Tom Verlaine’s library is on sale, and it’s wild.

March 27, 2024, 12:35pm

Image: Tom Verlaine of Television on stage in London, April 1978. Credit: Gus Stewart/Redferns

Tom Verlaine—visionary Television frontman, saint you should know—died in January of 2023. But some fans are still sifting through his legacy. In the figurative sense, of course—1977’s Marquee Moon remains an iconic post-punk masterpiece—but also literally sifting, as in “through his possessions.” That’s right, superfans. If you crave a piece of music history, you too can currently purchase a book from the late singer’s personal library. 

Verlaine was an avid and eccentric reader. (According to Alex Abramovich at the LRB, he kept some 50,000 titles in multiple storage units across New York.) His titles spanned the genre gamut from literature to radical theory. While perusing his collection, Matty D’Angelo of the Brooklyn bookstore Better Read Than Dead even inaugurated a new category, “MOPS,” to account for the singer’s many books on “mythology and mysticism, the occult, paranormal activities and spirituality.”

Though some of this library went public last August at a well-publicized Brooklyn street sale, Better Read Than Dead and D.C.’s Capitol Books still carry much of it online. Many of these books are personally inscribed, first editions, or out-of-print. There’s heady philosophy from the likes of Simone Weil, and some true esoterica–like this Merlin Tarot handbook. There’s also a plethora of rare, early work by artists we lost to AIDS. 

I recommend a full skim of the Johnny Jewels on avail, but here are a few titles to get you started:

Verlaine’s signed and inscribed copy of James L. Harris’ out-of-print novel, Endurance, depicts life as a “gay black man growing up in [60s] Harlem” against a backdrop of murder mystery and “round-the-clock orgies.” 

British playwright Basil Woon’s The Paris That’s Not in the Guide Books is a gossipy glance at 1920s Paris, set at cabarets and cocktail bars. By all accounts, this one is a stylish, dizzy chronicle of a bygone belle époque. (And it features familiar literary travelers, like Sinclair Lewis.)

Cytomegalovirus, the posthumously published diaries of French memoirist Hervé Guibert, beautifully chronicles the everyday anguish of hospital days.  

I was delighted to learn that Ishmael Reed and Al Young briefly co-edited a journal inspired by the creative stylings of Charlie Parker. This copy of Yardbird Reader Volume 2 includes early pieces by Frank Chin and June Jordan.

Class of ’47 is a signed, first edition chapbook from a total of just 350 published copies. This primo New York School collaboration features illustrations and poems by two late polymaths: Joe Brainard and Robert Creeley.

Ask. Dr. Mueller is a first edition Cookie Mueller, comprised of the late author’s columns in Details and the East Village Eye. Her musings here, as elsewhere, are by turns glamorous and witty.  

There’s a special joy in looking at work that inspired the artist who inspires you. So, what are you waiting for? Buy a book from Television.

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