Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Mother's Day this weekend, for real!

Ahem. I realize that my last entry implied that last Sunday was Mother's Day. I was corrected by my own mother when I called her, shrieking "Happy Mother's Day!" on the eve of this past Sunday. No harm done, of course. But this time, you definitely have to remember to call your mothers this coming Sunday, the 11th. Because it'll be Mother's Day. Really.

My mother is definitely a bright girl, so I think she'd appreciate this week's Favorite:

I was positive that this circa 1900 volume would mostly contain patronizing notes about needlework, and a woman's proper place, and all that kind of thing. I was even complaining about it before I cracked the cover! Imagine my surprise when I found the Preface to read:

If this book had been written many years ago it would have contained more pages about needlework .... Each year, however, shows how fallacious are those no more than conventional notions concerning the limitations of women, for men are being eclipsed from time to time .... How gracefully and well does a woman ride a bicycle usually; how humpbacked and ungainly do most men appear upon the same machine! Moreover, girls do not throw away the good they have won upon the hockey field, and the swimming bath, by imbibing whisky and other absurd concoctions, by sucking ceaselessly upon a filthy tobacco pipe, nor by crowding into hot billiard rooms and bar parlours. Thus it is easy to see even now as we walk along the streets how girls and women are surpassing boys and men in carriage, health and intellect.

It seems that Jean Stewart (the author) had rather more confidence in the female half of the species than most similar authors of her time. Of course, she's still clearly prejudiced -- I mean, I imbibe absurd concoctions all the time. And I know plenty of men who avoid the filthy tobacco pipe! It's always funny how supposedly "enlightened" works often showcase many more cultural issues than they dissolve. But be that as it may, this happy book remains an excellent source not just for sewing projects and making marzipan, but for throwing up tents and netmaking! And that's not mentioning the disciplines of palmistry and making colored fires (for green fire, make a powder of 18 parts nitrate of barytes, 4 parts shellac, 4 parts calomel and 2 parts chlorate of potash). Also, it appears to be quite a scarce book -- there are no copies to be found for sale on the Internet, though similar books are available; our $40.00 copy is the only one available, anywhere! Perhaps Stewart's mix of prejudice and non made this particular book unpopular ... or parents thought the colored fire too dangerous for their children!

In the Affordable and Interesting corner, we have another bright girl:

Of course everyone's heard of Little Orphan Annie! (When I was a small curly-headed child and wanted to capitalize on being cute, I was known to wander about singing "Tomorrow!" myself.) But not everyone knows that Annie originated as a comic strip. The character was created by Harold Gray for the Chicago "Tribune", and she was (obviously) an incredible success! This book is #6 of the Little Orphan Annie compilations, published in hardcover after the strips had run in the paper; the strips are from 1930 or so, the book from 1931. As one might suspect, this collects the story of Annie being shipwrecked and winning her way free by means of wit, verve and charming smile. $20.00 gets you panels and panels of Annie crying, "Great Caesar's suspenders!" plus a heartwarming scene at the end:

Daddy Warbucks and Annie before the fire. What could be cuter?

Well, African animals are cute. Though the moral of this Collector's Item is a bit more complex than that:

This title page is from our beautiful 1932 copy of René Maran's Batouala, number 694 of 1500 published by the Limited Editions Club (a now-defunct group that printed many gorgeous books in its time). The African animals within are indeed "cute":

. .

... though the word I would prefer to use, I think, would be "glorious". (This book is signed by the illustrator, Miguel Covarrubias.) But again, the real strength of this book is the beautiful story within, which netted its author the prestigious French Prix Goncourt. Maran, who grew up in Africa, was the first Black man to win the Goncourt -- and thanks to the New York "Times"' very comprehensive archives, you can read the original 1922 article about that historic event by clicking here! In that article, the "Times" calls Maran's tale of Batouala -- an African village -- "an unsparing indictment of the white masters of Africa"; around the same time, Ernest Hemingway opined that it's a "great novel". High praise, though some of the turns of phrase from the "Times" do remind me a bit of earlier conversations on prejudice. Still and all, it's clear that this beautiful printing -- which we are offering for $125.00 -- showcases not only a literary landmark but a cultural one.

Now, gentle readers, that we have come to our customary end, I shall again remind you of Mother's Day ... and pretend that last week I didn't say the same thing. Mother's Day! May 11! Don't miss it!

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