I collected the books of Edward Gorey for more than twenty years, a pleasure which brought me, as so many others, to 47th Street in New York. It was Andreas Brown, of the now closed Gotham Book Mart, that I have to thank for introducing me to Gorey.
In 1984 at Gotham, I asked Edward if he would write and illustrate a miniature book for Bromer Booksellers. Always keen to experiment in new formats, he agreed. Patterned after early moral primers for children of the “In Adam’s fall, We sinned all” variety, Edward created his first of two miniature books as an alphabet of short rhymed couplets. He penned such moral admonitions as “Forbear to taste, Library Paste” or “Don’t overturn, the garden urn.” The Eclectic Abecedarium was published in regular and deluxe editions, the latter hand-colored and both sold out by subscription upon publication. The riddle to solve in the deluxe copies is the meaning of the slipcase label. Not included in the text of the edition, the illustration for the label shows a Gorey creature with cup and saucer in hand paying homage to a yellow teapot. Perched upon a pedestal with the initials TEA, the lettering has no relationship to the illustration or to tea. It is rather the titling initials for the book.
Five years after the success of the first miniature book, Edward sent the text and drawings for Q.R.V., a book that consists of 29 verses and pictures obscurely akin to Isaac Watts’ Divine Songs for Children. Edward explained that Q.R.V. means nothing but cures everything. In the deluxe copies, he experimented with metallic inks for coloring the illustrations using magnetic buttons, which he placed on his refrigerator to test out the designs as well as the pewter, silver and gold colors. Q. R.V. sold out within a year. It was later reprinted in a small, softbound book. Edward wrote additional Q.R.V. verses, publishing them in later years as postcards and as “The Fraught Settee.”
Edward was agreeable in all things related to royalties and payment. He cared little for money but was adamant about questions of design and specifications. Exact page and binding sizes, placement of lettering and illustrations were important to him. On these matters, there would be no compromising. In the case of The Eclectic Abecedarium, the binder pleaded for another eighth of an inch. Edward wouldn’t give an eighth on that book. Five years later he relented on Q.R.V., designing it a whole quarter of an inch larger.
In the mid 1990’s, I invited Edward to design the publicity for two Boston International Antiquarian Book Fairs. He produced materials using the themes of cats and elephants strewn in and among books. His watercolors and drawings for the posters and publicity materials were auctioned to the highest bidder at each of the Book Fairs. He was generous in sharing the proceeds with ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America) and its Benevolent Society, the non-profit group that assists needy booksellers. He also patiently signed 250 posters for the 1994 Book Fair and 350 copies a year later.
In 1996 he designed the cover of our Holiday Catalog. The watercolor of dancing, prancing stuffed teddy bears on a Christmas wreath was actually meant for the cover of a Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalog. The behemoth retailer rejected his design, leaving it for us to purchase. Edward re-lettered the cover with “Season’s Greetings from Bromer Booksellers.”
During Edward’s last years I kept in touch by sending cards and silly gifts, and visiting the Cape to see his stage productions. At lunch he would express strongly held opinions about a mystery he had just read or the latest soap opera episode he had just watched. We never spoke about his work. He expressed tedium in discussing any of his accomplishments. He wasn’t unkind at all; just very private in matters to which most others would hold court. For all his personal oddities, I found Edward to be gentle and generous. Months after he died, I received two small packages from his estate with legal papers to sign. Edward had counted me among his friends he wished to remember. I was gifted his mother’s moonstone ring and his own funky glass penguin pendant (broken foot and all). I still wear the ring; another collector now owns the penguin.
Visiting him, I noticed a group of toys gracing the back of his couch, all handmade by him. I asked if he would be willing to sell one, and instead, he gave me this one, which you will see in the image. It was another example of his incredible generosity.
I’ve been asked to share a story most folks would not know about Edward: Stephen King came to our shop on occasion, and on one of these visits, I gave him a few miniature books with the request to consider writing a very short story. My “blockbuster” idea was to create a collaboration in which Bromer Booksellers would publish a miniature book with text by King and illustrations by Gorey. What a combination, I thought! Edward liked the idea and agreed to illustrate it. Stephen King apparently was not smitten with miniature books. Bromers hasn’t published another miniature since Edward’s Q.R.V. in 1989. A final remembrance is of Edward sending me another idea for a miniature book a year before he died. It was to be about one of his characters with a fan. I forget the details of the story, or even if the text had been published previously. We talked about the book being shaped in the form of a fan. We both agreed that seemed difficult to achieve. I didn’t push the idea forward, and then Edward was gone.
Anne C. Bromer - Bromer Booksellers, Boston
Interested in which New York Review Books will come out next year? Here’s a sneak peak to our Spring 2013 list; this is Part I, Part II will come tomorrow:
Speedboat by Renata Adler: A landmark of American 20th century experimental writing, voted as the book most deserving to be republished by the National Book Critics Circle in 2010, and a favorite of David Shields in his book, Reality Hunger.
Pitch Dark by Renata Adler: The second novel by Adler: a personal love story, in her distinctive, fragmentary prose.
An Armenian Sketchbook by Vassily Grossman: An account of the two months Grossman spent in Armenia. A more personal testament than his political books, such as Life and Fate and Everything Flows.
The Green Man by Kingsley Amis: Maurice Allington runs a nice country inn but has plenty of problems: his father recently died, his daughter doesn’t listen to him, he needs another drink, and his attempts to seduce his best friend’s wife are causing problems. Plus he suspects his inn may be haunted.
The Alteration by Kingsley Amis: The Reformation never happened and a collection of music experts are judging Hubert Anvil’s voice to see whether a certain surgical procedure should be preformed to keep it high. When Hubert realizes what is in store for him, he must react to the various issues of religion, art, and sex that swirl around Amis’s foray into alternate fiction.
The Hall of Uselessness by Simon Leys: A collection of essays from one of the world’s most renowned sinologists and a master stylist. Leys is also a literary critic of the first degree, whose subjects range from Christopher Hitchens to Confucius.
The Crisis of the European Mind by Paul Hazard: A masterpiece of intellectual history that deals with the period just before, but very much an inspiration to, the Enlightenment and romanticism.
The Skin by Curzio Malaparte: A fictional account of the Allied invasion of Italy in WWII, The Skin combines both the brutal and the absurd to a depict a war that had the Italian populace on both sides.
Transit by Anna Seghers: The nameless protagonist has escaped a Nazi concentration camp only to enter the more mundane and bureaucratic hell of immigration and exile as he struggles to deliver a letter to a mysterious man whose manuscript has had a profound impact on him.
Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban: Two Londoners meet and independently decide to free the turtles at the London Zoo, recruiting a zookeeper to help them. The journey taking the turtles to the sea, however, becomes much more than about liberating animals.