Saturday, March 28, 2015

Recently Read

Book Talk: Essays on Books, Booksellers, Collecting, and Special Collections (2006), edited by Robert H. Jackson and Carol Z. Rothkopf, collects essays that were originally talks sponsored by the Fellowship of American Bibliographic Societies from 1997 to 2005.  The topics range from general considerations such as Jason Epstein’s “The Past, Present, and Future of the Book” to Martin L. Greene’s discussion of the first book published on the Antarctic Continent.  The most interesting sections of this collection cover the changes in modern bookselling, and the considerations involved in book collecting, from the perspectives of both special collection librarians as well as individual collectors.  The theme that is interwoven all throughout these essays is the recognition that things are changing, and there is a palpable nervousness about the future of all aspects of bookselling and book collecting.  Reading these essays a decade after the last was written offers an even more depressing scenario, and one would really like follow-up essays by many of these authors to see if they still view the field through hopeful or rose-tinted glasses.  Thus the feelings evoked by the present collection is primarily that of nostalgia---nostalgia for the lost book world, as it existed as recently as the 1980s and early 90s. Compared to now, we never knew how good we had it back then.  

The Old Knowledge & Other Strange Tales (2010) by Rosalie Parker is a collection of eight “strange tales”—presumably after the manner of Robert Aickman, who preferred to call his efforts "strange stories".  The writing style is assured and shows talent, but the endings are all too abrupt and unsatisfying.  It’s not that the stories need explanations or resolutions, but that the endings given do not seem to develop naturally from what has gone on before. Twists in the tale are difficult to pull off, and here the twists seem designed as excuses for the author to cease writing. 

A more recent tale by Parker,"Selkie - A Scottish Idyll", will appear in the forthcoming issue of Supernatural Tales. As a promotional preview, it is read here by editor David Longhorn.  It shows the same strengths and weaknesses as the tales in Parker's collection.  

Cry Murder! in a Small Voice (2013) by Greer Gilman is a novella published as a chapbook.  In her usual dense prose style, Gilman uses Shakespearean London (and Venice) as the backdrop for a tale of Ben Jonson acting as detective to solve the murder of a boy actor.  It takes a bit of effort to get into it, but it’s a very rewarding read, especially for those with expansive reading tastes. Recommended. 

Gilman has published a second Ben Jonson adventure in booklet form, Exit, Pursued by a Bear (2014).  I look forward to getting a copy.  

The Starry Wisdom Library: The Catalogue of the Greatest Occult Book Auction of All Time (2014), edited by Nate Pedersen, contains contributions by nearly fifty people, many names well known in the modern small press for literary horror, ranging from Ramsey Campbell, W.H. Pugmire and Darrell Schweitzer to Matt Cardin, Michael Cisco and Simon Strantzas.  The conceit of the volume is that in 1877 a book auction catalogue was compiled for a sale of occult library that never took place. In the entries there are a good number of in-jokes (related to Robert W. Chambers, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and others) but overall the book is contrived to the point of complete dullness.  

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