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I almost never cull books, since I am shoring them up against the apocalypse. Once in a long while I let myself admit that there are books a) that I will not read and b) that won't be immediately useful after the revolution. I culled my novels on Saturday, and therefore on Sunday there were thirty boxes of free books at the library. They were left over from a rummage sale for the seniors’ centre.1 I took home five books. I call that remarkable self-control (and illness-induced fatigue).

  1. Samuel Beckett, Stories and Texts for Nothing Grove Press, N.Y. A collection of pieces first published in the Evergreen Review. In terms of material culture, this is the score. It has a great cover: fragments of Beckett's name arranged orthagonally in blue and green. The paper's water-damaged and mustier than I usually accept -- but the illustrations!

    The book is illustrated with terrific 60s-era line drawings, and these drawings are all about the line. Geometrical forms somehow give the effect both of rapid work and of obsessive precision, and the image arises out of their intersection -- almost despite the lines rather than because of them.

    I thought I had a mystery in the illustrator’s name (which I was misreading), until a friend pointed out his credit on the copyright page right where you’d expected it.

    Avigdor Arikha would've been 37ish when he did these drawings. He’d already survived deportation to a concentration camp in 1941, at the age of 12. Wikipedia offers this unbearable anecdote: “He survived thanks to the drawings he made of deportation scenes, which were shown to delegates of the International Red Cross.” He went to a kibbutz, fought for the Israeli army, and then moved to Paris.

    My vocabulary for illustrators’ styles is not very large. In the obsessive stylization & fixation on a restricted of visual language, the drawings remind me a little of Ralph Steadman, but with geometric grids rather than spatters, so that isn't all that helpful a parallel, or of Charles Keeping, but again much more ordered, and now I've run out of references.

    The images seem like attempts to locate something -- to chase it, not to pin it down but to catch it between lines -- or to triangulate a point which escapes just as it is finally specified.

    The Beckett is marked inside with pencil: 7.50.2 It has been claimed in blue ballpoint by one Grant [I? L?] Lowe. Tucked inside the front cover is a bookmark that reads, in full (all capitalization in original):

    The Best Little Wordhouse in The West!

    After 8 Years at 217 We’re Moving to 223!!

    Author! Author! Bookstore


    at 223 – 10 St. N.W. Ph. 283-9521

    I love old bookstore bookmarks. I sort of collect them, if stuffing them all into a small wicker basket counts as collecting. The address seems to be in Calgary; again, the phone number dates from before you had to add the area code.

  2. James Thurber, Lanterns and Lances I mean, Thurber. This is an odd artefact, a "Time Reading Program Special Edition"3 printed in or about 1962. The cover is of thick immobile cardboard, matte purple inside. There's no jacket copy, just Thurber's drawings blown up. It is also illustrated, by Thurber, natch. You'll be excited to know it has a New Introduction, probably because it's a posthumous edition.

    A thing I like very much is a book with layered introductions which, as we read forwards, take us backwards into innocence and before death. Alternatively, I have, I think, that edition of James Tiptree, Jr's Warm Worlds and Otherwise with the two introductions, before and after.

  3. (Collected by) Sage Birchwater, Chiwid Now this is interesting. It's an oral history of a Tsilhqot'in woman named Chiwid, born in 1904. She lived in the Chilcotin (a region of British Columbia just south of the Cariboo, where I was born a long time later.) Birchwater seems to have been interested in her because she was famous for living independently on the land, and maybe more as a figure around whom stories crystallized than for herself (she'd died before the book was published).

  4. Christina Rosetti, Goblin Market A tiny Phoenix booklet containing the titular poem and a few others, marked 60p. A lot of UK expats fetch up here.

  5. Vera John-Steiner, Notebooks of the Mind: Explorations of Thinking Printed in 1985, this is an obviously dated book about modes of thought, but as I leafed through I saw it had a section called “The Thinking of the Body”, which goes to my preoccupation with embodied mentation, so I snagged it on spec. As well as compiling published research, John-Steiner conducted many interviews for the book with subjects from novelists (Margaret Drabble) to psychologists, poets, and scientists (though fewer of these).


1. I say material culture, but it's just books and ephemera. "Rummage sale" makes me think of a fluted lamp of molded pink glass or a warped cardboard landscape in a heavy wooden frame, but no -- just books.

2. The 5 looks like a 1, but that would be an oddly specific price.

3. More on that imprint here. This edition follows the design specs they detail: "The editions were trade paperbacks, with covers constructed of very stiff plastic coated paper, for durability .... each book had a wraparound cover with a continuous piece of artwork across both covers and the spine".

Crossposted from Dreamwidth (http://radiantfracture.dreamwidth.org/5364.html), where there are comment count unavailable comments. Comments either place are great.

Date: 2017-03-05 05:55 pm (UTC)
hollymath: (face)
From: [personal profile] hollymath
Those sound like some good books! I'm trying to be mindful of what I bring into my house but I'd have found some of these impossible to resist, too.

Date: 2017-03-05 06:25 pm (UTC)
radiantfracture: (Harold Ross of the New Yorker)
From: [personal profile] radiantfracture
What kind of books do you find irresistible as serendipitous finds?

I have a real soft spot for Thurber. I don't know if Beckett would appreciate a soft spot so I'll have a patch of briars for him. I'm hoping the oral history has some interesting voices within.

There were also a great many celebrity biographies.

Date: 2017-03-05 09:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] evelyn-b.livejournal.com
I culled my novels on Saturday, and therefore on Sunday there were thirty boxes of free books at the library.

This is also the story of my life. All attempts to reduce my book collection will be rewarded with irresistible free books by the perversely specific benevolence of the universe. But these sound like beautiful books and a fitting reward for the hard work of novel-culling.

(For some reason, there are few things as tempting to me as an obviously dated book on any subject. Whether I have a prior interest in that subject or not).

Re: dated data

Date: 2017-03-05 09:36 pm (UTC)
radiantfracture: (Harold Ross of the New Yorker)
From: [personal profile] radiantfracture
Me too -- there's something weirdly reassuring about it. Why is that?


RE: Re: dated data

Date: 2017-03-06 02:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] evelyn-b.livejournal.com
I don't know! I've always been attracted to old things, especially if they were originally meant to be sort of ephemeral or "cutting edge." I have to make a concerted effort not to collect middle-management inspiration books Through the Ages and early guides to the Information Superhighway (I do have a 1994 Internet Yellow Pages that I love).

I'm not sure what it is, exactly. Probably something very simple and unexamined, like "the combination of mutability and permanence." You wrote a book about the present, for the present, but here I am reading it forty years later! I don't know why that perfectly ordinary experience should be so satisfying, but sometimes it is. Right now I have a lot of anxieties about an uncertain future, for perfectly rational reasons. Here are some people who also couldn't see what was ahead (witness this obviously dated theorizing! observe these hopeful but unfounded predictions!) but here we all are anyway. I like to imagine that in twenty or sixty years there will be someone to look back on us and think, "Well, they're all doing their best, but it's so extremely of its time, poor things." The circle of life? Is that it? I'm not sure. I think it's probably a bunch of things and that's one of them. I have a fellow-feeling for anything dated because I am aware of my own imminent datedness. Or live in hope of it. Or something.

I like to have a sense of the range of opinions available on any given topic at different times, because that's something that tends to get informally collapsed and simplified over time. I also just like seeing how ordinary things looked and worked. Even if I was alive at the time, it's too easy for everything to get mixed up and elided in my memory. That's one of the reasons I love murder mysteries: they wind up paying more attention to daily mechanical things like "how to make a phone call" than other kinds of fiction. Murder mysteries and Proust.

Sorry if this reply is way too long!

RE: Re: dated data

Date: 2017-03-06 05:41 pm (UTC)
radiantfracture: (Harold Ross of the New Yorker)
From: [personal profile] radiantfracture
Are you kidding? Thanks for contributing these observations and meditations. Much appreciated!

I think for me the "mutability and permanence" equation plays out in this fantasy that there was, at a given moment, a way to know all of at least the accepted wisdom about some topic, and that while I can't know everything about anything at all in the present moment, I could at least get caught up to the past.

That is naturally also an illusion.

I really like your point about being able to turn up some of the complexities of opinions at the time -- that's one of the motivations for textual studies in general, right? This is all a kind of informal scholarship. (Or maybe formal, I don't know -- do you write about the dated Internet guides? I think that would be fascinating.) (Now I am thinking of the episode of Buffy where Ms. Calendar calls herself a "technopagan".)

RE: Re: dated data

Date: 2017-03-08 04:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] evelyn-b.livejournal.com
I haven't written anything about the Internet Yellow Pages et al. . . .yet? Maybe someday. I'm probably not the best person to write about early internet usage given how out-of-the loop I am in the present day, but obviously not being the best person to write about x doesn't always stop me, so you never know.

this fantasy that there was, at a given moment, a way to know all of at least the accepted wisdom about some topic, and that while I can't know everything about anything at all in the present moment, I could at least get caught up to the past.

I feel you there! The problem is once you get comparably immersed in the past it turns out to be just as crowded as any present. Or maybe not a problem at all.

SOMEDAY I will get caught up on Buffy enough to be able to comment on technopagans. I missed it in its heyday but started watching last year because my four-year-old niece was/is a fan. I'm still in the early days and looking forward to lots of heartbreak, and I'm not sure what else.


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