Monday, September 21, 2015

Book sale loot

It has taken me even longer than usual to get round to writing about the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Big Book Sale, which was held from last Tuesday until yesterday. However, this year we actually made two trips to the sale, so that will have to serve as some sort of excuse for my sluggishness.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned before that the opening night of the sale is a preview night that is "for members only". To be a member you only have to donate a certain amount to the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, and your two tickets to the preview night appear in your mailbox as if placed there by elves a week or so before the sale. Now, the "members only" part makes it sound like the preview night is a really special and exclusive event for a select few, but in fact every book geek and every bookseller, amateur or professional, from miles around apparently make their annual donations and attend the preview night.

This is the night when I've always gone, and it's truly an adventure and a madhouse. The amateur booksellers are an ongoing peril much loathed by actual readers, as they frantically scan the barcodes of every single book with their cell phones to see what the going rate is and whether they could make a buck or two by snatching it up. (At least I assume these are all amateurs, as I would like to believe that professional booksellers still have some actual knowledge of books and know at a glance whether a book is saleable or not, without their iPhone telling them so, but perhaps I'm naive and that kind of bookseller no longer exists.) At any rate, these folks are often oblivious to other people in their path, leading occasionally to the exchange of harsh words and dirty looks.

Then there's the fact that the sale organizers kindly provide full-size grocery carts for the convenience of the attendees. A lovely gesture, except that when you have at least a few hundred people frantically scrambling for books, traffic jams, collisions, and the occasional trampling of less aggressive and more diminutive shoppers are inevitable. (Okay, perhaps I exaggerate, but I wouldn't be entirely surprised to see a dazed shopper being helped to his or her feet with shopping cart wheel tracks across his or her chest. The fact that it hasn't happened yet is a testament to the good luck that piles of old books bring with them.) Of course, I should hasten to add that my worn out granny cart (sorry, no picture this year, but trust me, it's even more ramshackle than it was at the last sale) couldn't possibly count as a hazard or an annoyance to anyone, and I avow that I've never done more than graze another shopper (though I confess I hope that the victims of any such grazings were fiendishly scanning bar codes at the time).

All of these factors were exacerbated on this occasion by the fact that the sale was moved to a different building at the Fort Mason Center—a nicer building, admittedly, but also a smaller one. So the amount of chaos experienced increased in direct proportion to the decrease in square footage.

Sadly however, the chaos really didn't pay off very well this year. Only a small portion of the tower of books you see at the top of this post was acquired on Tuesday evening. But I am a glutton for punishment, and something made me decide that we should return on Saturday morning and see if any other exciting books had appeared on the tables. With the result that I fully intend, when the next sale rolls around in April, to skip the Greek tragedy of preview night altogether and simply go when the other quiet, civilized, cheerful book geeks go.

For on Saturday morning there was nary a barcode scanner in sight, and indeed only about a fifth as many people overall as on preview night. And imagine my surprise when, right off the bat, I began to unearth some excellent additions to my library. Indeed, at least two-thirds of my finds (and most of the best ones) resulted from our Saturday visit. So, no more barcode scanners for me (though I will somewhat regret no longer having the opportunity of grazing their shins with my cart...).

But now, on to the books themselves:

I've had luck before with finding E. M. Delafield books at the sale, but I was surprised to find an American edition of her 1933 novel, Gay Life, still resting on a table four days after the preview night. According to the Bookman, in this novel Delafield "deserts her provinces and takes to the Cote d'Azur, where her story reveals a fortnight's goings-on in a Grand Hotel." This doesn't seem to be one of Delafield's best-known books, and perhaps there's a reason for that, but it's going to look just fine on my shelves. I also always enjoy an inscription that gives a feel for a book's past owners, and this one was apparently inscribed in no less impressive a place than Omaha, Nebraska.

I've also had some good luck in the past with Margery Sharp books at the sale, and despite the fact that I already have a copy of The Nutmeg Tree (1937), I couldn't resist this  movie tie-in edition.

It's complete with dustjacket, albeit a slightly bedraggled one:

It was apparently published to coincide with the feature film version of the book, Julia Misbehaves (1948), which starred Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon (not to mention Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Lawson). Has anyone seen the movie?

Another fun find was a cute copy of Jan Struther's  A Pocketful of Pebbles (1946). 

Apparently this is an American release which followed the success of the film version of Mrs. Miniver, and it includes the complete text of Struther's only other major book, Try Anything Twice, plus additional poetry and articles.

It also had an inscription from just after World War II:

The mystery section of the sale was a bit disappointing this year, but on Tuesday night one of my only exciting finds was a copy of A Fine and Private Place (1947) by Mary Fitt (better known to her friends as classical scholar Kathleen Freeman.

I don't know anything much about Fitt yet, but here is the publisher's description from the jacket flaps:

I also nabbed a copy of E. C. R. Lorac's Shepherd's Crook (1953) in an ex-library copy that is very much the worse for wear, but still has (most of) its interesting dustjacket. (It also looks considerably better after I carefully sliced off its old mylar cover and replaced it with a new one.) 

This is an American edition of the mystery that appeard in the U.K. as Crook o'Lune: 

I've yet to read anything by Lorac (pseudonym of Edith Caroline Rivett), but even if it's not to my taste the cover alone is worth the $1 I paid for it. And the back flap and back cover have lists of other books and authors which I'll have to look at more closely:

I've also never read anything by Sheila Kaye-Smith, so I picked up her postwar novel The Lardners and the Laurelwoods (1948). 

From the description on the flaps, it's hard to know when the book is set and whether it will make much use of postwar themes, but I'll keep you posted.

Now, time for a bit of a confession. I'm sure many of you are fans of Nancy Mitford for her classic duo of novels, The Pursuit of Love (1945) and Love in a Cold Climate (1949). I hate to admit it, but I've failed in both of my attempts to navigate the first of those. It just seemed like too much to me. But regardless, I found myself unable to resist a more or less pristine (though naked) American edition of the novel Mitford wrote next, The Blessing (1951). Part of the reason was that it came complete with its original Book-of-the-Month Club insert (which of course I will show you here—how could I not?). So I shall try to navigate one of her less famous novels and see how I get on with that—perhaps I just perversely dislike the most acclaimed and loved novels of the time?

I was a little bit reluctant to add Elizabeth von Arnim's The Caravaners (1909) to my collection, only because so many of her works are available as ebooks and believe me, there is a limited amount of space in our apartment. However, in the end I couldn't resist, and so this tale of a German couple caravaning through England—told, apparently, by the cantankerous husband—is now on my TBR shelf.

It's also illustrated throughout by Arthur Litle:

Those are the main old old old books I came across by British women. My other finds were either newer editions or by non-Brits.

In the former category, I picked up two of the old black Viragos which don't turn up very often these days. They are Antonia White's two final novels, The Sugar House (1952) and Beyond the Glass (1954). I looked carefully in case there was a copy of The Lost Traveller (1950), which, together with the two I found, forms a sort of trilogy of sequels to her most famous work, Frost in May (1933), but it was not to be found. White is not, shall we say, the most cheerful of authors, but I found Frost in May interesting, so I'm game.

Rumer Godden is one of my favorite authors (though I realize with horror that I've never reviewed one of her books here), but the only works from late in her career that I've read are her two wonderful memoirs. Now that Coromandel Sea Change (1991), one of her final novels for adults, has a place on my TBR shelves, I will have a chance to do that.

And the last book by an author on my list is also by far the most recent. I've never read anything by mystery writer Gwendoline Butler, who only died in 2013, but I'll sample her work with Coffin Knows the Answer (2002).

I mentioned Elizabeth Lemarchand on my Grown-Up School Story List, for her debut, Death of an Old Girl (1967), which appeared several years too late for her to make my Overwhelming List. Sadly, Old Girl was nowhere to be found at the book sale, but I picked up the blandest possible book sale edition of a later book, Unhappy Returns (1977). Another confession: I actually recently read Lemarchand's Buried in the Past (1974) and enjoyed it, but I never quite got round to writing about it here.

Of course, there are a fair number of authors who feel like they belong on my Overwhelming List, even if they don't. Ngaio Marsh is a favorite of mine, and she's so closely associated with the great British women mystery authors that it seems a shame to leave her off, but she is in fact from New Zealand. I had to add a nice hardcover of her third from final novel, Grave Mistake (1978), to my collection.

And on the back cover is a charming photo of Marsh:

Jill Paton Walsh is far too recent to qualify for my list, though she is likely known to many of you because she completed Dorothy Sayers' unfinished Peter Wimsey novel, Thrones, Dominations (1998), and has since written several more books of her own featuring Sayers' famous detective. But the book that I found is The Bad Quarto (2007), apparently the last of four novels featuring Imogen Quy, a part-time college nurse at the fictitious St. Agatha's College at Cambridge. It sounds intriguing.

And the last of my finds from the mystery tables (which don't seem so disappointing now that I'm writing about them) was literally a complete mystery to me when I came across it, but the cover was irresistible. Murder at Calamity House (1947) is apparently the second and final novel by Canadian Ann Cardwell (pseudonym of Jean Makins Powley). Her first novel, Crazy to Kill (1941), set (you guessed it) in a mental institution, seems to be more famous than Calamity House, and there's a bit about it here. Whether I'll like the book or not remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the cover alone was worth the hefty $1 price I paid!

There's also another author list on the back flap to explore (albeit one with very few women):

Although I haven't mentioned him here yet, of course Andy was doing his usual perusals of the tables, with his (also as usual) hopeless list of authors I'd like to find. But after giving up on my list, he kept poking around and eventually brought me three books that he thought might be interesting to me. Among other things, I had had him looking in the children's section for any Girls Gone By titles that might have slipped in between old copies of Charlotte's Web and Pippi Longstocking. Naturally, there was nary a GGB title to be found, but from the children's table, he brought me two books that, though American, I couldn't resist.

Margaret Sutton, as some of you undoubtedly know better than I, wrote dozens of children's books, most famously the Judy Bolton series of mysteries (I knew about Nancy Drew, but have never met Judy). The Clue in the Patchwork Quilt (1941) was written in the early years of WWII (any bets as to whether it mentions the war at all or not?) and is at least worth a perusal.

The book is rather cheaply done, with the result that its illustrations, by Pelagie Doane, don't come through very well, but the endpapers are rather nice:

Andy also found Sally Found Out (1930), by Lilian Garis, who apparently wrote hundreds of books for children. 

A description of the book on Goodreads (presumably from the book's jacket flap?) is a little high on perkiness for my taste, but also piques my interest: "Sally was determined to leave school and try earning money on her own account. And that experience furnished her with enough adventures literally to pack a book full of the very kind of material that girls like Sally delight in reading about." Hmmmmm. And there are illustrations by Thelma Gooch:

Finally, Andy picked up a charming Pocket Books edition of a book and author I'd never heard of—The Walsh Girls (1943), by Elizabeth Janeway. 

I admit I bought the book purely for its cover, but Janeway actually sounds more interesting than I had expected. According to her Guardian obituary, she published seven novels, and by the 1960s had become a prominent feminist, forming friendships with the likes of Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and Kate Millett. The Guardian describes her novels as "focused on the family situation, with occasional glimpses at the struggles of women in modern society," so there may be more to the book than just its cover...

I did relatively well in finding some interesting books by American writers. I've mentioned Mary Lasswell here before, as one of my favorite American humorists, and on Saturday morning I snatched up a copy of her final "Suds" novel, Let's Go for Broke (1962), featuring the same trio of boozy women from San Diego who grazed her earlier novels Suds in Your Eye (1942), High Time (1944), One on the House (1949), Wait for the Wagon (1951), and Tooner Schooner (1953).

The complete series is now available as ebooks, but of course the ebooks won't have this delightful dustjacket...

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I've never read Anita Loos' Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925), which is considered a classic of American humor and has been a perennial bestseller since it first appeared. 

It was also, of course, the basis for the classic 1953 film with Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe. This copy isn't a proper "first" in that it is from the tenth printing in March of 1926, though the book must have been a smash right off the bat, since the first printing had been only four months earlier. At any rate, it's a cute little book with delightful illustrations:

And I'm intrigued by its inscription...

I've been meaning to place a new Persephone order for quite a while, but now I won't need to order Helen Hull's Heat Lightning (1932). Persephone reprinted it a couple of years back, and it was also a Book-of-the-Month Club selection when it first appeared. Persephone's description of the book notes: "It is the summer after the Great Crash of 1929 and, as in so many Persephone books, everything happens and nothing happens." Sounds perfect.

And here is an inscription that I found particularly touching. I think it's because of the shakiness of the writing, suggesting perhaps an older man giving a gift to his literary wife?

And finally, the last of the truly old books I acquired: I was rather astonished to find (while crawling around under a table, rifling through the boxes of books for which there was not yet room on the tops of the tables) what appears to be a true first edition of the second novel, The Blind Bow-Boy (1923), by one of my favorite male obscurities. Carl Van Vechten was a controversial but fascinating figure—a relatively openly gay man at a time when such openness was rare (he was married, but it seems to have been a matter of friendship and convenience, as his wife was aware of his relationships with men), and also a promoter and publicizer of Harlem Renaissance authors, with all of the complexities that went with being a white patron of black artists. He published seven novels from 1922 to 1930, and although I've read numerous blasé and condescending dismissals of these by scholars who (supposedly) know, I find them endlessly entertaining and interesting. Sadly, the most famous of his novels is a Harlem-focused novel with what is now an incendiary title, N****r Heaven (a slang term that in the 1920s denoted the upper balcony seats in theatres where African-Americans were allowed to sit), and is also by far his weakest and least entertaining. The others are funny and campy, all permeated by a gay sensibility, and the best of the bunch, his last, Parties (1930), is a perverse, dark farce about Jazz Age depravity, in which the main character is happily bisexual (a terrible drunk, like most of the other characters, but at least not tormented by his sexuality, like most other such characters of the time). Oddly, Van Vechten gave up fiction after 1930, but went on to became a famous portrait photographer, with clients ranging from Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday to Marlon Brando and Gertrude Stein (the last of whom was a close friend).

This book also has by far the most eccentric frontispiece of the books I acquired:

The photo of my loot also shows three other books with little relevance to my blog. As odd as it might seem for me to be a Hemingway fan, I have been ever since high school, and I decided it might be time to re-read True at First Light (1999), one of several posthumous publications making use of a massive unfinished project he worked on over the course of decades. Then, I've always meant to read more of Isaac Bashevis Singer and of Henry Green, so I grabbed up nice copies of two of their books as well.

So that's that for another six months or so. How do you think I did?


  1. I have the Sheila Kaye Smith out of the library as well as her book A VALIANT WOMAN.The latter books contains her repost to Stella Gibbons who mocked her style of rural disaster books.
    I thought you had fallen under a tower of books you had not blogged for ages.

    1. Well, great minds think alike, Tina! Have you been enjoying the books? I always joke that I'll probably end up a casualty of a very modest little earthquake that causes no other damage except crushing me beneath books...

  2. Oh Scott, what fun! Your book sales always come up trump.

    And isn't it heartening that there are so many many rabid book buyers. Imagine a similar scenario of people clamouring to buy ebooks.

    Some very juicy blurbs there....

    "...little did he dream that Danger was approaching. Danger tinged with Romance."

    "Greater danger, keener peril and threatened madness all lay in wait for the distraught girl...."

    And don't you just love the subgenre codes on the back cover of Shepherd's Crook? Some Like Them Tough, Character and Atmosphere, Damsel in Distress, Humour and Homicide...

    The Caravaners. I have that very edition. Haven't read it yet.

    Thanks for that entertaining trip through your purchases. I'm going to have to take another look later to check out some of those writers.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Susan! I vote for "Character and Atmosphere" and "Humour and Homicide" personally...

  3. Scott, I love hearing about your book finds, and wish I could hold the books in my hands. One interesting thing I noticed. The cover art for The Lardners and the Laurelwoods looked familiar to me, and when I looked at the bottom right corner and increased the size, I see what I am almost certain is the signature of John O'Hara Cosgrave II (who sometimes shortened this to something like J O'H Cosgrave II). This is the artist who did the US dust jacket art for most of D.E. Stevenson's novels and also most of Angela Thirkell's. I would love to give this book a read based on the cover art alone. Several other great covers in this haul. I confess that I have also been known to buy a book for it's cover art, although it is the words inside that matter the most.


    1. You're absolutely right, Jerri. I can clearly make out the abbreviated version of Cosgrave's name. He must have been quite a busy illustrator.

  4. I think you did very well indeed!

    I’m with you on inscriptions. Unless a priceless first edition, I prefer those with to those without.

    Must say, I'm envious of your Ann Cardwell. I read her first, Crazy to Kill, a few years back after learning that she hailed from nearby Stratford, Ontario. It’s not exactly a book I’d recommend, but I thought it showed potential. Neither is to be found at Stratford Public Library, but I bet a few have passed through their book sales over the years.

    1. Thanks for sharing your review, Brian. Don't know how I missed it when I Googled the book. But now I'm really not sure what to expect from Cardwell's second book!

    2. I'd be very interested in hearing what you think, Scott. Coincidentally, I read my first Arcadia House book, E. Louise Cushing's Murder without Regret just a few weeks ago. Such a strange book.I was surprised it found a publisher, but happy that it did.

    3. I'll certainly report on Murder at Calamity House when I get round to it (though heaven knows when that will be!). Murder Without Regret also sounds interesting, for the Montreal-at-mid-century setting especially.

  5. When I said above I needed to check out some of these writers, I had Ms. Cardwell in mind. Thanks, Brian, for taking care of that.

    I recommend popping over to Brian's blog using the above link. A nice entertaining review of Crazy to Kill, by that far-from-household-name in Canada. (i.e., NOT the Louise Penny of the 1950s.)

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Susan. Indeed, far from a household name. That said, what struck me in researching the book was the number of editions Crazy to Kill enjoyed - including French and German translations. And then an opera! How is it I'd never heard of her?

      What does it say about Murder at Calamity House that it came and went in a single printing, I wonder.

  6. I hope you will enjoy Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as much as I did!
    The movie still captivates me, and I use many of the lines from it - and there are a couple of doozies from the book I employ, as well!
    Damn - Julia Misbehaves is one of the movies hard to find, but now I must start another quest!
    You did real good, Scott!

    1. Julia Misbehaves seems to have been reasonably successful, so it's a shame it's still hard to find. According to its Wikipedia page, it was originally intended to star Gracie Fields, which I imagine would have made it a quite different film!

    2. This morning, for the hell of it, I checked Amazon - and liar liar panties on fire ME - there it is - easily bought - I have aver $100 in gift cards - perhaps I will just take the plunge - if I hate it, Scott, guess who I am blaming!

    3. Hmmmm, I suppose that you'll blame Greer Garson?

  7. Absolutely delighted to land here via The Quince Tree. So much to read and enjoy in your blog that I hardly know where to start. I am very envious of your Elizabeth von Arnim find, highly recommend the Antonia Whites and can finally admit that I am not a fan of Nancy Mitford.

    1. Oh, good, glad you found me, Alice. And I'm always so glad to find support when I just can't enjoy a writer everyone else seems to love--thank you for lending your in the case of Mitford!

  8. Good news is that GAY LIFE can be read online for free--PROJECT GUTENBURG CANADA.


    1. Oh, yes, you're absolutely right, Jinny. I meant to mention that and forgot!

  9. You have some gems there, Scott! I wish the Struthers and Delafield were my finds...lucky you. And thanks for including the shots of the inscriptions...Henry's spidery writing made me well up a little. A favourite from my own shelves comes from inside a copy of Look At All Those Roses by Elizabeth Bowen. It reads 'For Scott Merrill from John Butler in affection - Elizabeth Bowen's wisdom. May 1944.

    1. Oh, that's a good one, Darlene! I love those little hints about books' past lives.

  10. I very much enjoyed your piece about the library sale! I know the frustration of seeing the book scouts scanning and hustling for books. Some library sales have tried to ban them, but I suppose a sale is a sale. You found some remarkable books. We often go twice to our Planned Parenthood sale, and always find something fascinating. It does seem to have gone downhill a bit. A lot of people blame it on the book scouts

    1. I felt after the last sale that ours was not so good as it used to be, but then, this time I did pretty well. So maybe there's just a natural ebb and flow to book sales as there is in other things. From the library's perspective, no doubt bookseller money is just as worthwhile as anyone else's, but it was definitely so much nicer to go back the second time and browse among fellow book lovers only, instead of those who see them only as a way of making a quick buck. Ugh.

  11. Some wonderful finds there, Scott. I loved Heat Lightning so I hope you enjoy it too. I have The Caravaners (& lots of other EVA) unread but I will get to them one day. I do enjoy Nancy Mitford but she's not a lovable author by any means. I liked The Blessing but I think I loved her letters to her sisters best. I've never seen Julia Misbehaves so must look out for it as Tom says it's available.

    1. I'm glad to know Heat Lightning is something to look forward to, Lyn. Of course, as soon as the book sale was over, I seem to have become sidetracked by library books and other things, but I will get back to the book sale books as soon as I can.

  12. "THE LARDNERS AND THE LAURELWOODS"---book is set in 1939 but mainly "flashbacks"to the summer of 1912.Both world wars not mentioned.A good book.

    1. Thanks for that information, Tina! Too bad that it doesn't contain wartime scenes, but I'm glad to know it's worth reading.


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