Beautiful old book jackets

Or dust jackets, if you prefer. look-homeward-angelFriend Jenny Snider sent me the link to a wonderful post from (whose only crime is being a subsidiary of Amazon) that includes pictures of some gorgeous old book jackets.

At the time these were produced, they were still called dust jackets, a term left from the days when books were shipped with paper “jackets” that protected them from dirt and dust until they reached the bookstores.



I don’t know if the authors of these well-known books were permitted to have a say in what went on their jackets; one presumes that the publisher wanted to keep the author happy and therefore included him (or her) in the decisions. Maybe. call-it-sleepIt’s likely that the bigger the author, the more input s/he had. That’s still the case—except that today publishers rely much, much more on dubious advice from their marketing departments when coming up with book jackets. A book jacket is, after all,  a marketing tool.

The problem is that no one really has any idea at all what sort of book jacket sells books. tree-brooklynWhen a book sells well do we attribute the sales to the book jacket? Or to the brilliance of the writing? Or to the popularity of the author? Who knows? Certainly not publishers. Many an author has been driven crazy by a publisher who insists that a truly awful jacket design is not a truly awful jacket design. But the author—unless s/he’s a really, really big deal—has no control over the design. None.

This is not to say that an author would necessarily be a better judge of jacket design than a jacket designer; plenty of writers have no eye at all. The point is just that it’s interesting to realize that there’s no more logic to choosing a book jacket design today than there ever was.


appointment fer-de-lance




  •  Look Homeward, Angel, 1929
  • Tender Is the Night, 1934
  • Call It Sleep, 1934
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1943
  • Appointment in Samarra, 1934
  • Fer-de-Lance, 1934
  • To the Lighthouse, 1927
  • Stuart Little, 1945


Technically speaking, I probably shouldn’t be grabbing and posting AbeBooks’s photos of these wonderful jackets, but they should be shared. And btw, the only one shown in the AbeBooks post that was familiar to me might be familiar to you too…




FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Oxford Exchange, Tampa, FL

Broadside Bookshop, Northampton, MA

Lift Bridge Book Shop, Brockport, NY



See this show: 100 books famous in children’s lit

The Grolier Club has an extraordinary exhibit right now, in the gallery on the main floor. “One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature” is there only until February 7, Mondays through Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and admission is free. No reader should miss it.

The curator, Chris Loker, writes in the accompanying booklet/guide, “Our definition of ‘famous’ does not mean that all books chosen are ‘influential’ or ‘important,’ nor is our selection an effort to label these books as ‘best’ or ‘most’ famous.”

I like that clarification a lot, and it will make you feel better if your own all-time favorite happens not to be in the exhibit. My two favorites (Kiki Dances and The Hundred Dresses) are not, but just as I was starting to cry because Make Way for Ducklings didn’t seem to be there—it turned out to be there.  Here’s a sampling of what you’ll see.



FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Letterpress Books, Portland, ME

Auntie’s Bookstore, Spokane, WA

Battenkill Books, Cambridge, NY


Dear BUHB: the advice column

Top news story: Novelist Haruki Murakami is going to “offer words of wisdom to troubled readers in an advice column on his website,” says an article in Japan Times.

On occasion, writing these blog posts has had a little bit of that “advice column” quality. But to be given actual permission to straight-out give advice? Wow. A fantasy come true for a person with a lot of opinions.

Dear Book Under Her Bed—My husband and kids don’t take my writing seriously. What should I do? Yours in perplexity, Budding Writer

Dear Budding: Sorry to say you’re not alone. I hear this all the time, and it’s a tough nut to crack. I recommend that you move out immediately. Enough of that wife-and-mom nonsense—let them get their own dinners. Strike out on your own! Be the writer you always wanted to be!

Dear BUHB—My mystery novel keeps getting rejected by agents, so I can’t get a foot in the door at any of the Big 5 publishers. Should I self-publish? All best, Ambitious

Dear Ambitious: Super idea! Join the hundreds of thousands of self-published authors out there and learn what it’s like to become one of the gang. It’ll be so easy and it won’t cost much either and then that big book marketer—what’s it called? can’t remember—will turn it into an obscure e-book and your career will be made. Best of luck!

Dear Book U.H.B.—I have this great idea for a novel, but I work 85 hours per week and I don’t have time to actually write it. If I could find someone to write it for me I’d be happy to share the profits! How do I find that person? Sincerely, Confused

Dear Confused: I know how you feel. I have a great idea for a novel too, and all it needs is writing. All that money to be made, just going to waste because I haven’t found someone to write the book for me. Wish I could help, but let me know if you find that perfect person to do the work. 

Dear Book/Bed Lady—I’ve heard that every writer kneads editting but I don’t think that could be correct. Some writers (like I) have so much natural talent. They do not require outside help to get there books into shape for publishing. Do you agree? Yours truly, Naturally Talented

Dear Nat: Totally.


FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Face in a Book, El Dorado Hills, CA

The Annapolis Bookstore, Annapolis, MD

BookBar, Denver, CO



Good NEWS: wordplay for New Year’s Day

2 0 1 5

is promising.

BUT don’t wait for good news—

find your own good news. 

NEW work

NEW job

NEW deal

NEW music

NEW dances

NEW movies

NEW York 

NEW Yorker

NEW Mexico

 NEW Jersey

NEW Zealand (could be interesting)

NOO ners (if you’re into that sort of thing)

NEW borns (if you’re into nooners)

NEW puppy (if you’re not into babies)

NEW kids on the block

NOO dles

NEW spapers

NEW sletters

NEW s flashes (the positive kind)

NEW s briefs (the briefer the better)

NEW briefs

NU dists (well, why not?)

NEW moon

NEW lyweds

NEW clothes

NU ances

NEW England

NEW Orleans

NEW port Jazz Festival 

NEW books (of course)

NU trients (for mind and body)

NEW experiences

and NEW friends

But don’t forget the old ones…

The Book Under Her Bed

wishes you joy in 2015.

Welcome to Purgatory Pie Press

Once upon a time you could only have a sweater if someone knitted it for you. Then machines replaced hand-knitting, and everyone could have sweaters. For a while, handmade sweaters were scorned because they weren’t made by those amazing new-fangled machines. But the wheel turns, and soon enough hand-knit sweaters regained value because they were made by hand.

By the same token, the more technologically sophisticated our machinemade or digitized books become, the more cachet and artistic value attaches to handset type and handmade books. The output of small letterpress print shops can have delicious appeal—in the use of beautiful old wood and metal typefaces, gorgeous papers, real ink, and unique design.Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 4.31.27 PM The work can be rich in personality, a revelation of artistic vision as compelling as any painting or sculpture. Letterpress printing has traveled a twisty road: once commonplace, then ignored, and now exceptional.

Two (historically) old friends of mine are purveyors of the exceptional in letterpress printing: Esther K. Smith and Dikko Faust, owners of the Purgatory Pie Press in New York City. Dikko&EstherDikko is the typographer and inky-fingered printer; Esther is the designer, and also the author of How to Make Books, Magic Books & Paper Toys, and a significant contributor to The Little Book of Bookmaking.  HANDMADEBOOK flyerIn a long collaboration—married!—they’ve made everything from wedding invitations to accordion-fold books, postcards, toys, and all sorts of magical printed pieces both two- and

Purgatory Pie Press is so versatile that it would be easy to write about (and show) a dozen kinds of PPP work and still have dozens more to go. Instead, Esther suggested a focus on the datebooks that she and Dikko have been creating since 1980 (for the year 1981). “Keeping a datebook becomes an autobiography,” Esther points out, which has to sound completely right to writers.

I still own the PPP datebook I bought for the year 1983, shown at right: I used it as a studio notebook, keeping track  of the paintings, prints, and artist’s books I was making back then when I was still a visual artist and not yet a writer. IMG_0837It’s pocket-sized, so I always had it with me when I went to my studio, and I mixed the informational with the personal.

Here’s a typical entry, for IMG_0838June 4, 1983: Arrived with pigeon shit in my hair. Thanks, NY. Bumped into Ann [Banks] and Peter [Petre] in the market. They came up for a few minutes. Then I puttered, thinking about the next collage I’ll make.

The gallery of photos below shows a sampling of the datebooks Esther and Dikko have made over the years. Below the gallery are links to their website and to other articles about PPP.

special thanks to Marna Chester for letting me use her photo (above) of the actual purgatory pie press.


FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, MA

City Lights Booksellers, San Francisco, CA

Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY


Happy birthday

To me. Today, October 13, is my birthday, which I must sometimes share with Columbus Day. This was annoying when I was younger and worse when I was very young, since every seven or so years My Day would be subsumed in that guy’s day. No mail! No birthday cards!

Now I don’t mind: I like sharing a day with an explorer, adventurer, seeker of the strange and unexpected. The thought of setting sail on a tiny boat with no bathroom of my own isn’t a huge draw, but the idea of setting out to find something new is.

IMG_0610I was trained not as a writer, but as a visual artist. Though writing is now my art of choice, painting is still a source of deep pleasure and inspiration. A visual way of thinking informs all my fiction and a lot of my nonfiction too. My tendency toward overindulgence in descriptive writing is a function of having been a visual artist for more than half my life: I like to describe what I see. Both criticism and appreciation have come my way for that particular sin.

I can’t give up the visual just because I’ve embraced the verbal. Aside from looking at art in museums (this birthday afternoon will be spent at Dia:Beacon, with friends), I still have to make art too. Not the paintings, drawings, prints I made when I was a serious visual artist, but smaller, less demanding projects that satisfy my need for color and design.IMG_0607

If I don’t make art with regularity, I get—well, crazy. Sometimes I can’t go to sleep at night without doing a little paper-cutting for the collaged cards I love to make. Cards aren’t important art by any means, but the beautiful Japanese papers I use are a banquet of color; cutting out intricate shapes with a small, very sharp pair of scissors is utterly absorbing; and arranging those cut-paper shapes is design heaven.

IMG_0604But then there is painting, probably my first nonhuman love. To me there is nothing–nothing–that is like painting. Since I can’t, won’t, don’t make paintings anymore, I paint ceramic tiles. I know, I know, that sounds like ladies painting plates. It’s not.

Maybe there’s an element of left brain/right brain adjustment going on when I paint tiles, but I’m never sure which side of my brain is asserting itself when I switch from writing to tiles to writing again. What I am sure of is that five or six hours of painting a tile gives me a rest–in the way that riding a bike or baking a pie or pruning the roses gives other writers a rest.

Because is it my birthday—and an official holiday—I indulge myself by sharing a few of my ceramic tiles with you.



FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Marcus Book Stores, San Francisco, CA

R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, CT

Unabridged Bookstore, Chicago, IL

The NO-is-YES multiple choice quiz

This is the second of the “No is YES” posts. In the first part we established—I hope—some guidelines for thinking about the issue and perhaps even for taking action to grab more writing time.

Melissa Miles, another GG member, wrote this when I asked for the GG’s thoughts: Oh, I wish I had good advice about saying no. The truth is, I’m still figuring out how to do it. I’m a pleaser by nature, so I don’t always realize I want (or need) to say no when I’m asked to do something. I take such genuine pleasure in giving the asker what he/she wants that I don’t realize I should have said no until after the conversation is over. And then I find myself feeling as though I’ve been bamboozled into doing this thing. 

She’s definitely nailed a syndrome: automatically saying yes to whatever’s on offer, followed by one minute of feeling pleased for having pleased someone else, followed by an hour (day, week, month) of buyer’s remorse. Take the quiz below; it might help.

1. Your Aunt Naggy phones to insist that she needs your help moving the furniture around. You: A) Cave in and rush over to her house, even though you’re in the middle of a chapter. B) Plead a bad back (sciatica; flu; food poisoning) and suggest she find someone else to help her. C) Say you’re getting a beep and you have to take the call. D) Explain that this week you’re very busy, but you’ll let her know if you have time to help her next week. E) Tell her you’re not a furniture mover, you’re a writer.

2. Your partner complains that you’re always sneaking away to write and you never spend any time with her/him. You: A) Apologize profusely and swear you’ll mend your ways. B) Claim that s/he’s exaggerating—the two of you went out for dinner about, um, two weeks ago. C) Point out that s/he stays late at the office three times a week and doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with that. D) Promise to work out a plan that accommodates both of you. E) Shrug your shoulders and say this is just how it has to be.

3. Your kids whine that no one else’s mom/dad spends so much time writing. You: A) Cry, and hope you’ll get their sympathy. B) Point out that you’re not everyone else’s mom/dad. C) Argue that you don’t spend all your time writing. D) Offer them a bribe: you’ll dedicate the book to them. E) Work on your book at the library from now on.

4. Your best friend accuses you of being thoughtless and uncaring because you never see each other anymore. You: A) Remind her that you saw each other a few weeks ago. B) Ask her how often she sees her other friends. C) Deny her accusation and refuse to discuss it—take it or leave it. D) Apologize and make a plan for your next date. E) Tell her that a truly good friend would want you to keep writing and fulfill your promise.

5. Your shrink muses aloud that you might be a little overcommitted to your work and perhaps you could consider dialing it back a little in order to fulfill your obligations to your friends and family. You: A) Feel like a bad person. B) Defend the importance of the memoir you’re writing.  C) Ask what “overcommitted” actually means. D) Point out that your therapist works five days a week at her job. E) Look for a new therapist.

Maybe your particular situation isn’t covered here, but you get the idea. Solve the problem of finding enough time for your work by deciding how important your work is to you—and then delivering some variation of no to whatever or whomever prevents you from doing it.

There really isn’t any other way to go about it: saying yes to your work means saying no to something else. Except in emergencies (defined by you), say no as much as possible to the time-thieves prowling around your life. It’s either that or kick yourself around the block for failing to take care of yourself and your work. You do not want to have regrets.



FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Maria’s Bookshop, Durango, CO

The River’s End Bookstore, Oswego, NY

Third Place Books, Seattle, WA