Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Books have destroyed many writers, and possibly me too!

I do some little writing on my own, gentle readers, even when I am not rambling on this here blog. And as a writer, nothing is more terrifying to me than this week's Favorite:

Well, that's not the terrifying part. That's just the cool owl logo next to the author name on the cover of this 1903 tome: Books Fatal To Their Authors. It also has a cool rooster stamp on the front free endpaper!

But that's not the terrifying part either. Here's the terrifying part -- an excerpt from the Preface:

To record the woes of authors and to discourse de libris fatalibus seems deliberately to court the displeasure of that fickle mistress who presides over the destinies of writers and their works. Fortune awaits the aspiring scribe with many wiles, and oft treats him sorely. If she enrich any, it is but to make them subject of her sport. If she raise others, it is but to pleasure herself at their ruins. What she adorned but yesterday is today her pastime, and if we now permit her to adorn and crown us, we must tomorrow suffer her to crush and tear us to pieces. To-day her sovereign power is limited: she can but let loose a host of angry critics upon us; she can but scoff at us, take away our literary reputation, and turn away the eyes of a public as fickle as herself from our pages. Surely that were hard enough! Can Fortune pluck a more galling dart from her quiver, and dip the point in more envenomed bitterness? Yes, those whose hard lot is here recorded have suffered more terrible wounds than these. They have lost liberty, and even life, on account of their works. The cherished offspring of their brains have, like unnatural children, turned against their parents, causing them to be put to death.

Fools many of them -- nay, it is surprising how many of this illustrious family have peopled the world, and they can boast of many authors' names which figure on their genealogical tree -- men who might have lived happy, contented and useful lives were it not for this insane cacoethes scribendi. And hereby they show their folly. If only they had been content to write plain and ordinary commonplaces which every one believed, and which caused every honest fellow who had a grain of sense in his head to exclaim, "How true that is!" all would have been well. But they must needs write something original, something different from other men's thoughts; and immediately the censors and the critics began to spy out heresy, or laxity of morals, and the fools were dealt with according to their folly.

Now that, dear readers, is motivational. In case it's not clear from the admittedly florid introduction, this is a collection of short biographies of writers who have been jailed or slain for their work. Chapter titles include Fanatics & Free-Thinkers; Astrology, Alchemy & Magic; Satire; Drama & Romance; Booksellers & Publishers; and many more. The misfortunes of everyone from Tyndale to John Dee to Daniel Defoe are chronicled here, and all for $20.00! I have to admit, part of me can't wait to be killed for my writing. How romantic is that?

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. So when I describe this weeks' Affordable and Interesting item, I can get out of the tiresome task of quoting so many words as I did above:

These scans are from Barrio: Photographs from Chicago's Pilsen and Little Village, a book of photographs (with some storytelling) by Paul D'amato. D'amato spent 14 years -- 1988-2002 -- trying to integrate himself into and photograph the Latino culture in these areas. He caught girls and boys like those above; people at work, people at play, even gang members spray-painting walls. Although he acknowledges that he can't help but be an outsider, D'amato writes that he hopes he caught some of the inside view. The resultant book is worth every penny of its $20.00.

And now for something completely different ... although this week's Collector's Item is still, in its own way, quite affordable:

This gigantic chunk of petrified wood is, in a word, gorgeous. It's hard to do it justice with that small picture, so let me show you a photograph of a smaller cross-section:

Doug acquired the books of a mineral collector, and then Doug -- being the enterprising gentleman that he is -- acquired the minerals too. There are a number of lovely rocks scattered about the store, but this is by far the queenliest gem, and a steal at $1500.00. (Really, it is a steal. Most such pieces would be far more expensive.) Come in and admire it soon! It is a rare piece and may soon be acquired by a gem-lover.

Also, if you buy it before the gem-lover does, then this is a good day to do it because today is not so hot. You could probably carry it all the way down the block without dying of heatstroke ... unlike other recent days I could name. And now this will be my third recent entry that I end with complaints of the heat. But really it's because I'm concerned about you! Drink lots of water, dear reader, and we'll talk again soon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bottles, bones and Bibles

Have you ever wondered how the Bible was written? I have, but only because I was forced to by my philosophy professors. Fortunately, some people have a more genuine interest in the topic:

In today's Affordable and Interesting item, this question is extensively pondered by an Englishman named Adam Nicolson. He contests that "Boisterous, elegant, subtle, majestic, finely nuanced, sonorous and musical, the English of Jacobean England has a more encompassing idea of its own reach than any before or since. It is a form of the language that drips with potency and sensitivity. The age, with all its conflicts, explains the book" -- that is, the King James Bible.

King James is described as "brilliant, ugly and profoundly peace-loving", and the text of the Bible has "never been equaled" even though it has many failings and was compiled by a team of about 50 scholars. "How did this group of near-anonymous divines, muddled, drunk, self-serving, ambitious, ruthless, obsequious, pedantic and flawed as they were, manage to bring off this astonishing translation?" How indeed. All the quotations in these two paragraphs are from this book's jacket copy, so you can be sure that the book itself will be more than worth a paltry $7.50!

On the other hand, perhaps all those adjectives drive you to drink. In which case, you should use my Favorite thing in the store today!


This is basically the most pastoral item I have ever seen. It practically breathes "jug of wine, loaf of bread, and thou ...." The bottle easily lifts out of the lovely green leafy metal bottle-holding cage. I would like to romance someone with this bottle and bottle-holder -- plan a picnic, fill the bottle with fine wine, and go sit at Promontory Point Park while batting my eyelashes at the gentleman. In fact I might do this. I'm still thinking about it. In the meantime, you have the chance to snatch this bottle out from under me for a mere $20.00!

Any gentleman who wishes to be so romanced by a slightly bookish, mildly and morbidly evil-hearted, but innocent-seeming young lady such as myself would do well to study the works of Posada:

Jose Guadalupe Posada was born in the mid-1800s and lived through the early 1900s. Underappreciated in his time, he is now seen as one of the first great modern artistic humorists. He is best known for his awesome skeletons, many of which dance, but some of which engage in other activities:

Many celebrations for Dia de Los Muertos -- or The Day of The Dead, a Mexican holiday -- feature Posada's work, but he's known for far more than that. After all, he didn't only draw skeletons!

This art book -- filled with Posada images, and Posada biography -- is somewhat rare, and our copy is a Collectible steal at $60.00. I should perhaps note, however, that it is in Spanish. I can't witness for the quality of the prose because my Spanish isn't good enough. On the other hand, the images really do speak for themselves, don't they?

I wonder if Posada ever drew skeletons on bicycles? I'll ponder this as I bike home this evening. Stay cool, gentle readers -- perhaps by buying the above bottle and filling it with water rather than wine! We're in heatstroke weather now.