Berkeley antiquarian bookseller dies at 66, remembered for unique writing

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Ian Jackson, a Berkeley antiquarian bookseller whose family described his unique writing as “erudite humor,” died Feb. 18. He was 66.

Jackson’s wife, illustrator Ann Arnold, described him as a delightful conversationalist who brought “dry British humor” to every situation. Arnold said Jackson loved to tell her anecdotes that reflected his own experiences as well as the information in the books that he read.

“He would go through about five or six books a day, and his incredible memory allowed him to retain information from these books, which he could use in his own writing,” Arnold said.

Jackson was born in Montreal and spent part of his life in Illinois while his father taught at the University of Illinois. When he was 14, his family moved to California, and his father became a physics professor at UC Berkeley. Jackson met his wife at UC Santa Cruz, where he received his Bachelor’s degree in classical Greek and history of art.

After college, Jackson started selling gardening books. He then expanded to selling a variety of books, including scholarly reference books and books in French and Italian, which he spoke fluently. He also wrote for several French and Italian periodicals, which connected him to famous scholars from around the world.

Jackson wrote a range of his own books as well. One of his books, “To Learn is to Suffer,” is a compilation of his father’s sayings. Arnold is currently working on a book of Jackson’s sayings, which will be called “Glossary of Cosinka,” after Jan Cosinka, Jackson’s pen name. She said making the so-called “cookery books” is based on a Laos tradition.

Arnold used to illustrate books that her husband wrote. Some of these books include “The Chaste Mouse and the Wanton Mouse,” “Egmont Lee” and “Addie and Zika.” Arnold said they started collaborating in college, when they would make puppet shows. Jackson would write the plays and Arnold would build the characters.

Other books by Jackson include “Teach Yourself Malkielese in 90 Minutes,” which is a comical account of Berkeley romance philology professor Yakov Malkiel. Malkiel was a native Russian speaker who, according to Arnold, claimed he spoke better English than English-speakers. The book contains examples from Malkiel’s unique English dialect. Like some of Jackson’s other books, “Teach Yourself Malkielese” demonstrated Jackson’s interest in the way people use language.

The Arnold-Jackson house is still piled high with books, evidence of Jackson’s life as an avid reader. One of his favorite spots, according to Arnold, was standing in the doorway to the garden.

Sitting in the family’s candelabra-filled kitchen over a glass of homemade kombucha, Jackson’s son Aldo recounted his favorite memory with his father.

“I would discuss with him about all sorts of interesting and random things on his mind, like the notion of founding a nation out of debris of the Pacific gyre,” Aldo Jackson said. “And he bought me all sorts of books.”

Contact Isabella Sabri at [email protected].

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  • Ian was my friend and mentor for 34 years, I miss him terribly! I don’t know how Ann and Aldo can handle such a shocking loss, Ian died with almost no warning and yet he was the strongest and healthiest scholar I’ve ever met and was a cyclone of energy, imagination and productivity. The book BTW is in fact a collection of his father’s many sayings, some common ones but plenty that might have come from his Canadian roots? A charming homage to Ian’s father.

    I’m writing a memoir of Ian and I would appreciate hearing from those who knew him, even if only briefly. Send me an email, [email protected]

  • Alexander MacAulay

    An ill-written and maladroit piece that fails to do justice to its subject. ‘Mathein Pathein’ does not mean ‘to learn is to suffer’ and the book is not a collection of his father’s ‘sayings’.

    • Facebook User

      It’s a joke, for heaven’s sake. Yes, the conventional meaning of pathein mathein must be ‘to suffer is to learn’, going back to Aeschylus’ Δίκα δὲ τοῖς μὲν παθοῦσιν μαθεῖν ἐπιρρέπει, but word order in
      Greek does not determine subject and predicate, so the tag can be neatly adapted to a scholar’s biography.
      I met Ian Jackson only once, but I treasure my correspondence with him.
      Sevin Seydi

    • Writing obits is not easy, especially when on the fly and with an immediate deadline so I can’t find fault here but it’s true this obit barely touches on his multifaceted and very unique life!