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  • Born on the Bayou (or is it Borne?)

    Lawrence J. Hammar|Updated Jun 12, 2024

    Ms. Amanda Jones is a great American. She has been an elementary school teacher and librarian in Louisiana for two decades. In 2023 she was awarded the American Association of School Librarians' Intellectual Freedom Award and the American Library Association's Paul Howard Award for Courage—the latter group awards "an individual who has exhibited unusual courage for the benefit of library programs or services.” She has over time fought increasingly against book-banning for...

  • Summa Dem Fokkers Vas Estonian

    Lawrence J. Hammar|Updated Jun 6, 2024

    "She is a pilot herself, so her AIR BABIES commit none of the technical errors so revolting to well-informed children" (A. Earhart, 1936). High praise, that, for a fine children’s book, Air Babies, penned and illustrated by Elvy Kalep, coming from America’s most beloved aviator. Amelia Earhart would depart from Lae, of what was then Papua and New Guinea, just a year later, never to return. Air Babies was published first by The Saalfield Publishing Company in Akron, Ohio, fir...

  • "W.T.S.W." Part Two

    Lawrence J. Hammar|Updated May 1, 2024

    W.T.S.W. What’s This Sucker Worth? A loaded question routinely asked of booksellers. Last week I raised some and answered other questions about the ways in which books are or can be valued. I noted that the presence of computers, the advent of the Internet, the ease of use of on-line search engines and other factors makes establishing a given book’s value quite easy. At least they should. “Sold” columns on eBay, digitalized archives of auction records, list-serve discuss...

  • "W.T.S.W." Part One

    Lawrence J. Hammar|Updated Apr 24, 2024

    Back in 2021 Reuters reported that a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997) had sold through Heritage Auctions for $471,000. This exemplar of the title that was Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone here in the U.S. featured a gorgeous illustrated cover, a "variant" binding, "magical" contents, and appeared "incredibly bright and so very near pristine." But $471,000? Sheesh. This copy was the most expensive Harry Potter book ever sold and the most...

  • Books Speak Plain. "Skin Deep"

    Lawrence J. Hammar|Updated Apr 17, 2024

    By Lawrence Hammar How much do you really know about the books you love? Any bibliophile will tell you that a rare book is far more than the sum of its parts. And parts is parts, right? But who founded and set the type-faces that made the penned manuscript readable? Who made the inks and how? Where did the paper come from, and how was it made? Who did the stitching, sewing the leaves “gathered” into “signatures” and then stitching those together into a text-block? Can one jud...

  • I Met A Man Today, a Scholar, Who is Very Much Alive

    Lawrence J. Hammar|Updated Apr 3, 2024

    As a bookseller I meet a lot of dead people, or rather, obtain their books, see mementos of them, and meet their spouses, family members, neighbors and colleagues. It’s nice to meet a man who is very much alive. It was nice to pull in yesterday to the parking lot at Bickfords Senior Living in Iowa City, Iowa and meet Dr. Peter Morris Green. I spent a fine, memorable hour with him. I was drafted by Dr. Green’s daughter, the cultural anthropologist Dr. Sarah Green, to obtain, so...

  • I Met Another Dead Man Today, Part Two

    Lawrence J. Hammar|Updated Mar 27, 2024

    I met another dead man this week. Actually, I met his three lovely children this week in beautiful Loudonville, New York. I definitely met his books, 5,541 of them, if truth be told, and several piles of ephemera (Life magazines, W.W.I.I.-era newspapers, signed posters and the like). After about nine months of back-and-forth by e-mail and Facebook Private Messenger spent in the making of nicey-nice and in anticipation I flew into Albany, rented a car and pulled up eventually t...

  • What would Jesus have Cut? Part Three

    Lawrence J. Hammar|Updated Mar 20, 2024

    Last week I left you hanging by a thread. What would happen to this unique “cut-and-paste” Bible? How on earth was $3,277 too high a cost to publish such a masterpiece of bricolage? As do many good ideas, it died on the House floor. When Iowa Congressman John Fletcher Lacey took to it in defense of his proposal in joint with Professor Cyrus Adler, his fellow Republican, Charles H. Grosvenor of Ohio, rose to complain, but Lacey replied, "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth...

  • What would Jesus have cut? Part Two

    Lawrence J. Hammar|Updated Mar 14, 2024

    In last week’s column I introduced you to the so-called “Jefferson Bible,” to the “cut-and-paste” Bible, to The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, to Thomas Jefferson’s 86-pages-long filtering of what he took to be the most salutary, the most believable passages from the four Gospels of Luke, Mark, Matthew and John. Jefferson having revealed its existence virtually on his deathbed in 1826, how do we come to know this work? How do we come to know great books in the first p...

  • What would Jesus have cut? Part One

    Lawrence J. Hammar|Updated Mar 7, 2024

    "We cater to white trade only"; this was the frequent attitude of American hotels and restaurants during the Jim Crow era. Mark S. Foster quotes a Black motorist in the early 1940s about an early afternoon, emotional, psychological "small cloud" that, in the late afternoon, "casts a shadow of apprehension on our hearts and sours us a little. 'Where', it asks us, 'will you stay tonight?'" Is there room at the Inn for us Blacks? Enter The Green Book. Conceived in 1932 and...

  • The Green Mile, Part Two

    Lawrence J. Hammar|Updated Feb 26, 2024

    Last week I introduced The Green Book. Published by Mr. Vincent Hugo Green, an African-American U.S. Postal Service worker in New York, in 1936, it ran until 1966. The Green Book helped African-Americans travel slightly more safely during the era of Jim Crow laws. African-Americans bought and drove their own cars partly to get away from segregated cars, buses, ferries, trains and aeroplanes. Kathleen Franz, in “African-Americans Take to the Open Road,” quotes George Sch...

  • The Green Mile, Part One

    Lawrence J. Hammar|Updated Feb 16, 2024

    Tucker Carlson, Roseanne Barr and other terrible comics like to claim that “white supremacy” and “white privilege” is a hoax and that, owing to the fact of Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama, America is a “post-racial” country. Freedom is the law of the land! Go anywhere. Do anything. Imagine for a moment, however, that you’re a 33-year-old African-American long-haul trucker from Anniston, Alabama, in 1947. You haven’t slept in two days, you’re tired of sleeping under your truck...

  • Don't Go Ask Alice; Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Part Three

    Lawrence J. Hammar|Updated Feb 16, 2024

    Go Ask Alice sold millions, but who was "Alice?" How did the publisher get ahold of her diaries? Was the interlocutor really a "child psychologist?" As questions began to emerge in the late '90s, by then, we'd lived through Richard Nixon's "War on Drugs," Ronald Reagan's D.A.R.E. classes and Nancy Reagan's "Just Say 'No'" campaigns. Rick Emerson's Go Unmask Alice (BenBella Books, 2022) took the "bright, shiny object" of Go Ask Alice down a rabbit-hole. Beatrice Sparks, born...

  • Don't Go Ask Alice; Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Part Two

    Lawrence J. Hammar|Updated Feb 1, 2024

    The real author of Go Ask Alice, not “Alice” and not “Anonymous, but a disaffected Mormon mom from Utah, Mrs. Beatrice Sparks, has the fictive diarist try her best to “stay away from drugs,” to “keep away from boys,” but drugs. “Alice” (never named) gets clean--and then relapses. She goes to j ail--and gets out. On probation, she’s caught in a police raid--then gets out and runs away. She hitchhikes with Doris--also a victim of drug-use and sexual abuse. She does more drugs, r...