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Friday, March 26, 2010

Found in Books

Found most often in book are bookmarks--those advertising bookstores, or decorative bookmarks of one sort or another.  Then there's the bookmark of convenience--ephemera either forgotten or tucked away between pages for safekeeping:  napkins, grocery lists, to-do lists, homework, recipes, money, a silver certificate, poems, love letters, condolences, tickets, boarding passes, snapshots, drawings, pressed flowers, newspaper clippings, greeting cards, postcards, comic strips, invitations, a valentine, calling cards, membership cards, coupons, letters, prayer cards, business cards, a motion sickness bag, lottery tickets, pamphlets, a page torn from a calendar, a sheet of music, a report card, envelopes, photo booth strips, doodles, notes, a quotation written in inexpert calligraphy on an index card ("There can be no rainbow without a cloud and a storm--"  The Wind in the Willows), receipts.  Some recent favorites include a bunch of hotel receipts, diplomatic invitations, and calling cards from Paris in the sixties found in a set of nice hardback Proust volumes and a poem written in ballpoint on a page torn from a spiral notebook found in You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense:

Fuck Suck Shit  Piss Fuck Suck When you feel Your life Is Zero Charles Bukowski Becomes Your hero

In an earlier post I wrote about making collages from Golden Book publications.  Here is a link to some wonderful postcards made by sometimes Pistil shelver (or un-shelver), Andrew Bleeker:  Alice Blue Review

Reading Notes

I am about two thirds the way through The Best American Short Stories 2009.  So far I've not made any great discoveries of writers whose work I want to pursue.  The two stories I like best are both set in China:  "NowTrends" by Karl Taro Greenfeld, and "A Man Like Him" by Yiyun Li.  I'm also reading the current issue of Harper's Magazine, which has a great editorial about Haiti.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Okinawa revisited

As co-owner of the store, I have to be the level-headed one around here (just kidding) and for me, this means reading a lot of non-fiction. Fiction is great n' all and more fun to write than non-fiction, mostly, but I find the world itself more fascinating than the world as interpreted. I have a bias as well: so much of fiction is either genre, which though not always, by its nature is corny, or "classic" such as the Brontes: gigantic tomes of complex social interaction and character studies spending near-lifetimes examining the minutiae of the trappings of the well-to-do. It's interesting for a bit, but who cares really? I have this bias to the gritty. Yes there's plenty of gritty fiction to be found, but I'm making sweeping generalizations here.

Thusly, I just finished reading the Okinawa Program, subtitled How the World's Longest-lived People Achieve Everlasting Health. The book's got a forward by Andrew Weil, someone I've come to trust regarding health advice generally: he's low-key, writes well and I've never seen him compromise for financial gain. The early chapters start with how this book encompasses a 25 year study, and how the subjects lives under the Japanese were very well documented. Many studies concerning aging focus on people who may or may not have good records indicating their true age. This was not the case here. Then there's lots of evidence laid out about their general health: many charts illustrating how disease rates for Okinawans are significantly and amazingly lower than that of the U.S. So how is this accomplished? Firstly, diet: Okinawans eat very little processed food, a great many fruits and vegetables, whole grains, soy products, good fats, fish, low glycemic index and high-fiber foods and foods with flavonoids -- mostly from soy foods: tofu, tempeh, miso, soy milk and textured vegetable protein. Omega-3 fatty acids are high on the list, derived most commonly from fish, but one can eat flax seed, walnuts and black currant oil also. Water intake is high, via tea and alcohol is low or nonexistent. A good many specific foods are listed also, as well as their western counterparts and there's a section on healing herbs that are commonly used. But it's not just what they eat but how: the authors suggest grazing instead of large, heavy meals, and eating a low calorie diet generally: such that the percentage of fat on the body remains low.

Then there's all kinds of lifestyle differences between Okinawans and Caucasians. Okinawans stay physically active much later, they walk, do martial arts, garden. Manual labor is considered a crucial and integral part of normal life. Older people will often work into their 90's. Older people are thought of as more valuable than in the west, and people lead lives that are a good deal more stress-free than is common here. There's a thing called Okinawa time, something I can relate to strongly myself. There's a whole section in the book on how stress kills and what to do about it: relaxation methods, attitude changes such as not being pissed all the time, the importance of mellowness as a means of respecting your body. The book ends with a lot of recipes and a thick series of appendices, the last of references. It is not the end-all to eating and living healthy, Weil, I notice says things about carbs -- bread in particular and the false "whole grain" breads in particular this book says nothing about -- but I found it to be a very well documented solid and useful read. As I approach my 1st 50 years in this mortal coil I'm making plans for my next, and the days of debauchery, frantic hijinks and sleepless grind are giving way to flax seed oil yoga and long massages. Not so bad, really.

I also came across a thin volume called the Palm Leaf Fan by Kwai-yun Li, written by a Chinese resident of Calcutta. I read about 1/2 of it; very slice-of-life stories taking place in the 1950's and 60's. I'm fond of books like this that illustrate very different cultures from a street-level perspective. This one had some good stories, but the author was a bit too good of a girl for it to hold my interest through the book. Bowles, it was not.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Double, Short, Skinny Book

We were at the University Bookstore today, and so took a look at the Espresso Book Machine, the new print-on-demand machine that's getting a lot of attention.  There's a big sign in the middle of the store with an arrow pointing to the beast.  Much like Homer Price's Uncle Ulysses' donut machine, the Espresso B.M. has plexi-glass sides so you can see into the works.  On one side there's a big printer that has normal, opaque sides.  Apparently the printed pages are stacked inside a holder which probably shakes them so they are aligned (we ourselves own an electric "paper vibrator," salvaged from a print shop that was closing), then they are perfect-bound, somehow trimmed, and spit out a chute.  The guts that you can see must be the binding apparatus, as there are many signs warning "hot" . The machine wasn't running while we were there, but the operator was posing shiny p.o.d. books around the base of the machine and taking photos of them.  The books were bound in a plain blue and white glossy paper that had a really bad chemical smell.  They didn't look terrible, but they didn't look that great, either.  As a used book dealer, I know that p.o.d.s, like all books, will eventually make their way into the used book trade, where they will be just another book, not a special magically appearing publication.  I spent a little time at the keyboard and computer screen rather awkwardly mounted on a post, typing in "Chomsky"  to see what came up on the database of  p.o.d. books.  The only ones that my search brought up were a few books about Chomsky, not by Chomsky, and they were fairly expensive, $40 and more.  I didn't see a better search page, with an author field, but wasn't really thinking about how I should be researching this carefully for the blog while I was there....
Reading Notes:

The problem with reading a book aloud with someone, as Sean and I have been doing with True History of the Kelly  Gang, is secret reading ahead by your so-called reading partner.  Yes, Sean read several chapters of the bloody Kelly story at 4 a.m. while I was asleep, and then he read some more by himself in the park on a sunny afternoon while I was away visiting my mother.  Since True History was getting a little repetitious (Ned Kelly gets into a fight and goes to gaol, time and time again), I just asked for a summary of events from him, then he read the last chapter, depicting Ned Kelly's meeting with the hangman, aloud to me.

I'm also getting tired of The End of Oil.  A blow-by-blow of OPEC's pricing strategies in the seventies just doesn't hold my interest.  I have a policy of not forcing myself to read things I start if I really don't want to anymore, so I might give up on that book.

Meanwhile, I finished Jean Thompson's Do Not Deny Me and have started The Best American Short Stories 2009, edited by Alice Sebold.  This series is a great introduction to short story writers, both established and new, who have been published in magazines for the year in question.  There's a biographical note and contributor's comments at the back of the book, arranged alphabetically by author, like the stories are, which I always turn to as I finish each piece.

We also have a subscription to The New Yorker, mainly because I was offered this extremely cheap deal of $25 for a year.  (Which has supposedly expired, but I'm still getting them.  They've been very persistent in trying to get me to renew, even telephoning. The chipper call center girl hung up on me shortly after I complained about The New Yorker having sold my name to junk mail lists.)  I like to read the restaurant review in every issue, "Tables for Two", it's called.  This column often exhibits lurid example of food porn: 

"Keenly constructed appetizers such as the charred octopus and the cauliflower soup topped with trout roe and a creamy soft-poached egg were undermined by the likes of smashed potatoes flash-fried in duck fat-- 'out of this world,' according to the waiter, but, in essence, a cafeteria's greasy spuds." 

There's a lot I don't read in The New Yorker:  much of it is local, of course, or about the Obama administration, which I have zero interest in.  And there's the time constraint - it arrives every week!  But there's usually an article or two each issue I enjoy, and of course there's the fiction. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Paper, Scissors

I like to cut up books. As a bookseller, I see thousands and thousands of "worthless" books that are discarded by their previous owners, schools, and libraries. Many of these books have lovely graphics and artwork that can easily be liberated from their imprisoning bindings with a sharp pair of scissors or exacto knife and re-used as components of a new piece of artwork. I'm particularly interested in old school books and educational materials which often depict a brightly colored world of the nuclear family and rosy future envisioned by technology and the American way of life (if you are white, heterosexual, and middle class, that is). This material easily lends itself to the collage medium which by playful juxtaposition throws into question the worldview and assumptions presented in these books.  Usually I start by sitting down with a pile of books - odd volumes of The Golden Book Encyclopedia from the sixties are particularly fruitful, and start snipping away at images I like.  It's after I have a pile of cut-outs that I move them around on a background and fit them into a composition.  Sometimes I have art brunches with a group of friends and we all sit around after fritatta and scones, cutting up books over cups of coffees.  Lots of surreal art, assemblages, calendars and even poems have arisen from this method.  More art from cut-up books can be seen here.

We are in the middle of a big book purchase - an estate of a woman who had a large and beautifully kept collection of books, with an emphasis on bird and garden books.  It's funny that this buy is happening after my last blog entry about bird and nature books.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ornithological and otherwise

A fine example of a marvelous "book as object" came across my desk the other day:  A New Guide to the Birds of Taiwan, published in Taiwan in 1976.   The book's cover is a vibrant blue printed on textured (linen?) paper, and a cool windshield-wiper-swipe shape frames the showcased cover bird.  The pages inside are a thin newsprint-like paper (often found in books printed in China and India), and features descriptions in English and Chinese of some 200 bird species, with black and white line drawings of many, and a section of color plates in the middle.  When I was flipping through this delightful book, a typed postcard dated 1979 fell out.  The postcard was from the editor of a  journal called The Condor:  "Your corrections of the spelling errors are much appreciated.  I should have caught the format of the personal names myself, and am glad you pointed it out.  Since our journal tries to be scholarly, we should be correct in all details, ornithological and otherwise."   Having been an editorial assistant for a magazine in college, in the days when typewriters were still used in offices, this bit of ephemera from the past was appreciated.

I have to say I have a soft spot for nature guide books, which by nature (ha) have lovely illustrations.  And I'm not the only one.   Surrealist painter Mark Ryden's book The Tree Show  opens with a lovely spread of tree guide books (and quite a few books on drawing trees) printed on the endpapers.  I hadn't even realized until I saw these endpapers that I had my own collection of  arboreal books growing on my personal shelves; they were kind of scattered about and hadn't been collected consciously, just randomly gathered one at a time by virtue of their graphic appeal.
Reading Notes

The reading aloud of True History of the Kelly Gang continues slowly.   We usually read after dinner on the sofa in front of the fire, or upstairs in bed.   Sean loves being read aloud to, and almost immediatley falls asleep when he gets his wish.  This makes for slow going, even though the book is pretty exciting.

I have put aside The End of Oil, planning to get back to it, and have started a book of short stories Do Not Deny Me  (that I actually checked out of the library; quite unusual) by Jean Thompson, an author I discovered only a month or so ago, who has been compared to Alice Munro.