Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Learn to fold cranes, magic items, maybe Václav Havel!

Sometimes our past blog entries return to haunt us! Long ago, I wrote about the Czech writer Ludvík Vaculík, briefly discussing his political writings and censorship. Because of this, the lady who sold us this week's Favorite thought me a Czech expert:

She said it was a campaign poster for the first Democratic president of the Czech Republic, then turned to me and said, "I've forgotten his name, but you'd know it, wouldn't you?" I must confess, gentle readers, that I was a bit floored! I did not get the chance to explain that I tend to simply research specific books that I find around the store and that seem intriguing, and only rarely have comprehensive or prior knowledge of the subjects I tell you all about here. So, hereby, I tell you this: I am, sadly, no real mine of information -- or at least, only a shallow one.

Still, in the end it did turn out that I'd heard of the fellow -- because the first Democratic president of the Czech Republic was a famous writer, Václav Havel! He was elected president of Czechoslovakia in 1989, resigned when the country broke up in 1992, and was then elected first president of the Czech Republic in 1993. For many years, he had been a political agitator, arrested many times for his subversive activities. In his essays, he excoriated both Western culture for being horrid and egotistical, and communism for being horrid and inhumane; in his earlier life, he wrote (mostly politically-themed) plays. (As a writer, this all makes me wonder if I could claw my way into the Presidency by means of science fiction. But that seems unlikely.) The item you see us offering here is one of Havel's campaign posters, for $25.00! I wish I could tell you what its slogan means, but I fear that I not only don't speak Czech, but can't seem to find an Internet translator than can figure out any of those words but "volit" ("vote"). Havel left office in 2003 and has spent all his time since then doing boring things like hosting symposia and winning peace prizes, so his campaign posters are a vanishing breed!

Another thing I know very little about is magic. But not to worry, gentle readers -- this week's Affordable and Interesting items will educate me!

For $2.00 apiece, we are distributing adorable 1960s-70s "magic" and prank items. With these, you could do all kinds of things ... like charmingly trick your friends with a false hot dog (how very Chicago)! Or confuse them with a tiny false-bottomed canister of "disappearing" beans! Or amuse your staid old aunt by spraying her with disappearing ink! (She'll love you for it, I promise.) This last says on the package that it's the "greatest laugh producer of this generation", and who am I to imply that packaging ever lies?

I will do my best to have a sense of humor if some wit squirts me with disappearing ink. Indeed, I will emulate the author of this week's Collector's Item, who clearly has humor to spare:

This 1928 book is awesome for all kinds of reasons. Firstly, it's about paper folding, for heaven's sake! Everyone loves paper folding! Learn such icons as the Frog, the Sunfish, or the Shirt-Waist, and then read the last chapter for an entire story that can be learned and recited with real-time paper-folding "illustrations"! I would be jumping up and down in excitement if I didn't have to sit at this keyboard.

Secondly, it has an amazing title page:

Thirdly, it is dedicated to "Lessner" (or maybe "Lerner"?) with an illustrated note by author William Murray. But the personalized touch to this book gets far better than that! Laid in are some miscellaneous antique news clippings, several 1929 letters and cards from Murray to a couple people ("Hewson" as well as "Lessner"). These letters have some of the most adorable hand-drawn illustrations I have ever seen:

They also feature incredibly cute stories, penned in Murray's rounded scrawl. Murray tells the tale, for instance, of some of the compliments he's received on his book -- excerpt: "A boy in Princeton wrote, 'I think your book is perfect' and sent me a paper glider. From California came a letter from a girl enclosing a number of things and saying, 'Thank you for the pleasant hours you have given us.' I liked that." He recalls a comment made by Frank Rigney, his illustrator -- "As each day folds up for you may it have proved to be the end of a day that unfolded for you greater opportunities for making yourself and others happier." The best part, however, is arguably the goat anecdote:

"One time when I was a little boy we lived in 123rd Street in New York. One night my father came home and told me and my brother that he had brought us a team of goats! So next day my grandfather took us to Riverdale, where the goats were, and we drove them from there to 123rd Street, while my poor old grandfather walked. And you can hardly imagine what happy boys we were! The only trouble was all the boys in our [illegible] wanted to borrow our goats. Once I came home from school and found that a boy had borrowed them. Then I was angrier than a boy ought to have been and came very near having a fight. It would look queer now, wouldn't it, to see boys riding around New York driving a couple of goats!"

There's nothing quite like good letters from authors, is there? I wish I could have known Mr. Murray! I've rarely been so tempted by one of our items as I am by this $80.00 book. It has it all -- awesome content, awesome format, and an awesome unique twist! This is what used and antiquarian bookstores are all about!

Well, I'd better stop before I shriek with enthusiasm and scare off the customers. Someday, if I make it as an author, I too will be able to tell goatlike anecdotes to my admiring fans! In the meantime, gentle readers, I will simply perhaps do some paper-folding. I've had the crane down pat for years -- if you'd like to learn it sometime, do stop by the shop!

P.S. Jill sends along this story:
Here's a little Czech humor for you. When president, Jimmy Carter decided to boycott the Olympics because they were being held in Moscow and he wanted to protest the Soviets' invasion of Afghanistan. So of course the following Olympics, held in the U.S., were boycotted by all the Soviet bloc countries in retaliation. One day while listening to the news, my dad heard that the Czechs had just announced that they would not be attending the Games. "Oh," he said, "canceled Czechs."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Astonishing news!

Gentle readers, I have news of a kind that has never before been announced on this store blog: we are hiring! The amount we can pay is shockingly low, and we are seeking only a part-time employee -- but if you are interested, then I encourage you to send us a resume. I can personally attest that this is one of the most wonderful jobs ever, and I'm not just saying that because Doug lets me ramble absurdly on this store blog every week. Apply swiftly if you wish to apply at all, for we are reviewing applications even as I write this.

Working here, I have learned rather a lot about collecting, for instance. Take this Collector's Item:

Previous to encountering it I had, of course, heard the phrase: "All quiet on the Western front." I had also heard many puns derived therefrom. But I didn't know much about the book itself -- for instance, that it was originally written in German! In 1929, this chronicle of World War 1 soldiers was a smash hit in Germany; it was swiftly translated into two dozen languages, and an Oscar-winning movie was out by 1930. The book describes the horrors of war and the deep alienation of soldiers returning home, and has apparently been held up as an incredibly moving anti-war classic ever since. Of course, anti-war sentiments are not appreciated by everyone, and the author's next book (The Road Back, which described German soldiers trying to cope with their postwar lives) was not only banned in Nazi Germany -- the author himself was stripped of German citizenship in 1938. All this makes this 1929 First American Edition a particularly strong antiwar (and antifascist) symbol, worth every penny of its $125.00.

Also in German: several of the books included in this week's Favorite.

Doug, who is ever on the lookout for strange and interesting sets (he likes to tell the story of the time he paired a antique red typewriter with a book about a magical antique red typewriter), has decided to present all these books together because they all came from the same place: an antique Pennsylvania Dutch trunk. The Pennsylvania Dutch, you see, are an American subculture composed of the descendants of pre-1800 German immigrants. Wikipedia claims that Pennsylvania Dutch ethnic consciousness is currently quite low, but that has not been my experience with the Pennsylvania Dutch I have met!

It has always seemed to me that there is a somewhat romanticized Pennsylvania Dutch image -- similar to the romanticized image of many American colonists -- and I just love picturing bonnetted women in homespun dresses sitting around, their bespectacled husbands smoking home-carved pipes, reading from some of these books. Again, we did find some German books in the 1800s collection from that trunk -- demonstrating that these American colonists took a while to abandon their mother tongue. We also found some antique English spelling and grammar guides, though, so clearly much effort was made to adapt. This is also demonstrated by some of the American citizenship primers, such as this 1851 book ("arranged for the use of schools") on American history:

Other books in the trunk included 1800s books on being a lawyer, plus lawyer form letters: perhaps the patriarch of the clan kept a law office? There are some books of music, bringing to mind the unbelievably charming picture of a sweet Pennsylvania Dutch family sitting around a fire and singing together, and then one or two books on random subjects (such as a little 1885 treatise on the usage and measures of logs and lumber). Although we are presenting these books together, they are individually priced starting at $20.00 (most are in the $30.00-$60.00 range, though some are more expensive). It is perhaps a mere fantasy that a Pennsylvania Dutch family might buy the whole collection and keep them together as a historical trove, but I like to think it could happen.

On a completely different note, have you ever wondered what the Arabs thought of Lawrence of Arabia? I hadn't either, until I saw this amazingly Affordable and Interesting tome!

I've never seen the 1962 film myself, but it's supposed to be very good. T. E. Lawrence himself (1888-1935) was famous, of course, for being a British-Arabian liaison. His life was overall incredibly romantic and adventurous -- beginning as an archaeologist of sorts and working around the River Euphrates, he was snapped up by his government during the First World War due to his local knowledge of Arabs. * From there he became an Arabian fact-finder, then the aforementioned liaison -- fighting with and for the Arabs to whom he represented England. After the end of the war, he tried desperately to represent the cause of independence for the region to the West, but to no avail; it was divided up among the Great War's winners. Later, he wrote some successful books, served in the English army, and died in a motorcycle accident.

So, what might the Arabs themselves (as hopefully well-represented by the author of this 1966 book) have thought of Lawrence? In the introduction, the author notes:

Examples of western exaggeration are to be found in General Allenby's claim that Lawrence was "the mainspring of the Arab movement", in Sir Basil Liddell Hart's statement that but for Lawrence "the Arab movement would have remained a collection of slight and passing incidents", and in Sir Ronald Storrs' description of Lawrence as "kingmaker". There were, of course, some Western writers ... who attempted to belittle Lawrence and reveal the rather unsavoury aspects of the Lawrence legend. But in the works of Lawrence's admirers and detractors alike one seeks in vain for a semblance of justice to the Arabs ....

Lawrence's resounding fame was viewed by the Arabs with a mixture of amazement and disbelief. This was because they understood the Revolt to be a purely Arab endeavour, carried out by Arabs to achieve Arab objectives [rather than something that was done to help British aims during the Great War]. ... Many Arabs ... view the Lawrence legend as a western fabrication. Some of them even consider that Lawrence was a spy or intelligence officer.

... [None of Lawrence's biographers] took the trouble to come to this part of the world and investigate the Arab viewpoint. On the other hand the Arabs themselves have not attempted to put forward their side of the argument. This in itself is further evidence that there is a gap that must be bridged.

Whew, now that was a long quotation!

One might fear that this $20.00 book would be nothing but excoriation of Lawrence, but it does not seem to be. Still, it's certainly not complimentary, and ends with an assessment of Lawrence as a "guilty" man who "knew that the greater part of his fame was based on fraud". Interestingly, there are comments by Lawrence's brother published at the end, which uphold T. E. Lawrence's good character and deny some of the author's claims of falsehood. I don't feel qualified to judge one side or the other of the matter -- but it seems to me a good thing that this book was published, and even better that Lawrence's brother was invited to comment on it.

I think I shall add "Lawrence of Arabia" to my movie-watching list, gentle readers! Of course, by the time I see it this book will no doubt be long gone to a happy customer (perhaps Jill, who says that in her youth she would indulge her own romantic fancies by dressing up and pretending to be T. E. Lawrence!). Them's the breaks of working in a used bookstore!

* By this, as near as I can tell, is meant the natives of the Turkish-ruled regions that are now Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and the Hedjaz region of Saudi Arabia.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

let's not forget Father's Day!

Gentle readers, what must you think of me?! I fully intended to make at least a big a deal about Father's Day as I did about Mother's Day, but in writing the last store blog entry, I forgot! But it is not too late. Let me hereby encourage you to call your fathers this Sunday, June 15. You could also get them the gift of a book, of course, but mostly you should remember to call!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Footnotey footnotery, plus tomfoolery!

In modern times, it appears to be fashionable to write histories of random ideas and concepts; or perhaps this has always been fashionable, and I merely young. Still, it seems as though the Victorians must not have written such things. One of my dear friends, for instance -- knowing my sanguine proclivities -- once gave me a history of the color red. What possible purposes do these serve? Entertainment, I guess, and much accidental edification as one encounters obscure anecdotes and historical byways.

This Affordable and Interesting little thing is a beautiful example of this scholarly phenomenon:

This "rich vision of the true origins and gradual triumph of the footnote" discusses, in a quite erudite fashion, such footnotey masters as Edward Gibbon (who "transformed it into a high form of literary artistry") * as well as how the footnote has evolved and what that says about scholars and thinkers through the ages. Footnotes are "the weapon of pedants," trumpets the dust jacket, "the scourge of undergraduates, the bête noire of the 'new' liberated scholar"! Flipping through the book demonstrates that the author has liberally polished his own use of the footnote form, being as enthusiastic as any of the aforementioned undergraduates, though arguably more skilled. I cannot imagine that this book would technically be useful for anyone, but I can think of lots of people who would find it interesting: for instance, writers and other weirdos. **

Ever hear the phrase, "a footnote in history"? Past U.S. minor party presidential candidates count for that status, I think. From this Collector's Item, we can discover the 1908 candidates for parties Probitionist, Independence, Socialist and People's:

The Democratic candidate was William Jennings Bryan with John Worth Kern for Vice, while the Republicans fielded William Howard Taft and James S. Sherman. The book opens with an earnest introduction saying everything that might be expected about the glories of democracy, and then something interesting comes up right away: a table of what the voting requirements are, state by state! These, naturally, seem a bit shameful now: "uncivilized Indians" being disallowed from voting in some places, or "Indians holding tribal relations", or "Chinese". Clearly, women couldn't vote either (who would ever think that's a good idea?). The rest of the book attempts to summarize the various parties and their ideas before continuing on to topics of more general interest ("Morality in Wall Street", "Socialism", "The Crimes of Labor"). Overall, a very interesting book, and accompanied by a neat historical piece!

Doug says that this tin plate -- a campaign advertisement for Taft, sort of like a bumper sticker, I guess -- would have been hung upon 1908 stove-pipes, hiding them from view. Apparently stove-pipe decoration used to be all the rage! These days, this plate would more likely be used as a simple wall-hanging ... for someone who really wants a picture of Taft on her wall. And who doesn't want that?! These two items together come to $50.00, and you'll unquestionably earn your chops as a real Taft fan if you go for this unique pair.

Turn of the century politics were interesting not just in America, of course, but elsewhere too, as we see from this week's Favorite:

Cuba, in the late 1800s, went for a War of Independence against Spain; pressure built in the U.S. to intercede on Cuba's behalf, until in 1898, we vigorously joined the fray. The U.S. made short work of the conflict (though some contest that it was pretty much over anyway), and came away feeling triumphant -- Secretary of State John Hay called the events "a splendid little war". Written by a geographer who traveled there for some time, this is a nicely illustrated little piece ...

... that answers what the author says were "common questions" about Cuba -- chapter titles include "Right of Search of American Vessels" and "The Question of Atrocities". Splendid, indeed. For $40.00 you can learn just how splendid war can be!

Well, we try not to let the blog get too political here at O'Gara and Wilson, so I'll refrain from any of the cultural observations that come to mind. Enjoy the beautiful weather, my gentle readers -- there's clover everywhere! How much gentler could it get?

* My personal favorite master of the footnote would be Terry Pratchett, the famous comic science fiction author, whose books are apparently the most shoplifted in Great Britain, and whose earlier work -- which, I often contend, is better than the later -- is chock full of glorious footnotery. He always uses the footnote form to tell a tangential story, or stick in an irresistible hysterical/sardonic punchline/observation that would otherwise spoil the narrative flow.

** Which means it's good that it's affordable, *** because we don't make any money.

*** $12.50.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Truth, beauty, you know.

I have conquered a new foe, gentle readers: the Books on Books section! It is now cleaned up, cleared out, and relocated, and material that's been around for a while has received the brutal price slash we love so well. As I mentioned last week, the section was rather a mishmash, but now it has been pared down -- it covers pretty much only books about printing, publishing, book layout, etc etc. There are some somewhat odd items, though; I simply didn't know where to put them, besides Books on Books! One example: this Affordable and Interesting book:

Not only does this book have many nice color illustrations ....

(love that Celtic knotwork!) ... but it also boasts some interesting hypotheses. For instance, as the jacket summarizes: "The author shows how the shape of particular alphabets grew out of the controlling material or tool -- the clay tablets of the Sumerians, the papyrus and reed pen of the Egyptians, the stone-carving of the Romans -- and how these almost haphazard circumstances became turning points in the story of writing up to our own times." So, not only will these pages instruct the reader on making -- say -- a reed pen and some papyrus; they also speculate on how those things led Egyptian writing to develop ... and from there, perhaps the book discusses how methods of writing influenced cultures and the minds therein? I hope so. At the very least, if this book were to fall into my hands (I'd have to come up with $12.50), I would probably spend ages thinking about what various era's writing types indicated about the ways they might consider communication. And then I would write a whole new chapter, for typing on the computer! (There is a chapter on Writing in the Machine Age, but since this book is from 1981, it's not so computery.)

I have wondered before how computers have influenced older groups, such as the Boy Scouts. I once knew a man who got some merit badges designing web sites! With this clumsy segue, I give you this week's Favorite:

This reminds me of our previously listed 301 Things a Bright Girl Can Do (from this entry: click here), though it doesn't seem to contain instructions on how to make colored fire. Regardless, I am sure clever youngsters of both sexes might find this 1940 Boy Scout manual enjoyable, and of course it would likely appeal to Boy Scout historians. This illustrated manual reminds us not only of the respect due the U.S. flag and other issues of citizenship, but covers such broad topics as: correcting common misconceptions about snakes (they cannot form into hoops and roll about!); emergency medical care; and astronomy. It describes merit badges, making me wonder whether the Computers merit badge (I assume that's what it's called, anyway) is entirely new -- or replaced such merit badges as Hog and Pork Production. Hey, there are merit badges in both Reading and Bookbinding! All this enough to make me want to be a Boy Scout.

I also find this Baby Ruth ad hilarious:

"Wholesome, delicious Baby Ruth is the ideal candy for athletes, because it's rich in Dextrose." My, how far we've come. You could show this to your favorite dietitian for only $15.00!

You know who I bet the Boy Scouts admire? Gandhi.

This week's Collector's Item is an item of Gandhi-ish history, though it is mainly about the idea of Dharma: its aim, as described in the introduction, is to "cultivate in individual and collective life the doctrines of Dharma, such as Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (self-control), Aparigraha (non-acquisition). ... Our new magazine will make a special effort to bring to the West the noblest and best of India where Dharma originated .... The progress of Mahatma Gandhi's spiritual battle for peace and freedom ... will be especially recorded." It's from 1930, and the covers are accordingly rather fragile and brittle, but I think the illustrations are still nice-looking:

Herein we find an article by Gandhi himself, as well as a section on Indian folklore (specifically, legends of the Mahabharata), a discussion of yoga ("Yoga: or, communion with God"), and much more. This is Volume 1, Number 1 of the magazine -- frequently, of course, the very first issue of any magazine is the rarest -- and we're offering it for $300.00. But what price truth and beauty? This I ask you, gentle readers.

Let us all practice non-violence, truth, etc. over the next week -- though certainly if someone or something prevents you from getting your O'Gara and Wilson blog fix, I wholly support violence as a solution to the problem! Anyone who keeps me from a computer deserves whatever they get, I always figure.