In a surprisingly similar turn of events to last week, I have another carrier bag of books to give away to charity, and again I have a desire to memorialise/mock/mine them for cheap laughs before I give them away.
The Children’s Wonderful World Encyclopedia
Dating from 1980, one of the more notable things about this book is what it doesn’t have – an entry on computers. Clearly not considered an “important thing” by the compilers in those days. It does include three pages on apples, although no mention of Apple. Fifteen pages of dinosaurs, as even 32 years ago kids loved dinosaurs. Perhaps the most depressing entry is in Space Travel, where it promises:
“Before many years have passed, rockets will regularly carry men to the moon, and to near planets of the solar system.”
I guess we’ll just have to make do with a nuclear powered, laser wielding robot tank for the moment.
My Universities, by Maxim Gorky
The second volume of the influential Soviet’s biography, this depicts his wanderings around as an aimless twenty-something, associating with radical free-thinkers and forming the basis of the personal philosophy that would help fuel the Russian Revolution. I think part of the reason for his spending his twenties in this fashion can be found on the last page of the book:
“Then we went off to a pub for some tea.”
How can you trust a man like that?
This book also loses points for failing to even mention his zygotic mynci.
The Ecology of Streams and Rivers
Notable chiefly for this cracking line in the prologue:
“Because it is no longer possible for one textbook to cover the entire field of biology while remaining sufficiently up to date…”
So now we know – 1980 was the point at which the science of biology had advance to the point where it no longer fit in a single books. Thus the demise of the polymath.
A Hole At The Pole, by Chris D’Lacey
Children’s book in which it snows in May and a boy builds a polar bear out of snow, which then comes to him in a dream and warns him about the dangers of CFCs. I guess it’s true that if you can remember the 90s, you weren’t really there.
The Cairn Terrier originated in the Highlands of Scotland over two hundred years ago. It may be the oldest breed of terriers known. From personal observation, I can state that its natural enemies are the vacuum cleaner, and the sound of other dogs on the television.
The Vicar Of Wakefield, by Oliver Goldsmith
An eighteenth century novel, notable for being extremely popular in the 19th century and thus referenced in Emma, Frankenstein, David Copperfield and Little Women. The writer was a friend of famous lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson, who sold the novel for him in order to allow him to pay his rent. (Thus showing that reality can indeed mirror a Blackadder plot.)
The plot is relatively predictable to modern eyes, which is the problem with widely influential works like this. An independently wealthy vicar loses his independent wealth and is forced to move to a humble parish in the countryside. There, one of his daughters falls for a poor local man, but is discouraged by her parents from such a poor match, another pines for her fiancée whose family forced him to break the engagement when she became poor, and a third is courted by the local squire, who tricks her into a sham wedding so he can “ruin” her, but is thwarted at the last minute.
The story comes to a head when the family’s house burns down, and the frustrated squire still insists that they pay their rent, leading to the vicar going to prison. The vicar’s son is arrested for challenging the squire to a duel, one of his daughters goes missing and everything is going to hell in a handbasket. Fortunately though, it turns out that the “poor local man” is actually a rich relative of the squire, and so all is solved. He marries one of the daughters, the one who was pining gets to marry her original fiancée, and in what apparently counts as part of a happy ending by 18th century standards, the sham wedding turns out to be real and so the squire is actually married to the third daughter.
The main draw of this book is the style of the writing – like Wilkie Collins in the 19th century, Goldsmith seems to write like a man ahead of his time. When you consider that he was a contemporary of the odious Samuel Pepys, the clarity of his prose is amazing.
Still not a patch on his sequel, The Vicar Of Dibley though.
Baedeker’s Guide To Rome
A fairly standard guidebook, notable for the short history at the front joining in the usual character-assassination of Pope Alexander VI, and for a serious of notable quote on Rome that includes the horrified declaration from Charles Dickens that if you look at Rome from several miles away
“…it looked like – I am half afraid to write the word – Like LONDON!!!! There it lay, under a thick cloud, with innumerable towers, and steeples, and roofs of houses, rising up into the sky, and high above them all, one Dome. I swear, that keenly as I felt the seeming absurdity of the comparison, it was so like London at that distance that if you could have shown it to me in a glass, I should have taken it for nothing else. ”
Assisi (an illustrated guidebook)
Among the relics of St Sebastian in Assisi are his boots, and a piece of leather that he used to bandage his stigmata. I’m not sure how good a bandage leather makes. I also learned form this that one of the miracles of St Francis was to bring a woman back from the dead, but only so that she could make a confession, thus showing that the line between miracles and future cop technology is a thin one.
Michael Barry’s Food And Drink Cookbook
I’m glad this book clarifies that it has recipes for food and drink only, although I’m not sure how you cook drink. Among the recipes are “Crafty Fish Pie” (which is, I suppose, “well tasty”), “Vegetarian Nut Wellington” (somewhat rubbery), “Bili Bi” (a spiced dish of mussels, which includes the helpful comment “What its name means, I don’t know”) and “Mr McGregor’s Rabbit Stew” (named after the author’s fantasy of an alternate ending to Peter Rabbit where the rabbits are captured by the farmer, killed, cooked and eaten.)
San Gimagnano, The Town with beautiful towers
Poorly translated almost unreadable and vaguely threatening guidebook. A short history of the town that includes gems such as “for San Gimagnano, the destruction of walls would have been to take off clothes in the dephtes (sic) of winter” ends on this menacing note:
“ Today you are here, dear visitor, but do not expect to be welcomed with the trader’s smile on the lips of the people. Beauty, art, history are not on sale, not even sun, sky, wind and rain which play among the towers a song never composed.
Enjoy all this as long as you want; San Gimagnano will never get exhausted in the coming centuries.”
The local cathedral includes frescoes detailing the hells awaiting those guilty of Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony and Adultery, “with scenes of such realism as becomes grotesque”.
So yeah, this is definitely on my list of places to visit. I may never leave…
Of Human Bondage, by WS Maugham
Boy grows up unloved, boy meets girl, boy gets rejected by girl, girl returns pregnant by another man, boy supports girl until she runs off with his best friend, boy meets girl again after she has turned to prostitution, girl runs away, boy meets another girl, boy marries other girl.
The usual story.
Home Made Countries Wines (Beer, Mead and Metheglin)
Wait, what? No, actually, keeping this one. How can I give away a book with a recipe for Parsnip Wine?
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