Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dear Readers,

I sincerely hope the whirlwind of changing blog authors and new employees has not been too dizzying. That said, I must introduce yet another member of our staff. His name is Jerome.

As you have no doubt guessed, Jerome is a monk. He can be seen in this photograph working hard on the ledgers, meticulously copying columns of records in order to... Hold on a moment. I hear a faint voice calling from the back of the store.

Sorry about that. Jerome has informed me that he tires of his mindless drudgery, hour upon hour of the same boring tasks that occupied him at the old Scriptorium. I offered to let him write this week's blog, and he seemed greatly cheered by the prospect. My apologies if the writing is dry or the topic dull. Without further ado...

Dull? Dry? He's got some nerve, that Alan, implying we monks sit around all day discussing how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, or debating the intricacies of Trinitarian doctrine. I'll give you readers a, what do you call it, an Internet Grog, I think Alan said, that's both educational and stimulating.

In fact, speaking of grog, you should know that many monks like myself specialized (and still specialize) in the brewing of beer. We've been a fun-loving bunch for ages. Hopped barley beer first appeared in the charter of a Benedictine abbey in 768. Water was often contaminated, and beer provided a safe alternative beverage, since boiling is a step in the brewing process. The quality of this fine product improved generation after generation, and eventually brought fame to monastaries. Over 500 monastic breweries existed by the year 1000, producing beer both for sale and consumption by their members (a slightly weaker version was even developed for nuns). Of course, some stick-in-the-mud monks have tried to curb this habit -- pun observed but unintended. In 1664, the Abbot of La Trappe felt things were getting a little too liberal, and passed the Strict Observance, permitting only water to be drunk at the monastery. Needless to say, righteous monks like myself were loath to comply, and I have it on good authority that many disobeyed the regulations and continued to brew tasty beer in secret. This is no longer necessary, thank goodness, as the rules have been relaxed considerably since then.

Ironically, monastic beers experienced an explosion in popularity and quality during the 1920's and 30's, precisely when this nation enacted its own Strict Observance. Of course, if monks were unable to desist from beer making and drinking, Americans were even less likely to do so. Alcohol thrived during Prohibition, and the main character in this week's Collectible was accused of making his fortune in bootlegging.

Jay Gatsby -- monk at heart? Alan has been reading over my shoulder, and insists I mention the fact that this is a first edition of The Great Gatsby. Of course, at the Scriptorium, all editions were first editions, since they were copied by hand, but that's another matter. So there you have it, a first edition of the Great Gatsby, excellent reading for those who are interested in life during America's time of Strict Observance. Needless to say, F. Scott Fitzgerald did not observe strictly. He was a heavy drinker, and it interfered severely with his writing later in life. In fact, if you look closely at the photograph below, you might see a slight shakiness in his signature.

Yes, that is F. Scott Fitzgerald's signature, in a copy of his Flappers and Philosophers. These two books are priced at $1950 and $6500 respectively. Drink some good Trappist ale and perhaps you'll be less reticent to make the purchase.

If your tastes run more towards beer than literature, as mine do, you will probably be tempted by the Affordable and Interesting items this week.

Practical Points for Brewers was published in 1933, the year that Prohibition ended. Along with this fine volume there are scores of advertisements, pamphlets, beer-brewing manuals, and other printed material of related interest available for purchase. Prices range from $5 for one page ads to $75 for the scarcer books. They provide a wonderful window into the world of early 20th century American beer and alcohol. Personally, however, I wouldn't use the reference materials to actually brew beer -- I borrowed one of the volumes, followed the instructions rigorously, and came up with some pig-swill that I wouldn't wish on the man behind the Strict Ordinance. A friend of mine said it tasted a good deal like Miller High Life, which makes sense -- in 1933, Miller dispatched a case of said beer to President Roosevelt, celebrating the repeal of the 18th Amendment. Knowing this makes me feel better, since it means the poor quality was the fault of the method, not the brewer. Alan is again reading over my shoulder, and wants me to add that the thoughts and opinions expressed in this grog (sorry, blog, I'll get it straight from now on, thanks Alan) belong solely to the author. Alan himself is a fan of Miller High Life.

With all this talk of alcohol, and the mention of Mr. Fitzgerald, it is fitting to mention one of the most eloquent testaments to the beauty of drinking, though The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam concerns wine, not beer.

Translated by Edward Fitzgerald, the poem beautifully twines drinking and living: "So when that Angel of the darker Drink / At last shall find you by the river-brink, / And offering his Cup, invite your Soul / Forth to your Lips to quaff -- you shall not shrink." I shall not shrink, thank you very much. This particular edition, and the Favorite of the week, combines my greatest loves -- good drinking, divinity, and quality bookmaking. Peter Pauper Press produces quality, affordable books ($6.00 for the one pictured here). Interestingly, despite his fame as a translator of this poem, Edward Fitzgerald did not resemble the later F. Scott in his actual drinking habits -- in fact, he was a vegetarian who destested vegetables, and subsisted entirely on a diet of bread, fruit, and tea. Perhaps he didn't pay close enough attention to the meaning of what he was translating -- a mistake often made by scholars.

Well, that brings me to close of this week's blog. Now it is up to Alan to type it up -- any spelling errors are his fault, not mine (just check the original manuscript if you happen to drop by). From O'Gara and Wilson, this is Jerome, over and out.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Up Front and Personnel

Dear Readers,

Allow me to introduce a blog entry concerned with introductions. Recently, new forces have been introduced at O’Gara and Wilson, forces that are redefining the store from top to bottom, back to front. It would be an admirable day’s work if we could cover one of those areas -- I propose starting with the front.

Most importantly, there are new faces to be seen there. Sarah and Kim are now a part of the staff, helping in our mission to exchange one type of printed material for another. Lest you underestimate the power of their presence for this institution’s feng-shui, witness another significant change to the storefront, due in no small part to their efforts. Alongside Helena, these two dedicated craftswomen reshaped the glass cases, sculpting a thing of beauty that rivals any of its component parts.

Organized by topic: done. Arranged by size: done. Sorted by aesthetic appeal and age: done. In honor of their efforts there will be a ONE-WEEK SALE on the choicest Collectibles we have to offer. From the opening chime of the register on Saturday, August 23rd until the thump of the deadbolt next Friday evening, every single item in the glass cases will be discounted 10%.

Wait just one moment, you say. Hold on. What about the really high-end stuff? What about the signed T.S. Eliot, say, or the first folio Shakespeare? Surely those are not 10% off?

Do you think Mr. Douglas Wilson, owner and moral backbone of O’Gara and Wilson, would ever allow the electric ambassador of his business to disseminate deception? Never! First of all, the signed T.S. Eliot will absolutely be discounted 10% -- either one (yes, we have two). As for the first folio Shakespeare. We don’t have a first folio Shakespeare, and I never claimed we did. But for those that got their hopes up, rest easy. The Norton facsimile first folios partake of the same discount as every other item – either one (yes, we have two).

And they are much more reasonable -- $125 regular price, so you do the math.

Now that we’re up in front by the glass cases, I should mention a new policy introduced by the city. No longer is the beloved bargain book cart allowed to make its daily pilgrimage to the sidewalk. Chicago, ever thoughtful and clear-headed about the orderliness of its streets, has informed us via local agents that a fine will attend any such excursion. In protest of this unjust imprisonment, the week’s Affordable and Interesting item is taken from this humble cousin of the glass cases.

As you may or may not be aware, every paperback on the cart is $1, and every hardback is $1.50. Big deal, right? That’s where bookstores put all the crap they can’t sell… Think again, my friend, because things don’t work that way here at O’Gara and Wilson. Ask any of the book dealers who occasionally go treasure hunting through the contents of the cart. Or examine this gorgeous copy of Beowulf, illustrated in color and black and white by Lynd Ward, plucked freshly from the top row of bargain books. That’s right, only $1.50.

Of course, without the cart our window will have time to shine. Here you can see an assortment of high-quality art books featured there, all priced between $5.00-12.50.

The sign suggests more such treasures inside. Again, you may think we cannot resist exaggerating the extent of our selection – perhaps most of the books inside are paperback, or more expensive than those in the window. This week’s Favorite will put to rest any such notions, while simultaneously facilitating another introduction, this time one of my favorite illustrators.

Aubrey Beardsley does extraordinary work, some of it playful, some fantastical, some erotic, and nearly all of it intricate and beautiful. I found a wonderful book of his collected drawings inside on the shelf, when I was looking to verify the claim of our storefront sign. Price: $6.50.

Just to review this week’s key points: New employees -- Kim and Sarah. Glass cases sale -- Saturday the 23rd to Friday the 29th, everything 10% off. Front of the store -- changed, invigorated, and well worth a visit. From O’Gara and Wilson, this is Alan, hoping the conclusion of these introductions can be in person.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Indignant Ruminations

Readers of the Blog,

It is both a privilege and a duty (the latter far less present to my mind than the former, of course) to take over this magnificent means of communication from my erstwhile, stalwart, and winsome co-worker, the one known to most simply as "Lydia", and to a few as "Lydia, supreme leader and benevolent bestower of order and organization."

I hope I don't screw it up.

See, while Lydia may appear to be kind, big-hearted, magnanimous, even-tempered and level-headed, it is a fact that she will not let mistakes go. Recently, she built an extremely minor error of mine into the very fabric of our store. My irresponsibility, immortalized. I quote from the updated edition of our employee manual (censored for security purposes): “The camera is kept in a ____ beside the ____ _____, along with its manual and installation CD (note – manual and installation CD were mislaid by Alan, possibly at home – keep reminding him to keep an eye out for them; but remember that you don’t actually need to have the camera program installed to retrieve the photos – the computer can take them off the camera automatically).”

Mislaid by Alan??!! What if they are found? Do I have permission to exonerate myself by altering the instructions? Should I still be stamped with the proverbial scarlet letter, for my malfeasance? What if they aren’t found? Am I doomed to receive phone calls from the mystified employees of O’Gara and Wilson fifty years hence, when CD’s don’t even exist, and the only discernable information in that sentence will relate to the fact that I committed an indiscretion? Why does it matter, since the manual and CD are, by the author’s very own admission, unnecessary?!!

Forgive me, I got carried away. It won’t happen again, I promise. As Lydia pointed out in her previous blog, the tone of my writing will be less Victorian, more thematic. Less chatty, more down to business. I shall have no truck with wordy digressions, lengthy meditations, and spurious fabrications. "Gentle readers?" she used to call you? Hah! You better toughen up, blog-reading softies, fed too long on the soft soup of Lydia's molly-coddling. More like "hardened readers," by the time I'm through with you. Nothing but straight-shooting information about the most ridiculous things that crop up in this store. No punches pulled, no absurdities omitted. Feverishly strange and morally objectionable objects will be our standard fare. Lydia will have no more mistakes to criticize, nothing to seize upon and commit to the computer’s ever-pulsing memory circuits.

Let's see what we've got this week. My lord! It's a story detailing what could happen to me or those miserable blog readers who can't hack it, here in the real world of ruff n' tuff blogging. Lemony Snicket cover your head in shame! Job, count your blessings. Ladies, gentleman, and all people stout of heart, this week's Collector's Item is: "The True and Affecting History of Henrietta Bellgrave, A Woman Born Only for Calamities, Being an Unhappy Daughter, Wrteched Wife, and Unfortunate Mother: Containing a Series of the Most Uncommon Adventures that ever Befel one Person by Sea and Land, Giving an Account of her Shipwreck; her falling into the Power of a Brutal Villian; and her Being Providentially Relieved by a Party of Indians; with her further Sufferings to the Time of her Death."

Indeed. For $600 you can own this unfortunate saga, bound in leather together with no less than 5 other similar chapbooks, each preceded by a hand-colored engraving. These are followed by a comedy in five acts, from the pen of Shakespearean opera-writer Frederick Reynolds, entitled "The Dramatist; or Stop Him Who Can." All date from the early 1800's and were published in London. There is nothing remotely like this volume available online. Don't pass it up, lest you feel like Henrietta some years down the line for having missed such a unique opportunity.

Ah yes... some of you may be calloused from watching television and playing violent video games. Perhaps poor Henrietta's travails do not curl your toes or stand your hair on end (while the price does more than its share of both). Well, I promised morally objectionable, and morally objectionable you’ll get. Maybe with the aid of this week's Affordable and Interesting item you'll be able to afford the chapbooks listed above. See, with only a little willingness to overlook ethical strictures, this book will pay for itself. Published in 1913, "How to Collect Money by Mail" is a mint condition copy of 327 Tested Plans, Petters and Schemes that Make the Mail Bring Money Due.

A mere $12.50 buys you the means to make millions upon millions. Well, not exactly. What this book will allow you to do, however, is act as an effective collection agent. If you have some vagabond friend who constantly fails to pay you back, or in the unlikely event you are actually an old-time collection agent who still operates by writing persuasive personal letters, chapters on "Rousing the Will to Pay" and "Handling Collections Through an Attorney" will certainly be useful, if not somewhat dated. We have all read it here at the store, so if anyone is tempted to pay with a bad check, think again. We'll get our money by hook or by crook (usually by crook, since our hook is rather large and unwieldy).

Whew. At this point you might be feeling tired, sapped, drained, winded, wearied, listless. So much reading, so much activity, it's all too much, just like it is at the end of your work-day. Most people nowadays can't handle high intensity exertion, physical or mental. No matter, that's nothing I wasn't able to solve for myself, with the aid of Bernarr MacFadden, author of this week's Favorite. In 1904 he did everyone the incredible favor of publishing his classic "Building of Vital Power." As he asks so eloquently in his Preface: "My friends, do you realize the meaning of VITAL POWER? Have you ever experienced that super-abundance of health which breeds an intense satisfaction with life and all living things? Have you ever felt the supreme joy of mere existence? The satisfaction of that makes you exclaim: 'There is indeed zest in life!' "

Chapters cover everything from "Vast Importance of Water" to "Erroneous Methods of Breathing," including a section on the "quiet breathing used by weaklings." Take note. Purity of essence and precious bodily fluids are all safe once you've internalized MacFadden's philosophy. All you need to do is externalize $15 in the presence of one our clerks, and the opportunity is yours.
Short and to the point, just like I said. It has been a pleasure, and I hope you will join us again here next week. Wonders and mysteries await. From O'Gara and Wilson, this is Alan, over and out. And everyone: three cheers for Lydia. She will be missed.