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Thanksgiving (Decorative Gourd Season)

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It’s Thanksgiving south of the border, and while we Canadians filled up on turkey and gratitude last month, there are too few opportunities in life to celebrate. So, Happy Thanksgiving to our American customers and friends. Since we are firmly in the heart of decorative gourd season (my friends), enjoy this gorgeous Set of Four Gourds by Johann Weinmann. Though, while it’s four artworks, the gourds themselves actually number 17, which is a decent number of gourds. That’s over four times the advertised number of gourds. Bargain. Bonus gourds.

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Weinmann was a German botanist and apothecary The prints were created in 1737 using mezzotint engraving, a process that made graduated gradiations of tones, shading and colors possible, in contrast to previous methods which did not allow for much subtlety. To create the effect, a printmaker used a tool to roughen the surface of a copper plate, smoothing certain areas and roughening others, depending on the desired density of ink in any given area of the design. The prints were finished by hand-coloring. More about the gourds, from the seller, Shapero Rare Books:

Set of 4 double-page mezzotint engravings, printed in colour and finished by hand. Framed and glazed 51 x 59 cm. An attractive collection of fine plates, being one of the earliest examples of colour printing. Weinmann (1683-1741) was a Regensburg apothecary who organized the publication of Phytanthoza Iconographia, a huge florilegium which was not only very beautiful but which also influenced the publication of similar works worldwide. “The mezzotint process used here had been invented by Johann Teyler in the Netherlands around 1688. As practiced here by Bartholomaus Seuter (1678-1754) and Johann Elias Ridinger (1698-1767), it was really a combination of etching and mezzotint, which made possible delicate lines and a very fine grain. The addition of hand-tinting brought about unusual and subtle effects” (Hunt)

And in case you’re interested in some gourd art of your own – but using actual gourds – here is Gourd Art Basics by C. Angela Mohr to start you on your journey to a cornucopia.

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Beth’s Best Reads of 2014

Every single year around this time, I find myself reflecting back on the books I’ve read since January 1st, and feeling:

1) mad at myself for not reading more;
2) mad at myself for wasting my life finishing that one really dreadful book;
3) delighted that I kept going through the hard bits of that one that turned out so wonderful; and, mostly
4) grateful that thanks to affordable secondhand books and libraries, I have such a wealth of access to so many inspiring reads.

The Washington Post has put out their list for the top 50 fiction books for 2014, and reading it made me want to share my favorites of the year, too. The Post’s selections are all published in 2014, but mine are all over the map.

Here are my favorite 20 of the books I read in 2014. As in previous years (2008, 2010, 2011, 2012), the selections are all over the place. Some are new, some are old, some are Canadian, some are graphic novels, some are chock full of violence, some are tear-jerkers, some are comedy, some are historical fiction. It’s just a little glimpse inside my brain and what it likes to read. Here are my top 20 books of 2014, in no particular order. Enjoy, and I’d love if you leave a comment with agreement, disagreement, recommendations or whatever else.

1. The Orenda by Joseph Boyden
It would be almost impossible to overstate the graphic and visceral violence in the book. Be warned. That said, The Orenda is a thoughtful, intricate and fully-realized story of the very early days of Canada’s settlement, the lengthy clash between the Huron and the Iroquois people, and the involvement of the white Jesuit priests and missionaries who came to settle there. Like all of Boyden’s work, even the most terrible and brutal of passages are still simultaneously beautiful. He is a tremendously skilled writer.interestings-meg-wolitzer

2. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
I must confess that even though this is only one of Wolitzer’s 10 novels, this is the first I’ve heard of and first I’ve read. But I enjoyed it so much that I intend to seek out her previous titles now, as well. You know the feeling you get as a child at summer camp – something like an overwhelming mixture of possibility and purity? It’s a feeling of falling in love with the people, time and place of the moment, a simultaneous slowing and speeding of time, invincibility, and bittersweet nostalgia for something that isn’t even over yet. Wolitzer captures that perfectly, and follows the lives of the six friends who experience it all together as teenagers, studying the places life takes each of them and the way they still belong to one another.

3. More Than This by Patrick Ness
More Than This is billed as a Young Adult (YA) novel, but don’t be fooled. Its story will certainly appeal to teenagers, but adults would be remiss to skip over it. The book tells the story of 16-year-old Seth, a boy who drowns, and then finds himself in a deserted neighborhood. Seth believes he is in hell or some kind of purgatory. Much more than that would risk spoiling, and this is absolutely a book worth reading. It made the hair on my arms stand up multiple times. It’s a considered, thought-provoking and philosophical read. Some of its plot points could have become preachy or heavy-handed, but Ness skillfully maneuvers around all the curves. If there’s a sequel, I will snatch it up as quickly as I can.

4. One More Thing by B.J. Novak
You may know B.J. Novak better as Ryan the Temp from the American version of the sitcom The Office. woman-walked-into-doors This collection is 100% worth it, even if you only read the story titled “The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela”. The title story is memorably great as well. A few of the stories felt a bit cutesy and gimmicky, but overall it’s a solid collection and made me laugh out loud a handful of times.

5. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle
Absolutely heartbreaking. It would be a masterpiece if it were written by a woman, but the fact that Doyle, as a man, was able to so masterfully write the character of Paula Spencer, an abused but unbreakable working-class woman thinking back over her life, is mindblowing. This novel is so real, so understated and so powerful that I had to pause or stop several times during my reading, to think, or cry or just take a break. It’s such a small, quiet story, but told so beautifully that it’s unforgettable.

6. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
A mysterious sudden (and by sudden, I mean all the males are wiped out in an instant) plague has eradicated males all across the globe. Not just humans, but all other male mammals as well. All, that is, except for Yorick, an easygoing, perhaps a bit bumbling young man, and his pet capuchin monkey, Ampersand. lowland-jhumpa-lahiri Some of the storylines of the series are less successful than others, but author Brian K. Vaughan clearly put a lot of thought into plot branches and possibilities here, and the result is a creative, interesting, really fun read. I recommend the whole series.

7. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
This is the first full-length novel I’ve read from Lahiri, having only read (and enjoyed) her short fiction previously. Lahiri’s prose is elegant and vivid as ever, whether she’s describing water lilies on a pond or tense escapes. The Lowland is the story of two inseparably close brothers growing up in Calcutta whose paths diverge as they reach adulthood.

8. Kindred by Octavia Butler
What a strange and excellent book. First published in 1979, it is a science-fiction novel, but also a classic of African American literature and historical fiction. It details accidental and periodic time travel after a dizzy spell, between a woman’s modern-day Los Angeles life, and an early 19th-century Maryland plantation, where slavery is still in full practice.

9. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Come on, you’ve read this book. It’s embarrassing that I hadn’t read it before. I’d always meant to, but just kept not getting around to it. invention-wings-kidd It did not, of course, disappoint, nor did Offred. If you haven’t read it, get to it!

10. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
I liked The Secret Life of Bees, Kidd’s 2002 novel, pretty well, but did find it a bit saccharine and heartwarming for my taste. The Invention of Wings is still moving, but in its pages, Kidd seems to have better achieved a balance between characters. The novel tells the story, through alternating chapters, of Handful (slave name Hetty), a young slave girl in Charleston, and Sarah, the daughter of the family who owns Handful and her mother. It felt uncomfortable to be reading a book about slavery, written by a white woman, but from the (sometimes) perspective of a black slave. But it was a solid story.

11. The Messenger by Markus Zusak
I read this entirely because I loved Zusak’s The Book Thief so much. The Messenger was extremely different, and a hard plot to pull off – hapless Ed, the broke and rut-dwelling taxi driver, has greatness thrust upon him one day in a most unlikely fashion, and goes about shrugging and becoming a hero by following a series of cryptic and authorless instructions, because why not. eleanor-park-rowell But it’s a really fun read, and even if I rolled my eyes a few times, I kept reading.

12. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Another YA offering on the list. From the description, I wasn’t too excited to read this, as it sounded like many books I’d read before, about teenagers who don’t quite fit in finding each other. But the characters of both Eleanor and Park are written so realistically and unapologetically that it felt like a brand new story, and I found myself caring so much what happened to them. Rowell didn’t take any easy or obvious shortcuts to happy endings or clichés, either. It was a refreshing, raw and lovely book.

13. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill
Love, love, love this book! Much like O’Neill’s debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, this second offering from the Montreal author is inhabited by the most irresistible and charming characters possible. But O’Neill’s writing has improved, as well. While I found aspects of her first novel jarring and requiring me to suspend too much of my disbelief, this one gets it just right. It maintains enough strangeness and magic to remain its sense of wonder, but doesn’t close the door on the possibility of reality. The relationship between Nouschka and her twin brother Nicolas is perfect. On Such a Full Sea (1/7/14)by Chang-rae Lee

14. On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee
A very unusual, risky and ambitious science fiction novel that really worked for me. For an inarguably dystopian story, On Such a Full Sea nevertheless manages to somehow buoy the reader up with hope and small snippets of joy as they traverse the strange landscapes. Read it yourself and see if you can help but cheer for Fan in your heart.

15. The Bear by Claire Cameron
This book bugged me from the get-go. Perhaps it’s because I have limited experience with five-year-olds, but the narration by Anna struck me as wholly unbelievable, and took me out of the story countless times. That didn’t really let up, to be honest, but I found the book so interesting in its details, history and story that I got past it.

16. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
I was nervous upon starting this book, because I feared from the get-go that Bernadette was one of those dreaded literary tropes – specifically, the madcapped, scattered, free spirit manic pixie dream girls. They’re annoying and done to death. But I was pleasantly surprised as I kept reading. It probably helped that my brain somehow decided that she would beplayed by Allison Janney in the movie in my head. I love Allison Janney. boxers-saints-yang

17. Boxers/Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Gene Luen Yang does it again. He is the author of one of my favorite graphic novels, American Born Chinese. His latest offering is this two-volume graphic novel set in China’s Boxer Rebellion at the end of the 19th century. He chose a two-volume format, writing one from the perspective of a young boy on the side of the rebels, and one from the perspective of a little girl on the side of the Christians. That choice, with both volumes being written gracefully and sympathetically, ensures that the reader is unable to pick a side, which of course makes it all much more tragic and futile, but more realistic.

18. Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
This is a heck of a good debut novel. I found it impossible not to fall in love with June, our teenaged protagonist, and the complex, beautiful relationship she has with her uncle Finn. The novel that follows Finn’s death is mysterious, touching and perfectly paced as June struggles to understand and separate her feelings and navigate relationships with her mother, her sister Greta, and her late uncle’s boyfriend.

woman-upstairs-messud19. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
Nora is an ideal unreliable narrator. She draws us in, intrigues us, and gets us, her readers, firmly on her side before slowly, inch by inch, unfurling the rest of the story. And as she does so, her likability recedes in turn, but by that time, she’s got us. And much of it is a story too familiar to many people, women especially – that of the exhausting, sorrowful awareness of dwindling life, wasted potential and futility. But there’s a spark, here, and by the end, it’s burning.

20. Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro
Not all of the stories contained in Munro’s 2009 collection worked for me. The title story, in fact, more of a novella in length, is too broad in scope and feels undecided the whole way through. I found it lacked the undeniable authenticity and truth in characters that typifies Munro’s writing to me. However, most of the stories in the book were great, and a couple were absolutely brilliant. The opening story had me at the library (I started reading there, before going home) sniffling into my sleeve.


Lost for 76 years – An Australian Family Treasure Comes Home

Australian radio announcer Donald Day in his 1938 Year Book

Books are not just ordinary products to be bought and sold. To some people, a book can have immense meaning and significance, particularly when it has been lost in the sands of time. One such story comes from Megan Billington from South-east Australia. Let’s listen to Megan explain.

“My grandfather wrote a small 66-page paperback in 1938,” said Megan. “The book was called Donald Day’s Year Book for 1938, A Cure for the Blues. It was printed for local use in Sydney and Melbourne. He was a celebrity radio announcer from the 1920s to the 1960s, and it was as much an advertisement for him as anecdotes, jokes and short stories.

The cover of Donald Day’s Year Book for 1938

“He worked for many radio stations along the east coast of Australia. He had a large family, with one son going on to be a well-known radio and television actor, Alwyn Kurts. Donald died in Italy in 1963 travelling to the UK for more radio work at the age of 76. He never really made the cross over to TV unlike his son. My grandfather’s name was actually Alwyn Kurts Snr, but his stage name was Donald Day or Uncle Don.

“We had no idea this book existed, not even Mum who was born in 1931 and was seven when it was printed, until I read an old newspaper clipping that mentioned it. Copies are held in the Australian National Library, and both the New South Wales and Victoria State Libraries in Australia.

“I was absolutely delighted to find the actual book on AbeBooks and to be able to buy it. I will give to my Mum for her 83rd Christmas present. As the only living child of her father and mother, it will be a special gift, and proves again the true value of books. Thank goodness for the bookshop that had it.

“So, thanks to AbeBooks, my family has found a long lost piece of our history. The joy of books transcends time once again.”

Bookwood of Melbourne was the bookseller who supplied the long-lost heirloom. In the end, the book was just 32 kilometers away from Megan. The price was $26. No other copies of Donald Day’s Year Book for 1938 are available for sale.


The Gonzo Sword – it’s Excalibur for Hunter S. Thompson fans

The Gonzo Sword

Behold, Hunter S Thompson fans – it’s the Gonzo Sword. It’s yours for $1,250. Nearly two-feet long and weighing almost 10 pounds, this beauty is the ultimate accessory for lovers of Gonzo journalism. The sword – hand cast in bronze – features two thumbs and peyote clenched in a fist.

The Gonzo SwordThe sword’s image was first seen on the campaign poster created by Tom Benton when Hunter S Thompson ran on the ‘Freak Power’ platform for Sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, in 1970. His platform included the decriminalization of drugs (doesn’t sound so crazy now) and banning the creation of tall buildings that obscured the mountain view (which also sounds like common sense).

The memorable Freak Power poster featured a red clenched fist on white sheriff’s badge on a black background.

My feeling is that this sword would be too big to be used as a letter-opener but would be an impressive wall-mounting. Thompson died in 2005, and first editions of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas regularly sell for four figures on AbeBooks.com, so $1,250 is well within the price range of serious collectors of his work.

The Gonzo Sword is offered for sale by Quill and Brush, from Dickerson in Maryland.


Feast on 12 New Cookbooks for Fall

Feast on These 12 New Cookbooks for Fall at AbeBooksWith fall comes shorter days, cooler temperatures and new cookbooks. With the holidays right around the corner, we’ve rounded up the 12 best new cookbooks. Whether you’re cooking lunch for one or dinner for 10, you’ll find the perfect recipe in this selection of books by world famous chefs and James Beard Award-winners.

Against All Grain: Meals Made Simple by Danielle Walker
Beloved food blogger and New York Times bestselling author Danielle Walker is back with over 100 new Paleo recipes in her sophomore cookbook, Meals Made Simple—a collection of gluten-free, dairy-free, and Paleo-friendly recipes for easy weeknight meals.

The Cookbook Book by Annahita Kamali
Compiled by a panel of experts in the fields of art, design, food and photography, Cookbook Book is an opus celebrating cookbooks of all shapes, sizes, languages and culinary traditions. From tried‐and‐true classics such as Larousse Gastronomique and Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child to surprising quirky choices such as The Mafia Cookbook and The Hawaiian Cookbook, each of these cookbooks has shaped, influenced or revolutionized home‐cooking in its own way.

Death & Co.: Modern Classic Cocktails by Kaplan, Fauchald & Day
The definitive guide to the contemporary craft cocktail movement, from one of the highest-profile, most critically lauded, and influential bars in the world. Destined to become a definitive reference on craft cocktails, Death & Co features more than 500 of the bar’s most innovative and sought-after cocktails. But more than just a collection of recipes, Death & Co is also a complete cocktail education, with information on the theory and philosophy of drink making, a complete guide to buying and using spirits, and step-by-step instructions for mastering key bartending techniques.

Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food: The Ultimate Weekend Cookbook by Jamie Oliver
Jamie’s new cookbook brings together 100 ultimate comfort food recipes from around the world. Jamie’s Comfort Food is all about the food you really want to eat, made exactly how you like it. With this in mind, the book features ultimate versions of all-time favourites, and also introduces cherished dishes from countries around the world, providing a delicious recipe for every occasion. This isn’t everyday cooking – this is about weekends, holidays, celebrations and occasions.

Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets, and Recipes From Our Kitchen by Zoe Nathan
This irresistible cookbook collects more than 115 recipes and more than 150 color photographs, including how-to sequences for mastering basics such as flaky dough and lining a cake pan. Huckleberry’s recipes span from sweet (rustic cakes, muffins, and scones) to savory (hot cereals, biscuits, and quiche). For bakers and all-day brunchers, Huckleberry will become the cookbook to reach for whenever the craving for big flavor strikes.

One Pot by the editors of Martha Stewart Living
Using just one pan, you can stew, steam, sauté, simmer, braise, or roast your way to a fuss-free meal—and minimal cleanup to boot. The editors of Martha Stewart Living present a brand-new collection of 120 recipes – organized by vessel – to help you serve a delicious home-cooked dinner with ease, all while adding savory new dishes to your weekly rotation.

Heritage by Sean Brock
Sean Brock is the chef behind the game-changing restaurants Husk and McCrady’s, and his first book offers all of his inspired recipes. With a drive to preserve the heritage foods of the South, Brock cooks dishes that are ingredient-driven and reinterpret the flavors of his youth in Appalachia and his adopted hometown of Charleston. The recipes include all the comfort food (think food to eat at home) and high-end restaurant food (fancier dishes when there’s more time to cook) for which he has become so well-known.

Historic Heston by Heston Blumenthal
British gastronomy has a grand old tradition that has been lost over time. Now Britain’s most inventive chef is out to reclaim it. Heston Blumenthal, whose name is synonymous with cutting-edge cuisine, still finds his greatest source of inspiration in the unique and delicious food that Britain once produced. This has been the secret to his success at world-famous restaurants The Fat Duck and Dinner, where a contrast between old and new, modern and historic, is key.

Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton
From Gabrielle Hamilton, bestselling author of Blood, Bones & Butter, comes her eagerly anticipated cookbook debut filled with signature recipes from her celebrated New York City restaurant Prune. Intended for the home cook as well as the kitchen professional, the instructions offer a range of signals for cooks – a head’s up on when you have gone too far, things to watch out for that could trip you up, suggestions on how to traverse certain uncomfortable parts of the journey to ultimately help get you to the final destination, an amazing dish.

Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi
The hotly anticipated follow-up to London chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s bestselling and award-winning cookbook Plenty, featuring more than 150 vegetarian dishes organized by cooking method. This visually stunning collection will change the way you cook and eat vegetables.

The Portlandia Cookbook by Armisen, Brownstein & Krisel
The companion cookbook to the hit show Portlandia by the Emmy-nominated stars and writers Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, with 50 delicious recipes for every food lover, freegan, organic farmer, and food truck diehard. This is a funny cookbook with serious recipes for anyone who loves food. And yes, the chicken’s local.

Make It Ahead by Ina Garten
For the first time, trusted and beloved cookbook author Ina Garten answers the number one question she receives from cooks: Can I make it ahead? With beautiful photographs and hundreds of invaluable make-ahead tips, this is your new go-to guide for preparing meals that are stress-free yet filled with those fabulously satisfying flavors that you have come to expect from the Barefoot Contessa.

Bon appetit!


Andreas Vesalius’ beautiful Fabrica: a pioneering book of anatomy

In 1543, Belgian physician Andreas Vesalius published one of the most influential books in medical history. De humani corporis fabrica translates from Latin as On the Fabric of the Human Body and it has stood the test of time. Not bad considering Vesalius was just 28 at the time. Affectionately known as The Fabrica, the book is still referenced today in the medical world and by collectors of beautiful antiquarian editions.

When we heard that the University of Victoria possessed a copy from 1555, Beth Carswell and Christi Kay set off to investigate the details behind this legendary medical book. The story includes grave robbing, beautiful artwork and one man’s obsession. Read the article.


The Coolest Books I’ve Ever Seen – Jan and Jarmila Sobota

Here at AbeBooks we are no strangers to beautiful books, nor the notion of a book as art. For those as fond of beauty on the outside as the inside, we’ve created features about inlaid leather bindings, fore-edge paintings, gilt-decorated covers, master bookbinders, Cosway bindings and more.

The most unusual and striking so far, however, might be the work of Czech husband-and-wife team Jan and Jarmila Sobota. I’m completely in love. I find myself surprised and a bit ashamed that I had not been familiar with their creations before now. The Sobotas created countless unimaginably clever and gorgeous treatments for existing books, many in miniature, some one-of-a-kind. I’ve worked here a long time, and seen a lot of stunning books, but this got me very excited.

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Jan Sobota’s journey into bookbinding dated back to the 1950s, when he studied at the School for Applied Arts in Prague. He moved up, learning and achieving more skill as he went, until he eventually founded his own bookbinding studio. Jarmila spent her earlier professional life as a professor of psychology, but after spending a decade assisting her husband Jan with bookbinding, as well as immersing herself in the study of art, she began her new career as an artistic bookbinder in 1986.

Both Czechoslovakian originally, Jan and Jarmila had moved to the United States two years earlier, in 1984, starting Saturday’s Book Arts Gallery in Euclid, Ohio (“Sobota” means Saturday in Czech) before re-emigrating to the Czech Republic in 1996, to the city of Loket. There they made their livings doing conservation and restoration work, as well as original bindings, book sculptures and miniatures. Many of the works created by the Sobotas go beyond bookbinding into the realm of book sculpture, with a creativity and attention to detail rarely surpassed. Their work garnered plenty of both solo and group exhibits across four continents over the years.

The ingenuity and adventurousness in the work not only applied to the design of their pieces, but also often the materials, such as the case of this piece by Jan, County Survey – # 30 in a series limited to just 38 numbered copies, the binding includes calfskin, catfish leather, eel skin, pigskin and linen.

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The Sobotas enjoyed working in miniature, and many of their finest masterpieces could be hidden in the palm of one’s hand. This piece, for instance, titled Decalogous, features the 10 Commandments in Latin, Czech, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portugese, Dutch and Slovak – but is only three inches by two inches tall. It was made in the shape of a cross, for a marvelously unusual work. This is just one of 100 copies created, and at just $225.00 is surprisingly affordable.

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If one of 100 is still not rare enough for you, have a look at The Black Cat – this three-inch-square treasure is just one of 20 ever brought to life by the Sobotas. The text is The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe, a torturous tale detailing the guilt-ridden descent into madness of a murderer. The sculpture consists of a tiny, intricate leather cat, nestled inside a hinged box, and ready to spring free when the box is opened.

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And of course, if you feel the burning desire to own the only one of something, here is something unique and marvelous just for you, a work of art. This one-of-a-kind miniature book of H.G. Wells’ classic The Time Machine very nearly defies description – but I will let the details from the bookseller, and the accompanying photographs, attempt to do it justice. On offer from Bromer Books:

A one-of-a-kind miniature book produced by the innovative Czech artist Jarmila Sobota, signed by her to the colophon. H. G. Wells’s classic work of early science fiction is presented here in a sculptural binding. The book fits into one of two channels on a wheeled, metal time machine that was custom fabricated for Sobota. A clock mounts to the top of the second channel, and is affixed through the use of two rare-earth magnets. With the clock mounted thus, the clock stops, thereby providing a visual play on the idea of Wells’s titular invention. The text is printed on green paper, referencing the Palace of Green Porcelain that the Time traveler encounters in the future world of the Morlocks. Bound in grey calfskin with watch parts set into circular niches on both of the covers. Boxes were created for each part of the object, covered with calf skin, hand-decorated paper, metallic paper and silver snakeskin. The title is stamped in silver around the sides of the box for the “Metal Machine,” and to the spine of the clamshell box that houses the book.

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“Edition of one Signed Copy”. You just don’t see that very often in this business. For any booklover fascinated by the possibilities of binding, or book art, or of course any fan of H.G. Wells or science fiction, this would make a completely unparalleled gift.

Be sure to explore all the Jan and Jarmila Sobota books for sale on AbeBooks. If you’re still thirsty for more, you can read more about Jan and Jarmila, as well as viewing more of their wonderful book sculpture creations, at the J.& J. Sobota Book Arts Studio website.

Sadly, Jan Sobota passed away in May of 2012, but Jarmila continues to teach the art of bookbinding, and to practice their art. And it is absolutely an art – craft does not begin to describe the level of beautiful genius found in the Sobotas work. What a legacy for Jan to have left behind, and for Jarmila to carry on. Their work will ring pleasure to people for generations.


The Beginning of the Affair: I Fell in Love with Books

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I can’t remember a time when I didn’t read, at least a little bit, every single day. Throughout my childhood, I always read long after I was supposed to have turned out the light at night. In fact I still do, mindful not to laugh at the funny bits and wake my husband, gently snoring away next to me. Story time, then Reading, then English, then Literature – anything to do with books was always my absolute favorite class from pre-school all the way through to university.

I’m so grateful for this part of my life. No matter how busy or how broke I have ever been in my life, I have always found enough time and enough money to explore new authors, new stories, new worlds. Where did it start, this pleasure, this lifelong passion? What makes such booklovers of some of us, and infuses us with a fevered fervor for the written word?

My first book-related memory is a fuzzy one. The daughter of my mother’s friend was babysitting me, and had read me a story about fairies. I don’t remember what book specifically, but I remember falling asleep afterward, with vivid, absolutely lifelike pictures in my head of fairies in beautiful dresses, wearing acorn caps as hats, drinking from rain-filled buttercups, sleeping curled under spotted toadstools. As I fell asleep, I remember feeling a sense of delight and wonder that black marks on a page, words, could have caused these pictures and adventures to come to life in my head.

The main driver of my love of reading was undoubtedly my mother. A lifelong reader and book nerd herself, she couldn’t stop herself from making up rhymes and silly songs, and telling me stories both real and imagined. Fortunately, I loved it, as had my older sister before me. If you ask me what makes an adult a good reader for children, I think an enormous part of it is one’s willingness to abandon all self-consciousness and make a total fool of oneself in the name of fun. My mum did so like a pro, stomping about the room, making silly faces and of course doing different voices for all the characters. Even if sometimes the goal of bedtime (to lull a child into a drowsy state, ready for sleep) was wildly postponed, she made bedtime fun, and memorable, and happy. Some of the books I remember her reading include Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman, and Thump, Thump, Thump by Anne Rockwell. She was always happy to talk about books, or read the same story for the 10th night in a row, or make sure that the Christmas tree had several books among the brightly-colored packages under its branches. I look at my 14-month-old son now, and I read to him, and he laughs at the voices and smacks the pages, and I think – yes. Here we go.

One wonderful example of how the AbeBooks Wants System can work – one of the books my mother read to me most often when I was little was Am I a Bunny? by Ida DeLage. It was published two months after I was born. She and I both have very fond memories of our time with that book. So when I began my career with AbeBooks in 2000, I thought it would be a nice thing to get her a copy as a Mother’s Day present. Little did I know the book was long out-of-print and highly sought after. We had a copy on the site, sure, but it was $400! Far beyond too rich for my blood. So I created a “Want”, indicating that I would like to be notified if a copy came up for under $100.00. And in the 14 years since, that want has only been matched four times, including in 2004, when a copy for a very affordable price came available, and I had the quick thumbs and good fortune to secure the sale. My mum cried when she opened it on Mother’s Day. Worth every penny!

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My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Hollick, very much furthered my love of reading. She was a gentle, kind woman, with a sense of humor and an obvious genuine love of children. And she was a born storyteller. She read us the Clement Clarke Moore poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, aka “Twas The Night Before Christmas” with such enthusiasm that we were all on the edge of our little seats. She delighted in teaching, and we all loved her so much we yearned to learn. In grade one we were mainly reading from those old-school reading primers, Dick and Jane style. I was ahead, having learned to read when I was three, so was allowed to do some reading on my own, quietly, during class as well.

One of my very favorite books from back then was The BFG by Roald Dahl. I absolutely loved it, and must have read it six times the month I got it. I couldn’t get enough. I believe it was the first I ever read of Roald Dahl’s books, and I quickly sought the others over the following years. The Witches was a favorite, as were Matilda and James and the Giant Peach . I liked The Twits and George’s Marvellous Medicine less, but still more than most other books. Roald Dahl became the first author whose works I consciously sought and collected, spending my allowance on any battered copy that might cross the shelves at the secondhand bookshop near our home.

I was a big fan of series, though – Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne books were Canadian classics I loved wholeheartedly (and could relate to, as a precocious ginger-headed child), and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder were read so often that the first three were falling apart. Something about that totally foreign (to me) landscape of building houses from logs, slaughtering pigs and making maple sugar candy was endlessly appealing.

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Even further removed from my reality was A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I loved the story of this book, but it was the characters who hooked me so completely – I absolutely had to read more about Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, and Calvin O’Keeffe, and all the rest. I read her following three books as well, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters, though I liked each a little bit less than the one that came before it, and my heart still lies with A Wrinkle in Time to this day.

There have been so many books since, and I’m simultaneously energized and comforted by the knowledge that there will be so many books yet to come. I wonder how many books I have read? I would estimate in the neighborhood of 2000. How high would they reach, stacked? How far, laid end to end? When I die, and there is no more reading left for me in this world, I hope that my heaven has two rooms dedicated to books – one with shelves filled with every book I ever read in life, and one, much larger one, filled with every book I could ever hope to read. Because in the afterlife, surely, there will be a very comfortable chair, excellent light to read by, no telemarketers to ring my phone, and plenty, plenty of time to read.

What about you? Leave me a comment and let me know what people, books and circumstances led you to be the lovesick book-worshiper you are.


The 12 Hottest New Books for Fall

Fall’s 12 Hottest New Books from AbeBooks

The weather has turned cooler and readers everywhere are secretly rejoicing. Fall is prime reading season – perfect for hiding away with a good book, or maybe 12. We’ve rounded up the season’s best new releases from today’s literary stars. From Ken Follett and Hilary Mantel to the queen of vampire lit, Anne Rice, there’s something for everyone.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson returns to the town of Gilead in an unforgettable story of a girlhood lived on the fringes of society in fear and awe. Lila, homeless and alone after years of roaming the countryside, steps inside a small-town Iowa church for shelter from the rain and ignites a romance and a debate that will reshape her life.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel
Cutting to the core of human experience, Mantel brutally and acutely writes about marriage, class, family, and sex in a collection of shocking contemporary stories.

Prince Lestat: The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice
Prince Lestat is back. In this chillingly hypnotic mystery-thriller, Anne Rice Rice once again summons up the irresistible spirit world of the oldest and most powerful forces of the night in a long-awaited return to the extraordinary world of the Vampire Chronicles.

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin
Set in Wexford, Ireland, Tóibín’s superb seventh novel introduces the formidable Nora Webster. Widowed at 40, with four children and not enough money, Nora has lost the love of her life, Maurice, the man who rescued her from the stifling world to which she was born. Wounded, strong-willed, clinging to secrecy in a tiny community where everyone knows your business, Nora is drowning in her own sorrow and blind to the suffering of her young sons. Yet she has moments of stunning empathy and kindness, and when she begins to sing again she finds solace in herself.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
A lyrical, masterfully written epic that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s. Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters – assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts – here is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the ’70s, to the crack wars in ’80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the ’90s.

Perfidia by James Ellroy
It is December 6, 1941. America stands at the brink of World War II. Last hopes for peace are shattered when Japanese squadrons bomb Pearl Harbor. Los Angeles has been a haven for loyal Japanese-Americans—but now, war fever and race hate grip the city and the Japanese internment begins.

Some Luck by Jane Smiley
The first book of an epic trilogy, Some Luck by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley follows the Langdon family from 1920 through World Wars and beyond. Taking us through cycles of births and deaths, passions and betrayals, among characters we come to know inside and out, it is a real tour de force.

Us by David Nicholls
Douglas Petersen may be mild-mannered, but behind his reserve lies a sense of humor that, against all odds, seduces beautiful Connie into a second date and eventually into marriage. Now, almost three decades after their relationship first blossomed in London, they live more or less happily in the suburbs with their moody seventeen year-old son. Then Connie tells him she thinks she wants a divorce. From the best selling author of One Day comes a deftly funny new novel about what holds families and marriages together.

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah
Since the publication of her first novel in 1920, more than two billion copies of Agatha Christie’s books have been sold around the globe. Now, for the first time ever, the guardians of her legacy have approved a brand-new novel featuring Dame Agatha’s most beloved creation, Hercule Poirot.

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett
Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy follows the fortunes of five intertwined families – American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh—as they make their way through the 20th century. This, the final book, covers one of the most tumultuous eras of all: the 1960s through the 1980s, encompassing civil rights, assassinations, Vietnam, the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, presidential impeachment, revolution—and rock and roll.

Gray Mountain by John Grisham
Gray Mountain covers the murky and dangerous world of coal mining, where laws are often broken, rules are ignored, regulations are flouted, communities are divided, and the land itself is under attack from Big Coal. Violence is always just around the corner, and within weeks a young lawyer finds herself engulfed in litigation that turns deadly.

The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
The Zone of Interest is a love story with a violently unromantic setting. Powered by both wit and compassion, and in characteristically vivid prose, Martin Amis’ unforgettable new novel excavates the depths and contradictions of the human soul.


The Book of Were-Wolves by Sabine Baring-Gould

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Just in time for Halloween tomorrow, check out this marvelous, collectible book we recently sold. It’s an 1865 first edition of The Book of Were-Wolves, by Sabine Baring-Gould. Its full title is actually The Book of Were-Wolves: Being An Account of a Terrible Superstition. The copy we sold, which went for £750 (approx. $1200 USD) was a gorgeous first edition in red pictorial cloth, decorated with gilt.

werewolf-portrait

Here is the description of the contents from the bookseller. It sounds like a howl of a read:

“This is a nice example of the First Edition of this classic book on The Werewolf and Were Wolves in History, with chapters covering Lycanthropy Among the Ancients, The Were-Wolf in the North, The Origin of the Scandinavian Were-Wolf, The Were-Wolf in the Middle Ages, A Chamber of Horrors, Jean Grenier, Folk-Lore Relating to Were-Wolves, Natural Causes of Lycanthropy, Mythological Origin of the Were-Wolf Myth, The Maréchal de Retz.-I. The Investigation of Charges., The Maréchal de Retz.–II. The Trial, Maréchal de Retz.–III. The Sentence and Execution. A Galician Were-Wolf, Anomalous Case.–The Human Hyæna. A Sermon on Were-Wolves etc.”

First editions of The Book of Werewolves appear to be quite rare; we only have three remaining copies on the site as of this writing, ranging in price from $450.00 all the way up to $10,000. That $10,000 copy, offered by First Place Books in Maryland, is special because in it you’ll find the book-plate of Baring-Gould’s wife, Grace.

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Sabine Baring-Gould was an Anglican priest in England in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He was also a hagiographer. Interestingly, in direct contrast (to my mind) with the book at hand, most of Baring-Gould’s impressively prolific bibliography was religion-based, including many original hymns (most famous among them being “Onward, Christian Soldiers”, whose accompanying music was penned by Arthur Sullivan, of Gilbert & Sullivan). Baring-Gould and his wife Grace had 15 children, all but one of whom survived until adulthood.

Sabine Baring-Gould also published A Book of Ghosts, for anyone interested in a spooky-themed matched set. It is described by one of our booksellers as a “Collection of ghost stories, some dating back to the 1850s. Most are slight tales of apparitions; the most interesting are ‘Pomps and Vanities,’ a tale of possession; and ‘The Merewigs,’ a farce in which persons who made no spiritual progress in their last incarnation must now haunt the British Museum.” One thing’s for sure – I certainly do adore the lettering on that cover:

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There is an image from within which depicts some poor, bedridden soul being visited by an apparition:

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All told, Baring-Gould’s catalogue ended up boasting an impressive 1200 or so publications, with (obviously) a great variety of subject and genre.

This isn’t the first time we’ve sold a spooky, occult type rare book in the days leading up to Halloween. Last year we sold a rare grimoire which is definitely worth reading about.

Happy Hallowe’en!


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