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Blog posts by John Schulman

John Schulman is co-owner of Caliban Book Shop along with his wife Emily Hetzel, operating a general used and rare bookstore in Pittsburgh since 1991.

Selections from Member's stock

This election is unlike any other in terms of the candidates, the frequent emotional rollercoasters, the influence of the wealthy, the corporations and the media, and the volatile and complex nature of the issues – guns, race, religion, nationalism, foreign policy, poverty, immigration, nuclear arms, pestilence, famine, ecology, the Supreme Court, etc., etc.. How to make sense of it all? Most antiquarian booksellers feel that the books of the past can illuminate the present, and so, in that spirit, knowing that we cannot get you to unplug the telly, log off from Facebook or stop obsessing over FiveThirtyEight, we recommend the following books to supplement your daily media intake. These texts will give you The Long View, supply historical context, make you the life of the cocktail party, and perhaps even provide you with a modicum of ho... [more]


An Antiquarian Pesach

By John Schulman

Each April, when Passover occurs, Jews all over the world join with family and friends to celebrate the occasion (this year from April 22-30) with a seder, a ritual meal that marks the beginning of the holiday and which involves retelling the story of the Jews' liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt, a story taken from The Book of Exodus. The instructional guide to the stages of the feast (besides reciting the narrative of Jewish liberation there are also prayers, songs, and commentary) is called the Haggadah (plural: haggadot). There is some dispute as to when the first haggadot were compiled, but most scholars agree that it was somewhere between 150 and 350 CE and that it achieved a fairly standardized form by the time of Maimonides in the 12th century (Maimonides included a version of the Haggadah in his Mishneh Torah (Jewish laws), ... [more]

Cheryl Needle, an antiquarian bookseller from Pepperell, MA, died in January. Born in 1948, she is survived by children and grandchildren, her partner of 25+ years, Frank Infante, her former husband and sometime business partner, Matthew Needle of Newburyport, MA, and her many friends and colleagues in the trade. Although she was not a member of the ABAA, she had all the qualities one looks for in a great antiquarian dealer: a fine eye for unusual material, reasonable prices, the highest ethical standards, and on top of that, she was friendly, decent, and caring. Greg Gibson of Ten Pound Island Books remembered Cheryl in his Bookman's Log blog. Below are excerpts from that, followed by contributions by some of her other friends and admirers. Greg Gibson: A veteran of more than four decades as a used book dealer, Cheryl was an active parti... [more]

Harper Lee has passed away, but her great novel, To Kill a Mockingbird lives on, accompanied by either a second novel, Go Set a Watchman, or as many have speculated, simply the published version of an early draft that would become TKAM with much input from her editors at Lippincott, who upon reading the manuscript in 1957, asked her to rewrite it and set it twenty years in the past. TKAM was finally published in 1960, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, and sell (to date) over 45 million copies, but whatever Lee had been working on since then remains almost entirely unpublished. She apparently had a couple books in the works in the ensuing decades, but was unhappy with them and they have never come to light. Maybe now they will. She lived in Monroeville, Alabama, with her older sister, Alice, and kept a low profile, refusing interviews, bu... [more]

Previously, John Schulman offered some tips on giving antiquarian books as gifts and using the ABAA website to find what you're looking for. Today, he focuses on choosing antiquarian books specoifically for children. Giving children's books to children requires just as much thought and insight as giving books to grownups. Children are generally just as aware as adults when it comes to assessing the degree of thoughtfulness and consideration that went into the gifts they receive. Thinking about the child's interests and personality is key. Much as you love the N. C. Wyeth illustrated edition of Treasure Island, don't give it to a six year old girl into race cars and robots. But we all have favorite books from our childhood, and many of us hope (myself included) that our children will read those books and get the same kind of pleasure, comf... [more]

Few people know that the most famous pop artist in the world, Andy Warhol, began his career in New York as a commercial artist and book illustrator. Born in Pittsburgh in 1928 to immigrants from present-day Slovakia, he majored in Commercial Art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now CMU), graduating in 1949 and quickly moving to New York after that. There he found work as a freelance illustrator for magazines and trade publications, and also designed dust jackets for several publishers. By the late 1950s, he had made a name for himself as a hardworking, dependable artist who could work in a variety of media. Now, there is a new exhibit of Warhol's work as a book artist and illustrator, currently on display at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and running through January 10, 2016. After that, there are plans for the exhibit to tr... [more]


First State Notes

By John Schulman

What's the difference between a first edition, first printing, first issue, and first state? Pay attention, there will be a quiz! Sometimes the most simple questions have the most complicated answers. Does God exist? What is love? Who wrote Shakespeare's plays? And what IS the difference between a first edition, a first printing, a first issue, and a first state? If you already know the difference, scroll to the bottom of this blog and take a quiz to test your knowledge of the first state or issue points for various famous works. For those of you still curious about our convoluted answer, we have thankfully secured permission from Terry Belanger, one of the greatest scholars of bibliography and printing history, to quote his definitions of these terms from the Bibliographical Society of America website. Thanks also to bookseller Cynthia G... [more]


Buying Rare Books as Gifts

By John Schulman

ABAA member John Schulman of Caliban Book Shop has some advice for anyone considering buying antiquarian or rare books as gifts, and explains how to use the ABAA's website and how to work with ABAA dealers to your best advantage. So it's crunch time and you need a gift for a booklover. When people come into our store asking us to find the perfect item, the first questions we have are about the recipient. We ask the standard questions: how old is the recipient? What does he or she like to read? Has the person already started collecting books in a focused way? Then, as we think about what we have in stock, we ask a few more questions: what is the price range? Would the recipient like a first printing or something in a handsome binding? Once we have an idea about the recipient, we can get to work. A Word of Caution! Giving a book to a person... [more]

Several years ago my teenaged son and I were lunching with the late Burton Weiss at a popular Berkeley bistro, Le Rendezvous. Burton was a tall, thin mordant guy, prone to squawking when he got worked up, really quite a brilliant bookseller (he would sometimes say things in passing that belonged in the Bartlett's Book of Antiquarian Quotations, such as: “Reading is bad for books” and “Never judge a book by its contents”). Burton was lamenting growing old, and my son politely asked him when he was going to retire. Burton looked at my son like he was crazy. “Booksellers aren't ALLOWED to RETIRE!” he shouted. “They just DIE!” Everyone in Le Rendezvous paused to look at the madman dining with us. But was he mad? When Greg Gibson reported on the death of Cheryl Needle and how she was selling material to him and his colleagues e... [more]

John Schulman shares his history with the Discovery Day program at the annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair. In 1996, after being asked to appraise books and manuscripts for PBS's first season of Antiques Roadshow, I discovered that I had a knack for quick and competent evaluations, and while I am not the most photogenic or well-spoken guy, the producers at WGBH in Boston liked me enough to invite me back year after year. For the first several years, the book tables at the Roadshow featured a healthy mix of auction house specialists and independent dealers, all of whom were ABAA members. Now in its 19th season, there are fewer indie dealer-appraisers at the book table, but they are still all ABAA members: me, Ken Gloss from Brattle Books, and Ken Sanders. All three of us are generalists (Sanders is also a specialist in Mormon and LDS mat... [more]