Friday, May 4, 2012

 1. The book "A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf     2.  Muir's writing and philosophy   3. Title Page
4. Publisher and Index    5.  Map of his journey    6. Long Moss and oak trees of Bonaventure Cemetary     7. Author's Sketch    8. Author's Sketch

A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf
Author: John Muir
Edited by William Frederick Bade’
Large Print Edition
Publisher: Norman Berg/Houghton Mifflin co.
Copyright: 1970 reprint of the 1916 original edition 

Walk right along with 27-year-old John Muir as he began exploring from Decatur, Ill in October, 1867 all the way to Cuba (using a boat in there of course).  The journal is edited for clarity by Bade’ and seems true to Muir’s poignant and transcendent voice.  After an accident that nearly left him blind, Muir decided “that life was too brief and uncertain, and time too precious to waste upon belts and saws; that while he was pottering in a wagon factory, God was making a world.”  This is when he decided to devote his life to the study of nature, and sensitive to the life around him, Muir coined his famous quote “Earth, Planet, Universe.”

Muir was raised near Portage, WI, with brothers and sisters.  His father was a deeply religious man and much of Muir’s descriptions of nature included biblical phraseology. 

It’s fascinating to read about the South in 1967, still suffering from the affects of the Civil War.  He walked with nothing but a plant press and journal running into all sorts of plants and people.  In Kentucky he noticed the white men liked their guns and horses.  He mentioned their accents “sartain” for certain, “tollable” for tolerable, and “parrs” for pears.  Possibly because of having only Northern experiences to draw on at this time in his life, he made unfortunate comments about African Americans, but does redeem himself as he heard more and more white-man stories and saw the unfairness.’  These stories from the white males themselves, only proved with certainty, how much they used and took from others based solely upon the color of their skin.

Muir saw scenery grander than any he had ever beheld, exclaiming, “Oh these forest gardens of our Father!”  Still, he found the mountain regions of Tennessee and North Carolina far more backward than the remotest parts of Wisconsin.  Referring to everything from weaving to grist mills, he wrote “it’s as if laws had been passed making attempts at improvement a crime.”  He was warned of many people living like wild beasts as he continued south.  Probably due to this, he was not welcomed but interrogated when he approached any farm.

While he did purchase bread or a meal where he could find it, Muir often depended on the charity of strangers for his food and lodging due to the remote areas he walked through..  He found the many caves emitted cool breezes and were surrounded by plenty of plant life.  

Georgia was his admitted favorite, mainly because he found the people so obliging and kind.  He also thought that the plants of the north and south met most distinctly on the southern slope of the Georgian Allegany’s.  Athens was particularly lovely in Muir’s estimation, and he described beautiful and aristocratic mansions.  In the plant world he “scarce saw a familiar face. . .”  Muir witnessed the traces of war: burned fences, mills, and woods.  He saw the wounds the aged carried and like the new trees, the youth were full of vigor. 

He walked about 25 miles a day and the next day, 40 miles with no dinner or supper.  As he neared Savannah, he saw his first pomegranate (and I’ll bet he ate it), Spanish moss, and a cypress swamp.  While watching for alligators, the strange sounds filled him with “indescribable loneliness.”  By the time he arrived in Savannah he was able to stay one night in a motel of sorts, and then found that the money he asked his brother to send had not come.

Forced to find somewhere to sleep while waiting for the money, he wandered to the Bonaventure Graveyard.  Today, you may know it from the 1994 book by John Berendt or the 1997movie of the same name, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”  The cemetery was adopted by the city in 1907 and hosts daily tours.  In 1867, Muir traveled 2 to 4 miles by his estimation on a shell-covered road to get there.  It was part of an abandoned plantation. 

He knew this was the safest place to rest due to the superstitious nature of man.  There were many desperate people about at this time and it was not uncommon to be killed for $2.  Though he was comfortable by the standards of his good nature, it is thought that this was the time he contacted malaria.  Throughout his stay, he remarked on the birds, butterflies, a Long Moss (Tillandsia usneoides), and beauty of the graveyard while also imparting his views on death.

“On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death”, Muir said.  He saw life and death a friendly union of “Nature.”  He thought if children walked with Nature instead of seeing adults yield to groans and tears, that death would be stingless and as beautiful as life.  “. . .the grave has no victory, for it never fights.  All is divine harmony.”

After a week he literally staggered to the post office from lack of food.  Finally the money arrived and he needed to prove he was indeed the botanist, John Muir to claim the package.  He made the postman smile as he offered to be interrogated as to his knowledge of botany, in case he had actually stolen a John Muir’s things and now claimed to be this man.

In October 15, 1867, Muir took a steamer to the “Land of Flowers” and saw the flowery Canaan, “an answer to his longings and prayers.”  Florida was the place that he felt he truly left his native land of the north (Wisconsin) because he recognized no plant.  He struggled through vines and black, alligator-ridden water gathering specimens, but the grandest discovery of his day was seeing his first palmetto (palm tree).  He decided that the cat brier was a worse scorn than the alligator and would travel up to a mile out of his way just to find a small opening. 

Muir stayed with a white doctor where he heard a recital of how the earth was here only for us and how they knew all God’s intentions.  If you read this book, you will see how little he agreed with that mentality and in his journal called them “Lord Man.” 

He received food from some Florida loggers whom he found barbaric, but they did help.  Also an African American family shared some beans with him when they couldn’t even cloth their son.  He was nearly accosted by a wild-eyed man who Muir figured was a run-a-away. 

When he finally found his way to the coast, he began working for the Hodgson’s mill for some money.  Not long after, he fell sick with Malaria and Typhoid, and owed his life to the kindness, skill and care of Mr. And Mrs. Hodgson.  After two months, almost as soon as he could walk, he boarded a sailing vessel for Cuba.  He visited Mrs. Hodgson about 25 years later to thank her once again.  “Is that John Muir?” she exclaimed.  “My John Muir?”

Muir’s love of nature had him clinging to a rope on the boat during a storm so as not to be washed overboard just to watch the mountainous waves.  They arrived in Havana and while he found the city full of lovely gardens and people, he preferred the natural side of the harbor which he marveled over.  He found a flower in the sand being beaten about by the rough waves, only to discover it was growing there.  When he found that there were no ships going to South America, he boarded a schooner full of oranges bound for New York.  His journal ends here, but the reader is treated to an extension through a letter he wrote of how he came to Yosemite.

Sometimes it’s seems that Muir is inclined toward depression as he describes loneliness and fear.  Through isolation, illness, and adversity he constantly mentioned God’s children (plants), and KEPT WALKING!  He was consistently grateful to God for this wondrous place called Earth.  Inspiring.

Of the 31 steps to the attic I give this 62.  Well worth the trip up and down

1970 Hardcover, Berg/Houghton publisher.  Book condition near fine, no marks or writing.  Clean, tight binding.  No dj.  17 photo illustrations. $30 plus $4.00 shipping.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Fabulous Country
An Anthology
Author: Charles Laughton
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Book Co, Inc.
Copyright: 1962

This was a delight to read.  Charles Laughton was a screen icon as the hunchback of Notre Dame and many more, but he also was a traveling actor and speaker.  In the anthology he matches his U.S. destinations memories with the impressions of other authors from other times .We not only are let in on Laughton’s favorite and very fine literary tastes, but he tells stories in his introductions of his experiences in the same locations.  The coincidences and surprises were a lot of fun.

Right now, I’m reading “Cavett,” and he tells of his Lincoln, NE, experience of meeting Laughton backstage.  The coincidence is fun, but moreover, its obvious Charles Laughton was a gentle, sweet man and every bit the English gentleman.

He and his wife, Elsa (famous stage and screen actress, herself) were not impressed with New York, noticing how impolite a policeman was to him, and the taxi drivers treated them as equals!  They both had a change of heart over time and grew to laugh at the things that bothered them at first.  He was in New York “. . .when the bay by Battery Park was sweet smelling.”  Can you imagine?

He begins with Gertrude Stein’s, 1937 “Arrival in New York”; Laughton was a genuinely good-natured person.  He knew that Stein’s verbosity and seemingly nonsensical stops and starts could be off-putting.  He kindly hopes you don’t find her hard to follow.  It’s just that she’s direct.  To me her writing and included statements that seemed like a series of unconnected synapses.  Maybe it was fashionable to talk fast and make no sense or she was conducting an experiment of James Joyce’s stream of consciousness style.

You travel all over in time to around 1800 (guess) with Henry David Thoreau.  He and his fellow surveyor had to stay overnight at the home of a grizzled, 70- year-old-Scotsman in “The Wellfleet Oysterman.” (Now Cape Cod).  He tells about growing up under King George III, seeing George Washington on his horse, hearing the guns fire at the battle of Bunker Hill across the bay, as well as information about oysters. “I am a poor, good-for-nothing crittur, as Isaiah says. . .” he repeated from the bible

Charles Dickens had quite a battle in 1842 just trying to get to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.   He wrote in his book “American Notes” of an appallingly crude three-day boat trip he endured just to promote his work.  Dickens descriptions of the unappealing trip, amongst other things mentioned, created quite a “stink” in America Laughton said.

Laughton noted the beauties of the South, even meeting a young Andy Griffith.  He admits one “could go on and on, even though one could wish some things were not there to see.” 

You get to read all manner of things, Washington’s farewell address, Jack Kerouac, Sinclair Lewis, Sarah Orne Jewett, Truman Capote, and so much more.  You’ll bounce between fiction and non with this gracious host.  His story that was the wonder for me was the evening he was shooting a scene for the movie, “Advise and Consent’ outside the Whitehouse and suddenly the chandeliers went on.  I quickly checked the copyright and realized that Camelot was still there and nothing bad had happened, yet...  I quickly checked the copyright and realized that Camelot was still there and nothing bad had happened, yet.

31 Steps to the Attic!  Wonderful.


This book is in fine condition w/dj good.  One small enclosed tear on the bottom. In 1962 it sold for $5.95. not a bookclub book.  This book is in fine condition. Pages lightly sunned but text bright & clean. dj good.  One small enclosed tear on the bottom. In 1962 it sold for $5.95. not a bookclub book. 

Abebooks values this book at $65 on down according to quality.  This one matches an ABBA certified seller’s price of $25 plus $5 shipping.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

R.v.R. The Life and Times of Rembrandt Van Rijn
Author: Hendrick Willem Van Loon
Publisher: Literary Guild, NY
Copyright: 1930

R.v.R. photos

OMG, I thought I’d never finish the 570 pages!  In all the times I’ve re-read “War and Peace,” page counting just didn’t seem to come up.  I guess we can’t all be Tolstoy’s.

R.v.R. The Life and Times of Rembrandt Van Rijn might have been more aptly named  “The Times of Rembrandt With a Little About Him, Too.” Van Loon claimed on the title page that this was the REAL journal of his REAL grandfather (see photo), which I quickly realized was a ploy, but weakened my confidence in the historical accuracy throughout the book.

There is a “Forest-Gumpish-ness” Van Loon uses to insert his FICTIONAL great grandfather, into all the critical history of 17th century Amsterdam, only instead of being funny, it was not humorous or cogent.

A doctor in those times was anything from a barber, (whisker-plucker) or a leech no matter how many years of study the individual had invested, so the author tells us.  How then could Dr. Joannis (Jan) van Loon decode a top-secret English letter for the burgomasters of Amsterdam, which led to the splitting up of the planet between the English and the Dutch?  Would HE be given a lot of money by different burgomasters to look for fields in America for eight years?  Could he have housed Rembrandt, his “wife,” & two children along with his own teenage son for two years in perfect harmony?  Could you?

As Jimmy Fallon said while playing the “Baston” character, Pat “Sully” Sullivan, “EIRIEGADLESS,” let’s focus on the information that is included about Rembrandt in this 570-page page-turner.  The novel begins in 1641 when a leech is needed at Rembrandt’s house and Dr. Jan happens to be strolling by.  Saskia, Rembrandt’s wife, is ailing after giving birth to their son, Titus. By and by, we are told Rembrandt is the oldest son of a miller and while given the chance to go to school, he left to be a painter, married the daughter of a burgomaster, and was very successful until he painted “The Night Watch.”

I saw this painting in 1979, and was struck dumb by the sheer size, 11’10” x 14’ 4”.  The beauty of the contrasting and directional light, imbued with color and the motion of the people made it one of the most moving and beautiful things I have ever seen.  There’s something, too, about being in the same room with the artist’s beloved work.  The characters are life-size and almost walk off the canvas.  How ironic then that this is the painting that made Rembrandt a laughing stock and ruined his reputation. 

In a time when everyone wanted portraits and were paying for their faces ensconced in ruffles of vanity lace, Rembrandt wanted to paint emotions.  He tried to pay this group of policemen a compliment that in readying themselves to go into the dangers of the night, theirs was a serious and sometimes dangerous job that they faced together.  But they and the entire city laughed.  Several wouldn’t pay their amount because they weren’t looking directly at the viewer. After this, Rembrandt was out of favor.  When commissioned for a portrait, often the purchaser decided to pay him less or not at all.

Artists in these times were seen as amiable loafers and thought to be careless, slovenly, and deserved their poverty.  Some things never change.

Before Saskia passes, she had a will made giving all her earthly goods to Rembrandt.  Though he never receives a penny from her relatives, he does live on the “credit” of that will for many years.  After Saskia died, Rembrandt took up with the maid, who was bad, then with the next maid who was good.  He is portrayed as a man who only wanted to make or buy art. 

The 2nd maid, Hendrickje, became his “wife” in his eyes, but he couldn’t marry her as he was living on the credit of a worthless will that left all to Titus, their son, if he remarried.  The church gave them no end of trouble when she became pregnant.  Rembrandt had left the church long ago, but Hendrickje had not, so she was called before a tribunal.  They were seen as flouting God’s laws and this did little to help his business.

His personal life was fraught with money problems, as he kept no accounts.  Saskia’s relatives came after Rembrandt’s house “for the child,” but none of this was theirs only he couldn’t prove anything due to having kept no records.  He lost his beautiful home where he had a press and students from time to time, to live fictionally with the doctor for two years, but probably actually to an apartment he didn’t like.  When they could no longer afford that, they moved to a small, lesser abode.

Most of this we know already, but hey, this was written before 1930, so it could have been new to some then.  I may be being too hard on Mr. Van Loon for his digressions.  There were interesting segments.  He may have done better just having three books instead of putting it all in this one.  There’s a lot about his three multi-cultural friends and the fun they had together.  Then there are all the years in America.  He does explain some interesting history about the full fervor of capitalism in England and Amsterdam.  There’s a lot of information on all the competing religions and their ugly sides.  Nothing but fighting for power against science, which seems a little more likely coming from a historian in the 1920’s than a doctor in 17th century Amsterdam.

There are politicians who pretend to be religious to get support from the churches—nothing new there.  A wealthy burgomaster said, “Mankind has but one enemy, its own stupidity, but it loves that enemy . . .”

In America, we are introduced to an unusual religious belief for the times through a Jesuit priest, Father Ambrosius.  “Life”, he said, “is not real.  It is based upon fairy tales.  It all depends upon the story we prefer.”  Father Ambrosius’ fairy tale (he called it) consisted of three words, “Love one another.”  The fairy story in the good father’s opinion was that those words spoken on a barren hillside in Judea were even uttered at all.  He believed in the unbelievable courage it took say that in a world of greed, lust, hatred, and cruelty.  Van Loon pointed out that while America was fraught with danger and hard work, people were free of the Inquisition and religious judgment, especially his Jewish friend. 

ANYWAY, back to Rembrandt!  If the author is correct, Rembrandt’s quest of light began while mending burlap sacks in his father’s mill.  A swinging cage of excited rats crossed the floured light combined with the moment of complete black when the wooden arms passed by the tiny window, formed the basis of his search.  Every object is surrounded by light or space and a depth is created.  His goal was to understand this mystery as nature presented it.  I think he accomplished this very well, what say you?  There are 22 illustrations of Rembrandt’s works throughout the book to judge for yourself.

This book condition is “fair.”  It’s 82 years old and has been in the attic for probably 60 of those.  Wine cloth covering w/gilt lettering. No DJ, Literary Guild publication “Wings” is pasted on first interior page and tells about the author, quite a character himself.  Considered rare; brown map endpapers of Amsterdam A.D. 1660. Non-stated, owner inscribed There’s sunfading and yellowed pages, but the type was clear and strong.   Abebooks shows the value to range from $400 to $11.00.
I’d take $15 plus $6 shipping.

 I give it 25 Steps to the Attic out of the 31, because I did learn a lot and that's always worth the climb (; 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Changing by Liv Ullman

Copyright 1977, Knopf, Borzoi
Translated by the author, in collaboration with Gerry Bothmer and Erik Friis.
Value at the bottom of page

Preface:  I am a mediocre reader and by no means believe my interpretation is the be-all and end-all.  Anybody may disagree and will most likely be correct.

Liv Ullmann wrote this book in her late 30’s and was then the mother of her tween, Lynn, from her marriage with the famous film director Ingmar Bergman.  The times she lived in and her writing style may account for hopping about on subject matter without dates.  Also, some of the book is written in first person, other parts, third person, or as a note to her daughter or to her ex-husband.  subsequently, I was confused.

She writes with a naiveté’ that belies her age.  Flowery descriptive detail about realities in her life translated to me that she lives in unreality or is trying too hard.  A startling entry was when she wrote about Ingmar having his secrets with their daughter, Lynn, locked in his study.  In those times, and to the author, that seemed cute, but today that doesn’t sound good. 

The last third of the book gets better as I understood each chapter was going to skip about, and you do start seeing some of the real Liv Ullman—her beliefs in women’s equality, her right to her life, struggling with fame and how different America was from Norway.  For example, the materialism and undue praise for her and her daughter’s looks bothered her.  She saw the sycophantic (paraphrasing) behavior of Hollywood as very unhealthy.

The guilt of a working, single mother plagued her.  Also, she seemed to protect Bergman, maybe because she was intimidated and he was very famous.  In all, she’s very careful not to let the reader too far into her life, but as a result, comes across a bit flippant and nonsensical.  Maybe her need for privacy was greater than the commitment she made to being published.  Understandable.  It may have been hard for her, as for many, to say "no" or know about boundaries.  Really, who thought about those things then?

Still, I give this book Ten steps out of 31 to the attic, because she tried to do this even though she lets the reader know that it was at great expense to her peace.  Also, it’s a little window into another time and the upper echelon she was a part of--that’s interesting.

Below: The dust jacket front cover, the front & back of the dust jacket, the book with silver guilded lettering, the back of the dust jacket, the copyright page, and the Borzoi stamp that signaled a quality book by Knopf.

The Borzoi Stamp

When Alfred Knopf founded his company in 1915, he not only wanted to publish the most distinguished writers of the day, he wanted to present their work in the most beautiful edictions possible.
Relentless in his efforts to produce books that would be the envy of every other publisher, Alfred employed the very best in production and design to that each Knopf book would be treasured as much for its handsome design as it was for its thoughtful prose.  He paid special attention to paper stock, typography, layout, bindings, endpapers, topstains, and jackets.  It had to have the borzoi logo and appears on every title page and casing. The stamp is on the back, bottom right corner of the book and is photographed.

Abebooks value on a book of this condition $15 to $30.  I'll take $15, plus $5 shipping, if you're interested.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Don't Push The River

"Don't Push the River"
Author: Barry Stevens
Publisher: Real People Press
Copyright: 1970

For Friday fun, I'm posting a book I gave up on.  This was a very popular book in the early 1970's because Barry Stevens opened up (pun intended) a new way of thinking to the people of her times.  She promoted the Gestalt Theory of being self-aware, in the moment, and thus, free. Doesn't she look like a fun person?  That said, I only made it to page 38 out of a total of 268.  I will try to re-read, figuring maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind.

In our pragmatic and polarized world it seemed funny to read, "When I noticed my body, yesterday and let 'it' do whatever it wanted to, let 'it' take over (against all the prohibitions in my society), in the submission of 'myself' (phony self) to 'it,' I became me.  This morning, I am split again. . ."

Right now, I give it 5 steps to the attic because I'll bet she was a great person and was at a higher level of thinking than I am.  I'll try again.

paperback, valued at about $1.00 with $2.95 for shipping.  Contact: or

Monday, February 20, 2012

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author: Betty Smith
Publisher: Blakiston Company by special permission with Harper & Brothers.
Copyright: 1943

Poverty is the story told by 11-year-old, Francie Nolan, about her life in a 1912 tenement building, Brooklyn, NY.  The frontispiece has verse about the tree that grows where poor people live.  Below are pics, the second one showing the tree verse which seems to be the metaphor of the book.  I included the pages below just to show an example of the great effort it was just to have food, yet Francie's youthful resiliency makes this a page-turner.  

The writing transcends time even though it was written in the '40's about 1912, maybe because suffering has no time limit.  Smith surprises the reader by showing kindness strolling alongside grit.  She didn't clean it up; so this isn't a New York "Little House on the Prairie."   Francie and her brother, Neeley, were called ragpickers, though many children did this to help the family.  Their mother was a "janitress," so they got dibs on their tenement's garbage.  The "junkie" paid: 
1 cent for 10 lbs. of paper
2 cents for 1 lb. of rags 
4 cents for 1lb. of iron
10 cents for 1lb. of copper
They dragged whatever they found on a piece of burlap since they didn't have a wagon.  Girls got an extra penny if they let him pinch their cheeks. 

When they didn't have any food, their mother invented a game where they pretended they were on safari and it was too dangerous to stop and eat.  This only worked when they were little, of course.  As I read, I was keenly aware of our warm radiators, the fully-stocked kitchen, the clothes, and all the other things I take for granted.

With great empathy and through the father, aunts, and neighbors White presents the bitter realities of  alcoholism, racism, prostitution, starvation, etc.  In addition to these hardships, there is a rapist somewhere in one of the buildings in Francie's neighborhood.  

Hard as life is at times Francie knows her father and mother love her.  She has extended family who are warm and funny.  Watch Francie's love of reading and the library link her to her future.

It's 31 steps to the attic and this book was worth every one!  

I've sold my volume, but check, or Amazon, or Ebay.  It's great to have.  I'm having seller's remorse.