acquiring, collecting, reading, adapting

Month: July, 2010

Eichenberg Eyre and Wuthering Engravings

One of the first purchases I ever made of collectable-type books was this pair of Bronte sister novels with illustrative wood engravings by Fritz Eichenberg.

front cover of Jane Eyre

Titles: Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights

Authors: Charlotte Bronte and Emily Bronte, respectively

Publisher: Random House, NY

Publication Date: 1943

Acquired: $5 each, purchased at the Bookcellar Cafe in Cambridge, Mass (since I purchased these books, the Bookcellar Cafe closed and the space where it lived — that is, a basement spot on Mass Ave next to Bob Slate in Porter Square — was home of Unicorn Books, followed by the current resident, MacIntyre & Moore).

Comments: When I saw these books in that underground bookstore, I could not believe my eyes. Although there are no titles on the covers, Eichenberg’s engravings are unmistakeable as representing these two novels. When I found out they were $5 each, I couldn’t believe my luck.

If these books were in perfect shape, they would actually be worth a little bit of money, though not (for some reason) a lot. I’ve seen them listed for up to

front cover of Jane Eyr

front cover of Jane Eyre

$200 as a set, which is not great, but more than anything else I own (to my knowledge). However, the pair I own is missing the slipcase that came with the original set, and the cover of Jane Eyre in particular is a little worn: the binding is somewhat loose, the edges a little frayed, and the cover slightly faded, with several scratches on the surface. However, I still think it’s a gorgeous set.

I don’t know a lot about Fritz Eichenberg (though I do have another book with engravings by him, which I’ll profile at a later date), but he was a perfect choice to illustrate these novels. His style is mysterious and brooding, with the same odd combination of wildness and control that the novels have. He brings out both the gothic creepiness and the strange beauty of the stories, and places his own unique stamp on some iconic scenes.

Take the scene of little Jane being humiliated by Brocklehurst, for instance. Look at how ridiculously tiny Jane is, and how Brocklehurst’s high-waisted coat and distorted facial expression make him look monstrous. This is not how I personally pictured Brocklehurst, but I enjoy the interpretation.

Brocklehurst and Jane

Brocklehurst and Jane

An engraving of the girls praying over their supper mimics the cover of the book; in both, the girls’ identical faces emphasize the sameness of their regulation uniforms and hairstyles. (My favorite part of this novel is the Lowood section, and these engravings perfectly capture the haunting bleakness of the institution.)



The engraving of the iconic scene of Jane startling Rochester’s horse on their first meeting is beautifully rendered. Eichenberg resists the temptation to make Rochester attractive, and his initial appearance is somewhat frightening, as I feel it should be.

Jane startles Rochester

Jane startles Rochester

In both the cover illustration for Wuthering Heights and the illustration of the iconic scene of Heathcliff digging up Cathy’s grave, Heathcliff is drawn with arms too long for his body, to emphasize his strength and his violent nature. In true Romantic form, the swirls in the earth and sky seem to reflect his inner turmoil.

heathcliffHeathcliff and Cathy

These books are incredibly beautiful, and don’t understand why they are not valued more greatly. (Remember: I really don’t know much at all about book collecting, or what sets the value for old books!) If you like these novels and come across these editions at a reasonable price, I urge you to pick them up.

Bonus: screen romance

a page ripped out of the magazine Screen Romances was stuck between the pages of Jane Eyre. The page features an almost-completed movie-themed crossword puzzle (punctuated by little doodles) and an ad for hair color on one side. I love the combination of Jane Eyre and a magazine called Screen Romances; I can just picture the daydreaming 1940s or 50s girl who would read both.


The Crimson Petal and the White (Review)

Note: Mostly I will be discussing the outward appearance, rather than the content, of books. However, I will occasionally share a review with you, in hopes that you will enjoy it.

I put off reading Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White for quite some time because the main character is a prostitute. I don’t have anything against prostitutes per se, but novelists and especially filmmakers, especially male ones, seem to be obsessed with prostitutes, especially the kinds with hearts of gold and whatnot. So I was skeptical. A feeling that intensified when I found out this prostitute character was writing a novel. You know, I’m not some slave to historical realism, but given the level of illiteracy in the 19th century, it really seemed outrageously absurd to think that a woman born into prostitution (that is, rather than having “fallen” into it) would be literate.

Then a good friend of mine recommended the book, so I suspended my disbelief. And I’m glad I did.

I will say that a neo-Victorian novel about a prostitute seems less repugnant to me than a modern novel or film about a prostitute, because it’s a truth universally acknowledged that the Victorians were at least as obsessed with prostitutes as we are today. In fact, this is such a universal truth that I sometimes wonder if it might not be overstated somewhat. But I digress. In any case, prostitution seems to have been a theme of interest to Victorians, and the point of a neo-Victorian novel, if I’m not mistaken, is to take Victorian themes and say things about them that most actual Victorian novelists (at least, “respectable” ones) couldn’t or wouldn’t say, at least not out loud.

It really helped me to suspend disbelief that Sugar (the protagonist, ostensibly—though the stories of the other characters are written from their perspectives much more often than I expected) is such a fantastic character, and that her literacy is utterly necessary for her character; it is what makes her “reputation” as a prostitute, and it is what makes her inner monologue interesting. One of the most amusing aspects of the novel is to see how she feeds the man who eventually makes her his kept mistress every line he wants to hear; she knows enough about literature to agree outwardly with all of his opinions on it while smirking at his gullibility—and still reading his every expression in order to gauge how to please him next, because this is about her survival, not his pleasure. She is complex and smart and acts in unexpected ways—even when those unexpected ways are detrimental to her “rise.”

And her novel-in-progress is gloriously unexpected— rather than a something deeply profound or as complex as she is, it’s the very penny dreadful that you’d expect from a 19 year-old writer. I love the part when she re-reads it and discovers it is much worse, much more childish, than she remembered. That feeling is well known to anyone who has ever written fiction.

One of the major moves of the neo-Victorian novel is to consider the unwritten/unspoken stories of women and minorities in a society where they held few legal rights or positions of public power. These novels do this in various ways; Peter Carey’s novels begin with comedy and end in the tragic inability to get beyond social pressure, while Sarah Waters’s novels delve into an underground that typically provides some kind of liberation for the characters, and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell spends a lot of time with rich, white males, showing how their ignorance of women and minorities ultimately make their own lives less meaningful, and showing a gradual movement toward a break in this power. The Crimson Petal and the White makes a similar move—that is, of showing the inability of the character with the most power to really see the women in his life, and a tiny, gradual, mere suggestion of a change in power. But my favorite thing about this is how, by the end of the novel (and I hope I’m not giving away too much here), so many female characters are, for lack of a better word, “off the grid.” They have vanished, out there somewhere in unknown circumstances, and even our lack of knowledge about their fates is a liberation, both for the characters and the reader.

PS: I was pleased with the excessive length of this novel, nearly 1,000 pages. You should read it just to be able to read the last page—ah, a brilliant, fun comment on the joy of reading. I would include it here, but that would rob you of the enjoyment of discovering it for yourself.

Bookstore visit: Derby Square

I accidentally came across the most amazing bookstore last weekend: the Derby Square Bookstore in Salem, Massachusetts. Amid the goth gift shops and the outdoor stalls selling custom-fitted vampire teeth, the totally bewitching Derby Square Bookstore offers piles and piles and piles of books. Seriously, the books are just piled up! Here’s what we first saw from the outside:

Derby Square from outside

The window caught our eye right away...

Look at how those books are just piled against the window! Let’s check out another angle:


Observe how those books are just bent all willy-nilly and smooshed against the glass.  Here’s what the same pile looks like from the inside:

book pile from inside

The apparent disregard for the laws of gravity is spellbinding, no? You may be wondering how you could possibly find anything in here. But luckily, there are helpful signs:


helpful signs point the way

As you can clearly see, in this pile, Young Adult novels are at the bottom, History books are at hip level, and True Crime is at the top. Easy!

Here you can also see how there are books in front of books as well as on top of each other:

piles of books

not only piled up, but also piled out

Not only does the Derby Square Bookstore have an amazing number of books easily organized, but they also boast an impressive cataloguing system. For instance, I walked up to the cashier (picture Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons and you get the idea) and said, with obnoxious dubiousness, “I don’t guess you can tell me if you have a particular book, can you?” He claimed he could. Impressed, I asked if they had a particular title. He paused for a moment, looked up to the corner of his eyes, thought obviously very hard, then looked at me and said, “No.” Infallible!

Not only does the bookstore have piles of books, those books are all 50 percent off the list price. I found a copy of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson in the very middle of a huge pile and, with the help of a friend, successfully removed it without toppling anything, and then purchased it. I also purchased a copy of The Blithesdale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne, which was located in the “New England” section, because it only seemed right to buy a scary book and a Hawthorne book while visiting the witch capital of the world.

I would highly recommend visiting the Derby Square Bookstore if you are ever in Salem. It’s more thrilling than the Witch Museum and will utterly enthrall you.

Bookstore visit: Oceans of Books

On a recent trip to the Cape (that’s Cape Cod, if anyone who doesn’t know me happens to read this), we came across a bookstore in Wellfleet called “Oceans of Books.”

Front awning of Oceans of Books in Wellfleet

This bookstore is attached to a restaurant known around town as the “Bookstore Cafe,” even though that’s not its name, and there’s nothing bookish about it (we did eat there, and it was good, though). I overheard the woman at the cash register tell a customer that the bookstore used to be somewhere in regular Massachusetts (I forget where), and when the owner’s daughter decided to open a restaurant in Wellfleet, he moved the bookstore to its present location. Good idea, dad! I assume either the store changed its name when it moved, or they were already near an ocean, since it would be kinda weird to name a store Oceans of Books if you’re not near water, am I right?

The store has a cool vintage YA section…

…as well as something we need more of in bookstores: an “Alien Abduction/Occult” section!

Overall, they did have enough books to warrant the name “Oceans of Books,” if you ask me. I found a cool old grammar book and yet another Lewis Carroll book, and left a satisfied customer.

Blue Alice

Since the book I have the most copies of is front coverAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and since a major theme of the story is curiosity, it makes a lot of sense to start here.

Title: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Author: Lewis Carroll

book spineAcquired: I think my mother gave me this copy, and I’m pretty sure she got it at a yard sale

Publisher: A.L. Burt Company, NY

Publication Date: Unknown

Comments: One odd thing about this edition is that it contains the original Tenniel illustrations inside, the cover is by another artist (unknown to me). Neither the cover nor the pretty spine contains the proper, full title of the work, nor do they make mention that the book also, randomly, contains Sylvie and Bruno as well.

Catalogue of A.L. Burt's Books for Girls

Judging by the colors of the cover and the style of illustration, I would make a completely uneducated guess that the book was published in the early to mid-twentieth century. A more specific guess would be the 1930s or 40s, but this is really just a hunch. I do know for sure that it was published after 1891, due to an interesting feature of the book. In the back, there is an advertisement for other “Books for Girls” published in A.L. Burt’s Catalogue of Books for Young People; the other books in the series are also 19th century, but they are all published in 1891 or earlier.

I love this edition of the book! If you have any additional information about this edition, please let me know. (And of course, feel free to comment on anything else as you wish.)


The title of this blog mashes together the Greek word “biblio,” meaning “book,” and the word “curio,” 19th-century shortened version of the word “curiosity.” “Curio” means an object of interest or art or value, and although, as a voracious reader, I’m primarily interested in the content of books, I’ve been interested for some time in the idea of books as objects in and of themselves. For the blog, I chose the word “curio” rather than some related word because it simultaneously invokes the object, the 19th century (another primary interest), and the word “curiosity” itself, one of my very favorite human traits.

Part of my bookshelf

I am a bit of an amateur book collector, and by amateur, I mean I have no idea what I’m doing. I do not own any first editions or (to my knowledge) any books of much value. I’m pretty sure I’ve never paid more than $30 for any of my antique books, and I have to be really moved to pay more than $10. Primarily I chose the books I collect based either on sentimental value or what the book looks like. Often I don’t know the copyright date of the book or when the first edition was published. But I believe I love my old books as much as any collector who accumulates books based on their value.

In this blog, I will show you pictures of and discuss the various books I have collected. I will also discuss bookstores I come across. And I will, possibly, discuss such related topics as depictions of book-collecting in literature, film adaptions of novels I’ve read, and reviews of new books I read. And yes, I’m well aware that a blog about books is about the last thing the world needs.