Sunday, September 30, 2007

I'm not sure I know the moral of this story!

Apparently a couple in Bosnia each found a soulmate on the Internet while complaining about their marital troubles:

In an entirely predictable twist, their new dream partners turned out to be ... each other!

But it gets better. Now they're divorcing each other, on the grounds of ... infidelity!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

In which I relate the latest shift I've ever worked.

Thanks to everyone who came out on Saturday evening, during the insanity of Midnight Madness. We were open till 12.30 AM, and quite a lot of happy students ran off with some of our vintage "Playboy" magazines and $1.00 leaves from a 1530 book. Speaking of which, we still have some of those 1530 leaves left, and they're pretty much my Favorite thing in the store right now:

Apparently the book these leaves came from was ruined by the collector's child: binding snapped, many pages destroyed by crayon. After the wanton slaughter, Doug felt that the thing to do was sell each individual leaf from the volume. The paper is in marvelous shape -- as Doug says, they simply didn't know how to make bad paper back then, and a lot of ragstock 1500s paper has lasted better than 1800s or early 1900s paper. The text is in antique French, but English-speakers can enjoy the hand-set calligraphic type and its decorated capitals (and some students found leaves with very, very old ink notes in the margins). We'll continue selling these leaves until we run out (now $4.00 apiece, since the promotional event has gone the way of all flesh).

This week's Collector's Item isn't quite as old -- merely from 1860:

Rebound in 1863 as the "Grammar School Athletic Prize", this is a little anthology of Alexander Pope's poetical works. Pope was, as the :ahem: always-reliable Internet informs me, considered by many to be the greatest English poet of the early 1700s. This collection contains all manner of elderly sonnets, epitaphs, imitations, moral essays and miscellanies; all of these are illustrated by elaborate etchings; but these are not, I must confess, what first drew my attention to this book. (Perhaps I'm a philistine.) The really magnificent thing is this:

It's a little difficult to initially figure out what you're seeing here: there's a little painting hidden on the fore-edge of the book, and when the gilted side of the text bloc is fanned (as when one might be reading the book), the picture is revealed. I learned of this when a gentleman named Martin Frost came into the shop a few months ago, and told us he was a fore-edge painter. "A what?" quoth I, while Doug cried, "Oh, wow! I didn't know there were any fore-edge painters left!" Doug then proceeded to the glass cases to pull out this little gem and show it to us, at which point I plotzed*.

You can look at Martin Frost's website by clicking here -- it includes some videos of the artist showing the camera his work, so it will make it easier to see what exactly a fore-edge painting is -- but Frost is hardly representative of 1800s fore-edge painters. From what Doug tells me, I gather that fore-edge painting was a pursuit of young Victorian women, who were often bored and probably required an inexhaustible supply of "ladylike" pursuits to assuage the fact that they were practically never allowed to do anything interesting. Presumably, this little volume was won at school by just such a proper young lady, who seized the chance to further decorate her pretty new book (perhaps impressing some of her all-important suitors in the process). I choose to believe that she painted a knight on horseback because she had a secret hankering for adventure and was destined to go someplace fun like the wilds of Kenya, but I could be projecting. You are, of course, welcome to come in and examine her work for yourself, or even buy it for $475.00.

Our Affordable and Interesting piece this week comes from an era in which women were allowed to do slightly more:

Yes. I did a double-take too. And then I really plotzed. A "Doonesbury" musical comedy? This is why I love working here; I could never make this up. It's from 1984, and hence makes quite a lot of fun of Reagan. But I think my favorite part is the bit where Mike, a nerdy but lovable guy, confesses that he wants to propose to his girlfriend:

Mike: In a few weeks, I might ... I might ...
Mark: Might what?
Mike: I might be married. ... I'm still working on my proposal.
Mark: ... I thought you were working on a grant application.
Mike: I've done three rough drafts. I'm on the polish now. Tell me if you think the tone of my opening is right.
Mark: (reads) "Hi, J.J. It's me, Mike." Jesus, Mike, she already knows who you are. You don't have to identify yourself.
Mike: You're right. Nice catch. I'm glad you're checking this.
Mark: (resumes reading) "J.J., you're probably going to think this is a really dumb idea ..." ... Mike, are you sure you're ready for this?
Mike: Of course.
Mark: Mike, if you were really ready for marriage, would you need a script?
Mike: Of course.

I have always wondered where I go next from reading stacks and stacks of Doonesbury collections from the 1980s. (That's where I learned at least 45% of my American History.) I will personally buy this book for you (at $6.00) if you promise to put on a full stage production.

Anyway, I ought no longer distract myself with quotations from the comedy. That's a wrap for today -- but seriously, at least come in and read parts of it yourself. It's pure gold.

* I bet you anything, gentle readers, that my mother is going to send me an email about the fact that I used the term "plotz".

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

In which I envy UChicago students their excitingly literate neighborhood.

Greetings, and special greetings to both new and returning University of Chicago students. You are, of course, always welcome here, but especially this Saturday: the 57th Street Association is having a promotional event, and many of the stores along the street will stay open till midnight, including us! (I wish I'd had local bookstores open till midnight when I was a student -- I'm jealous!)

Even better, throughout the day on Saturday, we here at O'Gara and Wilson will be offering a 15% discount on all merchandise to anyone with a current student ID. And, as a special treat in the evening, we'll be selling pages from a 1500s book for only a dollar apiece ($5.00 to those without student ID)! You see, Doug had a 1500s book with a very unhappy binding and some seriously damaged pages lying around ... so since it was falling apart, we decided to sell the pages for a pittance to those who would appreciate them. Have you ever even seen a page from a 1500s book? Well, on Saturday, you can own one.

This week, mateys*, we will be focusing on one of my special passions: weird old bits of science fiction and fantasy! Much of the science fiction and fantasy that was published during the early parts of the genre's "Golden Age" came from pulp magazines, whose lurid covers and sensational stories were printed on the cheapest possible paper. As a result, most 1920s-50s pulp magazines are in a terribly sad state, if they made it to our time at all. The ones that still look beautiful are Collector's Items:

And they do look beautiful. I don't know if the pictures do them justice. When Doug first saw the covers, he actually thought they were reproductions!

"Weird Tales" is the biggest name among these -- it launched H.P. Lovecraft and other greats (this October 1928 issue is $350.00). "Strange Tales" is in the same vein -- and that snakey cover there adorns the very first issue ($400.00)! "Oriental Stories" (the Summer 1932 issue is $300.00) seems like the odd one out. It supposedly isn't quite as fantastical as the others, but Edward Said would snort to see me write that. It was started by the same people who put out "Weird Tales", and its exoticism is pretty appalling.

Indeed, if you compare Tables of Contents, you'll see that nearly all the same people wrote stories for "Weird Tales" and "Oriental Stories"; basically, they took their preposterous stories of creepiness, mysticism, great passions, and two-dimensional villains, and then simply transferred them to the faraway East, where such things were presumably commonplace. My jaw must have dropped a mile the first time I read a sentence like, "Despite her slant-eyes, the Chinese girl was quite beautiful." I'm glad things have changed -- we may not be perfect, but at least America's racism no longer has popular magazines to support it.

"Weird Tales" is still around, though it had a break of many years, but neither "Oriental Stories" nor "Strange Tales" made it through the 1930s. Fortunately, you don't need to spend a fortune to own one of those antique fantastical treasures. We have a whole bunch that are both Interesting and Affordable:

They aren't in condition as great as the Collectors' Items; many are missing covers, or dull, or have small tears. But some don't look half bad -- and best of all, we just half-priced a whole bunch of them, so there's a few stacks going for as little as $3.00 and up. You can read all kinds of stories about demons, werewolves, vampires, or even the Centauresses of Alpha Centauri without breaking the bank ... and most were never republished, so that's the only way you'll ever get access to such tales as "What Became of Aladdin's Lamp" or "The Satellite of Doom".

And there's even some non-science-fictiony type pulps mixed in there:

Basically, you can rely on anything that appeals to boys getting its own 1920s pulp (or ten zillion pulps). So you end up with stuff like the above "Railroad Magazine" ($6.25), whose table of contents is stuffed with true railroad adventures and "this rail day in history".

Of course, there were fantastical books long before the 20s (who hasn't heard of Jules Verne or H.G. Wells)? One such is James de Mille's A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder, and we have a copy from 1888 -- it's a Favorite of mine:

The novel was originally serialized in "Harper's" (which wouldn't touch anything like it today, I'm sure -- the genre's come a long way ...). This is the first edition in book form, featuring lots of interior etchings:

... and, on the spine, an adorable silver-gilt sea monster holding the eponymous copper cylinder in its jaws. As with much science fiction / fantasy of the late 1800s, this story has quite a lot of Victorian social commentary in it; and as is frequently the case with extremely nerdy things, it actually has an excellent Wikipedia writeup of its very own. From this, the following description cometh:

The main story of the novel is the narrative of the adventures of Adam More, a British sailor shipwrecked on the homeward voyage from Tasmania. After passing through a subterranean tunnel of volcanic origin, he finds himself in a "lost world" of prehistoric animals, plants and people sustained by volcanic heat despite the long Antarctic night. ... In his strange volcanic world, More also finds a highly developed human society which in the tradition of topsy-turvy worlds of folklore and satire (compare Sir Thomas More's Utopia, Erewhon by Samuel Butler, or Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland) has reversed the values of Victorian society: wealth is scorned and poverty is revered, death and darkness are preferred to life and light.

Stereotypical, you might say? Classic literature, I tell you! -- and you could own the first edition for $60.00.

But now then, don't rush in, mateys. I was so disappointed when our first edition of The King in Yellow sold within two weeks.

* I realized only after the fact that I should have been speaking in pirate cant, in honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day! I had noticed the holiday in passing in previous years, but this year I was notified of its sudden onrushing presence by Jill herself, who sent it along in response to my delirious rantings about Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day. So I went through this entry quick-like and replaced all the "gentle readers" with "mateys"; and I encourage you to go say "Arr!" to someone you love.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Speaking of time travel ...

I just heard about the best new holiday ever:

December 8, 2007: Pretend to be a Time Traveler day!

Now let's see if I can convince Doug to make it a full-fledged Shop Event ....

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Everyone loves man-eating lions!

The weather was much nicer today. I sat in the park while I ate lunch, and didn't worry at all about man-eating lions ... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

First we need to cover this week's Collector's Item:

From this angle, it looks like any other book with a really nice morocco leather binding; but inside lies history! It seems that in 1881, the famous John Wentworth (a major figure in Chicago history -- editor of the "Chicago Democrat", twice the town's mayor, and six times its congressional Representative) was asked by the Chicago Historical Society to present an address about the history of Fort Dearborn. Fort Dearborn is something of an icon in Chicago; it played a part in the War of 1812, was rebuilt once and was eventually destroyed by fire.

Wentworth's address was then printed up and combined into a pamphlet with appendices about Chicago icons such as Mark Beaubien. (Mark Beaubien is one of my favorite Chicago historical figures; this is mainly because I read in Miller's excellent City of the Century that, in the days when Chicago was little more than some taverns and hunters' houses, Beaubien used to love giving away land to people who amused him or beat him at cards. Of course, this land was immensely valuable later, when Chicago became a huge metropolis! But when asked how much money he'd lost in those rash gifts, Beaubien apparently shrugged: "Didn't expect no town.")

You can actually read the whole text of said pamphlet on Google Book Search by clicking here; it looks as though the Google copy came from the University of Michigan, and has many bits restored or damaged. But we have it in hard copy -- and it's in practically perfect condition, because it's been bound into this little volume. Even the cover is in beautiful shape:

... but that's not all this book has to recommend it. Whoever had this pamphlet bound over a century ago had a fine sense of history. She (or he) extra-illustrated it by binding in many, many etchings and portraits of people and places mentioned in the narrative. Even better, he (or she) also bound in a number of contemporary newspaper clippings about Fort Dearborn. My personal favorite headline is "More Light on Fort Dearborn: How a Lying Half Breed Abetted the Massacre by a Small Pox Scare." I'll be reading that article during my next lunch break, unless someone swipes this book out from under my nose (at $300.00).

Back to man-eating lions. Look at this Affordable and Interesting little thing!

A reprint of a 1925 pamphlet, this recounts the "main events of Colonel J. Patterson's remarkable experiences with man-eating lions". Since man-eating lions are awesome, I went ahead and read the first paragraph:

When the visitor to the Field Museum pauses before the life-like forms of the Tsavo man-eaters, it will be hard for him to realize that these two ferocious brutes killed and devoured, under the most appalling circumstances, one hundred and thirty-five Indian and African artisans and laborers employed in the construction of the Uganda Railway. For over nine months these insatiable monsters carried on an intermittent warfare against the Railway and all those connected with it in the neighborhood of Tsavo. This finally culminated in a "reign of terror" when they finally succeeded in bringing the railway works for a time to a complete standstill.

Apparently Teddy Roosevelt himself said that "the story of the Man-Eaters of Tsavo is by far the most remarkable account of which we have any record," and the veteran hunter and African pioneer Selous once wrote that "No lion story I have ever heard or read equals in its long sustained dramatic interest the story of the man-eaters of Tsavo." Goodness. I guess man-eating lions are even more awesome than I thought; you can learn just how awesome for $4.00.

But I'm afraid this week's Favorite is not for sale:

One day, Doug came in and said happily, "Look! Store mascots!" The next fifteen minutes went to playing with our two new action figures, Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Apparently they were well-played-with at home until Jill tired of them, and so now they stand with dignity upon our counter, smiling benevolently upon all who enter. I'm trying not to let them distract me too much, but they seem so cheerful that they're hard to ignore! Again, they're not for sale ... but you can certainly play with them if you come into the store. Maybe we can make up an exciting time-travel drama with the two great writers as main characters ... oh, right, less with the distractions.

Wait! Maybe we can add man-eating lions to the time travel story! -- Oh, but it's almost 6PM. See you later, gentle readers!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

All is well, and we have lessons for your children!

Thank you to everyone who expressed concern about our early closing on Friday. We did close due to a medical emergency, but fortunately all is well in that quarter. We (and our families) are all doing fine.

And now! Once again I escape Literary Criticism by means of our exciting blog. (I just finished the E section!) But perhaps I should look to this week's Collector's Item and learn a lesson about such avoidance:

This little booklet was published by McLoughlin Bros. in the late 1800s or early 1900s, and it features the stories of Lazy Charlotte and Envious Minny. Both are punished for their sins (Charlotte's being not darning her socks, and Minny's being the theft of a pretty dress from her sister). At the end is a poetic masterpiece about the doomed attempt to teach a kitten to read. The whole has lasted remarkably well, considering that it's such an old children's pamphlet -- indeed, it is indestructible! (Or so the cover claims.) I must admit that it would be difficult to ruin this little thing -- the pages are made of tough, waxy cloth, and I assume that the colors and printing are cloth-dye. Still, these booklets have managed to become quite rare, and ours is priced at $125.00.

Internet research tells me that the McLoughlin Bros. products represent "the Golden Age of the cautionary genre in America", at least according to the scholar Walter Sauer. I have further learned (goodness, I learn a lot while avoiding the Literary Criticism section) that the whole genre was inspired by one German author, Heinrich Hoffman, who wrote a famous set of books starting with "Struwwelpeter" ("Slovenly Peter"). Hoffman's cautionary tales were known for being bloody and somewhat horrible, as this Affordable and Interesting example can attest:

An actual book rather than a pamphlet, this one isn't dated, but it certainly doesn't appear to be a recent product. I can't tell you much about the contents, because they're in German; but the illustrations are worth far more than a thousand words on their own ... such as this terrifying rabbit with a blunderbuss:

I suspect that the moral of the story is, "Don't fall asleep while hunting or a rabbit will steal your gun and turn it on you," or (more relevantly) "Don't be lazy." (You can judge for yourself, if you'd like to come in and examine the stories -- or buy the book at $7.50.) Which brings us back to the "laziness" problem ... ahem. Writing blog entries isn't being lazy, right? I wonder what an appropriate dramatic punishment would be for avoiding Literary Criticism?

Let's avoid that uncomfortable question by turning to this Favorite:

I found this book a while back in our Photography section, but I anticipate that I'll be moving it to Science Fiction and Fantasy. That seems like a more appropriate place for a whole lot of pictures of monstrous stone-beasts, plus commentary by Stephen King. (The photographer calls himself "F-stop Fitzgerald", har har. I shall refrain from expressing my feelings about such puns in this calm and peaceful place.) King's piece ends with the dark and stormy italicized statement: "... they are watching you," which might be more alarming if so many gargoyles didn't look vaguely sad and pettable. At least, I think they look pettable:

Wouldn't you like one of your very own? You could at least have pictures for $20.00.

Aha, it's past time to close! I win this round, Literary Criticism! I'll see you, gentle readers, next week; and as for you, Literary Criticism -- I'll get you yet.