Monday, September 23, 2013

Books in Black or Red

I had originally intended to do a write up of The Library, by Andrew Lang, a book I'm currently enjoying.  But as I mentioned in my previous post, my introduction to the books-about-books genre turned into a post in itself, and that The Library would have to wait for another day.  And really, before I can set forth about The Library, I must speak of the book which led to The Library, which is today's repast, Books In Black or Red by Edmund Lester Pearson.

Black or Red is a book of essays on books, book collectors, literary hoaxes, now forgotten classics, and one lone, strange chapter about a parrot.  I read the bird essay to the end, looking for the books to make an appearance (after all, this is a book about books - says so in the title), but to no avail.  But other than the bird chapter, Black or Red is one of the most delightful books of the genre I have read to date.

There are two chapters devoted to the literary hoax.  The literary hoax can be an elaborate practical joke of sorts, intended to make the book collector seem a fool, or the literary hoax can be a forgery, where ill gotten money, not mockery, is the intended result.  One such forgery which Pearson describes is the curious case of the "eminent French mathematician, M. Michel Chasles, who between 1861 and 1870 bought more than twenty-seven thousand forgeries, and paid out 150,000 francs for them."

Pearson says of the forger:

A man with a meager education, colossal assurance, and a strong right arm concocted  these forgeries, and he must have worked at an average rate of about eight a day over a long period of years.  His name was Vrain-Denis Lucas.  The documents and letters included letters from Pascal (by the hundred), from Shakespeare (twenty-seven of them), hundreds from Rabelias, and others from Newton, from Louis XIV, from the Cid, from Galileo.  But these were only the less remarkable items of the collection; the gems included letters from Sappho, Virgil, Julius Caesar, St. Luke, Plato, Pliny, Alexander the Great, and Pompey!  There was a letter from Cleopatra to Caesar, discussing their son Cesarion; a note from Lazarus to St. Peter; and a chatty little epistle from Mary Magdalene to the King of the Burgundians.  Why did he neglect to include the first A.L.S. recorded in history - the letter from David to Joab, which he sent by the hand of Uriah?  Consider that these were all written on the same kind of paper, not on parchment, and that all of them, even those from Biblical personages, were written in French.
Perhaps the greatest literary hoax of all time was perpetrated not for monetary gain, but for mere amusement.  In 1840, eminent book collectors of the day received in the mail a sixteen page catalogue of books collected by the now deceased "Jean Nepomucene-Auguste Pichauld, comte de Fortsas," of Belgium.  What made his collection remarkable, irresistible actually was the fact that,

He would own no book of which any other copy existed.  No matter what price he had paid, let him find one of his books mentioned by a bibliographer, and he would sell, give away, or . . . destroy it! As a result, this collection, 'very rich but few in number,' represented a mere fragment of the Count's former library.  The numbers in the catalogue ran up to 222, but there were many gaps, and only about fifty-two items actually appeared."
Of the items appearing in the catalogue, one was an infamous autobiography of an eminent prince, purported to contain a history of his exploits and conquests, a book for which a living royal relative was willing to pay dearly in order to avoid familial scandal.

In the days leading up to the bidding, collectors descended on the small Belgium town, frightening the bewildered citizens who had never heard of this "Jean Nepomucene-Auguste Pichauld" nor his famous book collection.  This being a time of unrest in Europe, the residents began to suspect these odd-looking men - waving around pamphlets and speaking of foreign princes and green bindings - to be dangerous characters, maybe even spies.

I happen to think this particular, little story would make a great movie.  The movie opens with each collector sitting down in his (they were all men) respective library, filled to the rafters with sumptuous bindings and rare folios, opening the days mail, happening upon the unassuming catalogue, then packing a steamer trunk, booking passage on the S.S. Somethingorother, bound for Belgium.  Next scene, Binche, Belgium, a small town in the shadow of ancient castles and brooding mountains, foreigners swelling the inns, baffling the locals.  And just like the collectors themselves, the viewing audience wouldn't know until the last scene that the whole thing was just an elaborate hoax.  It would be beautiful.

Besides the chapters on Literary Hoaxes, my favorite essay is entitled "The Lost First Folio," an essay almost entirely composed of a series of letters between a Mr. Agamemnon Jackson and his elderly Aunt Martha, who lives in Raspberry, Maine. Aunt Martha has taken in a friend for the winter, Mrs. Fessenden, who very much likes preserved damsons, whatever those are.  Aunt Martha blathers on and on about tea, and popovers, and whether or not to sell stock, and how her nerves forbid her to read the newspaper.  After she relates how old Deacon Bradley dyed his beard to look young and it turned bright green, she appends a postscript in which she writes:

There are a lot of old books in that box of your uncle's in the garret.  Do you want them?  I will send them to you if you do, for what with papers and the magazines, I don't want any more books than those we have in the bookcase in the parlor now.  You remember what a great reader your uncle was.  And he was executor of Dr. Perley's estate - and part of the books came to him by the will.  You wouldn't recall old Dr. Perley - his wife was a perfect martyr, I always said, and kept everything going while he was gallivanting about Europe buying more books than he ever could read.  Besides, Mrs. Fessenden's niece who is a teacher in the High School, brings home books all the time from the library.  So you can have them if you want them.  I'll get old Dave Lunt to pack them up.
After reading a few of Aunt Martha's letters, I'm reminded of the old lady from Arsenic and Old Lace, the short, plump happy aunt to poor Mortimor.  Always prattling on and on about everything and nothing, but failing to mention the dead bodies buried in the basement.  Books aren't exactly dead bodies, but Aunt Martha fails to understand that Agamemnon is a heel and cares only about the books, one book in particular, number 8 in a list of fifteen up in Aunt Martha's garret.  Number 8 is listed as Shakespeare's Comedies, &c.

After many letters pass between Aunt Martha and Agamemnon, it becomes obvious that number 8 is indeed a very rare Shakespeare, and dear Agie is desperate to acquire it, a fact to which Auntie is oblivious.  She spills much ink on Mrs. Buntin's great-grandson, you remember him, don't you? who smokes cigarettes, and Mrs. Fessenden who uses Agamemnon's letters as curling papers, yet she always forgets to answer his questions about the Shakespeare. 

Agie's desperation is palpable in his thought scrawled across the bottom of Martha's letter about Mrs. Buntin's smoking grandson (Suffering Cats! was there ever such a woman!) and his terse reply.

Dear Aunt Martha - Will you please answer the questions about the Shakespeare I asked in my letter?  
In haste,
A. Jackson

To find out what comes of the folio and Agamemnon, you must get your hands on the book. And that must be all for now.  Cruel, maybe, but if I told all, your enjoyment in reading would be less.  And as I'm writing the final paragraph of this post, I'm reminded of The Carey Girls, another chapter in Black or Red that deserves mentioning, but in the hopes of saving at least one jewel for you to discover, I'll only quote a small portion without elaborating or explaining.

In Miss Cary's library you stood and wondered what was behind those paper covers.  What strange voyage or extraordinary chapters of wonder might be disclosed if you took one of those volumes home?  There had been some great moments.  A tale of a suicide club, and the story of a rajah's diamond had been found in one called "The New Arabian Nights," by a Scotchman whose life was then drawing to a close in the South Sea Islands.  There were some crisp and tingling little stories about India by a newspaper man from Lahore, who had just offended America by his flippant account of his visit to this country.  My brother had recently come home with two poems which filled me with delight.  They were also by this newspaper man from India, and they were called "Gunga Din" and "Mandalay."  And for the next ten years I never hesitated to horrify my elders by saying that Kipling and Stevenson were far better than Sir Walter Scott.  Now it is my turn to be horrified and disgusted when I hear that boys in school and college think that only old fogies read Kipling and Stevenson. 

Lovely, isn't it?


Friday, September 20, 2013

Books about Books

Some people, when they are too tired to read anything challenging or deep, read a romance.  Or a mystery.  Or a magazine.  I read books about books.  I read my first book of this genre years ago when I worked in a used book store.  The book, Used and Rare by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone, grabbed me, and I've read that book cover to cover many, many times since.  The book store at which I was working, was filled mostly with romance, mystery, modern lit, and children's.  Very little in the way of what I would call "rare" or antique.  But that book was the catalyst for what I call my book collecting obsession.  In fact, it was after my most recent re-read that I began, in earnest, collecting books with age.  I wouldn't call them rare or even antique, but they do have age, and with age, a history.

But I digress.  Book about books, and not my meager and mediocre collection, is the topic.

Since Used and Rare, I've read many other books of this genre, some captivating, some not so much.  One not-so-much book is a book by Paul Collins called Sixpence House, a book I remember seeing in the new stacks when it first debuted (when I was young and broke), but never bought, although I hunted hungrily for a copy through every used bookstore for many years.  I eventually forgot about Sixpence, until a discussion I had with Silvia, about the books-about-books genre brought that long-sought-for book to mind.

I bought the book.  And waited.  And waited.  The book was a bit tardy in coming, which only added to the years anticipation that had been building.  Finally the book arrived, and I devoured it in a little over a day.

And I was disappointed.

The anticipation may have been too much.  But more likely, I was expecting a book of a different sort.  Used and Rare is one couples journey into the rare book world.  Book bindings, original manuscripts, and completely unique books (such as an old sea log in which Melville scribbled in the margins his first inklings of Moby), clutter the pages.  Most of the authors and books of which the Goldstone's write, I was at least passably familiar with.

Sixpence is nothing like Used and Rare.  Most of the books Paul Collins writes about, I'd never heard of.  He seems to like old periodicals and ancient medical tomes.  His writing about the village, Hay-On-Wye, a town in the Welsh countryside that boasts 40 book shops in a town of about 1500, is spot on.  His descriptions of the buildings and the people and the pubs are engaging.  I want to live in Hay, so well does he describe it.

But after all, this is a book about books, or so I thought.  Sixpence is actually about the village.  But I read the book primarily for those lusty descriptions of hand tooled gilt bindings, and illuminated margins that I hoped to find. 

Collins writes about books that I never once imagined I would ever want to read.  A technical book about insanity.  A book of moldy essays by a moldy Scottish parson.  Not exactly Dickens.  But I finished the book, flipped to the Acknowledgments page, in which Collins thanks a bunch of people and dead authors without whose books his book would not have been possible.  And I decided on a whim to order a few books, at random, from his dead author list.

One of which being that moldy book of essays. Which is a lovely, lovely book.  Another, Two Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, is one of the funniest books I've read in a very long time.  And Books in Black or Red.  Oh, my.  That book in itself is a rabbit hole from which I've yet to emerge.  In fact, when I began this post, I intended to write about The Library by Andrew Lang, a book I read about in Black or Red which I read about in Sixpence.  You get the picture.  I guess that will be for another post.  Or a series of posts.

That's it.  I'll do a series of posts about books about books about books . . .

So, I started off saying that Sixpence was one of those not-so-much books.  I've yet to reread the book cover to cover, but I dip into it often.  Not for his descriptions of the town or the people.  But for the books.  I've now ordered and read many books that he writes about.  Not one of them has been disappointing. 

I've yet to read that book on insanity.  Not sure I should. 

There's probably a whole chapter in it about people who love books just a little too much.

Which reminds me of another book I read recently, A Gentle Madness, an encyclopedic book on the history of book collecting.

A Gentle Madness.  My husband would beg to differ.  There's nothing gentle about it. 

So, back to the beginning.  Books about books.  I think I've hit on something.  This could keep me writing for awhile.  Tomorrow, or the next day or the next (you should know me by now), I'll introduce you to The Library by Andrew Lang.

How's that for my return to the blog world?

For Jeanne

It has been brought to my attention that my presence in the blog world has been missed. 

When I began blogging, oh so long ago it seems, I was very much a different person.  I think in a way, I needed a blog to validate who we are and what we do.  We were receiving some pretty harsh criticism (from some close to us) for our choice to homeschool, and even in the homeschooling "world" I felt different.  Choosing a Charlotte Mason education drove a wedge between us and non-Masonites - that wedge being the lack of a big packaged curriculum.  Homeschool moms, at least those just getting started, love to talk about curriculum and curriculum switching and matching.  Most people do not understand Charlotte.  They usually think it is an unschooling approach or that we have to just "make up our own stuff," and while people are respectful, they are not interested enough to ask questions about Charlotte Mason, which automatically cuts us off from that area - a big area - of discussion.  Also, despite the fact that we have considered ourselves homeschoolers since our daughter,who is now eight, was a baby, I am never the person that a new homeschooler goes to for advice, which is a big way that homeschoolers bond.  It's a sort of a mentor/tutor setup.  I'm not complaining about not being noticed, but it makes one feel a bit lonely at times.  So in blogging, especially blogging about homeschooling, I was seeking companionship and conversation about how we homeschool, and a chance to talk about all these great books that we get to read. 

And while not much of this has changed, I have made a few good friends, not all of whom school like we do.  But that's ok.  Most of them are seasoned homeschoolers who don't always need (and ladies who are new to homeschooling, I understand this is a real need) to talk about curriculum, and we've found common areas of interest.  So I don't need the blog for companionship. 

But what do I do with those few people with whom I've formed friendships through the blogs?  Some people would say that a blog friendship is not real because the blog only portrays slices of life, usually the best slices, but the real person never actually is revealed as they are.  I would beg to differ.  The best bloggers are those who reveal many aspects of their lives, and not only the good stuff.  They talk about doubts, fears, and concerns.  It is true that through a blog, you will never get to know a person "as they truly are" but I could say the same about close proximity friendships. 

So my question, what to do with my few blog friends.  I will try to check in here more often.  Because there are a few of you out there that I do miss. 

I will try.

And one more thing.  I know that this is a blog for primarily children's vintage picture books.  I moved all of our personal posts onto a separate blog.  I intended to blog about picture books I was reading with the kids.  Problem is, we're not reading so many picture books anymore.  My kids are growing up, and are choosing fewer and fewer picture books for reading time, and when they do choose picture books, they are those books that we've been reading for a long time - never new ones.  So I could just use this blog as a venue to feature books in my etsy shop - a sort of advertisement page.  But to me that just seems so sterile.  I want my books to sell, but not badly enough to spend time talking about them as if we'd actually read them.  The pictures are lovely, but most of the books in my shop, I honestly haven't read and probably won't read, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time blathering about them, as lovely as they are.

So I will probably just move those personal posts back over, and make this my only blog, and I'll post about whatever I want, whenever I want. 


I need to get off of here now and cook breakfast, and then clean the house to get ready for my daughter's birthday party tomorrow.  Maybe when that's all done, I'll get on here and drop in some pictures and let you know what we've been up to.

But then, maybe I'll just curl up on the couch with a cup of Earl Gray and one of my current reads.  Probably Vanity Fair (which is just delicious, by the way.)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Giveaway

Congratulations to Tiffany, the winner of last week's Friday Giveaway.  Tiffany, if you'll send me your email address, I'll send you a digital giftcard to be used in my shop. 

I won't be hosting a Friday Giveaway for this week.  Today is my husband's birthday, and we're both a bit under the weather, so what little energy I do have, I'm pouring into him today.

Check back next Friday with the return of the Friday Giveaway!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Mr. Biddle and the Birds

Mr. Biddle and the Birds
by Lonzo Anderson
illustrated by Adrienne Adams
There are some books, that no matter how many times I read them with the kids, every time I open the book and begin to read, I have a strange sense of everything being topsy turvy and not quite what it appears to be.  My memories of the book are so strong, the memory of my mother reading the book to me, the memory of the couch on which I sat, where the window and the door were located in the room, my long blond hair brushing against my bare arm - all of these memories are so vivid that they jar against the real and present moment of me sitting with my own kids, the voice of the story my own instead of my mother's.
No Fighting, No Biting.  Put Me In The Zoo.  The Cat In the Hat Comes Back (not the first, strangely enough.)  A Bargain For Frances.  The Monster at the End of This Book.
All these books, and many more, give me that strange but pleasant feeling of displacement.  But the feeling is always expected.  I tracked all those books down a long time ago, even before our children were born.
But every once in a while, I happen across a book I knew as a child but had forgotten.  And when that happens, during that first reading aloud . . . well, that's one of those magical moments that brings together my mother self and child self.
For the past few years, I've been particularly drawn to the illustrations of  Adrienne Adams.  When I see her work, I have to buy it.  Her pictures, no matter the book, almost give me that feeling.  I feel as if I've seen the book before, but nothing about the book rings a bell.
Now I know why.  Mr. Biddle and the Birds, illustrated by Adams, was a childhood favorite, although I didn't know it until my son brought it to me at a bookstore a few months ago.  One glance at the cover, and I instantly knew the whole book, everything about it.
So without further ado, I give you Mr. Biddle and the Birds.
Meet Mr. Biddle.  While laying in his hammock one day, he's overcome by the desire to fly with his good friends, four very large birds.  So he came up with an idea. 
First this sketch,
then time to build.
Now, time to fit the birds for their corsets.  Yes, I did say corsets. 
How else are they to  pull Mr. Biddle's air boat?
Mr. Biddle wants to make everything is perfect before takeoff.  But the birds have other plans.  Poor Mr. Biddle barely has time to dive into the boat before it leaves the ground.
But it would seem the birds have been rather hasty in their flighty ways.  Before long, mayhem ensues.  And the flying boat, birds, and Mr. Biddle begin to go
Will they ever again get the boat to fly?
You'll have to read the book to find out.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Giveaway: Your Choice!

This image is from a Bored, Nothing To Do by Peter Spier, a book available to purchase here in my etsy book shop.  This week's give is a little different, and if I do say so myslef, a bit more exciting.  I'm giving away a $25 gift certificate to be used in my shop, Books For Breakfast. 

Must be a resident of the USA.
To enter, please dash over to my shop (here), browse awhile, then come back here and let me know on which books you would spend the bounty.
Usually, I limit entry to one per person.  Today, you have more than one opportunity to enter.  You can become a fan of my facebook page, where I am also accepting entries, and leave your book wishes in the comment section concerning today's give.
For those of you who blog, feature this post on your blog, send me the URL, and you get yet another entry into the Give.

The winner will be anounched next Friday.
That's it folks.  And before I forget, congratulations to Kim P. who won last week's give!  Shoot me an email with your physical address and I'll get it in the mail. 
I'll leave you with some images from books in my shop. 


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Jack Kent's Twelve Days of Christmas

Jack Kent's
Twelve Days of Christmas
I look forward to Christmas time each year for many reasons.  One of which is the basket full of Christmas books.  Most of these books, the kids only ask for during the Christmas season.  But one has been a constant favorite with my son since about July. 
Jack Kent's retelling of the old English carol begins on the first day of Christmas,
with a partridge in a pear tree.  Familiar ground, I know.  But on the second day,
this familiar ground begins to grow some very strange fruit, indeed.  And by the fourth day,
our delight grows as does the young miss' panic.
By the tenth day, my son's laughter drowns out my caroling.
But no matter. At this point, the characters' expressions tell the story well enough.
In case you don't get it, the joke of the book is in the fact that on each successive day of Christmas, the love struck suitor brings what he's brought on Christmas days past, plus one new thing. 
So, by day twelve, the object of the suitor's love has recieved 12 partridges in 12 pear trees,  

22 turtledoves (2 doves x 11 days), 30 french hens (3 hens x 10 days),
36 collie birds (4 birds x 8 days),
35 golden rings (5 rings x 7 days), and so on , and so on,
and so on.
Kind of puts the carload of blinking, singing battery eaters from grandma into perspecitve.  At least poohing collie birds aren't roosting on the sofa.
Merry Christmas!