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:

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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!

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