Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy All Hallow's, gentle readers!

Happy Halloween! Joan came in wearing a blood-stained lab coat and I'm sitting here in a brocade Renaissance gown. We had candy, too, but it went fast (I think a few of the little rugrats took double handfuls while I wasn't looking). (Hey Alessandra, was your male child out tonight in a wizard costume? If so, he came in and said hi -- and was well-behaved, even!)

Anyway, books only this week, I promise. The canes have been going like hotcakes, though -- Doug had to bring in a new batch this week.

I have no idea what kind of lead-in to use for this week's Favorite, so I'll just give the photo first:

We have a pretty small graphic novels section, and I thought I knew pretty much everything that was in there -- until I discovered this graphic novelization of Wagner's Ring Cycle. (In the unlikely event that you have never heard of the Ring Cycle, click here to find out more.) I'm not really one to enjoy opera (believe me, I've tried), but I've often thought that the story of the Ring Cycle sounds stirring and magnificent, and wished that I could get into it. This might be the key! It even boasts an introduction by Brian Kellow of the "Opera News", which notes that "The Norse and Teutonic legends that Wagner took as his source material are chock full of dragons, gnomes, gods and goddesses: certified comic-book material," and asks, "Is there any other composer's work as cinematic as Wagner's?" I wouldn't know, but I do know that I'm tempted by the comic version (at $10.00) ... I'm especially tempted to buy it for my comic-reading boyfriend, but I'm scared that he'd call me a nerd.

I'm also tempted to use this Affordable but Interesting book to design a standard for Brunnhilde:

I really like the phrase "Everything you ever wanted to know about [whatever] but were afraid to ask", partly because it can be hilarious to apply it to obscure things like heraldry. I can't say I ever especially wanted to know anything at all about heraldry, actually ... still, when I open this book at random and start reading, it's hard to stop. Apparently snakes are often heraldically connected to medicine! And look at all the different standard lion poses:

They all actually signify something!

The book has subsections for many individual countries, a bit about heraldry-related laws, and even something on modern applications of heraldry (apparently the Lego headquarters have constructed the local standard entirely from Legos in their front entryway). (This last reminds me of a crazy site I saw a while back [click here], which suggested that we create a heraldic lingo for corporate logos. It's somewhat preposterous, but fun from a design standpoint.) So, if you have any questions on heraldry that you were afraid to ask, they can be answered right here for $15.00.

We've got a few really nice new Collector's Items this week, but I think I'm going to go with this unique one:

Apparently, back in the 1800s, there were many students too poor to afford books they needed for their studies. The solution? Go to the library, of course. But if they really needed the book and couldn't spend all their time in the library, then they'd take a drastic step: they'd copy out the book by hand. So this little black copy-book, which looks like nothing special, actually contains some memoirs of the French Revolution, written out in longhand by some 1820s kid with gorgeous handwriting:

As a calligrapher, I think I could learn a lot from this book, but I think I'll leave it for a French historian (or at least a French speaker). It's the kind of unusual piece that might make a good gift, or would at least send a French Revolution collector into paroxysms of joy -- and only for $125.00. So I feel as though it would be selfish of me to snap it up.

Now it's dark, gentle readers, and time for me to run off to the North Side. This year's Halsted Parade is all about dragons. I'm excited -- with luck, I'll get to battle one!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

This isn't about books. It's about ...

Back to Literary Criticism. Today I completed the letter H. Victory will be mine! I got a lot of entertainment out of the stuff Doug brought in today and yesterday, though, so I can't complain. Most of it wasn't books -- in fact, almost none of it was books -- so I'm going to do a revolutionary thing with this bookstore blog: there'll be no books on it today! I promise I'll go back to rhapsodizing about books next week, but I just had to talk about these non-books today ...

... before more of them vanish. Earlier, we had far more to talk about: an 1800s jewelry box, a porcelain book-shaped flask. Unfortunately these things were bought so quickly that I hardly registered them. At least we still have the 200-800 A.D. Peruvian textile samples, the late 1800s telescope*, and the following.

Let's start with the Collector's Item:

This old coal-burning stove from the 1850s is still decorated with its original paint, which Doug says is quite rare. While trying to confirm this and find out more about antique stoves from the Internet, I came upon The Antique Stove Hospital's website. At the Hospital, a qualified "paleostovologist" (or perhaps "stove whisperer")** can see to all your antique stove needs. (He's based in Rhode Island, but can refer you to an Indiana stove whisperer if necessary -- perhaps if you buy this stove and decide to get it restored?) The site also tells me that more and more people are buying antique wood- and coal-burning stoves for their original purpose rather than as a historical curiosity. I must admit that this does seem like the kind of thing I would like to have by my side if the Apocalypse comes and all the power grids go out; you too could prepare for such an eventuality for a mere $750.00!

In the Affordable and Interesting corner this week, we have assorted canes!

Having recently secured dozens of wonderful high-quality canes recently, Doug has resolved to bring them in ten or twelve at a time (prices start at $20.00, though some are $30.00 or $40.00). They're dramatic, stylish, and possibly even costume-appropriate for Halloween! This first batch contains some beautifully patterned canes, some uniquely headed canes (one with little frogs!), and one very spiky cane:


Doug even mentioned that he managed to acquire a sword-cane! However, he wants to check up on Illinois laws about concealed weaponry before he considers selling it in the store.

Still, though we may never see the sword-cane, I was inspired to read up on various stories of sword-cane derring-do. The most famous appears to be that of James Bowie, an early 1800s gentleman who survived both a gunshot wound and a sword-cane stab to claim victory in a duel and chase his enemies off a sandbar. Ah, such stories stir my red American blood. Perhaps I shall secure my own sword-cane and go on adventures. (If sword-canes turn out to be illegal, I never said that.)

My Favorite might be the sword-cane if we had it, but right now it's this incredibly beautiful piece. I could have spent all afternoon photographing it:

Considered by some to "ground a person and clarify one's version", desert roses apparently form when gypsum-laden water crystallizes in the desert's heat. These mineral formations are so beautiful, I'm astonished that I've never heard of them before.

I like cropping pictures.

One can purchase small desert roses (I didn't see any larger than palm-size) for $5.00 and up at sites like this one (click here), but we didn't find any other examples of such a large and elaborate formation as ours. Its (doubtless magnificent) clarifying properties could be yours for $125.00, though such healthful emotions might be hindered by my envious gaze!

I'm tempted to cover the shadow puppet I mentioned last entry, but I think I'll leave that a mystery (unless you come in and see it, gentle readers!). Don't get into any sword-cane duels accidents, and I'll see you all here next week.

* Over the course of writing this blog entry, someone purchased the 1800s telescope. (I'm not trying to be a tease, really!)

** I did not make these terms up. They're on that site, I promise. The Stove Whisperer also calls his golden retrievers "velocigoldens" and has named them Ptolemy and Magellan. I like him.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I'm already excited about Halloween!

The best holiday of the year is coming up: Halloween, for which I just created a window display! I'm very excited about it, though I'm sad that I didn't end up with space to put our new antique Indonesian shadow puppet in the window. I thought its monstrous and elaborate features appropriate for this holiday. Maybe I'll feature it here next week.

One of the Affordable and Interesting things I just put in the window was a (highly Halloween-appropriate) Medieval manual for witch-hunters:

Though first published in the late 1800s, the Malleus Maleficarum is well-known even today, because it influenced witch-hunting for hundreds of years. Written by two inquisitors, it first argues heatedly for the existence of witches, then describes their unholy rituals and discusses what methods may be used to bring witches to justice. (Torture, naturally, is presented as a reasonable -- often necessary -- tool.) One wonders if the inquisitors believed the things they were writing; they sound like scoundrels -- I read on this site (click here), for instance, that they were suspected of embezzling money from the Church and forging notarized documents.

Of course, these activities could be put down to a kind of ends-justify-the-means zeal, a zeal fully demonstrated in many a page of their treatise. But the fact that the two also, for example, take pains to explain that a man of God cannot be harmed by a witch makes me suspect that they were reaching for quick excuses. (Picture this exchange: "If you hunt witches, and witches can really turn men into beasts or worse, then why are you still around?" "Well ... er ... witches cannot affect inquisitors! Yeah, that's it!") I suppose both factors could be somewhat true -- self-rationalization is a powerful backup for zeal -- but naturally, we'll never know quite what they were thinking. We can only guess after their psyches by reading their words (for which we're charging $9.50).

On a religious note, my Favourite thing this week is of a gentler faithful bent:

A facsimile of the beautiful Italian Visconti book of hours, this book suffered an unfortunate accident in the store and lost the cloth on the spine. (A book of hours is a kind of Medieval primer for worship -- a collection of prayers, psalms, and so on that one might use to guide his Catholic devotions. They're so named because all of them contained, among other things, the Hours of the Virgin -- a regimen of prayers and such designed to help Catholics relate to Mary's travails.) The damage is a shame, but then, if the book had never been damaged I would never have looked at it and seen its spectacular pages. All the gold leaf from the original manuscript has been replicated pretty well by a kind of metallic golden ink; the detail of these pictures is amazing, the colors divine.

It was suggested that this book be thrown out because of the damage, but I couldn't bear the idea of that, so I asked Doug to let me slash the price (all the way from $60.00 to $25.00) and try to sell it "merely" for the text. Even though the spine cover's lost, the book is still tightly bound and holds together fine; and the pages are perfect -- they're printed on excellent archival paper and will doubtless record the Visconti Hours for years and years, just as vividly as they do now.

If the theme of this week's entry was Medieval religion, then I will thoroughly break it with this Collector's Item:

I had no idea we had this 1937 telephone directory until today, when I discovered it lurking quietly on one of our rare book shelves. I doubt the phone numbers are any good; I wouldn't even know how to start dialing Glenwd-1849-W or Brdway-1430! -- although the P.G. Wodehouse I've read suggests that it would involve talking directly to an operator rather than actually dialing the number. But some of the advertisements are amazing. It amuses me no end to think about taxis that look like this:

... or a time when extensions to land line telephones were sold individually, considering that today half America's houses have seven extensions and three cell phones. I love the comical expressions of these people, who have apparently come to harm because they didn't have extensions in the kitchen / bedroom:


All these advertisements are available in one handy package for $95.00 -- and if you can figure out how to dial the phone numbers, you get those too! But for myself, off I go to continue using my snub-nosed car and comprehensible ten-digit phone numbers. Rest well, gentle readers!

P.S. Jill sends along this note:
Old-timey phone numbers are easy-peasy. The word at the beginning was part of what you dialed -- that's why we have letters as well as numbers on the buttons. Well, they're buttons now, but back in the day they were holes on the dial! Each geographical area had its own "exchange," with its own prefix. Just like now -- here in Chesterton, all the older phone numbers begin with 926. Presumably that stood for something way back when. Now that there are tons more people here, each with his or her own bevy of cell phones etc, we've had to add new numbers beginning with 921, 929, 531, and various others. Those probably don't have anything to do with some primordial township or neighborhood name, but just randomly generated numbers. Click here for a tiny bit of info on the history of phone numbers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lydia: 1; Entropy: 0

Hello from the depths of the science fiction section! I have been back there shelving new science fiction and reorganizing the whole place for days. On the one hand, it's a break from Literary Criticism ... on the other, I have a really hard time not reading while I work! But now I'm done. This may not be as exciting to you all as it is to me, but I consider it a massive victory against the entropy that constantly besets any good bookshop.

At any rate. My major distraction today actually lay not in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section, but in trying to figure out what was going on in this Affordable and Interesting little pamphlet:

Title: "The Working Wasps: A Historical Drama of No Great Length but Fraught With Much Significance". Of the Vanishing Press, which printed it, this description (click here) is all I can find. Inside the front cover is this somewhat mysterious description:

Paper, we are told, was invented in the first century, in or near China. But what about Prehistory? Are we to suppose that in the decades following the Invention the great warehouses of Canton and Shanghai filled up with paper, awaiting the invention of paper work? No: the egg preceded the chick.

The conceit of the following few-page play appears to be that the Emperor, Empress, and Chamberlain of China have all kinds of paperwork, but must first invent paper to put it on. There are some wryly amusing lines ("Scientists, you know," sighs the Chamberlain, "They did invent the umbrella a few weeks ago."), but the whole appears not intended as a comedy: "A play is a parable, not a monograph," explains the postscript. (I'm not sure what the Chinese characters on every page mean ... was the whole play also translated into Chinese?) Perhaps the moral of the story is supposed to be that people ought to create institutions previous to creating infrastructure for them? Hmmm ... well, I appreciate the typesetting, and while I may buy this (at $3.00) for one of my China-and-irony-obsessed postmodern friends, I think I'll leave it in the shop for a while to give local paper enthusiasts the first crack at it.

Here are some Collector's Items printed on very beautiful paper:

These little art pamphlets are mostly in French, but a few have criticism or poetry in English as well. Doug priced them at $75.00 to $150.00 each, so -- wondering what made them so collectible -- I went and did some research on them. They're lovely, but it turns out that their value comes largely from the collector / gallery owner who printed them: Heinz Berggruen, who died in 2007 (you can read his NYTimes obituary by clicking here). He became a celebrity because of a legendary gesture of generosity.

It seems that, a Jew, Mr. Berggruen fled Germany in his youth and went on to become a great collector; but, several years ago, he sold much of his modern art collection to a German museum at a fraction of its market value. (Germany's museums apparently felt a great lack of modern art, because such work was purged from the country by the Third Reich.) I felt stirred by this story -- the idea of a man who had suffered so much, and the art that had likewise suffered, coming to a kind of reconciliation. If it has a moral, it's that art is above our conflicts, no matter how devastating those conflicts can be.

Perhaps I should have saved the ironic pamphlet for last, just to get the sweetness of that moral out of my mouth! Ick. But I'm afraid this week's Favorite is also beautiful and sappy:

I first picked up the Torch-Bearers trilogy because of the beautiful covers. I assumed them to be science fiction, but it seems that they're actually volumes of scientific history -- in poetic form. As the Introduction says, The story of scientific discovery has its own epic unity -- a unity of purpose and endeavour -- the single torch passing from hand to hand through the centuries; and the great moments of science when, after long labour, the pioneers saw their accumulated facts falling into a significant order -- sometimes in the form of a law that revolutionised the whole world of thought -- have an intense human interest, and belong essentially to the creative imagination of poetry.

Thus, the first volume is a long poem about Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, and others; the next two volumes continue the story. Even removing the covers and framing them would be worth the set's price of $60.00, I would think (though I do hope whoever takes these home doesn't abuse them so); but these would be a particularly good gift for a scientist who doesn't lose his appreciation for beauty to hard facts, or a poet who sees beauty even in the spare outlines of science. I find the grandeur of such a poem stirring, myself ....

Ah, it's late. Time to go home now, dear readers -- and don't let my sappiness spoil your dinner!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Eking out an existence, eh?

Apparently, after the next ten years, a certain ten businesses will face extinction ... such as telemarketers, arcades and used bookstores:

Used bookstores
They've been closing fast, and those that are still open are relying on what's making them obsolete: the internet. A used bookstore used to be the place to find that beloved, out-of-print children's book you used to read 17 times a day until your little sister flushed it down the toilet. Now you just type that title in a search engine and order it within minutes.
Odds of survival in 10 years: Some of them will still be eking out an existence, but the handwriting is on the wall.

What do you think, gentle readers?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

This shall henceforth be known as "that" entry ....

It's warm out, and I want to go swimming. But I'll content myself with writing to you, gentle readers ... though this week's Collector's Item might heat things up some more:

Pretty much everything we know about "The Magazine of Modern Sex" is right there in the magazines themselves. All these issues are from 1964-66, and we think we've got a full run (11), although we can't be sure because we've been able to find nothing on them. (There isn't even a Wikipedia article! Gasp!) We do know that we can't find any issues available for sale online that we don't have ... so it seems reasonable to assume that we've got them all. (If you have any bibliographic information that's not available to our first source [the Library of Congress], please do email us!)

The magazine's tagline was, "The truth about yourself and the world you live in," which makes me wonder just what kind of world 1960s America was given that one headline moans: "American Women Are Frigid!" Other favorites include "Sex in Old Testament Times" and "Dark Rites of Voodoo: Secret Rites of Sex in Modern Times". Some articles make it clear that there are many debates that will simply never die: "Birth Control vs. Morality", for instance. And some insecurities likely afflicted Adam and Eve: "How Good A Lover Are You?" or "What Really Makes A Woman Sexy?" Then there's a whole panoply of articles that strike me as dated, yet hold an eerie cultural echo: "The Well-Integrated Homosexual", "Homosexual Love Without Fear", and "Why Women Become Lesbians" all form an excellent sample.

I'm a tad fascinated by these magazines (and more than a tad relieved that I don't live in the 60s). I'm enjoying having them around the shop, but I do hope they make some sexual historian very happy (at $160.00 for the run).

A slightly less solvent sexual historian might be interested in these other Affordable and Interesting period pieces:

At $4.00 apiece, our late 1960s / early 1970s issues of "Playboy" are a veritable steal -- especially since they're in great condition! Apparently the gentleman we received these from had dozens of the same issues, all of them lying around in their original wrappers, which is why they show no wear and hardly even any age-darkening. Everyone loves them, though, so they go quickly. I've noticed that we're running perilously low on a few of the more exotic-looking issues, like the one on body paint:

Wondering what you can do with a bunch of vintage "Playboy" magazines? Think of the possibilities! Party favors for a 1960s theme party! Collages as maddening as they are artistic! I often make the joke that "we sell them for the articles", but there really are some historical gems in there: a 1968 interview with Ralph Nader, a 1967 interview with Woody Allen. History. Seriously. Plus doe-eyed nudes. You can't go wrong with that.

Did I mention it's hot in here? I need a break from talking about these scandalous things. Let's look at this week's Favorite:

I found this tile in a desolate corner of the shop a month or so ago, and I hauled it out to see if anyone could identify a language in it. Not one of the eminent scholars who pass our window have been able to translate the symbols, and Doug (mysteriously?) can't recall where he came by it. I half think it's a talisman, lucky or ill, written in the lost language of Atlantis or the elder gods. Who can say what such a thing is worth? Doug calls it a mere $95.00, but then, he claims to have "forgotten" where it came from. I fear its mighty power: perhaps even now it toys with his mind! Perhaps it seeks to find its way into the world, where its strange runes can cause supernatural havoc!

Being here is great for the creative juices, I tell you. But I fear that's all the creative juices for the day, gentle readers .... Maybe I can swim in the dusk!