Five Reasons to Give Books as Gifts

The Ghost of Christmas Past Staff Photo (2018)

We queried our staff, and here are their reasons to give books as gifts

Kris: Books can be opened at any time; they require no electricity, only light.

Tärna: A person can only use so much bath soap.

Faith: Is there anything else?

Emma: There’s a book out there for everyone on your list.

Kevin: As a mother told her four-year-old earlier today: “Learning to read makes you taller.”

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A Fantastic Philosopher’s Book Collection Comes to Bell’s

Initially known in the area of analytical philosophy, Richard Rorty eventually embraced a very sophisticated form of pragmatism which emphasized language and culture as guiding principles to philosophical thought. After teaching philosophy at Princeton University and the University of Virginia, Professor Rorty ended up coming to Stanford in the Comparative Literature Department, a position which he himself wryly viewed as ‘transitory professor of trendy studies.’ As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states: “[ his ] legacy that is now taking shape tends … to highlight Rorty’s fundamental and enduring concern with the connection between philosophical thinking and the pursuit of human happiness… ”

The collection, which we have acquired through the generosity of his wife Mary Varney Rorty, consists of a wide variety of philosophers and topics, and some of the books bear Rorty’s surname in his own hand (see below) or dedicatory inscriptions from the authors to “Dick” (i.e., Richard Rorty). The signed copies include inscriptions from such eminent thinkers as Jacques Derrida, Bruno Latour, Slavoj Zizek, Cornelius Castoriadis, Jurgen Habermas, and many others.

We have also acquired unique examples of some books that were annotated by Rorty to the degree that one can see very clearly what his approach to particular philosophers or their ideas was. These titles include a one-page summary of Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge on the front endpaper, a heavily annotated copy of a book on modern French philosophy (sold), and four pages of handwritten notes to accompany Richard Wollheim’s On Art and the Mind.

Why not read an important work in philosophy and reflect at the same time that the copy you are holding was once owned by a very significant mind from the world of 20th Century philosophy?

The images below are from the Rorty Collection we have in our shop. It consists of over 25 shelves of material from his former personal library.

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Books on Film Window

For the past month we have featured highlights from our collection of books on film in our window. In addition, we have been showing select short films from the original special effects pioneer Georges Méliès on a small screen as part of the display. Méliès discovered and mastered stop-motion photography, which can help create the illusion of people and objects appearing and disappearing instantaneously. He also pioneered double exposure techniques so he could appear to be seven different members of his own band, all of whom are, in fact, the same person! His most famous film is the 1902 silent classic A Trip to the Moon.

Special thanks go to Stanford University Professor Emerita Jan Krawitz, who provided us with a number of books on special topics such as British cinema, lighting technique, and documentary film production and perspectives.

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A Very Rare Nikola Tesla Inscription

In the original owner of Bell’s Books’ glass cabinet were some very special book treasures: among them a complete set of Shakespeare from 1752, an early 17th Century legal/historical text in Latin from Spain, a complete doubly-illustrated set signed by Joseph Conrad, and a book entitled Memoirs of the Queens of Prussia by Emma Willsher Atkinson from 1858. At first it was a mystery as to why this book was with the others, until we opened to the front free endpaper and discovered a German text in ink and in the cryptic hand of none other than Nikola Tesla(!). The German text is a particularly relevant passage to Tesla, as the following story relates:

One day in 1882, as he was walking with his friend Anital Szigety in a Budapest city park watching the sun set, Tesla quoted a passage from Goethe’s Faust from memory. It triggered an epiphany, and, as Tesla recounts: “…the idea came like a flash of lightning, and in an instant the truth was revealed.” Tesla immediately drew a diagram (with a stick on the ground) of what would become the AC motor, forever changing the future of electricity.

The text quoted from memory was lines 1072-1075 of Goethe’s Faust, which are the same lines of text inked in the front of the Memoirs of the Queens of Prussia. This is an extremely unusual instance of poetry Tesla admired in his own hand, and this particular example represents the most significant in his life’s work.

Here is the page:

“The sun moves on, the day has had its round;

He hastens on, new life greets his salute.

Oh, that no wings lift me above the ground

To strive and strive in his pursuit!”

       – Walter Kaufman translation

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Who Was Richard Bachman?

Richard Bachman (1977-1985) was the pen name for Stephen King, in an experiment he carried on for years to see if he could be a successful writer under a different name. 

Roadwork is the third (published in 1981) in a series of books which were not discovered to be by King until 1985. This first edition was released in mass market format, and, as such, is extremely scarce. 

The story tells of a frustrated laundry service company manager, George Bart Dawes, who must give up his home in order for a new highway to be built. As winter ensues, Dawes considers more desperate and violent measures to combat his ultimate feeling of helplessness.

This book comes with an exclusive custom Moroccan leather clamshell box made by local bookbinder Constance Hunter.

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Our Bell’s Logo Bags Have Returned!

Our brilliantly colorful Bell’s logo bags are back in stock! Made from a medley of patterned fabrics, using remnants from clothing manufacture in India, they come in three styles: large cotton shopper, sturdy canvas book bag, or small organza gift bag.

Every single bag has a unique combination of fabrics, and supplies are limited!

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The Lord of the Rings Emerges from Our Archives!

Fresh from our long-term holdings, we have several new condition editions of Tolkien’s monumental work The Lord of the Rings. These include the 4th and 5th impressions of the one-volume De Luxe edition from George Allen and Unwin (one in a slipcase, the other in a very handsome box), as well as all first editions thus of the earliest multi-volume Folio Society edition, accompanied by the Folio Hobbit for that group. All these were purchased new by Bell’s as they were released in the 1970s. What better way to enjoy this timeless classic than in beautiful and sturdy editions such as these?

AUGUST 4th UPDATE: All Sold Out!

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Expanded Philosophy!

Thanks to recent acquisitions from retiring Stanford professors, our Western Philosophy section has grown by at least six shelves! We now have the largest collection of material by and about John Locke west of the Mississippi (outside of academic libraries), plus numerous works of Derrida, Rawls, Habermas, John Dewey, and many more.

In addition, our collection on the history of the book: printing, publishing, literacy, and the dissemination of knowledge has been enhanced.

We are still open every day of the week from 11 to 5, with extended hours until 8 on Fridays.

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Mask Update

As per the Health Officer of Santa Clara County’s recommendation, face coverings will still be required to enter our store (“… the Health Officer strongly recommends that all persons continue to wear face coverings when indoors.” SANTA CLARA COUNTY ORDINANCE CODE SECTION A18-33). Your nose and mouth must be covered at all times while browsing.

We will keep you updated as things progress, and thank you, as always, for your patronage!

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Larry McMurtry on Bell’s

Larry McMurtry lived in the Bay Area in the 1960s, and he recounts in his memoir, entitled Books, his visit to Bell’s Books:

“The famously grouchy Mr. Bell in Palo Alto ordered me off his second fl0or, although I had a book in my hand and I bought it!” (page 50)

(During that decade the second floor was frequently roped off for book processing.) Today, you are free to browse that area, which includes history, philosophy, sexuality, religion, psychology, translated fiction, genre fiction (mysteries, science fiction, horror), and nature.

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