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Rare Books LA – the new face on the book fair scene

A new book fair is about to make its debut. Rare Books Los Angeles occurs on February 1 and 2 at the Pasadena Convention Center. It is organized by Brad and Jen Johnson, the husband and wife bookselling team behind Johnson Rare Books & Archives. They also run a bricks and mortar bookshop in Covina on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

More than 100 sellers, including many of the world’s top antiquarian dealers, will be offering rare books, prints, photos and ephemera at Rare Books LA.

“Our guiding principle is to be inclusive,” said Brad Johnson, “And to bring in a lot of trades that are allied to the rare book business. We are working closely with the International Fine Print Dealers Association and a consortium of mostly Los Angeles-based specialists in classic photography. There’s always been a lot of overlap between their worlds and the book trade, and we thought it would be a great opportunity to get everyone under one roof.”

If you wish to visit Rare Books LA, then it’s at the Pasadena Convention Center on Friday 1 Feb from 2pm to 8pm and Saturday February 2 from 10am to 6pm.

A ticket costs $20 on the Friday, which is good for both days and proceeds benefit the Huntington Library, and tickets will cost $10 on the Saturday.

However, there is an online promotional code for AbeBooks customers which entitles you to a 50% discount on tickets to the fair. Just use ABEBOOKS when prompted in the checkout process.

More details and tickets can be found at rarebooksla.com

Listen to our podcast interview with the Johnsons where we discuss Rare Books LA plus their bookshop dog (Elke), heavy metal books, Wayne’s World, acting, menus, vintage board games, and Hugh Hefner’s library.

The Johnsons…. organisers of Rare Books LA

And yes, we do mean heavy metal books, which is a particular passion for Brad. Frustrated that books and ephemera about the punk era gets all the attention, Brad is on a mission to discover and highlight key moments in the 50-year history of heavy metal through books and other printed matter.

Scott Baker Wallace, avid collector of Agatha Christie

Scott Baker Wallace, devoted collector of Agatha Christie books and objects

Meet Scott Baker Wallace from Victoria in Australia. Scott is a devoted collector of Agatha Christie books and also other objects associated with her detective stories. In our latest podcast, Scott describes his adventures in collecting and the places he’s visited along the way.

Christie wrote 66 novels, 14 short stories and the world’s longest running stage play. More than a billion copies of her books have been sold.

We all think we know something about Agatha Christie, who remains the world’s most famous writer of detective fiction. However, you’ll find Scott takes Agatha Christie knowledge to another level. Enjoy the interview.

Podcast interview with Rebecca Baumann

Rebecca Baumann enjoys collecting HP Lovecraft books

We interview Rebecca Baumann in the latest episode of AbeBooks’ Behind the Bookshelves podcast. Rebecca’s day job is Head of Library Public Services at the Indiana University’s Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana. The Lilly contains one of North America’s finest collections of rare books and manuscripts. However, we are discussing Rebecca’s personal book collection of crime, science fiction, horror and what she describes as “smut paperbacks” from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, which can also be labelled as pulp. Rebecca has a deep fascination with books that are unusual and weird. We think you’ll enjoy the interview, which takes us from the vaults of Indiana University to HP Lovecraft’s New York and the modern-day book fairs of London.

Some of the books mentioned by Rebecca include:

Helen’s Story by Rosanne Rabinowitz – a modern retelling of Arthur Machen’s classic novella The Great God Pan.

Mrs Caliban by Rachel Ingalls – a lonely married woman encounters a gigantic frog-like creature recently escaped from a sadistic laboratory.

At the Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft – in the Antarctic, an expedition uncovers strange fossils and a lot of terror.

The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers – a masterpiece of weird fiction.

The Checklist of Fantastic Literature  (see image below) – the first bibliography of science fiction, fantasy and weird books in the English language with more than 5,000 books listed.

Death of a Sadist by RR Ryan – the tale of a young man who admires art so much he loses his soul over it.

The Pale Ape by M.P. Shiel – a collection of supernatural fiction first published in 1911.

The Auctioneer by Joan Samson – the ways of a small town are suddenly undermined by the systematic demands of a magnetic newcomer.

A superb dust jacket design


Judge’s copy of Lady Chatterley sells for £56,000

A copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, used by the judge who presided over the famous 1960 obscenity trial, has sold for more than £56,000 (about $71,500) at auction, reports the BBC.  Judge Laurence Byrne brought the copy of DH Lawrence’s novel into the courtroom each day. As everyone knows, Penguin, the book’s publisher, was found not guilty.

The judge’s wife Dorothy Byrne had read the book and indicated the sexually explicit passages to her husband who did not read the book. During the trial, Laurence Byrne famously asked whether the novel was “a book that you would… wish your wife or your servants to read.”

The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970

One of our favorite books of 2018 has been The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970 by Martin Salisbury.  This is a book for anyone who loves beautiful dust jackets. It traces the evolution of the book jacket from its functional origins as a plain protective covering. Salisbury celebrates the work of more than 50 artists from Rockwell Kent to Edward Gorey and NC Wyeth, and covers several styles including Art Deco from the 1920s and 1930s.

Find copies

Lisa Grimm: an interview with a ghostlore collector

Our latest edition of the Behind the Bookshelves podcast features an interview with Lisa Grimm (pictured), who is a collector of books about ghostlore, general folklore and weird fiction. Lisa, who lives in Seattle, is a trained librarian but no longer works in libraries. Brought up in St Louis, Lisa has also lived in the UK.  Aside from books, her other passions are craft beer and travel, and her website offers more on these subjects. She tweets as @lisagrimm.

First editions of MR James’ Ghost Stories of an Antiquary – books Lisa would like to own.

Among the authors mentioned by Lisa is MR James, who is famous for his ghost stories.  Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) was a scholar at Cambridge University. In some respects, he modernized the ghost story format. He wrote a number of collections, including Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1911), A Thin Ghost and Others (1919), and A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories (1925). They were designed to be read aloud to a group for entertainment. A typical “Jamesian” tale often includes the discovery of an old book or another old object that usually creates a world of supernatural trouble for someone.

A selection of Lisa Grimm’s ghostlore books

Haunted East Anglia by Joan Forman – one of Lisa’s exciting discoveries

A selection of Lisa’s early printings of Rider Haggard books

Anna Burns wins 2018 Man Booker Prize with Milkman

2018 Man Booker winner

Anna Burns has won the 2018 Man Booker Prize, becoming the first writer from Northern Ireland to take home the award. She wins £50,000 for Milkman, a novel set in the Troubles in Northern Ireland about a young woman being sexually harassed.

People are describing Milkman as “experimental” and it was an outsider to win. The novel is narrated by an 18-year-old girl – never named and known as Middle Sister – who is being harassed by an older paramilitary figure. It definitely carries undertones of the #MeToo era.

This is Burns’ third book. The 56-year-old has previously been shortlisted for the Orange Prize. Burns was born in Belfast and raised in the Catholic district of Ardoyne. She moved to London in 1987 and now lives in East Sussex. Her first novel was called No Bones and that is also an account of growing up in Belfast. She published a novella called Mostly Hero in 2014

See the book

See all the Booker winners

Lee Israel: from author to forger

Melissa McCarthy plays Lee Israel

Have you heard of Lee Israel? She was a run-of-the-mill author of non-fiction books, who became an exceptional forger of literary letters by the rich and famous.

Israel’s career in crime is now being brought to the big screen with Melissa McCarthy starring as the American writer who forged letters from notable people such as Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward, Lillian Hellman and Louise Brooks.

The film, released on October 19, is called Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and co-stars Richard E. Grant. The movie marks a change of dramatic focus for McCarthy who is well known for her comedy roles. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is based on Israel’s 2008 memoir of the same name – a short, breezy book which describes Israel’s descent into the criminal world, resulting in more than 300 forged letters.

As an author, Israel – a wise-cracking and feisty New Yorker with a drink problem – wrote biographies of the actress Tallulah Bankhead and journalist Dorothy Kilgallen, which sold well. Her third book, an unauthorized biography of cosmetics mogul Estée Lauder, flopped as Lauder simultaneously released her own memoir. From there, things went downhill fast and she was soon in financial strife with rent to pay, a cat to feed and no money coming in.  Unsecured access to a collection of letters in a library opens the door for her.

Lee Israel’s memoir from 2008

Israel’s trick was to visit libraries, request to see letters from famous people stored in the archives, stealthily make a copy of the signature, study the style and content, and then do more biographical research before putting typewriter to paper. She acquired a storage locker full of old typewriters and old blank writing paper.

She then offered the forged letters to autograph dealers, who were convinced they were real and attracted by the cheap prices she was asking.  Israel’s scheme worked because she was a good researcher who understood her chosen celebrities and their private lives. She knew detail was everything and also learned that autograph dealers craved letters with interesting content, so Israel would insert gossip, comments about relationships and revealing little comments to add spice.

Two of Israel’s forgeries were even featured a book called The Letters of Noël Coward.  Without spoiling the movie, Israel is forced to turn to theft and that’s where things go pear-shaped for her, and the FBI comes calling.

The Can You Ever Forgive Me? book reveals Israel took great pride in her forgeries.

“They totaled approximately 100,000 words, give or take,” she wrote. “Not bad for less than two years work. I still consider the letters to be my best work. I was a better writer as a forger than I had ever been as a writer.”

Find copies of Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Richard Grant co-stars in Can You Ever Forgive Me?


The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro

Fiction. Shapiro delivers a compelling tale of a forgery tied to the real unsolved Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist in Boston. The protagonist is a struggling painter called Claire Roth, who is convinced to create a replica of a Edgar Degas painting stolen in the 1990 robbery.

The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett

Fiction. A mysterious portrait ignites an antiquarian bookseller’s curiosity. This story starts in Hay-on-Wye in 1995 as Peter Byerly searches through a used bookshop. He picks up an 18th century study of Shakespeare forgeries and a picture falls out.

I Was Vermeer: The Rise and Fall of the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Forger by Frank Wynne

Non-fiction. This is a biography of arguably the most famous forger of all time, Han van Meegeren, a disillusioned Dutch painter, who created fake paintings by the master Johannes Vermeer. Nazi leader Hermann Göring was among his unwitting customers.

Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury & Aly Sujo

Non-fiction. Journalists Salisbury and Sujo uncover the decade-long scam of con-man John Drewe and painter John Myatt, who copied famous artworks. Drewe’s trail was covered by falsified provenance records and fake documents planted in the Tate archives in London. Myatt’s work still hangs in many collections.

Catch Me If You Can: The True Story of a Real Fake by Frank W. Abagnale

Non-fiction. In his brief but notorious career, Abagnale donned a pilot’s uniform and co-piloted a jet, masqueraded as a member of hospital management, practiced law without a license, passed himself off as a college professor, and cashed over $2.5 million in forged checks before he was 21. Now recognized as a leading authority on financial foul play, Abagnale went from poacher to gamekeeper. Leonardo DiCaprio played Abagnale in a 2002 movie.

Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger by Ken Perenyi

A 2002  FBI investigation in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York was about to expose a scandal in the art world that would have been front-page news in New York and London. After a trail of fake paintings of astonishing quality led federal agents to art dealers, renowned experts, and the major auction houses, the investigation inexplicably ended, despite an abundance of evidence. The case was closed and the FBI file was marked “exempt from public disclosure.”

Fake! The Story of Elmyr de Hory, the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time by Clifford Irving

Elmyr de Hory was a Hungarian-born painter and art forger, who is said to have flogged more than a thousand forgeries to top-drawer art galleries around the world. Orson Welles made a documentary film about him called F is for Fake in 1974. Picasso, Matisse, and Renoir were among the artists that Elmyr de Hory was able to copy. One Texas oil baron purchased more than 50 of his fake paintings.

The importance of Paddington Bear

Our latest podcast addresses the importance of Paddington Bear as he approaches his 60th birthday.  From marmalade sandwiches to really hard stares, we look at why this children’s book character is so special.

Netflix’s Ozark and the Thomas Wolfe first edition

Viewers of the Netflix show Ozark are searching for first editions of Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe, a 1929 novel famous for its eye-catching Art Deco dust jacket. Listen to our podcast to learn more.