Objects of Obscure Desire from ReadInk
The first catalogue from ReadInk of Los Angeles.
By Michael Stillman
We don't often receive a Catalog Number 1, but here is the first from Los Angeles bookseller ReadInk. ReadInk has been in business for over a decade, and proprietor Howard Prouty says that this catalogue has been a dream for a long time. He notes that number 2 is already being planned, but for now we will focus on number one. The title is Objects of Obscure Desire, which describes the catalogue well while itself being obscure. What is in here?
These are mostly works of popular culture. Some might think that appellation dismissive, but it is nothing of the sort. These are the books regular people were reading and consulting, maybe you, more likely your parents or grandparents. The concentration is in works published during the second quarter of the 20th century, although the third quarter is well represented too. These books are fascinating looks at American culture, from the depths of the Depression to the optimistic post-war years.
ReadInk has broken the catalogue into many subjects. Among them are mystery, movies, various types of fiction, African Americana, New York, the West, newspapers, working during the Depression, boxing, and the WPA American Guides. Here are a few samples of the fun that is in store.
James J. Braddock (the "J" incongruously stood for "Walter") was one of those forgotten Pre-Joe Louis 1930s heavyweight champions. He was one of five in a row to win the championship, only to lose it in his first title defense. Braddock can be forgiven because his loss came to Louis, who would hold the title for over a decade. Braddock was reintroduced to celebrity status in 2005 through the film biography of his career, Cinderella Man, with Russell Crowe playing Braddock. The reason for a film about Braddock was his remarkable comeback. After a fast start during the 1920s, injuries to his hand sent the fighter into a tailspin. Over the next few years he lost twice as many fights as he won, and spent much of the time working on the docks to make a living. He then managed something of a comeback, but was still a 10-1 underdog when he stepped into the ring with champion Max Baer in 1935. The journeyman was expected to be an easy target for the champion, but Braddock kept coming at Baer until he won the decision. It is still one of the greatest upsets in boxing history. Offered is a copy of Relief to Royalty: The Story of James J. Braddock, World's Heavyweight Champion, by Lud (pseudonym for Ludwig Shabazian). Published in 1936, this biography, like the movie, only takes us through Braddock's fight with Baer. He did not fight again until 1937, when he lost his title defense to Louis. He fought only once more before retiring. Priced at $1,200.
Here is one of those works of fiction that is too close to truth for comfort: The Rat Factory, by J.M. Ryan, published in 1971. It is a satirical story about an egomaniac cartoon creator who bears a certain resemblance to one Walt Disney. Among his characters are Ricky Rat, Dizzy Duck, Dirty Dog, and Halfwit Hog. Are all cartoon animals alliterate? $100.
Objects of Obscure Desire from ReadInk
Jimmie Tarantino was a gossip columnist around 1950.
Here is an interesting title: Webs in the Sky, by Marjorie Roberts, from 1940. It's a novel about bridge builders, "the hardy gamblers who shake dice with death on the high narrow girders." Much of it deals with the building of the Golden Gate Bridge. Eleven of those "gamblers" who helped build that bridge lost their roll of the dice, falling to their deaths. $400.
Next is an ironically titled book for California: Valley People. Frances Marion was not writing about "Valley Girls" from Southern California. No, this was 1935, before such creatures existed. It is set in Northern California, and while fiction, likely traces many of the author's personal experiences. $600.
6 Years of Hollywood Life, published in 1952, is a compilation of mid-20th century stories and editorials from the now forgotten California gossip columnist Jimmie Tarantino. ReadInk notes, "he was (as these compiled editorials amply demonstrate) a Red-baiting sleaze-peddler of the lowest order." This was the era of the Hollywood gossip columnist, when Walter Winchell was in his prime. Tarantino managed to get himself in hot water, once being sued by a teacher for his claims of her being a Communist, another time being prosecuted for extortion for allegedly threatening to write unflattering editorials about people who did not advertise in his magazine. We don't know what happened in these cases, nor even what became of Tarantino, though his book should provide a good look at the era when McCarthyism was about to take hold. $150.
You may reach ReadInk at 323-734-4323 or hprouty@LABridge.com if you are interested in their material or wish to join their mailing list. Their website is found at www.readinkbooks.com.