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!

 

 

 

Wilder Bentley – The Younger and The Elder

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Wilder Mayo Bentley — Wilder Bentley the Younger — passed away in the fall of 2018, and an era ended.

Wilder Bentley the Younger was the scion of a distinguished but largely unknown Bay Area family.  His Great-Grandfather Robert Bentley was a distinguished, progressive Methodist minister who eventually became the Presiding Minister of the largest Methodist District in California, the Sacramento District.  He and his family lived in a simple, elegant Dutch-style cottage in the Berkeley Hills —  one of the few to survive the 1923 Berkeley Fire.  His sons Charles and Robert founded a fruit canning company which became one foundation of the Del Monte brand.

Charles’s son, Harvey Wilder Bentley – Wilder Bentley the Elder – was a poet, a distinguished printer and graphic artist, and a professor of English at San Francisco State.  He was also a painter, well-taught by his old friend and colleague, Chiura Obata.  Always interested in fine printing, Wilder the Elder and his wife founded the Archive Press in Berkeley, now memorialized online by the Berkeley ePlaque Project.  The Bentleys printed the first book of Ansel Adams photographs, Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail in the late 1930’s.  (You can buy one from the Bentleys’ limited edition of 500 copies here – if you have $8565.  Even the later reprints go for several hundred dollars.) (Copies of the book were sent to Washington to encourage the protection of the Sierra at the southern end of the Muir Trail.   Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes lent his copy to FDR – who refused to give it back.  Ickes had to get another copy.  The book resulted in the establishment of Kings Canyon National Park.)  Wilder the Elder’s printed works, including his 26 scroll set The Poetry of Learning, are held at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.  (To see some  works bythe Bentleys Younger and Elder, visit ABE books.  As of this date, The Poetry of Learning is described at the bottom of the list.)

Archive Press cover

Cover of the later reprint, hard-cover version

Like his father, Wilder the Younger was a gifted artist, taught by Chiura Obata.   He was also a writer, art-glass maker, book-maker, poet, historian, and craftsman.  Some of his works are archived in the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley (which also houses the Mark Twain Papers and the papers of George R. Stewart).  His works are also held at the Rosicrucian Museum, UCLA, and the New York Public Library.  His work is sometimes available for sale, as online listings reveal.

He learned to set type at a very early age, working with his parents.  Later he followed their example, establishing San Francisco’s Bread and Wine Press and publishing several works by local poets including Dick McBride.

Later, Wilder the Younger moved to Sonoma County’s Wheeler Ranch where he and his wife Penny lived for many years.  He continued his creativity, including researching, illustrating, and writing a book about bridges in the Sonoma area.

Bentley bridges full cover

Wilder Bentley the Younger’s Book, “Antique & Unusual Bridges”

Although I never met Wilder the Younger, he played an important role in the creation of the George R. Stewart biography.  I was able to interview him by email and mail.  His emails – and his printed autobiography, a copy of which he kindly sent — filled in important gaps in the chapters on Thornton State Beach (where I met George R. Stewart, and Wilder the Elder and Obata and where Ranger Nick Lee educated me about the importance of the two artists.)

In one of those episodes which seem to validate Carl Jung’s idea that there are no accidents, it was Ranger Nick Lee who sent the news of Wilder the Younger’s passing.   In his letter, Nick included a notice about a retrospective of Wilder the Younger’s work that was being arranged in Sonoma County at the end of March, 2019.  In the years since Thornton Beach and the writing of the GRS biography, I had become friends with Jean and Roger Moss and learned that they knew Wilder the Younger quite well. I called the Mosses to let them know about Wilder’s passing and the retrospective, which Roger attended.

Thornton State Beach, now abandoned by the state parks and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, played a role in the STEAM history (“Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) of Northern California.   The Bentleys, Obata, and George R. Stewart, and others of their ilk enriched our days there.  Nick, who was the catalyst for the trail named for GRS, also helped engineer the trail, created beautiful poetry and works of art, wrote articles, and played his part the creation of the GRS bio.

Thanks to our small community at Thornton Beach, and Nick, I had the honor and pleasure to know Wilder the Younger through our mail communications. Like Nick, Wilder Bentley the Younger enriched the book about GRS.   When he left us last fall, a chapter in California history closed.

How lucky we were, all of us,  to work there together, that place in which literature, art, printing, and all the rest of STEAM, were enfolded in a small wilderness near a large city, a park of ‘small compass and unusual value.’

 

2019: EARTH ABIDES ACHIEVES PLATINUM

Ish's Hammer(1)According to Google, both the 70th and hundredth anniversaries are honored with platinum gifts.  Since Earth Abides is closing in on the 70th anniversary of publication, George R. Stewart’s epic work is approaching platinum.

The novel was published on October 7, 1949.  It immediately caught the attention of reviewers for its well-written, epic tale of humans living in a world they no longer dominate.  One later reviewer went so far as to call it “a second work of Genesis.”  With its title from Ecclesiastes, and the old testament rhythm of its language, it is almost biblical in its feeling.

Stewart later insisted he didn’t intend it to be a religious work.  But even he admitted that there was “a certain quality there.”  The language was one reason.  Stewart taught himself Hebrew before he wrote the book.  He wanted to translate portions of the Bible into more-modern English.  He was surely influenced by the style of ancient Hebrew.

The book has had enormous influence.  Stephen King based The Stand on Earth Abides, Grammy-nominated composer Philip Aaberg wrote “Earth Abides,”  Jimi Hendrix was inspired to write “Third Rock From the Sun” by the novel (his favorite book), other authors and scientists honor Stewart’s works.  It is published in either 20 or 27 languages, depending on who you ask.  There is some talk of producing a film version of the novel.

The best essay about the novel was written by James Sallis and published in The Boston Globe.  Like Stewart, Sallis realizes the importance of integrity and beauty in his work, and it’s reflected in his essay.  (Sallis is a distinguished novelist and poet, whose noir novella Drive was filmed by Nicolas Winding Refn.)

The novel has never been out of print –no thanks to its original publisher.  Random House decided to pull the novel in the early 1970s.  Fortunately, Stewart and small fine press publisher Alan Ligda quickly got together and brought out a beautiful copy from Ligda’s Hermes Press.

Hermes EA

The Hermes edition sold well.  Random House quickly realized they’d made a mistake and bought the rights back.

Thanks to Alan Ligda, Earth Abides has been in print for seventy years come next October.  He is a Hero of the novel.  Sadly, he died young, and won’t be able to help celebrate the book’s Platinum Anniversary.  So please take a minute (or more) to say a silent thanks to Alan Ligda while you celebrate the novel.

ligda

And read the novel again.  (You’ll have to do a number of readings to catch up with Steve Williams, the Pilgrim, who doesn’t know how many dozens of times he’s read it.)  As you read, reflect on Stewart’s role in raising our consciousness of the ecosystem.  His wildly popular ecological novels, Storm, Fire, and Earth Abides, and his less-widely read “post-modernist” ecological novel, Sheep Rock, have shaped our thinking.  Like most great creative works of thought, they have more power than all the armies in existence.  That pen (or, in Stewart’s case, pencil) is mightier than the sword.

By the way – if you want to buy a signed first edition,  Morley’s Books in Carson City just happens to have one.  It comes with a custom box to protect the classic.  Only $1600 – about half the price of another on offer at ABE.

EA Morleys

 

A Small Collectible Book by George R. Stewart

Take Your Bible in One Hand… was a special, limited edition book published by the Colt Press in 1939.  Stewart was interested in the life of William Thomes, who wrote about Mexican California (sometimes factually, sometimes with imagination), but it’s not clear why this short but oversized finely printed book was published by Colt.  Reading about Colt Press in the online archive of the Bancroft Library’s Regional Oral History Office’s oral history of Jane Grabhorn, conducted by Ruth Teiser, however, it’s easy to see that Stewart knew several of the people who were involved with the Press.  William Wheat, James D. Hart, Joseph Bransten, and Joseph Henry Jackson were all friends of Stewart’s and they may have suggested the printing of the book.

Only 750 copies were published.  They’re still available, at reasonable prices, if you’re interested in collecting.  Jane Grabhorn was also connected with the better-known Grabhorn Press; some of the Grabhorn  books go for substantially more than this one (and some for less).  So if you’re a true Stewart fan, or a fan of fine small presses and their books, this is a good way to begin a collection.

It’s also an interesting book about Mexican California – so interesting that you can also buy a new reprint of the book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble!

Small presses, like the Colt Press, played another role in the work of George R. Stewart, as you may remember from an earlier post.  When the big publishers dropped Earth Abides, Hermes Publications,  Alan Ligda’s small fine press, bought the rights and kept the book in print.  When the big publishers saw how well it sold, they bought the rights back.  It’s still in print; thanks to Alan Ligda  the book has never been out of print.