Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I must go back to the Madison again, to the lonely Madison and sky ....

I have had a busy week, gentle readers! Firstly, I ought to tell you all that we will be closed this Friday, July 4, for Independence Day. Secondly, I have heard of a most remarkable contrivance: the Book Bike (click here)! The website is scanty as of yet, but apparently the plan -- starting July 5 -- is for the Book Bike to travel the wilds of Chicago, passing out books willy-nilly. Charming! -- though I can but hope it doesn't put me out of a job.

What has kept me busiest, though, was a weekend trip to Madison, Wisconsin. During this trip I visited many lovely bookstores! Some, such as Browzer's Books, appear to have no Internet presence at all. Others, such as Paul's Books, can only be linked to by means of colorless Internet listings -- they don't have their own Web sites. But these were fine stores nonetheless. Browzer's, I recall, had a whole section on Circus; Paul's, like us, sells random prints and even its own postcards! There was also A Room of One's Own, a feminist bookstore. Alas, it stocks new material rather than used, but it featured many fascinating books plus hilarious pins and bumper stickers! (I purchased one that says, "Tact is for people who aren't witty enough to be sarcastic.") In the end, I think my favorite (a hard choice) was Avol's Books. It's not just enormous -- it even contains a whole nother bookstore within itself, BookWorks (specializing in rarer books and hardbacks)! Avol's itself has a great deal of various material, including enough science fiction and fantasy to keep me happily immersed for a while, and it also boasts some fine murals on several walls in back. I look forward to returning to Madison and looking through the rest of the city's bookstores, and I recommend a road trip for all of you, gentle readers! (Madison has stuff besides bookstores too, like lakes and gardens and beautiful architecture and cafes and ... stuff.)

One might think that what with all of the above, this week's entry would be nationalist -- or Madison-related -- or bike-related. It is wholly irrelevant to all three. But this week's Favorite may shed some light on American economic history:

This slender volume appears to be advertising material for the Research Institute of America, published in 1941. Said Research Institute seems to have been "a mere handful of business leaders in 1935, but a straight-thinking group of more than 20,000 today -- bankers, wholesalers, manufacturers, attorneys, accountants, retailers." Having "hired or developed a group of specialists who don't have a thing in the world to do except study the problems that you haven't either the time or facilities to study," the Institute is advertised as telling "its 20,000 members where to go, what to do, when to duck, when to fight and when to pull in their horns". Complete with fabulous 40s graphics ....


... the book goes on about the various terrible new laws and regulations that are hurting American businessmen, then assures the reader that these don't need to be problems: indeed, they can be advantages! It uses a lot of rhetoric like, "Many executives, when they face a labor problem, shut both eyes, see red, turn off whatever reasoning power God gave them, and come in swinging!" -- moving from there to descriptions of how confusing contemporary economics were, and how the Institute's exhaustive research had helped its members navigate tricky business waters. I confess that I know little of economics at all, let alone 1940s American economics, but this book's tone and graphics alone say something about American culture. It seems to me that this $25.00 item could be a real prize for just the right historical economist!

This Collector's Item is at least relevant to American history because it's by a landmark American author:

Mark Twain's "1601" (click here for history and e-text) was apparently written as a satire. It tells the story of a supposed fireside chat among Queen Elizabeth, Ben Jonson, Beaumont, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the Duchess of Bilgewater; it's famously obscene, filled with naughty words and references to bodily functions. Mark Twain himself was well-known to be a foul-mouthed and bawdy fellow, rather amused when others claimed that history (or historical personages) from ages past might have been lily-white clean-minded folk. He had read a great deal of history and had some idea of how coarse discourse had been in ages past. So, in "1601", he was not only amusing himself by writing something naughty -- he fully intended to eloquently reproduce "a past time as he saw it in Shakespeare, Dekker, Jonson, and other writers of the Elizabethan era".

"1601" is not widely known, but the great Twain always has something to offer, and this Limited Edition was privately printed in handsome linen and sturdy paper for the Mark Twain Society of Chicago in 1939. (It's an out-of-series copy; 550 were officially printed.) This particular copy is of especial interest because it's inscribed by the editor, Franklin J. Meine, to fellow editor William A. Kittredge. It also still has Kittredge's bookplate in it, which was designed by the legendary Rockwell Kent:

Kent, Kittredge and Meine are of peripheral interest to the study of Twain himself. But this is the only available signed copy of this Limited Edition, and everyone loves Rockwell Kent! $250.00 seems a steal for such an obscure and wonderful item.

There's no way I can relate this Affordable and Interesting book to American history ... well, I guess I could try, but it just seems such a stretch.

Winner of the Caldecott Medal for children's illustration, this book has very little text. In fact, the only words are at the beginning: "Tuesday evening, around eight." Thence it tells an entire astonishing story solely by means of illustration!

The flying frogs are leavened only by occasional insertions of times, amusing incidents, and bystanders' expressions. For instance, at 11.21PM:

Not your usual children's book, this little piece struck me as unusual and made me laugh. Come look at it (or buy it for $8.50!) to see what happens to the flying frogs! I do hope this starts a trend in all-graphic children's books.

I must go back to the Madison again, to the lonely Madison and sky ... but though I had a great time there, gentle readers, I'm glad to be back. This is my favorite bookstore of all -- there's no bookstore like home!

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