Go Read John Williams…soon…today.

Denver was once home to a remarkable author; a respected educator, founder and editor of the Denver Quarterly, and 1973 co-National Book Award winner. The author of the novels  Nothing But the Night, Butcher’s Crossing, Stoner, and Augustus and the two collections of poetry, The Broken Landscape and The Necessary Lie, is one of the great American authors, enjoys a fiercely devoted following, and is generally unheard of. His book Butcher’s Crossing is a majestic western, set in Kansas and the Rocky Mountains, that tells the story of a young Harvard student that drops out and heads west. Looking for some form of adventure, he becomes seduced by the stories of great buffalo herds that still roam further west, joins up with a group of rough frontiers men, and sets out for a complete life altering experience. This somewhat simple structure is merely the skeleton on which Williams probes deep into men’s psychology, their potential for fanatical pursuit of goals, and culminates in senseless destruction. Williams’s brilliant prose elevates the “western” into a new level of consciousness; the tension is built around obsession, pursuit, madness, slaughter, complicity in westward expansion as destruction. This is one of the greatest American/ and or Western novels ever written.

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The book he is perhaps most known for is of a very different speed. Stoner is an “academic novel” that portrays a sad and lonely man devoted to scholarship that allows the wider to world wash over him. Again, a simple framework allows Williams to live in this man’s small life, and his general lack of achievement or connection to others becomes a sad, yet entrancing story. An ultimate example of a quiet novel, this is again an amazing and gorgeous book.

Both of these titles were reissued by New York Review of Books Classics. Had it not been for their incredible vision and editorial selection, these books, which just may belong up there in the major American canon, would perhaps have been entirely forgotten. They are as good as any other American novel written. Stoner, in fact, is currently having a major publishing success across Europe – it is a universal story, where loneliness and solitude are common elements of living.

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Walter Benjamin Unpacks Through the Night

A collection of books is an intriguing and mysterious thing. It happens to be a whole object, when taken singularly, and yet is constantly breaking into small parts, shifts – the various strata represent moments and interests, fascinations, much-loved sentences or passages, the thought process is captured and integrated into the greater collective. The weavers, connectors, burrowers, builders of these small monuments will often stand before them, stare at them, spend a great deal of time contemplating  the spines and titles, or in the words of Walter Benjamin, “march up and down their ranks to pass them in review…” Those same builders are also familiar with the maintenance required of their work, and the inevitable prospect of needing to pack. For the fortunate, on the other side of that gloomy task, stands the real pleasure of unpacking a library, book by book, and taking stock once again of those acquisitions.

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This past week I read Walter Benjamin’s great essay, Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting. In a short space, he writes about this experience, reminisces about particular acquiring events, including a memorable auction strike, and the very intimacy of a collector with his chosen objects:

” Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them.”  – – Walter Benjamin (1892-1940)

Illuminations, published by Harcourt Brace in 1968, reprinted by Schocken in 1969. With a lenghty introduction by Hannah Arendt.

Permanent link to this article: https://hermitagebooks.com/blog/?p=82

Some great vintage dust jackets from the shop

Older dust jackets are easy to appreciate, with their sense of lay-out-board composition and tactility. You can just imagine the designer sitting at a large table with paint, torn scraps of paper, a color palette, collage pieces, and the text, moving and shuffling, erasing and flipping. Also, notice the lack of author blurbs, which seem to be everywhere now. Of course, blurbs have been in use for some time, but it is refreshing to see them missing from time to time. I’m a great fan of the paper dust jacket, before they were coated in plastic for the sake of protection. There’s a simpleness and fragility about them.

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Publishing Gems at NYRB:

Publishing houses occupy a unique position in the world of collective culture. Much like their equivalents in wider creative distribution – the gallery, the record label, and new restaurant – they intrepidly bring forth the new article for our consumption and ensuing evaluation. I have always admired this platform from which creativity is heralded, and in general, try to stay immersed in the flow. This perpetual swirl, albeit exciting, with its new flavors and designs, mixes, beats, and unyielding texts, can often become overwhelming; the steady tap morphed into a fifteen-headed hydra of decision: this revolving door can really lead to shutdown, apathy, dare I say anxiety, when it comes to consuming the new.

This is where I find publisher’s helpful. Several years ago, I was browsing shelves of used books, hundreds and hundreds of spines, printed in colors, type, names, titles, paper jackets from mid-century and before (ah those classics, usually adorned with the best designs, and alas, many forgotten authors) and of course the varied and many symbols adopted by the houses, all of which I felt somewhat adept at navigating – and yet, where do I start pulling? Then, having reached the Ws, I came across a thin, solid spine color, a simple visual respite, with neatly typed title and author, followed at the heel by a simple, clean logo: NYRB. That did it, the clean break from all the mashed up spine designs to something utterly…simple. I’d never seen the imprint before, enjoyed the strange, surreal cover art, the book felt nice in hand, and that was it, purchased.  Edward Lewis Wallant’s The Tenants of Moonbloom, was an excellent read and my first foray into New York Review of Books Classics, an amazing publishing house, that turns out, has been around since 1999. I have begun seeking these gems out on my book excursions (the spines still, as they did then, jump out in brilliantly colored simple bands.) I found a new sign-post for helping me navigate the confluence of the new. The catch is, much of what they republish (though not all) is older, lost, forgotten material, that it appears in hindsight, is excellent reading. According to their site, the series:

is designedly and determinedly exploratory and eclectic, a mix of fiction and non-fiction from different eras and times and of various sorts. The series includes nineteenth century novels and experimental novels, reportage and belles lettres, tell-all memoirs and learned studies, established classics and cult favorites, literature high, low, unsuspected, and unheard of. NYRB Classics are, to a large degree, discoveries, the kind of books that people typically run into outside of the classroom and then remember for life.

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Discovery indeed. Seek out these awesome books. There is something for everyone, and they never seem to disappoint.   http://www.nybooks.com/books/imprints/classics/the-tenants-of-moonbloom/

Permanent link to this article: https://hermitagebooks.com/blog/?p=16

Embarking on new form of communication

Welcome to the new Hermitage Bookshop blog. We intend this to be a platform for sharing our book-ish, -like, -worthy, or  -collecting thoughts. You may find some items entertaining, learn something you hadn’t previously known, and perhaps find new avenues and tunnels to wander through. You may see in this space new shop inventory, reflections on the industry, and small pylons of history floating on the horizon. Facts, opinions, and wit abound! Cheers and welcome.

Permanent link to this article: https://hermitagebooks.com/blog/?p=14

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