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Blog posts by John Schulman

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


“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who'll get me a book I ain't read.”– Abraham Lincoln John Frederick Parker, who should have been guarding Lincoln's box at Ford's Theatre, had gone off to a nearby tavern with Lincoln's footman and coachman. In his job as a policeman, he had been reprimanded and disciplined before for drunkenness while on the job and for dereliction of duty. His absence allowed John Wilkes Booth, a well known actor, who was deeply sympathetic with the Confederate cause, to enter Lincoln's box without any trouble. The President's Box at Ford's Theatre. Booth jumped 12 feet to the stage, breaking one of his legs, but managed to escape. Lincoln had actually seen Booth on stage several times and had admired him enough to invite him to the White House (Booth demurred). On April 14, Lincol... [more]

There is a general consensus among those who posted their considerations of the Oakland fair that it is a good venue and that sales and attendance figures were mainly above expectations, that the location is acceptable and the number of restaurant and hotel options is very satisfactory. That was our conclusion, too, here at Caliban Books. The Northern California book fair committee and especially Michael Hackenberg, along with the new promoter, White Rain Productions, deserves thanks for making the fair a success. Read below for more reflections from exhibitors. -- John Schulman, Caliban Book Shop Chic Goldsmid: Congratulations and thank you to Michael & the Committee, and to White Rain. I share the favorable view of the venue, load in, hotel room, White Rain staff, Marriott staff (consistently polite and helpful) and the EPI load & unloa... [more]

Recently, I was reducing the prices of some books I've had around for a long time and realized that one of them had been reduced several times before and had actually been exhibited at the first ABAA fair we had done, the 1993 Washington DC show at the Mellon Pavilion. We did about $13,000 and I thought that was great. We were set up across from Lou Weinstein of Heritage Books and remember a genial discussion in which we compared our obsessions with tennis (me) and golf (Lou). The rest is a blur, although I remember we had a long run of Sowerby's botanical series in original bindings priced $2500 I think, that was still there at the end of the fair, to my disappointment. Now it's long gone. I remember buying a number of Doves Press books at the fair, also long ago sold. 1993 was just before the internet started having a significant impact... [more]

The horrible murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly, inspired international discussions on a range of topics: the causes of such extremism and how to combat it; the place of free speech in civil society; how people of varying religions and ethnicities can learn to live with each other; the role and history of satire; and (slightly heartening from a bookseller's perspective) the power of print media to stir such passions. Yes indeed, the antiquarian bookseller's perspective. Several factors enter into how we think about things. Sure, we have our own opinions and political leanings, but we have also trained ourselves to think like collectors or archivists. Almost all historical events produce vast amounts of documentation: books, articles in newspapers and magazines , artwork, journals, diaries, letters, flyers... [more]

Every January, when Pittsburgh starts getting bleakly cold like this, tired old travel posters of sunny climes start unfurling deep inside my earmuffed, sniffling head. I want to be someplace warm and bright, exotic yet friendly, and not too touristy. So I surf the internet, looking at pictures of beautiful people strolling gorgeous beaches. That could be me and my wife, smiling like that. Those could be our children, laughing in the gentle sea-green wavelets. One year, I saw a picture of Villefranche-sur-Mer and up and took the family there during the kids' spring break. To go from a photo on a website to all the glory of the South of France was amazing. Plus, the little Mediterranean town was rich in cultural history, including a chapel Jean Cocteau had decorated and Cap Ferrat, where the Rolling Stones recorded their greatest album, Ex... [more]


My Favorite Catalog

By John Schulman

“Here are the rules,” says Dr. Ragezhi. “You can use my Time Portal to travel back to any year. You can bring up to $1,000 cash, which will change to the currency of the time. You have one hour and if you don't make it back to the Portal you're stuck there forever.” A tall man with a sharply trimmed gray beard and steel-rimmed glasses, he steps back and looks at me severely. “And don't step on any butterflies!” The last thing I hear as I punch “1940” and enter the Portal is his sardonic chuckle… The cast iron painted sign hanging over the sidewalk in front of 51 W. 47th Street reads “Wise Men Fish Here,” with three cartoonish men attempting to land a whale with their rods. I open the door to Gotham Book Mart and step inside. High walnut bookcases wall the room, crammed with modern literature and little magazines. Tow... [more]


Reviving Neglected Books

By John Schulman

Doing research on some Irvin Faust typescripts, I stumbled across Brad Bigelow's amazing blog, Neglected Books, where he had done a retrospective of Faust's work in early 2010. Bigelow's celebration of Faust was fluid, insightful and funny. I read parts of it aloud to my wife: "And if you happen to wander into a used book store that actually has inventory older than the clerk behind the counter, you shouldn't have any trouble locating Faust's books - they're the ones you see glowing and buzzing on the shelves." I spent all that morning randomly picking among the posts on forgotten fiction and poetry (Bigelow is at home with both), and discovered a deeply amused, smart, generous reader. And a humble one: his name is hardly found anywhere on the website -- it's all about the books. After finding out that the genius behind all this is Brad B... [more]

“So we're driving to see you,” says Dave, “and I say to Jeff, 'John's got a nice copy of Papillons he might come down on.' And Jeff goes 'Oh Papillon! One of my favorite escape books, great movie! A fine UK edition in jacket's hard to get.' Which shows where our heads are.” Jeff is laughing. “Don't put that in your blog, it makes me look like a schmuck!” Dave is referring to Eugene Seguy's Papillons (1924), a large portfolio of 20 pochoir plates (richly colored stencils) of illustrations and designs with butterfly motifs. Dave started out as a dealer in natural history and paleontology over thirty years ago but in the last decade he's developed a lively trade in decorative arts, with an emphasis on trade catalogs, fashion and textile design, original sample books, etc. Papillons neatly conjoins Dave's two specialties. But Jeff... [more]

One of my great pleasures as a bookseller in Pittsburgh is to go on house calls to buy quantities of books. Most of the time, the accumulation of books and whatnot reveal the tree rings of their possessors' lives and provide a chronology of intellectual growth and predilection: first the kids' books, then the school books, yearbooks, college texts, then on into adulthood – cook books, art books, obligatory novels by Updike and Roth, Robert Frost's poems, manuals on how to behave, choose wine, decorate a house, have a baby, biographies of Kissinger and Marie Antoinette, travel guides to Portugal…a life revealed. Occasionally, however, I run into someone who has accumulated books with a greater sense of purpose, whose assemblage is not just an inadvertent life chronicle. Such a person is a collector. So it was that when Linda C. emailed... [more]