Thursday, December 31, 2015

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick #59

Daily Dose

From The Portable Charles Lamb: Essays and Letters, edited by John Mason Brown


"I begin to count the probabilities of my duration, and to grudge at the expenditure of moments and shortest periods, like miser’s farthings. In proportion as the years both lessen and shorten, I set more count upon their periods, and would fain lay my ineffectual finger upon the spoke of the great wheel."

From New Year's Eve

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Of Pigs and Fodder

Hard to much mourn the passing away of something called Tiny Tots Library.  From the cover, one has to assume that Tarzan and a very blond Jane were awfully pleased that Boy seemed to take after his mother.  (One must also assume from the cover that somewhere in the jungle there was a duly licensed coiffeur, 'cause those are not hairdos that occur in nature.) 

It's hard to tell just what constituted the Tiny Tots Library now.  All that's left of the thing are the covers and a few scattered pages bound into a blank book or journal.  A company called "Ex Libris Anonymous" makes -- or "recycles" -- these very popular journals from discarded library books.  Even the occasional title that may be vaguely familiar can now only be remembered, if at all, "by some awkward experiment of intuition," as Lamb would have it.  As books, these journals are but bones.

Books die.  Not every book, not always, but they do.  Titles go out of print. Authors are forgotten. But worse in a way is seeing books, actual books, of whatever merit, decay and become useless objects; pages scattered, paper made brittle or turned to dust, bindings broken, damp fusing text together into closed blocks of lost words.  As someone who spends his life amidst old books, few stories are as poignant to me as the box from an ill-ventilated basement or a storage locker, a box full of what were once books that simply aren't any more.

At the used desk in the bookstore where I work we take hundreds, if not thousands of donations; books we do not buy because we do not think we could sell them.  If the seller wishes us to we will pass along what we didn't buy to various schools, prisons and charities.  It is, to put it bluntly, a pain in the ass, but still worth the doing as so many of the books we take for donation may still find readers; may yet live again.

Harder to make any such assumption about a book called, The Forest Lawn Story, though I suppose all things are possible.  We'll never know.  As with the earlier example, all that now remains of this once (potentially) noble history of the famous cemetery are the book's covers and a few random pages inserted as decoration between the blank stock.  (One may have higher hopes of The Prince and the Porker, by one Phil Stong, as a quick check of the Internet shows me that an electronic version of that book, with a different cover, is available for download.  Wonder how many have?  The illustrator, Kurt Wiese ((1887 - 1974)) still rates a brief biography online.  From thence I learn that he illustrated over 300 books.  His pictures for a 1929 edition of Felix Salten's Bambi look familiar.  Then, revelation!  Turns out ol' Kurt was the recipient of multiple Caldecott medals and drew the pictures for the enduring Freddy the Pig books, written by Walter R. Brooks, of course.  Clearly, the man knew his way around pigs.)

The fact remains that not only have most of these former library books seen better days, but also that many of them may never have had what could be called a popular success.  Even those that did or do yet have readers -- I see a Velveteen Rabbit peeking from the pile -- may have more recent editions to keep their memory evergreen.

As inventive and presumably lucrative as this re-purposing of library discards may be, and as amusing as I confess to finding the perusal of the latest arrivals, the very idea of these blank books frankly makes me more than a little sad.  Hard-nosed used books dealer that I am, I do not imagine most of these old dears deserved preservation.  I do think dead books might, in a more perfect world, be quietly and unceremoniously laid to rest in some less intentionally ironic way; pulped in other words, recycled for their paper, even burned if the thought didn't conjure jackboots and Vonnegut.  Unrealistic, that.  Most recycling operations refuse books.  The process still requires too much labor; separating pages from their bindings, sorting the paper from the pictures and the like, to make recycling books a profitable business.  Better this than the landfill.

I do wonder though that anyone would want to write or draw on a blank page faced by the delight and wonder of a prize Kurt Wiese pig.  Who in their right mind would want to compete with the genius of that?

Daily Dose

From From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present, by Jacques Barzun


"... criticism of this order is out of favor today because it follows no system, lacks a jargon, and affords pleasure when read."

From Cross Section: Paris (Hazlitt)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Conversations with James Baldwin, edited by Fred L. Stanley and Louis H. Pratt


"Art has to be a kind of confession. I don't mean a true confession in the sense of that dreary magazine. The effort it seems to me, is: if you can examine and face your life, you can discover the terms with which you are connected to other lives, and they can discover them, too — the terms with which they are connected to other people."

From 1961 interview with Studs Terkel

Monday, December 28, 2015

Life Changing Magic of Doodles

Daily Dose

From Keepers: The Greatest Films - and Personal Favorites - of a Moviegoing Lifetime, by Richard Schickel


"At times -- dare I say it? -- I think it is my favorite comedy.  It's so mean-spirited, so breathlessly paced, so brilliantly written (by Charles Lederer, working off the Hecht-MacArthur play)."

From Chapter 15, Up This Hero Goes

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Daily Dose

From Keepers: The Greatest Films - and Personal Favorites - of a Moviegoing Lifetime, by Richard Schickel


"Funny thing.  When I started reviewing in the 1960s, the movies were a young art.”

From Chapter 1, Notes Toward the Definition of an Obsession

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Long Ago in France, by M. F. K. Fisher


"We smelled Dijon cassis in the autumn, and stained our mouths with its metallic purple.  But all year and everywhere we smelled the Dijon gingerbread, that pain d'epice which came perhaps from Asia with a tired Crusader."

From Chapter Six

Friday, December 25, 2015

I Haste Me to Bed

I like pillows -- a lot.  I don't mean those pretty, fussy things some women arrange across an otherwise inviting bed; all brocade and trims, big, uncomfortable buttons, tassels and whatnot.  Throw pillows, is it?  Meant to be thrown.  I don't like bolsters and and ovals and odd shapes.  No.  I like bed pillows.  I like big pillows.  I like firm pillows and soft, fluffy ones.  I like a lot of 'em.  My beloved husband, A. sleeps on just two, rather flat pillows.  I sleep on a wedge, from thin to thick against the headboard.  Helps me breath, I like to think, but that may or may not be true.  Mostly though, what I like best is sitting up in bed, in winter, with a comforter across my legs and with a great pile of pillows behind me and around me.  How I like to watch TV.  My favorite place to read.

Different folks have different ideas of a holiday, I suppose.  Mine is sitting in bed all day with a book.   Christmas morning of course we're up at a reasonable hour, just the beloved husband and me, to open presents and call the relations.  We watch something or other on the television, and at some point he starts our supper.  The rest of the day, I sit in bed and read.  It's bliss.

The holidays have always been something of a trial for us.  He worked in the Postal Service -- bulk mail -- for thirty five years.  I've worked retail nearly my whole, adult life.  The year I moved in with the man 32 years ago, we spent just that first Christmas apart.  I went home to the family.  Never happened again.  (At the time, they did not altogether approve.)  Ever since we've spent Christmas together.

For many years we had friends over.  There were elaborate dinners, a proper tree, drifts of gifts.  Some of the friends we knew died.  We moved away.  For a long time now, there's been just us.  If asked, I might say we missed those Christmases, but I don't know that I do now.  I miss my friends.  I miss my family.  I don't know that I miss the rest.  As I said, we've usually been run a bit ragged by the time December 25th actually rolled 'round.  Usually I've had to work the next day anyway.  To just be home, together, quiet, that's what I like best.

A book, in bed, with pillows.

It's a lazy sort of tradition, for me anyway.  But what it feels like is rest.  Not always easy to say what that is, other than a proper night's sleep.  That isn't what I mean though.  There may well have been a nap, somewhere along the day.  I won't deny it.  What I like though, once my family obligations have been met, is to not to think my own thought, or worry my worries for a whole day.  Because nearly everyone we know is far away, I make a fool of myself every year, rushing around from Thanksgiving to Christmas, making calendars, buying things, trying to get packages mailed, etc.  All the usual nonsense.  Work at the bookstore likewise gets a bit hectic at the holidays.  I enjoy that, but it does wear me down by the time Christmas comes, "Weary with toil", as Shakespeare's Sonnet 27 puts it.  What's wanted then is a day in bed.  Pillows.

What I read doesn't much matter, honestly.  The reading does, but not the matter.  I returned to Tom Jones at last.  I read into the second volume of the Alexandre Dumas I'd set down.  I read, as incongruous as it sounds for occasion, quite a bit of Primo Levi.  I dipped and dozed and let my eye roam across my nightstand.  It was almost the point not to read too far or too fast in any one thing.  I wasn't reading for sense, you understand, or even entertainment as such.  I was reading for rest.

There's something wonderfully luxurious about reading this way, something quite decadent in being propped up in bed all day like some ancient Pasha, sampling prose the way a Sultan might call for his harem.  I'd no more thought of doing anything else unless and until our meal was ready or the house caught fire.

Didn't owe nobody nothing.

Not true, actually.  At some point I had to at least offer help in the kitchen, but we don't do anything elaborate at Christmas as we do at Thanksgiving.  Sooner or later I knew I'd come down here to my desk and do... something.

for a few happy hours however, it was just me in bed: books, pillows, a comforter across my legs, and just such company as I like best.

Merry Christmas.  Hope you all got what you wanted too.

Daily Dose

From A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens


"`You have never seen the like of me before.' exclaimed the Spirit."

From Stave 3, The Second of the Spirits

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Deerbrook, by Harriet Martineau


"They could not have believed it, and but that they were too happy to feel any kind of contempt, they would have despised themselves for it."

From Chapter XIV, Preparing for Home

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Emma, by Jane Austen


"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her."

From Book One, Chapter One (to mark the 300 anniversary of the novel's publication.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Givenness of Things: Essays, by Marilynne Robinson


"It seems we have wearied of the demands of our traditions made of us, perhaps of its emphasis on learning, perhaps of its mystery and beauty."

From Memory

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Friendly Caricature

Daily Dose

From Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages, by Gaston Dorren


“The attitude of English speakers to foreign languages can be summed up thus: let’s plunder, not learn them.”

From Chapter One

Sunday, December 20, 2015

More Dickensian Fruitcake

Daily Dose

From Mary Poppins Opens the Door, by P. L. Travers


"Then for a long moment she looked deep into the Cat's green eyes and the Cat looked into hers.  And in that look lay all the secrets that Queens and cats carry in their hearts and never tell anyone."

From Chapter Three, The Cat That looked at a King

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Piratical Fruitcake

Daily Dose

From On Further Reflection: 60 Years of Writing, by Jonathan Miller


"In fact, the suggestion that plays are best left unperformed is comparable to the belief that novels can be successfully dramatized.  In both cases, there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the structure and purpose of the genre.  A play that has been kept unperformed has been aborted, whereas a novel that has undergone dramitization has been irreversibly mutilated."

From The afterlife of Art

Friday, December 18, 2015

Holiday Edition of Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick

Daily Dose

From The Companions of Jehu, Volume Two, by Alexandre Dumas


"It was one of those beautiful winter days which show men who believe Nature to be dead that nature does not die; she only sleeps.  The man who lives seventy or eighty years has nights of ten or twelve hours, and complains that their length shortens the brevity of his days.  Nature, which has an infinite existence, and trees which live one thousand years, sleeps for five months, which are our winters, but which are their nights.  Poets sing the immortality of Nature, saying that she dies each autumn and comes to life again each spring.  Poets are mistaken; Nature does not die each autumn, -- she falls asleep; Nature does not come to life again each spring; -- she awakes.  When our earth really dies, it will be dead indeed; and then it will roll into space or fall into chaos, motionless, mute, silent, without trees, without flowers, without verdure, and without poets."

From Chapter Two

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Mississippi Fruitcake

Daily Dose

From On Further Reflection: 60 Years of Writing, by Jonathan Miller


“A character in a novel is not in it in the way that someone real might be in Birmingham or in a cubicle.  He can’t be taken out of the book, as some people suppose, and put into a film since he is made out of the same sort of material as the book he’s in.  Mr. Carker, for example, is undoubtedly a peculiar individual.  Perhaps his most interesting peculiarity is in fact that he is in Dombey and Son and can’t get out of it.”

From Novels into film

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Walled Fruitcake

Daily Dose

From Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society, by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated by John King


"With sex as public, healthy and normal, life would become more boring, mediocre and violent than it is now."

From The Disappearance of Eroticism

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Shakespearean Fruitcake

Daily Dose

From Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society, by Mario Vargas Llosa, translated by John King


 “In the civilization of the spectacle, the comedian is king.”

From The Civilization of the Spectacle

Monday, December 14, 2015

Mythical Fruitcake

Daily Dose

From When You Are Engulfed in Flames, by David Sedaris


"I thought I would enjoy buying a human skeleton, but looking through the shop window I felt a familiar tug of disappointment.  This had nothing to do with any moral considerations.  I was fine with buying someone who had been dead for a while; I just didn't want to wrap him."

From Memento Mori

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Week of Fruitcake

Daily Dose

From Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf


"How it rejoiced her that!  Not for weeks had they laughed like this together, poking fun privately like married people."

From page 143

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Laughter from White Fang

Daily Dose

From And West Is West, by Ron Childress


“In the previous century the sin of losing money was forgivable.  Bankruptcy was lenient.  The rich were neither so rich nor so greedy nor so paranoid.  But with the American century shrinking in the rearview mirror, the country has given up on being the land of second chances, or even first.  Basically, the new millennium sucks for latecomers.”

From Chapter 17, Ulster County, New York City

Friday, December 11, 2015

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick #57

We are joined by the delightful Jason Vanhee!

Daily Dose

From The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist, by Richard P. Feynman


"In fact that's a general principle in physics theories: no matter what a guy thinks of, it's almost always false."

From This Unscientific Age

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Coming Soon

Daily Dose

From The White Road: Journey Into an Obsession, by Edmund De Waal


 “And the moors change and the road widens and the spoil tips grow and the streams slow as the waste sand and mica make their way to the sea, silting.”

From Chapter 55, 1790, ii