GRUBERG: The Papa Bach Story 2

Bookmarks from the Reincarnation of Papa Bach

When Ted and Eva Riedel left Los Angeles in the mid 1970s, the bookstore was taken over by a “poet” named John Harris. I use the quotes around the word poet because I have found nothing on the Internet either by or about him that was not written by his friend, fellow poet William Mohr. It was around this time that I stopped hanging out at Papa Bach’s Bookstore. I missed Ted and Eva, and I had my doubts about the new management. This was mostly because I noticed that the stock on sale started to thin out: I no longer found it a good source for the material I was seeking.

Still, in its second incarnation, Papa Bach had some influence. In his book Literary L.A., Lionel Rolfe writes:

Papa Bach was significant, I think, because it was the closest thing Los Angeles ever had to a City Lights bookstore and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I’m not sure that Harris himself would have thought he was on that level, for the synergy of Ferlinghetti and San Francisco are a peculiar and special chemistry. But John Harris was a good if not great poet, and his Papa Bach was a bookstore, a cultural center, a publisher and an important link between many things. Harris made no bones about it; he had burned out.

Papa Bach was to limp along for another ten years or so, but the heart of it as a bookstore was no longer there. I was not and still am not interested in Harris’s poetry events or publications: It was the merchandise that had drawn me. Once the bookshelves started showing lots of blank space between isolated books, I knew that the end was in sight.

For a while, the building occupied by Papa Bach’s became “The Writer’s Computer Store,” which I assumed was a shill for Apple software products. Then the building was torn down and replaced by an Enterprise Rent-a-Car agency.

 

 

GRUBERG: The Papa Bach Story 1

Original (1960s) Bookmark from Papa Bach Books

It was early 1967: I was still exploring my new Los Angeles home on foot and by bus. (It was to be almost twenty years before I began to drive.) On the north side of Santa Monica Boulevard, just west of Sawtelle, sat a big bookstore with a sign that said Papa Bach Paperbacks. Even at that early juncture, I was a bookstore aficionado of long standing, a habitué of Schroeder’s on Public Square in Cleveland and the Dartmouth College Bookstore in Hanover, New Hampshire.

I still have the books I bought that day: It was a two-volume set, the Vintage Turgenev comprising seven of the Russian author’s novels: Smoke, Fathers and Sons, First Love (in Volume 1), On the Eve, Rudin, A Quiet Spot, and Diary of a Superfluous Man (in Volume 2). The two books cost $1.65 and $1.95 respectively.

It wasn’t long before I moved to an apartment near Mississippi and Sawtelle, just four or five blocks south of Papa Bach’s. For the six months or so that I lived there, I had to catch the bus to UCLA across the street from the bookstore. In addition, there was a nifty used bookstore called West L.A. Books just across Sawtelle. During that time, I stopped in at Papa Bach’s at least four times a week, each time coming out with one or more purchases. I was in hog heaven.

The Picture of Bach That Was on the Logo came from a German Stamp

I got to know the original owners, Ted and Eva Riedel, and spent hours talking books with them. They had a quote contest in which, if you guessed the book it came from, you got a copy of the book. The first quote, if I remember rightly, was from Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. Not only was I the all-time winner, but I volunteered to letter the quotes myself with a Magic Marker on a roll of paper that was displayed near the cash register.

Alas, Paradise does not last forever. In the early 1970s, Ted and Eva sold the bookstore and moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Ted told me that he planned to start a Papa Bach Bookstore there, but I have found no evidence that that ever happened. I even checked out the Jackson Hole phonebook when I was there in 2008, but found no listing for Papa Bach or the Riedels. I liked them, so I can only hope that things went all right for them.

Tomorrow, I will describe the bookstore under its new owners.

BTW, the GRUBERG on the bookmark is a mnemonic for their phone number at that time, namely 478-2374.

 

The Happiness Trap

Ernest Hemingway Poses with a Water Buffalo in Africa, 1953-1954

Having just read Ernest Hemingway’s The Green Hills of Africa, I begin to understand why he shot himself in 1961. I had not read any Hemingway for over thirty years, and I realize now there was a reason for this. There was Papa H in Africa, frequently asserting how he loved the place and the people. Yet he is envious of another member of his hunting party, Karl, who is more successful in grabbing the big trophies. Even when he kills a kudu, which he has been trying to do for the whole length of the book, he has this dialog with Pop, the leader of the group, conscious that Karl has bagged a bigger kudu:

“We have very primitive emotions,” [Pop] said. “It’s impossible not to be competitive. Spoils everything, though.”

“I’m all through with that,” said. “I’m all right again. I had quite a trip, you know.”

The only problem is that I didn’t believe him. Again and again, Hemingway is hyper-conscious of competing, of looking good in the eyes of his fellow hunters and his native assistants. He talks about Droopy, a native tracker:

M’Cola [another tracker] was not jealous of Droopy. He simply knew that Droop was a better man than he was. more of a hunter, a faster and cleaner tracker, and a great stylist in everything he did.

At another point, Papa talks of his “wanting to make a shot to impress Droopy.”

Hemingway, too, was a great stylist—in his own way. The prose of The Green Hills of Africa at times rises to the level of poetry. In this, he falls victim to the happiness trap, of always wanting to be happy, of always overcoming hurdles and progressing from one triumph to another. But life is not like that. One must appreciate the little things, to behave prayerfully and thankfully when he has taken the life of some splendid game, to grab at the moments of happiness that are fleeting and resolve to slog manfully through all the merde with which a life is interlarded.

 

 

A Book Designed to Last

The Statement at the Lower Left Used To Be on All Dover Paperbacks

As long as I can remember, I have been a big fan of Dover paperbacks. I was reminded of this as I started reading Howard Carter and A. C. Mace’s The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen (1923). There, at the bottom of the back cover, stood this bold claim:

A DOVER EDITION DESIGNED FOR YEARS OF USE:

We have made every effort to make this the best book possible. Our paper is opaque, with minimal show-through; it will not discolor or become brittle with age. Pages are sewn in signatures, in the method traditionally used for the best books, and will not drop out, as often happens with paperbacks held together with glue. Books open flat for easy reference. The binding will not crack or split. This is a permanent book.

Alas, this claim does not appear on more recent Dover paperbacks. In my collection, I have at least several hundred Dover books on chess, Shakespeare, ghost stories (a Dover specialty), mysteries, G. K. Chesterton, Anthony Trollope, John Lloyd Stephens, and numerous classics in the public domain. Not only were Dover books well made, they used to be relatively inexpensive. No more. I still follow them at their website and still occasionally order from them.

 

 

A Signpost to Little-Known Great Books

A Wonderful Book by a Dartmouth English Professor

Although I was an English major at Dartmouth College, I never had a class taught by Professor Noel Perrin (1927-2004). Nevertheless, he has had an outsize influence on my reading with his book A Reader’s Delight, consisting of collected essays on interesting byways in literature which he originally wrote for the Washington Post. I always like to acknowledge my sources. For instance, there were the essays of Jorge Luis Borges, which, since around 1970, have been my principal guide to the world’s literature.

Second, however, has been Noel Perrin’s A Reader’s Delight. Following is an alphabetical list by author of the books that Professor Perrin has pointed me toward:

  • Peter S. Beagle, A Fine and Private Place
  • Ernest Bramah, Kai-Lung’s Golden Hours *
  • Bryher, Roman Wall *
  • Lord Dunsany, The Blessings of Pan *
  • William Dean Howells, Indian Summer *
  • Rose Macaulay, A Casual Commentary *
  • Joseph Mitchell, The Bottom of the Harbor *
  • Marcel Pagnol, My Father’s Glory and My Mother’s House
  • Freya Stark, The Valleys of the Assassins *
  • Stendhal, On Love *
  • Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Far Rainbow *

What do the asterisks signify? Only that since reading the recommended book, I have read other works by the recommended author. That’s quite a record.

 

TBR

Chinese Author Cao Xueqin (1715-1763)

TBR is a real bookworm’s term: It’s an acronym for To Be Read. We all have our TBR piles. Here is a look at mine, consisting mostly of Asian classics (some of which are multi-volume) and various Medieval and Ancient Greek and Roman classics. Here are some 22 classics which I will attempt, in my own desultory fashion, to read while I am able:

  • Anonymous, The Mahabharata (India)
  • Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron (Italy)
  • Hermann Broch, The Sleepwalkers (Austria)
  • Cao Xueqin, The Dream of the Red Chamber (aka The Story of the Stone) (China)
  • Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales (England)
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky, A Raw Youth (aka The Adolescent) (Russia)
  • Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man (USA)
  • William Faulkner, A Fable (USA)
  • Gunter Grass, The Tin Drum (Germany)
  • João Guimarães Rosa, The Devil to Pay in the Backlands (Brazil)
  • Henry James, The Bostonians (USA)
  • Kalidasa, The Shakuntala (India)
  • Yasunari Kawabata, The Sound of the Mountain (Japan)
  • Lucretius, On the Nature of Things (Ancient Rome)
  • Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Complete Essays (France)
  • Shikibu Murasaki, The Tale of Genji (Japan)
  • Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities (Germany)
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses (Ancient Rome)
  • Plato, The Republic (Ancient Greece)
  • Alexander Pushkin, Eugene Onegin (Russia)
  • Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (India)
  • Valmiki, Ramayana (India)

Some of the above works are major; others are relatively minor. The Faulkner and Dostoyevsky, for instance, are there only because they are the only novels by the two authors I have not read. I have already picked up a copy of Henry James’s The Bostonians to read next month.

 

Better Than Ever

Monaco Stamp Commemorating Honoré de Balzac

It has been over six years since I opened a book by one of my favorite authors, Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850). Sometimes when I revisit a favorite author after a long absence, I find that my ardor has cooled somewhat. Not so with Balzac!

In the Yahoo French Literature Reading Group, I recommended that we select A Harlot High and Low, a.k.a. Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes (1838-1847) for our July read. It didn’t take too many pages before I was as entranced as ever. It was almost half a century ago that I first undertook to read Père Goriot (1835), still my favorite among his works. Interestingly, two of the characters from the earlier book—Eugène de Rastignac and Vautrin—appear in the work I am re-reading.

The period of the author’s life somehow tied together the French Revolution (1789-1799), the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Bourbon Restoration, the reign of Louis-Philippe “The Citizen King,” and the Revolutions of 1848. No other writer on the Continent was able to bridge these critical periods as Balzac did with his Comédie Humaine series of stories and novels, although Charles Dickens at times came close.

Balzac was the first writer to share characters between stories. As one reads his works, one gains a deeper understanding not only of the characters, but the times and milieus in which they lived.

The Work I’m Re-Reading Now

As I re-read A Harlot High and Low, I see myself returning to my favorites among his works:

  • The Wild Ass’s Skin (Le Peau de Chagrin), 1831
  • Eugénie Grandet, 1833
  • Old Goriot (Le Père Goriot), 1835—probably the best place to start if you want to read Balzac
  • César Birotteau, 1837
  • Lost Illusions (Illusions Perdues),  1837-1842
  • Cousin Bette (La Cousine Bette), 1846
  • Cousin Pons (Le Cousin Pons), 1847
  • A Harlot High and Low (Splendeurs et Misères des Courtisanes), 1838-1847

Over the years, I have actually read all 50-odd novels and all 20-odd short stories that have been translated into English, some more than once. And it appears that I’m not finished yet.