green and yellow books

Sometimes the easiest way to pluck things out of a ramshackle pile is this way.

The Woodlanders front cover

A 1961 Macmillan paperback copy of Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders. I bought this from the guy who sometimes sells books on 2nd Ave. in front of St Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery. I haven’t started it yet; the only Hardy I’ve read is Jude The Obscure. The pheasants & etc. are meant to evoke a rustic English village but I like how the woman’s face is perfectly of its time, as fictional faces so often are. She could be in a girl group called the Woodlanders. All with bits of brush in their hair, preceded by a series of 7″ singles woodcut like so. I think there could be a way to prevent them being twee but then I’m idealistic.

The Times Deceas'd cover

The Times Deceas’d: The Rare Book Department of the Times Bookshop in the 1960s by Timothy d’Arch Smith. A stoned impulse buy. (Now you know what I do when I am not having my mellow harshed by the fire department or watching France Gall DVDs in Lunar Camel Co. Towers). Do you know the bookshop I linked to there, Weiser Antiquarian Books? Their catalogues are good for browsing. I’ve always managed to look without buying but the subject matter of this book — “the place to go for unusual, eccentric, and censured books in 1960s London” and its associated “literary luminaries and lowlifes” — is apparently not something I could resist. I’ve only skimmed it yet but I doubt I’ll be disappointed; there are interesting tidbits of gossip about “ardent Corvinists,” and I’ve learned that young Henry Green and his brother “used to play a dangerous game of hide-and-seek, each one armed with a loaded shotgun.”

Doting front cover

Which brings us to. A sense of relief that frère Green (Yorke, actually) was apparently not an expert marksman. This 1952 Viking edition of Doting has been removed my pile and shelved in a bookcase because I read it a couple months ago, and what now? It was my last Henry Green. He didn’t write a ton of books and I’ve run out. Doting was not my favorite — I think Loving is his best work and it’s also the one I, hmm, you know, the most — but I wouldn’t tell you to avoid Doting. It is almost entirely dialogue and it’s about the confusing and sometimes miserable differences between doting on someone and loving someone. If you are new to Green please don’t let the unfashionable titles put you off; he’s relentlessly stylish on the page in the best possible way. It isn’t about literary calisthenics though. He was as observant as can be and he got people and the things they do and say vividly correct. Yet he does not sound like anyone else at all.

Witch Dungeon front cover

Witch Dungeon! I was drawn to this book at Housing Works because I was taken to the Salem Witch Museum when I was very small, maybe 6 or 7 years old. I had a great time and somehow or other it made a huge impression on me. I suppose it put a sinister edge on the annual making-of-the-hand-turkeys. It’s very dark in there. Or was. I hope it still is. At that time visitors to the museum gathered in the entrance at certain appointed times, in a pitch-black room with a red pentagram on the floor, and a guide / narrator explained the exhibits, which were (are?) dioramas depicting the horribly nasty things the Puritans and Pilgrims did to one another. Sort of like the Natural History Museum, but instead of mountain goats perched on a cliff here were loutish-looking people tormenting each another with the full panoply of American colonial torture devices: people being stoned to death, dunked in water, burnt alive, and otherwise prosecuted by religious nutters. I’m about half-way through this slim little book and I haven’t come across anything to change my impression that my New England forebearers were extraordinarily cruel people who delighted in mangling one another for the most trivial offenses. The book was published in 1986, just a few years after my visit to the Witch Museum. Author Robert Cahill explains in the brief introduction that in 1973 he “was elected High Sheriff of Essex County, Massachusetts, with added duties as Master and Keeper of the Salem Jail & House of Correction,” a “decrepid bastile” built in 1813 to replace a wooden structure known as “the Witch Jail,” and his position prompted him to dig into the records. He wrote many other little gift shoppe books about New England history (please let me know if you spot New England’s Naughty Navy or New England’s Mountain Madness) but having been Sheriff seems to have inspired in him a commendable passion for researching and exposing the idiocies of his predecessors.

early New Yorkers in stocks

Print depicting early New Yorkers in stocks via the NYPL digital gallery.

Of which there are many, obviously. The one that impressed me the most is small but so telling: “In Boston, the first person to sit in the stocks as a punishment, was the carpenter who built them. When the magistrates saw Edward Palmer’s bill for material and labor of one pound 13 shillings, they fined him five pounds ‘and censured him to be set an hour in the stocks.'” They just couldn’t wait to use it. Apparently the populace was as excited about this stuff as the judges were; Cahill also reports that people standing in one of Boston’s first pillories — stocks are the feet-holders and pillories are the head and arm-holders — were “exposed to gross and cruel jeers from the multitude, who pelted them constantly with rotten eggs and every repulsive kind of garbage that could be collected.”

2 responses to “green and yellow books

  1. Doting was the first Henry Green I read, and possibly because of that it remains a favourite, I guess influencing how I read the others. You’re absolutely right though, whether dialogue-heavy or not, he is relentlessly stylish and observant, and utterly unique.

    • Funny how that is, how the first work one reads of a particular writer can color all the rest. And can remain incomparable, if not in terms of quality, then in some other, more mysterious way. I had Loving on my self for a long time before I finally got around to reading it — I picked it up in a used bookstore having no idea who Green was — and when I did read it I was angry I’d ignorantly deprived myself of it.

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