Mistakes, I’ve Made a Few, But Then Again, Too Few To Mention, Riiiiight.

If you thought that I was in a bad mood before Daylight Savings time. . .

Steve, last week, at dawn, or dawn-ish, right before breakfast.

. . .  you should see me now.

I like waking up at dawn — I get to live another day in this wondrous world! I love the clarity and kindness of the early morning light. I like the way we get a spiritual Do-Over with the first cup of tea. I like the hope that comes with toast, a fresh start every 24 hours illuminated by the miracle of daybreak, courtesy of our very own star a mere 98 million miles away.

None of that happens when you have to get out of bed in the dark, shiver into two layers of fleece in the dark, put the tea kettle on in the dark, and back the car out of the driveway in the dark.

Why, o why did the Democrats not get rid of Daylight Savings Time when they had control over both houses of Congress and the Presidency? And, while they were at it, they could have ditched the Electoral College as well but noooooo. . .

A lot happened last week at the used book store that I manage here on the north shore of Long Island and I’m here to tell you all about it. Let’s start with Mike Massimino, a guy who absolutely did not cheat his way into college:

I liked Mike Massimino when he guest-starred on The Big Bang Theory and No, I did not know he was a real astronaut when he first showed up in Season 5, episode 15. His book is fun to read because he’s humble, he’s funny, and he’s smart. He’s also very hard working — he wanted to be an astronaut so badly that he did extensive physical exercises on (with?) his eyeballs so he could pass the vision test. You can’t “money” your way into NASA and to become an astronaut, and you have to be very, very good at science and a whole lot more. Who knew that being fluent in French is a + on your astronaut application?

This first edition copy of Spaceman is not the only astronaut book we have:

We have a second edition copy of Sally Ride’s book about Mars and GUESS WHAT!

Both these books are signed:

I am selling these books as a set for $25.00.

This is my favorite part of Spaceman, on page 121 of Mike Massimino’s life story:

——-

Other than flying in the T-38, one of my favorite parts of astronaut training was the enrichment lectures. Former astronauts and older NASA guys would come by and give talks about the space program. … My favorite lecturer was Alan Bean, who flew on Apollo 12 and is one of the twelve guys who walked on the moon. After retiring from NASA, he became a painter. Alan’s letter was called “the Art of Space Exploration.” He talked about the mistakes he’d made and how he learned to fix them. … the last thing Alan said to us was “What most people want in life is to do something great. That doesn’t happen often. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t be blasé about it. And don’t blow it. A lot of times, believe it or not, people blow it.”

——-

I want to send this to every teenager I know because I wish I had had Alan Bean around when I was in my 20s warning me to not blow it because Oh, yes, I know very well how people blow it.

Haven’t we all? This people typing this right now, for example, has blown it. More than once. And maybe as recently as yesterday. That’s another thing that I love about the early morning: it’s too soon in the day to have blown it yet.

Last week at the used book store we got this in a donation:

It’s a Book of the Month Club edition (basically not even worth its weight in scrap paper) but I’m interested in it because of this:

Ah, those were the days (in this case, 1981) when author photos took up the entire back cover, when writers were important people and the books they wrote mattered (even fiction). And you know why this particular author photo is special to me (hint: cat). But, I wonder, did people not know how to crop photos back in 1981? I know that photographers like to get people’s hands in the picture. . . was John Irving’s left hand doing something weird and they had to crop it out, even though that left a lot of dead space at the top of the frame? Or did the art department have a thing for the tippy top of that background tree?

Working in a used book store gives you a lot of time to think about stuff. These fell out of a coffee table book about Rembrandt:

I was thinking, Oh yuk, a Rembrandt book; but then the New York Times Sunday magazine did a cover story about the discovery of a “lost” Rembrandt and now I’m thinking maybe Rembrandt is coming back in style and I put a $1.00 price tag on it.

And then there is this:

Have you ever heard of Patrick White? I had no idea that an Australian had ever won the Nobel for literature but there you go. You always learn something in a day’s work at the used book store.

There are always people who think the used book store is in desperate need of their ancient beat-up college paperbacks:

This one had a cigarette burn in it, and such useful notes as: Nothing is ever it.

I have a story about Ulysses that I have been saving to tell until just the right moment and that moment has come!

When Vladimir Nabokov was teaching literature at Cornell (1948 – 1959), he made a note of this in his diary  dated March 21, 1951, about a meeting he had with a student who was “explaining to me (after getting a 55 [on a test] that when reading a novel (Ulysses, in this case), that he likes to skip passages and pages so as to get his own idea ‘you know, about the book and not be influenced by the author.’ ”

I can only imagine the look on Vladimir’s face during this exchange. I wonder what that student went on to do with his life.

This is the book that I nominate as this week’s Most Boring Book Ever Published:

It came in with Ulysses. A note on the inside cover says, P. 261 – READ OVER.

So let’s look at page 261:

Almost every page of this little paperback is filled with underlines and yellow hi-lights. This guy really loved Oliver Cromwell. Go figure.

And, next; this is just sad:

The book was printed in 1921, so it was already quite old when it was given away.

Dated Riga, 1 April 1939:

My dear friend Fanni, to remember a time I will not forget.

This is from Wikipedia, translated from the German, about the book’s author, Artur Landsberger (1876 – 1933):

As a sharp-tongued social critic Landsberger was persecuted by the National Socialists.  Finally, he took an overdose of Veronal  at his desk and died by suicide . In the “Third Reich” his books were no longer allowed to be printed.

This book would have been banned by the Nazis in 1939, and I can only guess what it meant to Isi to give it away, or to Fanni to receive it, in the year before Riga was invaded by the Soviets, before the mass deportations by the Germans. This book has survived the worst of the 20th century. I’m not going to throw it out.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, how about this three men on an island self-published fable-with-a-message from 1992:

No more birds, fish, trees, or flowers.

What have we done to this island of ours?

Vantage Press was founded in 1949 and ceased operations in late 2012.

Vantage was the largest vanity press in the United States. In 1990, the State Supreme Court in New York ordered Vantage to pay $3.5 million in damages to 2,200 authors it had defrauded.  According to the plaintiffs, Vantage charged money upfront, but never promoted the books as the authors had expected. (I can relate. My books never got the promotion I expected. . . but that’s how all writers feel.)

But wait, I  saved the best for last!

Published by Octopus Books in London in 1972, this books hits my sweet spot of vintage cook books. It’s got the ’70s color scheme (burnt orange, brown, and more burnt orange) and harkens from a day when life was simple, when there was no such thing as a food stylist. You cooked the food, slapped it on a plate, garnished it with red cherries, and snapped a photo.

If you were fancy, you’d put a copper pot in the background.

But under no circumstance would you go out of your way to make the food look edible.

And so goes another week in the exciting world of used book selling.

This week I got some mail from my publisher. Out of the blue, they forwarded two letters that had been sent to me in care of Bloomsbury in New York City. Both letters were about my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, which on November 15th this year will be eleven  years old.

One letter came from a reader who told me that my book helped her endure the chemotherapy treatments that have made her cancer-free since 2016, and she still re-reads it every month as she gives thanks for her recovery. I can’t tell you how profoundly, and humbly, I am honored to be part of this Dear Reader’s life.

The other letter was a ten-page illustrated booklet about cats and hearts, good soup and wildflowers, stars and talking mice in homage to When Wanderers Cease to Roam. What a treasure, and what a privilege to be a catalyst for such creativity.

Thank you Dear Readers, here today and long distance mind-melding, for bringing me into your kindest, sweetest considerations about the most beautiful and important parts of living and loving on this planet.  (Cats, tea, stars, good books, etc.) I am not worthy.

Have a great weekend, you marvelous creatures. Stay warm, or cool in the shade; whatever is best for your greatness.

XXOO

 

8 Comments, RSS

  1. Megan March 14, 2019 @ 5:49 pm

    Ah Patrick White, I think we are an understated bunch of people… I am sorry to hear about your dark mornings, I used to leave home at 5.45 to try to beat the traffic on my 90 minute commute. Hopefully the days will start to lengthen and you won’t be up in the dark for much longer. Love the cat in the author photo, you have to love a cat lover don’t you? Have a marvellous weekend and pat the cats for me.

  2. Casey March 15, 2019 @ 8:16 am

    Every book tells a story. I mean it tells a story just by being an object that has travelled in time and space. If I lived on L I I would volunteer at your store. Love the stories.

    That was quite brave of John Irving to hold a cat in 1981, when only women were cat people. Well, there’s one thing to love the internet for, for telling the truth about how many men love cats. Cats rule the internet.

    What on earth is that with the raw eggs and gelatinous gravy on ice berg lettuce??? I wasn’t alive in 1972 so someone please tell me if that is really something that people ate back then??

    Vivian, you have written three books that I am not alone in treasuring and savoring over and over. You didn’t blow it.

  3. Alex March 15, 2019 @ 9:54 am

    You would love “The Gallery of Regrettable Food” (James Lileks), which gleefully captures the best photos and text from 1950s – 1970s cookbooks. (Remember jello molds full of shredded carrots?)

    The astronaut book sounds excellent – thanks for the recommendation.

  4. Shea March 15, 2019 @ 11:13 am

    I don’t usually comment but I had to this week, so much to digest here as usual but this week especially. Good quote from the astronaut, and I thought the same thing when I heard about how parents cheat to get their kids into top schools, even the girl who went to USC of all places but didn’t really care about school except for the parties. She’s going to go to USC, a top top school, so she can make youtube videos about make up??? Who knows what future astronaut to Mars was rejected to make room for her!

    I did not know who the 1973 Nobel winner was, and the Nabokov story made me smile, and then the story about the German book is so haunting. Possibly a chapter for your next book?

    Thank you for being here. I echo the sentiments of all your fans, you are a treasure.

  5. Bunny March 15, 2019 @ 12:02 pm

    Great post this week, sounds like you’re enjoying your time at the bookstore. Your feedback regarding the package you received from your publisher brought tears to my eyes. I think I’m getting way more sentimental now that I’ve crossed the 60 year mark, than I used to be in my younger years.
    Thanks for keeping us interested in your world of nothingness as JP Sartre would have said. It seems to me, that you can make watching paint dry fascinating.

  6. Marg-o March 15, 2019 @ 6:06 pm

    *sigh* This post is perfection. I didn’t know that used books could be so interesting but that’s because I never had a guided tour from the great (not blowing it) Vivian Swift. Note to Bunny: I *have* watched paint dry on this blog and it’s fascinating. I hope you’ll get back to the watercolor tutorials some day but this new *you* is spellbinding. Can you tell I’m a fan girl? 10-page illustrated letter, You ARE worthy.

  7. Kirra March 16, 2019 @ 4:38 am

    Sorry about the daylight savings pain. Loved the update from the used bookstore though! I also have the book ‘The Gallery of Regrettable Food’, it’s so funny and also impressive at the same time.

    As someone who likes mail (letters, postcards, parcels – sending and receiving) I particularly liked the story of your latest fan mail. soubds lovely!

  8. LINDA JUNE March 16, 2019 @ 4:25 pm

    What a delightful and informative post – – you are the best! You see the humor and the seriousness in so many things, and I just love your thoughts and feelings. It’s always a joy to read your post each week – – thanks!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*