Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ghosts of bygone days

Ahem. After getting all mushy when I wrote the last blog entry, I feel the need to be serious in this entry. We shall talk of serious things. Like the ghosts of ancient times.

Well, maybe it's a little hard for me to take this week's Affordable and Interesting item seriously:

But maybe I should! Because, according to the website devoted to his memory ...

Harry Price is one of the most controversial and famous psychic researchers and authors in the history of spiritualist studies. He is particularly famous for being maligned by many of his peers but simultaneously becoming extremely popular with the public due to his fascinating studies on haunted houses, psychic activity, mediumship and other supernormal phenomena.

He lived from 1881-1948. And this book, "Confessions of a Ghost Hunter", is his autobiography. (It was originally published in 1936; our copy is from 1974.) According to the dust jacket:

In this delightful book he has set down some of the most extraordinary cases of mediumship, haunting, and other paranormal phenomena he encountered during a long lifetime of ghost hunting. He also writes about the fakes and phoneys he found. Here he describes some of his outstanding investigations. These include poltergeists, hauntings, revelations from the planet Mars, automatic writing, spirit photography, mentalism, fire-walking, eyeless sight, the Indian Rope Trick. His chapter on "How To Test a Medium" is an excellent guide for all would-be investigators, and his exposure of "spirit" photography is a warning to the gullible.

You saw it here first, folks. Well, maybe you saw it elsewhere first, but you saw it here ... today. And you could see a lot more of it if you buy this book for $9.00! Maybe I should buy it myself. It could make a believer of me.

Now on to a different kind of ghosts. An actual serious topic, like I promised. Much more important ghosts: the terrible things that can haunt us forever. A simple white cover encloses this week's Favorite, and it contains mostly pictures:

The Nazi Drawings are a 1966 collection of works by the artist Mauricio Lasansky. They're disturbing, as one might anticipate, but I also find them beautiful. Here's a close-up from another:

I don't even know how to begin analyzing this imagery, aside from knowing it hurts me to look at it. I think I know that there's something terribly unnerving about teeth in the place of eyes, especially when the teeth are strung along the page, over from a darkened skull. But there's so much more to this than mere description.

Mauricio Lasansky was in charge of the Printmaking Department at University of Iowa when he created these pictures; born in 1914, he has been resident in USA since 1943. The Nazi Drawings were released in 1966 after years of work. This book, likewise published in 1966, is a compilation of both those images and an essay by the writer Edwin Honig, who notes:

Lasansky is a survivor who is still there, in the Nazi camps, so that we view his works as a continuing rehearsal of the drama of what it means to have that experience. We see it with him in the demonic halflight between living and dying -- and this is the central condition in all the drawings -- where there is little difference between being alive and being dead.

Honig also has his own analysis of each picture, which is helpful for me, since I find them strongly affecting but difficult to interpret. For this slender volume of both images and essay, we ask $30.00.

This week's Collector's Item may be haunted, or may not be. It is certainly antique:

A lovely bell-and-chain -- and, in fact, a delicate belt. Witness:

The metal looks bright in that picture, illuminated with a blazing flash, but more often the belt looks to be a quieter kind of silver. I've seen some attractive chain belts in my time, but this one takes the cake and I'm sure it's worth every penny of $125.00. I would wear it ghost-hunting, personally. I've read that bells have ritual ghost-hunting associations; one website notes that you might want to test for breezes, perhaps by using a small flame, before using bells to seek ghosts. (Hence one medieval spirit-seeking mantra was "Bell, book and candle.")

The long nights of winter lend themselves to a fear of hauntings, and I'm thinking of that as we emerge into a freezing dim morning. Keep the lights on, gentle readers, and we'll talk again soon.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Happy New Year! Let's talk about (historical) politics.

Happy New Year, gentle readers. I've been thinking that I've been involved here at O'Gara & Wilson for a long time now. I don't work behind the counter anymore, but I'm so glad to stay involved by writing the blog that I started. It helps me keep in touch with our awesome staff and, of course, the Wilson family -- especially the gentle Doug Wilson, a bookstore owner with an artist's soul. And I also get to occasionally talk to our customers, too: you are all such an excellent lot of people. There is nothing like the book trade, and there are no people like people who love books.

Anyways, I just needed a moment to get out all that mushy stuff. I, Lydia, hereby declare my undying love for O'Gara & Wilson. Hearts for everyone!

Now on to the fun stuff. Like Heidegger. Heidegger is fun, right? Here in Hyde Park, home to the nerdvana University of Chicago, nothing is more fun than Heidegger. So you all are going to love this week's Collector's Item:

This is a genuine 1933 first edition of the philosopher Martin Heidegger's controversial "Rectorship Address" (in German). It was delivered after Heidegger officially joined the Nazi party and assumed the rectorship of Freiburg University. Our resident philosopher-employee Rory tells me that, "People still publish books about that rectorship address today."

As this biography of Heidegger tells us: "Although he never claimed that his philosophy was concerned with politics, political considerations have come to overshadow his philosophical work." And the Nazi party was obviously reprehensible. But at the very least, this slim volume is valuable because Heidegger was a brilliant man who made significant contributions to the field of philosophy. And as a side note, I really like how German books print their text in awesomely gothic calligraphy-like type. $125.00 for calligraphy, philosophy, and controversy all in one small package!

On a totally different political note, we have this week's Affordable and Interesting item:

According to its website, "Dissent" is

a quarterly magazine of politics and culture edited by Michael Kazin and Michael Walzer. A magazine of the left, 'Dissent' is also one of independent minds and strong opinions. "A pillar of leftist intellectual provocation," writes the 'New York Times', Dissent is "devoted to slaying orthodoxies on the right and on the left." Adds historian John Patrick Diggins, "Dissent is kind of an anomaly... a magazine that's all heart and good hope."

Founded in 1954 by a group of independent-minded radicals, the magazine set out to "dissent from the bleak atmosphere of conformism that pervades the political and intellectual life of the United States ...The accent of 'Dissent' will be radical. Its tradition will be the tradition of democratic socialism." Inspired by their opposition to both McCarthyism and communism, its early editors "wanted to speak for the spirit of democratic utopianism that runs like a bright thread through America's intellectual life."

So this is a 1970 copy of the magazine, and what a copy it is. From the disclaimer at the table of contents:

... to the sympathetic-but-analytical article about Cuba's failing economy, this is very much an icon of its time and culture. And only $10.00 to boot!

This week's Favorite isn't quite an icon of anything; it's too unusual.


This is a small antique silk jacket embroidered with dragons, an American flag, the Chinese flag as of 1946, and more dragons. I sniffed around the Internet to see what was going on with China and the USA in 1946, and I discovered that 1946 was the year that the Chinese War Brides Act was passed:

This Act amended previous Acts controlling Chinese immigration, in particular the Magnuson Act passed on December 17, 1943, which repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act and allowed Chinese immigration under the quota system established in the 1924 Immigration Act. After the rewording it states, “With the exception of Chinese alien wives of American citizens and those Chinese aliens coming under subsections (b), (d), (e) and (f) of section 4, Immigration Act of 1924, all Chinese persons entering the United States annually as immigrants shall be allocated to the quota for the Chinese computed under the provisions of section 11 of the said Act.”

So basically, Chinese wives of American soldiers had many fewer problems getting into the country. This was right after the end of World War II, of course, and presumably soldiers were still steadily trickling home. This jacket probably came with one of them, and is probably unique -- a bargain for $75.00.

Thanks again for reading, folks. I'll try not to get too mushy, and wind up this entry in a calm manner. But seriously, I love this bookstore more than I can say! Happy New Year to everyone!