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William Carlos Williams – the poet behind the plums in the icebox meme

It’s been fun to watch the numerous Twitter memes riffing on the “This Is Just To Say” poem about plums in the icebox written by William Carlos Williams in 1934.

A signed photo of William Carlos Williams

The original poem, a true example of modernist poetry, goes:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

The meme sees people applying the style of zero punctuation and sharp, short wording to numerous pop songs such as Mambo #5, Ice Ice Baby, and Call Me Maybe. It’s one of Twitter’s more cerebral memes of recent times but it’s wonderful to see poetry alive and vibrant… even when there’s a Vanilla Ice connection.

Williams was an influential poet in his day and even contributed the introduction to Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. This Is Just To Say is taught in American high schools but today almost no-one buys books of William Carlos Williams’ poetry. AbeBooks has only sold seven copies of his books in 2017 and we usually do very well with poetry since regular bookstores rarely carry large selections.

Williams (18831963) paid the bills by working as a physician. He was chief of pediatrics for Passaic General Hospital in New Jersey from 1924 until his death. In his spare time, he wrote short stories, plays, novels, and essays. His modernist style of poetry was not always well received although he was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems in 1963.

In 1920, he published a book of experimental prose and poetry called Kora in Hell: Improvisations., which was dubbed “incoherent” by American expatriate poet Ezra Pound. His 1923 collection, Spring and All, was overshadowed  by TS Eliot’s Waste Land, which was universally acclaimed. He published an autobiography in 1951 and copies are easy to find.

8 unscrupulous ways that cigarettes were promoted in vintage adverts

Television and newspaper adverts warning about the risks of smoking are now appearing across the United States as the result of the landmark 2006 legal ruling that finally concluded tobacco firms misled the American public on the dangers of cigarettes.

These ads are not being placed by cancer charities or health organisations – they are funded by the major tobacco companies themselves, under the orders of the US federal courts.

But just how much did the tobacco firms mislead people? We looked at tobacco adverts placed in numerous vintage magazines from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s offered for sale on AbeBooks.com. The ads showed cigarette firms were using almost every marketing ploy in the book to promote their products, ranging from celebrity endorsement to lifestyle advertising and technical mumbo jumbo extolling health benefits.

1 Cigarettes are healthy

For years, Lucky Strike cigarettes claimed their “toasting” process made their cigarettes better for you than the smokes offered by rival companies. Interestingly, they admitted that “harsh irritants” were present in raw tobacco but their manufacturing process removed them.

“It’s toasted. Your Throat Protection – against irritation – against cough.

“Harsh irritants present in all raw tobacco are expelled by toasting. They are not present in your LUCKY STRIKE. No wonder LUCKIES are always kind to your throat.”

Fortune Magazine, June 1931

This ‘ancient prejudice’ advert from Lucky Strike takes the scientific technical jargon a step further, claiming “harmful corrosive acrids” have been removed by the toasting process.

“No throat irritation” – a Lucky Strike advert from 1929

Craven A cigarettes combined health, a sporty lifestyle and two beautiful people in this to-the-point advert from the Illustrated London News in August 1934. At least the polo player is wearing protective headwear. “For your throats’ sake – smoke Craven A.”

Craven showed the upper classes enjoying their cigarettes

2 Celebrities smoke – cigarettes must be good

Anyone who was anyone flogged cigarettes in the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s. Ronald Reagan, during his acting career, often appeared in cigarette adverts. Our examples show Fred Astaire and his sister Adele endorsing Chesterfield cigarettes during their run in The Band Wagon musical on Broadway in 1931, and John Gilbert appearing in a Lucky Strike advert that appeared in the September 1929 issue of Photoplay magazine. Gilbert was one of the stars of the silent movie era, rivaling Rudolph Valentino as Hollywood’s leading man.

Fred and Adele Astaire selling Chesterfields

Silent movie star John Gilbert selling Lucky Strike smokes

Even Santa Claus smokes according this seasonal Lucky Strike ad, which appeared in the January 1937 issue of Needlecraft Home Arts Magazine. We could have lived with Father Christmas puffing on a pipe but a cigarette simply looks wrong.

Naughty or nice? Santa smoking a cigarette

3 Cigarettes are cool

Adverts portraying cigarettes as the essential element in a cool lifestyle were commonplace. This Fortune Magazine advert from August 1930 shows a beautifully designed beach scene with three good-looking young people enjoying their cigarettes. It’s Jazz Age style personified.

An example of lifestyle marketing

4 Cigarettes are fresh

Camels claimed their cigarettes were fresher than the smokes offered by the opposition. Their “Humidor Pack” apparently guaranteed freshness and the copywriter doesn’t hold back on the hyperbole in this advert that appeared in Fortune Magazine in June 1931. “Now, wherever you go, you can always be sure of getting a fresh, throat-easy cigarette when you demand Camels.” There’s nothing to explain the actual properties of a Humidor pack.

Camels claimed “Humidor” packs made a difference

5 Smokers are in good company

This Camels ad from a Fortune Magazine in 1930 mirrors the Art Deco imagery of JC Leyendecker and tells us that “the road to pleasure is thronged with smokers.” Amazingly, smoking was only banned on US domestic flights in 1990 after years of campaigning from the Association of Flight Attendants. However, it took another 10 years before smoking was banned on flights between the United States and foreign destinations.

“Road to pleasure is thronged with smokers”

6 Athletes smoke – they must be good

Health and celebrity combined – smokers can’t lose. This vintage Chesterfields ad from 1947 shows tennis player Bobby Riggs, football star Sid Luckman, golfer Lloyd Mangrum, baseball slugger Ted Williams, basketball star Nat Holman and swimmer Adolph Keifer – the crème de la crème of American sports. Imagine any sports star from today being prepared to be photographed with a cigarette hanging out their mouth like Riggs in 1947?

Some of America’s top sportsmen endorsing Chesterfields

7 Cigarettes are worldly

Well, Turkish ones are. That the message that Murad used in their advertising in the 1920s. No health message, no technical jargon – just be an international man of leisure without ever leaving home by smoking their brand. The highly stylized imagery shows little expense was sparred in the development of this 1921 advert.

Murad promised worldly pleasures without the travel

8 There’s research too

This plain and simple 1943 magazine advert from Old Gold openly talks about nicotine and “throat-irritating tars and resins” but also mentions that research shows the superiority of their cigarettes. As is typical with any research referenced in advertising, there is little detail supplied to the reader.

China in Print – Asia’s leading fair for rare books, prints, maps & ephemera

“Peking Dream Pillow” offered by Asia Bookroom

China in Print is Asia’s premier international fair and exhibition for rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, and ephemera with a particular focus on printed material from Asia itself. The three-day fair is set in the central waterfront location of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum and features some of the leading specialist dealers from Australia, Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Sweden, United Kingdom and the USA. AbeBooks is thrilled to once again be a sponsor of this event.

Fine Books Magazine has previewed the event on its blog.

Among the highlights at Asia Bookroom’s stand will be two color woodblocks on oban tate-e sheets, diptyche style, satirically depicting the Opium War. Known as the Peking Dream Pillow (see above), it was created by Japanese artist Imaizumi Ippyō in 1884.

One of the fair’s most popular exhibits is bound to be the “lost” Agatha Christie manuscript notebook at Lucius Books. The unpublished notes relate to her novels, A Murder Has Been Arranged and They Do It With Mirrors, and her plays, Spider’s Web and Miss Perry. According to the seller, “Of the 74 Agatha Christie notebooks known to exist, this recently discovered one is not only the richest in content but is the only one outside of the author’s estate.”

And from Jonkers Rare Books: a Jessie M. King hand-painted vellucent binding of The Story of Rosalynde (1902), made for Cedric Chivers. It has been called “The most beautiful, and certainly the most ornate” of King’s vellucent binding designs.

The event runs November 17 -19 at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum Special Exhibitions Gallery, Central Ferry Pier No. 8, Man Kwong St, in Hong Kong.

Friday 17 November 16.00 – 20.00
Saturday 18 November 12.00 – 19.00
Sunday 19 November 12.00 – 16.00

Admission is free. Visit the fair website for more information.

175-year-old fig leaf just sold for $660. Find out why.

This might be the world’s most fragile piece of art – a gouache painting on a Chinese fig leaf from the 19th century that had been mounted on paper. It’s just sold for $660 on AbeBooks.com.

To be accurate, it’s from a peepal tree, which is also called Ficus religiosa or the sacred fig, a tree native to South-West China and the Indian subcontinent. Sometimes known as Bodhi trees, the Peepal is strongly associated with Buddhism and monks often meditate beneath its branches.

These delicate miniature paintings were produced in the 19th century in order to satisfy demand from Europeans for Chinese art and novelties. The seller estimated that this painting was created around 1840. Very few of these Chinese leaf paintings have survived for obvious reasons. Gouache is a type of watercolor.

The painting shows a riverside scene that probably depicts the 18 Arhats, who were the original followers of Buddha. A group that followed the ‘Eightfold Path’ and attained the ‘Four Stages of Enlightenment.’ These disciples are frequently portrayed in Chinese Buddhist art. You can also see the delicate outline made by the leaf’s skeleton on the left side of the paper.

It’s hard to imagine a more fragile or fleeting piece of artwork – one gust of wind or some clumsy handling and this beautiful leaf could be gone.

There are modern artists using leaves as canvases for paintings, but will their artwork still be around in 150 years?

When your 67-year-old mom places a personal ad asking for action

Sad news. Jane Juska has died at the age of 84. She is famous for placing the following personal ad in The New York Review of Books:

Before I turn 67—next March—I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.

Jane Juska’s bestselling memoir

Jane’s adventures in her search for sex in her sixties became a memoir and a play. The 2003 memoir is called  A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance. Round-heeled is a old fashioned term for a promiscuous woman.

The divorcée, an English teacher with one son, simply decided she’d been celibate long enough. The book details Juska’s numerous dates, which tended to quickly gravitate towards the bedroom. She did check with her son before placing the ad but he welcomed the idea with the words “Go get ’em, Mom. It’s your turn.”

The ad generated 63 replies from men across a variety of ages. After a year of dating, Juska put pen to paper and initially wrote fiction before one of her dates persuaded her to switch to memoir. A Round-Heeled Woman was adapted into a stage show starring Sharon Gless of  Cagney and Lacey fame.

Juska also wrote a follow-up called Unaccompanied Women, which concerns loneliness.

Don’t Miss the Toronto Antiquarian Book Fair, Nov 3-5, 2017

The Toronto Antiquarian Book Fair is held this week at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Once again, AbeBooks is proud to be a sponsor. From November 3-5, booksellers from around Canada will be showcasing some of their most interesting items, including maps, prints, manuscripts and other valuable first edition and signed books.

Whether you are an experienced or novice book collector, a librarian or an archivist, a scholar or an academic, or are simply interested in books and the book arts in general, you will find something to your taste.

Location: Art Gallery of Ontario – 317 Dundas St W, Toronto
When: November 3 – 5, 2017
Hours: Fri Nov 3: 5pm to 9pm / Sat Nov 4: 10:30am to 5:30pm / Sun Nov 5: 12pm to 4:30pm

Admission: Free with AGO admission
General Admission: $19.50

For more information, visit the book fair’s website.

Come Visit the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair: Oct. 14-15, 2017

The Pacific Northwest’s premier book event is back! The Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair is taking place October 14-15, 2017, at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall. If you haven’t been before, you’re in for a treat: a chance to meet with specialists from all over the world and browse a veritable museum of cultural and historical artifacts.

Dealers from across the United States, Canada, England and beyond will be displaying thousands of collectible books, prints, maps, manuscripts, autographs, photographs, posters, postcards, broadsides, fine bindings and ephemera. With inventory available at all price ranges, you are sure to find something interesting and unusual to take home.

AbeBooks sellers attending the fair include Louis Collins Books, Nudelman Rare Books, Peter Harrington Rare Books, Montgomery Rare Books & Manuscripts, Books Tell You Why, and many more.

Tickets are only $5 and can be used for both Saturday and Sunday entries.


Saturday, October 14th, 10am-6pm
Sunday, October 15th, 11am-4pm

Kazuo Ishiguro wins the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature

Kazuo Ishiguro has won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature. He is famous for the bestselling novels The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.

Never Let Me Go, published in 2005

He has only written eight books, but they are good ones. All widely translated and acclaimed by readers and critics around the world. Born in Japan in 1954, Ishiguro’s family moved to the UK when he was five and he studied English and philosophy at the University of Kent. He then studied creative writing at the University of East Anglia. His MA thesis was turned into his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, published in 1982. The novel is about a Japanese woman living in England struggling to come to terms with the death of her daughter.

Ishiguro won the Booker Prize in 1989 for The Remains of the Day. It tells the story of a butler whose employer was a Nazi sympathizer. The award confirmed his standing as a leading light in a new generation of British writers.

Published in 2005, Never Let Me Go tells the story a group of students at a boarding school living in a dystopian future. The film version starred Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan. Never Let Me Go turned Ishiguro into an international superstar in literary circles. In an interview with The Guardian in 2014, he admitted that he wrote this novel in four weeks.

I would, for a four-week period, ruthlessly clear my diary and go on what we somewhat mysteriously called a “Crash”. During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I’d get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I’d not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house.

Ishiguro has a distinct writing style featuring restrained prose. His novels are often narrated in the first person by unreliable narrators. Like many great writers, what isn’t said on the page is what really matters in his plots. The reader needs to grasp the difference between perception and reality. He has an acute grasp of Britain’s lingering class system.

He is comfortable switching between genres. His latest book, The Buried Giant, was published in 2015 and is a fantasy story set in Arthurian Britain. The Unconsoled is a surreal-like novel about a pianist in an unnamed European city. When We Were Orphans could be considered a detective novel.

The Folio Society published an attractive edition of Never Let Me Go in 2007 with illustrations by Finn Campbell-Notman.

Ishiguro was named an OBE in 1995. Past winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature include T.S. Eliot, Samuel Beckett, Alice Munro, Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway, Gabriel García Márquez and Toni Morrison.  Musician Bob Dylan was the controversial winner in 2016.

Find signed copies of Kazuo Ishiguro’s books

The Folio Society’s edition of Never Let Me Go

Don’t miss the Vancouver Rare Book, Photograph & Paper Show

Books from the 2013 Vancouver Book Fair

The Vancouver Rare Book, Photograph & Paper Show is coming up this weekend. This is Western Canada’s premier antiquarian event with exhibitors from British Columbia as well as Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, London, Toronto and Montreal. Visitors will see books, fine maps, photographs, ephemera, prints, manuscripts and more.

There will be lots of Canadiana, encompassing local history, local authors and maps, but also books and paper collectibles from all over the world.

October 7 (9am to 4pm),

October 8 (10am to 3pm),

Admission: $10 at the door,

Venue: Heritage Hall, 3102 Main Street, Vancouver, BC.         

The dealers include Aquila Books from Calgary, Bjarne Tokerud and Dale Cournoyer from Victoria, Bison Books and Greenfield Books from Winnipeg, Thompson Rare Books from Hornby Island, and Hourglass Books from Vancouver.

It’s wonderful to see a fair of this nature back on in Vancouver. Heritage Hall is an interesting building, designated a heritage structure by the City of Vancouver in 1974.

Learn more at the fair’s website.


Top 10 most searched for Playboy issues since Hugh Hefner’s death

Aside from books, AbeBooks.com also offers vintage magazines and periodical, including thousands of Playboys. We are seeing more searches for “Playboy” than anything else right now. People are searching for very specific issues and the most popular one is October 1985 when supermodel Jerry Hall was photographed by Annie Leibovitz.

I believe the photoshoot was called ‘Hall of Mirrors’, and involved Hall appearing as a partially wrapped present next to a Christmas tree.

It’s clear that certain issues of Playboy from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s resonate strongly with people who either read them at the time, or perhaps are discovering them for the first time.

Top 10 Most Searched for Playboy Issues

1 Playboy October 1985 – Jerry Hall photographed by Annie Leibovitz, John De Lorean and Rosanna Arquette interviews

Playboy November 1981 – Playmate Shannon Tweed Simmons (wife of Gene Simmons of Kiss), Vicki La Motta at 51, interview with Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, David Halberstam on the NBA

3 Playboy January 1979 – 25th anniversary issue with a bunny logo cover, Playmate Candy Loving, Marlon Brando interview

Playboy October 1990 – Melissa Evridge cover, Keifer Sutherland interview, profile of boxer Buster Douglas

Playboy March 1984 – Playmate Donna Speir, Susie Scott cover, profile of playwright Sam Shepard, ‘Betrayal of John Lennon’ article.

Playboy April 1984 – Kathy Shower cover, interview with actress Joan Collins.

Playboy February 1992 – Rachel Williams cover, Playmate Tanya Beyer, interview with actress Jennifer Jason Leigh

Playboy May 1996 – Cindy Crawford cover, interview with author Ray Bradbury

Playboy April 1979 – Rita Lee cover, 300th Playmate Amanda ‘Missy’ Cleveland, feature on ‘Sex in Chicago’

10 Playboy January 1988 – Art Deco cover featuring bunny logo, Playmate Kimberley Conrad, Arnold Schwarzenegger interview