Rediscovered: Wittgenstein Dug Norbie

Kent Harrington pops in a link to a CrimeReads article about how the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wolfed down a steady diet of hardboiled American pulp crime fiction. Not something your average guy on the street would be expecting to hear, I bet.

Good article, surf over and read or skim as much as interests you. A high point for me was the section where Wittgenstein singles out Black Mask regular Norbert Davis and one of his Doan and Carstairs mysteries for special praise. He was thinking about sending Davis a letter telling him how much he liked his work, but that didn’t happen. Davis committed suicide in 1949 at the age of 40.

Ed Price — prolific pulpster E. Hoffmann Price — once told me that for awhile Davis was one of the writers in their circle (around Redwood City) who’d show up for parties. He called him Norbie.

The Comments section, by the way, is also interesting, as all these Wittgenstein fans try to digest the pulp info. One even asks if someone someday maybe could track down the Norbert Davis writings.

Yeah, wouldn’t that be nice?

Our pal Evan Lewis did the intro for the complete Doan and Carstairs series if you’re curious (and you can find more Norbie if you want to look).

But what I’m really curious about now: Did writing that intro make Evan a de facto egghead?

And, what would Wittgenstein think about Kent Harrington’s new one, Last Seen?

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Rediscovered: Great Scott!

You want to talk about Sir Walter Scott suddenly being in the air?

Kevin Cook stumbled over his name during his current reread of Machen’s Far Off Things and then noticed coverage of the flick Ivanhoe in the new issue of Firsts. And just now — out of the blue, no knowledge of Kevin puzzling over why Scott’s name should be flung before his face when he hasn’t thought about him in years — Brian Leno jumps into action.

I figure Brian simply noticed the bit in the course of his usual perambulating about the web, and its the sort of info that would attract his attention. Or is it more than mere coincidence?

Brian writes, “I had never heard that Sir Walter Scott’s mother was buried as dead, awoke when thieves or thief tried to steal from her body and bore Walter five years later.”

Truth or fiction? You decide. Check it out in an old comic book feature by the seminal figures of Simon and Kirby. With the success of the Marvel Universe movies, Jack Kirby must be one of the most imitated artists of all time.

“Cool story,” Leno notes. “Wonder what it would take to bring Scott’s novels back from the dead?”

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Rediscovered: More Musings on Haggard

Every week or three the noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook starts mulling over some bookish matter, and often enough it leads him to H. Rider Haggard:

It’s weird sometimes how references to one book or author show up multiple times in a short space of time. Arthur Machen wrote of his enjoyment of reading Sir Walter Scott in Far Off Things and then Robin H. Smiley wrote about Ivanhoe in his “Books into Films” column in the current issue of Firsts.

I had not given a single thought to Scott or Ivanhoe probably in decades, and then the subject comes up twice within one week. Just odd coincidence I guess.

I saw the movie, but still have no desire to struggle through the book. I recognize the importance of Scott and Alexander Dumas in the development of the adventure novel, but it is really hard to read through their 1,000+ page novels that move so slowly.

I am not a big H. Rider Haggard fan, but what Haggard did with King Solomon’s Mines was write an adventure novel that moved along at a faster pace with more action and less background detail piling up and slowing down the story, and his imitators followed suit.

I recall reading just a year or two ago how Tim Willocks stated that he eliminated about 1,500 pages from his first draft of The Twelve Children of Paris because it was all background information that he had researched about sixteenth century Paris that just bogged down the story he wanted to tell. In the mid-nineteenth century all those pages would have seen print!

In re: Haggard, neither I nor anyone else can underestimate the importance of She in lost race fiction or King Solomon’s Mines in adventure fiction.

Being important, however, does not always mean being good or even readable.

Look at all the pulp fanboys who gush over Carroll John Daly as the “creator” of hardboiled detective fiction — and equate him with Hammett. In terms of writing ability, that’s a joke of course. But he may have been first.

The truth of the matter with lost race fiction is that DeMille’s A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder was written before She but published shortly afterward. He too may have been first, but thus is such fame rewarded 140 years later. Hammett. Haggard. Most haven’t heard of Daly or DeMille.

Back to the original point, a number of Haggard’s imitators wrote better and far more vividly than he did, and eventually the genre moved over to America where Edgar Rice Burroughs took over and really made it exciting.

I will give you the classic case. Haggard wrote a novel titled People of the Mist. I have tried to read it twice, but it bores me less than a third of the way in.

Arthur A. Nelson took one slice of the plot and wrote Wings of Danger, an incredibly brilliant and exciting page-turning lost race extravaganza that is easily one of the two or three best lost race novels ever written. It’s a great favorite among Robert E. Howard fans, so you know with comparison to REH it can’t be boring!

There are numerous other examples of books where authors borrowed Haggard plot germs and wrote far, far better books than he did. I acknowledge his place in history, but please don’t try to make me read his books. The usually more-perceptive Deuce Richardson is a big Haggard fan. Curiously, others still find him readable as well.

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Rediscovered: Arcane Arkham Arch-Collectors Corner No. 4

As is his wont, Brian Leno was moping around on eBay the other day and noticed a copy of the Arkham House edition of A. E. Coppard’s Fearful Pleasures — it sold for $108.27. The trick angle was that a stamp at the bottom of the inside dustwrapper flap IDed it as a BOOK CLUB EDITION.

Brian realized that he’d never heard of any kind of Book Club Edition for any Arkham, and asked me about it. To the best of my memory, I’d never heard about it, either.

Well, if you’ve got a mystery, you go to Sherlock Holmes, right? — or in the case of bizarre Arkham arcana, what I do is to forward the query to Paul Dobish.

“I am not sure which of the ‘remainder’ entity/entities was/were actually involved — Greenberg’s Pick-A-Book or Readers Service Book Club or whichever,” Paul responded, “but Derleth remaindered some titles (at least two, but reportedly several more).  

“The Arkham House copies were ‘regular’ copies, but the remainder house sold them with the pre-printed prices clipped and with (in blank ink) BOOK CLUB EDITION — even though they were not really such — rubber-stamped to the bottom of the front flap.

“Just to be clear: every BOOK CLUB EDITION from Arkham I have seen has been price-clipped. I do not know whether the clipping was done at Arkham or by the remainder entity.

“The two ‘common’ Arkham House BOOK CLUB EDITION titles are Coppard’s Fearful Pleasures and Wakefield’s The Clock Strikes Twelve. Over the years I have seen several copies of each offered for sale, with the Coppard perhaps more often than the Wakefield. I have an example of each in my Arkham collection.

“However, I know of one collector who wrote to tell me that he had a BOOK CLUB EDITION of Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland — that is the only other such title that I recall ever hearing about actually existing. Which is not to say that others do not.

“Derleth’s was not the only small/specialty press to do so. All of the remaindered titles were offered at a discount (sometimes significantly so) from their MSRP.

“Some FPCI publications were also remaindered. Some were bound books, some with and some without the original/new Dust Wrappers. Some were sheets that were bound (and in at least some instances in black bindings that stated Gnome Press instead of FPCI as the publisher). 

“At least one title even had a new Readers Service Book Club title leaf printed and bound in. 

“And some FPCI DWs were rubber-stamped BOOK CLUB EDITION similarly to the AH titles. A number of other such titles were advertised back then (1950s-ish), but I have never managed to acquire any such.   

“As to their apparent rarity (or even their actual existence), I do not know.

“I happen to have a Readers Service Book Club piece that offered titles from a number of the small/specialty presses — e.g., Arkham House, FPCI, Fantasy Press, Gnome Press. But in this particular piece the books were offered at full MSRP.

“For example, Hornbook for Witches was offered at the original $2.10 Arkham MSRP. (Although it was noted that ordering qualified you for some kind of bonus credit. Hence, the ‘book club’ aspect.)

“Alas, I do not have every such offering from every remainder seller of the period. So I am unable to confirm who offered what specifically and at what specific — discount versus full MSRP — pricing and at what dates.”

In the ordinary course of book collecting, purists avoid any dustjacket that is price-clipped.

Remainder markings also severely dilute the desirability of an item. Spray painting the bottom of a text block — or, just pulled off the shelf to my left, the little red Random House building logo stamped onto the bottom of the text block in my copy of the 1974 Random House first edition of The Continental Op. A remainder mark. Meaning this copy isn’t worth as much as a first without a remainder mark, but if you’re picking up a book to read and don’t mind saving a few bucks, hey, that’s the appeal of the remainder market.

In the case of Arkham House, it’s possible Derleth invoked enough magic during his run that it negates the normal remainder stigma. If you’ve got to collect each and every variation. . . .

But not every Arkham Completist is tempted. Our pal John D. Haefele reports, “I don’t actually have, or want, these books. Not different editions, or modified printings (as happened to Portals of Tomorrow), but last out of first issued, with BOOK CLUB EDITION stamped on the existing jacket.

“By the way, I think Derleth remaindered some issues of The Arkham Sampler, too.”

I find the remainder angle highly interesting as part of the 1950s saga, when the fantasy small presses were turning belly-up one after another — and it reminds me of the bit in the Sam Moskowitz memoir of Derleth about how he almost sank himself with these editions of Brit authors that regular customers of Arkham House didn’t want.

Haefele agrees, of course, but notes: “Only one of about a DOZEN different obstacles and setbacks, any ONE of which would have stopped a lesser man dead in his tracks.”

I’m looking forward to Haefele’s August Derleth of Arkham House, and for me that bleak era of the 1950s looms as potentially the most fascinating in the history.

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Rediscovered: The Eklund Bookplate

I tossed out The Tamony Bookplate found in one of my Knopf yellowback Machens the other day. Among other especially interesting plates I’ve ended up with, I was telling Brian Leno about one I remembered with a skeleton, a road, a mountain. . . .

(And books, yes — it’s a bookplate.)

Turned out that one also lurks in a yellowback, a 1926 first printing of Machen’s The Anatomy of Tobacco.

Did a casual check and Myrtle and Walter Eklund show up in the 1940 Census, in their early 40s, residing in 2315 Webster Street in San Francisco. And some forty years later the book moved on to me for the hefty tag of $5.95.

You get some bargains if you’re satisfied with a ragtag row of yellowbacks.

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Frisco Beat: A “Lost Book” Mystery

Every couple of years or so I get asked about a book someone has read and forgotten the title of — almost always a book that is a mystery set in San Francisco. Hey, you do the seminal statement, people figure out who to ask.

But even I have by no means read every mystery set in Frisco — they are legion — so when Rofiah Breen asked about a novel the other day, I just didn’t know. But I told her I could put the question out on Mean Streets and see if someone else recognizes the plot as something they’ve read. If you’ve got it, let me know.

Here’s Rofiah’s description of that lost book out of the past:

I am looking for a book my husband and I read in Indonesia when we lived up in the mountains on a tea estate in the ’70s. 

It belonged to the Indonesian owners of the main house. They had a row of some fifteen or twenty English books in their bedroom. We climbed the hill back to our bamboo cabin and read and read those books.

I thought I’d remember the title — or at least the name of the writer. Of course, I forgot it. So did my husband. I’ve searched for it endlessly since. 

When I returned to the tea estate in 2004, the husband was dying. I of course couldn’t intrude, though, of course, I tried to.

I’m wondering if you could help me find the name of the book or its author. I grew up in San Francisco (born 1942; left in 1965 to go teach in Newman,Ca). Reading the book in Indonesia in 1971 or so was a big deal: I just walked through S.F. the entire time.

The book is about a guy who at night is walking downtown on whatever street will take him to the wharf, where he’s planning to throw himself into the water and die. He’s used his last dime. Has no money whatsoever. It’s probably mid-fifties. Is he on Geary Street? Bush?  Sutter? I’m not sure. 

But behind him is a well-heeled couple who stop him and want him to exchange identity with the man (of the well-heeled couple) who is supposedly the long-lost relative of some fabulously rich San Francisco family. 

Suddenly, overnight he’s got a place to stay. (I believe he had been staying at some hotel on Broadway for a few nights up to then.) 

Now he’s with this couple, being drilled on all the events he is supposed to know if he is this other guy. He learns it all and greets his long-lost family who take him in. 

Of course it’s a ruse. 

The couple have, I believe, murdered the actual person our hero is assuming the identity of.  

Why can I not forget it, this book? It was just great. I was there. I knew every footstep and mark on the sidewalk.  

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Rediscovered: Is Haefele’s First Book on the Block?

Currently on eBay from Gunnison of Adventure House — with a Buy It Now tag of $100 — you’ll find what may be John D. Haefele’s first book. Copy no. 41 of 45 numbered copies.

He’s not sure — Haefele, not Gunnison.

Last year Haefele began to question the idea that his 2006 Cimmerian Library booklet was his first book — even though his Author Blurb in A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos says it is so. (100 copies of that one — and try to find one.)

But the Supplement — done as a contribution to the Esoteric Order of Dagon a.p.a. — would push his start date all the way back to 1997.

Feeling that he might be showing disloyalty to The Cimmerian, Haefele agonized over the question and later told me, “I consider my first article in The Cimmerian to have been my first professional sale, and my first book published by The Cimmerian Press my first professional or true book.”

Of his numbered opus for the EOD, he said, “The Supplement was my first attempt at a book, an unfortunate not-ready-for-prime-time vanity publication. . . .”

I don’t know — Buy It Now for $100 I’m sure is steeper a price than you’ll find for most items which might be categorized as EOD zines. I imagine it’s much, much more than you’d be charged for entire mailings of the EOD.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. Either limited booklet could well serve as Haefele’s first book.

And however much he may agonize over the question in spare moments, neither Haefele nor I will decide which item kicks off his run. The call will be made by the collectors, in the open marketplace.

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Hammett: Further Reference to Nick Charles Liking a Pop Every Couple of Pages

The Hammett buzz comes fast and furious on Jeopardy!, with guest host Aaron Rodgers receiving one last night.

S37 E142. April 13 2021.

Category: Going Stir Crazy. $600 clew:

Some prefer stirring this classic cocktail; shaking it, the preferred method of Nick Charles, is said to bruise the gin.

A contestant responded with the question: “What’s a martini?”

Correct. But I think Aaron Rodgers may have missed the pass by letting the name of the contestant — Norah — slide by without comment. How perfect was that?

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Rediscovered: The Tamony Bookplate

Haefele’s Heretics got shaken up some for the run up to his new book Lovecraft: The Great Tales. Morgan “The Morgman” Holmes was busy with something else. Brian Leno’s computer died out from under him and he didn’t want to proof off a tablet screen. Haefele had two or three of his local guys he wanted to drag in on it.

Among other permutations of the lineup, we pulled the noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook into the team. He told me, “After finishing the proofreading of John’s book I immediately got out ‘The Colour out of Space’ for a rereading. The book set me in the perfect mood for it — also for Machen’s great The Three Imposters. I want to get to Chambers again as well. That from someone who reads almost zero supernatural horror any more.”

Kevin’s gone after more Machen in particular, and mentioned to me that he intended to reread the two autobiographical volumes, Far Off Things and Things Near and Far.

I told him, don’t forget the third volume, The London Adventure. He didn’t know about The London Adventure.

Turns out Kevin was reading out of the deluxe multi-volume Caerleon Edition of Machen’s collected works (of course he was). That set came out in 1923. The London Adventure appeared in 1924.

I pulled my Knopf yellowback of Adventure out from my horde of thirteen yellowback Knopfs to check the date as we were figuring it out. Noticed that it bears the very cool bookplate of one Peter J. Tamony — the demonic Buddha image comes from the famous illustrator Wallace Smith. I’m pretty sure I have another book somewhere in my collection — maybe even a couple more — that have the Tamony bookplate pasted in. As I’ve said before, I kind of like bookplates and other such things — stamps, bookstore stickers — in old books.

Kevin currently is rereading the finished Haefele book, savoring it, taking side trails as they appeal to him. It pulls him deeper and deeper into Machen, and he says, “I have the idea of extending my Machen shelf by a few titles. I ordered a copy of the Machen bibliography. Being that I am a hardcover first edition book collector, I want to know points for identifying firsts, and then trying to locate copies in dust jacket — with signatures a bonus. I would especially want to read The London Adventure when I complete the reread of the Caerleon set with the first two autobiographical volumes. This time I can read all three in order.”

Rest assured that Kevin won’t be happy with any beaten-up yellowback Knopfs. (I will say that my copy of The London Adventure appears to be the first Knopf printing.)

And on an impulse, I decided to punch the name Peter J. Tamony into the search engines. Found a video of a San Franciscan from 1971 who must be the same guy. Plus looking again just now I see links to several articles, including a piece on the 1966 Trips Festival.

Nice. From the library of one San Franciscan to another — from one Machen fan on to the next.

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Rediscovered: Every Copy of an Edition Part Two

Not too long ago Brian Leno tipped me off to a blog devoted to Vincent Starrett, entered via a specific post about the famous book collector’s bookplates.

I surfed around some, and quickly realized that blog fell under the same advice I gave out for dealing with Up and Down These Mean Streets. You can use the Search Bar here to look for specific things, or you could just go back to the beginning and cruise through like you’re reading a book.

But the Starrett blog doesn’t feature a Search Bar. So I worked my way back to the start, then turned around and came back. Some stuff I skipped or skimmed — I’m not a fan of Starrett’s then modern crime writing, so I breezed over those moments.

In a post talking about Items not yet collected I found a link to something really interesting — to me, in any case, and maybe to you if you like collecting books: a very detailed census surveying the whereabouts of every copy of Starrett’s Sherlockian pastiche The Unique Hamlet.

Every copy of the 1920 first edition of some 110 copies! The guy has tracked down 59 of them, with 26 of that total in institutional libraries.

A saga. Very cool.

Got me thinking about the rarest edition I’ve brushed up against lately: the Henrik Harkson first hardcover edition of John D. Haefele’s A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos.

Haefele doesn’t know the precise copy count on the run — may have been slightly over 100 copies. Maybe have been under, in only two figures.

I mentioned the Unique Hamlet census to him, and Haefele put a toe in the water toward doing a census of the hardback Derleth Mythos — you know, if someone gets ambitious. He said:

I didn’t keep records, but can make an educated guess regarding the whereabouts of about twenty of the 100 or so copies.

I personally have three copies, two pristine — & one banged up, over-written, working copy minus jacket.

Family members account for four copies.

Jack Byrne has one copy.

I assume Harksen has at least one copy, & there is another he placed in some foreign institution.

Of those stalwarts we know, I assume Joshi, Derie, Leno, Deuce, Krabacher, & Holmes all have/had the hardcover.

Faig did, but it went (I think) to his favorite pro-bookseller when he downsized.

Pugmire did, but someone grabbed it — I never saw it offered with the rest of his remains.

One or two of the early reviewers — e.g. Don Webb — must have had one.

And a few collectors, since copies were offered — Rajchel, for example.

These comprise 20% of the total.

The hardest to track will be Harksen’s overseas sales.

I may have given one to the Wisconsin Historical Society, where it will probably stay buried for the next five hundred years.

I told Haefele, “Well, that’s a start — and don’t forget me, I’ve got an inscribed copy.

“Pug’s copy in fact sold. Cheap! I covered it in the Collecting Haefele post. Joshi didn’t even know enough to ask the $60 original retail. (The other one mentioned in that post that popped up for $60 I told you about and apparently you told Rajchel.)”

Of the original Haefele’s Heretics, Morgan Holmes was the only one who had not nabbed a copy of the Harkson hardcover. (And omitted, by accident surely, from the brief list of Heretics above is Tex Albritton — I imagine Tex still has his copy.)

And at this moment two copies are offered on Amazon, both in the $190.00ish range. Cheap, compared to a copy of the first edition of Starrett’s The Unique Hamlet.

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