Christopher P. Stephens, Bookman

Chris Stephens has been a book dealer since 1965 - earlier if you count childhood buying and selling.

Stephens has sold major collections to university libraries all over the world. He has operated appealing bookstores in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, Hastings on Hudson, NY and several in NYC, NY. He is a wholesale dealer to other bookstores all over the world.

Chris loves books.

Stephens now maintains a lively internet operation out of his new home in Scranton, PA.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Anne McCaffrey - Dragonlady

McCaffrey calls herself "Dragonlady" because of her enormously popular dragons of Pern books. That's not how I think of her though. To me, Anne McCaffrey is the Reigning Queen of Science Fiction/Fantasy.

When White Dragon was being remaindered, Chris Stephens wanted to keep it in print. He got in touch with Virginia Kidd, McCaffrey's agent. Kidd got in touch with McCaffrey and McCaffrey agreed to help finance the purchase of all 4000 copies of this very good book. Chris would distribute them.

The arrangement worked out well for everyone involved

Fantastic Fiction- short interesting bio notes and complete list of work with book photos
site devoted to A.M. includes biographical info+ photos + discussion
review of McCaffrey on Starstore Blog

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Masters School

October 1988

Louisa and Isabel co managing the Masters book and gift store at the school in Dobbs Ferry.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Conversation With Steve, Michael and Fin

Stefan Kanfer came in to help identify some of the characters in old riverrun photos.

Michael and Fin were in the store. Steve was enthused to see the young people taking a hand in bringing riverrun more fully back into the community. Michael and Fin will have reorganized 7 Washington before summer. Maybe well before. They want to begin having riverrun readings again in the late spring.
"riverrun is a welcoming place," said Steve. "People will come. You can get people to help you with readings and music like this." Steve waved the photos of musicians at riverrun. He gave advice on how to make more room and how to get authors to come into the store.
"And there are so many local authors," said Fin.
She's not kidding. So many in this area. Steve told how the library held an event for local authors. "Eight four authors came." Steve talked about authors and artists and publishers and cartoonists and agents and editors. He knows people in all fields of publishing. Maybe he knows everyone. He had interesting things to say about lots of people, but my favorite comment was about Ed Young.
"You know that you have a world class artist living right here in Hastings. Ed Young can illustrate anything. He can paint Persian miniatures. He can paste up bright collages. He can draw. He can..." Steve stopped his list. "Ed Young might actually have too much talent."

Steve advised Michael and Fin. "You have to get the word out about riverrun. It's the best used bookstore - in the world. You can say that. In the world."

Kanfer has been a friend and advocate for riverrun bookshop since the beginning. He gave help and support to Frank Scioscia, the original proprietor, and to Chris Stephens, the present proprietor. He's happy to be encouraging Frank's grandson, Michael Stephens, and Michael's wife, Fin.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Music at riverrun - 2

unknown photographer
1978 or 1979

Stefan Kanfer on saw

Ethan Kanfer on wash tub, Steve Kanfer on harmonica, Steve Taylor on guitar

Music at riverrrun - 1

Many evenings in the late 1970s and the 1980s riverrun rollicked with music. Steve Kanfer was the ringleader. He played the saw, the washboard, and the spoons with gusto. His buoyant enthusiasms drew in plenty of other musicians.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Large Format Camera

Look at what a very fine piece of engineering came in the door of riverrun. A large format camera! The back folds down and locks into place to extend the tracks for the bellows to fully open. The shutter is crafted with such masterly elegance that really, it’s no wonder after all that the human race has been able to construct machines that travel to the moon and beyond. Far beyond. In back of the shutter is a collapsible circle to vary the amount of light let in. The plane of the shutter, as well as the plane of the plate in back, can be tilted up to about 12 degrees.

Anyone would like to putter around with this camera. I love being able to. I not taking pictures with it though. Don’t know how. Yet. I might learn how to operate this camera some day, just like I might learn how to operate a camera at the other end of the time spectrum – the one that is allegedly built into my cell phone.

Photography is in riverrun’s neighborhood. The house where John William Draper and his son, Henry Draper, lived is in the next block of Washington Avenue, just up the hill. Henry Draper built an observatory and photographed the sky.


George Eastman House - Technology Timeline

Field Cameras of the United States: 1879 - 1930

other Eastman cameras

Henry Draper first photographer of the moon

Draper the scientist

Sunday, January 17, 2010

George Jellinek 1919 - 2010

George Jellenick

New York Times Obituary

audio, in several parts, of Jellenick interviewing Virginia Zeani

excerpt of a Jellenick article on Zinka Milanov in Opera Quarterly

Saturday, January 16, 2010

autograph album

Today, exactly 121 years ago, W.R. Rame inscribed this lovely pen and ink drawing in someone's autograph album.

Perhaps Rame was a young man and the autograph album owner was a young woman. I can imagine him laboring, absorbed, over this detailed sketch and her smiling as she watches him.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

John Socia - Old York Book Store

unknown photographer

John Socia opened the Old York Book Store in New Brunswick New Jersey after he’d retired from Sears. It was 1968. John was 65. He loved that bookstore just as he’d loved books all his life. Old York meant infinitely more to him than Sears and Roebuck did but he’d grown up in the depression and was grateful for steady work.
“I could never have quit a paying job,” he said. He laughed ruefully about the mark the depression made on him. He was 16 in 1929 when the stock market crashed and the economy quaked. There were younger mouths to feed. He left home.
In later years John recognized an early photograph of himself in a book about the depression. He was in a field picking peas with others who also rode the rails around the country looking for work.
John Socia was the second of 12 children. His parents were Italian immigrants. John was born with clubfeet. In a way, this turned out to be a good thing. It meant that he and his father made many trips to doctors and hospitals in New York and in Philadelphia. The examinations and operations were grueling but there were always trips to the big-city bookstores afterwards. The club-footed kid and the immigrant father spent many happy hours together in bookstores.
Many years later when his feet were fixed and his father was long gone, John Socia finally opened his own bookstore. Old York was near Rutgers University. It drew readers and collectors and dealers from a much wider circle. All sorts of people liked coming into his shop to discuss James Joyce or political philosophy or anything. John Socia of Old York Bookstore certainly did know his books. And he certainly was a fine man.
One time Socia told me he’d worried about his younger brother, Frankie. “He’s so innocent,” John said. “Unworldly, like an angel. He’s so good that he can’t imagine anyone being bad. ” Actually that is how I think of John himself. He was so trustworthy himself that it didn’t occur to him to be wary of whom he trusted.
Old York was open for 15 years. During that time Socia bought and sold many books. During that time he made many friends and admirers.
Socia is mentioned in two, of the many fascinating articles by Stuart Mitchner - first paragraph
An article about used bookstores and book dealers. Socia is described in the 3rd paragraph labeled “Ideal Book Dealers”.


Change is coming. Michael and Fin Stephens are driving a big U-Haul across the country from Santa Cruz to Hastings on Hudson. They're bringing their wordly* possessions, including quite a number of boxes of books.

More importantly they're bringing their enthusiasm and energy to riverrun. They'll revamp the store on the north side of the street - clean it up, build more shelves, organize the books, stay open late, maybe have some poetry readings or other events. Christopher Stephens will remain proprietor, book buyer and general book expert and wizard. Chris will continue to preside over riverrun on the south side of the street. Michael and Fin will revive riverrun on north side of the street.

It's going to be exciting. Change always is.

* originally a typo, but it makes sense this way too

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sixty Photographs - Alfred A. Knopf Sr & Jr

Alfred Knopf took photos of many of the intriguing people he and his wife, Blanche, had as friends and associates. Sixty of these photographs were selected to publish in the book, Sixty Photographs, which commemorated the sixtieth anniversary of Alfred A. Knopf, Publisher. The book was published in 1975.

Knopf started his publishing company in 1915. He and Blanche, ran it as a family business until 1959 when their son left Knopf Publishing to to start Atheneum. At that time Knopf blended in, quite happily, with Random House.

I love this book. The front cover of Sixty Photographs shows A.A.K. himself, as a young man, seated comfortably in a meadow a few years before he founded his publishing company. The back cover shows him as an old man seated comfortably in a similar meadow. On the pages in between, Knopf gives us a treat. The photographs have the unstudied charm of the enthusiastic amateur photographer. Unpolished, they're more intimate. Knopf includes anecdotes to accompany each picture. They read like a conversation. You and he are flipping through the photos and he's recollecting the people and the circumstances. Sixty Photographs is a heartening glimpse of a mid-20th century world of literature and art and music and publishing and friendship.

This book is readily available. You can get one easily at your local bookstore or over the internet. We got ours from Pat Knopf.

In the late 1970s Alfred A. Knopf, Jr invited Christopher P. Stephens up to his house in Connecticut to look at books. Of course Chris went. There were lots of books, nicely arranged on handsome shelves. Chris expressed interest in buying a beautifully inscribed author collection. "Oh no," said Pat. "Those are going to my daughter." Chris ended up with 3 or 4 cartons of good books that weren't going to Knopf's daughters or son. He brought them back to Canfield Stephens Books.

Pat Knopf was friendly and easy to talk to, says Chris. They talked books. They talked publishing. Knopf had been in publishing since his infancy. Chris expected him to have tons of ephemera tucked away in boxes and drawers. Chris expected piles of papers on the floors and desk tops and bursting forth from cupboards. There was no evidence of any of this.

"Don't you have any junky stuff around somewhere?" he asked.
Pat was bewildered. "What do you mean?"
"You know," Chris coaxed him. "Galleys. Proofs. Letters from authors. Production correspondance."
Knopf dismissed it all with a wave of the hand. "I don't keep any of that. I throw it all out when I'm through with it."

Although Pat Knopf threw out much that Stephens would have liked to buy, Chris still left happy. He had some very fine books. He brought Sixty Photographs home for our personal bookshelves.
That volume had to get used to quite a different environment. At our house we do have a lot of junky stuff around.

Alfred A. Knopf 1892 - 1984
Pat Knopf 1918 - 2009

A brief biography of Alfred Abraham Knopf, Sr. by Columbia University

The Alfred A. and Blanch Knopf Collection at University of Texas at Austin

NY Times Obituary for Alfred A. Knopf, Jr.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

James Welch and Riding the Earthboy 40

jacket photo by Lee Nye

The first edition of Riding the Earthboy 40 by James Welch is scarce. Once it wasn’t though. In the early 1970s Chris Stephens and Frank Scioscia knew where there were about 1500 copies.
Welch’s success as a poet and novelist comes in spite of some bad breaks in the book business. Earthboy was his first book publication. The World Publishing Company went out of business shortly after his book came out, so the it wasn’t well distributed. World remaindered Earthboy. Ancorp took them on.
Ancorp was a major distributor in the city. They had hundreds of thousands of books. Unfortunately Ancorp also went under. During their last days in business they offered more and more dramatic discounts off their stock. At first it was 70% off list, then 80% off, then 90% off, and finally all hard covers were 50 cents each.
Scioscia and Stephens had been frequenting the sale. riverrun didn’t exist yet, but the men were stocking up anyway. They couldn’t help themselves. There were a couple of shrink-wrapped skids of Riding the Earthboy 40 at Ancorp. Scioscia & Stephens asked about a special price for all the copies. Ancorp management said no, 50 cents was their bottom price. The men could take as many as they wanted at 50 cents.
Well, how many is that? It was a promising book. In the end Chris only bought 20 copies and Frank 60. Probably the rest were ground up.
James Welch went on writing and publishing and getting reprinted:
Poetry - Riding the Earthboy 40
Novels - Winter in the Blood
The Death of Jim Loney
Fools Crow
The Indian Lawyer
The Heartsong of Charging Elk
Nonfiction- James Welch
Killing Custer: The battle of Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indian
James Welch 1940 - 2003

interview by Cindy Heidemann

an interesting discussion of James Welch's novels and poetry as well as commentary on other writers who are American Indians

1999 interview by Owen Perkins

Friday, January 1, 2010

Lakeside Classics

Lakeside Classics are printed - one per year - by the R.R. Donnelley Company, printers. Richard Robert Donnelley founded the company in the 1864. His son started the Lakeside Classic Christmas book tradition 39 years later. The books are given away to clients and employees as Christmas presents. They are nicely designed and beautifully printed using the most modern printing technology.

Each year, each book reaffirms "the objective set forth by Mr. T.E. Donnelley who, as president of our company in 1903, wanted an example of a book which in taste and workmanship met the exacting requirements of the book lover, but which was printed on machines built primarily for the reduction of cost."

The Lakeside Classics fit the bill. They feel good in the hands. They are pleasing to look at. The paper is good. The print is clear. Indeed, the taste and workmanship of Lakeside Classics does entirely meet the exacting requirements of this book lover. What's more, the content quite delights!

Lakeside Classics tell the story of the American Old West, usually in the voice of someone who lived there and then. The series specializes in personal narratives of the American frontier.

For instance, Edward Abbott "Teddy Blue" lived a colorful cowboy life just after the Civil War. He and a lady journalist wrote We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a Cow Puncher. Teddy Blue ridicules the movies' fascination with two-gun cowboy gunslingers. "I punched cows from '71 on, and I never yet saw a cowboy with two guns. I mean two six-shooters. Wild Bill carried two guns and so did some of those other city marshals, like Bat Masterson, but they were professional gunmen themselves, not cow punchers."
There weren't many woman in Teddy Blue's territory. A certain preacher's daughter might have had an exaggerated religious influence because of her gender. Later she bragged to a neighbor about reforming Teddy Blue. "Ted?" asked the neighbor. "Why he's the wildest cow puncher in all Montana." Subsequent events demonstrated that the neighbor was more right than the preacher's daughter.

In Narrative of my Captivity Among the Sioux Indians, Fanny Kelly relates how she tried to save her daughter by coaching her to slide off the pony and crawl back to camp. Much later Fanny meets an Indian with her daughter's scalp tied to his belt.

Harriet Bishop McConkey was never abducted herself, but she lived through the Indian Massacres of 1862 and 63 in Minnesota. She was a careful observer. Dakota War Whoop tells the story.

I became quite attached to Billy Breakenridge reading his Helldorado. Billy worked on the railroads. He labored in a livery stable, fought in Tombstone, panned for gold and gambled. He rode cattle, joined the calvary, and served as a page in the winter of 1863 when the territorial legislature was in session. He took a job hauling liquor for a saloon owner through dangerous country where Indians and French renegades were looking to interrupt his deliveries. Breakenridge tells an entirely different version of the Chivington Massacre from those I've read elsewhere.

The content, as well as the craftsmanship, of the Lakeside Classics is remarkable. I was telling a bunch of literary pals about these books. They liked what they heard. Christine Lehner wanted to know if I'd read them all.
Read them all? Last month R.R. Donnelley Company distributed the 107th title. I've read 6 or 7 of them.

It's an intriguing idea though. It sounds like the making of a New Year's Resolution. Sure it wouldn't have the onerous component so critical to most New Year's Resolutions. It would, instead, be pure pleasure. Besides, it would take me 5 years, not just one because I'm a slow reader and I want to read a lot of other stuff too, for work and for fun. Nevertheless it is exactly my kind of resolution. I'm making it now: I resolve to begin a half-decade project of reading all the Lakeside Classics.

Want to join me?

riverrun sells Lakeside Classics:

Besides asking questions, Christine Lehner writes a very entertaining blog. I recommend it:

interesting history of the companies leading up to RR Donnelley and Sons Company:

Chris Stephens' Lakeside Classics Checklist with bibliographic information but no content annotations. That's what I should add in 5 years.