Out of Print
June 20, 2013 | by Mark Asch
At Bókin, the used bookstore in 101 Reykjavik where Bobby Fischer spent his endgame, the clutter goes all the way up to the ceiling, from which hang collages of magazine clippings picturing Halldor Laxness and the great beauties of the world (an eighties-era Miss Iceland poses with the collected works of her favorite author, William Shakespeare). Christmas-tree lights adorn a waist-high pyramid of hardcovers next to the register. The English-language section, right by the door when you come in, is half blocked off by unsorted boxes and piles of new acquisitions with pages already curling, glue already dissolving.
In Iceland, it’s traditional to open presents on Christmas Eve: a new article of clothing, so the Yule Cat doesn’t get you, and a new book to curl up with. So it was that last December I angled my way into the English stacks, scanned the green spines of Fay Weldon novels and Van Der Valk mysteries sold on by British backpackers, and found Slim John.
Published in 1969, with a cover betraying the influence of Penguin under the swinging, Saul Bass-esque art direction of Germano Facetti, Slim John is in fact the companion volume to a serial of the same name produced by the BBC for overseas broadcast as part of their English by Television initiative. The book is part textbook with exercise sheets, and part shooting script with accompanying stills. Slim John, building on the previous English by Television program, Walter and Connie, is a course for “near-beginners” in English; this means, explains English by Radio and Television head Christopher Dilke in his foreward, “that a coherent and life-like situation can be created from the start.” Though under the supervision of a linguist, the episodes were penned by four veterans of TV thrillers, including Brian Hayles, who wrote thirty episodes of Doctor Who during the tenures of Doctors One through Three. The serial format, which “tends to make the viewer come back for the next lesson just because he wants to know what happens,” per Dilke of the BBC, was undertaken because “fashions change in teaching as well as in dress.” In order to integrate narrative sophistication with regular language pedagogy within Slim John, Dilke explains, “a situation has been invented which makes it necessary for robots planning a take-over of the world to learn English.” Read More »
December 27, 2012 | by Kim Beeman
We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2012 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!
George Leonard Herter ran a sporting-goods store in Waseca, Minnesota, by day and self-published bizarre cookbooks, travel guides, and hunting books by night. I fell into Herteriana six years ago, after reading about him in an article on out-of-print cookbooks. I was promised “the origins of women’s panties, the best time of year for eating robins and meadowlarks, the effects of menstruation on mayonnaise-making and the unheralded kitchen pioneering of Genghis Khan, the Virgin Mary and Stonewall Jackson,” though this barely scratches the surface of the strange world of George Leonard Herter. I immediately started collecting his books. Happily for me, Herter was prolific. I am now the proud owner of the three-volume Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices (volumes two is delightfuly subtitled Plus Famous Restaurants and Night Clubs of the World ), How to Make the Finest Wines at Home in Old Glass or Plastic and Jugs for as Little as 10¢ a Gallon, The Truth about Hunting in Today’s Africa and How to Go on Safari for $690.00, and several others. I picked up George the Housewife, one of my favorites, at Bonnie Slotnick’s cookbook store in New York a few years ago.
November 29, 2012 | by Joe Kloc
Every now and then I come across someone on the subway who defies easy categorization. I remember, for instance, a man who boarded the 3 train in Brooklyn a few years ago wearing military fatigues and a bandolier packed with little glass bottles of liquids. “Who is man enough to buy my fragrances?” he shouted. (When one rider replied that he wasn’t sure, the man responded, “Are you man enough to kill a hooker in Moscow with a crowbar?”) More recently, there was a man on the uptown 6 wearing a pair of oversized New Year’s glasses—the ones where the 0’s serve as eyeholes—who played atonal jazz on his saxophone and asked for no monetary compensation in return. I could keep going, but no doubt anyone who has lived in a city for any length of time has their own mental list of these self-styled subterranean eccentrics, grouped together not so much by any particular characteristic other than the fact that they seem only to exist underground.
August 3, 2012 | by Jeremiah Moss
The bookstore, and especially the used bookstore, is vanishing from New York City. Today there are a few, but there used to be a multitude of them, crammed between kitchen appliance shops and Laundromats and thrift stores. They all had temperamental cats prowling their aisles and they all smelled wonderfully of what a team of chemists in London has called “a combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.” I will miss terribly this stimulating fragrance, and the books that produce it, when it’s washed from the city for good. Luckily, there are towns that still accommodate used bookshops. Lambertville, New Jersey, is one of them. On North Union Street, there are two used bookstores, Panoply and Phoenix Books, one right across from the other. You can spend hours here, and it’s guaranteed that you’ll return with some grassy, musty artifact of the past. On my last visit to Panoply, I came home with a copy of Sisters of the Night: The Startling Story of Prostitution in New York Today by “veteran newspaperman” Jess Stearn.
Published in 1956, the book began as an assignment for the Daily News when Stearn’s editor told him to find out what makes prostitutes “tick.” He was told, “Get out and talk to the girls, see the judges, the social workers, the cops, the headshrinkers—you won’t win a Pulitzer Prize but it should be worth reading.” Dragging his feet, the reluctant Stearn complied, going out in search of what one of the book’s reviewers called the “orchidaceous girls” of the city.Read More »
June 7, 2012 | by Ali Pechman
My first “boyfriend” broke up with me at camp in a letter that read, “You look like the girl from Planet of the Apes—I mean the ape she played, not the girl who played her.” He meant Helena Bonham Carter in the Tim Burton version that had come out that summer. More specifically, he meant that for an eleven-year-old, I had very unruly and freakishly thick eyebrows.
Having kempt mine since that summer (on a necessarily frequent basis), I notice eyebrows more often than is normal; they bear special significance to me. Midway through Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Charlie confronts her uncle about his awful secret life as a woman strangler. Sitting across from him at a seedy bar, she watches his hands painfully wringing a napkin, then she tells him all that she knows: wordlessly, she raises a single eyebrow. The plot hinges on that one thin line of hair. Read More »
May 24, 2012 | by Kim Beeman
The one chance I had to see Siegfried and Roy perform live, in May 2003, I was too broke to go. A friend was getting married in Las Vegas, and all of us were staying four to a room at the (now demolished) Stardust because it was the cheapest option on the Strip. (My salary from the anarchist bakery where I was working at the time didn’t allow for much extravagance.)
At some point during the wedding weekend, we ended up at the Mirage, home to Siegfried and Roy’s signature white-tigers-and-smoke-machines show. I clearly remember looking at the enclosure where the tigers lived, but strangely, I can’t remember whether we actually saw any of them. We did visit the gift shop, where someone picked up a copy of Siegfried und Roy: Meister der Illusion, an astonishing book, made all the more enjoyable because I couldn’t understand a word of the text. Read More »