan with angel hair pasta, cooking is definitely a nice break from struggling through Adobe InDesign. When I am not in the kitchen, I can be found binge watching Netflix.
My name is Caroline Beston, and I am a rising senior studying English, with a concentration in creative writing along with a Theater minor at the University of Delaware. At UD, my coursework has focused on literary studies in genre fiction and writing workshops in short fiction and poetry. I have done research on women writers in 1930s science fiction magazines, taken courses on vampires and zombies, and worked as a teaching assistant for a course on dystopian fiction. Some of my creative work has been featured in campus literary magazines. In my spare time I enjoy playing the cello, knitting, and working with a local organic food co-operative.
One of the career paths I am considering is publishing, and I wanted to work for Oak Knoll to learn more about the industry. I hope the opportunity to work for Oak Knoll will teach me new skills in the marketing arena and give me first-hand experience with the publishing process as a whole. My first day has included a lot of creative and detail-oriented work, which I can’t wait to continue. I’m excited to work more with design, branch out into digital marketing, and not let Adobe products rob me of my sanity.
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Oak Knoll attended the welcoming of Mark Samuels Lasner’s newly acquired copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer to the University of Delaware’s Morris Library. Mark talked about his experiences with that famous book at various points during his life and collecting career. Bill Peterson, noted authority and co-author of The Kelmscott Chaucer: A Census, revealed some little-known facts about the decoration and printing of that remarkable achievement. After the formalities, a reception featured blue-green champagne matching the Morris-designed cloth binding and a cake reproducing the title two-page spread from the volume in icing.
Hello everyone! My name is Kim, and I’m a senior at the University of Delaware, studying English and Japanese. I started interning in February, and came to Oak Knoll not knowing anything—about antiquarian books, publishing, software, anything. The past few months at Oak Knoll have been nothing short of enlightening, as I was introduced to new tools, genres, and lovely people.
Oak Knoll is truly a vast store of knowledge. Paging through books in my down time only gave me a glimpse of all that Oak Knoll has to offer; the very best, in my opinion, were the adorable miniature books! It was particularly joyful to me to find Japanese books and see how even the Japanese language has changed, or find antiquarian copies of books I’ve read in school. An illustrated version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was one of my most cherished finds.
Interning at Oak Knoll has given me a chance to refine skills I already had and learn a plethora of new skills, too. Oak Knoll has encouraged me to embrace my sense of creativity and to not be afraid to try new things. They have certainly pushed me to not be afraid to branch out and to broaden my skill set, or to get my hands dirty and experiment with new software and technology.
At Oak Knoll, I got a chance to see every side of the business. From designing advertisements, to making mailers, to poking around the store, and to printing and stuffing envelopes, I’ve really gotten to explore everything that Oak Knoll has to offer. I’m infinitely grateful for the opportunities Oak Knoll has afforded me and I’m eager to take these new skills with me wherever I go.
Managing Editor Matthew Young addresses a few questions to our newest author about his book…
M.Y.: When and how did you become interested in the subject of books about film?
B.V.: My fascination with film books goes back to the early 1980s. As soon as I began watching films, I began reading about them. When I was a kid I loved to flick through the film encyclopedia The Movie: The Illustrated History of Cinema, which was published as a partwork by Orbis in England between 1979 and 1983, and shortly translated into Spanish by Planeta. My father used to purchase the issues at the newsstand every week, and I remember I couldn’t wait for the week to end, so I could see the next issue!
Of course, this early passion only became a serious interest years later. In 2000, while I was a graduate student at the New School for Social Research, I started writing my PhD dissertation about the film music project that Hanns Eisler and Theodor W. Adorno undertook during the early 1940s here in New York. As a result of that project, they co-wrote the seminal book Composing for the Films, published by Oxford University Press in 1947. During my archival research, I found original materials about the troubled publication process of Composing for the Films, and shortly after I became seriously interested in the history of cinema literature in general.
I was amazed to learn that the first scholarly books on film were published in the 1890s. What were some of the most surprising books you discovered in your research?
They were different surprises for different reasons. Some books were remarkable, as you say, for the early date of publication: William and Antonia Dickson’s History of the Kinetograph was published in New York in 1895; Auguste and Louis Lumière’s Notice sur le Cinématographe, in Lyon, two years later. Some other titles were surprising for their rarity: Victor Allemandy’s Wonders of the Deep (London, 1916), for example, describes the 1914 Nassau expedition in which the Williamson brothers took the first underwater motion pictures; Arthur Meloy’s Theatres and Motion Picture Houses, published in New York that same year, is an illustrated treatise on how to properly build “movie palaces”.
I was particularly astonished by the beautiful design of some of the European avant-garde film books: Jean Epstein’s Bonjour Cinema (Paris, 1921), for instance, or Hans Richter’s Filmgegner von Heute, Filmfreunde von Morgen (Berlin 1929). Oskar Kalbus’ two-volume Vom Werden deutscher Filmkunst (1935) is uncommon because it challenges the classical notion of book: it was published as a cigarette card album that could only be completed with the participation of the reader…
What were your goals while writing the book?
There were two main goals: to show the immense diversity of cinema literature and to demonstrate that film books are among the main protagonists of cinema history –not a mere appendix to it. Film Books, in fact, can be read as a history of cinema sui generis: it’s just that, instead of focusing on films, I have concentrated on film books. I wanted to challenge the conventional historiography of cinema which, in my opinion, has been too focused on films and film directors. We now know that archival materials such as scripts, production contracts, and distribution deals are essential to understand film history. Producers, screenwriters, cinematographers, composers, actors… well, there wouldn’t be movies without them! If we adopt an economic perspective on the movies, then those apparently insignificant lobby cards, posters, and soundtrack vynil albums become key objects to comprehend the film industry and movies as commodities.
A third goal, which only became evident while I was writing the book, was to challenge the idea that there was not cinema literature during the silent era. My research demonstrates quite the opposite. Before World War I, cinema literature was extensive enough to justify a “Motion Picture Bibliography” (as compiled by Sinai Gershanek for the Motography journal in 1916). By 1927 there were literally hundreds of titles in several languages –English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Czech, Danish… Although my research was geographically limited to the Western world for obvious reasons, I wanted to include books in all these languages to avoid the cliché of the film book as an American or British invention.
Your study includes all kinds of books about film, but necessarily just a few of the most important examples of each genre. How did you decide what to include and exclude?
That was probably the most difficult task while writing this book: the selection of titles. And I guess it’s going to be the main topic discussed by some of the readers. Why did he include that insignificant title? And how could he forget my favourite film book? But, as I explain in the “Introduction”, I never intented to do a list of the Best Books on the Movies ever. I don’t think a canon is possible – not even desirable. I think rankings can be limiting and misleading.
Having said that, I did my selection following those two goals I’ve just mentioned: to show the diversity and the importance of cinema literature in film history. Needless to say, I have taken into consideration what the international community of film scholars and moviegoers has written about this subject. The seminal books by André Bazin, Siegfried Kracauer, François Truffaut, Robert Bresson, Andrei Tarkovski, Gilles Deleuze… had to be included. The five books selected in the “Best Film Book” survey published by Sight & Sound in 2010, for example, were also selected in my book –even though I disagree with the fact that David Thomson’s A Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema (1975) was voted the best book of the poll. I chose some books, such as Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylone (1959) for its poetics and mise-en-page, rather than for its historical accuracy. I also decided not to repeat authors and subjects. I have explained in detail my selection criteria in the last two pages of the “Introduction”.
How do you hope your study will change the way we think of books about film, not only in terms of their content but also as physical objects worthy of collection and preservation?
Some film books are art objects and should be treated as such. It’s a pity to see that most public and university libraries still underestimate the importance of the film book. Even the librarians of important cinémathèques around the world keep throwing away the dust jackets because they think DJs are unimportant –and a trouble for them when labeling call numbers on spines! My hope is that Film Books will change this situation. Photography books have been considered artistic artifacts for many years now, and I think it’s time now that the same happens with film books.
Now, as a researcher, I have to say that this underestimation of film books has been, paradoxically, an advantage: I have had fast access to many rare, out-of-print, unique titles –an access that would be unthinkable were I researching, let’s say, artist’s books. The funny thing is that Epstein’s and Richter’s are artist’s books! As a film book collector, it was also convenient, of course. I’ve been able to purchase true gems of cinema literature for a few bucks!
The one most widely read genre, I would guess, is collections of film criticism. Who would you say is the most insightful movie reviewer of them all, past or present?
Yes, collections of film criticism are very popular, particularly here in the United States. James Agee, Otis Ferguson, Pauline Kael, Stanley Kaufman, Andrew Sarris… It’s difficult for me to say who was the most insightful of them all. I particularly like the writings of Amos Vogel, who was more a film curator than a film critic as such, but who also wrote tirelessly about the movies. His Film as a Subversive Art (1974), which collects mini-essays on over 600 art films, is a favorite of mine. Another genre that has been widely read is the “History of Cinema” book. I think David Robinson’s World Cinema (1973) and David Cook’s A History of Narrative Film (1981) are also very good, especially if we consider that both were written in the pre-home video era.
Reading your book suggests possibilities for a follow-up, perhaps about film magazines, for instance. Do you have any such plans?
Yes. My goal is to write a trilogy –on film books, film magazines, and film scores. Despite the importance of film journals in cinema history (how can we understand the French New Wave without knowing the history of Cahiers du Cinéma?), no comprehensive studies on international film journals have been published yet. There are some monographs on specific magazines, such as the influential British monthly Close Up (1927-1933), but not a general visual history of this type of publication. And yet film scholars and moviegoers worldwide know the crucial role played by magazines in film history: Sight & Sound, Iskusstvo Kino, Bianco e Nero, Sequence, Positif, Film Culture, Nuevo Cine… the list is extensive indeed. Not to mention trade magazines like Variety, founded in 1905, or technical journals such as American Cinematographer, whose first issue came out in 1920 (both magazines, by the way, are still running). The peculiarity of the cinema journal is that it intrinsically is a collective endeavor –unlike film books, which tend to be the result of an individual effort. From the 1920s to the 1950s, magazines were also the platform where young screenwriters and film directors first became involved in serious debates about the ontology of the film medium.
What about the book on film scores?
That’s a particularly difficult project, because the format in which film scores have been recorded has changed throughout history. Some of the early musical compositions for the screen only exist as written scores; others only survive as the sound tracks of 35mm film prints. Vinyl recordings became very popular in the 1950s, it’s true, but we know that films were screened with original music as soon as “cinema” was born in the 1890s. The variety of formats and editions of film scores –from 78 rpm slate records to the digital CD– is what makes that book specially difficult and… so exciting!
Breixo Viejo is a Senior Research Associate at the School of European Languages, Culture and Society in University College London, and an Adjunct Professor of Film Studies at the School of the Arts, Columbia University, New York. He has extensively written on film aesthetics, avant-garde cinema, and the work of Luis Buñuel, Joris Ivens, Alain Resnais, Samuel Beckett, and Jim Jarmusch. He is currently co-editing with Jo Evans the book Luis Buñuel: A Life in Letters, to be published by Bloomsbury in 2017, and writing the first critical biography on the Catalan cinematographer Néstor Almendros. He is an avid film book collector and the author of Film Books: A Visual History, recently published by Oak Knoll Press.
Hello fellow Oak Knollers! My name is Derek Frisicchio and I am an English major concentrating in Professional Writing at the University of Delaware. I am aiming to gain a career in law, I was a summer camp counselor, and I know too much about ice hockey. So, after that introduction, let me tell you about my experience so far with Oak Knoll.
Upon hearing about the intern position at Oak Knoll, I knew that was the position to pursue in order to gain the experience I needed. I also wanted to be completely surrounded by books, and I got my wish once I was accepted.
When I first stepped in front of the Oak Knoll building on my first day, I was delighted to see how unique the building was, being 200 years old. I envisioned myself working at a unique company with a unique office. I wish I could use the word “unique” more to describe Oak Knoll, but then this post would just become white noise. In short, my experience at Oak Knoll, so far, is exactly what I wanted it to be: challenging, enriching, and enlightening.
At first, I did not know much about the bookselling market or industry or the booksellers. I really did not give the position a second thought. I considered booksellers as boring people selling books no one wanted anymore. However, after seeing what Oak Knoll had to offer and what it sold to its customers, I could see clearly that this business had a lot of potential.
The books here are more than compelling. Each time I am given the task to compartmentalize and organize the book shelves, I come across books that I want to take home with me. What is even more remarkable about the books they sell is how detailed and luminous the designs in the books are. Some of these prints look like they were made through some Adobe software, when in fact, they were hand-crafted by bright designers, some from centuries ago! It gives me joy to always discover new books on the most targeted and engaging of subjects. This I did not expect when I first walked into the office.
At first, I imagined myself sitting at a desk just numbingly creating documents every day. They would tell me what they wanted and I would give it to them. Fortunately, the employees at Oak Knoll wanted me to do more than mindlessly type away on my keyboard; they wanted me to learn.
As each day passed by, I learned new insights into not only bookselling, but management, advertising, and tailoring documents to specific audiences. Overall, interning is making me into a more knowledgeable individual in terms of the business environment; this was something I did not expect.
I have heard some really scary intern stories. Some of the people I’ve talked to who have interned elsewhere were merely running errands, getting coffee, even cleaning sinks! Although, I did change a few light bulbs here and there, the internship at Oak Knoll is much more than what they posted in the job description. The people here care about you, they want you to learn, and, most importantly, they want you to succeed!