Monday, November 18, 2013

W46: The Leisure Hour

After this week, I’m more convinced than ever that the Biblio-Mat has a darker sense of humour than I do. Having to pack for a cross country trip, I needed to get two books from the machine to keep to my schedule so it decided to give me last week’s 594 pages of goodness and this:

Yep, that's a quarter.
The Leisure Hour may have well been called The Leisure Month, because at 764 pages of tiny text it was a beast of a timesink. Published in 1883, this tome appeared to be the collected issues of a year’s worth of The Leisure Hour, a magazine akin to Reader’s Digest with one crucial difference – no author names were published. With a gorgeous forest green embossed cloth cover and gilded text, it screamed antiquarian relic that would classy up any bookshelf. For a hundred and thirty year old book, it was also in amazing shape, probably due to having never been read all the way through till now.

The worst part about this book was that it came at the most inconvenient time. Flying to Vancouver and driving back across the country to Montreal was daunting enough but doing it while lugging this book along with the previous week’s was just plain punishing. Travelling light was not an option since it was an extra eight pounds of paper between the two books but at least it provided some distraction on the flight and drive since it was quite the random read.

I did take the train back from Montreal so this section was relevant.
For most trips I tend to have a short attention span due to the nature of travelling so in this sense, The Leisure Hour fit the bill perfectly. Composed of short stories, anecdotes, quick snippets of informational instruction, poems, and editorial articles, it was very much a pick up and go book. With most pieces in the book falling between two to five pages, it was actually quite digestible despite the sheer number of pages. While I had never been a huge fan of Reader’s Digest, something about The Leisure Hour captivated me.

Perhaps it was the redundancy, perhaps.
Part of this was no doubt the way it looked. This was magnificently decadent, which was not that surprising as the magazine most likely had a fairly large following and thus had the support to produce a solid anthology. It could not have been cheap to purchase and this particular volume had “To Aggie, From Phebe, Xmas 1883” written inside.

What was most striking about this book were the engravings that populated almost half the pages. While the only coloured one was the frontispiece, there were eleven that were printed on thicker toned paper and numerous that were scattered across the stories and articles. These ranged from scientific illustration to simple doodles to maps to ridiculously detailed etchings that must have taken hundreds of hours to produce.

The full colour was seriously impressive.
For the contents itself, The Leisure Hour was all over the place. Luckily, I had a solid week of traveling to read it all. The anthology opened with a story called ‘The Old Man’s Will’, which would soon turn out to be part of the framework of the collection. When I started reading it, it ended abruptly with four chapters that totaled thirteen pages. The next forty-one chapters would unfold in nine parts scattered throughout, turning it into the longest serial in the book. With a style reminiscent of Jane Austen, it told the tale of a young girl caught up in a love triangle of sorts with suitors from a wealthy family.

Vintage rom-coms.
Despite my disdain for melodramatic romance, I did find myself becoming excited when another piece of the serial popped up and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get drawn into the story. Alas, just when the girl appeared to finally begin to fall for the right man, the story cut out at the end of the anthology. Despite my efforts, I couldn’t find any information on this story as no authors are credited in The Leisure Hour so it appears that I will need to find the 1884 edition to find out what happens. Worst cliffhanger since The Wheel of Time.
The rest of the book was tame by comparison but still quite entertaining. Travel and revelations into other cultures made up a good portion of the editorial articles, probably since much of the world was still considered to be exotic in this time period. Surprisingly, the articles weren’t as unknowingly racists as I would have imagined, but did still had an undertone of considering most of the non-white cultures as savages.

Russians, though, were still cool.
Also enlightening were the educational entries describing how things, such as newspapers, were made and how professions, such as lawyers, work. This not only provided a look into the history of these items and people, but also the society at the time and how they were perceived. Scattered throughout were also various poems that seemed to have been almost included as filler to fix the white space on columns. While not fantastic, it did provide nice breaks from the blocks of encyclopedic text in some sections.

The art was hands down the best part.
All in all, if I hadn’t had a week and a half to spend reading this, I probably would not have enjoyed it as much since you really do need time to digest the almost five hundred pieces of writing. Despite the abundance of illustrations, it was still a heavy read, made heavier when I eventually track down the next volume.

Book rating: 9/10 (Beautiful book, entertaining content, random goodness)

Random quote: “’Forgive me,’ he resumed gently. ‘I thought I was seeking your future happiness.’” (Pickup lines circa 1883)


  1. I'm impressed that you managed to finish that one. I love the craftsmanship. Too bad books nowadays are not as beautiful. Loving your blog by the way!

    1. Thanks! The Leisure Hour was definitely a work of art. Of all the books I've received from the Biblio-Mat it's probably the most impressive due to the size and detailing on the cover. Unfortunately I can't find anything on any other volumes so I may never know how that love story ends...

  2. I, also, enjoy your blog and am so very glad I discovered it via an article about you and your Biblio-Mat adventure written in the McLeans magazine...I tell most everyone about you and hope they will read your writing.