Archive for July, 2021

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)

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