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Every book has a story

Every book has a story.

Check in frequently to read the behind-the-scenes scoop on the Newberry’s popular Book Fair. The blog is maintained by “Uncle Blogsy,” otherwise known as Dan Crawford, Book Fair Manager.

Prose Platters

I had a couple of “Huh!” records come in this week. “Huh!” books or records are the ones I pick up, look over, and say “Huh! Never seen that one before!” Sometimes a “Huh!” is rare, sometimes it is valuable, and sometimes it is both. These two records were LPs from Caedmon Records, which is still in business today but as Caedmon Audio (they gave up using vinyl and now produce only CDs.)

My high school library had a certain number of Caedmon records, and I believe there were some in my college libraries. This has unfortunately fixed them in my mind as educational (i.e. not collectible.) As time goes by, the recordings have indeed grown desirable.

Once upon a time, you listened to recorded books if you were blind, or nearly so. Why would you listen to someone read a book when you could read it for yourself, at your own speed and with your own casting? Comedy records were a thing apart, or recordings of great actors doing their favorite speeches or roles. (Henry Irving, the mighty Victorian Shakespeare star, made numerous recordings, but always refused to put his Hamlet into a machine. Didn’t trust it.)

Then, in 1952, a couple of college kids decided to start Caedmon Records and record great literature, preferably read by the author. Their first target was Dylan Thomas, who read a number of works, but not enough to fill an LP. He suggested he recite…recite…well, he couldn’t remember the title of it. It was an obscure little thing not well known in the United States, but he read it well, and the record was released. And the piece he couldn’t quite recall the name of, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”, became Caedmon’s perennial bestseller, getting the company off to a good start.

The two women pursued follow-up readers, and poet after poet joined their list: Ogden Nash, Edith Sitwell, e.e.cummings, W.H.Auden, etc. Prose and drama came along naturally: Tennessee Williams read for them, as did Colette, Thomas Mann, and Katherine Anne Porter. If the author was no longer on this particular plane of existence, they sought out suitable substitutes. Basil Rathbone read Edgar Allan Poe, Walter Brennan read Mark Twain, Boris Karloff read fairy tales, Burgess Meredith read Everyman, and Vincent Price…well, besides ghost stories, he read the poetry of Leah Bodine Drake (who is a blog unto herself.)

And these original recordings now command reasonably good prices, especially the ones your high school library did NOT buy. That Vincent Price rendition of Leah Drake’s “Hornbook for Witches” is a fairly premium item. The albums of J.R.R. Tolkien reading his own work (including some not published until after his death) have always been in demand. In fact, a lot of the science fiction, fantasy, and horror albums are sought after.

And two of those turned up at the Newberry. It is not really possible, of course, for an author to read an entire novel on one LP, and when that novel is Dune, you can’t do much more than offer a taste of it. Frank Herbert did several albums; we have “Truths of Dune”, a collection of wise words. This would be worth more if you hadn’t spilled beer on the jacket, but the record doesn’t seem to have been dampened.

You spilled nothing on the album in which Arthur C. Clarke reads chapters of his “Childhood’s End”, which is nice, because the liner notes are by Isaac Asimov, at his cheerful best. What intrigues me is the disclaimer: “The opinions expressed in this book are not those of the author.” Oh, the books I could have written had I but known!

I’ll just jot that down for use in case Caedmon ever does a collection of book fair blogs. In the meantime, you can buy the record. I’ll let ya.

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