The Gift of Quirky

While my collections aren’t quite Borgin & Burkes, they do at times,  verge upon creepy with pinch of unconventional, an edge of steampunk and a notch of practicality. Sometimes, I even surprise myself with things that appeal to me.

Fortunately, when it comes to gifts, my family totally understands me and my quirks.

Meet the doll boy, who does not yet have a name.

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There are several curious aspects to this doll. He appears to be made of vulcanised rubber (gutta percha) which was invented in the mid nineteenth century. On the era of his clothes and the toy plane in his hand, I’d call this doll Edwardian, but incase you missed it, he’s wearing a fez, so that makes him what? Turkish? Even that being the case, he was originally made and exported from Japan. According to the internet ‘made in…’ began in about 1915 but prior to 1921, Japanese products were mostly labelled Nippon perhaps making him a doll of the 1920s. The closest example I can find on the internet is a doll from a 1901 shipwreck though it is not of Japanese origin.

My other, slightly quirky presents can be found below.

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What every girl needs. Old books. A child-sized cobblers’ shoe mold and literally a pair of handles.

Hope you all had a merry Christmas, or Festivus, or holiday. Joy to all!

Skipping

skipRarasaur is so full of enticing challenges I can rarely keep up!

This one is a list, an ever growing list of things that remind me of who I truly am.

  1. Leaves
  2. Stripy socks
  3. Puppets and muppets
  4. Small things that fit in your palm
  5. Wallyism
  6. Autumn
  7. Storms
  8. Jonquils
  9. Pictures
  10. Organisation
  11. Alphabetical order (and the temptation to order this list accordingly)
  12. Cat whiskers
  13. Cat peets (paws+feet)
  14. Word invention
  15. Standing in the rain
  16. Over thinking
  17. Skimming stones
  18. The tortoise, not the hare
  19. Making something from nothing
  20. The beauty of imperfection
  21. Incidental Music
  22. Stationary
  23. Paper and Parchment
  24. Pencils, pens and paints
  25. The history of objects
  26. Collecting/hoarding
  27. Churches
  28. Dogs and cats
  29. Handwritten Letters
  30. Joy hidden in the mundane
  31. Libraries
  32. Words
  33. Procrastination
  34. Half finished projects
  35. Graveyards
  36. Skipping
  37. Pianos
  38. Cartoons and animations
  39. Clocks
  40. An open fire
  41. Window seats
  42. Markets
  43. Cinnamon
  44. Happy hands
  45. Green and ochre
  46. Old books
  47. Attic rooms
  48. Stars
  49. Feathers

Anything I’ve missed? Anything you relate to?

Finding Resolve

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. I believe in resolutions, of course, but I simply don’t understand why they need to coincide with this human-made temporal construct.

I don’t like thinking about time in this fashion because sometimes people consolidate it, label a few bad events as a ‘bad year’. Some events are really bad and their effects can be all encompassing for weeks or months or, indeed, years, but even for that, I think it’s really important to try and take life day by day. Also, ‘resolve’ shouldn’t need a clock, it should feel free to occur at any time.

Having said that, I can see it’s sometimes nice to have a starting point, and well, New Year’s Day is as good as any. So, in that spirit, here are some of my aspirations for 2015.

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I’m going to make lots of mistakes.

Get back to blogging weekly. I have let this slide lately, though, you’ll note, I posted on Christmas day and with posting again today I’m already off to a great start and it’s not even next year yet!

I hope to write. I’d like to finish my long-running WIP and give myself permission to suck. It will suck, but that’s okay because it will also be finished (first draft, at least) and that would be an amazing personal achievement. I’ll try and participate in as many Friday! Flash challenges that I can and get into the habit of free-writing to encourage me to write and think less about it. All writing is practice.

I aim to read a book a month. ‘Only one a month?’ you ask. I know most of you wouldn’t view this as a challenge or a task that even requires resolve. As I’ve said before (apologies for my repetition), although I love books and have surrounded myself with bookish friends my entire life (and would even consider them to be my people), I am not a reader. Maybe I could be, I certainly want to be, especially knowing it will help my writing. You never know, maybe ‘a book a month’ will lead to two. Suggestions welcome.

Delete Candy Crush Saga from my phone as it feeds my procrastination. Can you have retroactive resolutions? I actually did this before Christmas knowing I’d be too busy to be distracted by it then. And now? Now, I have this list of resolutions to occupy my time, dammit.

Make mistakes. I’ve come to realise a little bit of mistake-making is a good thing but I always choose the safe road. My mother says, ‘we don’t bounce’, we don’t spring back from failure as easily as some people so we cling to caution like a raft in the middle of the ocean. I need to learn when it’s safe to let go.

See you next year, my friends.

Whatever you do in 2015, be your best.

Collecting Memories

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The Australian Music Books series. Circa 1900

Sounds like the name of a novel doesn’t it? No wait – I should have gone with The Memory Collector. That’s the name of a novel. And if it isn’t, I might copyright it or something – right now – STOP! It’s my title, you can’t have it.

But this post isn’t about books I haven’t written.

Christmas has faded into a happy memory. Over the holidays I was gifted ‘Stardust (by Neil Gaiman) but as soon as I read the blurb I realised I already owned the DVD adaptation. I already loved this book.

But this post isn’t about how slowly I make connections, either.

001 Music stackWith Christmas comes the clean up. Not from Christmas festivities (although, that too) but from the year-long accumulation of stuff in my loft. I always intended to convert the loft into a studio for my writing and arty-crafty faffing about and while I am inhibited by the climate up there – sauna in summer and freezer in winter – it forever remains a depot for random stuff I can’t give up but have nowhere else to place.  Cards, letters, old school memorabilia, old craft projects and school projects can all be found here. I’ve saved boxes for wrapping presents in. I’ve got artwork I can’t find a place to hang. Also up there are a significant amount of  flea market finds I struggle to slot into my home.

This is a difficult thing to explain to the anti-hoarder/my husband.

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Also amongst the sheet music, ‘The Etude’ music magazine. Now 101 years old.

From a market a few years ago I bought a whole box of piano sheet music. I broke my arms getting the collection back to my car but it was wholly compensated by the buzz of joy deep in my chest. The lady who sold it to me asked if I would play it. She’d grinned at my enthusiasm and said, “I’m glad it’s going to a good home”.

I sat on the floor and sorted through it.  While I knew it was a box of music, it was such a delight regrouping the sets, removing the lonely pages and discovering the old music coverpages. I planned to reuse the incomplete music as unconventional wrapping paper. I managed that once – it took me so long to decide which piece to sacrifice I haven’t tried since. I’ve attempted to play some of it, of course, but mostly it’s remained upstairs with its makeshift dividing markers.

Montage of sheet music

Some of the more interesting coverpages. All published in 1926/7.

The owner had written her name on some of the music in fine calligraphy. I surmise she’d inherited the older music which dates from the 1900s but she’d added her own musical tastes to the pile all the way up to the 1960s and undoubtedly played it. It was well thumbed and dog-eared and yellowing. They were all out of order because she probably kept them long after she stopped playing . She probably kept them even when piano-less. A lifetime of music.

I love things relating to pianos, and cover-art of this era. On this basis you could argue I collect music. Maybe I do, maybe I have. But this isn’t just a box of music, it’s also a box of memories – is it so strange that they’re not my own?

Objectivity: Bookylicious – Part 2

Old books can be a time capsule of opinions, experience and misinformation. You can Brontë your way around nineteenth century Yorkshire, you can analyse the social classes, observe stereotypes, wonder about developments in medicine and laugh at the handling of taboo topics. Some prefer to bleep curse-words than use euphemisms and they’re edited out with a series of dashes; “D——- children…” (one can assume the children weren’t delightful). Also bleeped were locations and addresses, “W——- Street” implying that the author or the publisher censored a genuine address instead of inventing a ficticous one. And of course they were written differently, you are more inclined to read a tedious, self-indulgent prologue, you’ll see more flowery detail and boy, did they like an epic sentence. Commas, apparently, were not taxed.

'The Lost Emerald' By Mrs Emma Marshall

‘The Lost Emerald’ By Mrs Emma Marshall

   “There was the old stone cross, to begin with, rough and timeworn, it is true, with the storms of centuries, but standing bravely, through all changes and chances, on the same plinth, and with the same rough carving at the top which had marked it ever since the day when it was raised there to show the place where a queen, beloved of her husband, had rested on her long, sad journey to a silent grave.”

Chapter 1, page 7-8
‘The Lost Emerald’
By Mrs Emma Marshall
1911

For all of its eleven commas, it has quite a thoughtful pace.

But there’s more to these books than you might think. Photographs, postcards, pressed flowers,bookmarks, bookplates and dedications. These details hint at a story beyond the book. They can tell you about the person who read it, who never finished it, who gifted it or who won it. With my interest in family history, on occasion I’ve had enough information to research those scribbled names and I’ve learnt what happened to them. Peering inside the front cover of these old books once led me to a book that belonged to a friend’s great grandfather.

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Book finds: School prize book plate.
Lucky Bertram.

And sometimes, there are other surprises. My Twitter header features a fairly ordinary looking book titled ‘Elements of Social Science’ which I later discovered to be a façade. On the inside cover, the book offers an alternative title, ‘Elements of Physical, Sexual and Natural Religion’. Curious? This is a third edition reprint of a 1856 book featuring female hysteria among other more unseemly ailments. The author himself chose to remain anonymous but it offers a fascinating insight into medical understanding (or lack of it) at that time.

Book finds

Book finds: A pressed leaf and an unconventional bookmark (Happy New Year card dated 1903)

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The owner of this book once wrote: Bought at Book Depot April 24th 1893 most likely the last hymn book that the old man will buy as he is 74 years old.

Have you ever dreamed of a library in your home? Wall to wall books accessable by a ladder, and a comfy chair in the corner? If you are not yet convinced by the joys of book collecting, if stored in the afore mentioned manner, they make excellent insulators. Keep your home warm with books!

Objectivity: Bookylicious – Part 1

Etching style illustration by Watson Charlton from 'A King's Treachery' by Albert Lee (1922)

Etching style illustration by Watson Charlton from ‘A King’s Treachery’ by Albert Lee (1922)

I didn’t intend to collect old books. My overwhelming revere for books has me saving them from markets and then I slot them into my bookshelves unread. It’s one particular aspect of my hoarding that my husband struggles with. Why have books if you’re not going to read them? More to the point – why buy them? I don’t even collect books properly. I don’t covet first editions, pristine binding or rare historical dialogue, and while sometimes these are happy side-discoveries they are never the reason for my purchase. I just think they’re beautiful.

The earliest book I have dates to around 1800 but the majority date between 1860 and 1920 largely because they are relatively common and affordable. Earlier works are harder to come by and if I do encounter one even in passable condition, I really can’t justify the price. Sometimes I have nineteenth century publications of older books, like my two copies of ‘Robinson Crusoe’. Two copies, bought at separate times because I forgotton I’d already had one (*laughs manically* who am I kidding? I would have bought it anyway). This probably adds to my husband’s frustration. My particular favourites also contain etchings or coloured pictures. Some are worth framing.

Then there’s the binding. Even though my books aren’t especially old the detailing can be extraordinary. It can be exquisitely embossed and coloured, covered in leather or fabric and sometimes with externally applied pictures (although these struggle to last the test of time). The book’s construction is as important to me as the content. We are so deep in technology in this digital age it’s easy to forget what it took to print and bind a book. Handwritten manuscripts would have been submitted to publishers, typesetting, block printing and compositing. One book I have is disintegrating but I love it because it shows this publisher reinforced the spine with recycled paper.

Damaged spine revealing the recycled paper.

Damaged spine revealing the recycled paper.

It is also interesting to look at cover design and book titles. I suspect cover design not only reflected the era and style of the time but also affected price. The more intricate and detailed covers would have sort higher values than the cheaper, plainer fabric bound books which I guess were the old fashioned version of a paperback. Without a blurb, potential readers would have been reliant on the titles for the gist of a story. Examples from my collection include, ‘The Lost Emerald’, ‘Terry and the Ancestors’, ‘The Welsh Singer’, ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’, and ‘A King’s Treachery’. Here are some obscure titles, ‘Manco’, ‘Noble but not the Noblest’, ‘That Merry Crew’, ‘The Crimson Whistler’ and ‘Filling up the Chinks’.

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Some of the more interesting covers in my collection

[To be continued…]

Book Finder

Chuck Wendig recently asked this question: What gets you to read a book?

I’m not your normal reader. I should hardly be surprised that what gets me to read a book isn’t ‘normal’ either but after reading a fair portion of the two hundred odd responses to that question, I realise I’m a bookcrastinator. I just made that a thing.6fe043b0c69edddc41f7dbd2a1768fcd

These are the main ways I’m enticed to read a book.

1. Someone’s lent it to me
“This book is amazing. Have you read it?”
“Uh, no. No, I haven’t…”
“Really? Well, here. You can borrow it if you want.”
“That’s very nice of you but-”
“But it’s really good, you’ll really enjoy it”
“I don’t think-”
*steely stare* *gritted teeth* “Just. Read. It.”
“Yeah, Ok. Sure.” *takes book*

That may be a slight exaggeration but borrowing a book is an effective means of getting me to read. It’s fills me with a sense of obligation and the worry of possessing someone else’s stuff can be as motivating as a deadline (unless you’re family. Sorry, I’ll get it back to you soon…). It’s a bit like a friend insisting you attend a function and you end up having a really great time.

2. Saturation Point
If I hear about a book often enough, curiosity prevails. I began reading The Hunger Games trilogy, His Dark Materials and the Harry Potter series this way. And the Twilight saga. My only proviso is, I have to be interested in the basic premise for curiosity to kick in.

3.The Gift
People don’t buy me books very often, (probably because they rarely witness me read them) but I will read a book gifted to me. I sometimes read a book I’ve bought for someone else. Usually my husband. He’ll read it first and if he recommends it, I’ll read it second.

Snapshot 2011-09-02 13-08-574. Book Beauty
I buy a lot of second hand or antique books because I believe they are beautiful not because I plan to read them. But occasionally, I do. Modern books rarely turn my head for their cover art.

Aside: I, Coriander is the only ‘modern’ book I have ever bought because of its appearance and although it’s geared at a much younger audience it’s also a charming read.

Perhaps you are looking at my list wondering what’s wrong with it? I agree, it’s a good, healthy list of completely valid reasons to read a book (I was particularly proud of the way ‘Book Beauty’ sounded like Black Beauty) but as I wrote the sentence ‘modern books rarely turn my head for their cover art’ I realised I rarely look at books. I don’t browse in bookshops, I wander aimlessly. I don’t pluck books from shelves and devour blurbs. I don’t read reviews or recommendations or express an unwavering magnetism for a catchy title. What gets me to read a book is astoundingly passive.

It could be argued that I seek books at markets, but then it’s not really a book I’m buying is it? I’m buying a beautiful object that I’m unlikely to read.

For reading inspiration, a fellow blogger suggested I join GoodReads but the prospect of facing all those books made me feel like Mickey in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Dum-de-dum, dum-de-dum, with books heading towards me, hitching up their slip-covers and I’m trying to read them before they multiply. I realise now bookstores make me feel the same way. Overwhelmed.

I don’t find books, books find me.

It’s time to become the sorcerer.

This isn’t the post I intended to write, but this is what evolved. Personally, it’s been most insightful, so thanks for letting me talk it through.