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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.

Guide to literary road trips across America

We enjoyed this literary journey infographic. The Fear and Loathing trip is actually an easy drive if you aren’t behaving like Hunter S Thompson.  Bill Bryson made a long journey considering he was in a pokey little car.

Not everyone will be familiar with F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s Cruise of the Rolling Junk trip. It was made three months after they were married in a dilapidated car. It was a hapless trip of comedy, despair and danger, and the old car is a key character in their adventures. Zelda was born in Montgomery, Alabama, which was their destination.

Infographic courtesy of CarRentals.com

Collecting the Dillons

Brooklyn-based bookseller Honey & Wax recently announced the winner of their 2018 book collecting prize.

The contest was open to women book collectors in the United States, aged 30 or younger, and AbeBooks was excited to lend a hand as one of the sponsors. Heather O’Donnell and Rebecca Romney, the two sellers behind Honey & Wax, were looking for original collections that had been assembled via creativity, coherence, and bibliographic rigor. Size and value were not factors in the judging process.

The winner was Jessica Jordan, a 27-year-old a former bookseller who is currently a graduate student in English at Stanford. Jessica collects books designed by prolific American illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon. The Dillons collaborated on many literary projects, from science fiction to children’s stories and paperback editions of notable books by James Baldwin, Madeleine L’Engle, Chinua Achebe, and Isabel Allende. The husband-and-wife team were interracial partners, in life and work, and they were committed to showing all races in their graphic design work.

Jessica (pictured below) kindly permitted AbeBooks to publish her winning essay – we think you’ll enjoy it, especially as many of you will probably own at least one book illustrated by the Dillons. Congratulations to Jessica.

Collecting the Dillons by Jessica Jordan

Winner of the 2018 Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize

When I was 10 years old, I found myself captivated by the elegant hands on the cover of a small paperback novel called Wise Child written by Monica Furlong. The hands belonged to two figures – a woman with intense eyes, one arm cradling a bouquet of spindly, dried-out wildflowers, the other resting protectively on the shoulder of a dark-haired girl, whose own hands open to reveal what appears to be a piece of a mask. I read and enjoyed the book, but what stayed with me most was not its characters or plot, but the cover which I found hauntingly beautiful.

A year or two later, another paperback volume caught my eye while browsing the local library – Sabriel by Garth Nix. Again, a woman on the cover caused me to linger over the volume. She, too, had dark, wild hair and powerful hands, which held a sword and a bell as she faced off against a shadowy creature that lurked behind her left shoulder. I knew those hands, just as I recognized the otherworldly grace at play in the picture’s muted colors and intricate patterns; as I would later come to learn, both were trademarks of illustrator duo Leo and Diane Dillon.

This early fascination with the Dillons’ work, coupled with the fact that their art graced the covers of many of my favorite books, eventually evolved into the desire to collect their work. I knew the Dillons’ work primarily from fantasy novels for young readers, but it didn’t take me long to learn that their body of work was far more extensive. Just as many lovers of science fiction and fantasy know the Dillons from their work on iconic book covers, children’s book aficionados know them from their illustration work on classics like Verna Aardema’s Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears and Margaret Musgrove’s Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions, for which the pair won consecutive Caldecott medals in 1976 and 1977 (and are still the only illustrators ever to have done so).

As I continued to delve into the Dillon archive, I learned that they were also regularly employed to produce covers for literary bigwigs like James Baldwin, Virginia Hamilton, and Isabelle Allende – and that’s not to mention their work in the 1960s and ’70s creating covers for pulpy paperback editions of Chaucer and Shakespeare. In all, their published output comprises more than 40 picture books and countless books for which they have provided cover or interior illustrations. And “countless” is barely an exaggeration; if there exists anywhere a comprehensive list of the Dillons’ work, it must be in a personal artists’ archive, and has not been made public.

Some might find the idea of collecting without knowing exactly what you’re looking for daunting, but, for me, it’s actually one of the things that makes collecting their work so much fun. I often scout book sales for Dillon titles without having any idea what I’m looking for. A hardcover? A paperback? A picture book? Of course, I sometimes come across titles that I’m already familiar with, but the real shot of adrenaline comes with the shock of realization that floods through me when I recognize the Dillons’ work on a book I have never heard of before. This is just what occurred when I stumbled onto a hardcover book club edition of John Brunner’s The Jagged Orbit from 1969 at a convention booth giving away old science fiction books. The Dillons were contracted by Ace – the publisher of The Jagged Orbit – from 1967 to 1971 to create covers for their Science Fiction Special Series, but until stumbling onto my copy, I had seen no record of these illustrations being used for any hardcover editions, book club or otherwise. There is a feeling serendipity that accompanies every new Dillon discovery I make; collecting their work perfectly epitomizes that old book-hunting adage, “You never know what you might find.”

The thrill of the hunt is heightened by the fact that the Dillons’ work is unsigned on many of their early book covers – meaning that the burden of identification is left solely to my own abilities – and because the Dillons’ style evolved drastically over the course of their career. In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, the Dillons were known for an innovative technique that allowed their paintings to appear as though they were produced using woodblock printing. This method, while striking, is a long way from the elegant lines I so admired in Wise Child and Sabriel: the images tend to be more monochromatic, though they still possess a dark palette, and render their subjects using stylized geometric shapes. Over the past three or four years, as I have grown my collection, I have also been training my eye to see what others don’t, and nothing else puts a spring in a book collector’s step quite like that feeling.

While my interest in the Dillons grew from work produced to accompany fantastic fiction – like their 1969 cover for Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (another Ace Science Fiction Special) and their now-iconic cover for the 1979 hardcover reissue of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time – learning more about their lives and work has interested me in another aspect of their oeuvre: its engagement with race and the African and African American literary traditions.

Leo and Diane met at Parson’s School for Design in New York City in the early 1950s. According to interviews given by the artists later in life, their attraction to each other’s work was instant; romance was slower to follow, as the pair found themselves competing to be at the top of their class. By 1957, the couple was married, though their early years were not without their share of challenges. Mostly, the pair was working out a system that would allow them to successfully collaborate for more than 50 years, until Leo’s death in 2012 – a system that would eventually become their concept of the “third artist,” who was neither Leo nor Diane but emerged from them both. But the young artists also had to navigate the challenges of being an interracial couple pre-Civil Rights Movement America.

Though the couple is notoriously private, generally sharing information only about their work rather than their personal lives, a 1981 book celebrating the Dillons’ work give a small glimpse into the difficulties the pair faced. In Byron Preiss’ The Art of Leo & Diane Dillon, Leo shares: “I always had the feeling that unless [clients] knew I was black we would be getting work under false pretense. If Diane went, I made it a point to show up…It raised a number of eyebrows, but we were still given work.”

Rather than speak about their own experiences, the Dillons channeled them into their work; in 2002 joint interview, Diane stated: “We’re an interracial couple, and we decided early in our career that we wanted to represent all races and show people that were rarely seen in children’s books at the time.”

This commitment is evident not only in their two Caldecott Award-winning picture books, but titles like Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly (1985), Leontyne Price’s Aïda (1990), and their own works Jazz on a Saturday Night (2007) and Rap a Tap Tap: Here’s Bojangles—Think of That (2002), as well as several others. Lately, I’ve also become interested in the paperback covers they produced for writers like James Baldwin (Nobody Knows My Name, 1978 and Going to Meet the Man, 1976) and Chinua Achebe (No Longer At Ease and Things Fall Apart, both 1969). I’ve also read that some of their work was taken up and used by the Black Power movement in the 1960s, though I have not been able to find any record of which of their works was used, or in what manner. As my collection grows, I hope to discover more works which speak to the Dillons’ dedication to inclusion in picture books and on book covers.

I began collecting the Dillons because I find their artwork unparalleled – even today, I still find myself enchanted looking through their illustrations for works like Ray Bradbury’s Switch on the Night (1992) and Claire Martin’s The Race of the Golden Apples (1991). My interest in this collection has grown ever stronger as I have learned how influential and groundbreaking their career has been both for the field of illustration and the young readers who saw themselves for the first time on a Dillon book cover. In the future, I hope not only to discover more hidden treasures during my book scouting expeditions, but also locate prints of their work (now scarce) that were produced in the 1980s and ’90s. After all, I can think of nothing more lovely than filling my walls with the art of Leo and Diane Dillon – but I can’t bring myself to cut up copies of their picture books in order to do it.

Marthe McKenna, the WWI nurse who spied

We’re seeing tremendous interest in the books of Marthe McKenna (1892-1966) after the New York Times ran an “overlooked” obituary. A nurse, McKenna, who was Belgian, spied on the Germans for almost two years in World War I. Her book I Was a Spy! became a massive bestseller after the war. It’s still in print thanks to Pool of London Press.

A Scottish grandmother reads Wonky Donkey and creates a bestseller

A YouTube video of a Scottish grandmother reading the children’s book The Wonky Donkey to her grandson, and cracking up, has created worldwide demand for this title.

AbeBooks has seen interest from people around the world since the start of September. Hundreds of copies have sold. Wonky Donkey was the top search term on our UK and North American sites over the weekend. The Wonky Donkey is written by New Zealander Craig Smith and illustrated by Katz Cowley.  The grandmother, Janice Clark, lives in Australia.

The obscure 1965 novel where the U.S. president goes insane

Following Wednesday’s Op-Ed in the New York Times by an anonymous member of the Trump administration, AbeBooks.com has seen strong interest in an obscure out-of-print novel from 1965 about a US president who may be mentally ill.

Night of Camp David by Fletcher Knebel carries text on the front cover that reads: “What would happen if the President of the U.S.A. went stark raving mad?”

The novel was referenced widely on social media on Wednesday after the New York Times article described the president’s “erratic” behavior.

Night of Camp David was the most searched for book on AbeBooks.com on Wednesday.  Every copy priced under $15 sold. Only a handful of highly priced copies remain. It was last published in 1980 by HarperCollins.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Jim MacVeigh, an Iowa senator, who begins to doubt the sanity of president Mark Hollenbach.  The president’s erratic ideas include wiretapping every phone in the US, and merging the US, Canada and Scandinavia. (Imagine if Donald Trump proposed a new nation called Candinavia!)

This 2017 review on Medium may have sparked some of the interest.

Hollenbach takes every slight or feeling of disappointment he feels toward people around him and weaves them together into a perception that he is under attack at all times by a conspiracy.

Fletcher Knebel (1911-1993) specialized in political fiction featuring dramatic events. He also wrote a novel in 1962 called Seven Days in May about a military coup in the United States, which was adapted into a film starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Ava Gardner.

10 novels set in bookstores

Probably the best book about a bookstore is 84 Charing Cross Road, but what about fiction? There is actually a mini-genre of novels set in bookstores dating back 100 years to the books of Christopher Morley. Romance, mysteries, and tales about life-changing events seem to be the main themes. John Dunning, who still owns an antiquarian bookselling business in Denver (Old Algonquin Books), created an entire series of crime novels about a detective who loves books.

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

A witty, sharply observed novel about a young woman who finds unexpected salvation while working in a quirky used bookstore in Manhattan.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life using his intuitive feel for what the reader needs.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Clay Jannon has left life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. After a few days, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest.

Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley

Published in 1917. When you sell a man a book, says Roger Mifflin, the traveling bookman at the center of this novella, you don’t sell him just 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue, you sell him a whole new life. A romantic comedy.

The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

A 1919 suspense novel that continues the story of Roger Mifflin. Not a ghost story, the title refers to the ghosts of the past in the form of dead authors and old books that can be found in a bookstore.

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

In a small East Anglian town, literature-loving widow Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop.  A bookselling drama of small town politics.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

A. J. Fikry lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore.

The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard

A Danish literary thriller. When Luca Campelli dies a sudden and violent death, his son Jon inherits his second-hand bookshop, Libri di Luca, in Copenhagen. An arson attempt follows and Jon is forced to explore his family’s past. Unbeknownst to him, the bookshop has for years been hiding a remarkable secret.

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

Nina Redmond has a gift for finding the perfect book for her readers. But can she write her own happy-ever-after? This romantic comedy is a valentine to readers, librarians, and book-lovers the world over. Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village and buys a van, which becomes a mobile bookshop.

Booked to Die by John Dunning

Denver homicide detective Cliff Janeway is an avid collector of rare books. After a local book scout is killed on his turf, Janeway is on the (book)case, while also opening a small bookshop. The first in a series of crime novels featuring Janeway, the others are The Bookman’s Wake, The Bookman’s Promise, The Sign of the Book, and The Bookwoman’s Last Fling.

The Bookshop, a movie of bookselling drama

The Bookshop, a movie adapted from Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1978 Booker shortlisted novel of the same name, has finally opened in the US and Canada.

Directed Spaniard Isabel Coixet, the film stars Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, and Bill Nighy.  The story is set in the late 1950s in a small town in Suffolk in the UK as Florence Green (Mortimer’s character), a widow, attempts to open a bookshop. Small town politics and prejudices, and the Lolita rumpus are thrown in for good measure.

The filmmakers needed around 250 lookalike first edition copies of Lolita, which posed a problem for Coixet, according to an interview with the New York Post.

“It took us about a year to get all those books,” the filmmaker said, adding that she and production designer Llorenç Miquel settled on a mixture of actual vintage tomes and convincing reproductions of the real thing. “It was really important for me to have details that really belonged to the moment of the film — from the food, to the landscapes, to, of course, the books.

Aside from “Lolita,” Fitzgerald’s tale cites few other real titles, which meant that Coixet could stock Florence’s fictional shop with some of her favorite volumes, including 1929’s A High Wind in Jamaica, by Richard Hughes, and Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles.”

“Many of them actually come from my own library,” says Coixet, an avid vintage-book collector. One such gem? “The Jessie H. Bancroft book of physical exercise,” she says, referring to the 1940s edition of an early 20th-century manual that one of the townsfolk is seen ogling at the shop.

Bill Nighy’s character, Edmund Brundish, is an eccentric avid reader, who devours the classics until Mortimer introduces him to a new generation of literature through Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

The book, although well received in the late 1970s, is mostly forgotten. Penelope Fitzgerald (1916-2000) wrote nine novels, a collection of short stories and a biography of the artist and designer Edward Burne-Jones. Fitzgerald’s literary career only began in 1975, when she was 58. She had a rather up and down life, being homeless at one time, teaching at the famed Italia Conti drama academy, and working in a bookshop in Suffolk.

She won the Booker Prize in 1979 with a novel called Offshore. It’s all about living on boats in Battersea, which Fitzgerald did, although she lost many of her belongings and papers when her houseboat sank. It displays an eccentric community caught between the land and the water

Find copies of The Bookshop

Nighy plays a bibliophile who comes to the aid of The Bookshop’s owner

The decision to stock Lolita ruffles feathers in small-town Suffolk

Emily Mortimer plays a widow with a taste for Silas Marner

Amy Stewart on history, fiction and crime-fighting women

Amy Stewart, author of the Kopp Sisters crime novels

Author Amy Stewart is an old friend of AbeBooks. We’ve been following her writing career for many years and saw her move from non-fiction to historical crime fiction in 2015. She is also the co-owner of Eureka Books, a used and rare bookshop in Northern California, so she understands the book business better than most authors.

In September, Amy’s latest novel is released. Called Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit, this book is the fourth installment in the Kopp Sisters series. A mystery set in the middle of hotly contested local election in 1916, Constance Kopp, one of the America’s first deputy sheriffs, battles prejudice as a woman is declared insane in peculiar circumstances.

Amy is interviewed in our latest Behind the Bookshelves podcast where she speaks about the real Constance Kopp, her readership, her research methods, and the book she just purchased from Powell’s in Portland, Oregon.

For good measure, here’s a complete list of Amy’s books so far.

From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden. A gardening memoir.

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms. A natural history of this under-rated creature.

Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful. An overview of the global flower business.

Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities. An illustrated compendium of poisonous plants.

Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects. An illustrated compendium of poisonous insects.

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks. Alcohol and plants.

Girl Waits With Gun. Amy’s fiction debut, an historical novel based on the adventures of Constance Kopp and her sisters Norma and Fleurette.

Lady Cop Makes Trouble. Constance Kopp tracks down an escaped prisoner.

Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions.  More Kopp sleuthing with young women arrested on morality charges.

Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit. Released in September, this is a mystery set in the middle of hotly contested local election.