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."