The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘families’

The Citadel

September 3, 2015 | by

In his ninety-three years, Chimen Abramsky amassed a vast collection of socialist literature and Jewish history. Here, his grandson Sasha explores some of the rarities.

From the cover of The House of Twenty Thousand Books.

Much later in his life, Chimen turned his eye to cataloging his library. It was a task he stubbornly refused to finish, despite having cataloged many of the world’s most important Judaica libraries for Sotheby’s, despite having even compiled a catalog of catalogs that he would occasionally show to fellow bibliographers. “It takes the magic out of it. It becomes a thing to sell, not a real collection. Once you catalogue the book, it becomes a dead object almost,” was how the rare-books dealer Christopher Edwards, who knew Chimen decades later, interpreted this reluctance. Chimen loved being courted by would-be buyers; adored being taken out to restaurants and clubs, such as the Garrick in central London, where dealers could flatter him by talking about the importance of his collection. But when push came to shove, he did not want to admit that, apart from a few missing pieces (he bemoaned the fact that he did not have any original issues of Marx’s newspaper the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, published in Cologne during the revolutionary year of 1848 and into 1849), his collection—his life’s project—was complete. Even when his insurance agent, Will Burns, repeatedly wrote him letters requesting that he provide a catalog of his library, Chimen managed to find one excuse after another. He was too busy; he was traveling; he was ill; he would do it next month. “I had hoped to do it during the summer vacation,” he informed Burns in late October 1981, “but unfortunately, as Miriam had an accident in Israel, I was unable to do so. I hope to complete it towards the end of January.” He did not, and Burns wrote him several more letters on the matter before eventually giving up. The collection remained insured only as general contents; had disaster struck and the House of Books burned to the ground, Chimen would have found, to his horror, that his inability to provide a catalog was a costly oversight.

What Chimen did do, though, was pen a series of memoranda about how he had acquired some of his rarest prizes. He wrote, for example, about how, in the early 1950s, he had managed to buy William Morris’s complete collection of the Socialist League’s journal, The Commonweal, along with the wooden box, with a rexine cover dyed blue and lined with a white feltlike material, that Morris himself had constructed to house a 1539 Bible, and in which, ultimately, he kept his copies of the revolutionary newspaper. The pages of the publication—its words printed in double columns originally on a monthly basis, then later weekly, from 1886 until 1895, and filled with the revolutionary musings of Morris, Marx’s daughter Eleanor, and other radical luminaries of the late-Victorian years—had passed from Morris to his close friend, the typographer Emery Walker; from Walker to his daughter; and from her to a poet named Norman Hidden. Chimen eventually bought it from Hidden for £50. And there they stayed, in their Bible box, high on a wooden shelf in the upstairs hallway at 5 Hillway, for more than half a century. Read More »

No Name Is Safe

August 4, 2015 | by


Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird.

It has been a bad summer for the iconic characters of Southern literature. A couple of weeks ago, a New Hampshire man named Huckleberry Finn was accused of rape. This was surely not what his parents had in mind when they named him.

When the world learned that Atticus Finch had aged into a crotchety reactionary with KKK sympathies, we thought of the children. Not just those thousands schlepping their mauve trade summer-reading paperbacks all over the country. But those named after what we believed was literature’s best dad; Atticus was the #1 boy’s baby name in 2015. As one baby-name Web site puts it, “Atticus, with its trendy Roman feel combined with the upstanding, noble image of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, is a real winner.” As the  New York Times put it, “Fans of Mockingbird have been crestfallen and disbelieving that their hero could be so changed, but perhaps no group more so than those who chose that name for their children.” Read More »

Culinary Complicity

May 8, 2015 | by

The beloved family wine cake

Back in 2011, I wrote a paean to my family’s one and only signature recipe: the wine cake. I hadn’t read it since it went up, and recently ran across the post while searching for a recipe for the cake; I was craving one for my own birthday.

At the time, I described wine cake as the sole edible thing to emerge from my grandparents’ kitchen, and explained that it was a constant at all family birthdays. It wasn’t too galling, so far as rereads go. But I worry that I failed, in 2011, to express the most important thing: wine cake is amazing. Read More »

Word Games

May 5, 2015 | by


Simeon Solomon, A Youth Relating Tales to Ladies, 1870.

My mother’s loathing for the word lady occupies a special place in her pantheon of negativity.

To be specific, she doesn’t actually mind lady as a word or a title of the peerageas seen in, say, Lady Day*, The Lady Vanishes, or Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It’s when the word appears in lyrics that she puts her foot down. (And even then, there’s a disclaimer: some lyrics are okay. “Luck Be a Lady,” “The Lady Is a Tramp”—these, among others, are acceptable.) Read More »


March 3, 2015 | by

Its legacy lives on.

One day, when I was around fourteen, my dad was invited to a black-tie fund-raising dinner. And so he broke out the tuxedo my mom had found for him at the Salvation Army and clipped on his bow tie, and took the Metro-North into Manhattan. He returned bearing gifts: the favor bag included a cookbook of light French cuisine and a gadget that was the most wonderful thing we had ever seen.

It was a wine stopper. Two, actually, identical to each other. Its bottom section was conical, covered in rubber, and its top was a large metal heart. It was indisputably ugly, we all agreed—but how ingenious! My mom was delighted. “If we have leftover wine,” she explained, “we won’t need to jam the cork into the bottle, or use tinfoil.” (Screw-tops were still a novelty in the midnineties.) What a marvel of thrift and engineering! Read More »

A Writer in the Family

February 19, 2015 | by

On writers, glass, Pliny the Elder, and the way families pass on their stories.


Vesuvius in eruption.

Since I started writing, I have sought forebears who might have had literary aspirations. Were there writers in the family? My great-uncle György, who was exiled to the Ukraine during World War II and afterward became a functionary in Hungary’s Communist government, was a novelist, but my father has always been dismissive of his work. He says György wrote a variety of socialist-realist novel that’s hard to take seriously, hard not to see as propaganda. His books have never been translated into English, and my Hungarian isn’t nearly good enough to understand what’s in them. The only existing copies I know of sit on a shelf in my Cousin Hajnal’s house in the Buda Hills. I don’t have the heart to ask to take them and have them translated. When I’ve asked her about them in the past, she’s simply said that they are books, yes, and that her father wrote them.

In their stead I have purchased rare used copies of two books written by Frederic Neuburg, author of a large trove of letters to my father’s Aunt Traute that he keeps in an old teak box in his house in Los Angeles. My father is not Bellow or Updike, and I am not the son of Bellow or Updike, but it is the book I have, in two editions, an art book containing photographs of Neuberg’s glass collection and extensive commentary on the pieces. Read More »