Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Merry Christmas to Me!

While shopping for Christmas gifts for family and friends, I usually end up buying way too many books—especially for myself. Here I offer a little tableau, in my over-flowing library (which is also my art studio), displaying some recent acquisitions. 

With so many discount book stores on the streets and publisher's closeout catalogs arriving in the mail, at least I almost never pay full price for them.  Nowadays my favorite catalog sellers also have websites, but I get cheap, bibliophiliac thrills from perusing discount book catalogs. My favorites come from Edward R Hamilton (http://edwardrhamilton.com/) and Daedalus Books (http://www.daedalus-books.com/).  Dover Publications http://store.doverpublications.com/ is another favorite source, not discount but I always try to get their items on sale —a regular occurrence at Dover (also don't forget to sign up for weekly,  free email samples from Dover's digital images library). When in pursuit of a specific, probably out of print book, my first resource is American Book Exchange (which offers no catalog):  http://www.abebooks.com/  as well as Amazon.com (no link necessary) whose affiliate sellers also often carry those hard-to-find items.

The costume book, containing marvelously detailed engravings of mostly Teutonic 18th c dress, and the Dore Gallery (with CD-ROM) from Dover will provide inspiration and materials for collages. Also from Dover comes a book about Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. I’ve been fascinated by that event ever since reading Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.  Larson creates a masterpiece of tension that moves between the logistics of designing and constructing the splendid “white city” that housed the fair, and the nefarious activities of the charming but murderous psychopath, Dr. Holmes, who found the fair to be fertile hunting grounds for his victims (true story.)

From Daedalus came Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi; Manor Houses of Normandy, and Temple Grandin’s marvelous book, Making Animals Happy.   The Life of Pi was an impulse buy, and it looks to have been a good one. It’s one of those books written for adolescents, that, like the Harry Potter series, offers writing with depth and wit enough to keep more mature readers enthralled; the story of a ship-wrecked boy whose wits and skill enable him to survive (unlike his several animal boat-mates) at sea in a life-boat with a ravenous tiger. It contains magical illustrations by Tomislav Torjanac.

Buying books sight unseen, of course, sometimes results in unexpected encounters, as well as pleasures. Manor Houses of Normandy is a rather dry, didactic, technical study of these structures, but nonetheless there are wonderful photos  to fire the imagination. The buildings date mostly from the 18th century, yet they look to me so archaic that I thought they dated from the 14-15th c.  This book will take its place in the architecture section rather than the interiors section of my library.

Temple Grandin is an authority on animal communication who suffers from (or is gifted with) autism, apparently the source of her ability to penetrate the veil between our minds and those of the animals we love, as well as those anonymous beasts who play such a critical role in our lives. If you care at all about animals (who could not??) I heartily recommend her book, Making Animals Happy. You will discover, among other revelations, that one of the reasons cats are reviled among a certain percentage of the population, is because they do not possess the facial muscles to form expressions similar to our own, that dogs do.

Almost hidden in the photo is a book entitled Making the Metropolis:  Creators of Victoria’s London, by Stephen Halliday, which came from a recent used book sale at a local library (oh, to tell you of the treasures I have found coughed up from the dusty cellars of libraries!!)  It is the kind of fascinating study that I love to get immersed in and let carry me away to another time and place. From the jacket flap:  “Halliday’s…book shows how the ramshackle collection of communities that entered the 19th century became the world’s first metropolis.”

Finally, there is the first volume of Anthony Powell’s epic series of novels, collectively entitled A Dance to the Music of Time.  I read about these books in other books (there’s a topic for a whole other post—bibliosynergy) and have always wanted to read them. I gather they are sort of a British version of Proust, perhaps? The books cover the decades between the world wars, an era (among others) which endlessly fascinates me. So much change, so fast,  and with such devastating consequences—how did it all happen? And also producing such singular personalities, how did the people survive it—or not? There are many books which fall into this chronological span, both fiction and non, and some of my favorites include the novels of Mary Wesley and such works as biographies of Vita Sackville-West, Stephen Spender, Lady Diana Cooper, the Sitwells, Cecil Beaton, the Mitford sisters, Iris Origo, etc, ad nauseum. Oh, if only I had the time! (Which will probably be the epitaph on my urn….)


  1. Hello dear Diane,
    So glad you found something just for you when shopping for presents for others.
    The only things I've bought lately are presents. All done online. One I'm so happy with is a fossil Shark tooth for my son. Not just any old shark tooth, but from a Megdalon. Extinct for over a million years and when alive they were 40 feet plus long.
    But I did buy myself some fur boots yesterday. They probably won't be here before Christmas but something nice to look forward to.
    Hugs June xx

  2. Hi Diane. Merry Christmas! I saw the movie about Temple Grandin and thought it one of the best movies I'd seen. I'm thrilled to learn she has a book. Thanks for the tip. Lots to catch up on. Have a lovely, lovely holiday.

  3. Blimey! I though I had a reasonable collection of books, however it seems I am but a mere amateur ;)

    I'm now off to read my latest acquisition, Jonathon Strange & Mr Norrell. I think by the size of it that I may be gone some time :)

    I wish you a wonderful Christmas, and may it bring you peace and happiness.


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