Saturday, January 18, 2020

"Only long enough to make a beginning"

I might come back later and do a full Book Covers post on this — the 1958 science-fiction novel 43,000 Years Later by Horace Coon. But for now I just wanted to share this excerpt, which I came across while flipping idly through the book:
"The most incredible thing about humans was not in their achievements, their art, their technical advancement, nor even their congenital irrationality. What strikes me most forcibly at this stage of our investigation was the prodigality, the pure and simple wickedness of the way in which they wasted their most precious possession — time. And not only time, but the stupidity and silliness with which they wasted their whole lives. I have studied the gravestones. Apparently their medical science could not advance the average age beyond seventy years, although many lived much longer. Now seventy Earth years is only long enough to acquire a background and a familiarity with their planet, only long enough to make a beginning. Humans did not realize what they could do with the few hours they had."

Official Presentation Card for Peter Max's amazeballs 1974 U.S. stamp

This is an Official (Psychedelic) Presentation Card (No. 285 of 10,000) that accompanied the release of the United States' 10¢ Preserve the Environment stamp on April 18, 1974. The stamp ⁠— 135 million of them were printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing ⁠— was released in conjunction with Expo '74, which was held in Spokane, Washington, and described as "the first environmentally themed world's fair."

The stamp's illustration was done by German artist Peter Max, whose bright and jazzy style is well-associated with the 1960s and 1970s. Here's the information from the back of the presentation card, which measures 6 inches by 9 inches:
"Peter Max, perhaps the best known artist in the world, was commissioned to design this stamp for the World's Fair. The only one to be held in the United States in this decade. The perfect artist to interpret the Expo's theme 'Preserve the Environment', Peter's work has always reflected his involvement in nature. Peter's stamp art from his 'Cosmic' style both depicts the beauty of our yet unspoiled Earth and graphically prepares us for the sparkling galaxies of the future. The Stamp's main character is a male figure the artist calls the 'Cosmic Jumper'. It is running through the unique Peter Max Universe inhabited by people, flora, and animals representative of the environment. To the right of the 'Cosmic Jumper' is a head in profile that Peter defines as a 'Smiling Sage' celebrating tomorrow's fresh new environment. As one critic said, 'Joy and exuberance are a by-product of every Peter Max creation.'"
The presentation card, published by Fleetwood, gets extra points for being printed on recycled paper. It features, as you can see, a different Max illustration than the one used on the stamp. I wonder if that's the "Cosmic Jumper" in a different outfit, or perhaps one of his sidekicks.

According to the United States Postal Service, the modeler for this stamp was Ronald C. Sharpe. (I'm guessing that's the person who handles the type elements and other parts of the design that don't relate to the primary artwork.)

Much has been written about Max's six-decade career and how he essentially created the artistic backdrop for an era. He explained some of this himself in his 2012 book of biographical essays, The Universe of Peter Max. And he remembered the anniversary of this 1974 stamp in a Facebook post to mark Earth Day in 2018:

But, sadly, there might be a question as to whether Max himself wrote that Facebook post. A May 2019 article in The New York Times by Amy Chozick tells the sad and bizarre tale of people who appear to be taking advantage of Max's dementia:
"Several years ago, he received a diagnosis of symptoms related to Alzheimer’s, and he now suffers from advanced dementia. Mr. Max, 81, hasn’t painted seriously in four years, according to nine people with direct knowledge of his condition. He doesn’t know what year it is, and he spends most afternoons curled up in a red velvet lounger in his apartment, looking out at the Hudson River.

"For some people, Mr. Max’s decline spelled opportunity. His estranged son, Adam, and three business associates took over Mr. Max’s studio, drastically increasing production for a never-ending series of art auctions on cruise ships, even as the artist himself could hardly paint."
It is a depressing final chapter of Max's life. Also depressing is this: Max helped to put a "stamp" on the pro-environment movement that was taking place in 1974 ... and what can we truly say we've accomplished for Planet Earth in the 46 years since then?

As Chozick wrote in the Times: "(Max's) DayGlo-inflected posters became wallpaper for the turn on, tune in, drop out generation." Maybe there's still time for his artwork to inspire more of us in the current generation to tune in to reality and get busy fixing it. Isn't that what the "Cosmic Jumper" would want?

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Book cover: "A Tree Is Nice"

  • Title: A Tree Is Nice
  • Author: Janice May Udry (1928-present)
  • Illustrator: Marc Simont (1915-2013)
  • So, to be clear: Both creators of this gentle book about trees lived into their 90s (at least).
  • Book dimensions: 6.5 inches by 11 inches
  • Publisher: Harper & Row
  • Publication date: 1956
  • Pages: 32
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Provenance: Once part of the York County Library System. Checked out as recently as July 2017. But then it was stamped WITHDRAWN and, worse, "WEED" on the back cover. I realize that "weeding" is a book term, and it's a necessary part of the process of keeping a library relevant to its users. But it seems ironic and sad to mark a beautiful book about trees with the word "weed." I bought this book for 20 cents at the Dover Area Community Library's annual sale last fall. This book's next stop will be in a Little Free Library.

  • First sentence: "Trees are very nice."
  • Last sentence: "They wish they had one so they go home and plant a tree too."
  • Random sentence from the middle: "A tree is nice for a house to be near."
  • Goodreads rating: 3.93 stars (out of 5)
  • Goodreads review excerpt: Just a few days ago, Sarah Nelson wrote: "I keep musing about writing a picture book about trees, but can't imagine how I might write a tree book that is any more perfect and satisfying that this 1957 Caldecott winner."
  • Amazon rating: 4.7 stars (out of 5)
  • Amazon review excerpt: In 2014, Travis Ann Sherman wrote: "The gentle words of this book float along smoothly and effortlessly, and tell no tale. But as a tree lover, I feel the importance of throwing a spotlight on the trees around us. Kids inherently love trees for all the reasons listed in 'A Tree is Nice', because you can play in them, because birds nest in them, because you can pick their fruit and pick up their sticks. Everyone needs to be reminded how much we need and love them."
  • Plant a tree! We're hoping to plant some trees in our yard this spring, so this is a nice book to note as we think about tree types and locations. As explains: "Trees provide the very necessities of life itself. They clean our air, protect our drinking water, create healthy communities, and feed the human soul. But these life necessities are threatened around the globe. To address this, we’re launching an unprecedented undertaking: the Time for Trees initiative. Together, we can create change ... through trees." That effort aims to plant 100 million trees in forests and communities by 2022 — the 150th anniversary of Arbor Day.
  • Other books with the word "tree" in the title on my Goodreads to-read list (though these are not necessarily books about trees):
    • Tree Houses: Fairy Tale Castles in the Air, by Jodidio Philip
    • Irish Trees: Myths, Legends & Folklore, by Niall Mac Coitir
    • The Private Lives of Trees, by Zambra Alejandro
    • Under the Udala Trees, by Okparanta Chinelo
    • Dancing with Trees: Eco-Tales from the British Isles, by Allison Galbraith
    • A River Could Be a Tree, by Angela Himsel
    • Around the World in 80 Trees, by Jonathan Drori
    • It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree, by A.J. Jacobs
    • Stone Tree, by Gyrðir Elíasson
    • The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World, by Peter Wohlleben
    • The People in the Trees, by Hanya Yanagihara
    • American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation, by Eric Rutkow

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Fantasy-themed bookplate inside "Shardik" paperback

This bookplate, replete with unicorns, faeries and elves, appears on the inside front cover of the 1976 Avon paperback edition of Shardik. It shows that the book once belonged to Deborah Frownfelter. I think it's possible⁠ ⁠— likely, even ⁠— that Deborah blacked out the original owner's name and then wrote her own name in silver ink atop the black. In that case, she would have just "inherited" the bookplate. According to Ye Olde Internet, this bookplate was produced by Antioch, one of the biggest names in that niche market. I wrote about another one of their bookplates in October 2018.

Richard Adams' Shardik, published in 1974, was his second novel after his amazing debut, Watership Down. Shardik didn't get nearly as much acclaim as Adams' first novel, and the reviews of the 600-plus page book were decidedly mixed.

Even this 2018 five-star review on Goodreads says the book is tough going: "It’s dense, philosophical, poetic, and sometimes reads like scripture. It took me a long time to get through, putting it down and picking it up again often. But it is also insanely ambitious, successful, and deeply beautiful. It’s a difficult read because it’s pace is almost real-time, but the level of detail in every aspect of it is impressive. It’s epic fantasy that reads like religious history. If you’ve got the inclination to stick with it, it’s rewarding."

Those most common rating on Goodreads is three stars. A 2013 reviewer there wrote: "This was a very thorough novel, though I had trouble keeping pace with it because of some of the absurdly long descriptive paragraphs. Adams is an amazing storyteller and his exploration of the human mind and religious reaction to a prophecied return are commendable. I simply found it difficult to follow along after a while because the paragraphs got so absurdly long sometimes (there was one paragraph that spanned three pages) and often the bigger paragraphs were largely descriptive of the milieu."

One can wonder if Deborah even read or finished the book after annexing the nameplate. An examination of the spine creases and interior pages would seem to indicate that the answer is no.