Saturday, December 29, 2018

plots and plans

You can order prints of old maps from
 like this neat one of Winston from 1891 by Ruger and Stoner. Each building is accurate and accounted for with every business listed underneath.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

an empty skull is not much fun

It's curious to see the different cover designs used over the years for Cobwebs from an Empty Skull first published in 1874 by Ambrose Bierce (aka Dod Grile).  This collection of Aesop-like short animal fables caught my attention and held it for quite some time.  There are fascinating words and humorous twists in them, and at first it's hard to put the book down.  I didn't mind a bit of darkness as long as the stories made sense:

A man crossing the great river of Egypt, heard a voice, which seemed to come from beneath his boat, requesting him to stop. Thinking it must proceed from some river-deity, he laid down his paddle and said:

"Whoever you are that ask me to stop, I beg you will let me go on. I have been asked by a friend to dine with him, and I am late."

"Should your friend pass this way," said the voice, "I will show him the cause of your detention. Meantime you must come to dinner with me."

"Willingly," replied the man, devoutly, very well pleased with so extraordinary an honour; "pray show me the way."

"In here," said the crocodile, elevating his distending jaws above the water and beckoning with his tongue—"this way, please."

This fable shows that being asked to dinner is not always the same thing as being asked to dine.


However, when story after story subverts the reader's expectations with bizarre nonsense, random deceptions and lack of conclusions, the book fails to give lasting satisfaction.  There are over a hundred bestiaries, and here are two good examples:

  A lamb suffering from thirst went to a brook to drink. Putting his nose to the water, he was interested to feel it bitten by a fish. Not liking fish, he drew back and sought another place; but his persecutor getting there before him administered the same rebuff. The lamb being rather persevering, and the fish having no appointments for that day, this was repeated a few thousand times, when the former felt justified in swearing:

"I'm eternally boiled!" said he, "if ever I experienced so many fish in all my life. It is discouraging. It inspires me with mint sauce and green peas."

He probably meant amazement and fear; under the influence of powerful emotions even lambs will talk "shop."

"Well, good bye," said his tormentor, taking a final nip at the animal's muzzle; "I should like to amuse you some more; but I have other fish to fry."

This tale teaches a good quantity of lessons; but it does not teach why this fish should have persecuted this lamb.

"It is very difficult getting on in the world," sighed a weary snail; "very difficult indeed, with such high rents!"

"You don't mean to say you pay anything for that old rookery!" said a slug, who was characteristically insinuating himself between the stems of the celery intended for dinner. "A miserable old shanty like that, without stables, grounds, or any modern conveniences!"

"Pay!" said the snail, contemptuously; "I'd like to see you get a semi-detatched villa like this at a nominal rate!"

"Why don't you let your upper apartments to a respectable single party?" urged the slug.

The answer is not recorded.


   I'm glad I found such a singular creation, but as the author's friend Mark Twain said, "There is humor in Dod Grile, but for every laugh that is in his book there are five blushes, ten shudders and a vomit.  The laugh is too expensive." 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Dream Destinations

Over a thousand places are documented in this amazing collection of fictional places gathered by Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi.  The authors excluded heavens and hells, places of the future and those beyond planet Earth to limit their project to an oversized book with a mere 450 pages!  A few of the places are familiar to me such as Toad Hall and Moominpapa's Island, but most are not, leading to so many new fascinating stories.  
There's Beersheba, a city of unknown location, and Ersilia, a city of ever-changing location.  Kadath is the capital of Dreamworld, and Perla is the capital of Dream Kingdom.  Perla is always covered by clouds, and Limanora is an island always surrounded by a ring of fog.
The place names alone are interesting, like Thumbs Up which used to be called Thumbs Down.  In Where-Nobody-Talks, everything is covered by a thick layer of invisible snow, stifling all sound.
 Some places sound awful, like Titipu, Japan, where the laws are so complex and constantly changing that travelers can commit crimes without even knowing it.  In Makalolo, a small country run by women warriors, the two queens are roasted and eaten after their five year rule is over.  
 One must get permission to enter Thieves City in the Klondike region of Canada by doing one of the following: rob the till, kidnap a well-known personality, find a new tax dodge, cheat at cards, or become a pirate publisher.
 The island of Three-O-Seven is a quarantine zone for those infected with immortality, for which the world's best chemists and biologists try to find an antidote. When immortals try to flee, the island is bombed (?!).  
In contrast, in Cockaigne, the inhabitants are also immortal, and war is unknown.  Sweets and chocolate grow at the edge of the woods, and cakes rain down from the heavens.  
I'd like to go to Cuccagna myself, where there are rivers of milk and pastries sprout along the roads.  People sing and play all day, monkeys play chess, and anyone found working is taken to prison!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

children's books 100


Here, on the dark and solemn Yew,
A marvel may be seen,
Where waxen berries, pink and new,
Appear amid the green.

I sit a-dreaming in the tree,
So old and yet so new;
One hundred years, or two, or three
Are little to the Yew.

I think of bygone centuries,
And seem to see anew
The archers face their enemies
With bended bows of Yew.

-from Flower Fairies of the Winter
by Cicely Mary Barker 

Sonata for a Good Man

The Lives of Others is one of the greatest movies I've ever seen.  Set in East Germany before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the story is about a Stasi policeman ordered to spy on a playwright and his actress girlfriend. What he discovers and what he does changes their lives and his forever in this thriller that Rolling Stone's Peter Travers says is "the best kind of movie: one you can't get out of your head."

Thursday, October 25, 2018


"There was a lot of halting and waiting, little acknowledgement, little affirmation, but sometimes all it takes is a wink or a nod from some unexpected place to bury the tedium of a baffling existence."

Monday, October 15, 2018

children's books 99

My Cold Went on Vacation has a very strange style by Nora Krug which goes well with its fun idea by Molly Rausch.  A boy is sick and after he gets better, he wonders where his cold has gone. He knows his aunt had it, and his grandma and uncle too. He wonders if it travels the world--such a clever concept and perfect to read to a sick child! The ending is a fun surprise in this unique adventure story.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Persian Pattern

From the freebie bin came this gorgeous coffee table book, Design and Color in Islamic Architecture.  Sonia P. Seherr-Thoss wrote the book and her husband Hans C. Seherr-Thoss took the photographs as they traveled together ten thousand miles through Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey.  Thirty mosques, mausoleums, and monuments built between 1037 and 1616 are featured in 138 full color photographic plates. It is amazing to think how long these buildings have lasted. The rich heritage of brick, stucco, enameled tile and stone, the inventive designs with relief and texture, and the methods of making these architectural structures are explored in the book's 300+ pages. A wonderful find, this unique and beautiful book is a keeper.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

children's books 98

Peter Sís rightfully won the Caldecott for his beautifully illustrated book, Starry Messenger.  Told in a simple narrative perfect for children, the story of the life of the scientist, astronomer, mathematician, physicist and philosopher Galileo is illustrated with incredible detail and imaginative, dramatic layouts. A fine crosshatching technique over handsome watercolor washes and hand drawn cursive words accompanying the pictures go well with celebrating ideas about acute observation. Galileo's path of study, invention and discovery is touched upon in highlights including the first ever sightings of four moons of Jupiter he named the Medicean Stars and his Law of Falling Objects which proved Aristotle wrong about velocity. His book, the first Starry Messenger, was very popular, and his fame and celebrity spread upsetting the Catholic Church resulting in an inquisition before the Pope. Galileo was found guilty of heresy for saying the earth was not the center of the universe and condemned to spend the rest of his life locked in his house. He never stopped thinking about stars and the universe, and even after going blind he continued to pass his ideas along to others. One of his many quotes in the book reads, "I think that in discussion of physical problems (Nature) we ought to begin not from the authority of scriptural passages, but from sense-experiences and necessary demonstrations."

Sunday, September 23, 2018

fine flourish

Pretty pressed Queen Anne's lace cards by Lucy Duncan can be found at Eartbound Arts on Trade Street in Winston, along with pottery, herbal teas, soaps, beeswax candles, and more handmade by Lucy and her husband Gordon Jones.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Book it to McKay's

McKay's book store in Winston is a wonderful place to spend an hour searching through aisles and aisles of interesting books, movies, music, instruments, tech gadgets and toys. They buy and sell items, and they have four other even bigger locations. I especially love finding new children's books and gorgeous coffee table (or coffee in bed) books like these.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018


This little dish reminds me of my Grandma Jan who also loved fine details.