Out of Print
March 17, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
When I saw the cover of Clifford A. Richmond’s The History and Romance of Elastic Webbing (1946) making the rounds on Tumblr, I knew at once I had to have it. I don’t know why, in retrospect. I paid seventeen dollars for a used copy. I have made a mistake.
I imagined—based solely on the presence of Romance in the title, and that handsome gilt typeface—that Richmond would be a lively historian, an eccentric, an obsessive, dedicated to teasing out the poesy in elastic webs. This thing will practically excerpt itself, I thought. Imagine the untapped, Internet-breaking power of this man’s elastic rhapsodies! Imagine the hilarity trapped beneath his industrious self-seriousness! Read More »
February 16, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Abraham Lincoln, John Quincy Adams, and Jimmy Carter all published collections of poetry—and I don’t mean to diminish their stately, often tender contributions to arts and letters by what follows. But the simple fact of the matter is, their poetical efforts pale in comparison to Richard Nixon, who was, and remains, the most essential poet-president the United States of America has ever produced.
The Poetry of Richard Milhous Nixon, a slim volume compiled by Jack S. Margolis and published in 1974, stands as a seminal work in verse. Comprising direct excerpts from the Watergate tapes—arguably the most fecund stage of Nixon’s career—it fuses the rugged rhetoric of statesmanship to the lithe contours of song, all rendered in assured, supple, poignant free verse. Below, to celebrate Presidents’ Day, are four selections from this historic chapbook, which has, lamentably, slipped out of print. Read More »
August 29, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
Looking at this pretty slideshow of circa-1900 book covers, one is struck by a couple of things. First, the beauty and elegance of the design. And, second, the fact that the titles are all unfamiliar. Of course, beautiful, striking covers are produced every day: talented art departments work hard to accommodate an ever-changing market and far more cooks (so to speak) than designers of old ever had to please. One imagines in the old days, the author would take his Art-Nouveau swags and like it; agents rarely figured in the picture, and if you’d envisioned, say, a pine rather than a stylized laurel tree on your novel—well, forget it.
It’s also a change in tastes, or of standards; like so many old buildings, whose standard-issue marble work and penny tiling now seem like models of beauty and lost workmanship, these ornate covers were the rule, not the exception. If comedy equals tragedy plus time, well, that sort of works for beauty, too. Maybe not the tragedy part. As to the titles’ relative obscurity? That's also modern hindsight. And who knows what hopes the publishers had for The Story of Ab: A Tale of the Time of the Cave Man? One thing’s for sure: these were not disposable objects.
February 19, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
I throw myself on your mercy, readers.
For some years now, I have been searching fruitlessly for a long-lost book, and I’m hoping someone out there can help me remember the title. The problem is, I have very little to go on: I know it is a paperback career romance from the late fifties or early sixties. I believe it follows the career of an event planner, or maybe an interior decorator. But it is not—I repeat, not—1964’s Weddings by Gwen, in which wedding planner Gwen Wright gets in over her head with a rich family, a dud boyfriend named Steve, and a cockamamie blackmail plot; nor is it One Perfect Rose, from the same year, in which Prill Sage redecorates a Victorian mansion. (Out of scholarly obligation, I reread both, just to make sure.)
Part of the difficulty is that there is a certain, well, formula to the bulk of these career-romance titles. The Julian Messner series—Nancy Runs the Bookmobile; Lady Lawyer; Lee Devins: Copywriter—are sober, conscientious, and informative. Young woman moves to the city, learns about career in mind-numbing detail, has a dull beau, finds satisfaction in work. In the case of the more entertaining but less educational Valentine and Avalon titles—think Dreams to Shatter (pottery) or A Measure of Love (department-store modeling)—the careers are mere backdrops to lurid and implausible romances, skeletons in closets, and Nancy Drew–style investigations. Read More »
February 17, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
My dad is a man who likes to make time. Forget roadside attractions, lingering meals, and charming scenic routes: when we traveled as a family, speed was our goal. He especially liked to break previous records; I remember trying to see how many exits we could pass on the Long Island Expressway before the end of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” (To this day, hearing the opening chords of “Here Comes the Sun” stress me out.)
The one exception to this rule was presidential homes. And in the late nineties, my father was going through a major Warren G. Harding phase. So, when my parents drove me out to Chicago to start college, there was no question but that we would detour off the I-90 to Marion, Ohio, to visit the Harding house.
With all due respect to Monticello and Lincoln’s cabin, there is a particular charm to what I hesitate to call “minor” presidential homes. Lindenwald, the Martin Van Buren house in Kinderhook; Springfield, the Louisville boyhood home of Zachary Taylor; Lancaster, PA’s Wheatland, where Buchanan lived out his final years. These places are important to their communities. Taken together, they make up a bigger proportion of the country’s history than Hyde Park or the Hermitage, and they are sustained purely on the strength of the enthusiasm of volunteers.
Said volunteers are rarely prepared for my dad. His knowledge is vast, his ardor unwavering, his memory for presidential trivia intimidating. I have seen guides delighted by such an attentive visitor. Others recoil in fear and uncertainty. I was concerned as we approached 380 Mt. Vernon Avenue in the charming town of Marion, because I knew full well that in this instance, he had an agenda. Read More »
February 5, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
There are a lot of things I should be reading right now: great books, worthy books, new books, books that, quite frankly, I need to finish for work. But I cannot. Ever since I ran across The Secret Sex Lives of Famous People on my grandparents’ bookshelf, I have been unable to crack anything else.
As the title indicates, this is the best book ever written, and possibly the only book one need own. The table of contents lists such categories as “Late Virginity Losers,” “Outsize Organs,” “Minute Members,” “Orgiasts,” “Interfered with When Young,” “Overrated or Disappointing Lovers,” “Clean and Unclean,” and “Peeping Toms.” As of this writing, I am only as far as August Strindberg (cross-listed as “Mother-Fixated,” “Prodigious Progenitors,” “Sex with Partners Twenty Years (or More) Younger”). But I have every intention of dispatching Zola (“Bigamists,” “Sex Trials and Famous Scandals,” “Erotica”) before the sun sets.
Despite the subject matter, and the red-and-purple 1981-issue cover, the tone of the book is not lurid. It is objective, almost academic. Or at least, the authors make all their declarations with absolute authority. Each entry begins with a biographical sketch; these, in themselves, are worthy of much close attention. Of Somerset Maugham, the authors assert, “In his 92nd year, partially demented, often angry, sometimes euphoric, he died of lung congestion.”
Of course, the sex stuff is still the best. To wit:
Hemingway had several unusual theories about sex. He believed that each man was allotted a certain number of orgasms in his life, and that these had to be carefully spaced out. Another theory was that, if you had sex often enough, you could eat all the strawberries you wanted without contracting hives, even if you were allergic to the fruit.
Rousseau had numerous sexual eccentricities. He had the odd habit of going into raptures over inanimate objects. When living with Madame de Warens, he would wander through her house, kissing the armchair, the bedcurtains, even the floor.
James Joyce, meanwhile, “was a true underwear fetishist, and even carried a pair of doll’s panties in his pocket.”
Lately, my inbox has been flooded with desperate advertisements for inappropriate Valentine’s Day gifts. And if tubs of popcorn and sofa cushions qualify as tokens of love, I feel I may as well throw my hat into the ring and nominate The Secret Sex Lives of Famous People as the sum total of my 2014 gift guide. In this I follow family tradition: last year, my father gave my mother At Your Service, the unspeakably lurid memoir by the cheerful gent who, by his own account, acted as procurer and trick for everyone in Old Hollywood. (My mother talked so often, and so darkly and cryptically, about Charles Loughton’s fetishes that in the end I had to read it myself.) But really, who wouldn’t love it? Paper is ephemeral, flowers fade, diamonds are forever but pricey. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t prefer four whole pages on Mary Baker Eddy’s obsession with “Malicious Animal Magnetism.”
(Well, I suppose a real Joycean might prefer a pair of dolly panties.)