Saturday, August 09, 2008

New Acquisitions

Well, if I didn't get to go to Pennsic, I did some satisfying medieval shopping here at home.

The Flint area is not well supplied with used bookstores. There are two Jellybean stores; together with a third in Owosso, a locally-owned chain. The one to the south of town concentrates on mass media stuff; I can't recall ever finding anything on the Middle Ages other than things that get assigned in history classes. Not complaining, they are the place to go for used music, mystery and science fiction paperbacks, DVDs, that sort of thing. The one closer to the center of town is more interesting, although the management have a sometimes exalted notion of how to price some of their collectibles. They get people to pay it, I guess. They have easily the most extensive collection of used books of a more serious type than anywhere this side of one of the university towns in Michigan, but it is a curiously neglected side room; the main action with paperbacks, records and so forth is in the main room. I don't think there's ever been another customer in the side room on the rare occasions I go in - about once a year or less. Awkwardly, the clerk decides on a price at the counter for these books, after performing a brief check on the Internet., I'm guessing? They don't say. I've actually gotten some good deals, once a spectacular deal, so they're not being unreasonable on price; I just wonder if they realize how discouraging a browsing experience this mysterious method induces. If they just marked the prices in the books, I'd go in more often.

At any rate, on a rare visit this week, I found two books on Western martial arts. Sydney Anglo's authoritative The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe. I've checked it out from academic libraries, and it seemed well worth having. Author John Clement claims it is the most important work on the subject in a century; while my interests tend more to the political and strategic levels, particularly about the Hundred Years War, I'm willing to agree with Clement, as far as I can tell. The second book was the Codex Wallerstein, a 15th century fighting manual with reproductions of the illustrations and translations of the text into several languages. Want to know how to rob a peasant by making him think you've slit his throat, but without actually doing so? No problem, the Codex Wallerstein explains the method. I'm hoping I don't have occasion to use that one, myself. But it's good to know these things, right?

Both volumes were in hardcover, in good shape with a little shelf wear, and I certainly wanted them both. The clerk wanted $40 for each, and I left them there. At the very least, I wanted to make sure I couldn't do better on the Internet. But $40 was about right, I found, and after giving it some thought, I realized I would just regret it if I didn't go back for them. Both books are out of print; I didn't go to Pennsic and spend lots of money there; I haven't been keeping up with the literature on my hobby for years now; so the next day I went back and bought both.

So that was fun, but I had already been thinking this week about a Saturday visit to John K. King Books in Detroit (check out the YouTube videos at the link). I tried to persuade Skalla-Geirmundr to go with me, but he was busy being responsible or something. John K. King is the biggest bookseller in Michigan, advertising 900,000 books. It is a spectacular experience, quite like visiting an academic library but being able to buy the books (well, an academic library with a somewhat haphazard collection, but still...). Five or six floors of an old factory building right downtown on W. Lafayette, just what you'd want a big city used bookstore to be. I knew from experience that they have excellent sections on history, cooking and art, just to note some of my interests. Strangely enough, I haven't been there in about ten years, although my infrequent visits always produced wonderful results back in the 90s. It's not really that much fun, getting to that spot in downtown Detroit all the way from Flint. No, it's not a safety issue, downtown Detroit is perfectly fine with me. It's the traffic, construction and accident backups. I've driven in a lot of big cities, but Detroit's the only one I really try to avoid - things are never going smoothly, the way they do on the average visit to Chicago. Half the place is always torn up for construction, because Michigan can't be bothered to build the roads to proper tolerances to begin with; we'd rather repair them every other other year. I mean, Washington DC is less annoying, even with very much heavier traffic and much more aggressive drivers.

Sure enough, I 75 was backed up, so I found myself on a tedious crawl on surface streets to M 10, the Lodge Freeway. That went quickly, thankfully.

I had originally meant to get there early and spend all day visiting each floor, but my local medievalist extravagance suggested a more disciplined approach. The cooking section for cocktail books and medieval cookery; the medieval and English and French history sections; the military section for medieval items were my targets. So I never made it above the 2nd floor, but I had one of the more productive bookstore visits I've ever had. I found (pertinent to the topic of this blog, anyway):

Food and Feast in Tudor England by Alison Sims.
Art, Culture and Cuisine; Ancient and Medieval Gastronomy by Phyllis Pray Bober.

I'd read both but didn't own them. Both are beautiful hardcovers with dustcovers, both were very attractively priced, much better than I could've done on eBay or Amazon.

The Medieval Soldier; 15th Century Campaign Life Recreated in Colour Photographs by Gerry Embleton and John Howe.
Crecy 1346; Anatomy of a Battle by Henri de Wailly.

The price for these two I can only describe as derisory. $18 for the pair. Both are immaculate; the Embleton and Howe book looks brand new and still bears a sticker for $65 on the back cover. I had never even seen the book outside of libraries, and had little hope of finding it for a reasonable price. I'm unfamiliar with the Crecy 1346 book, although I've read a good deal of more recent books on the topic, so I'm not sure about it, but it looks good. I don't know if it was written in English by the author, all of whose other books I can find are clearly French language texts, or if it is translated, but the translator is not named. We'll see. By the way, there are several books on the Battle of Crecy with almost identical titles; this one was published in 1987. I'm hoping for a strong French point of view, as most books on the topic are written from an English perspective.

On another occasion, comments on other good bookstores in Michigan.


Tracy said...

We missed you and Cathy at Pennsic, still hope to see you there someday for longer then an hour. The bookstore visit sounds wonderful, I know we had talked about going several times and never made it. Maybe someday...Hope you're doing well.


Tracy said...
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