Friday, April 10, 2009

Pieces of the Past

One of the most interesting aspects of my job involves the opportunity to delve into Gaylord boxes of discarded books and paper ephemera. Most book lovers who attend sales concentrate on books that are either within their personal areas of interest or those that they think can be turned on eBay or Craig's list for cash. I head first for the boxes of pamphlets, chapbooks and paper ephemera. It's called ephemera for a reason and here is where real treasures can be found . . .

Old softcover printings of Gary Snyder's first poems . . . the very first brochures ever distributed when Disneyland opened in Anaheim . . . histories of small communities . . . Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters' fanciful squibs published under pseudonyms . . . small, small press folios representing the earliest works of American writers.

Today, while gathering old books that were falling apart in order to practice book repair and case binding, I brought home a 1888 book in The Mermaid Series, edited by Havelock Ellis and containing The Best Plays of the Old Dramatists: John Ford. Published by Vizetelly & Co. of London, it is not a particuarly valuable or scarce book. The surprise appeared on the inside front cover where I found a small bookplate stating that it was, "From the Library of Algernon Charles Swinburne, The Pines, Putney Hill."

I am not a fan of Swinburne, but he is a known and famous English poet. It is interesting to know that I have before me a book that Swinburne bought, held in his hands and kept in his home. Various things were tucked between the pages and, judging by their age, might have been placed there by the poet. Of course I have no way of knowing if this is true but once again I must marvel at the tenacity of books, these time travelers, who - against all odds - survive their writers and their owners and move among us.

Had I not rescued this survivor, it would have been pulped. In what world will it move after it has left mine?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Use the Difficulty

"I was rehearsing a play, and there was a scene that went on before me, then I had to come in the door. They rehearsed the scene, and one of the actors had thrown a chair at the other one. It landed right in front of the door where I came in. I opened the door and then rather lamely, I said to the producer who was sitting out in the stalls, 'Well, look, I can't get in. There's a chair in my way.' He said, 'Well, use the difficulty.' So I said, 'What do you mean, use the difficulty?' He said, 'Well, if it's a drama, pick it up and smash it. If it's a comedy, fall over it.' This was a line for me for life: Always use the difficulty."

Michael Caine, November 17, 1992

Sunday, April 5, 2009

How much sugar is enough?

Starbucks is a regular and necessary stop for me on Sunday mornings. This isn't because of the coffee, although that's a part of the process. It's because of the availability of the Sunday New York Times which gets me through the first two working hours of the day and provides the intellectual stimulation missing from a quick gutting of the Sunday Oregonian of its advertising followed by a review of the remaining 10 minutes of news. This morning, there were no copies of the Times available. In an effort to make myself feel better about settling for the Oregonian, I ordered the "Perfect Oatmeal" without high expectations. It was not perfect but the real entertainment came with a bag of "toppings" which were supposed to put the cherry on the top of my watery oatmeal experience. The goodies included a bag of mixed, chopped nuts . . . a bag of dried cranberries and a packet of "Perfect Oatmeal Brown Sugar." The packet bragged that it was, "generously portioned to suit your taste" which I took to mean that no matter how greedy you were for brown sugar, there would be enough to satisfy even the biggest pig on the planet. What did this mean? Was it an insult? A brag? I dumped the entire packet into the paper bowl with the nuts and cranberries and it did improve the basic product to the point that, while not perfect, it was an acceptable meal to accompany a poor second to the Times.