Reader’s Corner: ‘Ulysses’ and Slack-Jawed Dubliners

James Joyce and Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare and Company, 1920
James Joyce and Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare and Company, 1920


Sylvia Beach was one of those fantastic Lost Generation figures who worked diligently in the spaces between literary figures like Hemingway and Fitzgerald but doesn’t get remembered nearly as often. Likely that’s because booksellers —she ran Paris’ famous Left Band expat hangout Shakespeare and Company—never quite get the same attention that book authors do.

Beach was also a smart businesswoman. Trying to drum up some sales for in James Joyce’s forthcoming Ulysses, she wrote to George Bernard Shaw in 1921, asking whether he as a fellow Irishman, would be interested in pre-ordering a copy. Shaw’s negative response was swift, definite, and for the ages:

To you possibly [Ulysses] may appeal as art … but to me it is all hideously real: I have walked those streets and know those shops and have heard and taken part in those conversations. I escaped from them to England at the age of twenty; and forty years later have learnt from the books of Mr. Joyce that Dublin is still what it was, and young men are still driveling in slack-jawed blackguardism just as they were in 1870. It is however, some consolation to find that at last somebody has felt deeply enough about it to face the horror of writing it all down and using his literary genius to force people to face it….

I must add, as the prospectus implies an invitation to purchase, that I am an elderly Irish gentleman, and if you imagine that any Irishman, much less an elderly one, would pay 150 francs for such a book, you little know my countrymen.

(Hat-tip: Steve King)


Screening Room: ‘Books: A Documentary’


This is the killer Kickstarter pitch for a new proposed film project with the can’t-go-wrong title of Books: A Documentary:

This past August over 300,000 antiquarian books from Larry McMurtry’s Booked Up were sold at auction: This is the story of those Books.

Color us intrigued.

For those not already in awe of the man, Lonesome Dove and Brokeback Mountain author McMurtry also owns one of the nation’s great used-book emporiums. He told the tale of last fall’s great blowout sale at the New York Review of Books.


According to Publishers Weekly, the filmmakers (husband-and-wife Sara Ossana and Mathew Provost) have already shot about half of the doc and need $50,000 to finish it up. Ossana notes that the film, which uses McMurtry’s sale to explore the modern book landscape, might be expected to be a downbeat tale about an industry and way of life in decline:

“We weren’t sure if the film would be a moratorium, or more uplifting,” Ossana said. “It’s turning out to be more uplifting.” That, she thinks, is due to a larger cultural shift afoot in America—brought on by the country’s economic need to develop a stronger foothold in the production of goods and in manufacturing—that is driving more people to ask where the objects they have come from, whether it’s the food on their table, or the hardcover novel on their shelf. “There is a cultural awakening happening now,” Ossana explained, “around what people find valuable. I think the book is a large part of that,” she said. And, with that, Ossana thinks physical bookstores are becoming more important as “cultural centers” on the community level.

Here’s to hoping that she’s right.

Readers’ Corner: The New Book House

bookhouse4Located in a rambling, 150-year-old Victorian just off Manchester Road in Rock Hill, a quiet old suburb not far from downtown St. Louis, The Book House is one of those rare bookstores that actually looks, feels, and is just like the great bookstore of your imagination. Smart staff, killer selection, drop-dead prices, and genially messy, it’s a bookworm’s paradise. Plus, like any good bookstore, over the years there’s always been a cat skulking around in a proprietary fashion.

There was some consternation recently in the area when word got out that the store was being served with eviction papers. Since no charm or history may be allowed to mar the modern American landscape, a developer has decided to get rid of the Book House (there is a possibility that the Victorian could be moved intact to a new location) and a couple other quaint houses tucked back there to make way for … a storage facility. Exactly what suburban St. Louis needs more of.

bookhouse8The good news is that the Book House folks have found a new space over in nearby Maplewood. The former department store likely won’t have much of the old charm at first (owner Michelle Barron told Publishers Weekly “It will be pretty barebones and bohemian for a while”) but will eventually have many times the capacity of the old location. Which means they’ll be able to carry even more of the great titles they’ve been known for. They should be open for business in October, make sure to stop by if you’re in the area.


Bookseller’s Corner: Lonesome Pine Used Books


Care to run a bookstore for a couple months? That’s the question being asked right now by Wendy Welch and Jack Beck, co-owners of Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used Books, located in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Welch has written a book, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book, and the two of them are going to be away on a promotional tour.

Welch told Fresh Eyes Now:

It’s ironic that it’s a book about independent bookstores that’s got me in this position, but I cannot close our community bookstore to gallivant off and have fun with other bookstores…. Our shop is in a small rural community of 5,400 and it doesn’t do enough trade to hire someone in at a living wage. Plus we have two dogs and three cats on staff. So what we’re offering is complete room and board for a person or couple (from laundry soap to the occasional pizza delivery) in return for him/her/them watching the shop for October and November, when most of the ‘road trip’ activities for the book take place.

Think of it: Worse employment offers are made every minute of every day, and they never involve dogs, cats, or books, much all three together. (h/t Jacket Copy)

Dept. of Literary Commerce

When novelist/screenwriter/storeowner Larry McMurtry announced The Last Book Sale, he didn’t really know how many people would trek down to his retail emporium in Archer City, Texas to buy up some of the 300,000+ titles that were on offer. In the end, he reported in the New York Review of Books, “everything sold but the fiction … I was irritated to discover that I still had 30,000 novels to sell.”

The auction went well, overall, particularly in regards to this title:

The star item on the first day was typescript of some twenty-nine story-ettes of an erotic nature. These had been commissioned in the 40s by the oilman in Ardmore, Oklahoma; among the writers who wrote these trifles were Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Lawrence Durrell and others. The late G. Legman knew the oil man’s name but never revealed it. I have owned this curiosity for more than twenty years; it went to Between the Covers for $2,750.