Category Archives: books

Material history between the pages.

One thing I love about used books is that their physical selves, regardless of the subject or literary content or the reason I want them, have history. I’m always pleased if I find even the name of a person (or a library) and possibly an inscription, giving evidence of its life before coming into my possession. I have discovered a few other little items, like a theater ticket or a clipped newspaper review of the book . But no money, or bacon, and no love letters.

Pippin just sent me this picture of a tortilla that was found in a library book; it looks like the tortilla came with salsa and cheese, too. She remembered an article I’d passed on years ago from the Abe Books Community page: “Things Found in Books.” I thought I’d blogged on this subject, but I can’t find that I did. So I’m passing on that link, plus this one:

From Atlas Obscura: “Best Things Found Between the Pages of Old Books,” including the story of a woman who found a small negative in a book she bought at a used bookstore, developed it, and found it was a photo of her as a child.

You can probably find more such lists online, and maybe have already. I’d be more interested in things that you, my own readers, have found in books, even if it’s only inscriptions. Let me know in the comments, and possibly I will write an update post.

RFC on idols and abstractions

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Today we had our annual birthday party for the Virgin Mary. Did you know her birthday is September 8th? It is one of the Twelve Great Feasts that we Orthodox Christians celebrate, and today, when it fell on a Sunday, several of us baked birthday cakes to eat at the agape meal. Even I baked one! I will try to post the recipe soon.

I guess that festivity put me in the mood to publish this post that I’ve had hanging around for five years. Back then I’d written several on The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon, and was working on a few more. Then, as they say, Life Happened, and RFC fell gradually down to the bottom of the drafts pile.  But he’s back, and I hope you feel the richer for revisiting his delightful book.

“A calorie is not a thing; it is a measurement. In itself, it does not exist. It is simply a way of specifying a particular property of things, namely, how much heat they give off when burned. Only things, you see, are capable of being eaten or burned, loved or loathed; no one ever yet got his teeth into a calorie.

“….How sad, then, to see real beings…calorie counters — living their lives in abject terror of things that do not even go bump in the night. What a crime, not only against hospitality, but against being, to hear him turn down homemade noodles in favor of idols and abstractions — to watch him prefer nothing to something. And what a disaster to himself! To have capitulated so starchlessly before the the devil’s policy of desubstantialization! His body may or may not lose weight; his soul, however, is sure to wither.”

-Robert Farrar Capon in The Supper of the Lamb

Other posts in this series:

RFC is the man we need.
RFC begins with the meat.
RFC considers blood and sacrifice.
RFC makes one of nature’s marvels.
RFC for Butter Week
RFC drinks in graces

At least a poem or a paragraph.

I read on dictionary.com that this is National Read a Book Day. Do they want us to read an entire book? I might be able to do that if it’s one I picked up at the library yesterday, Phineas L. MacGuire Gets Cooking, by Frances O’Roark Dowell. I think I need to read at least a book per year by this author, to keep me grounded in the reality of middle schoolers. I’ve been slipping, though, probably because there is a gap right now in the ages of my seventeen grandchildren. The youngest of the older bunch is sixteen, and the oldest of the younger bunch is ten. The ten-year-old does love science and cooking, and would probably enjoy Phineas, and it’s always fun for me to read a title or two from the latest book loves of the children.

In the past I have read books in Erin Hunter’s Warriors cat series with Pat, and shared the fun of the Magic Treehouse books with his younger brother. Some of you might remember when I listened to Dowell’s book Anybody Shining with Maggie, not long after her grandpa’s passing. That was a first time for both of us for that story, and it was just right.

This perfect booksharing experience happened again a couple of years later when I introduced Pippin’s children to the Finn Family Moomintroll. According to the recommended age it was too advanced for them, but I went with my tendency to give the children material they might have to stretch a bit to appreciate, and to read books that I personally love. That time I don’t think they had to stretch at all to find a lot of “fruit” that was very tasty, and all the more so for being enjoyed together.

I am running on slow speed today, having stayed up way too late laughing with old friends and giving them a garden tour. We ate pizza and talked about many books, and watched videos of my late husband singing. Then we sang together ourselves, old songs from our common repertoire, drawing from the traditions of Jesus-people and the oldest American folksingers. They brought me this book of poems by Wendell Berry.

So I had already thought it might be a good day for reading. 🙂

 

You have to understand vagueness.

The work of the philosopher is a marshalling of remembrances for a specific purpose.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein

Last week someone I know used the phrase, “The marvelous clouds,” and I immediately remembered a book by that name that I bought a couple of years ago and wrote a very short post about, before it had even arrived in my mailbox. Recently I had moved that book from an upstairs shelf to a downstairs one, seemingly at random, so it was close at hand and I looked inside today. How surprising to see that back then I had read the introduction. I can tell because many passages are underlined 🙂 It is comfortingly full of references to the material world and other real things, which of course the title would lead you to believe, but the subtitle, about media theory, sounds… um… scarily theoretical. Here is my first post on the book:

“Ralph Waldo Emerson once declared that language is fossil poetry. Many words that we use carelessly have, embedded within their amber-like exterior, the remnants of long lost perceptions and intuitions. When received thoughtfully and with some delicacy, words have the capacity to allow us to travel back in time, to imagine how and what the world meant to our ancestors. But unlike the insects, or dinosaur DNA fixed in amber, the meanings within words are changing, evolving, as human perceptions change.”

-Ken Myers on Mars Hill Audio Journal, introducing his interview of John Durham Peters about his new book, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media.

I listened to this interview and have ordered the book, though I fear it will be above my head, like clouds. The author was not hard to understand when he was talking, and he spoke of so many things that I would like to “hear” him discuss further, after I get the book and can read the words on paper, and flip back and forth and underline a phrase here and there of his meaningful prose. How can I resist a book that contains all together in its title the words Marvelous, Philosophy, and Clouds?

(Originally “Words have skins like amber.”)

Albert was one of several commenters in 2016 who were inspired to put this book on their To-Read list, and he shared what he found in his research:

‘Wondering if I could benefit from reading The Marvelous Clouds, I looked for information about the author, and found a rather detailed interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

‘Here is John Durham Peters talking about why a book on media would use clouds as its chief metaphor: “Clouds illustrate media ontology. [They] exist by disappearing. They exist in time. . .  their dynamic materiality is suggestive for media under volatile digital conditions.” And,

‘“Clouds bear significance, but without any code to clarify what they mean. Their meanings are essentially vague. . . .  [They] are the original white noise.  . . . The ability to represent the indefinite is one of the great achievements of modern mathematics and media, and clouds were at the vanguard here too. If you want to understand how meaning works, you have to understand vagueness, and clouds are a chief example.”

‘At this point I almost gave up — his ideas were too cloudy for me — but I pressed on. Half way through, when the questioner brought up the possible negative effects of limitless storage and quick retrieval of data, a new idea was discussed as “something more insidious, a kind of existential de-orientation, in which presumptions of universal storage alter our relation to loss and death.”

‘Now I was interested.

‘It turns out to be a really good, comprehensive interview. By the end I could see better. My clouds were dispersed, somewhat. For a person whose book budget is limited, Brian Hanrahan’s interview is well worth reading. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-anthropoid-condition-an-interview-with-john-durham-peters/’

Speed forward to August of 2019, and I read the Intro again, gleaning the quote at top, and have continued into Chapter 1!! I thought some of you might be interested in the author’s introductory outline of the scope of the book, in this paragraph:

“In the first chapter I outline my intellectual debts and sketch the relevant landscape of media theory. In chapters 2 and 3, I examine sea and fire media, and in 4 and 5, the two main kinds of sky media. At first such realms as ocean, flame, and the heavens would seem to be unpromising realms for human creativity or technical handling, each being hostile to our works in its own way. But in spite of their resistance, or rather because of it, such elements are seedbeds of arts and crafts, many of them so basic that it took eco-crisis and the digital shakeup to make them obvious. Hostile environments breed art. Enmity is the mother of invention. In chapter 6 I explore the earthy media of body and writing, and chapter 7 tackles the would-be ethereal medium of Google, each medium also having its own productive meditations. Finally, I offer a few concluding meditations.”

Chapter 7 is titled “God and Google,” and the last chapter, “A Sabbath of Meaning.” My goodness, but I wonder how the meat of the chapters will satisfy my appetite that has been whetted by so many provocative phrases. But it does sound fun, especially from chapter 2 on, to make a philosophical journey through sea, fire, and sky, going on to explore “earthy” media… God will surely balance out whatever about Google might bore me in Chapter 7, and if I’m exhausted by the end, well, Peters has wisely put a sabbath right there in a helpful place.

A ramble like this doesn’t lend itself to a good ending, so I’ll close with one more quote from The Marvelous Clouds:

Einer Hilfe bedarf der Mensch immer.
(The human being always needs a help.)
-F.W.J. Schelling

But you don’t need to read the book to know that.