Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bibliobits: A Voyage to Arcturus & Strange Books

I walked into a musty used bookstore whose front window was boarded-up. I wouldn't have known it was a bookstore if the door hadn't been open.  I found a copy of David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus, which I'd been looking for for years. 

"How much?"

Everything was $2.00.  The owner was a cattleman who liked to come into the city.  He told me he used to have a better location for the bookstore.  He had often driven to Minneapolis to buy books in bulk from a wholesaler.  Now he depended on church sales and romances.

The store was damp and cold--he kept the heat off--and fluorescent lamps swung from the ceiling on precarious wires. He switched on the lights when a customer browsed in a specific aisle.  Lots of running around flicking switches.  Otherwise, there was zero organization.  A section was labeled SCIENCE FICTION or POETRY, but you were likely to find A Midsummer Night's Dream in SF and Muriel Spark's Symposium in Poetry. I found all kinds of treasures and first editions.  But I also wanted to organize the books.  He wasn't concerned with that.

The bookstore closed.  One day I went there and all the books were gone.

I neatened my shelves recently and found a few from this odd bookstore.  The Best of Hans Andersen, illustrated by Michele Danon-Marcho and Maya Filip, English text by Claire Stewart, was published by Treasure Press in 1983. This 235-page out-of-print book has slightly offbeat, stylized full-page and two-page illustrations reminiscent of folk art.  The style differs from pic to pic, presumably according to the bent of the two artists. Some of the illustrations are delicate, others are blocky and comical, others are oddly textured and kitschy.  Heroes and heroines tend to be stylized gamines with saucer eyes and reams of eye makeup.  Peasants have big eyes in chunkier faces.  The tone of an illustration can be sad and surreal, as in "The Fir Tree," when the dying, burning tree has a vision of a winter night. In the illustration below, a competent Thumbelina forages for food in the snow.  A towering red mushroom and textured pine cone opposite inspire no fear, because they fit the background of an ordinary fairy tale.
Illustration from "Thumbelina"

Okay, not a classic, but fun.  I wonder what happened to Treasure Press.  

There are some other interesting books, too.  John Galsworthy's Worshipful Society is part of a Galsworthy set, published by Charles Scribner's Sons in 1929.  The novels are The Country House, Fraternity, and The Patrician.  I've read the first of the three.

And then there's Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night in a library binding.  

And Ruth Suckow's The Folks.  That's coming up as One of My Reads of the Year.

Books you would never look for, because you didn't know they existed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Thumbelina illustration is lovely. Ellen