Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Don't forget to call your mother!

Mother's Day is nearly upon us! I put some books in the window that my own (admittedly somewhat odd and cynical mother) might enjoy, such as O'Flaherty's Women, Androgynes and Other Mythical Beasts. She would probably also enjoy this strange masklike thing:

Doug says that these are meant to be painted, but I rather like the raw bare brutality of the thing. I tried holding it over my face, and both Doug and Alan called the effect "terrifying". I would like to wear it on a rampage through the streets, batting my eyes at the ladies so they throw roses at me, but instead I will offer it to you for $20.00! I do hope some street-rampaging comes out of it, though.

Now, gentle readers, you may remember the first Best of Literary Criticism entry, which was written when I reached the halfway point of that glorious and overpowering section. I noted that it's quite a diverse place, Literary Criticism, with zillions of subjects covered and strange ideas aplenty! I have completed the whole thing now ... and I have a Best Of Lit Crit II to offer you!

The last Best Of included a book on obituaries. This Best Of has no fewer than two books on death!

1) A book on "styles of dying in British fiction"! Apparently the author presents over forty major death scenes, and demonstrates that the Victorian death scene is less sentimental and formulaic than has usually been assumed. I wonder how many people there are out there who assume things about the Victorian death scene? If you know any, send them here! $7.50.

2) A discussion of the modern elegy! Sylvia Plath has her very own chapter; less stereotypically, so does Langston Hughes. The author argues that in an age of mass death, religious doubt, and forgotten ritual, the elegy has turned violent, unresolved and anti-consolatory. This is always the hallmark of literary criticism books: both literary and cultural discussion! $5.00.

But onwards from that macabre subject -- along with last entry's Victorian hair garland (made from real hair!), I think I've said enough about death for quite a long time. The rest of the books:

3) Romantically, we have a whole book about rose symbolism. The rose is secular and divine love; Apuleius's ass and the Virgin Mary; beauty, youth, joy and sorrow at the world's transience. ... Of value to dreamwork practitioners, literary critics, students of symbolism and the arts, art therapists, and all those cultivating an aesthetic imagination. Instead of giving your lover (or mother!) a dozen roses, I think it'd be far sweeter to give this. $4.00.

4) Even more romantically, a whole nother book on tower symbolism! Immediately after World War I, four major European and American poets and thinkers moved into towers as their principal habitations. Taking this striking coincidence as its starting point, this book sets out to locate modern turriphilia in its cultural context ... Turriphilia? $7.50.

5) T. H. White's treatise on scandal; this seems to be something of a tabloid biography for the 1700s. It describes, for instance, a Lady Cathcart who died in 1789; she displeased her fourth husband by wearing a ring that said: "If I survive, I will have five". Included also are such notables as the Duke of Queensbury, who "dislocated London's milk supply". That's even worse than dislocating a joint, I assume, though I've never dislocated London's milk supply myself. It's funny how it seems literary to read about eighteenth-century people like this, yet I would make fun of anyone who talked overmuch about Britney Spears! Oh well ... feed your gossipy urges in a more academic fashion, for only $5.00.

6) This one might be my favorite book in the section: a tome describing the careers of more than twenty literary forgers! Vrain Lucas is the name of one who wrote tens of thousands of letters -- supposedly from Galileo, Mary Magdalene, Voltaire and Cleopatra. There's also William Ireland, who created a "lost" Shakespeare play. Others specifically aimed to discredit certain literary figures, while still others just wanted to create proud legacies. (I hope that someday I become famous enough that unprincipled shysters produce "new" works of mine!) The dust jacket also mentions that some of the forgers have become so well-known that their own works are quite valuable: those of Thomas J. Wise, it seems, fetch tens of thousands of dollars. $7.50.

I think that my goal for the weekend shall be to build a tower, in which I will languish -- weeping elegies and smelling roses, creating forgeries that I sell to tabloids to make the bills -- until I die of consumption as every good writer should. But I won't forget to call my mother on Sunday (I hope), and neither should you, gentle readers!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gentle readers! Gentle readers! I finished Literary Criticism! I got all the way through Z! Now I'm going to work on the enormous sets above the Literary Criticism shelves; and next week you may expect a Best Of Lit Crit Volume 2.

It's like the death of an era, finishing Literary Criticism. It's taken me months. I confess that I don't tend to spend a lot of time thinking about rituals of death. Embalming, burial rites, etc. -- these are all interesting in their way, but not something I devote a lot of mental space to. I have, however, always found the Victorian ritual of crafting corpse hair into decorative objects to be somewhat amazing, a feeling that is only increased by this week's Collector's Item:

Yes, indeed, that is hair. Not lace, not thread, but hair. In case you don't already know about this macabre Victorian custom, I am now very pleased to tell you that the Victorians used to collect hair from their dead relatives and weave it into attractive flowery wreaths. You can find out more at this page (click here); you can even buy more recent hair stuff from hair-workers today at sites such as this one (click here). Indeed, you can even follow in the footsteps of Jo from Little Women and sell your hair, if you're desperate (or curious): just click here!

I am sorry to say that I don't actually know whose hair was used to create the pretty little garland that we're selling, but it does seem to boast a variety of shades. It also -- unlike any other antique hair wreaths that I was able to unearth with ten minutes of internet research -- is adorned with jet beads, affixed to the whole by means of wires (sort of like hair themselves, really). (So many things in the world are like hair! This vaguely creepy thought will be dogging me for days now, I can tell.) For $125.00, you could own one of these astonishing items of craftsmanship -- rather lovely in an autumnal way, and it comes complete with a fabulous story that will bring you adulation at parties.

If you would prefer adulation from one bookstore staff person, then you might come in and tell me how to use one of my Favorite things around here:

I thought it might be an astrolabe, because I've never seen an astrolabe and in fact I wasn't entirely sure what exactly they were for; my initial image search made me doubt that assessment, but once I realized that there is such a thing as a spherical astrolabe, my doubts cleared. And then I spent far too long looking at pictures of neat astrolabes. Astrolabes were once widely used to figure out how the sky looks from any given place at any given time. Thus, the globe itself is stationary, while the outer lattice spins -- that lattice being marked with the twelve signs of the Zodiac and the months of the year. Because my temperament lends itself more to romance, occult ideas and strange fantasies than to science, I have dreams of purchasing this $60.00 item merely so I might set up a skylit workshop with stuffed alligators and bottles of mercury ... then sit around in medieval dress and spectacles, pretending to be an antique scholar. I could also write sonnets in a garret! Oooh ... I could crack my mirror from side to side! But really, this all shows that literature is my strong point. I'll leave the astrolabe for a scientist.

Strange fantasies are the byword of Virgil Finlay, whose work is compiled in this Affordable and Interesting portfolio:

Finlay was an incredibly prolific science fiction and fantasy illustrator earlier this century; his images -- drawn in a graceful, restrained, yet rather glorious and exuberant style -- decorated many of the pulp magazines and Ace doubles of bygone eras. This is simply a collection of his work, filled with statuesque men and women, chains of light, peculiar phenomena, and so on and so forth. (Also magical creatures -- speaking of which, there is a magnificent exhibit at the Field Museum right now that I highly recommend. It's comprehensive and beautiful and inspiring and I loved it. If you have even a passing interest in mythical creatures, please do yourself a favor and go see it.)

One of the nice things about our copy of this portfolio is that it previously belonged to a pulp collector, who carefully wrote in (below most of these pictures) where the image appeared first. For instance, this was for the 1940 edition of Austin Hall's The Rebel Soul:

$20.00 will gain this strange and wonderful collection, including the informative annotations. Dragons bound by chains of light have never been so reasonably priced!

Without Literary Criticism I feel somewhat bereft. I'll start another project soon, I think, but for now it's time for me to go home and relax. Have the best of evenings, dear readers, and do see that exhibit!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

We all live in a yellow submarine.

I really am the bookish type. I've never been much for sports, or getting out in the healthy fresh air for that matter.* I like to sit hunched behind a computer like a gargoyle, or to curl up in a chair reading, far more than I like -- say -- football.** But I was still pleased to find this Affordable and Interesting program in the Sports section:

It's from the 1938 Twin City Football Championship, and it does list the official line-up for the game, which (judging from the scribbled pencil note on the front of the program) took place on November 11. More interesting to me, however -- as is frequently the case with these old, ephemeral things -- are the advertisements within the program:

Suits pressed for 25 cents! Complete full-course Thanksgiving dinner for 85 cents! Wow, those were the days. Beyond the gee-whiz factor of the prices, though, it's always fun to look at the style of antique advertisements. When was the last time you saw the words "Fun for the whole family!" used in a non-sarcastic manner? (1938, apparently.) I also find myself wondering how the Globe Business College would react if I called asking after the stenotype classes they advertised. Maybe they'd be willing to send us $3.00 for this little piece of history ... or maybe not. I guess it's more likely to appeal to a football fan.

Ten years later, we come to this week's Collector's Item:

Arkham House is one of the most famous genre presses in the world. Founded in the late 1930s, its original purpose was to keep the works of the late, great pulp author H.P. Lovecraft in print; it quickly expanded to other pulp titles, though. Their 1947-48 catalogue is rather humorously idiosyncratic ("We are too badly understaffed to do the necessary bookkeeping ...") and contains not only instructions (and harangues) for the press's subscribers, but also descriptions of the books Arkham had available at the time, announcements for upcoming books, and an adorable middle section:

Titled "Book Review" and accompanied by the above picture of a bug-eyed child, it seems to be a poem about the reader's fear that things from his ghost stories are coming to get him. Are all publishing house catalogues so filled with personality? $60.00 seems a paltry sum for such.

But my Favorite is from 15-20 years later still:

The Beatles' illustrated lyrics? Now this is some serious 60s nostalgia, here. Among other things, the variously-styled and -colored illustrations feature women with golden skin being chased by crocodiles who have butterflies coming from their mouths ... men with hands for moustaches and barbells for eyeglasses, or wings on their heads ... giant woodcut-style beetles (I mean, the insects) playing guitars. I'm not making this up:

Contributors include David Montgomery, Erté ... actually, rather than listing the contributors, I'll just show you a picture of the creature presenting their names:

There are also many random pictures of naked people, and imaginative portrayals of the Beatles themselves (cat ears all around!). And, of course, the Beatles' lyrics are printed throughout the book -- plus comments from the great men themselves (did you know that John always hated "Run For Your Life"?). I'm not really clear on how a man with hands for a moustache illustrates "Don't Let Me Down", but I try not to quibble about these things. For $15.00, you can secure this tome for yourself and ponder such mysteries on your own!

I now have the irrepressible urge to listen to Beatles music, but this bookstore is a dignified place and I'll try to wait till I get home. Listen to some Beatles for me in the meantime, gentle readers!

* This is a slight exaggeration for dramatic purposes.
** But football is still boring.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Now if only someone would make Holmesian sheet music!

I'm posting on Tuesday this week because I'm going to a conference tomorrow, and I totally forgot to ask Alan to cover the blog for me. Oh well, he's having more fun cleaning out our Glass Cases, anyway. First Editions everywhere, nor any drop to drink!

Doug says the shop is really starting to "sing", and I tend to agree with him. I probably talk about all our wondrous cleaning and organizing too much, but it's wondrous! I recently asked Shelley to half-price all our sheet music; during this effort, she found a bunch of unpriced pieces, which I made Affordable (they were already Interesting):

I really like a lot of the illustrations on the covers of these old music, but not as much as I like the idea of some of these musicals. I had no idea that there was a musical version of "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court"! What will they think of next? And just look at the soulful gazes of some of those old-time stars ... ah, Sinatra, I never understood why older women thought you handsome till I saw you in this light!

Plus, this bear is just amazing-looking.


I spent a few unproductive minutes trying to imitate its facial expression, then Alan did it perfectly and I laughed forever. This whole stack of music bits is now $2.00-4.00 apiece (I think the only $4.00 one is Sinatra), and if anyone else wants to stop by and imitate bear expressions with me before someone snatches up that piece, I'm sure we'll have a fine time.

We acquired a bunch of cool Sherlock Holmes material recently, and I have thus discovered that the Holmesian subculture goes further than ever I imagined. Did you know that August Derleth, the famous fantasy/horror writer, was totally crazy about Sherlock Holmes? Check out this week's Favorite:

When Derleth heard that Arthur Conan Doyle intended to write no more Holmes stories, he took action by creating Solar Pons! Solar Pons, as I understand it, is basically just like Sherlock Holmes except that his cases are set slightly later (the 1920s-30s), and he is aware of -- admiring of! -- the great Holmes. Apparently Derleth wanted to simply continue the Holmes series -- he even wrote to Doyle and asked for permission! -- but Doyle refused, so Derleth simply created Pons. Indeed, it seems that August Derleth eventually published more Solar Pons stories than Doyle ever did Holmes stories. The Casebook of Solar Pons contains cases with names such as that of the "Fatal Glance", the "Spurious Tamerlane", the "Whispering Knights", etc. etc. .... you may also discover the secret of the "Haunted Library", the "Missing Huntsman", the "Sussex Archers" and heaven only knows how many other English things. This First Edition is $60.00, and we have several other Pons collections as well!

And for those who devote even more love to their Holmesian habit, we can offer Collector's Items:

The Illustrious Client's Casebooks were a series put out by (who else?) the "Illustrious Clients", a group whose shared love of Holmes led to fabulous writerly feats. As I glance through the third, I see that it contains some very recognizable names: Derleth -- of course -- and others like Vincent Starrett and Christopher Morley. It also contains all manner of literary thingies: essays and poems, pastiches and quizzes, parodies, "tales-in-verse", and even limericks! Isaac S. George's limerick, for instance:

There once was "The Woman" Irene
Whose mind was most active and keen.
With good-natured pleasure
She quite took his measure
And stole from the Master the scene.

I didn't get many of the inside jokes in these, since I haven't read an enormous amount of Holmes material myself; but I am charmed by the geekery involved in such an endeavor (being somewhat of a geek myself). Perhaps whoever buys this $200.00 third casebook will be able to fill me in a bit.

I'll look for mysteries to bring you from my conference, dear readers! With luck none will afflict the shop while I'm gone, and I'll return to the same quiet little place next week.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Quote of the Day: "There's a buffalo there. Has there always been a buffalo there?"

I'm through V in Literary Criticism ... on to W! Doug says we should have a party to celebrate when I'm done. Personally I think we should have a party to celebrate Shag the buffalo. I raptly documented the long process by which Doug wrestled ladders, screws, and lightbulbs in order to mount Shag. A glorious photo essay results!


Doug cleans and prepares the work area.

Joan coordinates efforts from the ground.

Looks good ... but something's missing ....

Ah! Perfect! How dignified!

Doug says that we might end up selling the buffalo head if, after a few weeks of buffalo presence, we feel overwhelmed and unfortunate. So if you might be interested in owning Shag the buffalo head, you should email and let us know. I haven't decided my stance yet, but I think I'm becoming pro-buffalo-in-the-store. If you would like to file a vote, please feel free to email or leave a comment!

In order to install Shag, Doug had to temporarily move the busts of Jefferson and Dickens normally kept on top of those two shelves. Apparently, they were gifts to Mr. O'Gara, who owned the store for a long time; a local Catholic church gave them to him after he sent them lots of books. People keep asking to buy them, but they're not for sale, so I try to redirect customers' attention to this week's Collector's Item:

These circa 1920, painted iron bookend-gentlemen sport excited grins, as if nothing could possibly make them happier than sitting reading in their libraries. Since there's two of them and they're identical, I was reminded of an interesting plaque I saw once in an exhibit of aboriginal material at the Art Institute; it said that ancient cultures considered twins sacred. The reason behind this was the cool part -- every person alive was considered to have a sacred doppelganger in the post-death lands; if twins were born, it was thought that the sacred doppelganger had come through to our reality by accident. Basically, therefore, one of the twins was sort of like an angel, but didn't know it yet. Well, I thought it was cool, anyway ... if you agree, you can find more awesome doppelganger superstitions at this site (click here). You can also buy these bookends for $125.00 ... and yet -- which is the sacred doppelganger?

Ya like how I used innocent-looking bookends to rant about something completely unrelated? I definitely won't do that with this Affordable and Interesting item:

Ludvík Vaculík is a Czech writer and thinker who began his life as a fairly idealistic communist, but later began to criticize his government's communism. Now, I would be the first to admit that I know nothing about Czechoslovakia except what I found out on this hilarious California-Czech restaurant page (click here), but Vaculík is an interesting enough character that I feel the urge to know more. One of his most famous works, "Two Thousand Words to Workers, Farmers, Scientists, Artists, and Everyone", was published with sixty signatures (from intellectuals as well as everyday folks) and soon actively condemned by the Czech Communist Party. Encouraging peaceful protests and elections, it caused such a furor that it's often cited as a factor leading to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by "normalizing" Warsaw Treaty forces. It must be amazing to write something so powerful! Vaculík was censored soon thereafter, and forced to pass out his work in the form of signed, hand-typed "manuscripts" (since it was against the law to print his words) for many years. By reading this book of his short essays (many of them originally distributed in rare "manuscript" form), you will learn all about recent Czech history, as well as what it's like to be an oppressed idealist. You will also totally show up anyone who tries to act pretentious because they've read the much more famous Czech writer Milan Kundera. (Why do snooty folks so love to brag about reading Kundera?) That's definitely worth $5.00!

Czechoslovakia is not especially close to the Ottoman Empire, but my Favorite item this week is about the Ottomans anyway.

I've been interested in the Ottoman Empire for a long time. During their Golden Age under Süleyman the Magnificent, the empire outshone every country in Europe. It espoused comparative religious tolerance, allowing members of many persecuted religions to settle on its lands; and it produced incredible art, particularly calligraphy. So I was very excited when I discovered this huge, beautiful book full of portraits of Ottoman sultans. In both English and Turkish, this gorgeous folio discusses the basics of portrait-painting (European portrait types, costumes in which subjects were painted, etc.) and describes each individual sultan's life and reign -- for instance, Süleyman:

Süleyman I extended the borders of the empire to embrace three continents and reach from the Persian Gulf in the east to the western Mediterranean. He also developed a strongly centralized system of government control and fostered the development of a social order based on the equality of his subjects through laws that abolished distinctions based on religious tenets or national origin. ... In addition to his success as a statesman and an administrator, Süleyman I had a degree of sensitivity worthy of a poet, as well as a thirst for knowledge and an appreciation of the arts ....

Did I mention that Süleyman was magnificent? Because he was. If you want to be almost as magnificent, you could buy me this book ($125.00) ... though I think I can live without it, as long as I get some quality time with its glorious pages first.

There's your history lesson blog entry for the day, gentle readers! I hope none of you were bored enough to go do homework instead. For myself, I think I'll dream of handsome sultans tonight (not to mention limpid buffalo eyes).