Bookshelf: Kenneth Graham Collection

Featured in Autograph January 2009

HolmesThe Grolier Club has again shown its consistency in publishing handsome, reasonably-priced publications worthwhile to book and autograph collectors alike. This time it’s an exhibition catalog that collectors and wannabe-collectors of literary autographs will wish to explore.

“Wayfarers All”: Selections from the Kenneth Grahame Collection of David J. Holmes introduces an author whose most famous book, the 1908 Wind in the Willows, has far eclipsed his few others and even his own name. Grahame was born in Scotland in 1859 and died in England in 1932, and today how work is quite neglected among literate Americans.

David Holmes—soft-spoken, articulate, with a wealth of knowledge—is the only dealer in this country I can think of gutsy enough to specialize in fine literary autographs, primarily 18th through 20th century English and American. Luckily his own collecting passion fell on Grahame, and who better to understand this reticent and introspective writer. In a perceptive “Collector’s Statement,” Holmes notes:

“I do not remember the exact moment when I decided to collect Kenneth Grahame. Perhaps I was collecting him before I knew it. As an admirer of his prose, I had purchased Grahame’s letters for my shop’s inventory, and they sparked my interest. They hinted at a mentality that seemed to be, curiously, both restrained and poetic, of the world and yet not of the world….”

“Wayfarers All” presents descriptions of 63 items from Holmes’ collection, exhibited at the Grolier Club’s beautiful building on East 60th Street between March 19 and May 23. Of these 63 pieces, 24 are illustrated–mostly autographs and original artwork, plus a few books. While most of the exhibit represents primo Grahame material, Holmes fleshes this portrait out nicely by including some illustrators, authors, publishers and others closely associated with Grahame.

The chapter on Grahame’s first book, for instance, the 1893 Pagan Papers, features a fine Grahame postcard regarding the proof sheets for this book, the British limited edition of the book, a printed announcement for it and a letter from Grahame’s publisher William Ernest Henley. The chapter on his second book, The Golden Age (1895), contains two copies of the first English edition (one with a 1926 TLS from Grahame discussing it, the other with a presentation inscription from Grahame), an ALS from Grahame to the U.S. publisher discussing this book, the first English edition with Maxfield Parrish illustrations inscribed by the publisher to the poet A.C. Swinburne, the first edition with Ernest H. Shepard (of Winnie the Pooh fame) illustrations limited and signed by Grahame and Shepard, and a lovely Parrish ALS discussing the original Golden Age artwork.

And so it goes. Subsequent chapters, each featuring a modest number of choice and relevant items, cover every Grahame book (including A.A. Milne’s Toad of Toad Hall, a dramatization of The Wind in the Willows, and a chapter on books which Grahame edited or contributed to). Of course The Wind in the Willows, Grahame’s blockbuster, gets star treatment, triple in length and number of illustrations as the other chapters. There’s a letter from Constance Smedley, English feminist and writer, who prodded Grahame into writing his masterpiece, and a signed postcard photograph of Theodore Roosevelt, who urged Charles Scribner into taking Grahame’s manuscript seriously; a first U.S. edition, “One of a very small known number of inscribed copies”; a first English edition, inscribed by Grahame to his older sister; an ALS from the English publisher A.M.S. Methuen congratulating Grahame on the book; a lengthy ALS from Grahame thanking a reviewer of the book, and on and on. If you’re a Wind in the Willows fan, or simply appreciate nice literary material, it will take your breath away.

Not to sound like every infomercial, but—that’s not all! Then comes a truly killer assortment of original artwork by Shepard, Paul Bransom, Arthur Rackham.

Illustrations throughout are clear and sharp, though rarely printed at 100 percent actual size due to the book’s trim size. As a collection of Grahame exemplars for authentication and research purposes, this exhibition catalog cannot be beat and serious collectors should want it for that reason alone. David Holmes and the Grolier Club provide a real service to the autograph collecting community in sharing their appreciation and expertise of this rather neglected author.

For many years now I’ve had a lovely modern slipcased edition of The Wind in the Willows gracing my library. It’s in pristine condition—the cover’s never been cracked. Like so many, it was on my books-to-be-read-when-time-permits-(but rarely does)-list, those classic titles every educated person is expected to have read. Thanks to David Holmes first-rate collection and his ability to impart enthusiasm for Grahame, I’ll be pulling that volume off the shelf tonight.

In the Trenches: Politi-graphs

Featured in Autograph January 2009

John McCain signing his book in San Diego, Calif.

My two least favorite types of autographs to collect are politicians and astronauts. So, when about four years ago, Hillary Clinton held a book signing, I had no interest in going. She was a first lady, not a president. And people lined up at the book store at 4 a.m. for a signing that started at noon.

When Clinton was in her fight for the nomination with Barack Obama, the idea of getting an autograph from someone who could’ve become part of history as the first female to be president sounded better to me. I got the inside scoop that she was going to be at a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., just outside of San Diego.

When I got there, fans, newscasters and cameras were lined up. Sadly, it was one of the few times she didn’t stop to sign a bunch of autographs. In the ’50s, politicians kissed babies. Today they stop to sign numerous campaign signs for fans, which is great for people in this hobby.

Christmas in Plains signed by Jimmy Carter.

I had better luck with former President Jimmy Carter. He’s often at book signings. One newspaper reported that at one book store, Carter was averaging 1,000 signatures an hour.

The book store had a line around it of a few hundred. People could buy up to five books each, and he’d sign them as an employee set them on the table, opened to the proper page. It was like a big assembly line.

I brought my parents with me. My stepdad wanted to meet him. And, I knew they’d buy me the 10 books I wanted. I told my stepdad the Secret Service might frisk him and to make sure there’s no mace or anything in his fanny pack. (I hate to admit it—my stepdad has a fanny pack; the mace was a carryover from his days as letter carrier who had to deal with dogs.)

As we walked in, the Secret Service pulled my stepdad aside. They noticed a pocket knife dangling from his keychain. It was removed.

John McCain and the author meet.

As usual, Carter was signing, “J Carter.” I asked if he could sign one of my books with his full name. He didn’t look up, but signed one in his full name. My stepdad told Carter how much he appreciated everything he did. He went on for a minute, and Carter stopped signing, smiled and thanked him, as they shook hands.

As we left, my stepdad’s pocket knife was returned.

I thought these books would make a nice addition to my political autographs, which consisted only of a Nixon book (one that was offered to the news director of my radio station when Nixon was alive; he promptly gave it to me) and a likely autopenned 8×10 of New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley. I wrote to Bradley as a kid because I was more impressed with him from his playing days with the New York Knicks.

When John McCain came to town for a booksigning, it was well before he announced a run for the presidency. But I suspected he’d run. And at that time, I thought he’d win.

Character is Destiny signed by Senator John McCain.

The line was long, but there were no Secret Service to deal with. He signed his book for me, and a book marker. People were going around the table to have their picture taken with him, so I did as well. I asked him how often he’s asked to sign autographs. He said, “Not as often as celebrities get asked. I can go through an airport without being noticed. There are people that ask, and I always try to sign.”

When John McCain lost the election, I assume it made the value of my book drop by about $100. But since I voted for Obama, I figured it was a fair trade off.

Elmore Leonard

Featured in Autograph January 2009

About 15 years ago, I flew to Michigan to do a story on Elmore Leonard, the crime writer Time magazine had called the “Dickens of Detroit” and Newsweek labeled “the best American writer of crime fiction alive, possibly the best we’ve ever had.” Leonard lived in an exclusive suburb called Bloomfield Village and some of his neighbors were professional basketball players and heart surgeons. I remember him smiling at the television as he listened to the ramblings of the loquacious boxing promoter Don King. It wasn’t what King was saying that made Leonard happy, but the way he said it. “Man, listen to the rhythm of those words,” he said as I joined him in his living room.

It was the sound that impressed Elmore Leonard; just as it was the sound that impressed critics who admired the virtues of his books. The sound of Elmore Leonard is the sound of the street, the sound of the hustler and the con man, the drinker and the drunkard, the cop and the killer. It’s the sound of people talking and dealing in Detroit, New Orleans, and South Florida. Listen as Leonard describes the lower end of Miami Beach: “the neighborhood taken over by junkies, muggers, cutthroats, queers…Cubans off the boat-lift, Haitians who had swum ashore when their boats broke to pieces, old-time New York Jews once the backbone, eyeing each other with nothing remotely in common, not even the English language. The vampires came out at night and the old people triple-locked their doors and waited for morning—ass-end of Miami Beach down here.”

Leonard signed next to his picture in the Lord John Press book of writers, Signatures.

And what do these “vampires” talk about? “Shooting a woman and understanding a woman are two entirely different things,” says one of his bad guys in Killshot. “If I notched my gun butt you’d get splinters running your hand on it, you dink,” says another in Gold Coast. And in City Primeval, his bad guy, Clement, gets his lawyer Carolyn to pay him: “‘What you think I’m gonna do to you huh? Tell me.’…Clement drew his right hand out of [her] caftan, bringing it down past his own hip, curled the hand into a fist and grunted, going up on his toes, as he drove the fist into Carolyn’s stomach.”

If you’re not familiar with Leonard’s world you probably haven’t been reading much crime fiction in the last four decades. Elmore Leonard’s been around since the early ’50s, but it wasn’t until Newsweek put him on its cover in 1985 and he made a multi-million dollar book deal soon after when his books began to attract national attention and reach the best-seller lists.

“The New York Times has said that my books are about decent men in trouble,” Leonard says. “I suppose that’s as good a description as any. I don’t analyze my work other than to know that the good guy is not always good or he has weaknesses, and the bad guy can behave normally at times. The only premise I begin with is that my characters are human beings and I’m going to treat them honestly, despite their inclinations—not approving of those who commit criminal acts, but rather accepting the fact impersonally, without making moral judgments.”

Signed and inscribed title page by Leonard to Grobel.

Leonard is a champion of the blue collar worker. He describes men who are as handy with a 30-pound impact wrench as with a hammer and saw. Like his heroes, the photographer and ex-secret service man Joe La Brava, in La Brava, Leonard has felt himself attracted to street life. “It was a strange feeling, he was at home, knew the people; saw more outcast faces and attitudes than he would ever be able to record, people who showed him their essence behind all kinds of poses.”

He writes knowingly of towing barges and building skyscrapers, of wiring explosives to cars and how many incisions are needed to embalm a body. His books detail his fascination with guns, comparing Belgian FN-FAL’s to AK-47s, or discussing how to convert an AR-15 Colt into an M-16. His good guys often walk the edge between ambivalence and temptation; and his bad guys are not without ambition. Some want to con millions from their employers; others want to rob a bank in every state of the union except Alaska.

Signed and inscribed title page by Leonard to Grobel.

One might think that a man who writes about such things grew up in tough neighborhoods, had a father who was either a cop or a hood, fought his way through school and probably spent some time behind bars where he picked up the lingo he uses with such a sure hand. But it wasn’t like that at all for Elmore Leonard, who was born in New Orleans on October 11, 1925.

His father worked for General Motors and the family moved between Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan and Tennessee six times in nine years, finally settling in Detroit in 1934, when Elmore was 9. In high school a friend teased him about his first name and started calling him Dutch, after the knuckleball pitcher for the Washington Senators. The nickname stuck. When he was 17 he tried to enlist in the Marines but was rejected because of an eye problem. A year later he joined the Navy reserves and wound up maintaining airstrips in New Guinea. In 1949 he enrolled at the University of Detroit and married his college sweetheart, Beverly Cline. By 1965 he was the father of four.

Signed and inscribed title page by Leonard to Grobel.

Leonard had various jobs before he could live off his writing. He worked for an advertising firm, became a copywriter, and wrote for industrial movies and short films for the Encyclopædia Britannica. Before his early novels started appearing in 1954-56, he wrote for pulp magazines like Dime Western and Zane Grey’s Western. And what he learned about writing he never forgot. “I think the mistake most beginners make—they’re more concerned with creating something that sounds like writing, with clever images, descriptive passages, than they are with discovering their own basic attitude about putting words on paper. They want to have written before they know why they want to write or realize it’s going to take at least 10 years to begin to learn how and to realize that style comes out of attitude, not the clever arrangement of words.”

Over time, Elmore Leonard’s attitude caught on.

Signed and inscribed title page by Leonard to Grobel.

A prolific writer who composes in long hand and never uses a computer, Leonard’s novels have been translated into 16 languages including Czech, Greek and Hebrew. All of his work is still in print, and 27 of his stories have been made into movies for either television or features, including the westerns Hombre (Paul Newman), 3:10 to Yuma (Glenn Ford and Van Heflin in 1957; Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in 2007) and the crime films Get Shorty (John Travolta), Jackie Brown (based on Leonard’s Rum Punch, starring Pam Grier), and Out of Sight (George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez). Killshot, starring Mickey Rourke and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and executive produced by Quentin Tarantino is in the can and awaiting a release date.

Signed and inscribed title page by Leonard to Grobel.

A former heavy drinker and a member of A.A., it was his personal battle with alcohol that led to the disintegration of his first marriage after 27 years. His experience with the bottle brought out some of his sharpest, most descriptive writing. In Freaky Deaky he describes the ritual upchucking the morning after: “…being sick was part of waking up…cleaning up a bathroom looked like somebody had been killing chickens in it.” Then, once the mess was cleaned, came the day’s first drink: “Vodka sitting on the toilet tank while you took a shower, something to hold you till the bars opened at seven.”

In 1977 he took his last drink and married for the second time to Joan Shepherd in 1979. When she died of lung cancer in 1992, Leonard, acknowledging that he “needed to be married,” found the woman who would become his third wife in his backyard. She was Christine Kent, who was in charge of the gardening crew that took care of his flower beds. He was taken by her knowledge of movies and books, and eight months after his second wife’s passing they were married.

The “O.J. dinner” at Grobel’s home. Back row: Kathy and Lawrence Schiller (who wrote O.J. Simpson’s book, I Want to Tell You, plus one of his own, American Tragedy), Grobel’s wife, Hiromi, (whose food is the real reason anyone ever comes over), Grobel and Leonard. Front row: Diane Keaton (who invited herself once she heard who was coming and what the theme was), Dominick Dunne (who covered the Simpson trial for Vanity Fair) and Leonard’s wife, Christine.

Leonard brought Christine to my house in June 1995 when I invited them to join an “O.J. dinner” my wife and I planned. This was during the O.J. Simpson trial, a time when I’d often find my wife sitting in front of the TV talking back to the lawyers or witnesses—my wife rarely watched TV, but this trial altered her routine. We’d see Lawrence Schiller and Dominick Dunne at the trial—Schiller wrote Simpson’s I Want To Tell You book and would later write his own best-selling book about the trial; Dunne covered it for Vanity Fair—and since I knew both of them, I suggested we invite them for dinner, include Elmore Leonard since he made his living writing about bad guys, and see what we might learn of what was going on behind-the-scenes. When all three accepted I mentioned it to Diane Keaton when we spoke and she invited herself. “I want to hear what they have to say,” she said.

The dinner was entertaining and enlightening. Both Schiller and Dunne are captivating guests, sharing stories about their lives as investigative journalists and about their insights into the Simpson trial. Leonard and Keaton were happy to listen to what was being said, and I knew that Dutch was filing away the stories for future use in his fiction. He also told us about his early years breaking in as a writer.

Handwritten letter from Leonard to the author in February 1991.

“Publishers have always liked my work,” Leonard said, “but were unable to sell it because it didn’t fit neatly into a category. At least that’s what they told me, that my work was sort of a hybrid. Not literary, but not pure thriller either; because the people in the story are noticeably more important than the plot. The publishers kept insisting that if they couldn’t label my books, or if I didn’t have a continuing character, they couldn’t sell them.”

This might explain why Leonard kicked around from publisher to publisher since 1953, from Houghton Mifflin to Doubleday to Dell, Ballantine, Bantam, Fawcett Gold Medal, Dodd Mead, Avon, Arbor House, William Morrow, Mysterious Press. He settled down with Delacorte, feeling “more comfortable than I’ve even been” with them.

“Early on I got a good idea of what I could do and what I couldn’t,” Leonard said when discussing his writing. “Based on that, I try to move the story with as much dialogue as possible and concentrate on the characters. I don’t write effectively in the traditional manner of narrative writing, in telling a story with language, with my words. I don’t have enough words to do that, so in lieu of that I approach it from the standpoint of the characters. I’m not sure of my ability to describe what’s going on; to me it’s more interesting to let the characters do it—that way, you not only find out what’s going on, but you also learn something about the character. You’re doing two things at once. I’m not good at imagery, similes and metaphors. If they’re not good they’re very, very distracting. I said that to Joyce Carol Oates once and she said, ‘Well, so much for Shakespeare.’ But Raymond Chandler’s tarantula on a piece of angel food cake—that kind of metaphor distracts you from the story. You’re picturing the metaphor and you are away from the story.”

To maintain his “sound” for the 400 or so manuscript pages that comprise a Leonard novel, he feels he has to lose himself in the story and not think of what he’s doing as writing. “I don’t want the reader to be aware of me as the writer,” he says. “The Village Voice a few years ago said I did this so successfully no one knew who I was.”

A note from Leonard asking what happened to the photographer for his interview. Playboy editors decided to hire David Levine to draw a full-page caricature of Leonard, so they never sent a photographer.

Of course since 1985, a lot of people know who Leonard is—especially collectors. First editions of his first three novels: The Bounty Hunters, The Law at Randado and Escape from Five Shadows sell between $2,500 to $6,500. The first edition paperback of Hombre sells for $1,250. The Moonshine War goes for $1,000, Fifty-Two Pickup for $750. Unknown Man 89, The Gold Coast and The Switch are listed over $500 on the AbeBooks website. In other words, collecting Elmore Leonard is a better investment than most stocks. And as long as he is able (he’s 82 now) he appears at bookstores and signs. His next book, called Road Dogs, will be published in June 2009. “Jack Foley’s back,” Leonard told me, “but we can’t get Clooney to read it.”

“If I sell 150,000 in hardcover and a million-and-one in paperback, that’s about it,” he reflects. “I probably reached my peak unless I come up with a real good idea, a story that is just so smashing that everyone will have to read it, something that hasn’t been done. But I’m more happy right now than I’ve ever been. I haven’t compromised much. I’ve stayed with what I wanted to do. And I try to make each book better.”

Book Collector: Let’s Hear it for the Boys and Their Autographs


Featured in Autograph January 2008

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. signed this promotional postcard for his 2007 BCPAC lecture at the University of Pittsburgh.

Named after his famous father, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has carried on his family’s mission of helping the world to become a better place. This Kennedy’s particular crusade is saving the environment from destruction at the hands of greedy corporations and everyday citizens. As the country’s most prominent environmental attorney, RFK Jr. has also used his pen to further his activism, writing two books about the environment, Crimes Against Nature and The Riverkeepers (co-authored with John Cronin). In addition, he wrote a children’s book, St. Francis of Assisi (after whom he’s also named) and his first book, 1977’s Judge Frank M. Johnson: A Biography.

RFK Jr. inscribed and signed a page in his book, Crimes Against Nature

Last April, I had the pleasure of attending RFK Jr.’s lecture and signing at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. He spoke for nearly an hour and half, and never used a note! Naturally, for the signing afterwards, I went armed with his three most recent books, as well as the Playbill and promotional postcard for the event. Kennedy flew through the signing, appearing to be rushed and even distracted at times. My comment to him about me being named after St. John Evangelist, in relating to his own


namesake, St. Francis, was completely ignored. However, to his credit, he stayed until everything was signed.


Barack Obama

Obama's first book, Dreams of My Father, featuring what appears to be an autopen signature.

When Barack Obama burst onto the scene at the 2004 Democratic

National Convention, I, like millions of others, became enamored by his powerful aura. I immediately read his first book, Dreams from My Father, and I loved it. Then, after Obama became the new Senator from Illinois, I devoured his second book, The Audacity of Hope.

What, then, is a collector to do? Most certainly, send the two books off to be signed, especially when considering that, even at the time, it was clear Obama was going to make a run for the White House. In early 2007, I mailed the two books to his Capitol Hill office. Many weeks later, the books arrived back in my mailbox. My initial elation, however, was soon dampened, when upon close inspection, I noticed that both signatures were identical, except where one trailed off a little longer at the end. The culprit, I suspect, was a busy autopen machine employed by an even busier senator and presidential candidate. It looks as though he plays by the same through-the-mail autograph rules as Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Obama's second book, The Audacity of Hope, with a signature nearly identitcal to the one in Dreams from My Father.

As with any alleged autopen usage, I’ll let you, my book collecting friends, be the ultimate judge after you’ve examined the images yourself. In Obama’s defense, I have noticed him signing up a storm, in-person, on the campaign trail.


Terry McAuliffe

Terry McAuliffe signed this bookplate in his book, What a Party! The title page is signed by his wife, Dorothy, and daughter, Sally.

Terry McAuliffe is a longtime political and fundraising mastermind who served as the energetic Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005 and then assumed the role of campaign chairman for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s historic 2008 bid for the presidency. I caught up with McAuliffe at his 2007 Washington, D.C. 50th birthday party/launch party for his book, What a Party! And what a party it was, with a who’s who of our capital’s social scene, including a star-studded appearance and remarks by Senator Clinton (she also led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to the author).

A true sign of style: Every one of the nearly 1,000 guests received a book with a signed bookplate (all were handsigned). Of course, I also sought out McAuliffe’s beautiful wife, Dorothy, to autograph my book. At the time, McAuliffe’s young daughter, Sally, was standing with her mother, so I asked her to ink the book as well.