" In this universe the night was falling; the shadows were lengthening towards an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered; and along the path he once had followed, Man would one day go again"

Arthur C. Clarke Against the Fall of Night

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Last Shelf (sorry about the photo quality I am working on it)


So here we are, long suffering readers, the last shelf. I did not envision when I started, this would drag out so long, but it has. It should be no surprise by now that I arrange things thematically, at least in my own mind. So we have a mixture of Folio Society and The Langs' Fairy Books. I have already discussed the importance of myths in my reading. Fairy tales were also favourites. They were also the founding stories that coloured the plots of many of the books and movies I still see today. Shaun Tan's book The Singing Bones which presents some lovely ceramic sculptures he did to illustrate many well-known stories is one shelf up. In front, we have two Lewis chessmen models we got at the British Museum and a beautiful garden-themed paperweight. Other works include a collection of J.P. Martin's Uncle stories that Helen got from Kickstarter. I had never read them, but now I love the tales of Old Monkey, the One-Armed Badger and, of course, Uncle and their adventures exploring Homeward.

"Homeward is hard to describe, but try to think of about a hundred skyscrapers all joined together and surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge over it, and you'll get some idea. The towers are of many colours, and there are bathing pools and gardens amongst them, also switchback railways running from tower to tower, and water-chutes from top to bottom."


Sort of Gormenghast but with less angst and more treacle. Another favourite book and my go-to philosophy text is The Phantom Tollbooth, which I came to in my 60's. 

I mentioned earlier that a few matching sets of books were in the house when I was a child. This Collier set contained two books by Louis Broomfield. Night in Bombay, which was okay and The Rains Came. I have read this book many times. The Rains Came is the story of Ranchipur, and it's Maharajah's attempts to break the British's power, the hold of the priests and the caste system and raise his subjects' standard of living by embracing western modernity. Then there is an earthquake, a burst dam, monsoon rains and disease. But some of the survivors, Indians from various castes and religions and westerners band together to help the Maharani rebuild Ranchipur.

India was a fascinating place for a kid from Windsor in the 1960s. International travel and the world outside North America was a big mystery. Aside from my Aunt Daisy, who was an artist and thus suspect, there is a photo of her somewhere on a camel. We only travelled to the US, usually to see family. The only family members who had travelled abroad did so for service in World War Two. My family dressed up on Sunday to attend travelogues at the Cleary Auditorium to see films by people who had gone to, gasp, Europe. My high school education in the 1970s left me remarkably ignorant about the world. A lesson about the Middle East mentioned that their only resource was sand, a classmate suggested they make glass. Funny what you remember, this despite the very real oil embargo of 1973. That came as a bit of shock. Lessons about India focused on sacred cows, and nonviolence making no mention of the events of The Partition of India in 1947. I can only assume we were using a lesson plan treasured by educators and rarely updated since the 1920s. Broomfield's Wikipedia article indicates he had a utopian streak, and he began The Rains Came in Cooch Behar in Jan. 1933 and finished it in New York in 1937. Possibly this seemed like a viable future then. Helen and I watched an excellent program on women scientists and engineers and their role in the Indian Mars Probe, which provides some hope. But I was especially reminded of the Maharajah's dream last week when I read of the reprehensible treatment that is still directed at lower-caste Indian women. 


Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek, a seminal book in my life, also encouraged me to seek out naturalists like Edwin Way Teale and the entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre and there are extensive collections of their works in the basement. I had to bring up one volume, however, Fabre's Book of Insects. Not only does it have beautiful plates, but I love the fact that in 1931 this copy was awarded as a prize to a young scholar at the Nova Scotia College of Art. 



Lastly, let us begin where we started sort of. I am always interested in finding works that sit on the boundaries of genre fiction Lewis's The Human Age ( I have only glanced at the first volume), seems to sit at some intersection of religious allegory, fantasy and possibly science fiction. I was doubly pleased when I read the inscription by Cy Fox. Fox, a Canadian collector and scholar of Lewis' work described Lewis as the Dante of Notting Hill. That is the Dark Wood we started in, is it not?


Illustrated by Michael Ayrton

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Bookshelving Marathon - Part 3 The Saga continues


I am continuing this exercise in bookshelfery in part because it is (for me)  an interesting examination of how my mind works and the type of associations that have created my metal map. This shelf contains mostly art books. The central portion is devoted three artists, Shaun Tan, an Australian artist who has produced a number of children's books. They deal with childhood, colonization, immigration and the environment and are well worth seeking out. 

It also houses Nick Bantock's work. Bantock, a British artist, living in Canada, is best known for The Griffin and Sabine Saga. 

There are some current art books and some Tiki figures on the left. Helen and I are redoing part of our basement as a mid-mod game room/library so they might end up there in the future. I also have a Players cigarette tin I picked up at a yard sale because I remember my father smoking them briefly when I was a child. He wore a similar outfit when he was in the RCN. The big books on the right include illustrated copies of The Voyage of the Beagle and The Origin of the Species by Darwin. There are also two shelves in the basement about Darwin, his contemporaries and evolutionary theory in general. I started reading the Origin in high school, and it has stuck with me. The second real vacation we took was to the Galapagos. As previously mentioned, Helen is a wonderful woman. 

Lastly I have works devoted to the Canadian Artist Ivan Eyre. I saw his show Ivan Eyre: Personal mythologies/images of the milieu: figurative paintings, 1957-1988, while working at the U of C for the summer. I went  to the show every week it was there, I believe it as free on Tuesday. Later I worked in the Esso library which had his mammoth painting Floodwood hanging on the wall. I moved to Gulf Resources and had a print of his painting Red Hill, which appears on the cover of the Woodcock book, in my office. I have also been lucky enough to obtain some of his smaller works for my study. I will not include photos, artist hate that. And ditto on my previous remarks about Helen. So it seemed his work followed me, and his imagery has stuck with me since then. One repeated image he uses are figures, often horn blowers silhouetted along the edges of tall buildings. Helen and I are often reminded of these figures as we move about in the city. 

There is also a bison paperweight I picked up on a trip we took to Drumheller this week to have lunch with friend. Bison have a particular resonance with me. When I was in archaeology, I often worked with faunal remains from fur trade posts or buffalo jumps. I also assisted the faunal curator in dismembering seven bison for comparative collections. (All were accidental deaths within Elk Island Park.)

I had hoped to finish but stuff happens, the NHL Draft, some very circumspect social events, insomnia, the front retaining wall, (now finished,yeah) i.e. life. So the last shelf will have to wait. 

Friday, October 2, 2020

The new bookshelf or my life remembered in objects (Part Two)

Some time ago, the "Big Bricks," as Bud Webster used to refer to the large hardcover science fiction anthologies, found their way across the hall and into the bedroom, hence the need for the new shelf. (For Bud's columns) see the Handy Resources on this blog. They remain here on shelf three along with a few H.P.L. titles however the bulk of this material remains in my study. 


One item I did bring over was The Viking Portable Library Novels of Science, which contains Lovecraft's "The Shadow Out of Time". I think this is one of Lovecraft's best stories and one that is clearly science fiction. It is perhaps indicative of a path Lovecraft might have fruitfully continued had various issues on conspired to derail his writing career. It is also one of his first appearances in hardcover. "In 1945 Wollheim edited the first hardcover anthology from a major publisher and the first omnibus, The Viking Portable Novels of Science." 

I am quite interested in Wollheim's relationship with the mythos and intend to pursue it further.

On the right side of we see three items that have some significance for me. My mother-in-law, a successful artist, painted the tile. The wren was carved by Art, an older gentleman who took painting lessons from her. Years later, he took up carving, and we often encounter him at summer craft shows. I am impressed with his birds and has happy to buy this example. The tower with the two balls carved inside so they can move without falling out came from the home of my Great Uncle Lorne. I believe his wife Nellie's family was in the lumber business, so it might have come through them. I never knew Nellie. When she died, Lorne boarded off the upper floor of the big brick farmhouse they lived in. When I knew him, there were two almost impassible and fascinating downstairs rooms full of knick-knacks and furniture, including an upright piano and an organ you pumped with your feet. Lorne lived in the kitchen, sleeping if I remember correctly, on a couch. When he died, and we went upstairs, it seemed he had simply gone downstairs one day, leaving anything he did not want in place. 

He was kind to me; when we went to visit, he had saved the toys that came in the cereal boxes on the window sill for me. I remember blue plastic Inuit or arctic explorers. I wish I had them today. It has been some 50 plus years, so my memory may not be that accurate, but that is the gist of it. 

I think I will cover the last two shelves tomorrow. I am enjoying the exercise and I am in no hurry. I just realized it is Oct and I have to dig out A Night in the Lonesome October by Zelazny, I am already behind.

Let's end with a Pika from a recent trip to the mountains.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

New Bookshelf and a trip down memory lane, part one (this will be a long one.)


I had been accumulating a lot of books in the bedroom that my bookshelf could not accommodate. I had also been accumulating a lot of mental anxiety about the state of the world including events within Alberta. So yet again when in doubt I turn to my books.

I got the shelf from Wayfair, it did not include a child to help with assembly, really people, think please! Also the Earth is round(ish) i.e. not flat, just saying. I will spare you the unboxing photos. Many bloggers would do this as a video, but I am not comfortable with that medium. Also I may be slightly more concise when I have to type everything rather than just babbling on at length. 

The original bookshelf contained my Dante collection. I began reading Dante's Commedia in 2001, I believe. I have collected many translations, reference books, and listened to the  Great Course on the Divine Comedy several times; I could go on, but I will stop. My wife and I have visited both Venice and Florence, and I have taken the opportunity to visit several locations of significance in his life and works. 

The print to the right of the shelf reminded me of the three beasts that menace Dante.

My most recent translation was purchased in Florence in 2019 which I thought was cool. 

Some of the other items I chose to add to the bookshelf reflect life long interests. Others are significant reminders of family and friends. I was surprised to see how many reflect attitudes that have informed my life. So I will look at items from each shelf.  This post will be a long feel free to drop out. Back in the day, I had an ancient gym teacher who said (roughly) that as an adult, you should go into the bedroom and reflect on the direction your life was taking and how you felt about it. He also used to wack us on the buttocks with a pointer when irked, so there is that. Maybe this represents a bit of his philosophy as well. (Not the buttocks bit)

The beautiful drawing was a gift from my niece; it is based on a photo I took of our dogs at the cabin. I absolutely love it. The photo in the corner faces obscured shows my aunt and cousins who live in Cleveland. I purchased the bust of Dante, my second, on our visit to Florence in 2019.

Also nestled in here is The Book of Myths. In my childhood our house contained a quite outdated set of Books of Knowledge. Some sets of books with matching covers, the origin of which I never knew. Mostly the contents also remained a mystery, but more on that later. There were also school books that had been used by my older siblings. One was The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, it was no coincidence that the first true vacation we took included Hadrian's Wall. My wife Helen is a wonderful woman. The other was The Book of Myths, which has my late sister's name written in. I will speak of the book as object below but here is another example. The book itself introduced me to world of myths that I would encounter 
over and over again in science fiction and fantasy. It also introduced me to the world and it's heros, Thor, Glooseclap, Hanuman, Orsis, the Hunhun brothers and so many others. And of course I have only to open it and see her name.

The moon globe is from a garage sale. But boy was it big to a kid who grew up with Gemini and Apollo.

The paperweight was made a friend who passed away some years ago. Helen purchased it for me, Robin said it was a depiction of the Mountains of Madness knowing my enjoyment of everything H.P.L.. It is quite stunning and I love it paired with the globe.  

I have had this depiction of the Last Supper since childhood.  I was raised in the United Church, and I would now describe myself as a Humanist. When I was about one year old I was hospitalized for tuberculosis spending several months in the sanatorium. I don't remember this, my mother told me this was a gift from one of the nurses who looked after me. While I don't remember this, I suspect my dedication to public health, vaccines, and the use of the scientific method in treating illness stems from discussions I had with family members about this period in our lives. 

I got this bust of Dante in Venice, in a shop devoted to plasterwork. I loved the fact that when the salesperson asked what I was looking for, I said I need a bust of Dante, and that her answer was large, medium or small. I should have gotten Garibaldi was well.     
"On the walls hung wire baskets with ferns in them, alternating with brackets carrying plaster statuary - Garibaldi, and the infant Samuel, and Queen Victoria, and other heroes of modern Italy."  

The Wind in the Willows. 

Also on the second shelf we have two volume of the works of Charles Lamb next to the copy of the New Testament which my father received upon entering the Royal Canadian Navy during World War Two. He also received a dictionary. All three books speak to my love of the book as object as well as text. The significance of the New Testament is obvious and it will be passed on in the family.

I have enjoyed Lamb since high school and I have read a several books about him and his sister Mary. When Helen asked what I wanted to see in London I picked the Inns of the Court where he spent his youth. Having a two-volume set that was gifted by someone to a cousin in 1886 really gives me a sense of living within history. I can see myself as part of a continuum of readers who enjoyed the same authors I read today. To some extent, I can experience time, a desire that probably also led me to a career in archaeology and an ongoing interest in both history and prehistory. 

I will split this post into several parts.