Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Odd Volume- Volume 2

After two aborted blog attempts (one on college degrees and one on Richard Wagner) I decided to do another one of these posts on weird books in my personal library.
A note to new readers, this blog is not entirely about books (just mostly.) Also, once again, you can click on the pictures to make them bigger.

On the left is a book that probably should be called an encyclopedia rather than a dictionary. It's a book of information a la the Encyclopedia Britannica except that it is entirely focused on imaginary places like Oz, Neverland, Lilliput and so on. There are maps and drawings of flora. For some reason I've always loved books that break down the fourth wall of imagination and treat the fantastic as one treats the scientific. It's far from exhaustive, but it is a rip-roaring fun book to take down and spend a few hours in. The writers did a fantastic job. The entries have history, geography, economics, and other information on the imaginary place followed by the work of fiction from which the place comes.
As interesting and on a similar note, A Natural History of the Unnatural World deals with crypto-zoology which is to say the zoology of creatures which are most likely mythological. This one's design is far more compelling although slightly less information rich with photographs, drawings, biological information, testimonies, geographic information, and so on. There are entries on dragons, Basilisks, elves, trolls, kobolds, kelpies, sea serpents, mermaids, minotaurs and on and on and on. Both books play it very straight. Both are the kind of thing that I would have carried with me at all times as a child.

Philip K. Dick was a science fiction author who one day found himself living in one of his plots against his will. For those of you who don't know, he had a strange experience in the 1970s where reality went all funny on him, he saw ancient Rome superimposed on modern times, he saw visions of fire, flashes of works of modern art, and much more. One of the stranger bits was he "received" the information that his son had an uncommon life threatening hernia which, while not easy to detect, was easily solved with surgery. He took his son to the doctor to check and, indeed, he had that very condition. The vision saves his son's life. This sort of visionary oddness lasted several months and then stopped. PKD spent the rest of his life (about a decade) trying to figure out what had happened to him.
But he didn't come up with any concrete answers. He wrote three novels on the subject (which I think are his best work. They are Valis, The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.) But he also wrote thousands of pages of what he called his "Exegesis" speculating soviet (or Nixonian) mind control, theophanies, anamnesis, schizophrenia, messages from aliens, or any mixture of those. When PKD fans hear about this, they tend to say "my gosh, I wish I could read that." For a short time they could because Lawrence Sutin put together a highly abridged version in the early 1990s. It's now extremely rare. There are very few people in the world who would be interested in such a volume, but those who are are VERY interested.

Sparrow is a poet in New York. On the left is an account of his "run for president" on the Pajama Party ticket in 1992. He lost. Mainly he stood outside political events with a megaphone and read poetry.
The volume on the right is Yes, You Are A Revolutionary! It's an instruction book for revolutionaries and it is hilarious. It gives advice like "train yourself to leave a movie in the middle" or "infiltrate the Boy Scouts" or "draw with your foot" or "study the hula." It also has some striking bits like this "Begin taking long walks, through a city. Notice the CEOs and limousine drivers and toiling waitresses and laughing children. Look at the children carefully. What will they become when they are large? Will they still be laughing?"
It also has recipes for Revolutionary Fortune Cookies, The People's Polenta, and Victory Ice Cream.

This book is many lists of dead celebrities. It has how and when they died, but more importantly it has where they are buried. I used to live in Southern California and you'll notice the book has a lot of wear to it. That's because I used to organize groups to go to Hollywood on cemetery trips to visit the graves of celebrities. I cried at Truman Capote's grave by the way.
One time we went to the Hollywood Memorial Cemetery and I wanted to go into the mauseleum where Vincent Price and Peter Lorre and Rudolf Valentino were buried, but it was closed. I was dejected and an older man came up and asked if we had come to see River Phoenix. I said, "No, I wanted to see Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Rudolf Valentino." The man was thunderstruck that kids our age even know who those people were and he was so impressed that he (who was an off-duty tour guide) gave us a free walking tour of the cemetery (which included Douglas Fairbanks, Mel Blanc, Tyrone Power, and Virginia Rappe who was the girl that Fatty Arbuckle killed.)
It's an old edition so I think it only goes up to about 1998, but I'm sure there are even more recent editions.

Ah, fellow hardcore Orson Welles fans know this rare little volume. Clifford Irving, fresh from hoaxing the world with a fake "autobiography" of recluse Howard Hughes, wrote this biography on Elmyr De Hory, the greatest art forger of our time. It's said that if you go to a museum of modern art there is a strong chance that a large portion of the major works you're looking at are actually by Elmyr. It's a tremendous story about art forging and the dishonesty of experts. Orson Welles made a film based on it (but also drawing Clifford Irving's own fakery and, in fact, Welles' own fakery into the story. Even to the point of suggesting that Elmyr may or may not have actually existed and the whole thing may be either entirely true or entirely false or some variation thereupon.) Along with all of that, it's a very interesting and well told story. As with all of these, it's a shame that it's not more widely available.

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm enjoying these posts and plan on doing more. It's great fun for me to do, I get to write about books which I love, and it's something for slow news/opinion days. I have a Religion edition and a Cookbook edition planned in the near future. Ta!

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy these posts. Not much time to comment right now. But I do enjoy them.