Ron Randall's choice: Islandia
By Bruce McKinney
There are books that are important and others that are valuable. For book collectors and dealers the everyday focus is on value. Readers place their emphasis on content. For many the summer is a chance to escape the hubbub and claptrap of everyday existence. At such moments many hope for an exceptional book to take along. The car is packed, the beach house waits. Friends will arrive soon enough. For the idle moments a few choice books can make all the difference. This month I've asked an interesting group of men and women, who spend their lives amid the printed word, for their recollections and recommendations for a great book or books to read. These are their thoughts.
I asked Joe Trenn of the Book Shed [Benson Vermont] and encountered deep enthusiasm for the works of Anthony Dymoke Powell [pronounced Pole]. He wrote the 20th century cult classic "A Dance to the Music of Time," a fictional account of English life between the world wars. Joe describes this set of twelve books as "Henry James in complexity, rewarding to those who read and reread them." Summers he travels to England to participate in the Powell society. Single volumes, as well as the entire set, are available online.
Michael Thompson of Michael R.Thompson Rare Books of Los Angeles. "For me its 'Language, Truth and Logic' by A. J. Ayer. I first read it around 1962. It totally destroys old school metaphysical philosophy. From it I became an empiricist, becoming less interested in philosophy, and more interested in books as objects. It’s a small book you can read in a few hours. I recommend it to anyone interested in philosophy and religion. It will be a struggle but also a revelation."
For Mr. Thompson's partner Carol Sandberg "Everything else was just stories. Virginia Wolfe made me appreciate the value of the moment, left me in awe that someone could capture the feeling, the experience. All things Virginia Wolfe, that's my recommendation."
Vic Zoshak of Tavistock Books offers this: "Three titles, all of which I read years ago, immediately come to mind - RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE by Rita Mae Brown, a coming-of-age story of a young woman; NEUROMANCER by William Gibson - the hallmark title of the cyber-punk genre which forecast much of what we see in today's commercial society. And then there's 'Pillars of the Earth' by Ken Follett. It's a fantastic historical novel of a master mason who builds a cathedral in 13th (?) century England. I couldn't put the book down; a real page-turner, and totally out of genre for Follett." It was listed #33 on the BBC's Big Read, a 2003 survey with the goal of finding the 'Nation's Best-loved Book.' It was also selected for Oprah's Book Club in 2007."
Mary Cooper Gilliam of Franklin Gilliam Rare Books, Charlottesville, Virginia offers "Billy Lee Brammer's 'The Gay Place being related novels: The Flea Circus, Room Enough to Caper, Country Pleasures.' It's a very good story and his only book, considered a very good political novel, perhaps the best since 'All the Kings Men' [by Robert Penn Warren]. You can read it for fun and relevance today."
John Doyle's suggestion: A Time of Gifts
For Burton Weiss, the Berkeley, California bookseller, "there are two. One is Perkei Avot – a volume of the Mishna ethics of the fathers. The other is The Analects of Confucious. I have read them many times, am mindful of both and from time to time take them out to read again. They encourage thought."
For Merrill Whitburn of Pride and Prejudice Books [Balston Spa, New York], "My favorite 20th century novel is Ford Maddox Ford's 'The Good Soldier.' It’s one of perhaps three of the best books of the 20th century. It's very intricate and rewarding."
For Ron Randall of Randall House, Santa Barbara, California "'The Great Gatsby' and 'The Wind in the Willows' come to mind but for me it's a fantasy, about as thick as a Manhattan phone book, a cult book, 'Islandia' by Austin Tappen Wright. It captured my imagination. I read it in my early 20's, recovering from surgery. It was magic and I think it must still be."
For Ben Weinstein of the Heritage Book Shop in Los Angeles it's a single book and an entire subject. The single book is "Grand Deception" by Alexander Klein. "It’s an anthology by authors such as Mark Twain and others that wrote short stories on interesting hoaxes, con men, frauds and impersonators. It’s entertaining."
For Mark of Alexander Rare Books of Barre, Vermont, "A book that made a difference for me and might for others? It's Lolita. I read it as a senior in college, became interested in the author, started to buy bibliographies, met dealers, became a collector and eventually a dealer. Fall in love with a book. You never know where it will take you."
Susan Alon of Miriam Green Antiquarian Books [Clinton, Connecticut] approaches the subject through recollection. "I more remember my first library rather than my first book, the Westbrook Public Library, an old sandstone building that is now the Historical Society. My memory is of walking up the steps and crawling around the shelves and discovering - the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley - many books - a dozen or so. At 11 I was reading T. S. Elliot and mourning his death at 12, reading J. D. Salinger - Catcher in the Rye as a teen, already disappointed with Ezra Pound at 20. Along the way I developed a love of science and found in 'Life: Its Nature, Origin and Development' by A. I. Oparin clarity and perspective on the biochemistry of life generally and human life specifically. In my life I've read many books but this one has been perhaps the most important. Some books are walls and others windows. For those with interest in the science of life this is a grand vista."
For Bill Reese two titles come to mind: "'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Through the Looking Glass,' both by Lewis Carroll. "I went to Gilman School in Baltimore. There I competed for the annual literary prize that was always based on four books. Alice and Through the Looking Glass were a constant, the other titles changed each year. Over the years I probably read these two titles twenty times and from them learned to read systematically and critically. They taught me discipline in reading." For both pleasure and challenge they are a worthwhile summer read.
And finally there is John Doyle of Crawford Doyle in New York. He mentions two books by Patrick Leigh Fermor, "A Time of Gifts" and "Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople from the Hook." They are accounts of Fermor’s journey from London across Europe in the 1930’s. And he makes one other recommendation – the New York Review of Books website and their link to NYRB Classics:
New York Review of Books Classics
Here is a link to Books for Sale. Most if not all these titles were recently available. You’ll also find them on every other book selling site on the planet. The prices begin at a dollar, their value runs to infinity.
To search in Books for Sale for these books and others more appropriate to your preferences here is a link. We have added the option to search by any price range you wish. For books up-to $25 the range would be 1 to 25, You can of course also search for 10,000 to whatever.
Books For Sale