I'm just back from a few days in New York - an end-of-summer break which included (the first time I've ever managed this) visits to two very contrasting second-hand book dealers. Strand Books, on Broadway and 12th near Union Square, boasts eighteen miles of books, and on the top floor has a very welcoming rare book room. I picked up there this signed copy of a title by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in my view the doyen of the Beat poets and the founder of the City Lights bookshop and imprint in San Francisco. He turns 100 next March.
Ferlinghetti has signed an awful lot of books over the years and this wasn't a first edition or anything like that - that was reflected in the modest price. I'm so pleased to have a signed Ferlinghetti.
Jose Alemany was a Catalan-American photographer with close links to the Spanish leftists; Ray Valinsky was a Pittsburgh-based Communist who gets passing mention in the minutes of the notorious House Committee on Un-American Activities.
I asked in the rare book room if they had anything in the way of political pamphlets - nothing, it seemed. But a trawl round the shelves proved them wrong. I came across these really nice anarchist propaganda pieces from a century and more ago:
And top marks for the Strand's very apposite selection of badges - I love them almost as much as old pamphlets:
The following day I came across a very different type of book store - the by-appointment-only Jumel Terrace Books near Sugar Hill in Harlem, approximately 150 blocks north of Strand Books, It's run by an exceptionally knowledgeable bibliophile and librarian, Kurt Thometz, whose passion is for West African pamphlets, often libidinous in nature, and also extends to African and African-American literature and politics.
He's also an enthusiast for the American radical Aaron Burr, vice-president during Thomas Jefferson's first term and now destined forever to be remembered as the man who shot dead Hamilton, the guy the musical is about, in a duel. Burr once lived in a very stylish mansion just across the road from Kurt's place.
A real treat to meet Kurt, see some of his library and his wonderful brown stone house - and yes, I did buy a few items. Take a look ...
The first time I visited New York was three days after 9/11 - there was still a huge plume of dust and smoke rising from Ground Zero.
Last week I visited Ground Zero again, just days after bin Laden's death. It's not given closure to the pain of that attack, but it felt to me that the killing of bin Laden had helped to draw a line.
I was struck by how little triumphalism was on display in the city. There were some 'Obama got Osama' T-shirts for sale, but you had to look hard to find them. And I had to scour even further to find these 'Mission Accomplished: 05 01 11' badges, themselves a fairly restrained commentary on the operation against the ObL compound in Abbottabad.
The only, and I do mean only, celebratory placard on display near Ground Zero was in the name of - wait for it - the Mumbai branch of the BJP.
Mumbai has also of course suffered immensely at the hands of jihadi attackers. And the wording of the sign is hardly inflammatory. Still, to me it struck an awkward note.
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