Monday, January 28, 2013

W4: Roadside Birds of South Africa

After trudging through the mystifying text of yesterweek, this 1975 hardcover third printing of Roadside Birds of South Africa by Kenneth Newman was a welcome change of pace. Better yet, it was illustrated! Who doesn't love picture books?

"Where found:"...
At 103 pgs, this book seems quite long for something as specific as South African highway avian life. However, the first third of the book occupies itself with black and white photographs of urban landscape. Makes sense - to publish a book on birds found by the highways of South Africa, one must first establish that said highways do indeed exist. All qualms of South Africa being a bunch of dirt roads and ox-wagons have now been laid to rest, you know, if that's what you were thinking...

In full colour!
Getting into the meat of the book, the odd numbered pages contained the majority of the information on the bird species, including a description with grammatical oddities, an ambiguous silhouette, and a map containing the areas of the habitat for each entry. The facing pages contained the color illustrations, which entertained my fancy now as much as they did when I was in elementary school. Easily amused and easily distracted. Prefacing all this was an in-depth diagram showing the anatomy of a bird, informatively pointing out where the wings, eyes, and back of a bird were located.


What is interesting is that despite being an unwieldy hardcover, this book was meant as a traveler's guide and the back of the book contains not only a checklist of birds seen, but also a "quick identification guide". Unfortunately it's presented as a biology test of sorts. With classifications like "Birds with very long tails", "Black birds", and "Conventional-looking birds", this guide is as useful as a colouring book.

Never seen one in my life.

Book rating: 7/10 (entertaining and somewhat informative)

Random quote: Description of the Helmeted Guineafowl: "These birds are so well-known that a description seems superfluous."

Monday, January 21, 2013

W3: H.H.: or The Pathology of Princes

The first impression of H.H. when it came out of the Biblio-Mat, was that it was dense. At just over 300 pages, it felt like a tome of sorts and read not unlike a textbook. A textbook on old school racism. A Passage to India this ain't.

Deceptive cover - everyone loves elephants.
H.H. (His Highness): or the Pathology of Princes, by Kanhayalal Gauba - a hardcover 306pg history book with a simple dustjacket, first edition published in 1930. Printed on what appears to be highly acidic paper, the pages on this copy were smooth, yellow, and starting to become brittle, which lends it an old world charm along with historical credibility.

Much as the secondary title presents itself, H.H. is an in-depth study in the princes and Maharajas of India, relating the royalty to a disease, ravaging the country. It is an immensely insightful look into the history of India, for many different reasons.

It did, however, have a cool title plate.
The introduction of the book begins with the author lamenting the choice of publishing the book or not, ultimately deciding to do so for the greater good of the world over the pride of his nation. He assures that this book isn't a sermon or vendetta, just facts as he aims to do the world a very public service in exposing the dark underbelly of India. How could you not trust such a selfless man? Surely he only means to enlighten us!

Even the dustjacket is smarmy.
Covering topics in fine detail on how Indian royalty hoard wealth, starve citizens, rape women, corrupt governments, and indulge in all manners of wasteful decadence. It is quite an educational history lesson, not in the horrors of monarchy, but actually in British Imperialism.

Published around the time of India's independence, H.H. is an amazing study in propaganda. Without a doubt the atrocities described in the book did exist (as they do in every nation), however, the presentation of these "facts" in the text is quite one-sided. However, statistics are cleverly strewn throughout to give it an air of honesty. Much like 'Birth of a Nation', the ultimate goal appears to be instilling the notion that the western world must rescue a savage race through domination, for if they were left to their own free will, the people would suffer.

The most interesting thing about this book, though, is its rarity. A quick search online displays very few results and there seems to be some disparity on how to spell the author's name. History does tend to fix itself in mysterious ways.

Book rating: 6/10 (points given for the stark cover and foldout map)

Random quote: "The ordinary constables, the rank and file of the police force, are drawn from the very scum of the population, and hardly one in a hundred of these knows how to read or write." (NWA in the 30's?)

Monday, January 14, 2013

W2: Nouveau Dictionnaire De Sexologie V.5

L’Introduction (subst. fém): It did not occur to me that the Biblio-Mat dispenses books in other languages but I guess that wouldn’t be truly random if it didn’t. A French encyclopedia on sex is as interesting as one would imagine. 

Classy cover. Unless that's a nipple.
 Le Livre (subst. fém): A 1979 208pg softcover with an art deco minimalist cover that lends it an artistic quality. For a used book that could be classified as erotica, it was thankfully stain-free and clean; though I was too afraid to pass it under a black light (ignorance is truly bliss at times). The first thing I noticed was the inclusion of 16 glossy pages containing colour plates of erotic art. My thirteen year old self would have had a self-discovery field day. My current self was more fascinated by the printing method. 

Ceci n'est pas un visage.
 Le Texte (subst. masc.): Unfortunately, my French reading comprehension is about 70% so reading this novella-sized book took a few days longer than expected. On the plus side, it turned into a game of filling in the blanks and those that know me know that my mind doesn’t frequent the gutter - it lives in it, surfacing once every three days for food and fresh sheets. It also helped that I had volume five (J-M), which contained 25 solid pages on Japan.

They were kinky even before the internet.
Written in short and easily digestible passages, it reads fast, even for a non-native French reader. As I made my way through the entries, I was impressed by the inclusion of many things. Jack the Ripper, Carl Jung, Kinsey, D. H. Lawrence, and Madagascar all had expansive entries. Clearly I was wrong in thinking this was just cleverly disguised smut. This book does indeed have some educational value!

However, when I hit the entries pertaining to sexual techniques, body parts, and spiritual beliefs, it is quickly apparent how very outdated this book is. The section on lesbianism may be a bit misogynistic in the same way that the Mariana Trench may be a bit deep. One must definitely take the “historical facts” with a grain of salt. I would also highly recommend not following any medical advice on hygiene or contraception from this book.

La Conclusion (subst. fém): 7.5/10 (bumped to 8 if I ever find the rest of the series)

La Citation (subst. fém): Les satisfactions sexuelles que deux femmes peuvent tirer de leurs rapports présentent une gamme à peine inférieure aux satisfactions hétérosexuelles, sans qu'il soit possible de se prononcer sur leur intensité.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

W1: Fury and the Mustangs

Like thunder, it came. A slow crescendo of tumbling gears and pulleys culminating into the first ever book I received from the Biblio-Mat: Fury and the Mustangs by Albert G. Miller. A 1960 1st edition 186pg hardcover with a tight dustjacket in the same painted style as the Hardy Boys. But that’s not all, this book is also the Authorized TV Edition – it says so on the cover!

It also matches my desk rather nicely.
A mashup of three different plot lines shoehorned into one narrative, FatM has everything in the classic western genre. A boy and the eponymous horse, Fury, chase down horse rustlers, meet a man with no name, fight a forest fire, and bring a bank robber to justice while turning the heart of the coldblooded business tycoon. Yep, books were ruining attention spans way before video games and the internet.

Obviously meant for teenage boys, the language is dumbed down a bit but tolerable. Moral lessons are injected into every other page, but what else would you expect from the 60’s? Literal to the point of explaining how the bad guy’s actions make him a bad guy, the book is nonetheless entertaining for two reasons. 1: awesome horse illustrations - 

If only they had the foresight to name him Passive Aggressive.

And 2: there are no women in it. Three guys on a ranch quarrel with two other men who own a neighbouring ranch. Four men are hired who help but turn out to be part of a smuggling ring containing three other guys. The sheriff, fire warden, shopkeeper, mysterious visitor, town fire brigade - all male. There was a woman that made a brief two paragraph appearance. She said she wasn’t a gossip right before telling them she had been spying on their neighbor. They thanked her for the information then presumably told her to get back in the kitchen.

The omission of women in this story was probably a good idea, though. Half the plot points hinged on male machismo and a sensible female voice would have subverted the not so subtly contrived situations. Random stranger with a questionable past wanders into town? Invite him back to your place to take care of your kid! Going after a gang of armed horse thieves? Take the ten year old with you!

Apparently pubescent boys are bulletproof.
The whole nasty forest fire business itself could have been averted with a gentle reminder that cigarettes are flammable, but then we would have lost twenty pages of aimless inferno wandering, and that would have been a real tragedy.

Book rating:  6.5/10 (an extra half point for the sweet dustjacket and binding)
Random quote: “But dang it, Jim-” “Danging it won’t do a bit of good”

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Biblio-Mat or: How I Learned to Stopped Worrying and Love The Green Machine

Recovering from rolling in the new year, I was to meet a friend for a late lunch at the Lakeview, my favourite diner in the city. Arriving much too early from a prior engagement, I had decided to wander around the area when I remembered a most curious shop of books and images that I had walked by hundreds of times. The Monkey's Paw, it was called. Feeling I had nothing to lose but time, I walked in and proceeded to peruse the odd assortment of ancient and rare texts.

As with every bookstore I walk into, my first question was to ask if they had a hardcover copy of Slaughterhouse Five, one of my most cherished books that was near impossible to find hardbound. "I'm afraid this isn't the type of bookstore where you find what you want," the shopkeeper, Stephen, said with a grin, "but you'll find what you didn't know you were looking for."

My fears of waking up as a cockroach
have largely been unfounded.

Ominous, to be sure, but he was of course correct. No sooner than I had rounded the corner did I spy a vintage collection of Kafka's collected short stories. Twenty dollars was more than a fair price for a hardcover containing The Metamorphosis and The Penal Colony. However, my euphoria of upgrading a book on my top shelf was soon eclipsed by the discovery of a most fantastic automaton: the Biblio-Mat.

A most classy and sophisticated machine.

Tucked in the back like a secret whispered by a passing stranger was a pastel green machine that stated for two dollars it would dispense a book chosen at random. 'A mechanical celebration of serendipity', it was described. Not one to pass up on the sublime marriage of two of my favourite things, books and randomness, I popped in my two dollars without hesitation.

The machine shook. The machine rumbled. The machine whined as levers and cogs turned inside its iron belly. Finally, with a ding not unlike that of a toaster oven, it shot out a book wrapped with a band of white paper branding it a product of The Monkey's Paw. It was not a book that I would pick up, but as it was fate that brought it to me, I knew I had no choice but to read it.

After discussing the germination of the concept for this random book dispenser with the shopkeeper, I realized that this machine was truly indeed the essence of serendipity. It is a chance encounter with a book that can bring nothing but joy into your life as even if the text itself does not appeal to you, the process of obtaining it leaves a smile on your face.

Even the gift certificates are gorgeous.
With that in mind, I returned home with the resolution that I will visit the Biblio-Mat once a week and read whatever it gives me, cover to cover. I may not enjoy every one, but I will take pleasure in giving my bias opinion of each title on this blog, along with any other adventures in the book world. At the very worse, I will come out of this year a more well-read man.