Essays

Notes in ink on the age of television

The book of my lifetime had only a vague but passing resemblance to those made by the Dutch emigrant to England, Wynken de Worde—like a cousin whose mother might have had extracurricular interests. The paper, the ink, the typography, the binding, and the covers of the year 1500 were all unlike anything I knew. Nevertheless, those handmade and crafted volumes were true relatives to the pale and near bloodless objects I read—devoured, really—bought and sold, wrote and published myself. And, this now ancient trade of bookmaking might have been my legacy, at least in some alternate universe that I might even write about someday, but in this corporeal and existential world we occupy, my grandchildren will not know the book.

The importance of this is incalculable. Even to the smallest detail. They will not know the pause of the page, the texture even, of manufactured paper, the smell of ink and glue in the gutters, or the feel and weight of a volume in hand. They will not understand the importance of typography in giving comfort to the eye, pleasing the mind, and aiding comprehension, perception and interpretation. That much, and more, to be had before the first word is read! read more…

What’s all this, then?

[A post-preamble to A Republic of Books, portions of which may be found elsewhere on this ethereal site.]

            This is my chance, then, to cast myself in the hero’s role. I’ve been a humble bookseller for all these years. (Allow me my hyperbole.) I don’t run into tall buildings to save women and children while other’s flee. (My knees have never been that good, but do the women need the saving anymore?) My eyes are not good enough to fly jet planes or hit a fast ball. I sell old books and a few that are new, and write what I cannot sell. For sixty-eight years I have done pretty much what suited me. And here, at last, is a chance to do what is arguably better if not best. The argument is not settled. That I have waited until I have so little left to lose may be some mitigation of your judgment of all this, perhaps. Or that the overwhelming risk of failure now makes any effort romantically futile (and planned that so). That I should have done more to prevent what has finally come to pass might cast me into the lower ranks of Dante’s hell, but at least I won’t be letting a good collapse of Western Civilization go waste. There is a story here. And if it transpires that there is no one left to read it, so be it. That is at least consistent with everything else I have ever done. (The whine you hear is not self pity, but the wind in the gears.) I sally forth. My armor is the truth. I have a worthy truck for my steed. My companion is—well, we’ll work that out. read more…

notes on the revolution: an ongoing ramble

Oh, the incorporate me.

 The ‘corporation’ as it has been recreated in modern business and law represents a large portion of our current problem and a significant cause thereof.

Oddly, interestingly, and contrarily, under our code of laws, you may not own a person. That is known as slavery. Yet you may own a corporation, or shares in a corporation, just as you may own a car or a house. However, a car is not currently entitled to vote. Nor a house. Nor a corporation, per se. A person is. A corporation is property. It can be sold. But according to the authorities, a corporation is a person . . . Got that. If you don’t it’s because you are not a sophisticated thinker—i.e., its your own fault. Most importantly, and included in this status as a human being, a corporation has limited liability. Now, if you run out of money, or are the cause of a misadventure, you are liable for your debts. If a corporation runs out of money, tough luck. You can read about this case law in many places, and this status has existed in our country for almost two centuries and has been upheld by no less than the Supreme Court of the United States in 1819 (Dartmouth College vs. Woodward), or here http://www.oyez.org/cases/1792-1850/1818/1818_0/. read more…

Of ‘Children and Fish’

I was just rereading the great Richard Mitchell essay, ‘Children and Fish,’ and thinking it was my favorite of all. It is a difficult choice to make, given my appreciation of the others, but certainly I have read it more often and find myself considering it anew with each reading. The subject of what we make of ourselves was the particular point that hooked my thoughts this time.

One measure of Mitchell’s depth and breadth is that he could read a turgid socialist polemic like Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward and find something edifying. In this case, it was in the clear representation of a negative: Bellamy’s ruthless idea of human rights. Wading through the weeds of such thought, tiresome and full of poisonous ticks, had kept me from ever finishing the book, but Mitchell, always the good teacher and likely made immune to such foolishness by the annual inoculation of live virus in sophomoric term papers, has extracted the lie that is the very linchpin of the socialist state.

Remember now that Looking Backward was a stunning bestseller in its day. Stunning in all the senses of the word. How this came to be is another subject for another time, but it explains the mind of a certain intellectual strata of the late Nineteenth Century and how the thinking of people as diverse as Margaret Sanger and Woodrow Wilson, John Dewey and Eugene V. Debs might have developed. It was a ‘can do’ age and the idea that people could be educated to be good—as in, to act in a socially acceptable manner—was afoot as well as in a lot of heads. Never mind asking what ‘good’ is.

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The flea is with us

71Ew4KATtbLIn the foreword to his excellent and now near classic 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman argues that it was Aldous Huxley and not George Orwell who recognized the greater danger to our modern society. “But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think . . . What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no reason to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.” I would accuse Postman of prescience, given the overwhelming onslaught of irrelevance in this age of the internet, if it were not already true, as he well documents, in those tamer times of television and the three major networks. Now, thirty years hence, I fear the damage is wholly done. The flea is with us.

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Stewing on the ambiguities

The American dream may not be what it once was, but it is still there.

Entering small towns, from California to Maine, you may be struck by how similar they appear, displaying again and again the natural gallimaufry of a single culture that spans a continent. But this awareness is even greater when you stop and speak to the people themselves. Some of this continuity is frozen in the outward brass of the chain stores, of course, but it goes far deeper. The culture you can still find beyond the suburbs was not invented by Ray Crock and Sam Walton. Most of these people are conceived and raised to a behavior that is at once sweet and pleasantly sour, churned by the dash to butter as well as buttermilk. read more…

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I Am William McGuire

I Am William McGuire

It’s a bloody Cro-Magnon world.
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A Slepyng Hound to Wake

Leaving well enough alone is not good enough at all—not if the reason for a death is to be found in the life that was lost.
Hound

Hound

Henry Sullivan has made a simpler life for himself, finding and selling books. There is little room in it for either love or murder.

 

About

I have been informed by trusted authority that the short quip which I have placed here for the last year or so, by way of biography, lacks gravitas. “Over-paid by others for hyphenated jobs such as lawn-work, snow-shoveling, house-painting, office-boy, dish-washer, warehouse-grunt, table-waiter and hotel night-clerk–I’ve since chosen to be a writer, editor, publisher, and for most of my life, a bookseller, and even managed to occasionally pay myself. Hound is my first published novel.” And so it does. It is hard to be serious about so unserious a subject as oneself. But herewith, and keeping the ‘nasty bits’ (Brit expressions are so brilliant) to myself, I offer then, this ongoing post begun as posts at Small Beer Press. If anyone is interested, from time to time I will add something at the end to bring the epic closer to the present moment.

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