Saturday, May 2, 2020

Great link: How old is Don Mattingly, anyway?

The 1987 Topps baseball cards had a fantastic design1, with their wood grain frame around the photograph on the front. And they were issued during the peak of my card collecting, when I was 16. I had disposable income, a deep interest in following baseball and friends who were also collectors.

I had a few of the coveted 1987 Topps Don Mattingly cards. So I really dug the recent Sam Miller article on about a mystery on the back of the 1987 Mattingly card. It's a great read, and I won't spoil any of it for you. Check it out if you need a break from reading about COVID-19, Kim Jong-un and murder hornets.

(You clicked on the murder hornets, didn't you? Sigh.)

1. The three best Topps designs from 1970 to 1990 were, in my view: 1981, 1987 and 1971. I want to like 1972 and 1975 more, but the colors should have been better coordinated to match the teams. The 1978 and 1980 Topps cards are memorable because I grew up with so many of them in my shoebox, but they're nothing to write home about, design-wise. The 1983 and 1984 cards perhaps deserve more credit for having both an action shot and a head shot, but I can't get too excited about them. The years 1985 through 1990 were just godawful ugly with one exception, which is why it's such a miracle that 1987 turned out so brilliantly.

Stay-at-home shelfie #36

The first two books on the left are on the topic of vinyl records. The short but tantalizing description of Lament from Epirus: An Odyssey into Europe's Oldest Surviving Folk Music is this: "In a gramophone shop in Istanbul, renowned record collector Christopher C. King uncovered some of the strangest — and most hypnotic — sounds he had ever heard." And the title of Amanda Petrusich's book is also very descriptive: Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78rpm Records.

These books also bring to mind one of my favorite podcasts of 2019: Ephemeral. Alex Williams' show is a clear labor of love that I cannot recommend highly enough. Two of the episodes that will stick with you for a long time, I think, are Diaspora and Reputation.

All of this also makes me wonder what's up these days with Zero Freitas, the Brazilian businessman who has amassed millions of old records and wants to create an Emporium Musical. The New York Times wrote about him in 2014 and The Vinyl Factory published an interview with Freitas in February 2016.

Moving along, Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America is just absolutely, utterly, unacceptably out of place. What can I say? Bookshelves are a constant work in progress. This history volume more properly belongs with either the Weather Books or the Somewhat Chronological U.S. History.

Then comes a large collection of books about computers and computing, some especially focused on the transformative moments in the second half of the 20th century. There are books on PARC, PLATO, Richard Garriott, artificial intelligence, the evolution of computer games, cyberwarfare, hackers, the dawn of cyberculture, Claude Shannon and more. Though it's now a little dated, 1997's Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace by Janet H. Murray is an engrossing look at new forms of storytelling and gaming that emerged in the computer age. Murray's book contains several discussions about Infocom games. The final book on the far right is Break Out: How the Apple II Launched the PC Gaming Revolution, by David L. Craddock. As we shall soon see, these are not all of the books on computers and computer gaming! Hashtag nerd, as Mom would have said.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Stay-at-home shelfie #35

Lost in the shadows on the left is The 84th Infantry Division in The Battle of Germany by Lt. Theodore Draper. My grandfather, John Alexander Otto (1911-1991), was in the 84th. I'm going to write a post about Pappy's time in the service, and I realize throughout this series I've been saying — almost to the point of it being a running joke — that I'm going to do a future post on something or the other, but in this case it's going to happen soon. Stay tuned.

Then there's my little collection of art history books, three of which are by Ross King. The reddish-orange book that's kind of hidden is Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa, by R.A. Scotti.

The last book in this photo is In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea, by Danny Goldberg.

Up next: Nerdy computer books!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Stay-at-home shelfie #34

Continuing with the nonfiction/history bookshelf, there is a lot of variety here, thought probably not anything that remotely follows Dewey Decimal Classification protocol. Across the top is Topsy, an incredibly depressing book that was a Christmas present from Joan and pairs well with the short novel The Only Harmless Great Thing.

We're Still Here by Jennifer M. Silva and Amity and Prosperity by Eliza Griswold make a decent thematic pair, I think. As do Solito, Solita, edited by Steven Mayers and Jonathan Freedman, and Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario.

Perhaps it would have been better, thematically, to have Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe side-by-side.

I went through a James Howard Kunstler phase, long since over, more than a decade ago, and these are the only two volumes I still have left from that time.

Two books about our civilization's mountains of garbage are followed by The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher W. Alexander, because why not?

I read Candyfreak more than a decade ago and found it absolutely delightful. I still haven't tried any Five Star Bars, though. Maybe I should get on that.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Stay-at-home shelfie #33

As if I don't have enough future reading on my plate, I do plan to someday read Robert Caro's The Years of Lyndon Johnson. And so I picked up these used copies at The York Emporium a while back. It just seems like, with a magisterial series like this, one should have it in hardcover.

Caro published the first four volumes between 1982 and 2012, perhaps not realizing when he started that its research and writing would consume so many decades of his life. Now 84½, he's been working on the fifth volume for nearly a decade. In January of this year, he told The New York Times that he has 604 typed manuscript pages so far; he shuns computers and still uses his Smith-Corona Electra 210.

“It’s going to be a very long book,” Caro told The Times.

The fifth volume is planned as a mostly chronological narrative of LBJ's presidency. After 600+ pages, Caro still had not arrived at the Vietnam War within the narrative. So, indeed, it's going to be a long book

And what if Caro doesn't have the opportunity to finish the fifth volume? C-SPAN's Brian Lamb asked Caro that very question in March 2019.

Lamb: "Do you have a plan in the event that this doesn't go well for you from a health standpoint that it will eventually be published no matter whether you finished it or not? It sounds like a cruel question, but there it is."

Caro: "Well, the one thing I know is I'm never going to let my books, this book, be finished by anyone else. Whatever I've written is going to be published. If I don't finish the book that's it. I have in my will, my literary executives know, no one is going to finish my book."

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Topical postmark from the UK

I received a Postcrossing postcard this week from a retired schoolteacher in England, and it had this urgent message, the overriding message of this moment, as part of the postmark:


The NHS is the National Health Service. Various news reports this week out of the United Kingdom indicate that about 100 front-line NHS staffers and care workers have died of COVID-19. Overall, more than 21,000 people in the UK have died of the coronavirus in hospitals. So it is heartening to see the Royal Mail, through this postmark, show support for health care workers and urge citizens to stay home in order to best protect them. Stay home, everyone. We're flattening the curve but we are decidedly not there yet.

Stay-at-home shelfie #32

"It would be historically inaccurate to reduce the contributions of black people to the vast material wealth created by our bondage. Black Americans have also been, and continue to be, foundational to the idea of American freedom. More than any other group in this country’s history, we have served, generation after generation, in an overlooked but vital role: It is we who have been the perfecters of this democracy. ... Without the idealistic, strenuous and patriotic efforts of black Americans, our democracy today would most likely look very different — it might not be a democracy at all." — Nikole Hannah-Jones, introducing The 1619 Project last summer.

"For many years I was a clueless white guy. I suffered from one-ness. What I really needed was two-ness, and maybe three-ness and four-ness. ... And then Karen Dunlap, my boss and president of the Poynter Institute, made it explicit. It gets tiring, she explained, bearing the burden of white people's ignorance about black people and African-American culture. 'You know,' she gave me a Sunday school teacher look, 'you could read something.'

Read something. Yes, read something!

And so I have."
— Roy Peter Clark, for The Undefeated in 2018.

I'm almost 50 and I have not read nearly enough of other lives, other histories, other experiences, other perspectives. I acknowledge all that, and acknowledge that all I can do to address it is keep chipping away at my ignorance. One page, one chapter, one book, one conversation at a time.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Stay-at-home shelfie #31

Well-researched history, conveyed justly and coherently, is vital to civilization. We must let in the sunshine of the past in order to help disinfect us from the potential missteps of the present. Or, stated another way: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. On the other hand, you can't "remember" history or science you never learned in the first place, can you? But I digress.

Well-researched history, conveyed justly and coherently, is also fantastic reading. One volume you won't see on any of these shelves, because I donated it in a hopeless attempt to "make more room," is Bill Bryson's At Home: A Short History of Private Life. It's a wonderful read and, just as important, it's a launching pad for a hundred other pieces of history I want to explore and books I want to read. Gaining knowledge doesn't quench the desire for knowledge; it just makes you thirstier.

So here's a small batch of history books, in semi-chronological order, or at least as well as I could do without spending an entire afternoon obsessing. Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab, is by NPR journalist Steve Inskeep, who has also just published Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Frémont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War. Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time is now appearing disconcertingly relevant, though I think the economic and societal upheavals we will face due to COVID-19 will have a much different look than those of the Great Depression. It's hard to predict the future, though many journalists and thinkers are already attempting to do so. (Ed Yong in The Atlantic, Jonathan V. Last in The Bulwark, and this roundup on Politico have tried to scratch the surface.)

Every Man Dies Alone, by Hans Fallada, is a novel that's based on the true story of Germans Otto and Elise Hampel, who were executed for writing and distributing anti-Nazi postcards in Berlin in the early 1940s. I have it among the history books because it's the best telling of a part of history that should never be forgotten.

Delivered from Evil, a one-volume history of World War II, was written by Robert Leckie, who I blogged about for Relics, Papergreat's now-vanished predecessor.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Book signed by a "ghost"

Here's a fun tidbit I stumbled across while surfing the internet a while back. It's a page from an autographed copy of the 1969 book 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey, by journalist, folklorist and storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham (1918-2011). As you can see, the book is signed by Windham and also by Jeffrey.

"Jeffrey" is a ghost.

Windham was a bit of an American treasure. She began reviewing movies for her hometown newspaper in Alabama at age 12. At the same time, she also started photographing life in her rural area with her Brownie box camera. According to Wikipedia, after she graduated from college she became the first woman journalist for the Alabama Journal.

But she was interested in more than journalism. She preserved the local color of her state through the stories and folklore she collected and passed down.

And part of that folklore involved ghost stories.

13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey was the first of Windham's ghost-tale collections. Her 2011 obituary in The New York Times notes: "The name Jeffrey appears in the title of seven of Ms. Windham’s ghost books — a nod to the apparition that apparently occupied the Windham home." Indeed, Wikipedia further adds: "Windham became interested in ghost stories after this ghost began to haunt her family [in October 1965]. At first, the family heard footsteps in rooms that would later be found empty. Sometimes, objects had been moved."

It was all in good fun. The New York Times obituary quotes Windham as saying this later in life: "Actually, I’ve never seen a ghost. Do they exist or don’t they exist? That’s something you can decide for yourself. Good ghost stories do not require that you believe in ghosts.

And good ghost stories outlast their tellers. The Windham website,, is where you can learn more about Windham and her works. It's a wonderful site ... and if you linger just a little, you might even discover Jeffrey. Unless he discovers you first.

Stay-at-home shelfie #30

Moving downward one shelf takes us to a spot with poorer lighting and, combined with some less-than-stellar photography, it's harder to read the spines of some of these titles.

This is primarily The Shelf of Books About Books — very meta. Volumes about book publishing, bookstores, book collecting, book collectors, book towns, things tucked inside books, etc. The first book, on the far left, is Evgeny Steiner's Stories for Little Comrades: Revolutionary Artists and the Making of Early Soviet Children's Books, which was a gift from Joan and Kaitlyn. Next to that might be the most meta book of all: Henry Petroski's (highly recommended) The Book on the Bookshelf is a history of bookshelves or, more to the point, a history of the centuries-long process of human civilization deciding how we preferred to store our book collections. Without that history, there are no shelfies today.

It's only natural for me to have an interest in others who have been book collectors throughout history. One of the biggest names in that regard was Sir Thomas Phillipps, 1st Baronet (1792-1872). A.N.L. Munby wrote a five-volume history of the Phillipps collection and where all those books (and manuscripts and ephemera) went after Phillipps died. The five volumes were also condensed into the one-volume Portrait of an Obsession, which was a 2012 Christmas gift from Joan.

My Kingdom of Books refers to the previously alluded to Hay-on-Wye, Wales, a tiny town with many, many bookstores. And Forgotten Bookmarks is one of the books that sprung from the wonderful blog of the same name. (And it goes without saying that many of the books pictured here have things tucked away inside.)

Moving to the second photo, there are numerous difficult or impossible spines to read, so here's a rundown on some of the volumes:

  • Preservation of Leather Bookbindings, by Ralph Wylie Frey
  • Is My Old Book Valuable? by Edward L. Sterne
  • Observations on the Mystery of Print, by Hendrik Willem Van Loon [2018 post]
  • First Editions of To-Day and How to Tell Them, by H.S. Boutell [2018 post]
  • The Amenities of Book-Collecting and Kindred Affections, by A. Edward Newton
  • A Primer of Book Collecting, by John T. Winterich and David A. Randall
  • The Typography of Advertisements, by F.J. Trezise
  • Lessons on the Use of Books and Libraries, by O.S. Rice [2018 post]
  • Books and Bidders, by A.S.W. Rosenbach
  • Commercial Engraving and Printing, by Charles W. Hackleman

Finally, there are several generously illustrated books about the history of postcards.

Phew. Maybe I'll go back to doing these long shelves as two separate posts...