The Beauty Of Black Sparrow Books


The love of reading and the love of books, while almost always coinciding are still, in essence two different things.

If I loved to read as much as I loved books, for instance, then I wouldn’t own at least a hundred books which I haven’t read yet.

But really you can’t have one without the other. It just becomes a matter of proportion and, in more extreme cases like mine, sublimating an addiction.

For instance, I love Paul Bowles, Paul Goodman, Eileen Myles and Jack Spicer.

But am I content with just any of their editions?

No, (well at least before I went on food stamps) and in fact what I usually do, and working where I do is an incredible boon in this regard, is I hunt down the Black Sparrow Press editions of their titles.

Black Sparrow Press, a “boutique” press, might have produced some of the most distinctive-looking paperback titles ever. The off-white, mottled, autumnal covers of the book covers are always eye-catching but even more fetching are the distinctive front covers that are always embossed with some futuristic painting or drawing.

It helped too that they almost always published maverick authors of an extraordinary high caliber.  Most people know Black Sparrow through Bukowski who was the original Black Sparrow author.

Now that Black Sparrow is being distributed through David R. Godine, itself an amazing publishing house, the original Sparrow paperbacks are becoming harder to come by. I was tipped off to this fact by a discerning customer at my store who bought two Paul Bowles’ novels as well as a Robert Creeley for what I thought was a pretty generous price!

Since then I’ve put a copy of Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles on my hold shelf along with A Brief History Of Camouflage by Thaisa Frank.

Godine, himself, on the Black Sparrow site, describes in lyrical fashion the original inspiration of Black Sparrow’s founder, Jack Martin:

“From 1966 through 2002, Martin sought out the great and astounding statements of America’s literary outsiders, writers whose kinship is with the red blood of Whitman not the blue blood of Longfellow, with the dirty hands of Dreiser not the kid gloves of Edith Wharton. Writers who, on the whole, have looked west, toward the frontier and its promise of wildness, and away from the east, away from “civilization” and its received ideas of excellence and form. And Martin found them––in little magazines, in collectors’ libraries, and among that band of bards and truth-tellers who emerged from the jazz cellars of the 1950s into the Day-Glo orange sunshine of the 1960s and ’70s.”

Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →