Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

This Saturday on Rare Book Cafe!

Rare Book Cafe is delighted to invite you to visit with us and’s public relations director, Richard Davies, on our February 24, 2018 program, at 2.30 pm EDT.
There seems to be little Davies has not seen in the book trade. Of what remains, he is like Aristotle: no matter the direction in which we strike, we meet him on the way back. But among the things we’ll be chatting him up on will be the growth of women in bookselling and collecting, and tips on how to do a search in Abe’s vast databases that will get you useful and timely information!
Abebooks is one of the principal sponsors of this year’s Florida Antiquarian Book Fair as well. The vent will be April 20-22 at the fabulous art deco Coliseum in St Petersburg.
Of his career, Davies says:
I joined AbeBooks in 2005. Although I have always loved books and been an avid reader, I realized that my knowledge of books was actually rather limited when I began working with rare booksellers. I work in the marketing department as the company’s PR person so I deal with books and booksellers on a daily basis.

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I am fascinated by the rare and collectible items that are listed for sale each day and the sales that are made each day. By studying these rare books for more than 10 years, I have acquired a reasonably sound knowledge of this business. Of course, AbeBooks is an online marketplace so I never have the books in my hand. I am reliant on the information and images provided by sellers. I also spend many hours on the telephone, listening to what sellers have to say. I try to visit used and rare bookshops when travelling – the most expensive book that I have ever handled was a first edition of Leaves of Grass and I felt scared to touch it. That’s a piece of American history right there.  I recently visited both the New York Public Library and the Morgan Library (which are two blocks apart), and found both places to be amazing. The Morgan had a Gutenberg bible on display – it was the first time I’d ever seen one.
Helping to sell an expensive item on behalf of a seller is a very gratifying experience. I am extremely motivated when I come across things that are truly unique or have immense cultural or historical significance.
I am a former journalist and that background means I am drawn to unusual items. Edith Wharton’s baby rattle takes some beating. Listed for sale in 2015, this was no ordinary rattle. Made from sterling silver, it contained a whistle, was engraved with the word ‘Edith’, and had a red coral teething section.
In 2008, George Bernard Shaw’s Remington Noiseless Portable Typewriter was listed for sale. Imagine typing out a letter on that historic machine. Along the top edge of the guarantee in faded ink, Shaw had written the words ‘Bernard Shaw, Ayot St Lawrence, Welwyn Herts.”’
Truman Capote’s birth certificate is currently for sale at close to $35,000 but that’s relatively affordable compared to Jack Kerouac’s signed original painting of his brother, Gerard. Albert Einstein’s childhood building blocks are still very much useable, but would you want to build castles with something that costs more than $160,000?
John Updike’s senior class high school yearbook is just one of many yearbooks on AbeBooks featuring people of significance… before they were significant. There’s a Bolivian catechism from circa 1850 written on llama skin, a check signed by Edgar Rice Burroughs for a mere 50 cents, and many more highly unusual items that we don’t spot. And there was the time that Eugene O’Neill’s underpants were listed for sale.
All these items are well out of my personal price range but I enjoy finding and buying quirky and unusual books that can be picked up cheaply. Examples would be I Seem To Be a Verb by Buckminster Fuller (a crazy book that shows what today’s Internet would have looked like in the early 1970s) and The Poison Cookbook from Peter Pauper Press.

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I also enjoy reading non-fiction, particularly memoirs and biographies. Travel is one of my favorite genres. I love the writing of Patrick Leigh Fermor, Jan Morris, Eric Newby and Bruce Chatwin. Patrick Leigh Fermor started walking across Europe when he was 18 – that still blows my mind. He walked across Germany as the Nazis were flexing their muscles. How can anyone just walk across a continent? Newby is funny and touching – Love and War in the Apennines is a very, very special book. Chatwin was probably bonkers too – In Patagonia and The Songlines are both remarkable reads. Morris’ book on Oxford – where I lived for many years – is so perceptive.
AbeBooks is thrilled to be one of the sponsors of this year’s Florida Antiquarian Book Fair and I’m sure it’s going to be a great event for visitors and the dealers attending.

Rare Book Cafe is sponsored by the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair. It’s broadcast every Saturday from 2.30 to 3.30 pm EDT 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’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 Palm Beach Gardens, 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

Today's video program-

A TED Talk from the director of the Rare Book School-

Monday, February 19, 2018

Birthday: As a one-time Charlottean said, "There's nothing that makes you so aware of the improvisation of human existence as a song unfinished. Or an old address book."


Lula Carson Smith McCullers (1917-1967)
Author, playwright

She called herself “the holy terror of American literature,” having largely achieved the aim she and her mother shared when she a child, declaring to a friend that she intended to be “rich and famous.” Her father ran a watch repair shop in Columbus, Georgia; her mother was of antebellum gentry stock, reduced in stature by the late conflict among the states.

Mrs. Smith considered her a prodigy, only in music, and the whole family tended to cock a snook at social convention. In The New Yorker's, Hilton Als wrote of them,

Unlike their neighbors, the Smiths weren’t very interested in religion, and promoted social awareness instead—a Yankee sensibility that was at odds with the town’s conservatism. Marguerite enjoyed tweaking the townspeople with such remarks as the now famous “Oh, yes, my daughter Lula Carson”—then a teen-ager— “and I have such a good time smoking together. We do almost everything together, you know.”

After a teenage bout with rheumatic fever, McCullers had doubts about possessing the stamina her mother saw in her future as a concert pianist, but Mrs. Smith was a hard one to argue with. So Lula Carson sailed off from Savannah to New York’s Juilliard School at seventeen, five hundred dollars sewed into her underwear. She was the classic rube gone to town, wrote Tennessee Williams:

According to the legends that surround her early period in the city, she first established her residence, quite unwittingly, in a house of prostitution, . . . and had not the ghost of an idea of what illicit enterprise was going on there. One of the girls in this establishment . . . undertook to guide her about the town. . . . While she was being shown the subway route to the Juilliard School of Music, the companion and all of her tuition money, which the companion had offered to keep for her, abruptly disappeared. Carson was abandoned penniless in the subway, and some people say it took her several weeks to find her way out.

It wasn’t the sort of story with which one returned in triumph to Columbus. Carson Smith, as she styled herself, hunkered down, working all kinds of jobs- real estate office clerk, dog walker- and taking writing classes at Columbia. She published her first story in 1936.

In 1937, She married Reeves McCullers, whom she’d met when he was a soldier at Fort Benning and she was home for a visit in 1935. They settled in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he aimed to quit being a debt collector and become a writer. His wife, however, was beating him to the punch, which was contra plan and the cause of much discord.

In 1940, McCullers- she, not he- published a sensational novel, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. It was true Southern Gothic at a time when Pollyannaish wartime optimism was the norm:

The book is set in an unnamed Southern town, and each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective. There is Mick Kelly, a teenage girl who lives in a boarding house run by her parents, where the deaf-mute, renamed John Singer, rents a room. There’s Jake Blount, a Communist alcoholic driven half mad by the local provincialism; Dr. Copeland, a black doctor who is dying of tuberculosis; and Biff Brannon, who runs the local diner and is erotically fixated on Mick. As the long, mean days of summer go by, the Depression grinds the town down, and the hopes that sustain the characters turn to dust. Mick is forced to give up her dream of becoming a concert pianist and goes to work in a department store. Dr. Copeland dies. Jake is more or less run out of town. Biff descends into sexual confusion. And John Singer commits suicide. Only after Singer dies does it occur to the others that they had never asked him anything about himself. None of them knew where he’d lived before. None of them knew that he had loved someone once—an “obese and dreamy” Greek named Spiros Antonapoulos, who had been committed to an insane asylum. Talking does not make a difference, McCullers seems to say in this book. We are all in our own cells, writing messages to the world which that world cannot read. Those messages, the stories within the story of “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” include some of the most beautiful writing McCullers ever produced. The simplicity and lyricism here reveal the influence of Isak Dinesen, a writer to whom McCullers returned again and again for inspiration.

The couple moved to New York, where her androgynous charm and ability to shock put them in the best literary circles. Reflections in A Golden Eye followed in 1941, the tale of a closeted Army officer. It was out there, theme-wise, even for a writer of the grotesque. The literary critics of the Ku Klux Klan denounced it for denigrating the white Southern male.

McCullers cultivated her own eccentricities with a will. She took up chasing after older women. At Yaddo, the writers’ colony, she threw herself at the feet of the august Katherine Anne Porter, whose hardscrabble rise to fame left little time for histrionics:

Miss Porter demanded that Carson leave. She shouted from within that she would not come out until Carson vacated the hall. It was 6:30 p.m., however, and time for dinner. . . . After a brief interval the elder woman cautiously opened the door and stepped out. To her astonishment, there lay Carson sprawled across the threshold. “But I had had enough,” said Miss Porter. “I merely stepped over her and continued on my way to dinner.”

McCullers had a stroke in 1941 and divorced McCullers. He re-enlisted, was wounded on D-Day, and returned to remarry her in 1945. While neither seemed to be able to bear the other for long, they couldn’t seem to find anybody else. The Member of the Wedding (1946), a story of a returned-home soldier’s nuptials as seen from the kitchen by his much younger sister and the family maid, was a success and led to a well-received Broadway play. She won two Guggenheim fellowships in four years.

In the postwar bohemia of New York, the McCullers- both bisexual, and he envious of her success as a writer- drank and brawled their way through endless affairs with other men and women and women and men. Carson tried suicide in 1948; in 1953 Reeves proposed they make it a double. She declined. He killed himself in a Paris hotel room.

She wore on some people, and charmed others with her mix of neediness, vainglory and bouts of neurasthenia. Gore Vidal, who seldom kept friends long, wrote,

Carson spoke only of her work. Of its greatness. The lugubrious Southern singsong voice never stopped: ’Did ya see muh lovely play? Did ya lahk muh lovely play? Am Ah gonna win the Pew-litzuh prahzz?’

After Reeves’ death, McCullers retreated to a house in Nyack, above New York City, and remained there, increasingly disabled by a series of strokes, smoking, and drink, until she died in 1967. Her best work was done before she was thirty-four. Her last major work, a novella called The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, was published in 1951. Like the rest of her work, it dealt with the world as seen by outsiders to its norms- blacks, gays, a hunchback dwarf, a drunken Communist. They explained life from its margins.

Through the Fifties McCullers remained an international celebrity, her writing praised by the first ranks of Literature. A 1959 chance meeting led to one of the more exotic early manifestations of jet age celebrity culture.  Eve Goldberg explained it in The Rumpus:

In 1959, Isak Dinesen had been invited by the Ford Foundation to travel to the United States to read and discuss her work as part of a film series on “the world’s greatest living writers.” Despite her failing health – the frail seventy-four-year old weighed just 80 pounds and suffered from advanced syphilis and anorexia nervosa – she accepted the invitation.

New York’s cultural elite feted this illustrious grand dame of literature.  Socialite “Babe” Paley, Truman Capote and Cecil Beaton took her to lunch at the St. Regis.  Sidney Lumet and Gloria Vanderbilt had her to dinner.  She joined John Steinbeck for cocktails; and Leo Lerman took her to the Met to see Maria Callas in “Il Pirata.”  Dinesen’s appearances at the Young Men’s Hebrew Association Poetry Center were, by all accounts, the place to be in January, 1959.  A cartoon in the New York Times Book Review shows two beat poets at a Greenwich Village coffee house talking.  “Did you catch Isak Dinesen at the Y?” one asks the other.

Dinesen had told her hosts that the four Americans she most wanted to meet were Ernest Hemingway, E.E. Cummings, Carson McCullers and Marilyn Monroe.  Hemingway was out of the country, but it was arranged that Cummings would escort her to the annual dinner of the American Academy of Arts and Letters where, as the guest of honor, Dinesen was to deliver the keynote speech.

On a snowy Manhattan night, the consummate raconteur delivered her Academy talk.  Entitled “On Mottoes of My Life,” she divided her life into five stages with their attendant mottos.  “Like the eagle I shall grow up” told the story of Dinesen as a young girl, casting about for direction in life.  “It is necessary to set sail, it is not necessary to survive” told the story of Dinesen as a young artist in rebellion against bourgeois life and values.  In “I Respond,” Dinesen the colonist, wife, farmer and lover in Africa discovers that “my daily life out there was filled with answering voices.”  In the fourth stage, “Why Not?,” a woman in despair returns to her native country and finds hope in her heart as she begins to write. And finally, “Be Bold” explicated her life as an aging woman with deteriorating health, and death clearly on the horizon.

After the speeches, Dinesen was seated next to Carson McCullers for dinner.   The two women discovered immediately that they shared a decades-long mutual admiration.  Just as Dinesen admired The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter and had read it many times, McCullers considered Out Of Africa to be her favorite book.  “I was so dazed by the poetry and truth of this great book that when night came I continued reading Out Of Africa with a flashlight,” wrote McCullers.  “The burning deserts, the jungles, the hills opened my heart to Africa.  Open to my heart also, were the animals and the radiant being, Isak Dinesen.”  McCullers would ritualistically re-read the book every year, finding comfort and support in its “luminous, sulphuric glow.”

When McCullers heard of her literary hero’s New York visit, she noted: “I hesitated to meet her because Isak Dinesen had been so fixed in my heart, I was afraid that the actual would disturb this image.”  Image-busting fears aside, McCullers did go to considerable effort to attend the Academy event.  

Though only forty-two years old, she was every bit as frail as Dinesen.  A series of strokes had left her paralyzed on one side. She walked with a cane, her left hand curled like a hook, and she required assistance to dress herself, to walk up and down stairs, even to eat.  But the effort was worth it; the two writers hit it off, and when Dinesen spoke of her desire to meet Marilyn Monroe, Carson was happy to oblige.  Marilyn’s husband, playwright Arthur Miller, was seated at the next table, “So, I had the great honor of inviting my imaginary friend, Isak Dinesen, to meet Marilyn Monroe, with Arthur Miller, for luncheon in my home.”

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Four of McCullers’ five novels were made into movies, each hobbled- as were the film versions of Tennessee Williams’ plays in the same era- by the felt need to scrub them up for mainstream, straight, audiences. She started her memoirs and was pleased by a successful Broadway run of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter in the early ‘60s. When she died in 1967, McCullers was eulogized on the front page of The New York Times:

It is not so much that the [The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter] paved the way for what became the American Southern gothic genre, but that it at once encompassed it and went beyond it.... The heart of this remarkable, still powerful book is perhaps best conveyed by its title, with its sense of intensity, concision and mystery, with its terrible juxtaposition of love and aloneness, whose relation was Mrs. McCullers's constant subject.... Mrs. McCullers was neither prolific nor varying in her theme.... This is no fault or tragedy: to some artists a vision is given only once. And a corollary: only an artist can make others subject to the vision's force. Mrs. McCullers was an artist. She was also in her person, an inspiration and example for other artists who grew close to her. Her books, and particularly "The Heart," will live; she will be missed.

#LiteraryBirthdays #CarsonMcCullers #HenryBemisBooks #LGBTAuthors

Birthday Books on Photography: A celebration for Ansel Adams' 116th birthday

Adams, Ansel, Camera and Lens: The Creative Approach (Morgan & Morgan, 1st rev. ed., 1970, 5th printing, 11/1975, with two-impression lithography). ISBN 0-87100-056-3. The first in Adams’ series on the elements of photography. Even to digital-era readers, there is much to be learned. Adams uses nearly 150 of his own photos to illustrate what he teaches. Hardcover price-clipped dust jacket. Very good condition. Octavo, 302 pp. HBB price: $20.

Philippe Halsman and Salvador Dali, Dali's Moustache (Librairie Ernest Flammarion, dist. by Abbeville Press (1994), 128 pp. hardcover, unclipped dust jacket. ISBN 2-08013-560-0.) Dali answers questions with photos of his languorously long moustaches doing things. A cult classic since the first edition in 1954. Very good condition. Your price: US $25.dali moustache.jpg

Exhibition catalogue, French Primitive Photography (Aperture, Vol. 15, No. 1, Spring 1970), from the showing at the Alfred Stieglitz Center of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, November 17-December 28, 1969. Introduction by Minor White, with commentaries by Andre Jammes and Robert Sobieszek. Paperback, 8.5” x 9.75”, very good condition. Errata sheet laid in at frontispiece. HBB price: $69.

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A Delicate Balance: Six Israeli Photographers (The Light Factory, 1996; softcover, 60 pp, ISBN 0-9642772-1-2, 10" x 7.5", very good condition). Your price: US $100. A Delicate Balance: Six Israeli Photographers is the companion volume to a 1996-97 exhibition organized by the Israel/North Carolina Cultural Exchange. The works presented are of contemporary Israeli life as interpreted by the photographers. A second show, in 1997, featured the work of four North Carolina photographers taken during residencies in Israel.

The photographers represented in this elegant volume- printed in English and Hebrew- are Barry Frydlender, Judith Guetta, Gilad Ophir, Michal Rovner, Simcha Shirman and Oded Yedaya. This is a rare and unusual collection by artists how, in the nearly twenty years since, have gone from strength to strength in the international photography world.

Hurlimann, Martin, Picturesque India (Bombay: D.B. Taraporevala & Co., 1st. ed., copyright, 1928, Ernst Wasmuth A.G., Berlin). 304 black and white photographic plates, each with titles in English, French, German and Italian. 32-page introductory text, incl. descriptions of all illustrations. Very good dust jacket with some wear about the edges; orange boards with gold embossed titling and seal. The book condition is excellent. 9.25” x 12”. HBB price: $195.

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Stephen King and f-stop Fitzgerald, Nightmares in the Sky: Gargoyles and Grotesques (Viking Studio Books, 1st ed., 1988). ISBN 0-670-82307-4. Hardcover, unclipped dust jacket, 10.25" x 11.25", very good condition. Horror and suspense writer Stephen King found his first face-to-grimace encounter with a gargoyle, the grotesque waterspouts that have carried water away from the sides of stone buildings since ancient times. Seeing one up close, King writes, is like "having a nightmare awake."

The avant-gardishly named avant-garde photographer, f-stop Fitzgerald, shares King's fascination, and the two collaborated on what became a 1988 best-seller, Nightmares in the Sky: Gargoyles and Grotesques. 100 duotones and 24 full-color images menace and confront the reader in a fascinating, up-close-and-personal encounter with an art form we rarely notice at ground level. HBB price: $75.

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Ken Follett and f-stop Fitzgerald, Pillars of the Almighty: A Celebration of Cathedrals (William Morrow, 1st ed., 1st printing 1994). ISBN 0-688-12812-2. Continuing themes established by Nightmares in the Sky six years earlier, photographer Fitzgerald continues his exploration of cathedral art and architecture. This time he collaborates with Ken Follett, whose renowned novel, The Pillars of the Earth, portrays the centuries of labor required to erect a great stone monument to God. 128 pp. Hardcover, unclipped dust jacket, 10.25" x 11.25", very good condition. HBB price: $60.


Jacob Riis, How The Other Half Lives: With 100 Photos From The Riis Collection (Dover Publications, 1971, 233 pp, paperback, ISBN 0-486-22012-5, 10" x 7 7/8".) Reproduction of the social reformer’s early 20th century documentary of slums in New York. Very good condition. Your price: US $20.

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Matthiessen, Peter and Porter, Eliot, The Tree Where Man Was Born/The African Experience (E.P. Dutton, 1st ed., 1972). ISBN 0-525-22265-0. This union of the work of two of the last century’s artistic greats- wilderness writer and novelist Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014) and Harvard M.D. turned wilderness photographer Eliot Porter (1901-1990). I have not been without a copy of this remarkable book since it was published. Hardcover, unclipped dust jacket, very good condition. HBB price: $40.

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William D. Morgan, Henry M. Lester and 14 leading 3-D experts, Stereo Realist Manual (Morgan & Lester,1st ed. October, 1954), 400 pp. hardcover, unclipped dust jacket, Library of Congress #54-11905, 6 1/2" x 9"). Very good condition, rare. Your price: US $100.

By the late 1940s, photography had branched out in all sorts of directions from the relatively simple systems Riis used half a century earlier. One was Seton Rochewite's Stereo Realist 35mm camera, produced by The David White Co. of Milwaukee from 1947 to 1971. In simplest terms, the Stereo Realist camera gave every American his own View-Master.

Stereo film photography took off, and by the mid-50s several of the major players in the film and photographic equipment industry, including Bell & Howell and Kodak, jumped in with models of their own. But they mistimed the market, and by 1960 David White not just the first manufacturer, but the last. Production ceased in 1971 but enthusiasts still bought and used Stereo Realist equipment into the next decade.

Stereo Realist Manual, published at the peak of the craze in 1954, is an evangelist's tract/user guide to the David White camera. Silent film legend Harold Lloyd wrote the introduction; he shot over 200,000 stereo photos, from which his daughter published the collections 3D Hollywood (1992) and Hollywood Nudes in 3D! (2006). Contributors include the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and art historian Beaumont Newhall. The dust jacket announces, "Here is something new- the first book on stereo photography actually illustrated with color stereos. An amazing new optical Stereo Viewer (it's inside the back cover!) was specially designed for viewing the stereos in this book." Our copy- a first edition- includes the special Stereo Viewer, in its original envelope, behind the back cover just as promised sixty years ago.

Morton, Hugh, Hugh Morton: North Carolina Photographer (UNC Press, 1st ed., 1st printing, 2006). ISBN 0-8078-3073-9. Hardcover, unclipped dust jacket. The last collection of work by North Carolina’s “photographer laureate”, Hugh Morton (1921-2006), who seemed to have been everywhere and known everyone, and took the pictures to prove it. From dazzling landscapes to color shots of the Kennedy-Sanford campaign tour of 1960, Morton saw it all. Forward by former UNC President William Friday. Very good condition. HBB price: $40.

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Reuterdahl, Ransom, Adamson & Yeto, Japan: Her Strength and Her Beauty (P.F. Collier, 1st. ed, 1904). Hardcover, no dust jacket. Folio size: 12” x 16”. Copiously illustrated by photographs- many full page- this volume was issued at the start of the Russo-Japanese War, and attempted to explain how little Japan, “in the comparatively few years since Commodore Perry pried open a Japanese port, Japan in Asia has become more Europeanized than Russia in Europe;” “the truth about the undersized, nervous, wiry and gritty Japanese man in the forefront as soldier and man-of-war’s man;” and how they were fighting, “not alone for Korean room for their country’s expansion, but also for the cause, as they understand it, of democracy and progressiveness against despotism and duplicity.”japan 1904-2.jpg

Against a chronicle of the Japanese military forces and their movements in the war is set illustrations of the ancient land from whose temples and trade centers, tea houses, gardens and sacred bridges sprang this new, westernized nation. The odd mix of grudging admiration and racial condescension makes this book a period piece, but the photos are remarkable throughout.

Unpaginated, with burgundy cloth-backed printed brown boards. Cover edges worn; from gutter and separated from the text block. Remarkable and rare. HBB price: $95.


Rattazzi, Priscilla, Best Friends (Rizzoli, 1st ed., 1989). ISBN 0-8478-1058-5. Hardcover, unclipped dust jacket. A collection of photos of dogs and their people by Italian born photographer Rattazzi, with a preface by the late industrial magnate Gianni Agnelli. 9.5” x. 13.25”. Excellent condition. HBB price: $65.

Today in Literary Criticism: the Georgia Literature Commission, America's last experiment in official censorship.

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


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.


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.


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."


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).


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 managed to get distributors to voluntarily suppress 119 other titles.


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.