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.

No comments: