Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In which we finally find out: "Why World's Fairs?"

Is it two weeks later already? So it seems, gentle readers -- and here is Lydia, back again! I don't watch much TV, but I'm suddenly picturing the introductory bit to a potential TV show: "Fun Book Hour With O'Gara and Wilson". It could feature shots of the bookstore with happy children dancing around our stuffed buffalo head, and then pull in to me sitting very sternly in a red leather chair, with some kind of pet at my feet and an elegant stack of books beside. I'd look over my glasses at the viewer and say, "This week, on Fun Book Hour ..."

Our first Fun Books should thrill many Collectors:

John Lange, you say? Who is John Lange and why do I care? Perhaps you recognize this author's real name better: Michael Crichton, who died recently at the age of 66. Crichton is most famous for science fiction thriller classics like The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, but he wrote his first books as John Lange. In fact, his very first book ever was Odds On (1966), and here we have the first printing of the first edition! You could purchase that for $200.00, or perhaps you could go for the cheaper first edition of Easy Go -- a slightly later "Lange" book for which we're charging $75.00. I can't quite decide which of these two lurid paperbacks makes me happier, but I think that if I were buying one, I'd pick Easy Go entirely because of the cover blurb: "Rob the tomb, hijack the harem -- five master criminals plot history's hottest heist on the banks of the Nile!" (I'd tell you all about the descriptions on the backs of these books, but they are just too scandalous. It's worth your time to come into the store and read them, I assure you -- they're quite funny!)

Now for our Affordable and Interesting Fun Book!

Around Chicago, we have a great deal of evidence of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition -- indeed, we have written about it here on this blog any number of times! I spend an unreasonable amount of time passing the Exposition's leftover buildings during my daily meanderings, and frequently I find myself amazed at the colossal amount of resources that went into that brief festival. I also find myself wondering why in the world such exhibitions were considered worth it -- for there were many of them, not just Chicago's! In fact, I was recently stunned to realize that World's Fairs are still going on (click here for Wikipedia's list of them, or try clicking here to look at the online Museum of World's Fairs).

As it happens, this question is the subject of this very book: The Story of Exhibitions. It's a hilariously pompous 1951 examination of World's Fairs through the ages, seeking to "capture for the general reader something of the romance of exhibitions, which are among the most remakable social phenomena of our times". My favorite line is from the introduction, "Why Exhibitions?": "The first [reason] is, quite simply, the desire to 'show off'." $15.00 will purchase this trenchant observation as well as quite a lot of history and photos of past expositions!

This week's Favorite is more a Fun Chapbook than a Fun Book:

Frans Masereel was a remarkable woodcut artist of the early 1900s. He's best known today for his novels without words, in which he would take evocative titles like The Passion of Man and tell a story without text -- entirely through woodcuts. This little chapbook is a scarce title on Masereel's life and work, with a ten-page written introduction followed by a number of Masereel images:


Masereel is sometimes described as "expressionist", and I would have to agree. His images are so powerful and arresting! This would make a really cool gift for any designer or comic artist -- get your arty kid's Christmas gift here, only $25.00!

Man, I never know how to end these blog entries. On the TV show it would probably be even worse -- or maybe there'd be a song that played at the end, or a routine I went through: another kids-around-the-buffalo dance? That would make it easier. I will, gentle readers, think on it. Feel free to comment if you have any ideas!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Social engagements of ages past!

Hello again, gentle readers! It is I, Lydia, who created this blog. I am something of a freelancer about the bookstore these days, and this week I have decided to be a guest star on ye olde O'Gara and Wilson Blog. What does it mean to be a guest star in an institution that I created? There's an odd philosophical question.

You know who liked philosophical questions? Ben Franklin, as featured in this Affordable and Interesting tome.

We all know who Benjamin Franklin was. Even beyond his contributions to the founding of the United States, he was remarkable -- a scientist, a man of the arts, in all ways an accomplished gentleman. As it happens, he was also famous for his ... ahem ... lady friends. Franklin spent eight years in Paris, during which time he won French support for our fledgling nation, and also cut quite a swath through the elegant Parisian ladies he met. This $12.50 book describes Parisian culture from 1777-1785, when Franklin was there, and gives the story of the time he spent discussing ideas; making diplomatic overtures; and most importantly, charming women.

From this week's Favorite we learn that if Ben Franklin had been a student in the 50s, he would have been featured on many girls' dance cards.

Here we have a bunch of social materials from the mid-1950s at the Dunbar Trade School! There are some run-of-the-mill things like ID cards and Dunbar Trade buttons, but there's also great stuff like a "High School Daze Memory Book". It's blank; it seems that no one wrote their memories in it, but that does mean you could give it to your favorite high school student for their own records.

Perhaps you prefer the invitations to Masquerade Balls and New Years Balls hosted by the Gay Eights Social Club -- not to mention the invitation to the annual Hippity Hop hosted by the King of Clubs. (I wonder if the Gay Eights and the King of Clubs were rival organizations?) Me, I particularly enjoy these little Prom booklets:

The booklets contain the lists of Prom Queens and Kings, plus their royal retinues. They contain hilarious Mad Libs about Prom Night (again, blank -- you could fill them out yourself!). And they have dance cards! One of the dance cards is blank, but the other has one name scrawled in pencil across every song's field. ... Dear God! In an incredible moment of synchronicity, I just realized that name is: Robert W. Franklin! Gentle readers, I couldn't make these things up. Do you think he's a descendant of the aforementioned Franklin?! For $50.00, you not only acquire this entire trove of 1950s nostalgia, but the evidence of a ridiculous coincidence.

Which brings me to the coincidence I discovered in this Collector's Item.

Here we have a genuine Victorian photo album, complete with red velvet cover and brass clasp. Below, we have photographed it with another Victorian photo album that we are also currently selling:

The pictures within these albums are mostly the expected Victorian familial photos, featuring severe expressions and elaborate formal clothing. The occasional antique photographer's card is in here as well. But what really excited me was the folded letter I found in that red velvet album, listing the participants in a hair wreath! Many Victorians, being of a fascinatingly macabre bent, would weave flowers and wreaths from the hair of people they knew (find out more by clicking here). So this handwritten page starts with, "Miss Alma L. Denny's hair wreath made, June 19, 1875. A List of the names of the persons that have hair in this wreath." Each person's name is then followed by a description: "my Sister," "my seckond cousin", "a nabor", "a nabor a true friend". (We cannot be held responsible for this person's spelling and grammar.)

The reason this is a startling coincidence is that we ourselves, this very bookstore, sold an antique Victorian hair wreath some months ago (it was even featured on our blog at the time!). I find myself wondering if it's the same hair wreath. Not that it matters overmuch, since our wreath is long sold to a happy customer, but $150.00 buys the red velvet album ... and the mysterious letter as well!

That's a wrap, gentle readers. It was nice to visit. I understand that Alan is updating once every two weeks these days, so I guess you'll hear from him in a couple weeks. Or perhaps I'll return myself. You shan't know what to expect ... and in the meantime, take care!