Thursday, December 06, 2007

Browsing Bound Ink Blots

Going through books donated to the Hillsdale Book Sale (this Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Watershed Senior housing building), I was drawn to an odd assortment of titles.

My attraction served as a kind of literary Rorschach test, circa Dec. 2007.

Here are the blots of ink I chose to browse.

A 1977 edition of “Playboy’s Book of Backgammon,” with a forward by none other than Hugh Hefner. To quote Hefner: “Backgammon is an oddly moral game. It punishes self-deception.”

A 1953 Landmark Books edition of “Thomas Jefferson, Father of Democracy” by Vincent Sheean. I vaguely recall reading this “young readers’” book when I was 11 or 12. Could this tidy little, illustrated volume with its big, scholastic type have been formative? Chapter 1: "He was over six feet tall when he was seventeen years old—a rather awkward boy, with carroty red hair and freckles, a pointed nose and chin. You would never have called him handsome, and yet...."

Two Lewis Thomas books, “The Medusa and the Snail” and “The Fragile Species.” You can never get enough of Lewis Thomas, the self-described “biology watcher.”

“Flu,” subtitle, “The story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused it.” By Gina Kolata, who's name sounds suspiciously like one of those exotic Hawiian drinks. Never mind. Thoughts of the 1918 flu pandemic take me back 20 years to one of those random English rambles that delivered me to a country parish graveyard, There I found myself staring at four rows of 16 military graves. The markers read that the graves belonged to Aussie soldiers who died in 1918 not in the horror of battle but in the agony of the Great Flu Pandemic.

“Oregon Geographic Names” by Lewis L. McArthur. 1984 edition. I’m surprise at how many times I have trundled down to the Hillsdale Branch Library to look up some nominal oddity in this book by my neighbor up the hill. What a treasure. From the “Hillsdale” entry: “The name Hillsdale has been in use since pioneer days, and is quite suitable for the place. Hill is from the old Anglo-Saxon hyl, and the Norse holl. Dale means a small valley. It comes form the same source as dell, and the German thal and Slavonic dol.” Now you know.

“An Army at Dawn” by Rick Atkinson, about the 1942-1943 North African campaign. I had read somewhere that this Pulitzer Prize winner was powerfully written. A dip into it did not disappoint. “September 1, 1939, was the first day of a war that would last for 2,174 days, and it brought the first dead in a war that would claim an average of 27,600 lives every day, or 1,150 an hours, or 19 a minute or one death every 3 seconds….”

“Poor Richard’s Almanacks” by Benjamin Franklin illustrated by, get this, Norman Rockwell. Coffee-table format. What price can you place on this: “If you’d know the Value of Money, go and borrow some”? Or “In the Affairs of this World Men are saved, not by Faith, but by the Want of it.”? The price of "Poor Richard" at the book sale, a Franklin-esque $2.

There’s more, but somehow that’s enough.

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