Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Surprises and half-victories!

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! I returned in triumph after the holiday to a half-vanquished Literary Criticism section, so this week's entry will follow a slightly different pattern from the usual. I'm just going to talk about some of the neat things I found in the first half of that section while I was reorganizing it (and marking down most of its contents -- the average price goes from about $5-7.50 for almost all the books therein, now!) Well, I'll just talk about those things after I highlight the most surprising thing in the store this week:

A rack of nice clothing may seem like an unusual thing for a bookstore to be selling, but -- despite concern from our loyal customers -- it's certainly not because the books are selling so badly that we must pawn the clothes off our backs! It seems that a rich gentleman in the Loop became afflicted with a disorder some call "shopaholism", and purchased too much of just about everything -- then never used it. He called us in to deal with his surfeit of books, and sold us hundreds of beautiful editions -- all unread! And as Mr. Wilson was wrapping up his visit, this gentleman said, "Hmm ... would you also like some clothing?"

Doug usually doesn't go for that kind of thing, but the clothing this gentleman had -- everything from Brooks Brothers suits to Ralph Lauren ties -- was so beautiful (and totally unworn!) that he accepted the offer. So now we have a whole bunch of garments of incredible quality, from top designers, all Large or X-Large (shoes about 11), almost all never worn, and all at a fraction of their new price. For instance, that suit hanging in front retails for $1000.00 new, and we're selling it for $350.00 practically new. And not everything is expensive -- we've got $5.00 scarves, $10.00 cotton sweaters, $10.00-15.00 shirts, $75.00 cashmere sweaters ....

Anyway! Back to books. In Literary Criticism, I have discovered an incredible variety of things. I have learned the definition of the word "cucurbit" (because we have a book called Nature and Language: A Semiotic Study of Cucurbits in Literature).* There are many neglected things here that might do better in other sections -- not a day goes past that I don't send some of the books to Anthropology or Women's Studies or some area of regional history. This book is one such:

It more properly belongs in Anthropology, I think (though these categories are often more a matter of art than science!), as it concerns "mask iconography and the role played by masks in the realization of change". Apparently, the author's method is both "historical and comparative". For just $15.00, you can learn all about their uses in "seasonal festivals, rites of passage, and curative ceremonies"!

But Literary Criticism itself is an astonishing repository of randomness:

Here you see (from left to right) ...

1) A brief history of the aphorism! "Starting with the ancient Chinese and ending with contemporary Europeans and Americans, this book tells the story of the aphorism -- the shortest and oldest written form -- through brief biographies of some of its greatest practitioners: Americans like Ambrose Bierce, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, and Dorothy Parker; great French aphorists like Montaigne, La Rochefoucauld, and Chamfort; philosophers like Schopenhauer, Nietzche, and Wittgenstein; and prophets and sages like the Buddha, Lao-tzu, and Jesus." $9.00.

2) A 1926 collection of notorious literary attacks! "We need not scoff too much at the curious judgments of reviewers, for every great writer, from Shakespeare down, has had his detractors . ... Reprints of adverse reviews on great writers give consolation to abused contemporary authors." Also, they are often hilarious: one critic of Algernon Charles Swinburne (whose poetical works might be read by clicking here) snaps that "He is so firmly and avowedly affixed in an attitude of revolt against the current notions of decency and dignity and social duty that to beg of him to be a little more decent, to fly a little less persistently and gleefully to the animal side of human nature, is simply to beg him to be something different from Mr. Swinburne. ... It is of no use ... to scold Mr. Swinburne for grovelling down among the nameless shameless abominations which inspire him with such frenzied delight." $12.50.

3) A book analyzing anecdotes! "Recognizing that in America story-telling has been driven off the face of fun by the wisecrack, the joke, and the marvels of mass communication, Louis Brownlow has sought to illustrate the lively and nearly lost art of the raconteur." $5.00.

4) A really nice edition of Holmes' famous The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, with a slipcase and everything! (Oliver Wendell Holmes was a 19th century doctor and writer, most famous for poems and essays.) $15.00.

5) A discussion of obituaries! "Surveying the darkest corners of Internet chat rooms, surviving a mass gathering of obituarists, and making a pilgrimage to London to savor the most caustic and literate obits of all, Marilyn Johnson leads us to the cult and culture behind the obituary page." $7.50.

6) A book about the "literary, cultural and social history of smoking"! "From the reflections of Sartre and the musings of French Symbolist poets [the author] asks, what is a cigarette? Various war novels, including those of Mailer, Remarque, and Hemingway, frame questions regarding the usefulness of cigarettes in war, their place in a soldier's life, and their function as a tool to manage anxiety .... Photographs that capture the relationship between smoker and smoked or smoker and other are examined. As mediator, weapon, or wand, cigarettes have filled movie screens .... This analysis is laced with glances at the history of cigarette smoking, episodes in its commercial development, and the connections between cigarettes and the currents of sexual and political freedom." $7.50.

Of course, most of Literary Criticism is about, you know, authors -- but there's quite a lot of strange little gems in there. I can't wait to see what I find next week, gentle readers -- and at some point you can expect a Best Of, Part 2!

* The meaning of "cucurbit" used here is "a plant of the gourd family" -- and if you are interested in the book, which is clearly a masterpiece of modern thought, then by God it short and red; $6.50; and resides in the "N" part of Literary Criticism.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I want to be like Margaret Anderson when I grow up.

Almost through L in Literary Criticism. I think once I make it through M, I will do a "Best Of The First Half" for that section. There's some amazing things ... like one whole treatise on the "anatomy of the anecdote". Also, if you're a D. H. Lawrence fan, we are the store for you; we have a whole shelf about him!

My Favorite this week is something I discovered in the middle of L:

I thought the name Margaret Anderson was familiar; then I started recognizing names in the Table of Contents, such as that of Alexander Berkman (manager and lover to the charismatic anarchist speaker Emma Goldman) and Ben Hecht (a famous screenwriter who worked on many things, including a 1941 film titled "Lydia" :ahem:). A quick search turned up this site about Margaret Anderson and "The Little Review" (click here), which describes Anderson as a perfectly marvelous woman. Of her, apparently, it was said that "She reminds you of Mary Garden, Isadora Duncan, Lysistrata, Sappho, all packed into one dynamic personality." And apparently extracts of James Joyce's Ulysses were first published in Anderson's magazine (and Anderson arrested on charges of obscenity for publishing it).

And for those interested in anarchist history, Anderson seems to have had some ties with the anarchists on the time, as demonstrated not only by Berkman's name in the table of contents but by the advertisements on the inside back of this magazine:

This covers of this issue are a bit abused, and have detached -- but the text is perfectly clear, and in remarkably good condition otherwise. We're selling this fascinating snapshot of some of the early 1900s' most liberal intellectuals for $20.00.

Also from the 1910s (and earlier) are this week's Collector's Items:

Baedeker started publishing travel guides in the 1870s, and his small-format red books quickly became popular. It's easy to understand, when we look at their lavish fold-out illustrations:

... and maps:

And I'm sure their writing was appreciated, not merely as a guide, but as a description of these faraway and exotic places. The 1890 Southern Italy Baedeker, for instance, talks about lots and lots of frescoes and ruined temples in vivid detail, and reports faithfully on things as mundane as bars:

Continuing to follow the Strada di Mercurio, we next observe ... a Tavern; towards the street is a table covered with marble and a fire-place. A door leads from the shop to the left into a small room adorned with various allusions to drinking: a waggon with a wine-skin, players and drinkers, eatables, etc. In the corner to the left a soldier is being served; above him is scribbled: 'da fridam pusillum' (a glass of cold).

The Southern Italy Baedeker is $50.00; we also have an 1899 Switzerland for $30.00, a 1912 Norway / Sweden / Denmark for $50.00, and several others. Before anyone asks -- we once had one for Paris, but it is long gone. It was really something, though!

To wrap this up, Becka (our newest!) found a great Affordable and Interesting paperback, titled Glen Baxter: His Life. The Years of Struggle. I haven't the faintest idea who Glen Baxter is (though he does seem to have a website -- click here!), but his hilariously illustrated memoirs prove that maxim about a thousand words many time over. He seems to have a fine sense of ironic hyperbole. From the first picture of "one of those long English summer days that seem to go on forever ..."

to the last, of his solemn decision to leave home ...

the whole thing is one long panorama of surreally expressive drawings, and all for $5.00!

There will be no blog entry next week because of the holiday, dear readers -- hope you won't miss us too much. Have a great Thanksgiving. We'll see you again two weeks from now!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Here we are in November: cold season, for sure. I've been sneezing violently all day, and I mean violently. I'll drink hot soup tonight. Luckily (or maybe un), the sneezing didn't prevent me from rhapsodizing about one of the best things in the store (the Kipling book featured in our first blog entry ever) ... to a lady who bought it! I am slightly heartbroken, but they do say that if you love something you should let it free.

Our children's books have been a real hit lately. In the scuffle, Alan discovered this and put it in the Affordable and Interesting pile:

It's hard to say when this was printed, because it has no date and the spine's been redone; but the boards and text appear to be a late 1800s copy of "Jackanapes", a Victorian children's tale illustrated by the famous Randolph Caldecott (now known for the Caldecott Award given to children's illustrators). The story is about young Jackanapes, an ill-fated but patriotic hero. The whole is filled with quintessentially Victorian dramatic flourishes, like long dashes and anguished pauses. It's quite sentimental -- reading it is a definite education in Victorian values, complete with a "moral of the story"-type bit at the end that emphasizes "heroic example and noble obligation". I'm not sure how it would be taken by modern children (like the rugrats who took double handfuls of candy last week!), but the illustrations are certainly charming and the whole -- at $4.50 -- might make a good early education in critical thinking.

This week's Collector's Item is a children's book published rather later, but by an equally famous team -- Margaret Wise Brown the writer and Garth Williams the illustrator:

This charming story is considered a classic now; and both writer and illustrator were apparently already famous when it was first issued in 1946, so the ad wizards over at Harper & Brothers had a brilliant idea. As a limited promotion, they released the book in a tiny edition bound in actual rabbit fur:


Unfortunately for all concerned, the promotion did not have the desired effect. Small children were expected to be thrilled at the fuzzy book, but they instead reacted with horror and tears. After all, the story is about a happy little furry family -- and the kids realized that the fur covering the book had to come from somewhere! A slight uproar ensued, and the upshot apparently was that the promotional copies were pulled from the shelves and replaced with a more politically correct version. As a result, the fur-bound originals are quite rare. We're selling this one for $695.00; in the past, copies have gone for thousands.

I am not sure whether the "fur-bound book" experiment is reroducible; but my Favorite this week is full of experiments that aren't:

It's important, scientifically, that the results of experiments be reproducible, so we know that they're true. After all, if you can't successfully repeat an experiment that gave a certain result to Tom, there's no evidence that Tom's not lying. But, as this book's Introduction says ...

Why should we close our minds to some of the most ingenious inventions, discoveries and innovations in history just because they fail to come up to an outmoded standard? A new criterion is necessary. So, faced with fascinating findings these brave savants, instead of tediously demanding "is it reproducible?" now boldly inquire "is it funny?"

Article titles include "Decline of Language as a Means of Communication", "Nasality: a Psychological Concept of Great Clinical Significance, Previously Undescribed", and best of all, "Therapeutic Effects of Forceful Goosing on Major Affective Illnesses":

Enough said on that score, I think!

I encourage you all, gentle readers, to do your own unreproducible experiments over the next week, and tell us all about them. Perhaps if you buy this book (at $8.50) you'll get some ideas. In the meantime, I'm going to go try replicating the last experiment's results on my unsuspecting boyfriend. Don't tell him I'm coming, and I'll see you all next week!