Monthly Archives: March 2016

Book Sale Heaven

DSC_0010For those who love books, there are few more exciting moments than stepping into a used bookstore, and the anticipation of what treasures might lie before you. On one day each year, the grand reading room of the Georgia Historical Society’s Research Center is transformed into such a place.

GHS’s Annual Book Sale takes place this year on Saturday, April 23, from 10 to 5. GHS members get a sneak peak for an hour beginning at 9. All proceeds are allocated strictly to purchase materials for the Research Center that strengthen GHS’s formidable collection of all things Georgia-related.

As a book lover, voracious reader, and avid collector, I can’t tell you how eagerly I anticipate this home libraryevent every year (that’s me in the picture above). I love all manner of genres and varieties of literature, and I’ve bought every kind of title you can imagine at the GHS funfest over the years, everything from The Writer’s Manual to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to How to Be a Gentleman. When a book is priced at 50 cents or a dollar, you almost have to buy it. This is how your house becomes a library with furniture in it.

multi-volume setBut as I’ve described elsewhere, I’m a sucker most of all for the multi-volume set. As my good friend Becky once said, all a publisher has to do to get me to buy a book is to put “Volume 1” on the cover. I’ve found many goodies of this variety at the GHS booksale through the years, a veritable smorgasbord of history and literature that someone like me just cannot pass up. As Henry Ward Beecher said, where is human nature so weak as in a bookstore? Or a used book sale?

Here’s just a small sampling of the some of the nuggets I’ve staggered home with over 18 years of GHS booksales:

American Heritage Junior Library: You have to love that post-WWII era in American history when publishers readily cranked out multi-volume sets on history, literature, art, poetry, or almost anything else, for the average reader—and their children—and AH Junior Librarypaid some of the best writers of the period to contribute.

This 41-volume set was published by American Heritage between 1960 and 1970 and was aimed at the junior-high level and above. When you read them now, you realize how much was expected of a junior-high reader in the 1960s. Forget the junior-high bit: These books are all well written and grounded in the primary sources, and they’re perfect for adults who love history. The titles pull you in immediately: To the Pacific With Lewis and Clark, Thomas Jefferson and His World, History of the Atomic Bomb, Pirates of the Spanish Main, Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, and The Many Worlds of Benjamin Franklin, to name a few. Many acclaimed historians of the day contributed, including John Garraty, Marcus Cunliffe, Stephen Sears, and Bernard Weisberger. Bruce Catton wrote a volume on The Battle of Gettysburg. This and all the series below were priced to sell, usually at $25 or less. I boxed them all up and made off like a bandit.

Horizon CaravelHorizon-Caravel Library: This series is a companion to the one above, focused instead on world history. It’s a terrific find, 35 volumes in all, covering everything from Alexander the Great to King Arthur (written by the renowned British historian Christopher Hibbert) to Shakespeare to Captain Cook to Beethoven to the Russian Revolution. The narratives flow, are abundantly illustrated, and great fun to read.

Gateway to the Great Books: This 10-volume series was originally published by Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1963 and edited by Mortimer Adler and Robert Maynard Hutchins, the dynamic duo most responsible for the EB’s publication of the Great Books of the Western World eleven years earlier. This set includes selections by many of the authors in the larger series through short stories, plays, essays, letters, and extracts from longer works. Here you’ll find Plutarch, Bacon, Darwin, Hume, Dante, Melville, Dostoevsky, Rousseau, Hume, and more than a hundred others in bite-sized morsels. As a bonus there’s a classic essay introduction written by Hutchins, who always sang the siren song of the downfall of Western civilization unless people kept reading. Gateway to the Great Books

Volume 2 alone has extracts from Defoe, Kipling, Victor Hugo, Maupassant, Hemingway, Walter Scott, Joseph Conrad, Voltaire, Oscar Wilde, Poe, Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dickens, and Gogol, a literary feast if ever there was one. Volume 7 (“Man And Society II”) contains among other things Jonathan Swift’s essay, “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country.” How do you resist a treasury like this? I couldn’t, especially when the whole set cost only $15. Box it up and drag it home!

The Life History of the United States: Life magazine published this 12-volume set in 1963-1964. This hardcover series starts with The New World: Pre-history to 1774 and ends with The Great Age of Change, 1945-present, the present, of course, being the mid 1960s. Some of the best consensus-era historians wrote these volumes, including Richard Morris, T. Harry Williams, and William Leuchtenberg (who’s still writing at age 93—see his recent tome on The American President). These are all done in the classic Time-Life motif, with great illustrations and flowing narrative.

Great Ages of Man: A History of the World’s Cultures: Another Time-Life series from theGreat Ages of Man 1960s, this one comes complete with an introductory pamphlet entitled “What Man Has Built” written by the great Columbia University historian Jacques Barzun. These magnificent 21 volumes are gracefully written and splendidly illustrated and allow you to browse your way from Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, over to India, China, and Japan, all the way through the Reformation, the Enlightenment (written by the renowned Freud biographer Peter Gay) and age of Exploration, right up to the mid twentieth century. Again, I picked this one up complete in mint condition for less than $30.

American HeritageAmerican Heritage magazine: The biggest catch I ever landed at the GHS booksale was a complete run of American Heritage magazine. I first subscribed to AH as a junior at the University of Georgia in 1985. It was typical of those wonderful family of Forbes magazines published before the advent of the Internet, thick with full-page illustrations and great writing by some of the country’s leading historians. Imagine my delight when one year, just days before the book sale, a family in Savannah donated a complete run of the magazine, from the first hardback issue in December 1954 through the switch over to softcover in 1980, up to the present, over 300 issues across 50 years. I bought the whole thing for $200 and then had to buy a new set of bookshelves for my house just to hold them all. But I now own a complete run of the magazine from December 1954 through 2012 (when it suspended publication), and I’ve spent countless pleasurable hours perusing its pages. The advertising alone was worth the price.

I just pulled down a random volume, this one from October 1970, and there are articles by the great Richard Hofstadter, Barbara Tuchman, the Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh, and an essay by Willa Cather. Multiply that out by hundreds and you get some idea of the riches to be assayed in the pages of this now-defunct slice of American literary culture.

Other Gems: One year I bought 20 volumes published by Easton Press—they of the leatheroxford illustrated dickens hardbound covers and moiré endpapers and beautiful binding—for $150, including the 3-volume collection of the complete Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. Another year I gobbled up the Oxford Illustrated Dickens, 21 volumes of Charles Dickens complete novels, stories, and sketches, all for only $20. Other goodies include six volumes of American humorist Will Rogers’ writings, two volumes of George Orwell’s essays, and six volumes on The Great Age of Western Philosophy ($6).

books on stairsThese are just the multi-volumes sets. I could go on and on about the individual volumes I’ve bought, countless treasures that I grabbed for $2 or less, boxed up, lugged home, and then puzzled over where the heck to fit them into a house already overflowing with books. It’s a yearly ritual, like buying a Christmas tree, and one I wouldn’t do without.

But Stan, you say, I could care less about all those dull multi-volume sets and would never clutter up my house with such garbage. Well of course you wouldn’t, those are what I buy—I left the stuff you like sitting right there on the table for you to find.

The GHS booksale has something for every discerning palate, be it coffee table books on art and architecture, or volumes on gardening, cooking, sculpting, painting, novels of every stripe and genre from Homer to Jonathan Franzen, mysteries, non-fiction, self-help, poetry, philosophy, religion, short stories, rare books, children’s books, and of course history, biography, and Georgia history. It’s a veritable feast.

Remember too, you can donate books right up to the sale, to make room for all the good stuff you’ll take home. If you love books or only have a passing acquaintance with them, don’t miss out on this annual tradition: Saturday, April 23, 9 a.m. for members, 10 a.m. for everyone else.

This may finally be the year I spot that rare set of the complete writings of Irving Forbush. Just don’t be standing in front of me when I do.

Solitary Man

sunsetBlessed with a 4-day pass over the last weekend in February, I made tracks for the Blue Ridge Mountains of north Georgia. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “in the woods we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, no disgrace, no calamity, which nature cannot repair. ” Couple that with fellow Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau’s dictum, “I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” and you will understand why the mountains are a constant destination.

On that Saturday I awoke to a gloriously sunny late winter day, so with bike in tow I drove over the Richard Russell Parkway to Smithgall Woods. If you’ve never been, you’re missing out on one of our state’s great natural treasures. I would say it’s a well-kept secret, but I’m not sure that’s true, and even if it was, here I am telling you about it. But it’s undoubtedly much less used than either Unicoi or Vogel, two nearby state parks that are more widely known.

The official name of the park is Smithgall Woods – Dukes Creek Conservation Area. Its 5,664 acres (compared to 233 acres at Vogel and 1,050 at Unicoi) have their own charm, and unlike other state parks, if you don’t like being out in the woods, Tsalaski-Trail-2smit’s probably not going to be your cup of tea. But if you agree with Emerson, it doesn’t get much better. Not to mention, a river runs through it. Or, to be more precise, the restorative waters of Dukes Creek.

Smithgall Woods was acquired by the State of Georgia in 1994 from Charles A. Smithgall, Jr., and dedicated as a Heritage Preserve under the Georgia Heritage Act of 1975. Its 5 miles of trails and 18 miles of roads (paved and unpaved) are ideal for hikers or bikers.

On my first trip there last August, I biked 4 miles in on Tsalaki Trail, all the way over to State Hwy. 75 outside Helen, and then back out again. It was quite strenuous. Downright lungbusting. Even on a somewhat cool and overcast August day I was a sweaty mess. The ups and downs of the hills were calorie burners, and though I’m in good cardio shape, it was still a tough workout for this lowcountry rider. Those kinds of hills—nay, Silas, any hills—simply don’t exist in Savannah.

DSC_1485Six months later, with backpack, book, and journal strapped tight, I was simply looking for a great way to spend a beautiful winter afternoon outside. I found it.

After huffing up the initial hill that leads away from the visitor’s center, I stopped first to say hello to the Smithgall bee farm. Even on a chilly afternoon the little fellas were buzzing around in superior numbers, preventing me from moving in for a closer look, which was probably for the best. They didn’t mind posing for pictures, though.

photo 2 (1)A little farther on I parked my bike by the side of a field that in August (pictured at right) was bursting with blooming sunflowers but that now lay dormant. I spent a golden half hour writing in my journal, noting and describing the beauty all around me, listening to the rushing sound of Dukes Creek just beyond the meadow.

Dukes Creek has been rated one of the top 100 trophy trout streams in the country, and its meandering waters lie at the heart of the park. I found myself stopping repeatedly on my bike ride to just sit beside it. It’s more like a river than a creek.

You don’t have to be a fisherman to enjoy it, either. I’m not, and I spent the better part of the day sitting on its banks listening, pondering, reading, watching, writing, thinking. Every so often I’d meet a fly fisherman wading through the waters, and we’d nod to each other. Some of them must have wondered what the guy on the bank was writing about in his notebook. I enjoyed their silent company and appreciated that Dukes Creekeach of us was ultimately there for the same reasons though doing different things. Thoreau told us it’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.

Sitting beside picturesque Bay’s Bridge as the cascading creek tumbled by beneath, over rocks glinting in the lowering afternoon sun, I realized: I need to come back here, to these mountains, these woods, this water, in every season, for as long as I can. As a wise man once said, there may be more to learn from climbing one mountain twenty times than from climbing twenty different mountains. I’ll never be finished here.

Yes, Stan, this is all lovely, but we’re busy people here. Is there anything really to do there? My answer is that it all depends on what you mean by doing. photo 4As writer Roger Cohen thoughtfully noted, “too often we confuse activity and movement with accomplishment and fulfillment. More may be gained through a pause.”

This doctor’s advice: Take a moment sometime soon and visit a place like Smithgall Woods. If not there, someplace like it, near or far from where you live. Our state—indeed, our nation—has a wealth of such places set aside for us.

To paraphrase John Muir, he who experiences the blessing of one mountain day is rich forever. Go collect your winnings.