What We’re Reading: Quirky Old Gems
As you may recall from our feverish social media posts, we at Hazel & Wren tabled at the Twin Cities Antiquarian and Rare Book Fair a couple weeks ago. We lost ourselves more than a few times poking through the bookshelves for the more affordable wares, and longingly fingering those out of our price range. Oh, and don’t forget smelling the books. Hazel & I both enjoy a good sniff in these stacks, breathing in the musty, come-home smell of old books (along with all those good ol’ mold spores, too, I’m sure).
But I digress. While perusing, we unearthed some quirky old gems that got us guffawing, chuckling, and ooh-ing and aah-ing. These books got me thinking about book collecting, and how even at our age and with our limited pocketbooks, collecting is something we can do. Pat Coleman (who we interviewed about his 150 Best MN Books list a couple weeks ago) told us the key to collecting is finding your niche, your topic for collecting. Here are some books that would make excellent collection themes, and that were affordable and approachable, to boot! The first book here is one such find that I purchased at the fair for a whopping $10, while the second is another similar gem that Hazel found at a previous sale, again, extremely affordable. Shall we start collecting, anyone?
Fables in Slang by George Ade (Herbert S. Stone & Co. 1899). I love nothing more than reading the odd mannerisms and bizarre humor found in old books, and this book has both. The book is full of fables on various random subjects, complete with goofy little illustrations of the characters in the fables. The fable that made me cross the line from admiring to purchasing the book was “The Fable of the Preacher Who Flew His Kite, But Not Because He Wished To Do So.” It is hilarious. Read for yourself:
A certain Preacher became wise to the Fact that he was not making a Hit with his Congregation. The Parishioners did not seem inclined to seek him out after Services and tell him he was a Pansy [...] The Preacher knew there must be something wrong with his Talk. He had been trying to Expound in a clear and straightforward Manner, omitting Foreign Quotations, setting up for illustration of his Points such Historical Characters as were familiar in his Hearers, putting the stubby Old English words ahead of the Latin and rather flying low along the Intellectual Plane of the Aggregation that chipped in to pay his Salary.
But the Pew-Holders were not tickled. They could Understand everything he said, and they began to think he was Common.
You’re chuckling, aren’t you? Here’s another humorous tidbit, fitting for editors out there: the moral of the fable “Paducah’s Favorite Comedians” is “A Dramatic Editor should never go to a Burgoo Picnic — especially in Kentucky.” Duly noted, Sir George.
Practical Lessons in Hypnotism by WM. Wesley Cook, A.M., M.D. (Chicago Thompson & Thomas, 1901). What to expect from this book? Just take a look at the cover: blood red hardcover with an image of two floating hands hypnotizing a poor old sod. The book is flagged with post-its from Hazel, I suspect as her way of plotting how to use this age-old skill against me to do her devilish bidding. Although I’m not too worried, as Dr. Cook points out that “persons born and raised in the tropical regions are more easily hypnotized than those raised in cold climates.” (Ha, suck it, Florida!)
One of the best parts of the book is a section heading labeled “Suggestions About Dying” in the chapter “Precautions to be Observed.” Under this heading, Doc suggests that the operator control the pulse rate of their unsuspecting subject by suggesting a slower heart rate to them. However, he warns, “this suggestion may be carried too far, even to the point of causing the heart to cease beating altogether, which would mean death. But this would be difficult to accomplish in most instances. Still it is well to bear in mind the possibility of such a suggestion.” Ah, yes, thank you, wise Doc Cook! Oh, and don’t even get me started on the photographs throughout! Timeless! They show a mustachioed man (I’m assuming it to be Doc) holding his hands above subjects in various states of hypnosis, some thinking they are looking upon angels, some thinking they are holding the love of their life in their arms, when in fact, it is a skeleton. Totally creepy, right? Delightfully creepy, I say.
What quirky old gems do you have on your bookshelf? Where do you go to find these steals? (Magers & Quinn Booksellers is a great place for any locals to stumble upon some goodies.) What niche would your collection fill (or does your collection fill, if you’re already ahead of the game)?