Tuesday, December 31, 2013

W52: Catalogue of the Books, Manuscripts, Works of Art, Antiquities and Relics Exhibited in Shakespeare’s Birthplace

As the final book of this year long project, I feel there is something symbolic about this week’s Biblio-Mat piece.

Even the acronym
Despite having the longest title of any Biblio-Mat book thus far, Catalogue of the Books, Manuscripts, Works of Art, Antiquities and Relics Exhibited in Shakespeare’s Birthplace was actually a simple book compiled by Frederick C. Wellstood. With a grey paperbound cover bearing a black and white seal stating that it was published by the Trustees and Guardians of Shakespeare’s Birthplace, the 164 page book was in great condition considering it was published in 1925.

Welcome to Cribs - circa 1500's.
CotBMWoAAaREiSB was a fitting end to this year. It encapsulated the great range of feelings experienced through the year-long project with the wonderment of literary history and book-related antiquities representing the best of times and Shakespeare on the other end of the spectrum. Yep, still not a fan of the guy’s plays. Fortunately, this book was less about his works and more about his life and the world surrounding him.

The first thought upon looking at this book was that it would be a long read since catalogues generally did not exude thrills and excitement, not even when it’s music related. CotBMWoAAaREiSB, though, was actually more of a history book on Shakespeare than a traditional catalogue. True to its name, the book did seem to list every single item in the house that Shakespeare was born in, but instead of just simply listing the objects, the book has a blurb about each entry describing the item and giving a short history about it.

Not always useful history, but history nonetheless.
While there were a bunch of images scattered throughout, the majority of the catalog entries did not have accompanying photographs, which was terrible since they seem to have been written to be paired with visuals. Referencing different attributes of the items made it a frustrating read at times as curiosity was baited without any payoff. It was like walking through an exhibit where all the items were stolen and all that were left were the information labels describing the things that made the objects interesting. Perhaps it was an elaborate ploy to force readers to actually visit the birthplace.
Actually a ballin' house.
Leading with a floor plan of the house, the book combed through every inch of the birthplace, room by room. Funny enough, the first few pages of entries were on items placed there well after Shakespeare’s time – portraits of Shakespeare historians, playbills of his plays from much later performances, and a bill of sale of the house that ultimately placed it in the hands of the Trustees. Seeing how his birthplace is now a museum, there were a lot of these types of entries in the book.
Also, maces. Lots of maces.
Moving further into the house, the focus turned to household items. While it was unclear if the pots, pans, and other fireplace paraphernalia were actually used by the Shakespeare family or just reproductions, the entries did describe how each item was used by the people of the time. After the kitchen section, I now feel confident in my ability to cook a meal properly if I ever find myself stranded in the 1500’s.

Also my ability to build a school desk.
It wasn’t until the book got to the Inner Room of the ground floor that we are presented actual items from Shakespeare’s life. Being the house that Shakespeare was born in, there were a lot of documents surrounding his parents, John and Mary. With items ranging from the bill of sale of the house to John to notices of petty fines, it was surprising that this much documentation survived intact all these years since they were from before William was born. It was like they knew their son would grow up to be the most famous writer of all time so they kept all the paperwork they ever encountered to document his heritage. Or maybe they were just hoarders.

The later parts of the book became more like a traditional catalogue as they reach the museum portion of the house. With random relics from the period, the objects strayed away from William Shakespeare and more towards general society in the 1500’s. The entries on the documents also jumped back and forth between Shakespeare and works by other authors and playwrights, which were sometimes tied together but mostly placed in the museum to break the monotony, or so I would assume.

Not pictured: The Art of Spelling.
As the final book of this year, it was a respectable read and tied up the project in a nice way as this blog itself is like a partial catalogue to the Biblio-Mat. And since I already used the clip of Blackadderpunching Shakespeare in the face, I will end on this clip instead:

Book rating: 8/10 (Interesting but not very entertaining)

Random quote: “dated April 29, 1552, recording that Humfrey Reynolds, Adrian Quyney and John Shakysper, were fined 12d. each for having made a dirt heap (sterquinarium) in Henley Street.” (Can’t even make this stuff up)

Signing off on 2013, I think I’ll post a recap of the year in the next few days once my weary eyes have rested.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

W51: Omar Khayyam Revisited

The Biblio-Mat offering this week
Was a poetry book I did once seek.
How fitting it now falls into my hands…
Could not wait to flip open for a peek.

Actually quite a beautiful cover.
The Omar Khayyam Revisited book,
Printed 1974, took
The translator, Hakim Yama Khayyam
67 pages of words to cook.

This book was an interpretation
Of an old work from the Persian nation:
The poet went on a drug vacation.

The visions begin...
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, for
Those that did not know, was a poem of yore.
Or actually a collection of
About a thousand verses, less or more.

The inscription. Dying to know what this "acceptance" is...
Every verse was a quatrain of wordplay,
A simple rhyme scheme of AABA.
Ten syllables in each line that formed the
Pentameter pattern of olden day.

And thus began the tripping of the out.
Other poets created new pieces by
Choosing some select verses on the fly
And reinterpreting them to find a
New take on a message that went awry.

In this contemporary piece I hold,
A different interpretation was told.
Through sixty-seven verses it explained,
How the first Khayyam was substance-controlled.

Written in the '74. Sultan indeed.
The old story that was once about love
Was retold as a tale consisting of
Re-imagining the great journey as
A quest to getting higher than above.

Or at least getting into a Tim Burton world.
In a lot of lines in a lot of blurbs
Was the mention of plants, greens, grass, and herbs.
A love of flora words? Perhaps… except
They were preceded by ingesting verbs.

So... basically smoke when you have nothing to do.
Happiness, this translator did imply,
Comes from enlightenment by getting high.
Smoke some nature to enjoy some life and
Your consciousness will float into the sky.

"When I die, roll me up like a joint."
Even the famous line was changed (and how!)
“A jug of wine, a loaf of bread - and thou”,
Despite being quite well known, did become:
“A lid of grass, a book of verse and thou”.

Marijuana, rolling papers, and you?
Subtle as black smoke rising from a flue.
Though with tons more verses like this, perhaps
The true Omar Khayyam was coming through.

Or maybe it's crack. Yep. Them be crack visions.
Funny though, midway into the poem
The translator, Hakim Khayyam, did stray
From the established format on display,
And the rhyme scheme changed to BAAA.

It was an interesting read indeed.
The gorgeous drawings really did succeed
In conveying the hallucinations
Of a spirit released and a mind freed.

Giving Rorschach tests to people who are high will always be amusing.
This review was tough to write from the start,
But one must always suffer for the art.
I do apologize, but being late
Was the difference between clever and smart…

Book rating: 8/10 (The translator phoned it in on a few verses but otherwise interesting take on a classic)

Random quote: “There was a door to which I found no key. / There was a veil past which I could not see.” (Story of my life…)

Monday, December 16, 2013

W50: Le Pages’s Petit Lecteur Des Colleges

This week’s Biblio-Mat book came as both a welcomed respite from the massive texts of late and a much needed primer on my third language.

Short and sweet.
Le Page’s Petite Lecteur Des Colleges was a tiny textbook of 174 pages with a regal cover of gold lettering on hunter green pressed-cloth. Embossed and stained with ink spots, it looked antiquarian at first glance but that still did not prepare me for the surprise of finding out that it was printed in 1863.

Curious to know how many of these they had.
This particular copy of Le Page’s Petite Lecteur Des Colleges was actually an ex libris of the Royal Military College of Canada and bore various stamps of such. At a hundred and fifty years old, the book was in amazing condition considering that it was a textbook that would have been read multiple times. The author was simply listed as Monsieur Le Page and though it was pocket-sized, it contained far more useful information than any of the recent reference books from the machine.

Pocket-sized companions!
Over the last year I have been slowly picking up my French from where Grade 11 lessons left off. Partly because my closest friend is from Montreal, partly because it’s in my Canadian heritage, but mostly because I want to experience French books and films without losing anything to translation. It was a tossup between French and Latin but the former was chosen over the latter since French is probably a more useful language to learn than Latin on account of it not being dead and all. Recently, I’ve been picking up theory through Duolingo and practicing it by reading through Boris Vian’s L’écume Des Jours so Le Page’s Petite Lecteur Des Colleges could not have come at a better time.

This was the most basic part.
Le Page’s Petite Lecteur Des Colleges or “The French Reader” was an intermediate textbook for learning French. Given our country’s history, it made sense why this title would find its way into a military college. Beginning with a fairly in-depth 16 page pronunciation guide, the book skipped the standard grammar lessons and jumped straight into short stories, which was a refreshing change. While the pronunciation guide was a nice touch, the examples they used were quite obscure, such as “ao” being pronounced like the ô in Saône, so the usefulness of this section was questionable at best.

Completely dug the randomness.
The stories themselves, though, were quite entertaining and short, with the longest ones reaching four pages. The topics ranged greatly from biblical tales to short stories on romance to heartfelt introspections about family life so there were a nice variety of styles and subjects. The language was kept so clean and simple that I could comprehend about 80% of the earlier stories without much struggle, which made it a pleasant read that was still challenging enough to hold attention. As the book progressed, though, the later chapters ramped up fast and I found myself looking up more and more words.

All glossaries should be placed where they're most accessible.
The absolute best aspect of the book was that at the end of each story there was a condensed glossary with quick definitions of all the new words from that chapter. With the glossary right there, it was easier to put the new vocabulary words back into context as I didn’t have to dig through pages at the end of the text to find a definition like in most textbooks.

Never heard of the award but prestigious nonetheless.
The end of the book was interesting upon itself as it contained a 12 page catalog of Mons. Le Page’s other educational books as well as all the other books that the publisher, Weale’s Series, also carried. The publisher had won a medal at an international exhibition in 1862 so there was high amount of touting of their works, which turned out to cover a wide range of subjects spanning self-taught agriculture to mathematical theory to structural engineering.

Like an olden day 'For Dummies' collection.
All in all, Le Page’s Petite Lecteur Des Colleges was definitely a keeper both as a reference book and as a book for pleasure reading. With a simple structure that eschewed all the fluff that modern textbooks have, it succeeds in delivering exactly what is needed and nothing more if you want to improve your French reading comprehension.

Book rating: 9/10 (Simple and elegant in so many ways)

Random quote: “X sounds like gz in Xavier, Xénophon, Ximenès, etc. It sounds so, too, in ex beginning the word and followed by a vowel or h mute, as in examen, exercise, exhorter.” (Les exemples sont terribles)

Monday, December 9, 2013

W49: Birds of Western Canada

Continuing the theme of thick texts that could be used as weapons of bludgeoning, this week’s Biblio-Met book hit home with a slice right out of my childhood.

Aged just like it should.
Published in 1928, Birds of Western Canada was a 356 page reference book by P. A. Taverner. The $2.00 listed price adjusted for inflation would put it at about $26.00, which was surprisingly affordable for a textbook quality book like this. With a battered cloth cover and a spine that was falling apart, this was the first book from the Biblio-Mat that looked like what a book almost a century old should look like. The title on the cover, though, read like it was hand doodled by a circa 1990 me trying to create a new font between block text and bubble lettering.

Comic sans in 1928.
Birds of Western Canada begins with an introduction stating the objective of the book, which one can only assume were for those people who blindly pick up books without reading covers. Once it was established that this was indeed a book about Canadian birds, it continues on to give a brief summary of nomenclature, migration, protection, and ways to attract them, which all happen in the span of sixteen pages. Another five pages were spent densely listing what appears to be every single text on Canadian birds printed up till 1928 before getting to the heart of the book - 320 pages of encyclopedic entries on Western Canadian bird species.

By royal decree. Or at least royally permitted.
It should be noted that “Western Canada” in this book meant everything west of the Ontario border, which lumps the prairies in with the West Coast. As such, there were a lot of species covered that I had not even heard about in British Columbia. Set up with a peculiar table of contents that had illustrations of some characteristic of a random bird, the listings were not ordered by region or alphabetically. They were, however, grouped by family and related subspecies. Funny enough, the index had the species names listed in French next to the English, which makes for a great translation tool if you ever want to discuss bird taxonomy in Quebec or New Brunswick.

Goatsuckers: stuff of nightmares.
Each entry was about half a page long and was broken down into headings, which made it very easy to read and digest. Starting with a quick background followed by entries on distinction and markings, nesting habits, distribution, and a small illustration of the head, it presented a quick and concise snapshot of each bird species. Interspersed through were also eighty-four colour plates that were exactly what one would picture to be in a 1920’s encyclopedia.  

Cormorants: colourful stuff of nightmares.
The most interesting aspects of these entries were the information on some entries that dated the book. For instance, the American Goshawk’s entry on its diet came from a study of twenty stomachs, which seems hardly enough for a school project sample size let alone a published piece of scientific work. The entry on Williamson’s Sapsucker simply ended with “Too rare in Canada, and so confined to the wilder elevations to as to have little economic influence”, which pretty much translates to “We can’t find them, so they’re probably not a huge deal”.

Feather details are also not a huge deal.
What the book did do well, though, was outline the need for conservation and protection of endangered species. Sadly, most of the endangered species called out in are still endangered and the Eskimo Curlew has gone extinct since the publication of the book. There is some progress made, though, in a few species like the Whooping Crane where conservation efforts over the years have led to an increase to the population but these are few and far in between.

Everyone loves puffins.
Reading this brought me back a lot to my childhood where growing up in Surrey just outside of Vancouver lead to a lot of fieldtrips to the various nature conservation areas and the marshlands of Burns Bog to watch the wildlife. Funny enough, one of my most vivid memories was visiting the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in elementary and after reading up on the Red-Winged Blackbird, I had wanted to see one more than anything else but they never appeared anywhere and believed them to be a myth until I graduated film school twenty years later. Moving away for the first time, I took the train out of the city and right before leaving the outskirts of Vancouver, one fly by the window with the unmistakable red and yellow on black wings and I felt completed in a strange serene way. Then I move to Toronto and they’re everywhere. 

Book rating: 8/10 (A decent reference for birds in Central/Western Canada)

Random quote: “More and more people are beginning to realize the pleasure and profit that can be derived from observation of common natural objects.” (Still trying to figure out how one profits from staring)

Monday, December 2, 2013

W48: Panama to Patagonia

In a bid to expand my geography knowledge, the Biblio-Mat has once again dispensed a travel book that was roughly the size of a phonebook that could also double as a doorstop. Albeit an elegant antiquarian doorstop.

I'll be honest, until now I didn't know where Patagonia was.
Panama to Patagonia by Charles M. Pepper was a grand tome that was published in 1906. With gold lettering on a burgundy cloth cover, it had a timeless scholarly look to it. The 398 pages were printed on thick stock that had an almost woven texture, making the book seem much thicker than it actually was and lending it a regal quality. It also had deckle edges and really, who doesn’t like well-crafted deckle edged pages?

Nothing says 'relic' like unfinished pages.
This particular copy also appeared to have an interesting and somewhat mysterious history. On the inside front cover was a bookplate from W. H. Smith & Sons Library in London that I would venture to guess to be from the early 1900’s due to the pricing of the membership. 

60-80 years overdue?
It seemed that this was a private library that charged an annual fee to use, which was mind-boggling to someone who grew up in the age of public libraries. A quick search online shows that the company is still in existence as a chain of bookstores, which begs the question of what would happen if this book was returned to one of the branches.

Curiosity piqued.
Even more fascinating than this, though, was that every significant page – title page, table of contents, maps, and beginning chapter, had “O.F.M.QUEBEC” in tiny dots punched through in the old style of punched tape/dot matrix punching.  After spending a good hour researching this online without solid results, the only two deductions on what OFM meant were either “Office of the Fire Marshal, Quebec” or “Order of Capuchin Friars Minor (Ordo Fratrum Minorum)”. Seeing how the latter has an archive in Quebec, it seems more likely this text is from the Franciscan library.

It does have a holy quality to it in the light.
For the content itself, Panama to Patagonia was much more than a standard travel guide or geography book. It started off discussing the Panama Canal and the economic aspects of it, which was intriguing since this was published in 1906 and the canal would not have been completed until 1914. Even eight years before its completion there appeared to be a lot of hype around the positive impacts it would have on commerce and trade in as well as to the bonding effect it would have over the surrounding nations that would come together over a single goal. Optimistic at best, but hope was probably higher before the world erupted in war.

Such a simpler time.
The book then moved onto travel tips, which was enlightening in how one traveled through South America at the turn of the 20th century. According to the author, English would have been sufficient for travel along the coast and short forays into the interior. Considering one would be hard pressed to survive in the bordertowns of Mexico today with just English, his advice should probably be taken with a grain of salt. However, he did stress the importance of picking up Spanish to truly experience the continent. Apparel and basic customs are also covered, along with cuisine and most importantly, where to find the different types of alcohol.

Silver gelatin?
Through all this, Panama to Patagonia was punctuated with black and white photographs printed on glossy stock, which were welcomed breaks in the text heavy descriptions and also spoke to the prestige of this book to warrant so many photographs as it could not have been cheap to publish in 1906.

Which I now know as one of the main exports of Ecuador.
The rest of the book moved on from Panama to Ecuador to Peru to Chile exploring the cultures and explaining the history of each region. While a lot of the focus was on the daily life and how one would interact with the locals when traveling though, the economic aspects of each region were covered much more in depth for each country. With long chapters delving into trade and exports history paired with detailed passages on transport infrastructure, Panama to Patagonia turned into more of a history textbook than travel guide

Gorgeous map.
While this book was chock full of interesting history and travel tips, the most impressive pieces of the book were the giant maps that folded out. One showing a 1906 North and South America was a stark reminder about how undeveloped a lot of Canada was a hundred years ago yet both sides were still connected through a trans-Canada railroad. Another showed the path of the Panama Canal in the process of being built in explicit detail. It would almost be worth defacing the book just to extract and frame these maps. Almost.

Book were definitely more beautifully crafted back then.

Book rating: 8.5/10 (Bonus point for the maps)

Random Quote: “To know any country it is necessary to know the people, and the people are only known through the medium of their speech.” (Truth)

Monday, November 25, 2013

W47: A Short History of the Irish People

A few months ago I went drinking with an Irish friend and his football teammates. My only recollection of that night was being surrounded by drunken Irishmen recanting the history of their country and trying to convince me that the Irish first arrived to Isle of Man by riding flying rocks across the sea. Not a metaphor for something, but actual rocks that floated through the sky. Being heavily inebriated myself, it made sense at the time so this week’s Biblio-Mat book was an interesting follow-up to that history night.

It was fitting that A Short History of the Irish People had a green cover, but what was surprising was the presence of the dustjacket. Despite the sun-fading, the paper jacket was in amazing condition for a book published in 1921. In addition to stating that this was the second volume of the history, the cover also provided a synopsis on the book, which was an interesting idea since there was more than enough room on the inside flaps. Written by Mary Hayden and George A. Moonan, this was a scholarly look into the backstory of Ireland that sold me based on design principles alone. However, the title was a misnomer as my definition of a ‘short history’ is something that fits on the back of a pamphlet or restaurant menu, not a 572 page text.

Kind of wished this was the Mediaeval Ireland one.
Having studied Gaelic literature in my undergrad, I was familiar with the rich and very violent history of the Irish people so was therefore quite excited to dig into this book. Unfortunately, it turned out that part two of A Short History of the Irish People covered the years from 1603 to the ‘present’, which in this case meant 1921. Outside of the Great Famine and the establishment of Northern Ireland, I knew very little about this particular time period and even less on why this specific year was chosen for the volume split instead of a more rounded number.

Cúchulainn this ain't.
It turns out that 1603 marked the end of the Nine Years War which drove out the Earls of Ireland and replaced them with a new government structure that essentially put them under English rule. From here it was a lot of hopscotching through numerous political events, culminating in the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1921. It was pretty clear from the beginning that the authors had a bias to the history, as any scholar of their nation would, and at times there seemed to be some pretty heavy resentment and bitterness to the events that unfolded under British rule.

To be fair, he was actually insane.
The chapter on the famine itself was fairly short at four pages but presented a damning critique on not only how the government handled it, but also on how it was represented in the press at the time. For an event as significant as this, though, the entry in the book felt short and seemed to gloss over most of it, choosing to view the political landscape more than the cultural one, which seemed strange for a history book.

While the text wasn’t a dry read, it also wasn’t very exciting. Being written in the style of a school textbook, it was more informational than colourful. What was a fun read though, were the pencil scribbles and notes in the margins providing running commentary on the events as they unfolded. My educated guess would be that one of the previous owners of this book was an Irish nationalist of sorts.

Also reads like my love history...
Another entertaining deviation from the straight history were the sections on the literature of the period. Although these spanned only a few pages, they did provide some insight on what was big in each of the centuries A Short History of the Irish People covered.

Isn't 'War on learning' pretty much every high school class?
The biggest surprise, though, came halfway through the book where an envelope was lodged between the pages. Opening it up, it was a perfectly preserved subscription card, Christmas card order form, and envelope to The Atlantic Monthly Company from 1947! Founded in 1857 by a group of writers that included one of my most revered authors, Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Atlantic Monthly was a magazine that had been printed monthly for almost a hundred and fifty years before changing into The Atlantic, one of my favourite magazines. Still being printed today, it was quite amazing to find a piece of this history randomly in this book. 

Most awesome surprise I've had in any book to date.

Book rating: 8/10 (Interesting but nothing Wikipedia couldn’t tell you)

Random quote: “They still talk about it here in 1942” (written in pencil next to the section stating that future generations of Parnell’s countrymen will remember him)