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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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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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.

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Interning from Home!

May 8, 2020 Leave a comment

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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.

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Simon Loxley at Emery Walker’s House

March 3, 2020 Leave a comment

Simon Loxley, author of Emery Walker: Arts, Crafts, and a World in Motion (Oak Knoll Press, 2019), sent us the photo below. If you let your imagination wander, can you see a ghost in the corner of the staircase behind Simon?

“Arts and Crafts Hammersmith’s publicist Lucinda MacPherson took this picture of me in Emery Walker’s House a couple of weeks ago. Walker would have walked up and down that staircase many times…”

Simon is a graphic designer and a writer on design, typography and design history. He designed the Emery Walker’s House logo, and he designed and edited (2006-2016) Ultrabold, the Journal of St. Bride Library.

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Meet Our Spring Intern, Kiersten!

February 20, 2020 Leave a comment

Kiersten

 

Hi Everyone! My name is Kiersten Campbell and I am the newest intern to join the Oak Knoll Team! I am a current senior at the University of Delaware majoring in English with a minor in Advertising. During my time at UD I have had the opportunity to study a variety of literature topics, such as the depiction of women in literature ranging from Victorian women to Violent women, old British poems by John Donne, to even my favorite Harry Potter. I am from South Jersey, a small beach town called Ventnor City, where I love to spend my time with my family. When I am not powering through homework with my best friend and roommate, I enjoy watching romantic comedies, going out for a delicious bowl of pasta, and of course, Reading!

When considering my major in college and what I was going to do with my future, I always wished I could just read books for a living. Unfortunately, that job does not exist yet, so I went on to the next best thing, working with books! The publishing industry has been my goal since the start of college, so when I got an email from my school about an internship with Oak Knoll Books and Press, I knew it would be perfect for me. The moment I walked in and saw walls lined with shelves and shelves filled with books, I couldn’t imagine a better place to work. Add in the friendliest black lab and the rest of the Oak Knoll team, I fell in love. I am so excited to be working within these whimsical walls and to learn all about the publishing and book selling industry. I can’t wait to get started!

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A Short History of the Guild of Women-Binders

January 21, 2020 Leave a comment

Oak Knoll is proud to announce Special Catalogue 30: The Guild of Women-Binders!

Special Cat 30.COVER

Download a PDF of the catalogue HERE.

View all available titles from the catalogue HERE.

 

See below for a brief history of the Guild of Women-Binders…

 

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The Guild of Women-Binders
“Finishing” (Tidcombe, 121)

During the latter half nineteenth century, the Arts and Crafts movement took flight in Britain as a reaction to industrialization and mass production. The movement was notably advanced by such luminaries as William Morris, T. J. Cobden-Sanderson (who coined the term), and Emery Walker, as well as authors such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti & John Ruskin, artist Edward Burne-Jones, and architect and designer Charles Rennie Macintosh. The focus on the decorative arts, independent of other attributes, became a trend that quickly spread to Europe, the Americas, and around the world, influencing everything from architecture and furniture to art, graphic design, and bookmaking. The Fine Press Revival begun by Morris would turn the book world on its head, and the resurgence of interest in the book as an object would begin, creating a need for artists & artisans.

Additionally, women during this time period were developing a foothold in industries where they had not before. Ainslie C. Waller states in her article from The Private Library (Autumn, Vol 6:3, 1983):

“The involvement of women in the Arts and Crafts movement has been divided by Anthea Callen, in her book on the subject, into four main categories: the working-class or peasant women who were organized and employed in the revival of traditional rural crafts; the aristocratic, upper- and middle-class women who were philanthropically engaged in the organization of rural craft revivals; destitute gentlewomen forced to make an independent livelihood from art-work; and the elite inner circle of educated middle-class women, often related by birth or marriage to the key male figures within the vanguard of the movement.”

Bookbinding, increasingly valued for its artistic contribution during this period, is one such craft that was becoming more open and available to women.  Numerous guilds, schools, and binderies began accepting women at an accelerated pace to help fulfill the role of the decorative binder. These organizations included The Guild of Handicrafts, St George’s Guild, the Royal School of Art Needlework, the Chiswick Art Workers’ Guild, and the Working Ladies Guild, to name a few. These organizations helped launch the lengthy and prosperous careers of some of the most successful and well-known female bookbinders of the time, such as Sarah Prideaux and Katharine Adams.

With bindings by women becoming both more numerous and more elegant, members of the Royal Court began to take notice. It was in 1897, for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, that the Victorian Era Exhibition displayed multiple examples of bindings executed by women. The London bookseller Francis Karslake attended this exhibition and took interest in the bindings.

 

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Frank Karslake (1851–1920) made his living through his passion for books and bookselling. He was an interesting figure, in that he started off as an apprentice for a notable London bookseller in his teens, married his wife, Martha McGregor, ventured out on his own for a few years, and then put bookselling on hold to migrate to California to start a fruit farm. It wasn’t until three years after that Karslake returned to London to take up bookselling again and to help found the Guild of Women-Binders.

The Guild was established in May of 1898 at 61, Charing Cross Road, in the same building as Karslake’s other bindery, The Hampstead Bindery. The bindery produced lavishly-bound books in the highest quality material for their clients and took on many different binders, such as Mrs. Annie S. MacDonald, Miss Marshall, Phoebe Traquair, Florence de Rheims, and Frank’s two daughters, Constance & Olive Karslake. In the early months and years of the Guild, women were required to be both designer and binder for a project. That production model eventually became more flexible, so that one person might design a binding for another to finish.

The Guild had four general rules for binders and the books bound in its name. Anstruther’s The Bindings of To-Morrow (1902) states:

“…first requirements in an embellished bookbinding is that it shall be satisfactory to the eyes…Next in order , although perhaps not in importance, may be set down fullness of material treatment. A book is– or ought to be – a thing of utility; an inviting , companionable, useful piece of property, to be handled and surveyed with pleasure…Thirdly, a binding should posses a character of its own, the individual volume or set being distinguished by special treatment from all its fellows…Lastly–and here a code for artistic ethics comes into operation–the design upon a book-cover, in order to qualify as a really efficient application of an idea, should be in correspondence with the nature of the book itself.”

Unfortunately, the Guild of Women-Binders lasted only six years, folding in 1904. This failure can most likely be attributed to Karslake’s requirement that the male staff, most likely from The Hampstead Bindery, work with the women, who were joining the Guild at an accelerated pace. While the standards for the bindings remained high, staff was stretched thin and less income was being generated.

Read more…

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Remembering Gayle Garlock

November 20, 2019 Leave a comment

On August 26, 2019, we lost Gayle Garlock, author of Canadian Binders’ Tickets and Booksellers’ Labels. In the course of that project several years ago, it became apparent that Gayle was increasingly unable to handle his end of the copy editing and revision process, and he was subsequently diagnosed with Lewy body dementia. He was, however, determined to see his study published, and we at Oak Knoll worked closely by telephone and email with Gayle and his wife Barbara to complete the book and see it through to publication in late 2015, to reviews that hailed it as “pioneering and truly impressive” (Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America).

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Gayle was one of the first people with dementia to receive approval to die with medical assistance under Canadian Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) legislation. A documentary about his case aired on CBC Radio on October 27, including the results of extensive interviews with Barbara and Dr. Stefanie Green, the head of the Canadian Association of MAID Assessors and Providers (CAMAP), who provided the medical assistance to Gayle. Gayle, Barbara, and Dr. Green agreed to the documentary because they wanted their story to reach those who might be helped by it, and so we include a link to the CBC page (click HERE) where a description and the broadcast itself can be found.

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