Ground Zero Books, LTD

Re Booksellers Shelfish?—Making Historic Feats into Linear Feet

November 1st, 2017

November 1, 2017

Alan Lewis, President

Ground Zero Books, Ltd.

November is a memorable month—it contains Veterans’ Day, the U.S. Thanksgiving, and British Guy Fawkes Day.  In November, the first British-Chinese Opium War started, King Tut’s tomb was discovered, and Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in Israel.  In their own way, all the days of November were, and are, memorable.  If the days and the associated events were memorable, then they were written about.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

All those dates, all those events, all those themes, meanings, and impacts result in all those books (and pamphlets, broadsides, monographs, etc.)  What is a book collector to do?  Even more to the point, what is a bookseller to do?  How best to organize, store, and for those with open shops—display?  Reaching the back of the top shelf on an 8 foot bookcase is a different retrieval challenge than pulling up a file on a desktop computer.  Collectors and sellers can be virtuous, but storage of these tangible items cannot be virtual!  Ultimately, space is the only frontier, and seldom is the quest for knowledge and the exploration of ideas limited to only five years.  How did we come to ‘conquer space’ with this solution?

According to Wikipedia, a bookcase, or bookshelf, is a piece of furniture with horizontal shelves, often in a cabinet, used to store books or other printed materials.  Bookcases range from small, low models the height of a table to high models reaching up to ceiling height. Shelves may be fixed or adjustable to different positions in the case. In rooms entirely devoted to the storage of books, such as libraries, they may be permanently fixed to the walls and/or floor.

As we all so clearly recall, private libraries appeared during the late Roman republic. Seneca inveighed against libraries fitted out for show by illiterate owners who scarcely read their titles, but displayed the scrolls in bookcases of citrus wood inlaid with ivory that ran right to the ceiling: “By now, like bathrooms and hot water, a library is got up as standard equipment for a fine house.”  Although the Romans had a reputation of being among the ‘straight and narrow’, not all space solutions for storing books took the Apian Way.

Revolving bookcases have been documented in imperial China, and the invention of bookcases is credited to Fu Xi in 544 A.D.  When books were written by hand and were not produced in great quantities, they were kept in small boxes or chests which owners carried with them. As manuscript volumes accumulated in religious houses or in homes of the wealthy, they were stored on shelves or in cupboards. These cupboards are the predecessors of today’s bookcases. It was not until the invention of printing had greatly reduced the cost of books, thus allowing many more people access to owning books, that it became the practice to write the title on the spine and shelve books with the spine outwards.  The oldest bookcases in England are those in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, which were placed in position in the last year or two of the sixteenth century.  Soon there were more books shelved there than one could shake a spear at!

So, while not the Bodleian Library, most booksellers use bookcases, book shelves, and display cases.  We use bookcases—but the next challenge is how to optimize the shelf space.  Many collectors arrange their books by topic, subject area, author, or some other basis of affinity.  Booksellers with open shops usually do this as well.  However, the internet has opened up more options for space optimization!  With a good computer database program, a book can be located readily by room, bookcase, specific shelf, and even position on the shelf (front or back, left, right or center, etc.).  For the internet bookseller, size is the problem and the solution.  Major restricted access library have the same approach—the New York Public Library arranges books by size in their stacks, so there is minimal unused space.

In order to serve you all better, and faster (and thus, in terms of some labor costs, cheaper), we organize our books by size, and add books of a certain size where the last one of that size sold—filling the just created gap on the shelf.  When one of our space rocket items sell, we have our own ‘missile gap’ but we do not always have an item on similar topic to put it in.   We find the best fit, update our database, and await your next purchases to create more gaps to fill.

So, to serve you best we can, we are always shelfish when we store our books.  We fill our shelves back and front (and occasionally three deep—paperbacks).   This is how we roll, even without scrolls.  We hope you find items you want; we can then quickly find them to wrap and send to you.  Speaking of sending them to you, as always, we are happy to extend, upon request, a ten percent discount on all purchases directly made with us (phone, mail, e-mail, fax, semaphore signals, etc.)  We appreciate your business and invite want lists and search requests.

We hope we can make November a memorable month for your collection or research efforts, and that we mutually can add to what we are thankful for on turkey day.

Medal, Metal, and Mettle is not quite Veni, Vidi, Vici

October 2nd, 2017

October 1, 2017

Alan Lewis, President

Ground Zero Books, Ltd.

Venividivici” is a Latin phrase attributed to Julius Caesar, who reportedly used the phrase in a letter to the Roman Senate around 46 BC after he had achieved a quick victory in his short war against Pharnaces II of Pontus at the Battle of Zela. The phrase is used to refer to a swift, conclusive victory. Caesar did not win any medals for this achievement, but he did get some laurels (hopefully in botanical terms of the hardy variety).  He did prove his mettle.  A few years later, a group of Roman Senators did take a stab at delivering metals to him—and the rest, as they say, is history.

Are triplets better than couplets?  Depends on what the sonnet-gram shows.

The beginning of October is for many a time to pause and take stock of how the year has been going. The U.S. Federal Government and many other organizations start their new fiscal year.  The American baseball season transitions from the ‘regular’ season to the ‘play-offs.’  We hope you will find time to take stock—preferably large quantities of ours.

In the past several weeks, as we have for the past several months and years, we at Ground Zero Books, Ltd. have continued to add books and pamphlets, autographed items and government documents, technical reports, and journals and offprint articles.  These items are generally produced in the 19th, 20th, as well as the 21st century, and cover topics from the dawn of time onward.  We continue to try to balance our entries between the areas of war, peace, and politics, as well as between technical works, personal narratives, and histories and analyses.  We have been fortunate to have acquired a number of nuclear related ‘challenge coins’ and project/activity patches which we will be adding to our on-line holdings as time and opportunity permit.  We also seem to have acquired a few items of related hardware—but no complete nuclear weapons to our knowledge.  We continue to focus on printed materials, and cooperate with other dealers who specialize in photographs, recordings, etc.

As we enter the Autumn season, we hope you will enjoy October as a harvest season.  We have much for you to harvest from—if you are so inclined.  Be assured that if you are inclined, we will give it to you straight!  As is our practice, we appreciate it when you choose to deal with Ground Zero Books, Ltd. directly, rather than through the multi-party vendors.   As, in those cases, we do not have to pay such third parties their commission, we gladly, upon request, pass along a ten per cent savings to you on your purchases from our on-line stock.  We appreciate having as direct as relationship with you as possible, so that we can more fully understanding your needs and interests, and can provide you with the first look at items of interest before they appear on-line and become generally available.

Thank you again for your past business.  We look forward not only to future orders, but as always to your recommendations regarding our annotations and book descriptions, your want lists and search requests, and your sagacious comments on our columns and suggestions for future topics.  It has been suggested that we append the columns to our monthly transmittal e-mail, rather than have them as part of the website—thoughts?

Happy Harvest, Happy Halloween, and Happy [book] hunting.


Imbalances in the English Language—Can people be anti-valone and pro-pasta?

September 1st, 2017

Alan Lewis, President

Ground Zero Books, Ltd.

In a non-spiritual way, booksellers are “people of the word.”  Words are the flesh and blood of our products, and the ideas and concepts discussed are the spirit and principles contained within the hard or soft covers.  For many decades, predating the founding of Ground Zero Books, Ltd in 1978, we have had a fascination with words, information, ideas, and impacts.  We do not see this fascination changing and in fact continue to be amazed, informed, and often bemused by the versatility and limitations of language, especially English (and American).

With all due respect to media outlets that tout being “Fair and Balanced”, the English language does not always lend itself to this approach linguistically.   Much of language can be understood from the perspective of symmetry; ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ reflect this balance.  To be fair, symmetry does not require opposing prefixes, so one can be unhappy or happy, without being anti-symmetric.   

For those academically inclined, perhaps these observations might become a focus of a ‘seminar,’ or if there is greater interest, perhaps a ‘full nar’?  So, enough ambling through the preamble—does what follows count as a ‘post-amble’?  We became interested in some unique forms of the English language.  Clearly there is ‘antipasto,’ but we are unaware of the use of the word ‘propasta’ and deem it unlikely given the increasing emphasis on gluten-free foods.  Similarly, and sorry to be a bit cheesy, but there is ‘provolone’ but no ‘antivalone’.  Now I know what you are thinking, these words entered the English language from elsewhere.  We are uncertain about their immigration status, but they are here now, and though from Italy we are not about to give then the boot.  We could use words of German origin, and note that there are ‘frankfurters,’ but no ‘furters’ or ‘dissembling furthers.’

Are you shocked?   Are these observations ‘explosive’ or merely ‘plosive’ or ‘unplosive’?  Hopefully reactions will not be ‘replosive.’ If you shrink for thinking about this, would we be feeling impulsively ‘implosive’?  [That could really be a blast.]   We hope you are not ‘disturbed,’ and can remain completely ‘turbed’ as you read the rest of this column.    Perhaps you have noted that the above have included discrete examples, but not necessarily discreet ones.  These may also be concrete examples, either individually or in aggregate.

If we had penned this column in verse, would that make us perverse?  Should we reverse?  It is unlikely that we can ‘deverse.’  If we did so, what could that mean for our legacy?  Do we also have an ‘arm-acy’ or a ‘limb-acy’?  That could be a tough burden to shoulder, and hard to take back.  Perhaps these linguistic anomalies are a product of our environment?  Can we ‘devironment’ or ‘unvironment’ to address this situation?  Perhaps if we ‘reinvironmented’ it would all seem logical, and ultimately fair and balanced. While we have given a morsel to digest, we hope you are able to ‘gurgitate’ and not ‘regurgitate.’  We look forward to receiving comments from those who wish to ‘ciprocate’ and if there are multiple comments, to then ‘reciprocate’.

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing this column is how to meaningfully come to a conclusion or a cessation.  We do not want folks to be ‘dismayed’ –rather we hope you are fully ‘mayed’.    Toward that objective, let us remind you of how much we appreciate you—your comments, recommendations, additional information on titles, and of course, your business.  As always, we encourage direct purchases and to that end are happy to offer upon request a ten percent discount.  We trust that you are not ‘disgruntled’ and that the above musings have left you fully ‘gruntled.’ 

Dog-gone, Dog Here, and Dog Days—An Ode to Animal Warriors and the Month of August.

August 1st, 2017

Alan Lewis,


When thinking about a topic for this month’s column, initially I thought—“no sweat.”  Then I had occasion to go outside and to experience the salubrious summer climate of the Washington DC area.  This led to some perspicacious as well as some perspiration drenched thinking.  While I was intrigued with this emerging potential topic, I was also ‘doggedly determined’ to find a military related topic to combine it with.  Sort of to pack it into, which of course led to thoughts of packs, and wolves, and huskies, and then dogs in General and their Major roles in public and Private, and how they rank in terms of their military contributions.

Various computations of the dog days have placed their start anywhere from 3 July to 15 August and lasting for anywhere from 30 to 61 days.  They may begin or end with rising of Procyon (the “Little Dog Star”) in Canis Minor.   The dog days of summer are the hot, sultry days of summer. They were historically the period following the rising of the star Sirius, which ancient astrology connected with heatdrought, sudden thunderstormslethargyfevermad dogs, and bad luck. They are now taken to be the hottest, most uncomfortable part of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.   Now it is important to understand that ‘mad dogs’ are different from angry dogs and animals bred and trained for military applications.

Military animals are domesticated animals that are used in warfare and othercombat related activities. Different military animals serve different functions. Dogs have long been employed in a wide variety of military purposes, more recently focusing on guarding and bomb detection, and along with dolphins andsea lions are in active use today.   Horseselephantscamels, and other animals have been used for both transportation and mounted attack.   Pigeons were used for communication and photographic espionage. Many other animals have been reportedly used in various specialized military functions, including rats and pigs. Let us not overlook the value of animals in terms of psychological warfare.  In theBattle of Pelusium (525 BC) between the Achaemenid Empire and Ancient Egypt, the Achaemenid forces used cats and other animals as psychological tactic against the Egyptians, who avoided harming cats due to religious beliefs.  It isn’t just in intelligence operations that an adversary can be ‘spooked.’

In the years before the First World War pigeon photography was introduced to military intelligence gathering and employed during major battles like at Verdun and Somme.  A CIA pigeon camera dating from the 1970s is displayed in the CIA Museum.  Requests for operational information were met with negative responses.

The Acoustic Kitty was a CIA project to use surgically modified cats to spy on the Kremlin and Soviet embassies in the 1960s. The project was cancelled in 1967. Documents about the project were declassified in 2001.   It was reported that in 2007 Iranian authorities captured 14 squirrels, which were allegedly carrying spying equipment.  Reporters thought the story was ‘nuts.’

Moving on from clandestine applications, let us now briefly review the role of military animals in support of combat operations.  Such animals were not People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) bred.  Dogs were used by theancient Greeks for war purposes, and they were undoubtedly used much earlier in history. The Roman Empire, starting with Marcus Aurelius, also used dogs in combat. The Romans trained the Molossian dog specifically for battle, often coating them in protective spiked metal collars and mail armor, and arranging them into attack formations.  Mastiffs, as well as Great Danes, were used in England during the Middle Ages, where their large size was used to scare horses to throw off their riders or to pounce on knights on horseback, disabling them until their master delivered the final blow.    Spanish conquistadors used Mastiffs to kill enemy warriors.  More recently, canines with explosives strapped to their backs saw use during World War II in the Soviet Army as anti-tank weapons and later battles.  In all armies, they were used for detecting mines. They were trained to spot trip wires, as well as mines and other booby traps. They were also employed for sentry duty, and to spot snipers or hidden enemy forces. Some dogs also saw use as messengers.

Beginning during the Cold War, research has been done into the uses of many species of marine mammals for military purposes. The U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program uses military dolphins and sea lions for underwater sentry duty, mine clearance, and object recovery.

For those who find the thought of employment of animals in the work of war un-bear-able, please remember Wojtek, a Syrian brown bear, that served with the Polish II Corps, and famously fought at the Battle of Monte Cassino.  That is clearly a ‘fur piece’ from its native land, but its use was clearly not “Poles apart” from the military use of animals.

Well, this discourse is about all that we can, at this moment, bear!  We hope you have been enjoying a more temperate and comfortable summer than is typical of the Dog Days.  We continue to add a wide range of items to our stock and encourage you to browse, explore, and if desire strikes, purchase.  As usual, we are happy to provide a ten per cent discount upon request for direct purchases from us.

Happy Summer, and may your days be more perspicacious than perspiratious!

Your Gains from Our Panes—An Odyssey of Discovery Based on the Need to Paint Window Jambs

July 1st, 2017

Alan Lewis, President

Ground Zero Books, Ltd.


It all started simply enough—things were getting a little flaky.  Paint was beginning to peel in several places on the outside of our house.  One of the places was a front column. Fortunately, we only have four of these, and cannot be accused of being fifth columnists.   Having identified the problem, we next investigated options to address it.  Since we have over 100,000 books and other materials inside our structure (combination home and warehouse), moving to a place that did not require exterior repainting was deemed “not feasible.”   Another option briefly explored was for me to personally perform the repainting.  However, given that my last artistic foray was a paint-by-number copy of the Mona Lisa which came out more like a typical Jackson Pollack, higher authority ruled this option out.  Finally, the light bulb came on (or perhaps a better metaphor is that the Dayglo fluoresced?).  We would engage a team of professionals deeply experienced and well-known to us to perform this task!  Voila, it appeared we were on the way to solving the problem, and for the basement and the first two floors, this was the case.  It was when it came to the attic that a full-blown case of cognitive dissonance struck.

Now, up to this point, the focus of this narrative has been on our exterior.  It was, in fact, the outer limit of my attention to this matter.  Then completing the task became a challenge that arose as a complete surprise.  Our attic, which in a previous incarnation supported a congregation of over 200 practicing Buddhists during weekly religious services (including a very large gold leaf covered statue of the Buddha), turns out to have seven large windows.  Our painters, who as true professionals take pride in their work and know what is needed and how best to meet those needs, made it clear that to complete the work they needed access to these windows FROM BOTH SIDES!  Now, one of the ways in which we can accommodate 100,000 books and other items in the building is by making maximum use of available space.  Logical, right?  Therefore, six of the seven windows were blocked and the space around them filled with books, pamphlets, some sports memorabilia, and large and diverse quantities of miscellany and ephemera.  The one window that was the exception was where the heater/air conditioner was placed.

Now, please appreciate that this painting project was well underway, and this newly identified work needed to be accomplished promptly.  Ripping the windows away from the outside briefly crossed my mind, but there were obvious gaps in this approach.  The only solution possible was to physically remove the books, and other materials, and the bookcases from in front of these windows.  I hope that you can picture that this attic, despite its former capacity to hold an impressive number of relatively short and thin Buddhists, is already a constrained space.  Time being of the essence, it was not practical to shift books, etc. from one window to the next.  Several windows, at a minimum, needed to be liberated at once.

And so, a task that consumed 53 ‘Xerox’-style boxes and a dozen others of variable shapes that fit into nooks and crannies commences.  And this is where your gain began.  Some of the areas to be liberated had not been touched for most of a decade, and some longer.  The contents of these areas had ceased to be specifically known but had become subjects of tribal lore.  Now there was an opportunity to uncover what had become hidden by the mists of time.  As literally thousands of items were moved, they were examined (some very briefly), and an impressive number to set aside FOR YOU AND YOUR COLLEAGUES.  We are slowly working through about twelve hundred items that fit known wants (by title or by area).  A number have already been snapped up as a result of e-mails sent to customers whose individual interests we know, remember, and cherish.  We have rediscovered military manuals, technical periodicals (including a number of issues of Mechanics’ Magazine from 1828), memorabilia (patches, challenge coins, etc.), some manuscript materials, pamphlets, ephemera, as well as tons of tomes.

So, now that the back spasms have abated, the muscle relaxants have done their work, and the paint fumes have dispersed, we are accelerating our data entry.  We invite you to explore anew our online holdings and to query us about long-standing or emerging interests of yours.  Much of the rediscovered material is from the 19th and 20th centuries, and have been preserved in a largely undisturbed state for a decade or more!

As always, we invite you to request a ten per cent discount when you purchase directly from us.  Perhaps in some future column we may describe our exercise in optimizing spatial analysis and applying compressed matter principles outside of nuclear weapon and explosive contexts.

We hope that you are enjoying your summer and have been able to, and can continue to be able to, avoid significant opportunities for home improvement.


Looking Back and Moving Forward—Reflections on Memorial Day and D-Day

June 1st, 2017

Alan Lewis, President
Ground Zero Books, Ltd.

There is WAR out in the world.  It has been there for a long time.  How long it will stay with us is an imponderable.  We have daily reminders of it, as we do of politics.  We have fewer reminders of peace.

In the United States, Memorial Day is a day that is set aside for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces, and is currently observed every year on the last Monday of May.  It originated as Decoration Day after the American Civil War.  As we embark upon the month of June, we in the United States have just observed Memorial Day 2017.  I say observed.  Many say “celebrated” because it is a holiday and the unofficial start of the summer vacation period.  For others, such as the motorcycle riders who bring Rolling Thunder to downtown Washington, DC, it is a day of remembrance, and a day of reflection on loss of life and on life after loss.  It is more a day of recognition than a holiday.  Neither those who “observe” the holiday nor those who “celebrate” on it are wrong—they just bring different perspectives from their family history and their life experiences.   Often people who have significant accomplishments refer to those who achieved before them and say they “stand” on the shoulders of giants.    For those of us able to aspire and achieve in freedom today perhaps we should acknowledge that we build our today and our future on the foundation of the fallen who sacrificed themselves so that we could have our chance to live free and strive mightily.

While it is important to look back, to understand not only where we came from, but also the struggle that brought us to today, it is also important to move forward.  This brings D-Day to mind.  Now before you go into deep cognitive dissonance because D-Day is over 70 years before our recent Memorial Day, let me explain.  D-Day was both a culmination and a beginning.  It was a quintessential forward movement.  It was not only the movement from sea to shore, or from the coast to Berlin, it was also the movement from occupation to freedom, and ultimately the movement from desolation to economic and cultural revival.  I contend that much that we are experiencing today is a continuation of the moving forward that started with D-Day.  There may be expectations, and the trend line (up and to the right) has not proceeded without a few plateaus, pauses, and even set-backs, but decade after decade the globe has been moving forward.   Often in the daily spin of events, or the spinning of events by journalists and propagandists, we get fixated on a point in time and lose sight of the steady movement.  It is helpful, and often hopeful, to pause and reflect on this perspective.  Let this inner voice drown out the external noise.

Now for the sales pitch!  Low key to be sure.  Changing metaphors, inner voices benefit by being fed from time to time, best with a diet of ideas, insights, facts, and even theories and conjectures.  Entrees from such a menu can be books, pamphlets, ephemera, images, documents, analyses, arguments, humor, etc.  Etc. may be the largest category.  While we do not have a restaurant or caterer license, we have a track record of feeding intellects and nourishing curiosity.  Best of all, consuming mass quantities of our items has no negative caloric impact!

Sometimes our columns are humorous, other times whimsical, and we hope always informative.  This month’s has perhaps been more reflective that most.  If you are in a reflective mood, we hope you will reflect on the potential intersection of your interests and our stock.  As always, we have added substantially in multiple areas.  We hope you will find items, whether newly posted or just rediscovered, of interest to you.  We appreciate your comments, suggestions, occasional corrections, want lists and research requests.  We continue to offer, upon request, a ten per cent discount for purchases made directly with us, rather than through our third-party partners.  We look forward to hearing from you—by phone, e-mail, snail mail, fax, or even ectoplasmic visitation.

For those of you who served in uniform, we thank you for your service.  For those of you who have served society in other ways, we also thank you for your service.  We end this month’s column with our own request, that you permit us to continue to be of service to you.

An Uncompleted Life—the Centenary of the Birth of John Fitzgerald Kennedy

May 1st, 2017

Alan Lewis, President
Ground Zero Books, Ltd.

What is a historian?  Wikipedia tell us he or she is a person who researches, studies, and writes about the past, and is regarded as an authority on it.  Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time.

“As relating to the human race” also indicates that the study of history is about the future.  The past can more help inform the present than it can predict the future.  It is left to the futurists and the fiction writers to flesh out pseudo-narratives of plausible alternative events and impacts.  For us, grounded in history, it is important to note moments of change.

People can argue whether the birth of John Fitzgerald Kennedy on May 29, 1917, was one of these moments of change.  Few, if any, can argue that his assassination on November 22, 1963, was clearly a moment of change, for him, for his family, for his Nation, and arguably for the world.  It is important that the world pause and take note of his birth 100 years ago, because his was a life that touched the lives of many of his generation, and of future generations, and continues to have residual impacts now and likely into the future.  For most of us, the time between birth and death provides the measure of our lives; for some they leave a legacy—whether positive or negative—that provides variable measures of their importance, impact, and even the content of their lives. President John F. Kennedy was one of those few among the billions who have inhabited this Earth, whose impact in life transcended his death and helped shape a future he never experienced.

There is not space here, nor necessarily is this the place, to delve into the details of President Kennedy’s life, his death, or his legacy.  It is enough, for now, to note the anniversary of his birth and to encourage us all to review and reflect upon his life and times.  To assist in that end, we at Ground Zero Books, Ltd., have added a number of items related to President Kennedy to our online holdings.  We have also continued to add a significant number of items across all key topical areas.  Additionally, we are pleased to inform you that we have listed a substantial number of early National Geographic Society items.  The National Geographic magazine was often the first publication of key authors, photographers, and ‘individuals of note.  For example, their issue of May, 1917—marking the entry the previous month of the United States into the first World War—included articles by Herbert Hoover, Newton D. Baker, John J. Pershing, and former President William Howard Taft.  We encourage you to browse through our holdings and we hope you will find items that are of interest– items that will inform and perhaps inspire.

As always, we appreciate it when you work directly with us, and we continue to offer upon request a ten percent discount on your purchases.  We also appreciate your comments on our columns, your research and want list requests, and your suggestions for future topics and enhancements to our key word selections.

As we end this column, we recall that we started with a recognition of a birth and noted the defining moment of President John F. Kennedy’s death.  Birth and death are the bookends of a life.  Some lives can also be measured in bookshelves.   By this measure, President Kennedy’s legend, legacy, and life’s impact continue to grow.  Like the Camelot of King Arthur which became a metaphor for the Kennedy Administration, so too has his Camelot become a symbol not only of a lost time, but moreover, a loss of opportunity.  It is also symbolic of a deferral (at least!) of the achievement of a laudable set of goals and the betterment of conditions for citizens of the United States and of the World.  Let us all hope that such a dream deferred does not permanently become a dream denied.

Ode to the Cherry—Cheery and Uncheery Musings

March 31st, 2017

Alan Lewis
President, Ground Zero Books, Ltd.

As you know, Ground Zero Books, Ltd., is located in Silver Spring, Maryland—an immediate suburb of Washington DC.  As such we annually experience the Cherry Blossom fixation that besots the citizens and attracts tourists from around the globe.  With admirable consistency, the National Park Service predicts weeks in advance when the cherry blossoms will be at peak bloom.  Sometimes they are correct.  Irrespective of the calendar or the prognostications, there is a yearly ritual of honoring the beauty, fragility, and brief existence of the fully bloomed blossoms.  Frequently the Cherry Blossom Festival does co-exist with the time of blooming.

Cherry blossoms in full bloom last only for two weeks. It’s like Life, because Life is also short.
To the Japanese, celebrating cherry blossoms has a significant meaning.  The cherry trees in Washington were a gift of friendship by the Japanese to the United States in part as a thank you for Theodore Roosevelt’s role in ending the Russo-Japanese War (and being awarded the first Nobel Peace prize). In addition to being a celebration of life, cherry blossoms are also a metaphor for Death.  Japanese culture honors the act of dying gracefully and beautifully, such as the passage of the cherry blossoms from bloom to petals falling to the ground. Samurai and other Japanese soldiers and civilians preferred committing suicide than being killed by someone.   Just as “Aloha” in Hawaiian can mean hello and goodbye, the cherry blossom can symbolize life and death.

While the cherry blossom is perhaps currently the most common association with the word “Cherry” in American (as well as Japanese) culture, there are many other cultural as well as linguistic associations.  Cherry blossoms come from cherry trees—such as the one, according to Parson Weems, which the young George Washington chopped down with his axe and could not lie about it.  Accepting responsibility for one’s actions is a lesson passed down through generations.

Now, you might say that there are any number of other examples I could have used, but I cherry-picked the one about Washington, because the home of the Cherry Blossom Festival was named after him.  I did not need to ask Uncle Vanya when he was out in the Cherry Orchard.

Or, one could ascribe the selection as indicative of great taste—such as one gets with cherry jam, maraschino cherries, or Cherrystone clams.  Any of which can be satisfyingly accompanied by cherry wine or cherry soda.

Now, is there a challenge in getting this column into a discussion of war, peace and politics? We think not.  The cherry is a heart shaped fruit, and where there is a full heart there can be peace.  Cherry is also a color, and has often been used to illustrate political campaign posters and other materials, and even entire political parties (can one really trust the Reds?)  As for war, the cherry bomb can speak for itself (loudly).  Historically, one can generally refer to the Napoleon cherry.  We could go on, but risk being accused of proving that April is the cruelest month.

So, having demonstrated the centrality of “cherry” in its many forms, uses, and associations to war, peace, and politics, we now come to that part of the column where we remind you that we appreciate your business very much.  We strive to continue to earn your custom and to delight your senses by adding new, intriguing, and often remarkable items every month. We actively seek want lists and your search requests.  Your comments on our columns and suggestions for future topics and recommendations for additions to our key word lists are always appreciated.  We look forward to hearing from you by phone, e-mail, snail-mail, and through our website.  In the immortal words of Dean Martin, please “keep those cards and letters coming.”

As is our continuing practice, in addition to offering our items indirectly through third party sites, we are pleased to be able to sell our products to you directly.  We are happy to reduce our price, upon request, by ten per cent since we avoid paying commissions to these third parties when we sell directly to you.  We never tire of your requesting these discounts—for us it is a pleasure—like the cherry on top of a sundae.

The Ides of March—The Warrior Month

March 3rd, 2017

R. Alan Lewis
President, Ground Zero Books, Ltd.

Caesar was a warrior, but he is not the reason, or at least not the sole reason, to consider March as the Warrior Month.  What do armies do?  They March.  The goal is to go forward to Victory.  Marching backward is not only physically difficult to do, but it also signifies a retreat—and not the kind that results in peaceful contemplation.

Time marches on.  Troops march on.  Thus, time and troops are similar?  Perhaps so—they both can have rhythm.  Day follows night follows day, and so forth.  Troops march in cadence—and thus an important genre of martial music was born.  Night and Day was a song by Cole Porter.  Armies, especially British and French units in colonial Africa, used porters.  See, it all fits—or gives some of us fits.

Marches were not only troop movements, but they were also ‘things,’ or geographic areas.  The Lord Warden of the Marches was an office in the governments of Scotland and England. The holders were responsible for the security of the border between the two nations, and often took part in military action. They were also responsible, along with ‘Conservators of the truce’, for administering the special type of border law known as March law.

The Marches on both sides of the border were traditionally split into West, Middle, and East, each with its own warden answerable to the Lord Warden-general. The English Western March was based on Carlisle and the Eastern March on Berwick-upon-Tweed.  Middlemarch became a novel by George Eliot.  It is true that these Lord of the Marches used some animals militarily, such as steeds for knights in armor.  However, it is not true that the militarized rabbits turn into March Hares!  Rather, scientists have noted that the hare will behave strangely and excitedly throughout its breeding season, which in Europe is generally the month of March.  This odd behavior includes boxing with other hares, jumping vertically for seemingly no reason and generally displaying abnormal behavior—in short, they act in a manner similar to many recruits going through basic training.

Now, you have an opportunity to steal a march—you can get an advantage over others by acting before they do!  How, you ask?  By browsing through our on-line holdings and finding items of interest before they are snapped up by your competition—and placing your orders promptly.  We continue to have thousands of items to potentially delight, inform, challenge, educate, and illuminate you and those you know well enough to give the gift of books.   If you don’t see what you are looking for, please let us know.  We have thousands of items waiting to be catalogued, and contacts with colleagues around the world.  Give us a chance to find that elusive book for you!

As you recall, we encourage direct purchase from us—via our website, by phone, by e-mail, and by post.  By avoiding the costs of selling through third parties, we are able to provide upon request a ten per cent discount on your direct purchases.   We wish you both good buys, and good-bye until next month.

To Tsundoku or Not to Tsundoku—That is a Choice and Not a Question

February 1st, 2017

R. Alan Lewis
President, Ground Zero Books, Ltd.

As we all know, even if only after googling the term, Tsundoku is the practice of acquiring reading materials and letting them pile up and not reading them.  It is an interesting term—sort of like ‘hoarding’ but specific to reading materials.  It is also used to refer to books ready for reading later when they are on a bookshelf.   The word originated as Japanese slang.  As currently written in Japanese, the word combines the characters for “pile up” and the character for “read”.

We confess, as booksellers with an about 60,000 items listed on-line and perhaps an even greater number of items awaiting cataloguing, that we practice Tsundoku in effect but not in intent.  We revel in each book, professional journal, pamphlet, brochure, report, manual, and other material as we prepare our database entries.  We often experience the joy of discovery when we determine that a signature is significant or that an item was a seminal work in its field or that there was an unexpected association—such as learning that Sendak’s first published illustrations were in a book on nuclear energy—Atomics for the Millions published in 1947.  While we do not delve into the motivations of our customers, we hope that the purchases we fulfill provide stimulation as well as the joy of possession.  But we respect the goal of possession for its own sake.  A. Edward Newton is quoted as saying: “Even when reading is impossible, the presence of books acquired produces such an ecstasy that the buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching towards infinity … we cherish books even if unread, their mere presence exudes comfort, their ready access reassurance.”  Please be assured that we would never shrink from the opportunity to sell items to provide ‘mere presence.’

The United Kingdom’s National Literacy Trust recently examined the possession of books in its study: Book ownership and its relation to reading enjoyment, attitudes, behavior and attainment.  This report presented findings that show that book ownership is not only associated with educational attainment but is also related more broadly to reading enjoyment.  Book ownership can be exceptionally important for children.   The number of books in the home has as great an impact on children’s educational attainment as parental education levels.  The multi-year study by Mariah Evans and her colleagues at the Australian National University, UCLA, and other academic institutions found that having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant on propelling a child to higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.  Can you imagine the quantum increase in benefit if there were 20,000 books at home?  Thus, the acquisition of books can, and we hope should, have a multi-generational positive impact.  Purchasing books today, then, can directly benefit the next generation and beyond.  Perhaps destiny is calling you to buy books today, for your own purposes and to benefit future owners and readers.  Do you owe it to your posterity to perform Tsundoku?  Only you can say.

So, what to buy?  As you know, we have a broad and deep stock of books, monographs, pamphlets, technical reports, government documents, and some odd-ball items.  While we focus on the areas of war, peace and politics, we have significant holdings in many other areas—as a result of acquiring collections over the past 40 years or so.  We hope as you browse our website you will find items to delight your senses, or at least satisfy a need.  Additionally, if you do not see exactly what you are interested in, please let us know and we can survey our current holdings and work with our international network of other book dealers to try to find what you want.

As always, we appreciate your comments on our columns, your suggestions for future topics, your requests for additional information on items we have for sale, your want lists, and your research needs.  We invite you to contact us directly, by phone, mail, and/or e-mail, to purchase our items, and will gladly grant, upon request, a ten per cent discount.    As we end this month’s column, even if it seems like we are ‘piling on,’ we will use a forced metaphor—May the Tsundoku be with you!