Home » Army Life and Stories » JEAN SHEPHERD: Pulling Out a Plum–Part 3 of who-knows-how-many & (24) ARTSY Artists’ Books, Part 1

JEAN SHEPHERD: Pulling Out a Plum–Part 3 of who-knows-how-many & (24) ARTSY Artists’ Books, Part 1


My ol’ pal, Shep?

There have been people, including at least one reviewer, who think I actually knew Shep–one reviewer refers to Shep as my friend. Those people obviously skimmed a couple of my statements as suggesting that I knew him  (read all of pages 17-19, where I say that I spoke to him once on the phone during a program, and once asked him to sign my I, Libertine) without paying attention or remembering this, from page 19: “Although in fact we spoke only those two times, it had always seemed that he was speaking directly to me during all his broadcasts.” The book, in general discusses my personal experience of what Shep’s radio broadcasts expressed to thousands of us.

N. Y. Times best seller list?


On page 29, I refer to In God We Trust as having been on the Times bestseller list–as Shep had said it had been. People continue to say and publish this as fact, but my research has not found any indication that it had ever been on that list. Please, someone, was he on any bestseller list?

“Marshall McLuhan said that…”

I’ve tried to correct this misapprehension numerous times, but people still get it wrong: McLuhan didn’t say (write) that Shep was writing  a new kind of novel (or words to a similar effect), McLuhan wrote in Understanding Media that “Jean Shepherd of WOR in New York  regards radio as a new medium….” Emphasis mine, indicating that Shep regards, not that McLuhan himself claims. See my page 31.

“South side of Chicago”


Shep with football on the South Side

Photo courtesy of Bill Ek and Steve Glazer

I mention the South Side of Chicago on pages 42-43, but only after EYF! was published did evidence appear that, even though Shep never seemed to tell tales of this location, other than in Hammond, Indiana, he actually spent the first few years of his life in Chicago, until he moved to Hammond.

Date with a minister’s daughter

Near the end of  the army life section of EYF! I mention Shep’s metaphorical story of  having a date with a minister’s daughter right after getting out of the army–she gets falling-down drunk in a bar. (He told at least one other version of a date right after release from the army.) I remember the minister’s daughter version clearly, but nobody has yet alerted me to the audio of this broadcast.

More parts to come



artsyfratsy 10010


There are many stores in which one can see books about art and artists, but only a rare few that offer what I discovered one day. Browsing in New York’s Museum of Modern Art bookstore, I came upon a tiny blue box on a shelf. I plucked it and shook out the little accordion-style book. It had colored shapes, but the only words of the story were on a front page that showed small colored symbols with a descriptive term for each—it was a shape-equals-words table of contents. It was William Tell by Warja Lavater. Reader, I married it.  (I show the first portion here.*)

william tell

I had discovered for myself an artists’ book, an object that had the form of a book that was created as an artwork unto itself. I found that I had encountered a previously unknown-to-me world of art unlike any other. A world that perfectly fit with my sensibility toward individual interests in art, words, and books, by merging them. It was a very small world, known (and of interest) only to a relative few, but rich in its variety and creative possibilities. The occasional books I’d previously seen that fit the criteria, were “books of hours,” some pop-ups, and some children’s books–I hadn’t known that they were in a rare class of their own. Thus began a new enthusiasm and collecting mania. Made in various publishing forms from one-of-a-kind to very cheaply mass-produced, I’ve got hundreds of them.

Artists’ books go back hundreds of years if they include some that the creators probably didn’t exactly think of in such a way. For example, the so-called pre-Columbian Mexican codexes I consider to be artists’ books. (These fold-out books begin at what we would call the back.) The large images describe important historical events and the small surrounding boxes with the colored dots and images (acting as we would usually expect to be straight text) are sophisticated calendar notations of days, months, and years, the isolated little images being months, similar to our month of July harking back to the one who gave it its name, Julius Caesar. Almost all of these books were destroyed by the early Spanish conquistadors. A few of the survivors can be had in facsimiles such as seen below. A modern, collaborative artists’ book by Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Enrique Chagoya, and Felicia Rice, comments dramatically on our society and its history, using the form of the ancient codex in their fold-out book, Codex Espangliensis.

mex codex

codex modern






Also, the one-of-a-kind medieval Books of Hours, which combine religious text, illustrations, and surrounding minor flora and fauna, combine words and images/decorations that create objects (books) that are artworks of very high quality—the entire book is the work of art. They were usually made by groups of artisans working together. I have a number of facsimiles, including the over 150-page Visconti Hours, below, the most elaborate one I’ve seen.

visconti hours 1

visconti hours 2











The emergence of artists’ books has led to some recently published standard novels and other books that incorporate words-plus-visuals such as Nick Bantock’s widely popular Sabine books with artsy letters inside, and such works as an unusual, visual-expressionism-throughout, 200+ page biography of William S. Burroughs.

sabine 1sabine 2

burroughs bio

The variety of forms that artists’ books take are beyond one’s wildest imaginings.

[The “preview” version of these blog posts do not necessarily show what this draft or posted version will be–so the format of what you see posted will be somewhat unforseen by me. I was not, here, trying to create an “artists’ post.”]


*Note: Undoubtedly the artist, the MOMA Junior Council,

and other collectors felt bamboozled by the printer’s cheap

paper turning brown after only a few years! I own and will

show more of  Warja’s work

(produced on quality paper).





  1. Tom says:

    Gene, you can find the historical NYT bestseller lists here Haven’t had time to go through them so I don’t know if the book appears. As you probably know, Shep’s October 18, 1999 obituary (but not the Oct 17 version) in the Times refers to IGWT as a “best-seller”, but does not specify by which measure. Today, it seems that just about EVERY book touts itself for being on the NYT list and people take it for granted. In the pre-digital era it probably would have be even easier to make that claim.

  2. Bettylou Steadman says:

    I remember wearing those long brown cotton stockings that the girl in the picture with Shep holding the football is in.  We wore them to school in the 1930s.  I hated them, and I would roll them down to look more like socks as soon as I was away from home.Bettylou Steadman

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