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Author Archive: "Kirsten Berg"

Signed, Irma… and Eleanor

"It was a wife's duty to be interested in whatever interested her husband, whether it was politics, books, or a particular dish for dinner."
— Eleanor Roosevelt

At first glance, our signed copies of Irma Rombauer's classic The Joy of Cooking 1943 Edition and Eleanor Roosevelt's This Is My Story appear to be completely unrelated. What relation does a cookbook have to a first lady, and what does a legendary world figure have to do with a St. Louis housewife?

Nothing at all, and yet —

Eleanor Roosevelt and Irma Rombauer were two of the most influential women in America in the 20th century. Eleanor Roosevelt was the niece of Theodore Roosevelt, the wife of FDR, and a force unto herself; Irma Rombauer published a little book called Joy of Cooking. Though they never met each other, their life spans overlapped and they experienced the same significant events and cultural changes; Rombauer died on October 14, 1962, and Eleanor Roosevelt passed away only weeks later, on November 7.

Sweet Association

[Editor's note: Titles mentioned in the post below are linked specifically to the copy from the Anne Rice collection. They are denoted by an image of Anne Rice (as shown at right) and the words "From the Library of Anne Rice."

If that copy has sold out, you will most likely be presented with other in-stock copies of the same title (i.e., not from the Anne Rice collection). In some cases, such as rare books, her copy may be the only one in stock, so if the title has sold, availability will show as "out of stock."

And don't forget, you can browse the entire collection here.

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Association Copy: This term, often scoffed at by laymen, is applied to a copy which once belonged to, or was annotated by, the author; which once belonged to someone connected with the author or someone of interest in his own right; or again, and perhaps most interestingly, belonged to someone peculiarly associated with its contents.

—John Carter, ABC for Book Collectors

The only way to improve on the news that Anne Rice has sold much ...

Celebrate Banned Books Week

Celebrate Banned Books Week (
September 25–October 2

Jacob Boehme (1575–1624) isn't an author who immediately comes to mind when discussing banned or prohibited books. Known somewhat fondly as "the presumptuous shoemaker," he was a business owner and family man in the town of Gorlitz, Germany.

He was also a Christian mystic. Remembered today for Mysterium Magnum and a handful of other works, his first mystical experience is described in the Schaff Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge:

A ray of sunshine, reflected off of a metal dish in his workshop, seemed to infuse such spiritual light into his soul that the inner mysteries of things were laid open to his sight. He went out into the fields to seek the revelation of God's will in earnest prayer, and found his peace and joy only grow the deeper.

His first work, Aurora oder die Morgenrote im Aufgany, circulated among his friends in manuscript form. While some praised him for his message, the town's pastor, Gregorius Richter, "at once began a fanatical war upon the presumptuous shoemaker, and urged the ...

“My Sin, My Soul”

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul." So begins one of the most notorious novels of the 20th century: Nabokov's Lolita. More literary than erotic, it was first published in an edition of 5,000 copies by the Olympia Press in Paris in 1955. (Not surprisingly, the Olympia Press was the successor of the Obelisk Press, the first publisher of Henry Miller.)

Edmund Wilson, the leading critic of his time and a friend of Nabokov's, called the book "repulsive." Graham Greene read the Olympia Press edition and listed Lolita as one of the three best books of the year in an article in the London Times. As Erica Jong wrote in a 1988 New York Times article about Lolita: "Graham Greene saw literature and language where others had seen only perversion and pornography."

Nabokov finished the manuscript of Lolita in the spring of 1954, in Ashland, Oregon, where he and his wife ...

Who’s Afraid of Helmut Newton?

Who's afraid of Helmut Newton? I am. More specifically, I'm afraid that I'll have to lift or move our signed limited edition copy of Newton's Sumo one more time. It weighs 66 pounds, and if I drop it on my foot I'll be in a cast for weeks.

David Mitchell: The Interview

David Mitchell The writing of David Mitchell exhibits an exuberant imagination, a technical mastery, and a love of language from the very first page of his first book, Ghostwritten, to the final page of his most recent, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

His style is ever changing; Cloud Atlas tastes so very different to the palate than Black Swan Green, for example, that it's almost ridiculous to think that they share the same author. Yet the care with which he constructs his settings, plots, and characters is evident throughout each of his five novels.

It would be easy to say that the genres of science fiction, mystery, thriller, and straight literary fiction have all been used in Mitchell's writing, but a more truthful statement is that they've been bent to his will. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet incorporates the history of the Dutch East India Company, and takes place on the trading-post island of Dejima, Japan, as the 18th century slips into the 19th.

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Kirsten Berg: I'd love to talk to you about your research. Did you find any stories or personas that you couldn't incorporate into the new book?

David Mitchell: That I couldn't? Oh, many, many. Of course, what they were... I know there were a lot out there, but because they never made it into the finished product, they're sort of still running about at the fringes of my mind.

Kirsten: Did you get distracted by them?

Mitchell: Yeah, I mean, the ones that I wanted to spend time on, often I did, and I filled pages in my notebook with them and their lives and what they were doing, what they'd want. In a way that's more than a distraction. It's a commitment, and a relationship. But, still, if they'd been in the finished product, then it would've been misshapen. It would've been bent out of shape. So, yeah, a lot more than distracted, and it hurts to not use them.

Really, from the history of Dejima and the timeframe of the 18-year span that I chose to have Jacob de Zoet there, there are a few other interesting historical events that happened that are in my initial scheme of the book and that I wanted to include. But, in the end, there was too much history and not enough fiction. So I had to go back to basics and start over, which I did about 18 months into writing the book, and many tens of thousands of words later, excluding a lot, and monkeying about with history a little bit for fictional purposes in order to make it work as a novel... Well, that's a big rambling incoherent sentence but I hope it makes sense to you.

Kirsten: Oh, absolutely, and we'll edit this so both of us sound like perfect geniuses at the end of it.

Mitchell: Okay. Articulate, fluent, casual, witty...

Kirsten: Yes. Also good looking. [Laughter]

Mitchell: Oh, all right!

Poems in Steel and Wire

[Editor's Note: We'd like to thank all of our readers who took the time to comment on the rare books post Finis. We're pleased to share the news that Kirsten isn't leaving the Powell's blog, she's simply expanding her role outside of rare books. You'll find her posts covering book collecting, strange facts from the book world, and other interesting literary tidbits right here every month.]

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Each summer when I was a kid our family vacations took us over the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan. My father would always say, "Twenty men died building this bridge," as we were halfway across the 7,400 feet of roadway, a statement that never failed to terrify me.

The truth is that five men died building that bridge, which is probably a pretty good safety record for the size of the project. But I didn't know that then, and I didn't know of D. B. Steinman either, so I couldn't possibly know just how safe I was crossing one of his bridges.

Here in Portland, a city embarrassingly rich with bridges, our local D. B. Steinman creation is the beautiful St. Johns Bridge.


"One's life is more formed, I sometimes think, by books than by human beings; it is out of books one learns about love and pain at second hand."
—Graham Greene, Travels with My Aunt

I've been thinking about the great reading experiences I've enjoyed in the last few months. What makes a reader? Is it the ability to sit quietly and fall completely into a narrative? Is it the genuine enthusiasm that we feel when we hand a book to a friend and say, "You've got to read this!"?

What makes a book collector? Love of the reading experience, love of a particular author, love of a single title? A bit of madness can't hurt. Surely the answer has more to do with emotions — desire, yearning, delight — one usually associates with sex or food. It is not a surfeit of money or shelf space that compels us.

Graves and Scholars

Whether you view Sir Aurel Stein as a tomb raider or as the savior of precious cultural objects might depend on whether you are Chinese or British. An impartial observer might merely wonder: Sir Aurel Who?

Sir Aurel Stein was born in Hungary in 1862 and later became a British citizen. He was a linguist, explorer, archaeologist, and scholar. Many of the artifacts he collected are in the British Museum and the Bodleian Library at Oxford holds his papers. Stein traveled many thousands of miles through the Middle East and Asia along the ancient trade route known as the Silk Road. He "discovered" the caves at Dunhuang and he brought the Diamond Sutra, the oldest known complete printed text, out of Asia in 1907.

He died in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1943 at the age of 83.

This Post Is Just an Excuse to Show a Photo of Sean Connery

It's not such a reach, really, to move from this:

into a discussion of rare books, especially if the theme of the discussion is "Publishers That Don't Fit."

Publishers, just like car manufacturers or clothing designers, all have their niche. They know what their customers want. Yet here are a few examples of (mostly) famous books that make the biblio-geek pause, just for a moment, to consider their histories.

First, A Confederacy of Dunces. Published by Louisiana State University Press in 1980, the story of author John Kennedy Toole is well-known to book collectors. Unable to get his book accepted for publication, he killed himself, and his mother found the manuscript with his belongings after his death. She brought the manuscript to the attention of author Walker Percy, and LSU Press became Toole's publisher.

Better known for books such as Agrarianism & Reconstruction Politics or regional history titles, A Confederacy of Dunces is one of the three Pulitzer Prize winning titles published by LSU Press.

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