Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Let's all welcome Shag to his new home!

Astonishing things are afoot.

Doug has decided that we need a new label for our American History section ... in the form of a buffalo head! It will hang in the center of the store, gazing soulfully down upon staff and patrons alike. I have to say, "Oregon Trail" never prepared me for the size of that thing. * It is immense and stupendous and I am half-tempted to bow my head every time I pass it. I am a little terrified of its stare, in fact, as I sit here innocently typing away at the store computer.

We have, however, had a few entertaining moments with it, such as the time when our regular Jon started using it as a hatrack, and the conversation about its name. (Doug has decided that it will be named Shag. You may recall that we got a bunch of cool Carl Sandburg stuff a bit back; well, at that time we discovered Sandburg's wonderful story, "The Wooden Indian and the Shaghorn Buffalo", from Rootabaga Stories. From this comes Shag's name!)

But enough of that. Let's distract ourselves from deep dark buffalo eyes with this week's Favorite, which -- strangely enough -- depicts bookstores as totally free of buffalo heads:

I somewhat doubt that many of you, gentle readers, are of an age to be bringing a lunchbox to school -- even a lunchbox with an adorable kinda-three-dimensional kinda-diorama thing behind glass. But this little thing can easily double as a handbag, so that's all right. In fact, it's lined with cloth and contains a wallet!

Plus, I brown-bag my lunch before I come to work myself. So who's to say any of us are too old for a lunchbox?

Apparently, the diorama behind the glass in this handbag is based on a picture by the well-known Dutch artist, Anton Pieck. Pieck worked in many different media -- from woodcuts to paintings to designing at least one fairytale theme park -- and is, in fact, so famous within the Netherlands that there's a whole museum devoted to his work. Most of his images seem to be charming in an old-European, Victorian-childlike sort of way; for instance, can you spot the hook-nosed bookseller with checked pants in the handbag? Or the bonnetted little girl leading a dog? Now I'm not saying that this handbag / lunchbox is an original Pieck or anything, but you have to admit that it's a pretty creative tribute to his work. And you can even carry your credit cards in it! At $35.00, I call that a deal.

Speaking of children, this week's Collector's Item is an 1816 treatise on the making thereof:

I'm not entirely sure why the writers of this book called it Aristotle's Master-Piece, Completed ... though it did at least give this publisher an excuse to create that hilarious picture of a wild-eyed Aristotle holding a skull:

Good God, his left eye is like a very vortex.

I had no idea how well-known the Masterpiece was until I started Googling and found it online (click here). (Although I may be navigating the hypertext of that one incorrectly, it seems to have many divergences from the one I hold in my hands, so I assume that among the many reprints of Aristotle's Master-Piece there were various editorial changes / omissions / etc.) Apparently, this work initially came out around the mid-1600s and influenced -- or at least was mentioned by -- all manner of literary luminaries, such as James Joyce and Anthony Burgess. Perhaps this explains some of their ... funnier ... gender-related attitudes.

After all, among the things this Master-Piece tells us are that a woman's imagination can change the form of her child (therefore, birth defects are determined by things the mother sees or envisions during her pregnancy, as is the child's sex) and that women who don't marry and mate quickly will become ill with the "Green Sickness". Now I know you can follow that link I provided above and read all of "Aristotle"'s insights for yourself, but you have to admit that it would be exciting to own a version bound in 1816. This one is $125.00 -- but the information it contains about imagining yourself a healthy child is priceless!

It seems that Aristotle's Master-Piece was sometimes considered a kind of "dirty book", passed around to clandestine giggles and gasps -- though really, nothing in there struck me as remotely sensual. There have been far more sensual printed things since then, anyway, as our Affordable and Interesting item tells us:

This book was well-reviewed by (click here); from what I can tell, it's partly the story of Olympia Press but mostly the story of Maurice Girodias, its founder. Olympia was a famous "smut" press -- famous because, though it published its share of icky titles, it also printed many literary masterpieces that might not otherwise have seen the light of day. Nabokov's Lolita, for instance, was published by Olympia, as was Burroughs' Naked Lunch. In the delirium of censorship that apparently afflicted the mid-twentieth-century,** Girodias put out literature that -- had it been successfully suppressed -- would have been a great loss to mankind. Of course, it doesn't really sound like he was a saint -- the reviewer I linked to above calls him "the strangest fish imaginable, a contradictory, insufferable, magnetic man". But his bravery is worth noting and personally, I'm glad we have Lolita, so I can't help but be pleased that this book is available (for $7.50) to tell the world about Girodias.

It's warm again, gentle readers! I know I talk about the weather way too often here, but I'm just glad I can walk to the library without whimpering from cold. I think I'll go there tonight, in fact, and see you all next week.

* "Oregon Trail" is one of the most famous educational video games ever made -- there are even popular, mass-produced T-shirts available that reference the game -- and doubtless shaped my entire generation's attitude about buffalo.

** Perhaps we shouldn't assume that censorship has left us behind too soon ... there's some unsettling news from Indiana: Indiana Bookstores Are Now Required to Register with the Government If They Sell "Sexually Explicit Materials".

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