Holmes Books

There are many pleasant meetings on the George R. Stewart Trail.

On a walk through beautiful Historic West Carson, I took a breather on the  bench near The Martin Basque Restaurant.  Not long after, a rider on a classic Schwinn came by.  He called out a neighborly greeting. I returned the greeting.  He stopped and we began to talk.   An hour later we were still talking.  It was one of those friendly swappings of stories which enrich lives, and unearth the most unlikely and wonderful connections.

He knew where Atwater Village is, one of the few who do.  His grandmother’s name was Theodosia, an unusual name but also the name of George R. Stewart’s wife.  He’d been a YAK – Youth Conservation Corps member – and we’d worked with the Yaks and similar groups in the old ranger days.  He’d fought fires, like the one described in Stewart’s fine novel FIRE.

And – the highlight – his great-grandfather was Robert Holmes, founder  of the legendary Holmes Bookstores in San Francisco and Oakland.

In Ranger days, when money was tight and our interest in Stewart’s books strong, on payday some of us visited Holmes in San Francisco – at Third and Market – to seek first editions of Stewart’s books.  We found many, and many of those cost a dollar. His Oakland store had more collectible antiquarian books, but it was a long drive and anyway we had no money for rare books. So our collections were founded at Holmes in San Francisco.

The Holmes bookstores finally closed – buildings old, foot traffic low, no internet on which to offer books in those days.  The last one was the Oakland store, which closed in 1994, 101 years after Holmes opened his first store on Mission Street in San Francisco.

As my new friend talked about his family, and Holmes Books, I closed my eyes and saw the stacks – and smelled that wonderful aroma of old books – where my GRS collection began.

If the internet had been strong in those days, Holmes would still be in business –  it is the internet antiquarian book store fronts which are keeping such bookstores in business.

My new friend Lumpy (the name given him by his beloved Brotherhood of the Surf on Southern California beaches we both frequented (but me much earlier, and not surfing)) talked on, about the old Southern California days for a while.

Then we parted, promising to get together again when time permits.

Walking home, I felt the breath of Carl Jung on my neck.  And since the Oakland Holmes Bookstore is supposed to be haunted , Jung’s breath felt perfectly appropriate  Here’s to synchronicity!




James Jones, Denise Lapachet Barney, and George R. Stewart

Not long ago, old friend and Stewart fan Denise Lapachet Barney sent a text:

“Looks like James Jones was familiar with the work of GRS!  (Jones also wrote “From Here to Eternity”)”

Attached to the text was an image of a page from James Jones’ Some Came Running.


some came running cover

See comments from Goodreads

I haven’t read Jones’ novel I don’t know the context of this passage – that is, for what the characters are considering STORM as a model**.   Still, it is an homage to his work by an author who won many awards, who saw this novel (and From Here to Eternity) filmed and receiving several academy award nominations (and at least one academy award for From Here to Eternity).

Jones’ characters are offhandedly critical about Stewart’s novel, writing that it wasn’t a deep book.  I’d disagree, and I think the reason for the criticism is founded on two differences between the two authors’ approach to their work.  Jones clearly follows Shakespeare’s idea that the world is simply a stage for human interaction, while Stewart believes that the world (as Jones admits) is THE protagonist in all human drama.  And Stewart is, ultimately, a great optimist while Jones’s work carries a dark pessimism woven throughout.  In Earth Abides, a novel about one of the greatest tragedies that might happen to humanity, Stewart ends on a note of hope.   Jones ends his novel with tragedy.

Yet Jones’ view of Storm is remarkably similar to that of distinguished Stewart-inspired JPL/NASA Scientist, James D. Burke.

Jones’ characters discuss Storm:

… it was Gwen who came up with the idea of patterning it somewhat on the idea of George R. Stewart’s book, “Storm”.  There too, she said, the people were only incidental; the protagonist was the storm itself.  Of course, it was not a deep book, wasnt [sic] even meant to be one.  …Did Dave know the book?  There was a copy of it here someplace that he could take home with him to study.  The main point was that the life of the storm, from its birth in Pacific to its death across the mountains, formed the framework and the continuity.

Bob agreed excitedly.  And so did Dave; he took it up and began at once to elaborate it.  It was really ludicrously simple.  All he had to do was take an organization, preferably a green one, and follow it through some campaign from its first combat to—Well, to the end:  the end of the campaign, or the relief of the or the relief of the organization, or—perhaps—to the final replacement of the last man who had been with the original outfit.  ….

Dr. Burke, who was the Project Manager for the first US robotic missions to the moon, the Ranger missions, which successfully photographed several potential landing, described Stewart’s influence on his life and career in a remarkably similar way as this quote from my George R. Stewart biography shows:

When he was 12,  Burke’s family moved to a cabin in the California transverse ranges, not far from the place young Stewart first felt the touch of the ancient on his long ago mountain hike. In the mountains, Burke discovered Storm and it changed his life: “All the senses were enlarged by the book. (Remember, I was living in the forest at this time.) Love of driving snow; Love of rough wood and bark; Love of the taste of watercress. Love of forest scent, of the smell of hot sunshine on the pine bark, of wind in pine.” Dr. Burke explained how the novel’s descriptions of highway workers, power plant operators, telephone linemen and others, gave him a love for work and achievement, much “celebrated in the book.” Stewart’s interdisciplinary approach also influenced young Burke and “connections became the stuff of a lifetime.

James Jones now joins the band of writers, artists, and scientists who were influenced enough by George R. Stewart to acknowledge him in their work:  William Least Heat Moon, Stephen King, Larry McMurtry, Christopher Priest, Wallace Stegner, Philip Aaberg, Jimi Hendrix, Urusla LeGuin, and the others.

Congratulations and thanks  to Denise for this discovery.  She joins the Fellowship of Stewart Scholars.

I do have one complaint – I’ll have to revise the GRS biography to add this new, important information.


james jones on GRS


**From Denise Lapachet Barney:

To clarify the context of the passage a bit…

Dave (Hirsh) was forced to leave his small hometown in Illinois when he was a senior in high school because of a scandal. Nineteen years have passed and he has returned home. After knocking around some, he had some success with his first and second novels and short stories–not enough to be considered a “major” author, but enough to be noticed. He was in the Army in WWII and has since given up writing.

Gwen (French) was two years behind Dave in high school and now teaches at the local college. She is writing a paper on Dave and a couple of other local authors who, after initial success, have given up writing. She and her father, Bob (a retired professor and a poet), think they can help Dave get back to writing.

Tired of the solemn and portentous novels that have recently been published about WWII, Dave has an idea to write about the War, but in a humorous way. He’s not sure how to begin–how to format the story. Gwen comes up with “Storm” as an example where the main character is not the people, but the environment itself. Dave finds himself becoming excited–this is exactly the hook he’s been looking for.

BTW, James Jones deliberately leaves out apostrophes or the last consonant in a word or has irregular punctuation in an effort to convey the way the characters talk and think. Most of them have only a high school education. If they have gone on, it’s to a trade school (or for the women, a secretarial school).

The novel, “Some Came Running,” took Jones 6 years to write and is 1200+ pages. After the movie (starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacLaine) came out an abridged version was released–which was still 600 pages long! And now there’s an “authorized re-edited” version that’s about 1000 pages. Currently I’m about a quarter of the way through the unabridged version.