Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"Eggs must not quarrel with stones", dear readers.

Gentle readers, I have two meaty bits of news for you to set upon like terriers. The first bit is that the bookstore shall be closed from this coming Sunday, July 27, through Saturday August 9; we will reopen on the 10th, doubtless to cheers! During that time we will all be relaxing on the beach, and so should you be. (Obviously, there will be no blog entries written for the next two weeks.)

The second bit is that I will be scaling back my involvement in this wonderful bookshop, becoming something of a rarely visiting but tyrannical consultant-like figure as I get the rest of my life in order, and as a result I -- Lydia -- will no longer write most of our blog entries! I weep, dear readers, truly I weep. The hilarious Alan will replace me on a regular basis, so you can look forward to blog entries with less of a Victorian tone and more coherent themes.

No longer writing the blog! Dear readers, it is like an omen or a portent -- something like what's recorded in this Affordable and Interesting little tome:

In case you cannot read that Gothic lettering, the tagline of this book reads: "Strange and Terrible News of Ghosts, Apparitions, Monstrous Births, Showers of Wheat, Judgments of God, and other Prodigious and Fearful Happenings as told in Broadside Ballads of the Years 1624-1693". Now I knew that a "broadside" is a term referring to excitable poster-like sheets of paper, splashed about the town; what I did not know is that once upon a time, all broadsides recorded ballads, and were sold for a pittance by musicians. (You can see some images and such from old broadsides at the Bodleian Library's website: click here!) It would seem that this book chronicles a particular collection of broadside ballads (that of Anthony Wood, a medieval gentleman who essentially kept a scrapbook of the things), and that his collection particularly featured tales of strange and marvelous occurrences. For instance, one page has this woodcut:

... accompanied by a rather involved set of verses covering many lands, including:
In Anno sixteene hundred and eighteene,
A blazing Starre was o'er Bohemia seene,
Which for the space of seven and twenty dayes,
Within the sky most fearefully did blaze.
And in Hungaria (as 'tis understood,)
Water was Metamorphos'd into bloud.
In Brunswick-land (within an evening faire,)
Were seene two armies fighting in the aire.

Intrigued? Me too! $12.50, and who knows what you might discover of our supernatural past?!

Supernatural influences are pernicious and subtle. I think that some must have been at work in these Collector's Items:

You see, the Easton Press produces elegantly leather-bound books with gilt detailing and gilt edges; editions that will last a long time, and look nice to boot. In the past I have mostly seen books chronicling American presidents, or famous classic books, from the Easton Press. But it seems that some odd supernatural influence has caused them to branch out ... into things like "New Yorker" cartoons! (I see from their site that they are also selling the classy How to Be A Betty: Unleashing Your Inner Boop... what is the world coming to?) At any rate, here lie collections of "New Yorker" comics (as hilarious as ever) on the subjects of Doctors, Lawyers and Business -- $75.00 apiece. The gilt detailing on these particular Easton editions features the famous New Yorker monocle theme: gilted doctor with monocle, lawyer with monocle, and businessman with monocle. And if you get the Business one, you will gain one of the most legendary "New Yorker" cartoons ever:

I wish all my comic books were bound in elegant leather!

But my Favorite this week, and possibly for all time, is not comics or strange phenomena or leather; it's the entire incredible Asian Studies collection that we're getting in right now.

We've only just begun processing these books, and they are absolutely marvelous! We have had to dramatically expand our sections on Miscellaneous Asian Countries, China, Chinese Art, Japan, Japanese Art, India / Pakistan, Eastern Religion / Philosophy, and Middle East / Islam -- just to fit all the remarkable books that we're getting. And there's more to come! Our Asian Studies section will be completely incredible for some time, gentle readers, I assure you -- here you see a mere sampling of the material we worked with today. First we have some quite scholarly titles on subjects like Asian literature, psychological theories, education, and all manner of more specific subjects -- such as the above-pictured book on Japanese castles, which I might just kill for (or buy for $10.00). Then there's various kinds of art in translation; Three Tibetan Mystery Plays: As Performed in the Tibetan Monasteries is one of the most obscure and fascinating examples ($35.00):

And then there's some random items, such as this charming little collection of translated Chinese proverbs:

$12.50 gets you all of the following and more!:
* He who only comes from upstairs is a guest.
* Don't ask a guest if you may kill a fowl for him.
* He is truly a superior man who can watch a chess game in silence.
* Eggs must not quarrel with stones.
* A divided orange tastes just as good.

I am thinking that I may be unable to leave the store. I may simply sit in the Asian Studies area and read. For the rest of my life. You mark my words! My beard will grow long and my sight will dim before I can tear myself away from these books ... probably.

Thank you for being an appreciative audience, my dearest readers. I will return perhaps as a guest star, and see you all around!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My attempts at thematic titles are becoming ridiculous!

Living in Hyde Park, one hears a lot about the World's Columbian Exposition, which took place in 1893 right along Hyde Park's southern edge. I must confess that before I got here I knew practically nothing about it -- but being around this excellent bookstore has given me quite an education, in the form of all kinds of items from the Columbian Exposition! The event was a few months long and constituted a kind of enormous fair, which technically was intended to celebrate technology and progress, but occasionally ended up going off into strange little side-alleys ... for instance, there were exhibits of real science, and then there was an eleven-ton block of cheese. And carnival rides. It sounds like a spectacularly good time was had all round, and I'm sorry to have missed it!

I bring up the Columbian Exposition, gentle readers, because of this Affordable and Interesting item:

As near as we can figure, this is some kind of publicity material issued by a Wisconsin general store:

... but most of it isn't advertisement. It's mostly pictures of the buildings of the Columbian Exposition -- a little worn, but not at all astonished! * There was apparently a Machinery Hall, for instance, and a U.S. Government Building:

There was also apparently a casino -- goodness me! For $15.00 you get 17 pictures of the Exposition, and can sigh in nostalgia for what must have been the largest carnival man has ever known.

Perhaps you are more interested in antique viewpoints on Washington than Chicago. Now, I don't know why you would be -- gentle readers, I have adopted quantities of Chicago pride! -- but I suppose Washington has its charm. And if you're all about Washington, then this Collector's Item is for you:

This 1897 book is simply a series of "Views of the City of Washington" (apparently it is from a series known as Brentano's Views of American Cities). Each photograph is accompanied by explanatory text:

I suppose that many of the monuments I have spent time in while in Washington -- the JFK Memorial, for instance -- was after this book's time, and I had to remind myself what a very different city D.C. would have been so long ago. Another reminder of the time gap: the page for the Bureau of Printing and Engraving notes that newly-made banknotes are transported to the Treasury in "guarded wagons". Ah, how times change. I wonder if many of these buildings are no longer around? This $125.00 book is exceptionally rare; we haven't been able to locate any other copies for sale on the Internet. So I'm afraid that if you'd like to check on how many of these photos remain applicable, you'll have to come look at our copy -- and if you do, please educate me!

This blog entry seems to have a more antique theme than usual. This you can see in this week's Favorite items:

... which I selected from our section on India and Pakistan. We recently went through this smallish section, repricing all the older material. Here you see three of my favorite items from it. The first is a 1926 book on "Close-Up Views of India's Womanhood", by a Presbyterian missionary woman; it opens with a sweetly written portrait of a young Indian girl who wants nothing more than to learn to read (but cannot because of her repressive culture), and continues to discuss other Indian women's studies issues, like marriage. Considering that the dedication is to the missionary's husband, and says: "Having followed him half-way around the world to marry him, I have been following him in everything ever since; but he is worth the pursuing," I am unsure how well-qualified the author is to comment on female subjugation. For $20.00, you can form your own opinion! (Interestingly, this book is also inscribed by the author to Cyrus Hall McCormick and wife. Not that McCormick is very relevant to the matter at hand, but he did invent the mechanical reaper.)

The second book, also published in 1926, is pro-Indian independence: "I propose to prove in the following pages that British rule in India is inefficient in the matters that concern the Nation's life; that India is slowly wasting away and will inevitably perish, unless she regains her right to rule herself." India only gained independence from Britain in 1947 (click here for an interesting assortment of historical documents on the subject, from the British Library), and this $15.00 book makes an interesting portrait of pre-independence agitation on the subject. The third book is in German, so I have no idea what the text says, but it has some beautiful reproductions of Indian miniatures:

If you know German you should come translate it for me! (Or buy it for $20.00.)

In India it is hot. In Chicago it is also hot. I wonder if they go swimming in India? Because I think we should all do it in Chicago ... starting as soon as I go home today. Maybe I'll see you at the Point, gentle readers!

* This is a pun on a line from Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories. I thought maybe I should explain that.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Superman sock puppets in the Victorian era!

There are tiny, mysterious sections about the shop that are very easy to miss. I didn't even realize, for example, that we have sections on Etiquette and Horsemanship until a good five or six months after I first started working here. Another example is the tiny little subsection of drama on Puppetry! In a recent attempt at tabulating all the sections in the store, I found that Puppetry is (perhaps it has become) small enough that the books ought simply to be distributed into the general Drama section. But before we do that, gentle readers, I thought I'd show them to you as this week's Favorite.

The first thing I found in Puppetry was a book on mimes, which isn't quite relevant, but is interesting anyway. Written by a famous early 1900s mime, it contains a log of her attempts to teach her art ($15.00). The next was a circa 1940 book on masks and puppets -- a beautiful how-to, containing instructions on construction using everything from paper to socks to plaster to sticks and strings. It puts me in mind of adorable pranks I could play on everyone in the store ("I bet you didn't think your socks could do this!"); you could save my coworkers by taking this book away ($20.00)! Next we have Remo Bufano's own book on puppetry: apparently an acknowledged master of the craft, he shares all his puppetty secrets. You could know them for $25.00! Last comes a $15.00 book on marionettes, which has endpapers patterned with Indonesian shadow-puppets and many internal illustrations. It details Medieval, Italian, Spanish, Old English, and all manner of Oriental marionettes (from Burma to India to Turkey and back again!), and then talks about modern marionette artists and describes marionette scripts! (Punch and Judy are mentioned, of course.) As the author says in her opening Note, "One cannot write of marionettes without saying more than one had intended and less than one desired: there is a piquant persistency to them."

(All this reminds me of a filmmaker I simply must tell you all about, gentle readers! Kihachiro Kawamoto (click here) is a brilliant Japanese artist who has made many short films and one or two longer ones -- featuring only puppets. His work, though it might sound ridiculous, is painfully touching and exquisite and perfect and remarkable. It's very difficult to see his films because they are so obscure, but sometimes they're showed in obscure movie-showing places like the Gene Siskel Film Center. Please, gentle readers, for your own sake, see if you can watch a Kawamoto film sometime.)

Now that we've hit our obscurity quotient for the day (there aren't many subjects more random and obscure than puppetry!), we can safely move on to something incredibly famous. Take this week's Affordable and Interesting item:

It's hard to find someone or something more famous than Superman, is it not, gentle readers? Comic aficionados can tell you that there have been zillions of takes and retakes on that particular legend (and this site -- click here -- can answer any possible question you might come up with). This large-format item is in an attractive watercolor-esque style, stereotypically "classier" than the usual comic style, and with an unusual story: Superman decides to use his powers to fight -- not bad guys -- but world hunger! It's a strange kind of story, with really beautiful panels:

... and perhaps more shades of grey than an old-style Superman comic might have had. A must, I think, for any true Superman fan, and only $10.00!

Superman can pick up trains. That's the only possible segue I can come up with to this Collector's Item:

Today, I think nothing of traveling unattended by rail. In the late 1800s, it was quite a different matter! The four young ladies of this book's account were being a little daring by going, all alone, by train across ten thousand miles. They took all kinds of photos:

... and seem rather scandalously proud that they were unaccompanied by men. Indeed, the title page boasts first of all that this was "An Unattended Journey"! I had hoped that there would be some kind of exciting romance in the pages, but it appears that there isn't. (Perhaps that makes it better. After all, who needs a man to have a fun journey by rail? In fact, I guess it's rather refreshing that such a narrative would exhibit itself without too much evidence of the patriarchy.) At any rate, the whole makes an extraordinarily charming travel narrative, piquant with Victorian turns of phrase and bedecked with detailed description of each locale. Anyone who loves trains, Victoriana, and young ladies would surely be excited about the $150.00 book!

Perhaps I will make a sock puppet play about the four Victorian young ladies, and have them saved by Superman during a railway accident. Stay tuned, gentle readers -- I probably won't do it, but you wouldn't want to miss it if I do!

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!