Thursday, November 28, 2013

Después de la Muerte by Léon Denis or, A Super Brief Introduction to the Opportunity Cost of Rare Book Collecting

So I hear someone paid 14.165 million bucks (that is not a typo) for the Bay Psalm Book of 1640, the first book printed in North America-- in English, let's be sure to add, because the first book printed in North America was printed in Mexico City, almost 100 years earlier, in 1539. It was Breve y mas compendiosa doctrina Christiana en lengua Mexicana y Castellana by Padre Juan de Zumárraga and the printer was Giovanni Paoli, known as Juan Pablos in Mexico. Well, take that and put it on your taco!

My own latest rare book acquisition, of a Mexican book of 1906 from a used / antiquarian bookshop in Mexico City, was a far more modest purchase-- but important in its way. This three minute video that shows some pages from the book is in Spanish-- but if your Spanish is rusty, no worries, you'll get the idea if you know that Francisco I. Madero was the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution and President of Mexico 1911-1913.

How much did I shell out for it? Well, let me put it this way: instead, I could have purchased:

1/2 of one Luchese cowboy boot
Maybe one could hold the 1/2 boot
onto one's calf with an
extra large rubber band? 


1 pair hot pink (pourquoi pas?) Doc Martens

Alas, I lack the coordinating wardrobe.


25 pounds of roasted unsalted peanuts.

Rare books pricing is a rather mysterious endeavor. Bring your pendulum.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Selections from Gregory Gibson's Bookman's Log

An especially fine blog has recently started blinking on my radar: Bookman's Log by Gregory Gibson, author (Hubert's Freaks, among others) and rare book dealer with Ten Pound Island Books. A few favorite posts (in no particular order):

The House Call
People Who Have It Worse
Wiley Mammals
Rabbit Hole Publishing
A New Year's Recollection
She informed us that a local dealer had offered $10,000 for the library. I told her we’d pay her $15,000 if she’d let us pick through the collection and take what we wanted. Otherwise, we’d pay her $13,500 if we had to take it all. She cocked her head at this upside down proposition. Locusts screamed in the trees. Then she got it. “$13,500,” she smiled.


Monday, November 25, 2013


Just out in Literal 34, 2013, my double review of:


By John Tutino
Duke University Press, 2011
ISBN 978-0-8223-4989-1

Edited by John Tutino

University of Texas Press, 2012
ISBN 978-0-292-73718-1

Review originally published in Literal 34, 2013

The Bajío, a rich agricultural, mining and industrial region north of Mexico City, does not even appear on most English-speaking peoples' mental maps of Mexico. North of the U.S.-Mexico border, the best word to describe the image of Querétaro, the Bajío's first and still thriving major city, would probably be "obscure." And yet Querétaro, founded by Otomís and Franciscan friars in 1531, may be the hometown of capitalism-- so argues John Tutino in Making a New World: Founding Capitalism in the Bajío and Spanish North America, a nearly 700 page tour de force of original research heavy with appendices, yet with such a wealth of novelistic detail, the reading itself trips along like a novel.

While not denying the role of England and its North Atlantic colonies, Tutino points out that because they dominated the capitalist world after 1800, the origins and nature of what preceded it—sparked by Ming China's demand for silver and Spain's American colonies' ability to provide it—have been overlooked. The main early silver mines in the 16th century were Potosí in South America and Zacatecas, in the Bajío north of Mexico City. It was this nexus out of which flowered the international trade and culture of capitalism.

The "enduring presumption" that capitalism was "Europe's gift to the world (or plague upon it)," is the first Tutino explodes, and the second, that the conservative nature of Spanish Catholic culture could not nurture the innovation and creativity necessary for true capitalism, he attacks with a few life stories from the early days in the colonial Bajío, as it was expanding beyond traditional farming and mining into a more intricate and internationally connected commercial society. He gives their names, describes their accomplishments in trade, mining, farming, and various social honors and donations to the church, yet, to the reader's undoubted surprise, one is Otomí, one most likely descended from African slaves, and another, an Italian count. Tutino asserts:
"[T]the Bajío and Spanish North America were not ruled by a dominant Spanish state; they were not led by men more interested in honor than profit; they did not organize work mostly by coercion. Life was not ruled by rigid castes; communities were no constrained by an imposed Catholicism that inhibited debate. They were instead societies founded and led by powerful, profit-seeking entrepreneurs of diverse ancestry."
This dynamism of the Bajío and Spanish North America and its vital importance for understanding North American, and therefore the United States history itself, is reprised in Tutino's anthology, Mexico and Mexicans in the Making of the United States, with his essay, "Capitalist Foundations: Spanish North America, Mexico, and the United States." . . . READ MORE

Literal Magazine
My book reviews page
My ever-growing embryonic list of recommended books on Mexico.

P.S. My interview with John Tutino will be podcast #13 (hey, I say that is a lucky number!) in the Marfa Mondays Podcasting Project. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, I am still battling the fallout of the asteroid, that is, my new book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero's Spiritist Manual Introduced and Translated. Updates about that anon.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Animal Communicator

Watch the whole fascinating and beautifully filmed documentary by Craig Foster, featuring Anna Breytenbach, at Culture Unplugged.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Outré Amusements Edition

sweethoots on
Sweethoots: hatmaker to the pugs. Yes. Yes!

What to do with the selfies? (Don't give one to the Hexen Meisters, however.)

Scatological incident over the Bermunda Triangle, no less. (Very amusing).

Dig the wrapping paper concept: For when you're feeling a bit blasé about the Philippines and such.

Obviously, I am procrastinating... back to updating my website for Metaphysical Odyssey Into the Mexican Revolution. ' UPDATE: UPDATED.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Kid Lit Edition by Mary Lynn Patton

Mary Lynn Patton
My Tepoztlan amiga Mary Lynn Patton offers another guest-blog, this one her report on the recent Kid-Lit jamboree in Austin, Texas:

The Kid’s Lit Conference was held in Austin, Texas on November 8 & 9, 2013 with keynote speaker Cynthia Leitich Smith of the blog Cynsations noting aspects of a great blog. Her first recommendation is to have a central mission or philosophy to your blog. Hers is “diversity” which ties to her YA books on native Americans and other culturally diverse characters. Cynthia woke me up to the theme that runs through my writing of “believing in Mexico” and wanting to share the passion I have for my adopted country. This is what keeps me motivated and brings me energy and rewards for making stuff up for a living.
Pam Coughlin, conference organizer, contributor to the Cybils, and KidLit blogger at Mother Reader also did a session on blogs that reminds us to have our names clearly stated at the blog site no matter what our blog tag may be, like Madam Mayo (...don’t miss her November 11 post on self-publishing at the Writer’s Center).  Additionally, a reader should be able to find what books the blogger has written. And finally, post dates on blogs to give the reader an idea of how current is the writing. The rule for posting is “better to be regular than frequent”. Don’t miss Pam’s wonderful book giving ideas for the holidays on her website.
Biggest take away from attending a conference of bloggers in my writing genre was real connections with new friends. Exposure to a picture book reviewer like Rosemond Cates at Big Hair and Books  provided a wealth of new children’s books with excellent reviews.
My website blog at will see revisions that reflect these new ideas shared at the conference. I highly recommend attending a bloggers’ conference, especially in your writing area of interest.

>Check out Mary Lynn Patton's previous guest-blog, iWorld is Upon Us.
>Complete archive of Madam Mayo guest-bloggers, including Lisa Carter, Joanna Hershon, David Lida, and many more, here.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Internet Book Shopping Edition

The Norton Book Sofa
October and November were intense... no more books for me, Santa, but oh, do I want some of these Brodart book covers... (Why didn't I start buying and using them sooner?!?!)

The Norton book sofa: perfect for rare book collectors.

So whimsical: KnobCreek Metal Arts bookends on etsy.

A well so deep it must go to China: bodaciously great source of antiquarian books (and used whatnot) at

Not sure how to get started with rare book collecting? ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter  and Nicolas Barker. 

And do buy Leslie Pietrzyk's novels! P.S. Highlights of her recent talk for the Writer's Center's Leesburg First Friday series on writing short fiction and long fiction here.

Books, books, books! Bookman's Log!

For Baja Buffs and soon-to-be-Baja Buffs: Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico. 

The rest of the gang is here.

P.S. I'll be posting my top 10 reads for the year in the next couple of weeks. Last year's, topped by Sara Mansfield Taber's lyrical Born Under an Assumed Name, is here.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Miscellaneous Neat Stuff Edition

Write Your Own Academic Sentence
Apparently the latest mind-blower is an Interactive Dynamic Shape Display.

Those British pod-like self-driving thingies. (Once again, hat tip to Marginal Revolution).

Who would have thought? A major Mexico collection in Hawaii.

Wordoid a creative naming service. (Which reminds me of Write Your Own Academic Sentence.)
Write Your Own Academic Sentence

Oh, Karma, you are just so fab.

And oh, such very bloggable bee loafers. (For socialite apiculturalists?)

Nancy Marie Brown on Icelandic Witchcraft.

Chip Kidd says Good is Dead. Well, OK.

Write Your Own Academic Sentence

More anon.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Self-Publishing for all the Right Reasons (Reporting on The Writer's Center's "Publish Now!" Seminar)

Last month I gave a talk for the Writer's Center's "Publish Now! digital publishing seminar-- such a hoppin' topic that it sold out before I could even alert my own writer friends and workshop students. Unlike how-to-get-published conferences of yore, which inevitably featured the panels of nose-in-the-air agents and the other panel of nose-in-the-air editors, all trying to out-groan the others about their Himalayan "slush piles," this one had, among the attendees, a number of previously well-published authors-- and by well-published I mean, you know, the big famous NY agent, the big famous NY publishing house, reviews in the New York Times, and so on and so forth. (Wannabes might imagine glowing reviews and invitations to glamorous parties falling like little showers of lotus petals upon said authors' heads... Uyy! That's another blog post.)

One of the speakers at "Publish Now!" was my fellow Writers Center board member, historical biographer Ken Ackerman, who found that his big NY publisher wasn't interested in reprinting his Young J. Edgar Hoover-- even though the Leonardo DiCaprio movie was about to come out (!) In the seminar, Ackerman talked about how he then plunged into self-publishing and, step by step, put together the paperback POD (print on demand) editions of Young J. Edgar Hoover-- and his other biographies, all then languishing in publisher's warehouses or effectively out-of-print-- through CreateSpace and Lightning Source, plus ebooks for Kindle, iTunes and Nook. He held up the four self-published new paperback editions of his books and my, they did look beautifully designed. Seriously, Ken, you are an inspiration.

As another well-published writer friend of mine put it, we authors are suffering from "an erosion of support" from our publishing houses. Well, in my own case, this is indeed the case with some of my publishers, but certainly not all. Over the years I've had several books placed with an array of publishers, from international corporate behemoths (Planeta and Random House Mondadori) to university presses (Georgia and Utah), small presses (Milkweed Editions, Unbridled Books, Whereabouts Press) and.. drum roll... yes, I have self-published.

It used to be that self-publishing was for those whose work was not up-to-snuff or who were too naive or lazy or easily intimidated by the traditional publishing process. Yes, there has always been some work of great but not commercial value, but in a word, "self-published" was not a label anyone with a shred of ambition would want-- unless they were Walt Whitman, but that's another blog post. And today self-publishing is wide open-- it doesn't even require money to do a Kindle, and compared to the past, very little to do a paperback, so just about anyone can publish just about anything. And therefore, we have an unimaginably vast and exponentially growing mountain of... well, let's just say I do not know how to appreciate most of it.

But I did self-publish back in the Crustaceous, I mean, 2002, with The Visitors / Los visitantes, which is the second chapter of my memoir, Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico, a book that was published by the University of Utah Press in 2002 and Milkweed Editions paperback in 2007. (And much later, the ebook of Los visitantes, pictured left, by Yours Truly.) It was both time consuming and expensive-- back then POD wasn't really done, that I know of, so I had a professionally designed cover and interior and the whole thing was offset printed in Canada. (And not to mention the design and printing, boy howdy was shipping expensive.) But I was able to sell a few of the books and give away more, and no doubt this helped more readers find Miraculous Air. In all, a learning experience. I was not eager to repeat it, however. But ebooks, that is another story. Yes, some headaches with formatting and figuring out to work with the iBooks Author app and Kindle. But in all, compared to the past, it is jump-up-and-down cheap and easy. I love it! Why?

(1) No cash.
(2) No expensive designers.
(3) No printing.
(4) No shipping.
(5) No having to give up space in the garage. And best of all,

In other words, when someone orders one of my ebooks on or iTunes, all I have to do is wait... I will get paid. I don't have to provide an invoice to individual customers, I don't have to ship anything. Oh, wonderful, wonderful.

Basically, once you get your ebook up there on or iTunes, what you have is a variable rate annuity. Probably with a very low yield-- indeed, for most authors, a Kindle edition of their book won't earn back the cost of their time and trouble. But should things change, the upside is the moon. What's interesting-- to say the same thing a little differently-- is that the marginal cost of increasing supply to meet any increase in demand is essentially zero. Whether one person or 100,000 people download your ebook, it doesn't matter; they click, they get.

Another speaker at Publish Now!, also a fellow Writer's Center board member (bless his heart), was novelist Neal Gillen, author of the memoir 1954 Adventures in New York. He gave us an overview of his experience and the various pros and cons of the the various self-publishing services. (Takeaway: you're probably going to be happiest with's Createspace.)

Barbara Esstman
Of course the importance of editing-- that step so disdained, and to their detriment, by most self-publishers-- was underscored by novelist and freelance editor Barbara Esstmann.

For last year's "Publish Now!" seminar I gave the talk-- her title-- "The Manuscript is Ready -- or Is It?-- What's Next?".

My own talk focused on travel writing and interactive books. I mentioned my own ebooks, Podcasting for Writers, From Mexico to Miramar or Across the Lake of Oblivion, and others, and for examples from the cutting edge, Mary Lynn Patton's children's iBooks with sounds, including Sounds of Mexican Beaches, and Rich Shapero's Too Far.

P.S. I lifted that title, "self-publishing for all the right reasons," from Kevin Kelly. Check out all he has to say about his latest nondigital self-publishing venture here.

More anon. Much more.


Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Cyberflanerie: John Waters Appreciation Edition

I just look at him and want to laugh-- with him. He's a sort of Edgar Allen Poe x David Byrne x Ichabod Crane x Andy Warhol x Diane Vreeland (if she ever had anything to do with Baltimore)-- beyond brilliant. Not that I relish the movies (the few I've watched seemed to me wince-worthy, at best, Divine divinely and hilariously gross). What I appreciate, sincerely, is his joy as an artist. And I almost went to Baltimore the other weekend after the Writer's Center's "Publish Now!" seminar (more about that anon). But then I didn't. Oh well. The crab cakes can wait. But not my appreciation of John Waters.

John Water's Marfa poster
"Eat food all the same color!.. Pretend to see the Marfa Lights!... The Jonestown of minimalism!" Note, my chickadeecitos, that it is priced at $3,000 and sold out.

The Bat Segundo Interview podcast

The Vanity Fair Proust Questionnaire

The New Yorker calls him ... something not so nice

Interview at the Nervous Breakdown

NYT explains the "Odarama"

Dreamland Ultimate Guide to John Waters
Including a special page devoted to Divine

John Waters in Switzerland

More anon.


Monday, November 04, 2013

Cyberflanerie: Reality Can Be Play-Do Edition

Terminal Cancer Patients Not.

Ninety is the new... wow!

Award-winning young adult writer Randall Platt offers her bodacious tips for supersonic creativity.

Reality shifter Cynthia Sue Larson's new book is about Quantum Jumping.

You thought capitalism originated in English and North America? Uyy, quizá que no.

Femme et Fleur goes inside the art inspired by the MER KA BA (click then scroll down past the homme qui porte une veste rose).

And if your mind is really open, I mean reeeeeeally open, have a listen. If you're afraid of things that go bump in the night, do not.