Essays

 

Movies and the Printed Word

Someday we may try explain why a white couple from almost lily-white Iowa began specializing in African American material 43 years ago. In the meantime, we mention Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. That movie unfolds a series of adventures of Django, an African American slave, and King Schultz, his unusual, white, German-American, bounty-hunting savior/owner.

The strong, violence-drenched images in Django shows how helpless slaves were to resist a ruthless white society which uniformly treated them as sub-human creatures to be physically and sexually exploited, degraded and casually beaten, dismembered, sold, discarded or killed. Can one really watch the powerful images in a movie like this and fail to root for Django and Schultz as they improbably slaughter slave-owners and other whites?

Movie imagery has often promoted other agendas. White movie goers almost a century ago, inspired perhaps more powerfully in the nascent days of film making, turned. D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, into a financial bonanza as they cheered for the KKK for using terrorist tactics to defend white civilization and, more especially white women, from dangerous, out-of-control, sub-human creatures (otherwise known as African American men).

This is why the historical record is so important. Booksellers are not purveyors of the truth. We, for instance, willingly sell books, pamphlets, etc. representing a wide range of view points on race and racial matters even when we reject the truth that an item promotes. Item 735, for instance, supports African American inferiority partly by arguing that God created three races (Whites, Jews and Blacks) after Noah and the Flood. At the same time, we firmly believe that a free marketplace of ideas provides the best chance that truth will survive and perhaps even prevail. Of course, as booksellers who love the chase, we are always intrigued by something we've not seen before even when full of odious thinking.

In regard to the search for truth, we note Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Alexander's analysis may simplify or ignore economic and other causes besides racism for the explosion in the prison population, but she focuses attention on a disaster that is destroying the lives of millions of African Americans in ways paralleling parts of the old Jim Crow system. If you haven't read it, you should.

 

 

 

Where Did We Get These Books?

Everybody wonders and some ask! One of our colleagues always replies, "Anywhere I can." And, while that is true, it doesn't really answer the question. So, where did we get the books that appear in this catalog?

We got many, if not most, from customers like you. Some of the books came from our early days in Iowa (we left in 1983). Our customer liked books on Singapore, Hong Kong, and other parts of Asia, and drove over to Des Moines once or twice a year to rummage through the books in our basement. We remember offering to share some shrimp toast with him, only to have our little deep fryer bubble hot oil all over the floor as Phil, cooking barefoot on that hot summer day, leaped to safety. Other books came from an anthropologist and long-time customer who was relocating and had owned, among other things, quite a number of HRAF publications. Still others, including Kaempfer's "History of Japan," came from a longtime customer in the Washington area who decided that it was time to pass the books in his collection on to others. And so it goes. Call us!

We buy books from other dealers, although not as many as ten years ago. Part of that is due to the decline in the quality and number of general used bookstores, thanks to the Internet. If the Internet has seduced you away from your local shops, we think you ought to reconsider. Phil still enjoys traveling around to bookshops in preference to sitting in front of his computer monitor, but the days of quarterly or semi-annual extended buying trips are probably over. Still, this catalog includes quite a number of books that came to us from other dealers.

We continue to buy quality books from college and university libraries. This can be a good source since alumni and others often donate books and collections that turn out to be out of scope or duplicates. There aren't many items in this catalog from that source. We wish there were more. This catalog also includes several items bought on the Internet. We wish there were less.

Finally, there are items and collections that just show up, surprising and unanticipated, a reward for over thirty years spent chasing the unknown. A missionary account found when driving down a highway and stopping on a whim at a house sale. Killing time in a New Hampshire antique shop while a colleague completes some purchases and finally noticing a small framed Khyber Pass Permit (item 364) hanging on the wall. Attending a Greek festival and taking time from the food to find an oddity on Japan in their rummage sale. Getting a call from Chiang Yee's son and buying his father's books, including a great many in Chinese that we've not yet been able to catalog. The son, as was his father, is a talented painter in the Chinese tradition. We couldn't resist buying one of the lovely watercolor paintings he did to honor the Year of the Horse.

It's still a great treasure hunt! Perhaps we've found something for you.

Phil and Sharon McBlain