Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - December - 2008 Issue

Objects of Obscure Desire from ReadInk

Readink1

The first catalogue from ReadInk of Los Angeles.


By Michael Stillman

We don't often receive a Catalog Number 1, but here is the first from Los Angeles bookseller ReadInk. ReadInk has been in business for over a decade, and proprietor Howard Prouty says that this catalogue has been a dream for a long time. He notes that number 2 is already being planned, but for now we will focus on number one. The title is Objects of Obscure Desire, which describes the catalogue well while itself being obscure. What is in here?

These are mostly works of popular culture. Some might think that appellation dismissive, but it is nothing of the sort. These are the books regular people were reading and consulting, maybe you, more likely your parents or grandparents. The concentration is in works published during the second quarter of the 20th century, although the third quarter is well represented too. These books are fascinating looks at American culture, from the depths of the Depression to the optimistic post-war years.

ReadInk has broken the catalogue into many subjects. Among them are mystery, movies, various types of fiction, African Americana, New York, the West, newspapers, working during the Depression, boxing, and the WPA American Guides. Here are a few samples of the fun that is in store.

James J. Braddock (the "J" incongruously stood for "Walter") was one of those forgotten Pre-Joe Louis 1930s heavyweight champions. He was one of five in a row to win the championship, only to lose it in his first title defense. Braddock can be forgiven because his loss came to Louis, who would hold the title for over a decade. Braddock was reintroduced to celebrity status in 2005 through the film biography of his career, Cinderella Man, with Russell Crowe playing Braddock. The reason for a film about Braddock was his remarkable comeback. After a fast start during the 1920s, injuries to his hand sent the fighter into a tailspin. Over the next few years he lost twice as many fights as he won, and spent much of the time working on the docks to make a living. He then managed something of a comeback, but was still a 10-1 underdog when he stepped into the ring with champion Max Baer in 1935. The journeyman was expected to be an easy target for the champion, but Braddock kept coming at Baer until he won the decision. It is still one of the greatest upsets in boxing history. Offered is a copy of Relief to Royalty: The Story of James J. Braddock, World's Heavyweight Champion, by Lud (pseudonym for Ludwig Shabazian). Published in 1936, this biography, like the movie, only takes us through Braddock's fight with Baer. He did not fight again until 1937, when he lost his title defense to Louis. He fought only once more before retiring. Priced at $1,200.

Here is one of those works of fiction that is too close to truth for comfort: The Rat Factory, by J.M. Ryan, published in 1971. It is a satirical story about an egomaniac cartoon creator who bears a certain resemblance to one Walt Disney. Among his characters are Ricky Rat, Dizzy Duck, Dirty Dog, and Halfwit Hog. Are all cartoon animals alliterate? $100.

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