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Saturday, February 25, 2017

RARE BOOK CAFE: Watch LIVE today at 2:30 p.m. ET


Welcome to the 10th episode of Rare Book Cafe 2.0. Our guest is Michael Slicker, chairman of the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, rare book appraiser, and owner of Lighthouse Books ABAA.

In a pre-recorded segment, Michael discusses antiquarian books, the book fair (now in its 36 year), his 40 years with Lighthouse Books, and a bit of Florida history. Interviewer is guest host Cynthia Gibson, editorial director of bookfairsdotcom.

Miami Beach bookseller Steven Eisenstein is the host of Rare Book Cafe. Thorne Donnelley, owner of Liberty Books in West Palm Beach, are co-hosts. Regular co-host Lindsay Thompson, owner of Henry Bemis Books in Charlotte, North Carolina, is away. Joining us is special guest co-host Cynthia Gibson, in Charleston, South Carolina, owner of bookfairs.com. The program features Edie Eisenstein, an authority on miniature books.

T. Allan Smith is creator and executive producer.

Rare Book Cafe is sponsored by the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, celebrating its 36th year on April 21-23, 2016 at The Coliseum in downtown St. Petersburg. Florida Antiquarian Book Fair features more than 100 booksellers offering rare, used, and collectible book, vintage prints, antique maps, vintage photographs, autographs, and collectible printed matter of all kinds.

Rare Book Cafe originated on Blab.im in 2015 but the platform shut down in August 2016. The rebooted program now on YouTube (broadcasting live on Google Hangouts on the Air) every Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET. Please join us.

Email: rarebookcafe@gmail.com

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rare Book Cafe companion piece: Georgia's experiments in literary criticism

by Lindsay Thompson, co-host, Rare Book Cafe (for the February 25, 2017 program)



For twenty years, seven men labored to stanch the flow of paperbacks “so bad the devil would blush.” Several died on duty.

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Here’s what The New Georgia Encyclopedia said of it:

Georgia launched its first major campaign against obscene literature in 1953, when the General Assembly unanimously voted to establish the Georgia Literature Commission. The onset of the paperback book revolution in the years after World War II (1941-45), the rising popularity of adult magazines, and the introduction of Playboy magazine in the United States led the legislature to create the commission, consisting of three members who would meet monthly to investigate literature that they suspected to be "detrimental to the morals of the citizens of Georgia." If the commission determined something to be obscene, it had the power to inhibit distribution by notifying the distributor and then, thirty days later, recommending prosecution by the proper prosecuting attorney. Governor Herman Talmadge appointed Atlanta minister James P. Wesberry, Royston newspaper publisher Hubert L. Dyar, and Greensboro theater owner William R. Boswell to serve four-year terms.

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Writing in The Georgia Historical Quarterly in 2000, Gregory Lisby chronicled the post-World War II era’s concerns over moral standards that seemed to have gotten lost in the exigencies of conflict, what with all the men gone, the women working, and the kids latch-keying themselves home every afternoon.

The paperback revolution, and the rise of girlie magazines, found ready audiences in millions of demobilized servicemen for whom Betty Grable pinups lacked the allure they’d had in, say 1942:

Thus, the Georgia General Assembly unanimously voted to pass House Bill 247, establishing the Georgia Literature Commission to combat immorality as represented by "obscene literature." The commission- a "study agency [to investigate and recommend, with] no powers of censorship nor authority to punish offenders," in the words of then-Governor Herman Talmadge- was to consist of three members, citizens of "the highest moral character," who would meet monthly to investigate "literature which they have reason to suspect is detrimental to the morals of the citizens" of Georgia. Literature was defined in the statute as "any book, pamphlet, paper, drawing, lithograph, engraving, photograph, or picture," but specifically did "not include pictures used in projection of motion pictures or television." The Bible,"weekly and daily newspapers, all Federal and State matters, and all reading matter used in the recognized religions and in scientific or educational institutions of the United States" were exempt, as were radio, television, and film.

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Rev. Wesberry, who dodged Governor Talmadge until reminded by the chief executive of his duty to the people of Georgia, got off to a poor start:

As might be imagined, the commission found itself embroiled in a controversy over its purpose and identity from the beginning. First, there was Wesberry’s fear that the commission would be made to look like "a monkey to the nation." Then, in response to a question about the potential offensiveness of certain works of art, "with more zeal for his task than common sense," Wesberry answered, "I don't discriminate between nude women, whether they are art or not. It's all lustful to me." Wesberry's biographer characterized the statement as "the worst thing he could have said." The comment was reported nationally. The media - from radio's Walter Winchell to Collier's magazine to the International News Service - "made great sport of [his] remarks and inferred that if all nudity was lustful to [him] that [his] thoughts must be evil."

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Wesberry struck again in the summer of 1953: "When asked by a reporter to
name some of the books which have drawn fire, the chairman replied that if he named any of the books, a lot of people would go out and buy them.”


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Lisby and the Georgia Encyclopedia report the Commission had some early successes:

Most of the commission's early work was through a program of mutual cooperation with publishers, distributors, and retailers, although the commission became increasingly ineffective in its dealing with magazines, as it could prohibit distribution of a particular issue it found to be obscene but not any future issue. In late 1956, four out-of-state publishing companies sued the commission in federal district court on the grounds that the statute establishing the commission was unconstitutional. A special three-judge appellate panel ruled that the statute as correctly construed did not raise a constitutional question. Because the court concluded that the commission did not have any powers of censorship—the commission could only recommend to distributors that a publication not be sold or to prosecuting attorneys that a distributor be prosecuted—the suit was subsequently dismissed.

Through 1967 the commission was required to take legal action in only six instances. The beginning of the end of the commission's efforts came on August 19, 1966, when the commission sought and received a declaratory judgment in Muscogee County Superior Court that Alan Marshall's Sin Whisper (1965) was obscene. The Georgia Supreme Court also sided with the commission, concluding that the book was "filthy and disgusting." The unanimous opinion continued, "Further description is not necessary, and we do not wish to sully the pages of the reported opinions of this court with it." The U.S. Supreme Court, however, reversed the judgment without comment in a memorandum decision without any explanation of why the book was not obscene, without any comment about the standards applied by Georgia courts determining it to be obscene, and without any ruling on the constitutionality of the commission itself. Other books chosen for review by the commission were Erskine Caldwell's God's Little Acre (1933), J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye (1951), Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead (1948), George H. Smith's Strip Artist (1964), and John Dexter's Lust Avenger (1965).

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Other titles the Commission tried to suppress included Swan’s Campus Lust, Reese Hayes’ Turbulent Daughters, and Betty Short’s Rambling Maids. In 1964, Wesberry went after James Baldwin’s 1962 best-seller, Another Country, complaining that it was obscene and also inflammatory “because it was written by a Negro.” The book, which featured interracial and bisexual extramarital relationships, had already been declared obscene in New Orleans; as with the Commissions campaign against God's Little Acre- a full two decades after it was published, its campaign against Baldwin, who was then a leading figure in the growing civil rights movement, looked to many like just wandering around trying to pick fights.

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By the end of its first decade, the Commission’s work had produced precious little progress despite burning through $100,000 in taxpayer funds. The supply of offensive material outstripped its ability to review and evaluate it; because it could not ban serial publications into the future, they had to go after naughty magazines month after month, one issue at a time.

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Some distributors complained that even when they thought they were cooperating by not selling certain titles, they never knew when they Attorney General, given the Commission’s latest blacklists, might determine they weren’t, and prosecute them. Others freelanced their own notions of prior restraint, trying to pander to the Commissioners. A Washington Post report found,

Early on, officials struggled to define exactly what constitutes obscenity in literature, eventually developing an eight-part test. Publishers and distributors tried to appease the board, with some even voluntarily withdrawing books. Hefner even wrote them, thanking them for differentiating Playboy from the other “gross and tasteless ‘girlie’ magazines.”

By 1960 the Commission had failed to get a court to ban Erskine Caldwell’s God’s Little Acre, but has managed to get distributors to voluntarily suppress 119 titles.

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The trouble was, everything had to be tested next to eight criteria:

1. What is the general and dominant theme?
2. What degree of sincerity of purpose is evident?
3. What is the literary or scientific worth?
4. What channels of distribution are employed?
5. What are contemporary attitudes of reasonable men toward such matters?
6. What types of readers may reasonably be expected to peruse the publication?
7. Is there evidence of pornographic intent?
8. What impression will be created in the mind of the reader, upon reading the work as a whole?

The courts began to turn in a new direction as the 1950s gave way to a new decade. And a new governor, one Jimmy Carter, was the Commission’s nemesis. As Lisby reported,

[I]n 1971, after years of steady support, its annual appropriation was reduced by almost 20 percent. Ironically, then-Governor Jimmy Carter's decision to cut the commission's budget coincided with his public pronouncements decrying pornography.

He proclaimed May 9-15, 1971, "Fight Pornography Week," and declared his intentions "to do everything I possibly can to rid Georgia of pornographic literature and movies," urging "all Georgians to join ... in this fight.”
"Jimmy [Carter] was ... a liberal," Wesberry remembered in 1991. "He didn't see the evils of pornography as we saw it.”

Carter spent his governorship trying to unload the moribund Commission without yielding any ground on the need to stamping out smut. Lisby says,

In September [1972], he implemented a plan that would solidify his stance as "tough on pornography," yet circumvent the need to shut down the commission. Carter chose to argue that while certainly "not their fault," the commission had become no more than a "mere complaint department" and was "completely ineffective in stopping the spread of obscenity," the result of recent Court decisions that had "placed enforcement responsibility on the local level and left the state Literature Commission without enforcement power." He then named a new six-member advisory committee on pornography with instructions to"make a crash study of the pornographic situation in Georgia" and report back to him with "recommendations for fresh legal action." The committee recommended the creation of a new literature commission with a special, "circuit-riding prosecutor on its staff'; nothing, however, finally came of this proposal.
Carter's last, most subtle tactic to ensure the demise of the commission was to take no action at all. Both he and the next Georgia governor, George Busbee, "declined" to appoint replacements for Commissioner William Pirkle who died on October 11,1972, and Hubert Dyar, executive secretary, who died on October 4, 1973, at age forty-seven, the result of complications following surgery. Thereafter, the three-member agency was precluded from conducting official business as it was never able to have a quorum. It was, thus, "impotent" and, as a consequence, legally "inactive." Though Wesberry never said so publicly, he held Carter responsible: "Some of the best people I know couldn't see what was wrong. It broke my heart, [for] when you're fighting obscenity, you're fighting the devil."
From 1973 on, the commission's activities can only be described as its few last gasps for life. Wesberry was then the only living commission member, and despite his efforts, his appointment - which officially ended on April 1, 1973 - was never renewed. The last expenses deposit for the commission was made in June 1973, and the last minutes from a "meeting" were recorded October 9, 1973, during which Wesberry elected himself interim executive director and telephoned the governor's office to request that Carter
appoint two new members. The commission's last financial statement on file is for the quarter ending December 31, 1973.
Finally, in January 1974, the Office of Budget and Planning rejected the commission's quarterly allotment request because it had not been signed by its legally elected executive secretary, Hubert Dyar, who had died the previous year. The Georgia Literature Commission was completely paralyzed. This fact is reinforced by the words written in bold on the outside of Governor George Busbee's file on it: "Not Going To Appoint."

Wesberry also retired as minister of the Morningside Baptist Church the following year to become director of the Lord's Day Alliance, an interdenominational group whose aim is to promote "the Lord's Day as a day of worship, rest, family culture, and Christian service."
Although the 1953 statute creating the commission was never officially rescinded by the General Assembly (for what Georgia legislator would want to be seen voting for pornography?) , the new Georgia Constitution of 1976 authorized eight constitutional boards and commissions. The Literature Commission was not among them.


Among those surviving him, and his Commission, was Jimmy Carter, former governor of Georgia and 39th President of the United States.

This Saturday, Rare Book Cafe welcomes Mr. Bookfair, Michael Slicker!

A member of the Antiquarian Booksellers of America, Michael Slicker is also founder and chair of the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, the largest- and oldest- event of its kind in the American Southeast, and the third largest book fair in America. As one of one only 450 ABAA members in the United States, Slicker resides at the pinnacle of the profession.

He’s also celebrating his fortieth year in the business, and will take some time out Saturday, February 25, to visit with the Rare Book Cafe Crew about great books he has known.



He’ll also be talking about the next Book Fair in St Petersburg’s fabulous art deco coliseum, set for April 21-23, 2017.


Lighthouse Books, ABAA is a family-owned and operated book shop located near Tropicana Field in downtown Saint Petersburg, Florida. We are celebrating our 40th anniversary in 2017!

We're open to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.   

Our specialties include Florida history and literature, Americana, literature of the South, military history (including, but not limited to, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Korean War), children’s literature, antique maps, leather bindings and rare & unusual items.  

We also have a wide variety of general stock, including a large landscape/gardening section, a great selection of Christian/church history/Bible study titles, Beat literature, fishing, aviation, maritime, Asian history, African history, European history, South Pacific, British history, archaeology, psychology, philosophy, Latin American and Caribbean history, Canadian history, discovery & exploration, art, antiques & collectibles' reference, pop-up books, railroads, hunting, fire arms, etc.   

About 25 per cent of our total stock is listed in our online inventory. If ever you're in the area, we invite you to come in and browse; to show our appreciation, we'll offer a 15 per cent discount off any purchases made on your first visit.  

In addition to keeping regular hours at the storefront location, Lighthouse Books participates as a vendor in about a dozen book fairs, antiques shows, map fairs and related events each year. One such show is The Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, an annual trade show/charity benefit held in downtown St. Petersburg the second full weekend in March, that has become the oldest and largest antiquarian book fair in the Southeast. Slicker has served as chair since its inception thirty-six years ago.

The company also provides certified appraisal services.



Visiting St. Petersburg? Here's Lighthouse Books' contact information:

By email at LighthouseBooksABAA@gmail.com

By phone (Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST)
(727) 822-3278.

Or at the following address:
Lighthouse Books, ABAA
1735 First Avenue North
Saint Petersburg, FL 33713  USA

Rare Books Cafe is sponsored by the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair. It’s broadcast every Saturday from 2.30 to 3.30 pm EST and features interviews, panel discussion and stuff you can learn about book collecting whether you are a regular at Sotheby’s or just someone who likes books.

The program airs live on Rare Book Cafe’s and the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair’s Facebook page; the Book Fair Blog, and the Book Fairs YouTube channel. Shows are archived on YouTube and can also be viewed on the Facebook pages and the blog after their first run.

Hosted by Miami book dealer, appraiser and WDBFRadio.com’s Bucks on the Bookshelf radio show creator Steven Eisenstein, the program features a revolving set of cohosts and regular guests including Thorne Donnelley of Liberty Book Store in West Palm Beach, Florida; Lindsay Thompson of Charlotte’s Henry Bemis Books; miniature books expert Edie Eisenstein; and program creator/producer T. Allan Smith.

Rare Book Cafe program encourages viewer participation via its interactive features and video: if you've got an interesting book, join the panel and show it to us! If you’d like to ask the team a question or join us in the virtually live studio audience for the program, write us at rarebookcafe@gmail.com.



Monday, February 20, 2017

🔴 Book Fair 20 Questions LIVE: New Hampshire bookseller Richard Mori riffs on Jonathan Livingston Seagull and more

Richard Mori, of Richard Mori Books in Franklin, New Hampshire, exhibits each year at the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair. Fans know him for his unusual children's books and classic series he frequently brings to the book fair. Richard also specializes in Americana, modern first editions, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, counter culture, cook books, and books about his passion of golf as well as baseball and fishing.

Although he lives in New Hampshire,  Richard arranges to spend considerable time in Florida. Considering that the temperature in Franklin was 27 degrees at this writing, we consider him a wise man indeed. We caught up with him the other day during his visit to a hideaway in Central Florida.  We persuaded him to participate in our new feature, Book Fair 20 Questions #BF20Q,  which is a mishmash of queries blatantly stolen and adapted from The Proust Questionnaire, James Lipton of Inside the Actors' Studio, and other more nefarious sources.

Richard hesitated not in the least, and he even took up temporary residence in his car to be close to a strong wi-fi connection, though his phone, on several occasions, seemed reluctant to cooperation. Richard, a self-described Luddite when it comes to modern technology, nevertheless, undertook the endeavor with characteristic enthusiasm. We were using BeLive.tv, a newly developed platform designed to allow for face-to-face interviews on Facebook, and Richard found little difficulty in getting himself on the air.

The result is a wide-ranging interview that gives insight not only what to expect from Richard at the book fair but also into his quirky, fun loving personality. Thank you, Richard, for joining us. To you, dear readers and fairgoers, we  hope you enjoy interview and we look forward to seeing you at the book fair.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

LIVE AT 2:30: Join us for Rare Book Cafe

Welcome to the ninth episode of Rare Book Cafe 2.0. Our guest is Michael Lister, author of the John Jordan "Blood" mysteries, the Jimmy "Soldier" Riley noir mysteries, and the award-winning Double Exposure, a stream-of-consciousness thriller set in forests and swamps of northwest Florida. In a pre-recorded segment, Michael shares insight into his writing as well as a look at some of his collectible treasures.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

This weekend, Rare Book Cafe goes to prison.

“Henry James once said he was a reader moved to emulation. I can relate. I love crime fiction - especially series, so when I started writing, that's what came out.

“I really wanted to bring two worlds, two genres together - that of the clerical sleuth and that of the hard-boiled detective. I thought prison chaplaincy was the perfect intersection.

“I also wanted to take readers where they rarely get to go - North Florida and deep inside a state prison.”

-Michael Lister

That’s how Michael Lister- author of 27 books (last check, more may have been published this week), former youngest chaplain in the Florida Department of Corrections, newspaper editor, college instructor, Ford Mustang enthusiast and Big Brother- brought the world John Jordan, his ministerial detective in a series of New York Times bestseller-listed murder mysteries.

Think Father Brown in San Quentin.

As if writing about murders inside a giant lockup-turned grad school for crime isn’t enough of an imagination workout, Lister also runs a series involving a classic 40s-style noir PI Jimmy “Soldier” Riley and the sizzling streets of Panama City.

On the side, Lister works out some unresolved issues about the apocalypse in a line involving life after everything falls apart. Oh, and there’s the Remington James books about the North Florida guy who inherits his dad’s gun & pawn shop, putting aside a much calmer career as a nature photographer.

Then there’s the spiritual meditations....

How does he do it all?

Something seems to hinge on the "where"- as you can see from this video:



Rare Books Cafe is sponsored by the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair. It’s broadcast every Saturday from 2.30 to 3.30 pm EST and features interviews, panel discussion and stuff you can learn about book collecting whether you are a regular at Sotheby’s or just someone who likes books.

The program airs live on Rare Book Cafe’s and the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair’s Facebook page; the Book Fair Blog, and the Book Fairs YouTube channel. Shows are archived on YouTube and can also be viewed on the Facebook pages and the blog after their first run.

Hosted by Miami book dealer, appraiser and WDBFRadio.com’s Bucks on the Bookshelf radio show creator Steven Eisenstein, the program features a revolving set of cohosts and regular guests including Thompson; Thorne Donnelley of Liberty Book Store in West Palm Beach, Florida; miniature books expert Edie Eisenstein; and program creator/producer T. Allan Smith; and Lindsay Thompson, owner of Henry Bemis Books in Charlotte.

This week's program will also feature guest cohost Cynthia Gibson, owner of the BookFair.com website and an avid reader of Listeriana!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Book thieves hit CA Book Fair dealers again, this time for over $1 million



For the second year in a row, rare books bound for the California International Antiquarian Book Fair have been stolen in transit.

The Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America posted this notice on February 1:

Books of significant value were stolen from a West London warehouse on the night of 29th January while in transit for the California Book Fair. A full police investigation is underway.

A list of titles can be found here.  

A further list will be circulated as soon as possible.

If anyone offers you any of these titles, please contact the Police SCD6-ArtandAntiquesUnit@met.police.uk and quote crime reference number 0502127/17, ABA Secretary Camilla Szymanowska on 020 7421 4681 secretary@aba.org.uk or ABA Security Chair Brian Lake on 020 7631 4220 brian@jarndyce.co.uk  immediately.  

For more details of individual copies, please contact the dealers directly.

116 books are listed as having been stolen. 66 were shipped by an Italian dealer with a total listed value of 884,450 euros ($943,000 US); fifty more were to be shown by an English dealer who did not disclose their values.

Last year, Chicago book dealer Lawrence van de Carr’s van was stolen outside the Oakland, California home he was visiting en route to the California Book Fair. Thieves made off with over four hundred rare books worth upwards of $350,000 US inside the vehicle. Within hours after the theft was discovered, two men attempted to sell several of the books at a store in Berkeley. One escaped and one was arrested. When the story dropped out of the news a month later, there were no leads in the case.

In 2015, The Economist reported the worldwide rare books market to be worth an estimated $500 million US per year, with more high-end tomes fetching eight-figure prices. Lax security and infrequent inventorying makes libraries the main target for book thieves, though the two California thefts may mark the opening of a new front in book crime.

The 50th Annual California International Antiquarian Book Fair runs February 10-12 in Oakland.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

February 11's Rare Book Cafe: author Craig Pittman will answer the burning question, "Did Florida inspire Dr Hunter S Thompson's comment,"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro"?



A Tampa Bay Times environmental reporter for two decades, Craig  Pittman is the author of 2016's OH, FLORIDA! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country (Illustrated. 320 pp. St. Martin’s Press. $26.99). He'll be Rare Book Cafe's guest this Saturday, February 11.

Another Florida writer, Kent Russell, wrote this of it for The New York Times Book Review:

"Every native Floridian, regardless of vocation, happens also to be a psychoanalyst of our state. This is because people, when they find out one of us is actually from the place (and they see our eyes are clear, and we do not twitch involuntarily like a sleeping pack animal), tend to take us by the arm and wonder earnestly: Just what is the deal with Florida?

"In his newest book, “Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country,” Craig Pittman tells those outside the peninsula: The deal with Florida is the charlatans and lunatics and Snapchat-famous plastic surgeons. It is the Ponzi schemes, the byzantine corruption, the evangelical fervor and the consenting-adult depravity. It is the seasonless climate. The lack of historical consciousness. The way in which this nation’s unctuous elements tend to trickle down as if Florida were the grease trap under America’s George Foreman grill. It is all of the above, and then some, and then more on top of that.

"Pittman, a veteran of The Tampa Bay Times whose Floridian bona fides date to 1850, writes that the book grew out of a series of Slate assignments chronicling the state’s endemic absurdity, which stories themselves were inspired by the litany of #Florida links he would post to Twitter. Pittman reprises this curatorial, cicerone-ish role in “Oh, Florida!,” where he aims to be “a cross between squinteyed Rod Serling and one of those patter-drunk boat captains on Disney’s Jungle Cruise,” leading us deeper and deeper into the state’s sucking bog of greed, chicanery and heartbreaking irony.

"And deep we go. Pittman guides us through 18 chapters of natural, economic, political, social and personal history, each painstakingly reported and researched. These he arranges into a compulsively readable, lifer’s-eye view of a state he so obviously loves to death. We get vignettes on the extraordinary meteorologist Grady Norton and the founding of the National Hurricane Center; Dickie Bolles and his great land swindle; William Cottrell, “the only American mayor ever deposed by a military coup.” We hear about the time Ralph Waldo Emerson visited Tallahassee, upon which he immediately (and correctly) adjudged it “a grotesque place.” We’re treated to a mini-profile of Florida’s beloved electric chair, Old Sparky. Had Pittman written this book a year later, we surely would have borne witness to the tragedy at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub; as it is, he delves into the shameful racist massacres of Ocoee and Rosewood in the 1920s.

"Pittman traces many national phenomena to their Florida roots. The first “stand your ground” law was pushed through by Marion Hammer, a former N.R.A. president who also fought against the adoption of the amicable scrub jay as state bird. (“Begging for food isn’t sweet,” she argued. “It’s a welfare mentality.”) Billy Graham got his start preaching to alligators along the banks of the Hillsborough River. Anita Bryant, whom Pittman refers to as “the Bull Connor of gay rights,” was previously Big Orange’s juice shill.

"...Pittman, who has worked at The Tampa Bay Times since 1989, is a walking museum, the type of wry newshound whose ­marrow-deep knowledge of place used to be indispensable to America’s major dailies. For as much as his book is a celebration of Florida, it is also a celebration of journalism. (Florida, after all, is the originator of the open-records “sunshine law” that many other states have since copied.) And professionals like Pittman are as endangered as the Floridiana that formerly lined the roadsides.

"Though his book contains an epilogue entitled “The Unified Theory of Florida,” Pittman doesn’t actually wager a hypothesis of his own. As a Floridian writer, I was bothered by this — until I realized that such a theory would miss the point entirely. Florida never will be fully captured. That, truly, is its deal: Florida exists hypothetically, in the future-­continuous tense. Florida will be a personal paradise, yours to own as soon as we fill in this hellish swamp. Florida will be growing in perpetuity, so long as we keep persuading suckers to move here. Florida will be underwater soon — let’s just hope it’s not as soon as experts predict."

One Pittman profile says, “He graduated from Troy State University in Alabama, where his muckraking work for the student paper prompted an agitated dean to label him ‘’the most destructive force on campus."

Announcing a forthcoming paperback edition on Facebook this week, Pittman wrote,
"For the paperback version of "Oh, Florida!' the publisher has asked me to go through the hardback looking for typos to be corrected. I've found quite a few so far. Of course, the big one I plan to point out to them is that the name on the cover should be 'John Grisham.'"
Cheeky, that, coming out on Grisham's birthday.

Pittman is the author of four books so far.

“I’m a big believer in using the ‘spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down’ method of shoveling a lot of Florida history and culture down people’s throats,” said Pittman in a recent Florida Today interview. “I tell a lot of the weird, wacky stuff that happens in Florida, but I use it as sort of a setup for leading them into learning more about Florida history, some of which is admittedly pretty wild and weird also.”



Rare Books Cafe is sponsored by the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair. It’s broadcast every Saturday from 2.30 to 3.30 pm EST and features interviews, panel discussion and stuff you can learn about book collecting whether you are a regular at Sotheby’s or just someone who likes books.

The program airs live on Rare Book Cafe’s and the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair’s Facebook page; the Book Fair Blog, and the Book Fairs YouTube channel. Shows are archived on YouTube and can also be viewed on the Facebook pages and the blog after their first run.

Hosted by Miami book dealer, appraiser and WDBFRadio.com’s Bucks on the Bookshelf radio show creator Steven Eisenstein, the program features a revolving set of cohosts and regular guests including Thompson; Thorne Donnelley of Liberty Book Store in West Palm Beach, Florida; miniature books expert Edie Eisenstein; and program creator/producer T. Allan Smith; and Lindsay Thompson, owner of Henry Bemis Books in Charlotte.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Today at 2:30 EST: Rare Book Cafe!

Is there life after The New York Times Bestseller List? Ten writers, fifty years on

Lindsay Thompson


Things are written now to be read once, and no more; that is, they are read as often as they deserve. A book in old times took five years to write and was read five hundred times by five hundred people. Now it is written in three months, and read once by five hundred thousand people. That’s the proper proportion.


-Elizabeth, Lady Eastlake, pioneering British woman literary critic (1809-1893)


A book is the only immortality.


-Rufus Choate, American lawyer, orator, and politician (1799-1859)



The term “bestseller” first appeared in a Kansas City paper in 1889. The first bestseller list, in The Bookman, began six years later. In America until the late 19th century, the term described mostly outlaw books; copyright laws were so lax that any American or European author whose work did well could expect his income to be bled away pirated editions.

While the tighter legal regime of the 20th century enriched authors, making it possible for a sort of feedback loop of sales boosting books to bestseller lists, thus boosting more sales and raising a book’s rank in the lists, thus boosting sales still more (after which lies paperback and movie rights and mass market deals with big box national book chains and, now, online sellers), there’s never been any set, universally-agreed on criteria for deciding what’s a bestseller.


As much as anything, the credibility of a best-seller’s source rubs off on it, so that a “New York Times bestseller” is a better thing to be than that of, say, a plumbing fixtures trade magazine, and The Times’ list remains The One To Get On.


That list was launched in October 1931, and aggregated sales data from New York City (five fiction and four nonfiction titles), expanded to eight big cities shortly after and fourteen by decade’s end. In those days the quality book market was found in the book departments of the great department stores in major urban areas.


Data collection improvements made it possible to switch to a national list in 1942, based on reports from 22 cities. Since then best-seller lists have proliferated into genres and subgenres.


The exact method for distilling the data is a tightly guarded secret lest efforts be made to game the results, though that has not stopped anyone from trying. There are books purporting to explain how it’s done.


Jacqueline Susann, who- with her publisher- invented the modern sales campaign, tried to boost her opening Times ranking by sending out 1500 copies of Valley of the Dolls to influential people. USA Today founder Al Neuharth and PBS guru Wayne Dyer routinely bought thousands of copies of their books, directly or through entities they controlled.


The Times now flags books reporting large bulk sales, which has opened yet another avenue for politicians to beat up on the paper. Three 2016 candidates for President- Carson, Cruz and Trump- were accused of trying to boost their campaign biography sales through complex remaindering and buyback schemes with their publishers and campaign operations, and each tried to turn the story into proof of the liberal Times’ vendetta against conservatives and their ghost writers.


Other authors have sued The Times, claiming their works were wrongly left out.


The vagaries of statistics can mislead, too. A “fast” bestseller, which moves a lot of copies n a short time, can vault up the list ahead of books that, selling more slowly over a longer period, end up selling way more copies.


Publishers use pre-publication promotional campaigns to build a head of steam and boost initials sales; some even offer authors bonuses and royalty boost for quantifiable efforts to get, and keep, their books on the list. Since bestseller status is a steroid for author speaking fees, the incentives to hold thumbs to the scale is heavy indeed.


These collateral revenue incentives may be the result of an interesting effect noted in 2004 by a Stanford University business professor. As Stanford Business reported,


Each week millions of readers look at the New York Times best-seller list to see what everybody else in the country is reading. And as soon as a title hits the list, booksellers typically push the book to the front of the store and slash its price by as much as 40 percent.

So it seems reasonable to assume that once a book makes the list its sales will really take off—if not for the lower price then because readers might view best-seller status as a sign of quality or because they don’t want to miss the action. According to the Business School’s Alan Sorensen, an assistant professor of strategic management who has studied the effect of best-seller lists on sales of hardcover fiction, the majority of book buyers seem to use the Times’ list as a signal of what’s worth reading. Relatively unknown writers get the biggest benefit, while for perennial best-selling authors such as Danielle Steel and John Grisham, being on the list makes virtually no difference in sales.


“There is an effect, but it’s small—much smaller than most people would have expected,” says Sorensen, who studied sales records for 2001 and 2002. “What’s remarkable is there is this dominant downward [sales] trend,” he says, describing the typical sales path over time in the fiction titles he studied. Most sales occur soon after a book hits the shelves and gradually peter out. “If anything, what appearing on the [best-seller] list does is not so much cause your sales to increase from one week to the next, but rather to decrease at a slower rate.”


Of course, looking at best-sellers alone wouldn’t prove that any week-to-week sales changes were caused by the list itself. To answer the causal question, Sorensen needed a comparison group: books that sold well but somehow missed the list. So he looked at data from Nielsen BookScan, a sales monitoring service that tracks retail sales of books across the nation. Unlike the New York Times, which samples sales from only some stores, Nielsen BookScan captures most actual sales.


Consequently, Sorensen found differences in the two lists. In fact, in the two years he studied, Sorensen found 109 different books that failed to make the Times list even though Nielsen reported they sold more copies than other titles on the Times’ list. Thus, if Sorensen saw sales rise on the Nielsen BookScan data the week following that same title’s appearance on the New York Times list but saw no similar increase for a different top-selling Nielsen book that wasn’t on the Times list, he inferred that something about the appearance on the Times list caused the subsequent jump in sales.


Based on these comparisons, Sorensen estimates that previously best-selling authors got the least benefit from being on the New York Times list, while unknowns had the greatest jump in sales. On average, he estimates, appearing on the Times list might increase a book’s first-year sales by 13 to 14 percent, but for first-time authors sales probably would increase by an impressive 57 percent. And for established authors like Danielle Steel or John Grisham whose every novel seems to become a best-seller, “the list has no discernible impact on sales,” writes Sorensen.


This pattern, he says, suggests the best-seller list primarily tells consumers what may be worth reading. “It’s free advertising for new authors who make it to the list,” he says. With a well-known author, on the other hand, people don’t need a best-seller list to help them decide whether to buy the book.


Careful to isolate the best-seller list from other likely causes of higher sales, Sorensen also looked at the famous “Oprah effect,” the stunning way being chosen for Oprah Winfrey’s on-air book club immediately catapults a title onto the best-seller list. Though reluctant to name numbers because there were few Oprah titles in the sample, Sorensen says the Oprah effect is “many times bigger” than the best-seller effect.


Looking at sales of individual titles is fun, but for economists, says Sorensen, a more interesting question is the effect of best-seller lists on overall product variety. If best-seller lists are indeed generating extra sales, are those sales stolen from other books? Or are those extra sales literally extra sales, bought by people who wouldn’t otherwise have bought any book? “It’s a really hard question, and I don’t have the ideal data for answering it,” concedes Sorensen. But he has indirect evidence suggesting that being on the list does indeed generate extra sales. If he’s right, everyone but the perennially best-selling authors and their publishers may have a little bit less to grumble about.



Five years later, however, e-books introduced a new wild card into the bestseller list mix: favoring the instant-gratification buyer, and, therefore, well-known authors, e-book sales in 2010 comprised a major chunk of new books by bestselling authors. CBS Money Watch found,


The speed at which e-books are taking over the publishing industry is truly breathtaking. The same Independent article throws around the statistic that 35% of the 1 million copies of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom were e-books. That's 350,000 copies sold.


An article in The New York Times that mistakenly fixated on the price of some e-books also contained the impressive information that Ken Follet's latest thousand-page bestseller sold 20,000 copies in the e-book format during its first seven days on sale. Selling 20,000 copies of anything would get an author onto one of the top spots on the New York Times bestseller list.

These numbers tell us something important about ebook sales: they are heavily weighted toward the big-name, frontlist authors. E-book sales may only be projected to reach 10% of total book sales in a couple of years because of the size of the industry's backlist and the huge percentage of "long-tail" sales.


The engine of change in the industry sits in the head, among the top-selling authors and items. These are the books that were super-charged in sales by the emergence of the superstores and the industry's improved logistics that allowed bestsellers to be heavily discounted in supermarkets and big-box retailers like Costco. The six big publishers chased those sales as they migrated out of bookstores which is one reason that Barnes & Noble and Borders are limping along today.


Transforming the top end of the business changes the whole of the business. The current economics of publishing is front-loaded. In a previous generation, the business was ballasted by backlist but no longer. Like a movie studio, book publishers thrive on sugar-rush of big ephemeral hits.



Fast forward another five years: last year, e-book sales fell some fifteen percent after several years of flattening numbers. Where once they were poised to swallow publishing whole, they are now settling into a permanent niche for certain types of readers, in certain reading situations.


But the distorting effect on sales numbers remains, simply because the per-unit cost of an e-book is nil compared the same book in a dead tree format. Sales prices can be slashed to generate bigger numbers and move up the list.


Even taken at face value, bestseller lists are not a reliable quality judgment on a book’s staying power or literary merit. Classics- Shakespeare, Dante, George Eliot, Henry James- aren’t measured at all. For one thing, a book out of copyright protection is fair game for any publisher, letting cheap editions proliferate from old plates and older translations: it is impossible, for example, to read a Jules Verne novel in English. American publishers played merry hell with the adaptation to English, altering, or omitting, dialogue, skipping boring scientific bits, and sexing up the adventure quotient for target audiences like young boys.


Bestsellers, another report has it,


have gained such great popularity that it has sometimes become fashionable to purchase them. Critics have pointed out that just because a book is purchased doesn't mean it will be read. The rising length of bestsellers may mean that more of them are simply becoming bookshelf decor. In 1985 members of the staff of The New Republic placed coupons redeemable for $5 cash inside 70 books that were selling well, and none of them were sent in.


Oh, brave New World, Miranda warned us in The Tempest. Of the making of books, there is no end, we are warned in Ecclesiastes. Being a writer calls for a level of reckless hope and optimism to rival that of elderly gardeners, so unlikely is it that a book will be long, or well, remembered.


Yet for those who find succor in old books, there are joys uncounted in rediscovering the works, often great and timeless, of authors whose reputations have long been lost or mislaid. As an exercise, I offer this article. Here- from the archives listings compiled by Hawes Publications- are the top ten titles (and how long they’d been there) from The New York Times’ bestseller list for February 5, 1967. Some wrote schlock, some were literary lions, some were steady, midlist producers. Some were veterans and some had brilliant early innings cut short by death. All sought the the immortality of publication.


Here they are, the few, the happy few- seven men and three women- in the fifth week of the new year, a long time ago:


1. Robert Crichton, The Secret of Santa Vittoria (21 weeks)

Crichton (1925-1993) was a Purple Heart/Bronze Star winner, wounded at the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he briefly ran an ice cream factory outside Paris, graduated from Harvard with the 2000-strong, GI Bill-swelled Class of 1950, and set up as a freelance writer.



He cranked out biographies for hire and articles about anything to support his growing family. His first book, The Imposter- about an actual, pathological identity faker called Fred Demara- was made into a film starring Tony Curtis.


The Secret of Santa Vittoria was a home run for Crichton, then 41. A tale of Nazi resisters in an Italian hill town, it spent fifty weeks on the bestseller list, including eighteen at #1. The all-star cast movie won a Golden Globe in 1969. Crichton’s second novel, The Camerons, was based on his great-grandparents and their family of Scots coal miners. Published in 1972, it, too was a best seller. He intended a sequel but never finished it. He didn’t need to.


Crichton spent the rest of his years writing articles when he felt like it, and died at 68. Biblio.com lists a first edition of The Secret of Santa Vittoria for $50.


2. Allen Drury, Capable of Honor (13 weeks)


A 41-year-old wire service reporter, Allen Drury (1918-1998) shocked the publishing world with his first novel, 1959’s Advise and Consent. Author Russell Baker, asked to read the manuscript, recalled his reluctance:


What lies I would be compelled to tell poor Allen ... The box weighed slightly less than a ton. The manuscript inside was typed not very well on long, legal-size paper. I took it home, ate, fixed a drink, sat down and with a heavy heart reached into the box for a fistful of manuscript. Good Lord! You couldn't put the thing down! I read half the book that night and finished it next day. My wife finished close behind, and the sight of her suppressing a tear at one point confirmed my hunch.


A political thriller set in the US Senate, Drury’s doorstop of a novel was a hit. It spent 102 weeks on the bestseller list and won the 1960 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, before being made into a successful, still-seen movie.


Drury spent the next decade writing sequels each rather worse than its predecessor, moving his characters around Washington and the larger stage of international affairs. Capable of Honor was the second of those sequels, anticipating the 1968 presidential election in a world beset by racial conflict and Soviet adventurism.


Drury wrote twenty novels in all, including several that indulged his interest in ancient Egypt. He was, however, an author with a following and thus a reliable base of buyers, and when he died in 1998 his books went promptly out of print.


A small publishing house began reissuing them in 2014. First editions of Capable of Honor run about $25 today.



3. Jacqueline Susann, Valley of the Dolls (48)


An insanely ambitious failed actress, Jackie Susann (1918-74) was a depressed, pill-popping housewife with an autistic son, breast cancer, and a marginally successful TV producer/agent husband.

As soon as she got out of the hospital in 1963, she walked to Wishing Hill and made a pact with God. If He would give her only 10 more years, she promised God, “she would prove she could make it as a writer, as the number-one writer,” her husband recalled.


Writing 10 to 5 every day, Susann cranked out five drafts of what became Valley of the Dolls, a twenty-year postwar saga of life in and around Hollywood. Completely trashy and utterly compelling, Dolls was a money-spinner before it even came out in 1966- paperback and movie rights raked in $400,000- almost $10 million today.


An imaginative promotional campaign and Susann’s cross-county, barnstorming book tour steamrollered largely negative reviews. The book sold 35,000 hardcover copies and 1.7 million in paperback.


After nine weeks on the bestseller list, Dolls cracked #1 and spent 28 weeks there. By the time Susann died Dolls was in the Guinness Book as the bestselling novel in history, with 17 million copies in print.


Susann and God kept their bargain. She became the first writer to produce three #1 bestsellers in a row. She was bulletproof when it came to critics; when she sent out 1500 copies to taste-makers, Amy Fine Collins wrote in Vanity Fair, “Norman Mailer’s secretary replied that Mailer “won’t have time to read Valley of the Dolls.”


Fine drolly concluded,


This was an admission Mailer may have come to regret, because Susann consigned him to the fate of becoming Once Is Not Enough’s Tom Colt—a hard-drinking, pugnacious writer with a child-size penis.


In 2016 Susann’s publisher issued a fiftieth-anniversary edition of Valley of the Dolls. Worldwide sales are now somewhere north of 31 million copies, and spiraling into infinity, and beyond. You can find a signed first edition for $1250.


4. Rebecca West, The Birds Fall Down (15 weeks)

Nearly 75, Dame Rebecca West had been a journalist, critic, and author for over half a century ("People call me a feminist," she wrote in 1913, "whenever I express sentiments that distinguish me from a doormat"). The Times’ reviewer, Frederic Morton, summed up the daring, and long, work West laid before her public:


A half-English girl of 18 named Laura visits her grandfather, Count Diakonov, opulently exiled in fin-de-siecle Paris. Old Diakonov philosophizes amid malachite vases, cloisonne jardinieres, rosebushes made of coral, and furnishings to match. They are the sort of things that bloom at Parke-Bernet but choke a novel. In this milieu dialogue is uttered rather than spoken; at times you suspect it to be lifted stiffly from a Constance Garnett translation of some Tolstoy imitator. As Laura and her grandfather embark on a journey you can't help feeling that the story itself is going absolutely, if baroquely, nowhere.

But don't underestimate Dame Rebecca. The moment old Diakonov has left the house, an oddly intriguing note creeps into his garrulity. He is no longer muffled by too much interior decor. Furthermore, you sense that the author -- whose forte has always been the undomestic -- also feels liberated. Diakonov's words lose their stilts but not their grandeurs. His ruminations on why he was exiled, in what ways the French are decadent, and how to hunt the mountain cock, all flow together into the portrait of a totally unregenerate and rather irresistible reactionary.

And this monologue, however intriguing, is only an overture. Shortly after Count and granddaughter board the train, a stranger enters their compartment. He turns out to be Chubinov, an old friend now a terrorist, who warns that the Count is in great danger and that he, Chubinov, is himself on a mission of murder.


A monstrous conversation ensues, over 100 pages long, which in its simplest level turns the book into a breathtaking mystery. Much of the domestic clutter of earlier pages stands now revealed as clue to an insidious plot. But the two men on the train do far more than introduce a suspense mechanism. They exchange diatribes that become hypnotic. After a while their sustained, page-long outbursts begin to sound natural. Miss West has raised them from artificial convention to heightened reality. You question Carmen singing -- instead of speaking -- her love to Don Jose.


And with what bizarre but compelling arias Count and terrorist assail each other! In a foreword Miss West notes that the things they talk about, and indeed they themselves, are based on historical models. I find an overtone of superfluous apology in her statement. Fiction, if successful, doesn't need the corroboration of history. In fact it completes history by making it accessible to the imagination. "The Birds Fall Down" is marvelously successful wherever it combines two of her special talents: a pipeline direct to the Slav soul which produced her Yugoslav memoir, "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon"; and her intuition about the ambiguities of good and evil as shown in "The Meaning of Treason." The present novel, and most particularly the vast conversation which constitutes its core, marshals both gifts to stage a hair-raising duel of ideas.


What makes this duel an experience is precisely its excesses. Its barbaric length, its discursiveness, its untempered violence and unwonted warmths, its quintessentially Russian quality. The Count pits his absolutism against the terrorist's until Czar and Revolution are exalted into equally Byzantine ideals of cruelty and redemption.



Seemingly indestructible despite waves of health problems and endless rows with her son, the writer Anthony West (a 1913 argument with H.G. Wells led to lunch, a ten-year affair, and their son), West produced her last book at 91, in the year she died, and left several more for posthumous publication. In the bestseller list’s world of brass, she was all Tiffany to the end.

The Birds Fall Down can be found in a first edition, online, for about $25.


5. Mary Renault, The Mask of Apollo (12 weeks)


An English lesbian who moved with her partner to Durban, South Africa for tax exile on a $150,000 prize she won from MGM for her fifth novel, Renault found South Africa held a markedly more relaxed attitude toward same-sex couples than the UK. She found her niche writing meticulously researched novels set in the world of ancient Greece, where same-sex relations were part of the social milieu.


Renault (1905-1983) produced eight Attic novels between 1956 and 1981, spanning centuries and everyone from Theseus to Alexander the Great. Apollo, published when she was 61, was the fourth, set in the theatrical world of Athens in the time after the Peloponnesian War.


She was widely compared to Robert Graves for avoiding pedantry in the service of recreating a historically accurate past. The New York Times’ obituary underscored her skill in threading the most challenging of literary needles:

Other critics noted Miss Renault's insistence on lending her works historical accuracy without burdening them with boring pedantry, and it was also remarked that while dealing realistically but unsensationally with the life and mores of the Hellenic world, Miss Renault calmly treated bisexual and homosexual love as well as heterosexual love as universals in her fiction.


There were, however, those who noted Renault’s uneven handling of female characters, and her tough treatment of mothers. Some insisted she was actually a gay man writing under a pseudonym, so deft was her handling of relations between men.


For her part, Renault professed indifference: it was part of the way of a patriarchal world. As she aged and her books became oases for LGBT readers, however, she became more and more irked, then hostile, to a fan base she thought was trying to pigeonhole her. Renault remains popular, and in print, nearly thirty-five years after her death. Her companion of over forty years, Julie Mullard, survived her.

A first edition of The Mask of Apollo runs about $30; a signed first, $300.


6. Edwin O’Connor, All in the Family (16 weeks)


A Boston newspaper’s television critic, O’Connor’s was one of the shortest careers in the February 5 bestseller list. His first novel, The Last Hurrah (1956) introduced the title phrase into the American political lexicon for politicians who run one time too many. His second won the Pulitzer Prize in 1962.


All in the Family, the tale of a Kennedyesque political clan, was typical of O’Connor’s focus on the Irish-American experience. It was also his last book: thirteen months later he died of a stroke, only 49. His books, largely forgotten, run arond $25 in first editions.


7. Jan de Hartog, The Captain (3 weeks)


A Dutch merchant sailor and sometime actor, de Hartog published detective stories before World War II. A 1939 book on tugboat crews rescuing a stricken ocean liner, Holland’s Glory, was not only a rousing tribute to his seagoing nation but was seen by the Gestapo as a Resistance morale-booster. De Hartog was himself in the underground until 1943, when he was forced into hiding and then to flee to Britain.


When the war ended, de Hartog remained in the UK and switched to writing in English, earning him criticism and plummeting book sales his move to the US only made worse. But he adapted his life as easily as he did his tongue, producing scores of books and plays. One of the latter, Four Poster, was a Broadway hit debuted by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in 1951 and later made into the hit musical I Do! I Do!


The Captain was one of many novels in which de Hartog mined his wartime and seafaring experiences, a taut thriller about a Dutch freighter crew trying for safe harbor as Holland fell. De Hartog, who also became a Quaker and social justice advocate, died in 2002, aged 88. First editions of The Captain run $10-$20.


8. James Clavell, Tai-Pan (35 weeks)


A British citizen born in Australia who became an American, Clavell survived two Japanese World War II POW camps to return to Britain, marry, then emigrate to Hollywood. He became a successful screenwriter: The Fly, The Great Escape, and To Sir, With Love are among his credits.


He turned his hand to fiction in the 1960s, launching a series of novels set in Asia, past and present. Tai-Pan was the third of a series of six centered on a Scottish family of cut-throat  Hong Kong traders. When the 1970s arrived, Clavell rocketed to superstardom with the miniseries of his samurai novel, Shogun.


Though he sold the rights to Tai-Pan for $500,000 in 1966, Clavell waited twenty years before the post-Shogun mania for hs work finally resulted in a movie.


Though most loved his novels for their sweep and historical vision, for Clavell they were imaginings of his ideal world. He was a major Ayn Rand fanboy, and saw the freewheeling capitalism and cheapness of life in Hong Kong as the way the world should be. Clavell died, at 70, in 1994. Still popular, Tai-Pan commands $50-$75 in first editions.


9. Bernard Malamud, The Fixer (19 weeks)


Like Rebecca West, Malamud (1914-1986) was a “literary” writer. The Fixer, his fourth of eight novels, treated anti-Semitism in Tsarist Russia. He was a slow writer, partly because he spent his career teaching at Oregon State University and Bennington College, but his books were always considered worth the wait by readers and critics.


Two years before his death, Malamud-widely considered the equal to Saul Bellow and Philip Roth- saw the film version of his baseball novel, The Natural, secure his place in American fiction. The pictured signed first edition above is $750.


10. John O’Hara, Waiting for Winter (4 weeks)


One of the leading writers of the post-war American scene, O’Hara (1905-1970) was in the winter of his career when this collection of short stories joined the best-seller list. He still holds the record for the most short stories published in The New Yorker (despite a fifteen-year boycott over a bad review of a 1949 novel), and a number of his novels remain in print.


He is also in the pantheon of The Library of America (though his inclusion led some grudge-bearers to use his inclusion as a cudgel to call for killing off the entire project for having no standards).


O’Hara’s strengths as a writer were his undoing as a person, however. He grew up the son of a wealthy Catholic doctor in a Protestant, smaller Pennsylvania city, and developed an acute sense of exclusion from the social elite. That alienation was only compounded when his father died, having frittered away the funds that would have sent young John to Yale.


He never got over it, and spent his career chronicling the F. Scott Fitzgerald social set and its postwar heyday, only through the window, or at club dinners as a member's guest. One critic noted that had O’Hara written The Great Gatsby, he’d have presented Daisy and Jay in bed, smoking a cigarette. There is neither nostalgia nor melancholy in his work.


O’Hara flaunted his wealth with Rolls-Royces and wives, but there was never enough success to slake his thirst. Yale denied him an honorary degree, President Kingman Brewster, said, because he asked for it so often.


He campaigned for a Nobel Prize. He composed an ostentatiously self-regarding epitaph and published it.


Still and all, O’Hara was a great writer, and his work has been dragged down, like Somerset Maugham’s, by the posthumous knifework of those with scores to settle. After forty years of his searingly insightful portrayals of the rich-but-not-necessarily-famous, the class to which he always sought entry wanted to close the ledger on O’Hara all accounts in balance. He died three years after Waiting for Winter. First editions can be had for as little as $15.


Charles Taylor’s excellent appraisal of O’Hara’s work comes to rest, as O’Hara did, with that epitaph:


It says on O’Hara’s tombstone in Princeton, New Jersey, “Better than anyone else, he told the truth about his time. He was a professional. He wrote honestly and well.” What’s appalling is that he composed it himself, one of those needy outbursts that have surely contributed to his underappreciation. Better than anyone else? No, and what kind of person would admit that even if he thought it? That should not keep us from admitting that the last part is not merely just but an understatement. Even in a moment of self-praise, O’Hara couldn’t help but be honest.

Lindsay Thompson owns Henry Bemis Books, an online rare book dealership, in Charlotte. He is a co-host of the Rare Book Cafe. This article is a longer version of a segment presented in the program on February 4, 2017.