Thursday, December 31, 2009


Today's find at the local antique store, for your viewing pleasure ( but not offered for sale).

A hard-to-find 1948 edition of Hearts-Ease:Herbs For the Heart by Mrs. C.F. Leyel, founder of The Herb Society of the United Kingdom.

I especially love the dedication:

This book is dedicated to the memory of Viscount Plumer, who died at the end of the last war. His personal influence created considerable sympathy for herbalists. As Chairman of the Society of Herbalists, he greatly helped the work of Culpeper House, notably in persuading the House of Lords to amend the Pharmacy Act of 1941. The unamended bill would have deprived Herbalists of privileges bestowed by Henry VIII, and Lord Plumer's amendments made the Act, as finally passed, not quite so damaging.

After Mrs. Leyel studied the work of the famous herbalist Nicolas Culpeper, she founded both the Society of Herbalists and the Culpeper shops. The Society maintained its rooms over the Shops on the upper floors primarily for treatment of patients, mixing the necessary herbal medicines on the ground floor. In addition to medicinal herbs, the Culpeper Shops also sold culinary and aromatic herbs.

The services of Mrs. Leyel's friend Viscount Plumer came into play in 1941, when the devastating Pharmacy Act was passed (middle of World War II and the House of Lords was worried about British herbalists, it boggles the mind).

For the next 27 years, the only legal way to obtain herbal treatment in the United Kingdom was to be a member of the Society of Herbalists, now known as The Herb Society.

The cover features the common pansy, and is elaborated on in the introduction:

The affection of the English people for this flower can be measured by its familiar names: 'Leap up and kiss me', 'Call me to you', 'Hearts Pansy', and "Kiss me at the garden gate'.

Shakespeare called it 'Love in Idleness' and 'Cupid's Flower', and in Elizabethan days there seems to have been a prevalent idea that a pansy actually carried the dart of Cupid.

Sir William Bulleyn, another Tudor writer, says: 'Pray God, give the but a handful of heavenly Heartsease, which passes all the pleasant flowers that grow in the world'.

The pansy, though only a herbal simple, has gained the name of Hearts-Ease, because it tranquillizes and puts the Heart at Ease.

One other line from the introduction stands out, as true today as it was in 1948:

This mania for standarizing medicines has done more to retard the development of experimental work on natural remedies than anything else.

Included are fourteen separate indexes: General, Botanical, Familiar Names, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Turkish, Arabian, Persian, Indian, Chinese, Malayan, and Sanscrit.

While this prized edition goes on the shelf next to my other herbal books, I'm still searching for Mrs. Leyel's other volumes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fiddle Dee Dee

With a total disregard for political correctness, today is the 70th anniversary of the premier of one of my most favorite movies.

Growing up with Southern grandparents who referred to The War as if it happened last week, and who would casually mention Cousin Tunis who died in The Wretched North in a prisoner-of-war camp (100 years previously), there was no way for me to avoid Gone With the Wind.

There was no way for Margaret Mitchell to avoid writing it either -she a child of the South herself, much closer to that generation than I would ever be.

"So that day when I sat down to write I did not have to bother about my background for it had been with me my whole life. The plot, the characters, etc, had not been with me. That day I thought I would write a story of a girl who was somewhat like Atlanta - part of the old South; part of the new South; [how] she rose with Atlanta and fell with it, and how she rose again. What Atlanta did to her; what she did to Atlanta - and the man who was more than a match for her. It didn't take me any time to get my plot and characters. They were there and I took them and set them against the background which I knew as well as I did my own background." Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" Letters: 1936-1949, Introduction, page xxxi ;Richard Harwell, Editor

There were initially 50,000 copies printed in May, 1936. This is a first edition copy, sold for a then unheard-of-price of $3.00 (approximately $45 in today's dollar). Bootleg copies of the book sold in Europe for $60.00 ($670.00 today) even though anyone found possessing the book in Nazi-occupied countries was shot.

Within six months, at the height of the Great Depression, over one million copies had sold. Eventually, GWTW would be translated into 40 languages, sold in 50 countries, and today, has sold over 30 million copies. A facsimile copy was published in 1964 (centennial of the Civil War), and is identical in every aspect, except for the 1964 copyright.

Obscure GWTW trivia: Seventy years ago tonight, the 1939 film premiered at the Loews Grand Theater in Atlanta, attended by most of the glamourous cast members, and anyone else who could get their hands on a ticket. An old black and white photo of the pre-movie presentation shows a children's choir that includes a six-year-old boy. The old saying about justice rolling down like water surely came full circle that night. The little boy was none other than Martin Luther King Jr., singing with his church choir, in a theatre which refused to seat Hattie McDaniel with her white co-stars.

Monday, December 7, 2009

This Most Balmy Time...

There is nothing finer than waking up each morning to a Shakespearean sonnet.


Sonnet CVII.
Not mine own fears, nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come,
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.

The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured
And the sad augurs mock their own presage;

Incertainties now crown themselves assured
And peace proclaims olives of endless age.

Now with the drops of this most balmy time
My love looks fresh, and death to me subscribes,
Since, spite of him, I'll live in this poor rhyme,
While he insults o'er dull and speechless tribes:
And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants' crests and tombs of brass are spent.

Translation, in brief:

Love will conquer all.

Love will outlast any chaos, any tragedy.

Love is worth more than any title, any statue, any amount of money.

See? Nothing better than Shakespeare-in-the-morning.

Read here for a daily fix of Shakespeare's Sonnet-a-Day delivered via email.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Wrapped in the Flag

An eternal favorite of mine (and a book that should be required reading for every American), Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here (1935).

"Buzz" Windrip, a power-hungry politician, is elected President of the United States on a populist platform. He promises to restore the country to prosperity, as well as promising each citizen five thousand dollars a year.

Once in power, however, he becomes a dictator who outlaws dissent, putting his enemies in concentration camps, and creating his own militia force called the Minute Men who terrorize dissenting citizens. By making changes to the Constitution, he gives himself sole power over the country and renders Congress obsolete.

This is met by protest from outraged citizens, but Windrip declares a state of martial law, throwing protesters in jail with the help of his Minute Men. As Windrip dismantles America and democracy, most Americans either support him wholeheartedly or reassure themselves that surely this is not fascism, and if it is, it surely cannot happen in America.

A brief excerpt:

"Why, there's no country in the world that can get more hysterical -yes, or more obsequious!- than America. Look how Huey Long became absolute monarch over Louisiana, and how the Right Honorable Mr. Senator Berzelius Windrip owns his State. Listen to Bishop Prang and Father Coughlin on the radio - divine oracles to millions. Remember how casually most Americans have accepted Tammany grafting and Chicago gangs and the crookedness of so many of President Harding's appointees?

"Could Hitler's bunch, or Windrip's be worse? remember the Kuklux Klan? Remember our war hysteria, when we called sauerkraut 'Liberty cabbage' and somebody actually proposed calling German measles "Liberty measles'? And wartime censorship of honest papers? Bad as Russia! Remember our kissing the - well, feet of Billy Sunday, the million-dollar evangelist...

"Remember our Red Scares and our Catholic Scares, when all well-informed people knew that the O.G. P.U. were hiding out in Oskaloosa, and the Republicans campaigning against Al Smith told the Carolina mountaineers that if Al won the Pope would illegitimize their children?

"Remember when the hick legislators in certain states, in obedience to William Jennings Bryan, who learned his biology from his pious old grandma, set up shop as scientific experts and made the whole world laugh itself sick by forbidding the teaching of evolution?

"Remember the Kentucky night-riders? Remember how trainloads of people have gone to enjoy lynchings? Not happen here? Prohibition - shooting down people because they *might* be transporting liquor - no, that couldn't happen in America! Why, where in all history has there ever been a people so ripe for a dictatorship as ours! We're ready to start on a Children's Crusade - only of adults - right now, and the Right Reverend Abbots Windrip and Prang are all ready to lead it!"

"Well, what if they are? It might not be so bad. I don't like all these irresponsible attacks on bankers....Why are you so afraid of the word 'Fascism'? Just a word- just a word! And might not be so bad, with all those lazy bums we got panhandling relief nowadays and living on my income tax and yours -not so worse to have a real Strong Man, like Hitler or Mussolini - like Napoleon or Bismarck in the good ol days - and have 'em really run the country and make it efficient and prosperous again.

"Cure the Evils of Democracy by the Evils of Fascism!

"But- it just can't happen here in America.

"The hell it can't!"

My favorite quote by Sinclair Lewis, from It Can't Happen Here:

Remember Mr. Lewis and his only semi-satirical book of 1935 when you read of tea parties and death panels, and watch those hysterical American people marching in front of the U.S. Capitol carrying Nazi swatikas.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Lady of Shalott

Several weeks ago at a library sale we found this 1882 edition of The Poetical Works of Alfred Tennyson, beautifully bound with detailed florals on the front (and a snail shell intertwined with the T in Tennyson), and detailed engraved ilustrations throughout all 843 pages.

The endpapers are a tiny precise brown floral, and each of the poems starts with an elaborate engraved capital letter that morphs into a work of art.

On the front loose endpaper, a previous owner has made a notation that they acquired this volume when it was "Bot at sale of A.W. Carmike, Dec. 1912". Eight months after the Titanic sank, which has nothing to do with this volume, I just enjoy placing items within their time.

At the time of this volume's publication, Lord Alfred Tennyson was still alive and writing. Two years later, in 1894, he would be created a baron by the Crown, and eight years follwoing, in 1892, he would be buried in the Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey.

No artist is listed for the engraved illustrations, but they include forest paths, full-rigged ships sailing stormy oceans, ravens soaring between Gothic arches, medieval beggars and maids and other flights of artistic fancy.

My favorite Tennyson, from page 83, and possibly Mr. Edgar Allan Poe's judging from his allusion to it in the December 1844 Democratic Review: "Why do some persons fatigue themselves in endeavours to unravel such phantasy pieces as the 'Lady of Shallot'? As well unweave the ventum textilem":

The Lady of Shalott, Part II:

There she weaves by night and day

A magic web with colours gay.

She has heard a whisper say,

A curse is on her if she stay

To look down to Camelot.

She knows not what the 'curse' may be,

And so she weaveth steadily,

And little other care hath she,

The Lady of Shalott.

And moving thro' a mirror clear

That hangs before her all the year,

Shadows of the world appear.

There she sees the highway near

Winding down to Camelot:

There the river eddy whirls,

And there the surly village-churls,

And the red cloaks of market girls,

Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,

An abbot on an ambling pad,

Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,

Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad,

Goes by to tower'd Camelot;

And sometimes thro' the mirror blue

The knights come riding two and two:

She hath no loyal knight and true,

The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights

To weave the mirror's magic sights,

For often thro' the silent nights

A funeral, with plumes and lights,

And music, went to Camelot:

Or when the moon was overhead,

Came two young lovers lately wed;

"I am half-sick of shadows," said

The Lady of Shalott.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Strange Man of the Oglalas

In 1942, Mari Sandoz wrote a biography of the great Native American leader Ta-Shunka-Witko,known to white America as Chief Crazy Horse.

From her own childhood:

"The home of my childhood was on the upper Niobara River, the Running Water of the old-timers, at the edge of the region they called Indian County. It was close to the great Sioux reservations of South Dakota - the final places of refuge for many of the old buffalo-hunting Indians...such men are often great story-tellers, and these my father, Old Jules, drew to him as a curl of smoke rising above a clump of trees would once have drawn them...

"Around our kitchen table, or perhaps at the evening fires of the Sioux camped across the road from our house, I heard these old-timers tell ...stories of hunting the buffalo, the big-horn, and the grizzly, and of Indian fights and raidings... but most often they talked of the battles in what the whites called the Sioux wars, from that climatic summer day on the Little Big Horn all the way back to the beginning...

"As I listened to these stories it seemed that through them, like a painted strip of rawhide in a braided rope, ran the name of one who was a boy among the Oglalas the day the chief of his people was shot down. He must have been twelve then, quiet, serious, very light-skinned for an Indian, with hair so soft and pale that he was called Curly...but by the end of those wars, twenty-three years later, he was known as the greatest of the fighting Oglalas, and his name, Crazy Horse, was one to frighten the children of the whites crowding into his country, and even the boldest warriors of his Indian enemies, the Snakes and Crows.

"In 1930 I made a three-thousand-mile trip through the Sioux country, locating Indian sites and living among the people. We interviewed the few old buffalo-hunters still alive, including such friends and relatives of Crazy Horse as Red Feather, Little Killer, Short Bull, and particularly He Dog, his lifelong brother-friend. It was well that this was done then, for now He-Dog is dead.

Crazy Horse was born about 1840; he was killed treacherously through betrayal by his own people in 1877. This is the story of that betrayal, and the woman for whom the great warrior would one day risk everything he knew of his people and their earth.

The author August Derleth called this book: "a portrait of a man and a people so vividly drawn that no reader will ever completely forget of the great biographies."

Crazy Horse- Sacred Warrior Original artwork by Cherokee artist Michael Gentry

Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas, Mari Sandoz, Sold by Chewybooks on November 8, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009

An American Saga

Carl Christian Jensen, was born a Danish peasant in 1888, and ran away to sea at age 12. Eventually arriving in New York, then setting out for the western frontier in Minnesota he joined a Doomsday Religion and then studied physics. An American Saga, published in 1927, is a one-of-a-kind autobiography, only possible in America.

A brief excerpt:

"During the mackeral season I hired out in Bette-Fanden's cutter...Late at night we put to sea...The silence of night was broken by the splash of mackeral upon the surface, by the cutter, creaking under the weight of fish, and by the distant shoal waters...The nets were like bundles of silk, dyed in gorgeous tints and hues. The glazed eyes of themackeral glowed like heaps of pearls. Their scales glittered like diamonds.

"During dark nights and during moonlight nights, while we waited to heave the nets aboard, the sea was like a magic crystal ...There was one sea, but nine varieties of tides and winds to change the sea. When a storm chased the surges into the bowlders' arms, they laughed and wept in their first love.

"At the age of sixteen I began to live on the high seas in a small room with two potholes on the hull side...whatever I possessed I kept in my bunk. At dawn a sunbeam stole through the porthole...atnight I lay awake, gazing down into the magic depth...The starry sky twinkled above;pitch darkness ahead."

An American Saga, Carl Christian Jensen, Offered for sale, as of November 2, 2009, by Chewybooks.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Trail Through Leaves

From A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal As A Path To Place:

"It took many years of writing, thousands of pages, to discover that I could not find the fit between experience and record by writing with "summing up" words. To say that a canoe trip was wonderful, and that the river was beautiful, and that I had many adventures accomplished nothing in the journal: I didn't even have the pleasure of reliving the best moments while writing about them. And yet this ingrained tendency to generalize I still have to fight daily.

"A journal filled with "nices", "wonderfuls", "terribles", and "interestings" is one drained of any live juice. If that kind of writing merely reflects habit, there is hope for change. If the writer insists in it, consider it a sign of a deep-seated fear of the real."

This is the most intimate book on the craft of writing I have ever read. It falls somewhere between a suggestion of how and why to keep a journal, and a detailed, vividly illustrated book of nature. I've seen it featured on other sites as a way to teach writing through science. I believe it's closest cousin would be the much-loved Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden (1906).

Highly recommended to any aspiring or accomplished wordscribe or naturalist.

"Sometimes the pen on the page is alive, and sometimes it seems stupid and stumbling. Often I wait, bending over that dark pool full of hidden words, and suddenly the right ones surface. I'm ready for them, and feel something of the keen pleasure as I did when speed and strength became equipoise over a jump.

"Other times the pool stays blank, just a maddening lifeless flatness. The presence or absence of flow can't be dictated, but a person can remain agile and alert, ready to recognize and act on whatever comes.

"The pleasure of encountering the next blank page-spread in the journal seems never to diminish...."

A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal As A Path To Peace, Hannah Hinchman. Offered for Sale by Chewybooks, as of October 29, 2009.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Magic Descending

In 1833, there was a now-legendary, magical display in the heavens...the Leonid Meteor Shower. From New York to California, from Canada to Alabama, all the world seemed caught up in the trail of the comet Temple-Tuttle.

A firsthand account, from the early morning hours of November 13, 1833:

"See! The whole heavens are on fire! All the stars are falling!" These cries brought us all into the open yard, to gaze upon the grandest and most beautiful scene my eyes have ever beheld. It did appear as if every star had left its moorings, and was drifting rapidly in a westerly direction, leaving behind a track of light which remained visible for several seconds.

"Some of those wandering stars seemed as large as the full moon, or nearly so, and in some cases they appeared to dash at a rapid rate across the general course of the main body of meteors, leaving in their track a bluish light, which gathered into a thin cloud not unlike a puff of smoke from a tobacco-pipe. Some of the meteors were so bright that they were visible for some time after day had fairly dawned.

"Imagine large snowflakes drifting over your head, so near you that you can distinguish them, one from the other, and yet so thick in the air as to almost obscure the sky; then imagine each snowflake to be a meteor, leaving behind it a tail like a little comet; these meteors of all sizes, from that of a drop of water to that of a great star, having the size of the full moon in appearance: and you may then have some faint idea of this wonderful scene." Samuel Rogers, circuit preacher, Toils and Struggles of the Olden Times, 1880.

Many years later, in 1934, Carl Carmer would write a fascinating book Stars Fell on Alabama, an authentic collection of folkways, customs, and an honest look at Alabama circa 1934, complete with poverty and racial violence. Illustrations were provided by the incomparable Cyrus Leroy Baldridge. The frontiespiece was a carefully drawn state map, designating The Red Hills, The Foothills, Black Belt, Cajan Country, and Conjure Country, with a Baldridge illustration for each section, in addition to smaller drawings tucked in along the page edges.

A brief excerpt:

"Alabama felt a magic descending, spreading, long ago. Since then it has been a land with a spell in it - not a good spell, always. Moons, red with the dust of barren hills, thin pine trunks barring horizons, festering swamps, restless yellow rivers, are all a part of a feeling - a strange certainty that above and around them hovers excitement - an emanation of malevolence that threatens to destroy men through dark ways of its own.

"...once upon a time stars fell on Alabama, changing the land's destiny. What had been written in eternal symbols was thus erased - and the region has existed ever since, unreal and fated, bound by a horoscope such as controls no other country."

A bit later in Conjure Country:

"I saw them walking down the hill from the direction of the old house...they wore their Sunday-best - black suits and white shirts and collars for the men, black skirts and white shirt-waists for the women - adding to the silhouette effect as I looked up at the long line of them in sharp outline against the red clay of the barren slope and the light blue of the sky behind it. They were singing a spirtual, one I have rarely heard, 'Break Them Chains', and they were swaying slowly in time to its minor cadences."

From Tuscaloosa Nights:

"Beneath the tall elms on Queen City Avenue rode three horsemen robed in white. As they passed the black background of the big tree trunks the moonlight picked them out distinctly...

"Behind the mounted trio stretched a long column of marching white figures, two and two, like an army of coupled ghosts, their shapeless flopping garments tossing up and down in the still night air.

"Look," he said, "can you see their shoes? They tell alot."

"Moving under the edges of the white robes were pants-leg ends and shoes, hundreds of them. A pair that buttoned and had cloth tops, a heavy laced pair splashed with mud, canvas sneakers, congress gaiters - a yellow pair with knobbly toes swung past. At the very end a lone figure in sturdy grained oxfords, his sheet twisted awry, stepped gingerly - a little uncertainly."

"So I have chosen to write of Alabama not as a state which is part of a nation, but as a strange country in which I once lived and from which I have now returned...."

Stars Fell on Alabama, Carl Carmer, Offered for sale by Chewybooks as of October 27,2009.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

No Regrets

In 1935, FDR endeavored to provide jobs for the 20,000 - 30,000 unemployed actors, directors, writers, stagehands, and designers left idle in the Great Depression. The Federal Theatre Project ran from 1935-1939, and was overseen by Hallie Flangan (above) a drama professor from Vassar. FDR personally chose Flanagan to run the national program that eventually employed 13,000 people in various theatres in thirty-one states.

Eventually, this very successful program ran afoul of the political redbaiting of the time and Hallie Flanigan (having had visited Russia at one point in her life, and therefore obviously being a Communist) had to testify to a government committee as to exactly what the theatres were up to. Need I say that the Representative who saw a Communist behind every theatre curtain was Republican?

A brief excerpt from Arena, The History of the Federal Theatre Project:

"Just as it sometimes happens that a drop of water in a certain light mirrors a landscape, so the Federal Theatre was a microcosm reflecting changes in American attitudes. The Federal Theatre cost money; it represented labor unions, old and new; it did not bar aliens or members of minority parties. It was perhaps the triumph as well as the tragedy of our actors that they became indeed the abstract and brief chronicles of the time.

"Thus the Federal Theatre ended as it had begun, with fearless presentation of problems touching American life. But I do not believe that anyone who worked on it regrets that it stood from first to last against reaction, against prejudice, against racial, religious and political intolerance.

"Anyone who thinks that those things do not need fighting for today is out of touch with reality."

Arena, The History of the Federal Theatre Project,by Hallie Flanagan, 1980 printing,
Offered for sale by Chewybooks, as of October 20,2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

Toledo Reeks of Mysticism

In 1928, the European Tour was a rite of passage for upper class American college kids (much the same as for their 1960s and 1970s counterparts). For both generations, half the fun was bumming around Europe, ferreting out the cheapest deals on good food, places to stay and late night entertainment.

Enter The Hand-Me-Down-1928. Created at the end of the summer in 1927 "by several hundred students who pooled their European hotel findings and their pet discoveries that they might be passed on to future student travelers, to save their pocketbooks and enrich their trips."

"The result is the 1928 Hand-Me-Down, which you have just received in exchange for fifty cents...Amended Hand-Me-Downs will be handed down to students to come in 1929 and everafter.

"There are a number of blank pages at the back of the book for memorandums and instructions as to how to record your information. At the end of the summer those pages may be torn out and sent to..."

"Don't expect the book to be perfect - romance for Sally may not be romance for John; what pleases Peter may not please you. It goes without saying that the Hand-Me-Down is not public property. It is for STCA passengers only, and only 1500 of them."

And what sort of impressions did the 1928 student traveller leave?

"In Arles, France, the Treviot Restaurant....has a sawdust covered floor but serves delicious meals for 12-15 fr

"In Carcassonne, France, Notes: A very, very old lady who sits outside the walls near entrance will teach you how to weave fish nets

"In Paris, France, Chateau Madrid Restaurant: Dancing out of doors, tea is less catastrophic

"Winchester, Great Britain,Black Swan Hotel: Don't get a room on the road if you want to sleep

"Florence, Italy, Picchiole Hotel: excellent and cheap, but pigeons have a habit of flying right into your room

"Krak0w, Poland, De France Hotel: Cheap and delightful, chambermaids are barefooted

"Toledo, Spain, Notes: Unexcelled location on top of hill, accessible only by two very fine bridges. Don't fail to overlook lower city at night... Toledo reeks of mysticism."

Offered for sale, The Hand-Me-Down 1928, as of October 16, 2009, by Chewybooks.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The First Oil Rush

"A Seneca woman knelt by a creek in the Allegheny hills and spread an open blanket over a rainbow of colors that shimmered on the water. Then she carefully pulled in the heavy, dripping blanket and squeezed it over a pail. A dozen times she repeated the process until at last the pail was filled with.....oil. The year was 1750.

"Just as they stored meat, so the Senecas stored crude oil. They dabbed it on wounds and bruises. If a wound was slow to heal, they wrapped a stick in dry vines, dipped it in crude oil, and set fire to it. The flaming stick was used to burn away dead, decayed skin. Frequently they swallowed the crude oil a gulp at a time to cure fever and headache. When mixed with colored juice squeezed from berries and leaves, it became a war paint that stayed on through the sweat of battle. Each year after the spring floods, the Senecas would gather by the banks of the oil creek, bringing their sick and wounded to be healed in the soothing water. At the end of the day, the oily slick on the water would be set afire with a torch. As the flaming waters lighted up the night, shout after shout would burst forth from the assembled Senecas.

"A little over a hundred years later Colonel Edwin L. Drake brought up from the bowels of the earth near this creek the first oil ever mined in America - and the world's most lucrative business was born."

An interesting read, as we argue whether or not we've reached "Peak Oil".

The First Oil Rush, by Frances G. Conn and Shirley Sirota Rosenberg, Stated First Edition, 1967, with dust jacket. Offered for sale as of October 12, 2009 by Chewybooks.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Take Your Family To Work Day

"The Williams family sailed the seas in the great days of American whaling. Eliza Azelia Williams set out from New Bedford in 1858 aboard her husband's vessel, the 'Florida', for a three-year voyage. She had two children born at sea, and the boy William grew up to go whaling in his turn, while the girl married Edgar Lewis "the Whalebone King." William was only twelve when the Williams' ship was abandoned with thirty-one others in the pack ice of the Arctic Ocean. He was fifteen when he became a junior office on the whaler 'Florence'.

So much for the old sailor's prejudice against having women onboard a sailing ship. Actually, reading the entries of Eliza's diary, there are more than a few meet-ups with other whaling ships, and their captains, along with their respective wives.

Not only did the good Captain Williams take his wife to sea with him, but she was four months pregnant when they set sail. On January 12, 1859, Eliza delivered a boy and continued filling her journal pages with whales, assorted tropical islands they stopped at, exotic natives and so forth. Not until late January does she mention "we have a fine healthy Boy, born 5 days before we got into Port".

That's it. The woman delivered a boy, by herself, onboard a whaling ship, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, and didn't even blink.

One Whaling Family, Edited by Harold Williams, First Edition, 1964, Offered for sale by Chewybooks, as of 10-6-2009.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

So Bends the Bamboo


After it all has been said,

Can ought be left to say?

Havoc has spread down its bed

With the dead in the night.

Rains cannot hope to smother

Hope, rising through the mist.

Man and forgotten brother

Clasp hands, in faith, again.

Poems of 1959 Japan, from a Western point-of-view, written by Virginia L. Lantz.

So Bends The Bamboo, 1959, First Edition without dust jacket; signed by author on reverse of first title page.

Offered for sale by Chewybooks as of 10-4-09.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Gateless Barrier

In Victorian England, women of good breeding were not encouraged to stand out for much more than their pretty looks or fashionable parties. they definitely were not encouraged to become authors, much less popular authors.

Therefore Mary St. Leger Kingsley became Lucas Malet, author of some fourteen books from the late 1880's to 1930. Her father was author Charles Kingsley (Water Babies) and several years after her first book was published she married William Harrison, Minor Canon of Westminster, and Priest-in-Ordinary to the Queen.

To protect her identity, she remained Lucas Malet in print.

Lately we have come across The Gateless Barrier, Lucas Malet's seventh book. It is a paranormal historical romance, with an Preface to the reader discussing a belief of the Zen Dyhana sect, specifically Mu-Mon-Kwan, which means "The Gateless Barrier".

Malet's subject, Laurence, has had a blessed life - everything has gone his way, family, fortune, education, even recently he has acquired the perfect wife. As the book opens we meet him leaning on a ship-railing, traveling to the bedside of a dying uncle in England. His thoughts dwell on how easily everything has gone for him, without much exertion or interest on his part. And how empty it seems, when he should be delighted.

In his uncle's brooding old mansion, Laurence encounters a beautiful ghost, one who seems more intriguing than familiar. After several glimpses, he finally manages to approach her:

"Listen to me," he said. "We are strangers to one another - so strangely strangers that I half distrust the evidence of my senses, as only too conceivably, you distrust the evidence of yours. I don't pretend to understand what distance of time, or space, or conditions, separate us. I only know that I see you, and that you are unhappy, and that you search for something you are unable to find. Look here, look here - listen to me and try to lay hold of this idea - that I am a friend, not an enemy; that I come to help, not to hinder you. Try to enter into some sort of relation with me. Try to cross the gulf which seems to lie between us. Try to believe that you have found someone who will keep faith with you, and do his best to serve you; and believing that, put sorrow out of your face."

And then, hidden away in a dusty pigeonhole of an old desk, he finds the letters, dated some eighty years earlier, some still bearing rusty red stains. On his deathbed, Laurence's dying uncle asks if he has seen the spectre...

Written along the lines of Peter Ibbettson, and during the time of Spiritualism's great popularity, this book remains surprisingly readable, with a twist at the end.

The Gateless Barrier, by Lucas Malet, offered for sale, as of September 29,2009 by Chewybooks at:

Monday, September 28, 2009

When the Cossacks first surrounded the house...

How many times do you run across a line like that?

Several, if you are reading The Paderewski Memoirs.

This 1938 collection of the great composer's memoirs was told directly to the author Mary Lawton. Born in 1860 in Poland, to a mother named Polixena and a estate administrator named Jan, Paderewski lived through the tumultuous Polish revolutions and constant war with Mother Russia.

So when he says the Cossacks surrounded the house, they did:

"My country was always torn with revolution. My first childish knowledge of it was revolution, and it was in the revolution of 1863 that my father was taken to prison. It was very sad and terrifying to us, and we cried bitterly together...we could not understand it when our father was taken away from us and we were left alone.

"It was this revolution of '63 and '64 which ruined many thousands of people in Poland. Many were executed or sent to Siberia; their properties were confiscated and given away to Russian functionaries...they had been guilty of some intrigue or some participation in the propaganda against the Russian government. My father supported all that, and whatever he could do, he did.

"Suddenly the house was surrounded by Cossacks, and nobody was permitted to leave before a thorough search was accomplished. There was a large company of the Cossacks, perhaps 150 on horseback. They seemed very big and terrifying to a small boy. They completely encircled our house, and proceeded with the search. I was frightened of course, and could not realize then what was going on, and I wanted to know, to understand; so I approached the tallest of the Cossacks very timidly and asked him about my father.

"But he never answered or even looked at me."

from The Paderewski Memoirs, 1938 edition, as of 9-28-09 on Amazon by Chewybooks

Friday, September 25, 2009

When Are Men Dangerous?

In today's uber-patriotic atmosphere, sometimes it is forgotten that in every war, there have been those who believe violence is wrong, for any reason. This was true even during the Great War (World War I) and The Good War (World War II).

William Stafford, a World War I conscientious objector, published Down in My Heart in 1947, through the Brethren Publishing House.

An excerpt, set on a Sunday afternoon in spring, 1942, at an Arkansas Civilian Public Service Camp:

"When are men dangerous? We sat in the sun near the depot one afternoon in McNeil, Arkansas...Bob was painting a watercolor picture; George was scribbling a poem in his tablet; I was reading off and on in Leaves of Grass and enjoying the scene.

"When are men dangerous? It was March 22, 1942. The fruit trees at the camp farm were in bloom...we spoke of the war and of camp and of Sunday as we hiked through the pine woods and past the sagging houses. We knew our way around...our project superintendent had warned us against saying "Mr." and "Mrs." to Negores, and we had continued to use the stormy night when no doctors would come out, some of the men in camp had given first aid to a Negro woman, who husband led them through the pine woods to the cabin where the woman lay screaming. Thus we had become friends with some of our neighbors...but it was harder with others.

"When we had hiked into McNeil we had found a few men loafing around in the shade. The stores were closed...we too relaxed for our Sunday afternoon. Bob set up his drawing board; George got out his tablet and pen; and I sat leaning against a telephone pole and began to read - among dangerous men.

"It takes such an intricate succession of misfortunes and blunders to get mobbed by your own countrymen - and such a close balancing of good fortune to survive - that I consider myself a rarity in being able to tell the story...but just how we began to be mobbed and just where the blunders and misfortunes began, it is hard to say. We might have lived through a quiet Sabbath if it had not been for Bob's being an artist; or especially if it had not been for George's poem; and on the other hand, we might have become digits in Arkansas's lynching record if Walt Whitmen had used more rhyme in his poetry...

"I went back to my book, and I'll never be able to remember whether I was reading, when it happened, "Come, I will make the continent indissoluble..."

"A young man spoke, not directly to us, but to other townsmen...about us being CO's. There was more muttering, in which we began to hear the quickening words - "yellow" and "damn". At first these words the men said, about us, to each other; then the faces were turned more our way when the words were said.

"We ought to break that board over their heads," someone suggested. Several others repeated the idea; others revised the words, expanded the concept, and passing the saying along. Some spoke of "stringing them up."

"Finally to our great relief, the police car from Magnolia rolled up. A policeman was driving; a man in plain clothes was beside him. These two representatives of the law took over, got our names, and gravely considered the indictments of the crowd.

"The mob scene was over; our possessions were returned to us. At camp we doubled the night watch, for fear of trouble, but nothing happened.

"The next morning before work, we three stood before the assembled campers and gave our version of what had happened, in order to quiet rumors and to help everyone learn from the experience.

"Our camp director, a slow-talking preacher, gave us the final word: "...don't think our neighbors here in Arkansas are hicks just because they see you as spies and dangerous men.

"Just remember that our government is spending millions of dollars and hiring the smartest men in the country to devote themselves full-time just to make everyone act that way."*

*Sold yesterday from Chewybooks on Amazon, the memoir of a World War I conscientious objector: Down in My Heart, by William E. Stafford, published 1947.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book; books are well written or badly written.

My favorite Oscar Wilde quote, just in time for Banned Books Week.

I'm proud to say many of my favorite books have been regular contestants on the Banned Book list, apparently offending everyone but me.

I would have counted my childhood lacking if I had been spared To Kill A Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn or I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. At one point in our nation's questionable history, even The Wizard of Oz was removed from school library shelves.

While the common perception is that the South is most likely to produce challenges to various titles (being known as the Bible Belt with all that implies), the kneejerk reactions against books are fairly common across America.

In light of this spreading insanity, your author would like to offer a healthy alternative.

Each day, one click at The Literacy Site will help provide children with books they can keep. You, my gentle reader, can join 80,000 other world citizens each day to give books to those kids who need them the most.

Across income lines, gender, and geographic location, the one variable that affects reading scores directly is the number of books that surround a child in their home.

The Literacy Site has provided more than 1.6 million books to children - books they can keep and take home with them, for their very own.

One may presume that some of those titles were on the banned book list.

I certainly hope so.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The World of Language

"My father taught me to read. Long before I could decipher the black squiggles on a page, he had me reading the meadow and mountain woods.

"Dad taught me strategies, to look for movements, patterns, or breaks in patterns. An exclamation mark in the march became a great blue heron; the V on the river, a swimming muskrat...The shiny spot under a log became the salamander's tail; the whirling speck in the sky, a red-tail hawk. I read with fascination and glee.

"But my whole family also read in the written world. Every day Mom and Dad read the newspaper. My older sister scowled at my interruptions of Nancy Drew. Magazines and novels spilled from the coffee table, and most winter evenings, I knew I could find someone in the den, face hidden, at that moment consumed by language.

"In this house of readers, I read ravenously. I still do."

excerpt from:

Finding A Clear Path by Jim Minick

The jacket review:

"Another shining writer has emerged from the Southern landscape. Jim Minick has written an exquisitely beautiful book about his Appalachian farm, and his engagement in a life that makes sense."

Hmm....consumed by language, in a life that makes sense.

Finding a Clear Path, offered for sale as of September 15, 2009, at:

Sunday, September 6, 2009

In Need of A Modest Proposal

My daughter's current assignment to write a summary of Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal has brought to mind a most perfect modern-day counterpart.

All of the shouting, blathering and general indignation being expressed at the so-called Town Hall Meetings on health care reform and the dilemma of providing health care for every citizen, should take a note from the 1729 pennings of Jonathan Swift, who was also concerned about the tremendous burden placed on Irish society by the number of indigent children, the diseased, the aged and infirm.

Perhaps they can appreciate his satirical solution, and insist up on its inclusion in any health bill that is passed by our esteemed Congress.

General Premise: There are too many poor children, who do not contribute and are a burden both upon their parents and society as a whole.

Solution: Let's eat them.

"I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust."

Advantages to this Solution: It gives the poor a constant source of income, and young people a reason to marry.

Possible Complications: What to do about those who are old, sick or disabled? Or what of those young people who cannot find gainful employment to provide themselves with food?

Solution: Leave them alone and they'll die.

"I am not in the least pain upon that matter, because it is very well known, that they are every day dying, and rotting, by cold and famine, and filth, and vermin, as fast as can be reasonably expected. And as to the young labourers, they are now in almost as hopeful a condition. They cannot get work, and consequently pine away from want of nourishment, to a degree,that if at any time they are accidentally hired to common labour,they have not strength to perform it, and thus the country and themselves are happily delivered from the evils to come."

The author was so fond of his proposal that he begged the reader not to discuss any other solutions such as:

"... introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance: Of learning to love our country, wherein we differ ... : Of quitting our animosities and factions: Of being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing: Of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants. "

Unless, of course, there was even a "at least some glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice."

"After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion, as to reject any offer, proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual (as simply eating the children). But before something of that kind shall be advanced... I desire the author or authors will be pleased maturely to consider two points.

"First, As things now stand, how they will be able to find food and raiment for a hundred thousand useless mouths and backs.

"And secondly, There being a round million of creatures in humane figure throughout this kingdom, whose whole subsistence put into a common stock,would leave them in debt two million of pounds sterling, adding those who are beggars by profession, to the bulk of farmers,cottagers and labourers, with their wives and children, who are beggars in effect;(unemployed, with mounting debt and foreclosures)

"I desire those politicians who dislike my overture, and may perhaps be so bold to attempt an answer, that they will first ask the parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year old, in the manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunes, as they have since gone through, by the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade, the want of common sustenance, with neither house nor cloaths to cover them from the inclemencies of the weather, and the most inevitable prospect of intailing the like, or greater miseries, upon their breed for ever."

So there's a solution - for all those without health care and employment, both legal and illegal (because they are in fact an equal drag upon the country), forget the idea of providing humanitarian care and opportunity with compassion.

Let's just invite them for dinner and cut short their sufferings.

Read the complete phamplet at:

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Consummate Wordsmith

This little book is a mystery inside a mystery, by an author inside an author.

1339...Or So Being An Apology For A Pedlar is based on "the vigorous oral tradition of Welsh prose, in which the author Professor Nicholas Seare, toiled amongst the ballads, poems and tales of Welsh Mabinigion mythology".

Or not. But first, an excerpt from the book (simply because it's a great read, no matter what it's based on, or who it's written by):

"...early Christians labored under the assumption that the end of the world was at hand; as indeed it was...for them. The promise of obliteration enabled them to withstand their deprivations and self-denials, sustained by the grim conviction that there were only a few years left anyway, and that the life-lovers would soon get theirs too.

"These misguided men wasted the gift of life, covered to the lee of beauty and surprise, denied their bodies, constricted their minds, and dimmed their visions on the gamble that they were storing up treasures in heaven, albeit in small change.

"Whatever bitter disappointment the Chosen felt when the un-co-operative world did not end on cue, they had sacrificed far too much to let it go at that. Doomsdays continued to be predicted... Among the Greater Endings, A.D. 88 stands out, as does 700, 707, 770 and 777.

"...{In 1339} the Great Snow was not the only omen attending the End of the World....Stars had fallen in showers, and March had been muddled. All across north Wales good people gathered around fires and whispered of things unspeakable...

"But most amazing and foreboding of all was the mystic transportation of Llewellan, Cleric of Caernarvon. He was discovered in a sheepcote with Magin the was learned upon interrogation that they had both been spirited from their distant and lonely beds by forces best not named aloud."

The author, Professor Nicholas Seare, was actually created by Peter Trevanian.

And there's the mystery in the mystery: exactly who was Peter Trevanian? To start he was a best-selling author, who never made a personal appearance, or attended a book-signing, or agreed to an interview until 1975. Fans and web sites ran rampant speculating on his true identity. Some thought he was actually author Robert Ludlum (he wasn't), others speculated that he was a Department of Labor employee named Jack Hashian (he wasn't).

As a writer he refused to stick to a particular genre. But each book he wrote in its respective genre was a masterpiece. With each new genre, Trevanian used Method-acting to imagine himself as the author, then sat down to write his book. Each book carries itself with a unique style, particular to that book. Trevanian sold millions of books that were translated into 14 languages.

Finally, a literary gift in March of 2006 confirmed his identity: His name was Dr. Rodney William Whitaker, and he had passed away in December of 2005, in the West Country of England. He wrote under at least five pseudonyms and kept his true identity a mystery for decades. Before he turned to novels, he was a playwright, compared in one obituary to the likes of Mark Twain, with a naturally witty and graceful gift of writing "well-structured dialogue", being "ever the consummate wordsmith".

What better epitaph for a writer: "the consummate wordsmith".

1339...Or So Being An Apology For A Pedlar, First Edition, 1975, currently offered for sale as of August 22, 2009 at:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Noble Poetry

Besides Sherlock Holmes, and his devotion to spiritualism, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was also the author of Micah Clarke, His Statement as made to his three grandchildren, Joseph, Gervas and Rueben, During the Hard Winter of 1734.

Published in 1888, this copy discovered today (and not offered for sale by this bookseller, she preferring instead to retain it for her personal collection) is a 1899 edition, with a previous owners name and acquistion date).

Micah Clarke is an example of a type of novel from the German Enlightment period, a bildungsroman, or a novel that tells the lifestory of a central character while enumerating the psychological and moral forces that shape that character. The entire life span of the character is presented, with a major loss or tragedy at the beginning of the book, inspiring a long, treacherous journey, with many opportunities for growth along the way. At the conclusion of the book, the character has been successfully accepted into society, and is a shining example of moral perfection that can be achieved.

In this case, we are introduced to Micah Clarke, a young boy, who falls under the mentorship of a mercenary soldier, and manages to survive a variety of adventures. Along the way, the author presents a complete history of the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685, told from a 17th century viewpoint. (The Duke of Monmouth was the illegimate son of Charles the II who made an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow James II. Monmouth's main attraction was that he was Protestant, versus the Catholic persuasion of James II.)

From Micah Clarke:

"From the day that I first learned my letters from the hornbook at my mother's knee I was always hungry to increase my knowledge, and never a piece of print came in my way that I did not eagerly master. My father pushed the sectarian hatred of learning to such a length that he was averse to having any worldy books within his doors. I was dependent therefore for my supply upon one or two of my friends in the village, who lent me a volume at a time from their small libraries, theseI would carry inside my shirt, and would only dare to produce when I could slip away into the fields, and lie hiden among the long grass, or at night when the rushlight was still burning, and my father's snoring assured me there was no chance of his detecting me....

"There were times as I rose up with my mind full of the noble poetry and glanced over the fair slope of the countryside, with the gleaming sea beyond it...when it would be borne in upon me that the Being who created all of this and who gave man the power of pouring out these beautiful thought, was not the possession of one sect or another, or of this nation or that, but was the kindly Father of every one...

"If you, my dears, have more enlightened views, take heed that they bring you to lead a more enlightened life."

The Author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Biography of R.S.

Consider the lowly head lice.

Besides being an increasing irritant in the life of any mother with elementary age children in a public school, they are almost indistinguishable from body lice.

Hans Zinsser recognized body lice as the scourge of armies, and as the chief trasmitter of typhus. In fact, he spent his entire life studying bacteria and transmission of disease.

After developing the first anti-typhus vaccine in 1933, he authored Rats, Lice and History, still in print, and still readable (including a word with the following footnote: "If the reader does not know the meaning of this word, that is unfortunate." An educator after my own heart.)

Zinsser wrote for the Atlantic Monthly, played the fiddle, traveled the world, and eventually, while examing his own blood under a microscope, identified and diagnosed himself with chronic leukemia. Knowing his time was limited, he wrote his own autobiography in the third person: As I Remember Him: The Biography of R.S.

"An affectionate, voluble, energetic, terrierlike man, Hans Zinsser had a strong fondness for wine, women, horses, books. Two years ago, returning from a junket to China, he noticed that the sun on ship board turned him not healthy brown but lemon yellow. He knew then that there was something serious the matter with his blood. Back in Boston, he consulted a colleague and friend, who told him, with "affectionate abstinence from any expression of sympathy," that he had leukemia. Looking out at the white sails on the Charles River, Zinsser realized that he was going to die. A great lover of life, he began soon to fall in love with death.

"In his book Zinsser revealed that he was an agnostic, that he did not know what lay beyond the last door. But he said that the imminence of death had made his perceptions keener and lovelier. "When he awoke in the mornings," he wrote of himself, "the early sun striking across the bed, the light on the branches of the trees outside his window, the noise of his sparrows, and all the sounds of the awakening street aroused in him all kinds of gentle and pleasing memories of days long past. . . " *

The "R.S." was short for Romantic Self, a self-description by Zinsser himself.

As of 8-15-09, offered for sale by Chewybooks at:

*Time Magazine, Romantic Self, Monday, September 16,1940 (obituary for Hans Zinsser)