Thursday, December 31, 2020

Bohemians, Beats, Hippies and Punks

(Updated from 2013 Post)

The mainstream comes to you, but you have to go to the underground.
     --Frank Zappa

So every generation has got to tear down the old and rebel with the new--creative destruction to borrow a term from the economists.  I'm especially fascinated by the art and music scene of Greenwich Village in the 1950s. Here's a short list of some books on my shelf on the life of the cultural underground with a heavy slant on New York.

1.  Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell (1933).  Before his success as a writer, Orwell lived in near-poverty working as dishwasher and other menial jobs.  This Mostly autobiographical, part novel, Orwell's life among the bottom rung of Bohemians in the early 1930s.  Bought new.




2.  Down and In: Life in the Underground, Ronald Sukenick (1987).   Sukenick tells the history of Greenwich Village and how this small part of Manhattan became the center of artistic life for Hipsters, Beatniks, Hippies and Punks.  Sukenick writes about some of the darker, more sinister aspects of the Village. Maps with landmarks and black and white pictures.  Bought new on a remainder rack.

3.  Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties, Robert Stone (2007).   Before novelist Robert Stone gained success as the author of Hall of Mirrors, Dog Soldiers and later books, he lived the life of a gypsy in the 1960s.  Stone was friends with Ken Kesey and witness to his rise and fall with the merry pranksters.  Good stories and no shortage of drugs.  Bought new.

4.  Burning Book: A Visual History of Burning Man, Jessica Bruder (2007).  Burning man is an extravaganza of creative, independent revelry set in the middle of Nevada's Black Rock Desert.  Bruder's book is full of color pictures on every page giving an account of how Burning Man started and illustrating what it had become.  Christmas gift from a cousin in lieu of our commitment to leave our families and attend the actual event.  











5. When Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir, Anatole Broyard (1993).  Brooklyn born and raised, Broyard went off to WWII and returned to move into Greenwich Village in 1946 and started university on the GI Bill. His adventures with the post-war avant garde, romance, pycho-analysis, and running a second hand bookstore.  Bought new at Barnes and Noble.  










6. Great Demon Kings: A Memoir of Poetry, Sex, Art, Death, and Enlightenment, John Giorno (2020).  A memoir of living in Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Giorno made a name for himself as an artist and was intimately involved with Andy Warhol and other artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement. (As of this entry, I'm waiting for the book to arrive; ordered online from Mac's Back Bookstore in Cleveland). Part of my on-going fascination with New York's art scene in the 1950s and 60s. 


Sunday, December 13, 2020

Old but Not Dead: Vintage Textbooks

Earlier I looked at vintage tour guides. Today, it's vintage textbooks. The small sample I have, I treasure. They're an example of newer isn't always better. Comparing these books of the late 1890s and early 1900s to my textbooks of the 70s and 80s I would take these. They've not only stood the test of time as well-organized, written in concise, plain English, and they even look good on your bookshelves. What stands out is that these books were also sturdy--hard covers and bindings that still hold together and must have been made for durability knowing the treatment they'd be getting from student wear and tear.

Of my four books, two were published by The American Book Company (ABC), an educational book publisher that specialized in elementary school, secondary school, and collegiate-level textbooks. They were best known for publishing the McGuffey Readers, which sold 120 million copies between 1836 and 1960.  The other two books were published by their main competitor, Macmillan Publishing, an offshoot of the Macmillan UK publisher.

1. A History of English Literature by William Allan Neilson and Ashley Horace Thorndike (Macmillan Company 1923). 
With a name like Ashlely Horace Thorndike, your destiny to is write such a history. This book, now nearly 100 years old, was owned by David H. Popper of "Shepherd 12". Some of the pages are filled with Mr. Popper's pen and ink notes. A thoughtful balance of illustrations, chronological tables,  portraits, and excerpts. Purchased for $1 but can't remember where.

2. Myths of Greece and Rome by H.A. Guerber (American Book
Company 1893).
Being Victorians there is some good commentary occasionally mixed in with the history. A favorite example, Erebus (Darkness) first act was to dethrone and supplant Chaos and then, thinking he would be happier with a helpmeet, he married his own mother Nyx. Of course with our present views this marriage was a heinous sin; but the ancients, who it first had no fix laws, did not consider this union unsuitable... .  Excellent illustrations with text supported by quotes from poets and scholars through the ages. Bought for $2, likely from the State Department Bookstore. 


3. Carpenter's Geographical Reader: Asia by Frank G Carpenter (American Book Company 1897)
. Part of a series, I only have this one, this looks like it spent some time on classroom shelves with the battle scars to prove yet still holding together. It looks like it was sold and resold ffor .25 cents, .15 cents, then I bought it somewhere for $1. 

4. The History of Greek Art by F.B. Tarbell (McMillan company
The book follows the style of Macmillan being well organized and illustrated. Solid with navy blue binding. Bought used for $4 somewhere. 

5. A School History of the Great War, McKinley, Coulumb and Gerson  (American Book Company, 1919).
  Greatly enjoy this little book although it’s designated as a school book, I probably learned more from this than some of the giant tombs on World War I. While the book is over 100 years old it presents in concise well organized format in plain English. It’s always interesting to have the perspective of a book written shortly after an event such as this one—the title alone, the "Great War, has no number behind it; they only imagined that this was the war to end all wars. And I may be a bit of a fogey here but I do think we could use these books today as an effective teaching tool. they are well-made nice compact size with maps inserted along the way and a nice chronology of events at the back.  Bought used at State Department bookstore.

Monday, December 7, 2020


If you cart your books around long enough they turn into a library but also a snapshot of your brain. I have carted some of my childhood books around long enough to see those snapshots. When I was in 11 and 12 years old I went through a World War II phase and especially a tank phase. For that couple of years, I asked for books on tanks for my birthday and Christmas. I've carted them around and pulled them out. Here’s my collection from years back plus one recent book.


1. The Tank Story: Purnell‘s History of the World Wars Special Edition (1972).
More of a magazine than a book, this was part of a series printed in the U.K. One of my first purchases during a family trip to England for Christmas when I was 11. It was perfect for me because it had a lot pictures. Price "45p". 

2. Tanks: An Illustrated History of Fighting Vehicles, Armin Halle/Carlo Demand (1971).  It starts with antiquity  including Leonardo DaVinci's designs but spends the bulk of the book on tanks from WWII. Christmas gift from my parents.

3.  German Tanks of World War II: 1926 to 1945, F.M. von Senger Und Etterlin (1969). 
With a name like the author's, you have to be destined to write a book about German tanks. More technical than you want for a 12 year old and more suitable as a reference book for a military historian. Another book I would have pestered my mother for during my "tank phase".  I remember bringing it to school and lending it to a friend who wanted to a report on tanks.

4.  Tanks and Other Armored Fighting Vehicles: 1900 to 1918, B.T. White (1970). 

Part of a series, Macmillian Pocket Encyclopedias in Color. By this time, I was getting more obscure with my "tank phase" and wonder how I picked it out. WWI takes were not as interesting as WWII tanks--they were usually big bulky mountains of metal or lightly armored cars. One of the Russian Armored cars, the Garford is shown with a Skull and Crossbones.

5. Armored Onslought 8 August 1918, Douglas Orgill, 1972.
One dollar paperback books part of Ballantine's illustrated history of the "Violent Century." Buying Ballantine books was like buying an expensive magazine. They kept coming out with them but they were only $1. 

6.  Kursk: The Clash of Armor, Jeffrey Jukes (1968).
Another in the series of Ballantine's illustrated battle books of World War II. Kursk was the largest tank battle in history that occured on the eastern front between Russia and Germany. 

7. Spearhead: The Incredible True Story of World War II's Expendable Heroes, Adam Makos (2019). This is the one recent addition I bought online and read late last year. A great first hand account of the most modern tank introduced by the Americans at the end of World War II and its duel with a German Panther in the city of Cologne Germany. I suppose this brings my 12-year-old interest in tanks full circle over 40 years later.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Mayflower Pilgrims

Four hundred years ago, religious pilgrims left England for a journey that landed on the shores of what is now Massachusetts.  I have a handful of books on the Pilgrims from the Mayflower.

1. Of Plymouth Plantation 1620 to 1647 William Bradford edited by SE Morrison (1952). 
Considered the most authoritative account about Plymouth and written by the settlement's governor and driving spiritual force, William Bradford. Bradford tells the story of the Pilgrims' first stop in Holland, their harrowing transatlantic crossing, the first harsh winter in the new land, and the help from Native Americans that saved their lives. The text was lost for a couple of centuries when it was rediscovered and published in the U.S. shortly before the Civil War. Its discovery and return can be credited with Abraham Lincoln's proclamation of a national day of thanksgiving. Editor and eminent historian, Samuel Elliot Morrison described the return to the U.S. as a "literary sensation." Found in a used bookstore but can't remember which one. Paid $3.

2.  The Plymouth Adventure the Chronicle Novel of the Voyage of the Mayflower, Ernest Gebler 1950.  A best-seller in 1950, it faithfully follows the story of the Pilgrims in the form of a historical novel. Second hand bookstore purchase and can't remember where.

3.  Winthrop ‘s journal history of New England 1630 to 1649 edited by James Kendall Hosmer, 1908, 2 Vols.  Following  the Pilgrim's, Winthrop led a second wave of colonizers from England in 1630 and served as governor for 12 of the colony's first 20 years. His writings and vision for a Puritan "city upon a hill" were the foundation for New England thinking. Christmas gift from my mother. Used with a numbered bookplate inside showing the former owner, Harold A. Ritz.

4. Mayflower Nathaniel Philbrick, 2006. Philbrick writes an accessible history of the Pilgrims, giving a contemporary account to look behind the myths that have grown up.  Bought in a used bookstore and can't remember where.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Books as Family - Part II: Books as Family Artifacts.

With the little mars of ownership and inscriptions, books can be transformed into something more than their content. They can symbolize a moment in time for the family member and the book. Here are a few examples from my library: 

1. A Wonder-Book Tanglewood Tails and Grandfathers Chair by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1883).   The inscription in this book marks a moment in time for my grandmother then Dorothy Haynes, who received it as a Christmas gift in 1907 from her aunt Loucella. My grandmother would have been 12 years old at the time living in Sandusky, Ohio at the Ohio veterans home where her father was the chief surgeon. I try to imagine her Christmas morning where she opens the book around a Christmas tree with her for brothers and parents. This was part of a Riverside set of books that was popular at the time one of 13 volumes of Nathaniel Hawthorne‘s work. 

2.  Napoleon,  Emil Ludwig 1926. The inscription on this book shows it it was given to my grandfather John Whitworth from “mother and father" on his 33rd birthday. He would’ve been working as the treasurer at the American Crayon Company at the time. Even though the inscription says it’s from mother and father his father had passed away 20 years earlier. With a gift, I wonder if his mother knew he was interested in Napoleon or took a chance and thought he might like it.

3.  How to Win friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie, 1936. One of the best selling books of all time this would’ve been in my grandfathers library. The reason I noted it that my mother, who would have been about three at the time, scribbled inside the front cover. I’m wondering what my grandfather would’ve thought when he found those scribbles perhaps he secretly treasured them as a sign of his daughters future creativity. 


3. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, James George Frazer (1951). This was a book from my mother's college days at Wooster College when she was intending to major in Anthropology. Inside on the free end paper is a custom-made book plate with her maiden name and a black and white wood carving of the family home at 621 Wayne St. in Sandusky, Ohio. This is a seminal work on the study of religion and myth and I try to imagine her reading this in the college library.


4. The Opposing Self, Lionel Trilling 1959. This is a book of essays in criticism about the romantic image of the self in literature. The book reflected a change in my mothers intellectual interest after she transferred from Wooster to Michigan State and changed her major to English literature. She had graduated and married my father. What makes this book an interesting artifact is the moment in time where she used it to make a list of things to do in her day. One was to call a hairstylist Mrs. Call and the other was to return a maternity booklet to someone named Catherine. This would have been soon after my mother had given birth to my older sister Ann.


5. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, Ludwig Von Mises (1966). This was one of my fathers books and marked with a pre-printed address label on the free end paper. This is not a light read but an 883-page treatise by a an Austrian economist. I’m trying to imagine my father having a deep intellectual life with an economic book when I was five years old and my sister was seven while he was working as a salesman for metals foundery in Sandusky Ohio. One small coincidence with this book is that in his 80s, he pointed out the book on his shelf and told me that he kept a small stash of cash maybe $300 in its pages and that I should remember that if something ever happened to him. When he died and I was packing up his apartment, I remembered to look for the cash before putting in the packing box. There was a comforting coincidence about the idea of finding hidden money in a treatise on economics. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020


I’ve been lucky to inherit a handful of books that have come down through the generations on my mother’s side of the family. I think of these books as extensions of family members I never knew but can still understand their thoughts and interests. I try to imagine the life of the ancestor with the book. One day, the book was deliberately selected, or given as a gift, and then read by its owner. Their owners died and the books were taken down from shelves packed up and taken to a new home where they may have been read by the descendant of the owner. They are particularly special because they show the owners added their name to the book.

This is to share what I have in two parts: books of the times and books as artifacts of a life.

Part One: Spiritualism at the End of the 19th Century

Spiritualism flourished in England and America in the 1840s to the 1920s. By the end of the 1800s, spiritualism was said to have more than eight million followers mostly from the middle and upper classes. Three different families on my mother side were all interested in the spiritual. Here are their surviving books from that time:



1. Visions of the Beyond, by a Seer of To-day; Symbolic Teachings from the Higher Life, edited by Herman Snow (1888). This book was owned by my third great uncle, John Cowdery who was one of the founders of the American crayon company in Sandusky, Ohio. The editor of this book, Mr. Herman Snow, says that he transcribed the happenings of various seances  conducted by a "mediumistic", Mrs. Anna D. Loucks. The book is stamped on the inside page as belonging to “J.S. Cowdery Sandusky, O.”


2.  Mysteries Unveiled: The Hoary Past Comes Forward with Astonishing Messages for the Prophetic Future, William a Reading (1896). The book was owned by my great grandfather, John Whitworth, with his last name penciled in the inside page. It is filled with many diagrams and etchings from early biblical times including pictures of the ark of the covenant and diagrams of the great pyramid of Egypt. I don’t know the significance of “No. 9” is but it was symbolic in the Bible as being a symbol of finality. 

3.  This Mystical Life of Ours, Ralph Waldo Trine (1907). This book was owned by my great aunt, daughter of John Whitworth, with her name was Mary Curtis Whitworth stamped on the inside cover. Trine organizes the book in 52 lessons, one for each week of the year, intended to guide readers through the power of the “ infinite” with lessons like The Law of Attraction and The Law of Prosperity. The book also has a book mark from the book seller in Sandusky, Ohio, telephone 5636.

Next installment: Books as artifacts.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Round on the Edges, High in the Middle

As I buy more books, I'm updating some past lists. Here's one from 2012 with a few additions. Thought this one timely since every presidential election year, Ohio gets some time to be the big man on the Electoral College Campus. And remember, lists are random and incomplete samples of what's on my shelf at a moment in time.

I learned the hard way moving to the east coast that Ohio was the Rodney Dangerfield of states. Telling an east or west coaster you’re from Ohio was a guaranteed death-knell to any conversation. The usual response is "oh" followed by an excuse to find the bar for a refill. You may even feel you are suddenly invisible. This is because we lack distinctive identities. There’s no aura of New York sophistication or the hipness of California or Seattle or intellectual superiority of Cambridge. We can’t charm folks with lilting accents, distinctive hats and boots or entice pastoral romantics with our picturesque fall calendars (even though our less showy maples spew out more syrup than all those cute little New England states combined). We don't have in your face bumper stickers (what is it about Texas that we're not supposed to mess with?) And we don’t have distinctive, over-spiced cuisines with colorful names like "jumbuliah."  There’s just nothing flashy a Buckeye can show off to get a conversation out of first gear.  Here's a few books that I've collected to show the hidden beauty of the first Midwest state. 

Barnstorming Ohio: To Understand America, David Giffels (2020). Giffels looks at Ohio’s history and influence on the national culture. Bought online from an independent bookstore in Mansfield, Ohio (now closed). 



The Hard Way on Purpose, David Giffels. (2014). Profiles the city of Akron following the economic bust. Bought three copies online; two for friends and one for me. 


The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West, David McCullough (2019). McCullough tells the story of the families that migrated from New England to create one of Ohio’s first thriving towns moving west with a spirit of invention.   


Ohio Town, A Portrait of Xenia, Helen Hooven Santmyer (1984). Blending history and memoir of small town Ohio to show a snapshot of how small towns thrive and reinvent themselves. Reminiscent of Thorton Wilder's, Our Town and Sherwood Anderson's, Winesburg, Ohio. Paperback disintegrated and replaced with a hard copy bought online.


Family, Ian Frazer (1994).  New Yorker contributor Frazier weaves a fascinating family from the small northern Ohio town of Norwalk, Ohio.  He turns his family story into a fascinating saga. Bought as a remainder at Kramer Books and Afterwards in Washington, D.C. Norwalk is located one county east of the book below.

Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson (1919).  Coming of age for a Midwestern boy, set in the fictional town of Winesburg (a fictional name for Anderson's boyhood hometown, Clyde, Ohio).  

Ohio States: A Twentieth Century Midwestern, Jeffery Hammond.  Hammond's growing up was done in the the northern Ohio landscape of flat farmland and gritty rust belt cities.  Hammond's writing is strong enough show the idyllic side of growing up in a small town and restlessness that eventually comes with leaving.  

Out of the Midwest, Johnathan T. Frederick (1944).  A collection of stories running from the western edge of the Appalachians to the Great Lakes to Great Plains.  

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Frumious Bandersnatch!


For a couple of semesters in college I worked at the on-campus student coffee shop, The Bandersnatch, named after the creature in Lewis Carroll's famous nonsensical poem, Jabberwocky. When you work inside a Lewis Carroll nonsense poem, you start to take nonsense seriously. While I was toasting bagels and brewing coffee, I thought about it enough to create my own incomplete, nonsense hierarchy. (The lists here reflect my myopia with modern pop culture.)

1. Understandable Nonsense. "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously," is a sentence composed by the MIT Professor of Linguistics, Noam Chomsky, and the best example I can think of as nonsense where the words are all understandable but whose meaning is nonsensical. This category is not a lot of fun, mostly because it seems to be the playground for academics to make linguistic arguments. 


2. Mixed-Up Nonsense. Second degree of nonsense would be a mix of the understandable and made up. Carroll's 1855 Jabborwocky is what I think of -- writing that is grammatically correct and partially understandable but filled with lot's of made-up, fun words. 
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe. 
I don't know what a slithy tove is but the sound of the words along send me a direction I can conjure up an image of something amphibian-like. 
Carroll's contemporary, Edward Lear, wrote a whole book of nonsense including poems, short stories, songs, drawings, alphabets, and even botanical drawings. 
Over a century later, this was fertile ground for writers of pop-songs.
The Chrystals had a Top Ten Billboard it with The Da Doo Ron Ron 
    I knew what he was doing when he caught my eye
    Da do ron-ron-ron, da do ron-ron
    He looked so quiet but my oh my
    Da do ron-ron-ron, da do ron-ron

And the pop music variations go on and on. The De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da by The Police gets a special mention with Sting being self-aware enough to expressly call out the meaninglessness of the words.
    De do do do, de da da da
    Is all I want to say to you
    De do do do, de da da da
    They're meaningless and all that's true
Sting had been playing with mixed non-sense starting as early as their first album, Outlandos d'Amor with the track Masako Tango, most of which are nonsense words.
Key wo wa di com la day wa da
Co wa da zu ma pu wa all day
See po wa ta na po ba ba
Zoe ka mo wa I've been sleepin' all day

John Lennon filled some of the Beatles most memorable songs with Mixed-Up Nonsense like I am the Walrus
    I am the egg man
    They are the egg men
    I am the walrus
    Goo goo g'joob

3. Total Nonsense. Here's where there are no recognizable words and, while it might feel grammatically coreect, it's not like a foreign language where you can find a translation because there are no translations. The best example I can think of is the Dada poet, Hugo Ball, who in 1916 wrote a poem, Karawane, consisting of nonsensical words. Some commentators called it a "sound poem."  Here's the opening verse
    Gadji beri bimba clandridi
    Lauli lonni cadori gadjam
    A bim beri glassala glandride
    E glassala tuffm I zimbra 

The Talking Healds revived the poem in their 1979 song I Zimbra, from their album Fear of Music. Ball received a writing credit for the song on the track listing. If you want to say you've seen everything on the internet, you can watch a video of Marie Osmond reciting Karawane.
John Lennon added his own pure nonsense to the Abbey Road song, Sun King with the lryics:
    Quando para mucho mi amore de felice coraz√≥n
    Mundo paparazzi mi amore chicka ferdy parasol
    Cuesto obrigado tanta mucho que canite carousel

The lyrics sound like a romance language just out of reach but were in fact total nonsense.

There's a lot more nonsense out there for another day but for now I've got to Gimble in the wabe.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Nonsense Amusements










Plato at the Rave

Welcome to the rage cave
both old and odd

Dark Rebellion

In front of the crowd
he threw the detached claw
into the maw
and turned his back  
on stone monkey gods
with flames for eyes


Ready for bed
gashed my head
filled with dread

Furniture and Nothingness

What’s good
for the discount furniture store
is good for the nihilist
Everything Must Go!

Throw in Bad Alliteration

I destroyed the dessert
for the deserving desert party
At dawn it was desultory

Fade to Black

You’ll know it’s the end
when light sneaks away  
the space 
vacant for darkness.

Let’s Have Halloween License Plates

Slogan: First in Fright!

Perverse Boast

He sang
My spinster sister
the sinister usurper

Mark Your Calendars

On Opposite Day
I’ll watch my basement TV
in the attic.

Could it be a Song?

His brain was original
His heart was not
like all the others
it was broken.

Cut Grass

Sounds of the lawnmower
someone nearby  
is maintaining order.