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.

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