Sunday, March 24, 2024

1969's "Lovely," highbrow erotica by David Meltzer

Apologies in advance if this post is a little too, ahem, cheeky for some. Actually, it's going to get a lot cheeky, if you want to bail out now. I'm still ever-so-slowly chipping away at the Resimplify Me goal or the Semi-Swedish Death Cleaning goal or whatever we want to call it. I've pruned, sold and donated a fair number of books in recent weeks, and I'm starting to put some stuff up for auction on eBay. Today's book is one of those items, but I'm feeling the regret of never having done a proper blog post about it, so I'm doing that now, before heading over to eBay to make the listing that I hope will underwrite part of my July vacation.

  • Title: Lovely
  • Series: Brain-Plant. Lovely is #1, and it was followed in the tetralogy by Healer, Out and Glue Factory.
  • Author: David Meltzer (1937-2016), a renowned American poet
  • Cover illustrator: It seems that it's Milton Luros (1911-1999). That's based on what I read at this Paris Olympia Press post. The illustration, not the text, is what originally drew me to this book. 
  • Excerpt from lengthy back cover blurb: "Welcome to the Fun Zone, where the dark shadows of your private perversions are shielded from the world outside ... where breezy girls will blow all your troubles away ... where you can feast and be feasted upon."
  • Publication date: 1969
  • Publisher: Essex House, North Hollywood, California. Essex House was a short-lived subsidary of Parliament News, which was owned by illustrator Luros.
  • Format: Paperback (#0117)
  • Pages: 159
  • Cover price: $1.95 (the equivalent of about $16.50 today)
  • Statement on first page: "This is an original Essex House book — the very finest in adult reading by the most provocative modern writers"
  • First paragraph: "Now look. Things are getting worse. That's all there is to it. It's a simple matter of fact. The 25 Year War isn't working out the way we'd figured. It isn't 1) showing the big profit everyone hoped for, and 2) it's getting terribly untidy, out-of-hand. Quite frankly, off-the-record, Military Industry is in a jam."
  • Last paragraph: "And tomorrow you will be awakened and directed to the next room which, when used up, will shut off and lead you into the next room beyond it. Lovely. There is so much more in store for you, so much to do."
  • PG-13 excerpt #1: "Dr. Feelgood née Farley Blot née Asklepius Paracellus Wiltgeltstein vibrates with twin pleasure-syndrome snap-synapse wiring within him."
  • PG-13 excerpt #2: "The drunken Reb dances his giddy gavotte across the hardwood floor and slides on the shine, lands ass-first on the firm turf and slams the side of his head against a cast-iron replica bust of John Foster Dulles, an attic-gray antique from the old days, a full ten-feet tall."
  • Are there R-rated excerpts? Yes, there are very R-rated excerpts. But the racy language veers far more toward ridiculous than toward steamy and sultry.
  • Excerpt from lengthy postscript by sci-fi author/Harvey Milk speechwriter Frank M. Robinson: "As satire, Lovely is completely outrageous — until you consider the completely outrageous reality that it's based on. We all know that Christian, God-fearing America is quite capable of committing outrageous crimes in the names of its various Gods (so, incidentally, is every other country on the face of the globe)."
  • Commentary from the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: "(Meltzer's) vision is even more sharply focused in the Brain Plant sequence ... in which cartoonlike characters ricochet surreally through a disjointed USA in a pre-programmed search for theme-park Sex, while the Secret Masters ... at the heart of the military-industrial complex rule on."
  • Excerpt from Adam Groves' insightful and R-rated post about the Brain-Plant tetralogy on "This unjustly forgotten product of the late-1960’s porno underground, consisting of the novels LOVELY, HEALER, OUT and GLUE FACTORY (all from 1969), is among the most complex and ambitious examples of pornographic literature ... ever written. ... Each of its four books are self-contained, but all must be perused to get the full effect of a saga that reads like an unholy mash-up of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, NAKED LUNCH and Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL. ... To be sure, the BRAIN PLANT saga is not without its share of overt flaws. It’s dense, frequently incoherent and often agonizingly self-indulgent, with satire that might charitably be called broad and obvious (as naming the central authority figure God unquestionably is). Yet it must be classified as a monumental work nonetheless, with a range, imagination and confounding intelligence that are without parallel in the [erotica] realm."

Young Oliver is definitely not old enough to read Lovely.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

"The Japanese Twins" by Lucy Fitch Perkins

  • Title: The Japanese Twins
  • Author and illustrator: Lucy Fitch Perkins (1865-1937)
  • About the author: Perkins was an Indiana-born children's author and illustrator who was wildly successful (or at least her publisher was), with Houghton Mifflin selling more than 2 million copies of her books. Born Lucy Fitch, she married architect Dwight H. Perkins in 1891. According to an outstanding article on the Evanston (Illinois) Women's History Project website: "Although Perkins started her career as an artist, she utilized her position in the publishing world to instruct social change to children through her writing. ... Perkins firmly believed she could teach tolerance and mutual respect to children by appealing to their sympathies and engaging their imagination through fiction, and that despite the melting pot America was becoming, there could be peace among the different nationalities of children within Chicago and Evanston schools. She was deeply affected by the oppressed and depressed nations flocking to American shores and worried how a homogenous national could be made out of such heterogeneous material." 
  • Quote from Perkins herself: This quote is from The History Girls blog, and I confirmed that it came from 1935's The Junior Book of Authors: "The necessity for mutual respect and understanding between people of different nationalities if we are ever to live in peace on this planet. In particular I felt the necessity for this in this country where all the nations of the earth are represented in the population."
  • About the "Twins" series: Perkins published The Dutch Twins in 1911 after being inspired by friend Edwin Osgood Grover, a publisher and educator. The series was a huge success, eventually growing to 26 books. The Japanese Twins, published in 1912, was the second book in the series. According to Wikipedia: "For each book, Perkins would try to interview an individual who grew up in the given country to gain an understanding of the particular customs. In later books in the series, such as The American Twins of the Revolution, history supplanted geography as the basis of the twins' backgrounds." The Evanston Women's History Project article adds: "Through her writing of the Twin series of children’s fiction, Perkins addressed significant issues such as the tremendous importance of land ownership, absentee landlordism, immigration, game preserves and themes of almost an adult nature. However, these gave the reader an appreciation of what was done historically in America to make it the country which attracted many nations to immigrate here, and demonstrated how a cohesive future could be created if cultures and customs were understood and respected."
  • Some criticism: It should be noted that, while Perkins' aims were generally praiseworthy, at least one volume in the Twin series received both contemporary and modern criticism. 1931's The Pickaninny Twins features two African American children living in the U.S. South. In an essay that appears in the 2014 book Ethics and Children's Literature, Moira Hinderer writes: "Series books with regional themese were particularly prone to descriptions of a never-changing, plantation South stocked with stereotyped Black characters, and the wide range of reactions to these books reveals the challenges that librarians ... faced as they sought to change racial representations in children's literature." Hinderer notes that while Perkins' books focused on themes of loyalty, family, honesty and bravery, "When Perkins wrote a book about Black children in the American South she chose to call it The Pickaninny Twins. The book was a classic plantation story about the frolicking misadventures of superstititious 'darkies.' ... The publication of The Pickaninny Twins brought quick public criticism from African American librarians [even as] Perkins's work was widely praised by mainstream professional publications."
  • About this book: My hardcover copy of The Japanese Twins is listed as "School Edition" and is through The Riverside Press. While The Japanese Twins was first published in 1912, there is no publication date on this edition. However, the "Also by this author" listing at the front includes books that were published through 1938, so this volume can't be from any earlier than that year.
  • Dimensions: 5½ inches by 7⅝ inches.
  • Pages: 178, plus introduction and end notes directed at teachers
  • Provenance: The name David Clarence Frost is written in cursive on the "This Book belongs to" page. I purchased this book at Cupboard Maker Books in Enola, Pennsylvania, about four or five years ago. I got a few of Perkins' other books at the same time.
  • Excerpt #1: First of all, they came into a broad roadway with beautiful great cedar trees on each side. Under those trees were little booths. Great paper lanterns and banners of all colors hung in front of the booths; and when they waved gayly in the wind, the place looked like a giant flower-garden in full bloom.
  • Excerpt #2: Their Mother gave them each a paper umbrella in case of rain. She hung a little brocaded bag, wtih a jar of rice inside, on the left arm of each Twin. This was for their luncheon. Then she gave them each a brand-new copy-book and a brand-new soroban. A soroban is a counting machine.
  • Excerpt #3: The "Kura" is a little fireproof house in the garden. ... In it Taro and Take and their Father and Mother and Grandmother keep all their greatest treasures. That is why Taro and Take were so glad to go there. Nearly everybody in Japan has just such a safe little house in the garden. Maybe you can guess the reason why. It isn't only because of fires. It's because of earthquakes.
  • Rating on Goodreads: 3.94 stars (out of 5)
  • Goodreads review #1: TheLibraryOfSarah wrote: "Still not sure how accurate this is, but this is a very sweet story and well-written. I liked how the author wrote it in such a way that it sounds like she's talking to the reader, and I give her a lot of credit writing a book about another culture in a positive light, attempting to teach children about how other people live, in 1912."
  • Goodreads review #2 (excerpt): Ashley Lambert-Maberly wrote: "Does anyone else think ... Perkins is a long-ago closet feminist? She makes this adorable characters come to life, they act like real children, the girl twin is clearly the equal of the boy twin, and yet ... society tells the girl 'you're limited, you're not as special, you get fewer choices.' It's very frustrating, and I think Perkins intends readers to walk away with a huge dose of 'but that's not fair!'"
  • Rating on Amazon: 4.1 stars (out of 5)
  • Amazon review #1: Stephen G wrote: "Easy to read for children to give them an idea of how other cultures treat their children. I'm living in Japan and although this book is old the traditional values it depicts haven't changed much."
  • Amazon review #2: Angela Whelan wrote: "Chose several of the twins series of books as a trip down memory lane. Can distinctly remember reading them as a child and wondered why I was so enamoured of them. Have discovered how I know various things about different cultures from these books." 
Some of Perkins' illustrations from The Japanese Twins...

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Somewhere out there: Unpublished stories by Ruth Manning-Sanders

Lay's Auctioneers in the United Kingdom had another high-price auction today involving material from the estate of Ruth Manning-Sanders. (I wrote about an earlier one in January 2023.) Tantalizingly, this one focused on Manning-Sanders' papers and, specifically, her unpublished stories! Boxes and boxes of unpublished stories. (Gasp!)

This was the official auction listing:
"A vast collection of folk stories and fairy tales in typescript.

A very large collection containing thousands of folk stories from around the world, almost all in typescript with graphite notes to titles showing origin, included in this important collection are unpublished works including the novel 'Fog in the Channel'.

"Ruth Manning-Sanders was best known for her collections of fairy tales and folktales from around the world. Her significance lies in her dedication to preserving and sharing traditional stories from various cultures. While some fairy tales were well-known and widely published, Manning-Sanders sought out and shared lesser-known stories. This helped shed light on narratives that might have been overlooked and ensured that a broader range of cultural traditions was represented in her collection at a time when the field of folklore and fairy tale collections was often dominated by male scholars. Manning-Sanders made a significant contribution as a female folklorist. Her work helped pave the way for a more inclusive representation of voices in the study and preservation of folklore.

"An important collection of folk and fairy stories.

"From the estate of the authors descendants."
So, we now know that Manning-Sanders wrote an unpublished novel titled Fog in the Channel. I wonder what decade it's from. Was this one of her novels for adults from her early writing days? Or one of her later juvenile novels? Perhaps the individual who won this lot will seek to have it published some day. I think it's also fair to hope that these papers and ephemera will eventually be housed in a research library. I'm glad they still exist, and I hope they continue to exist for future scholars.

Notes on these papers also serve to further emphasize the important role that Manning-Sanders' daughter, Joan Floyd, played in her mother's writing efforts. They truly seemed to be a two-person team in the creation of many of the folklore and fairy tale collections.

Here are some more of the Lay's Auctioneers photos from the auction preview, for posterity:

Friday, February 9, 2024

Ukraine correspondences

Postcrossing has allowed me to connect with many wonderful people from Ukraine over the years. But life changed drastically for many Ukrainians two years ago this month, when Vladimir Putin's murderous Russian forces invaded the sovereign European nation of Ukraine. Many Ukrainian citizens have fled the fighting and become refugees. Whether they are still in the country or not, their futures remain uncertain while the war rages. (And that uncertainty is certainly heightened by Congress failing in recent months to provide the Ukrainian government with the assistance it needs to counter the Russian invasion.)

In recent days I've received a handful of correspondence reminding me of the humans who are affected every hour of every day by this war. 

1. I received the above postcard a few days ago. The text covers the entire back of the card. It states:
"Hello Chris! I'm alive. :) I deeply appreciate your thoughtful card, which brought joy to my life and gratitude for your support of Ukraine. Though I received it on 25th of April, I'm sending this in December 2023 to add a touch of Christmas cheer. The image of a Ukrainian tractor pulling a russian tank is a real story, you can Goolgl it. The inscription means 'Good evening, we are from Ukraine.' Now it's popular phrase. russia is still bombing my country and killing Ukrainians I keep waking up from explosions and listening to missiles and drones shooting down. But we believe in our victory. :) Million times thank you for your card." 
The postcard is unsigned.

2. In the meantime, I requested a new random Postcrossing user to send a postcard to this week, and I happened to receive the address of Ukrainian woman who is now living in Poland with her dog (Gerda) and cat (Murka). It's not clear from her profile whether she moved to Poland before the Russian invasion, or fled there during the past two years to escape the violence. Poland has taken in the most Ukrainian refugees — more than 1.6 million through last July. This Postcrossing member is seeking cards of koalas, owls, fairies, unicorns, Harry Potter and Avatar, so I'll do my best to send some good cheer her way.

3. Through Postcrossing, a Ukrainian and I became pen pals in the spring of 2021, exchanging postcards and letters often. She was (fortuitously?) on vacation in another country when the invasion began two years ago and has been essentially displaced ever since, trying to find a potential home, and perhaps new employment, elsewhere in the world. She's spent time in Poland, Germany, the Netherlands and then Canada for a long stint in 2023. Recently, she had an opportunity to visit loved ones in and around the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. This is part of what she emailed me about the experience:
"And so, here I am — in the freezing, snowy and uncalm city of Kyiv. The atmosphere at the moment is much worse than it was in April when I visited last time. The mobilization policy has been toughened — local authorities catch males literally everywhere in the city and serve them a summons to join the Armed forces of Ukraine. All my male friends, who don't want to find themselves at the war front, panic and not go out much. So, for the last week, I only met with my two female friends. I also visited my company's new office in Kyiv, but it was so short — after the first two hours of working, we received a message asking everyone to go home immediately due to the upcoming military recruitment centre raid in that district. So, as you can see, it's very turbulent. I feel sorry for young men who don't want to participate in the war. I think that war is awful, and even when the country is at war, it doesn't mean that every single man can physically and mentally participate in it. ... So many professionals support Ukraine in another way. And it's so sad that Ukraine doesn't have enough resources and support to win the war, so it ends up using such dirty methods as catching males on the streets. None will be a good soldier by force. So, overall, everything is sad here. And I wish it to end soon (but surely it won't)." 
4. Finally, on February 2, I received this email notification that a Postcrossing card I sent to another Ukrainian on November 26 had finally arrived after more than two months:
"Hello Chris!! Greetings from KYIV!
"Thank you so much for your postcard! Too bad you didn't see my daughter's eyes! When she saw that a letter had arrived for her — she was shocked! It was so sweet and so precious. I took the letter while she was at school and did not open it. When we were leaving school, I said that something special was waiting for her. She was so happy!!!
You have beautiful cats and a big heart. After all, only a person with a big heart can love animals so much :)
"Many thanks to you and your family! I wish you only the best!
"P.S All Ukrainians are infinitely grateful to America! Honestly, it's only thanks to patriot systems that my daughter can sleep in her own bed and not in a bomb shelter.
"From Kyiv with big love!” 

Excuse me, but now I need to go and write more correspondence. 

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Hans Holzer's "The Psychic World of Plants"

Here's another in an occasional series about the more obscure paperbacks penned by parapsychologist and ghost hunter Hans Holzer. The most recent post before this examined Window to the Past: Exploring History Through ESP. There's almost nothing on the internet about today's book, so this is a chance to get some information out there for posterity.

  • Title: The Psychic World of Plants
  • Additional cover text: Discover what your plants are thinking in this fascinating revelation
  • Author: Hans Holzer (1920-2009)
  • Cover designer: Unknown
  • Bonkers questions posed on the back cover: Does a carrot scream when it's uprooted? Do plants feel pain? fear? love? Can they communicate emotions? How do you listen to a plant? How do they feel about being eaten?
  • Publication date: September 1975
  • Publisher: Pyramid Books (V3695)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 125
  • Cover price: $1.25 (the equivalent of about $7.20 today)
  • Chapter titles: It's a Plant's World; How People and Plants Relate to Each Other; Science Looks at Plant Communication; Plants in Your Life; A Life with Plants: How to Deal with Your Rooted Friends; and The Do's and Don't of Eating Plants.
  • First sentences: "When a book like Peter Tompkins' and Christopher Bird's The Secret Life of Plants gets on the best-seller list, it is certainly news. It is further news when a total of seven or eight books devoted to the investigation of relationships between human beings and plants are suddenly popping up all over the publishing scene. There is no doubt about it, what goes on in a plant's heart is of great concern to an increasing number of human beings."
  • Last sentence: "After all, where would we all be without plants?"
  • Highlights from "How People and Plants Relate to Each Other": Holzer buys a "lovely pinkish-red bougainvillea" from Futterman's and decides to have some psychic friends — Ethel Johnson Meyers, Ingrid Beckman and Patricia Allen Bott  — see what vibes they can get from various houseplants. Ingrid finds love, tranquility, laziness and warmth in the vibrations of various plants, and attempts to communicate with some of them. Patricia talks about her conversations with her geranium, which is afraid of her cat. 
  • Highlights from "Science Looks at Plant Communication": Much of this chapter is just Holzer repeating material from Tompkins' and Bird's The Secret Life of Plants. It's pretty clear that this short book was, in part, an attempt to capitalize on the 1970s plant craze. The chapter then moves on to the topics of auras and energy fields. (We have, of course, been able to apply scientific methods and come a long way in our understanding of actual plant communications since these parapsychology days of the 1970s.)
  • Highlights from "Plants in Your Life": Here's a fun sentence: "Nevertheless, the possibility of utilizing the ability of plants to foresee things, to sense danger, and to warn man of its approach has led researcher [Cleve] Backster to the somewhat outrageous suggestion that plants be used in jungle warfare to warn of approaching enemies." The chapter then pivots into the sex life of plants, how certain plants stimulate sexual responses in humans and the use of plants in religious ceremonies. Witchcraft comes up, of course, because this is Hans Holzer. 
  • Highlights from "A Life with Plants: How to Deal with Your Rooted Friends": This chapter starts by drawing material from Jerry Baker's early 1970s book Plants are Like People. It's basically a bunch of gardening tips without much from the realm of parapsychology beyond "consider your plants' feelings" and "talk to your plants." There's a rundown of which plants are best-suited to each Zodiac symbol. 
  • Highlights from "The Do's and Don't of Eating Plants": This chapter allows Holzer to make a callback to his 1973 Pyramid paperback The Vegetarian Way of Life. Holzer notes: "One of the commonest arguments I hear from time to time against my being a vegetarian is that I kill plants, living beings, and that there really isn't any difference between destroying plant life and taking animal life." Holzer doesn't do his defense any favors by stating that plants have liquids that are similar to blood and that it has been "proven" that they feel pain. But he says we can treat plant food compassionately: "Breaking plants by hand without properly cutting them, mutilating them in any way while they are still connected to the root, destroying plants you do not need for food are all taboos that should be observed. ... Food plants should not be taken from the soil in the middle of the day but either at sunup or sundown. ... Do not leave plants [that have been harvested] lying around for long periods, allowing them to die slowly." Holzer also has strong opinions about soil additives to help plants' growth: "Neither chemical fertilizer not manure is the asnwer to healthy plants. Compost, that is, the natural remnants of decomposing leaves, flowers, and other products found in nature, is not only nonpoisonous but highly useful in stimulating soil conservation." To add a touch of the paranormal to the chapter, Holzer mentions that fresh fruit and mushrooms are excellent for boosting psychic perception. (No, not those kind of mushrooms.)
That's it. There are no reviews or discussions of this book on the internet, so hopefully this post will become the go-to resource for all those seeking Holzer's thoughts on plants and the supernatural. 
That's Oliver, whose mother, Mamacita, left him (and his four siblings) at our back door 
one morning last August when he was about 4 weeks old. 
Later, we were able to get Mamacita (a feral cat) spayed, which will make 
her life far better and spare us from future surprise kittens.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Resimplify Me, Chapter 1

I enjoy being surrounded by interesting things, but I need to be surrounded by far fewer interesting things. Too much stuff — too many options — is often paralyzing and stressful. I have more physical media than I will ever get around to in the time I have left. So I am officially embarking upon a long-term project I call Resimplify Me. A good place to start is books, because they are bulky and I have plenty to spare. Realistically, there are only so many 400-page tomes I’m going to read moving forward.

This is going to be a long project. The only place to start is one shelf (or drawer, or box) at a time. On this sunny Saturday morning, I'm beginning on a bookshelf. (Actually, it ended up being two bookshelves.) Shown above is top shelf of the far-right bookcase along my bedroom wall. 

These are my notes from along the way...

1. The top two shelves on this bookcase are world nonfiction. To get to them on the stepladder, I brushed past and jingled the bells that used to hang from the front door of the house on Oak Crest Lane. They're hanging from my bedroom ceiling now. 

2. Sitting atop the book case is the state of Delaware's detailed 1967 plan for responding to a nuclear attack, which I blogged about 12 years ago. I have no idea what to do with it.

3. As I go through this process, bigger books receive greater scrutiny and have a higher bar for surviving the winnowing. One of these thicker books, 2018's The Adventures of Owen Hatherley in the Post-Soviet Space, already seems a bit outdated in this time of the Russia-Ukraine war. Old Soviet ways aren't so old, perhaps. Tim Judah's In Wartime seems to be the more relevant book.

4. I'm expanding today's mini-project a little bit. My aim is now to winnow these top two shelves down to one shelf. Here's the second shelf.

5. As I assess them, there are some easy decisions for pruning. Some of these books veer way too far into an overambitious and overaspirational idea of my finite future reading time. Also, many of these are easily obtainable from a public library if I ever change my mind. So, my philosophy is that I'm keeping certain books that are older, rarer and less likely to be in the public library sytem.

6. Early on, it feels like today's project is going to be a failure: There’s no way I’m going to get these two shelves condensed to one shelf, or even close to one shelf. I love books, ideas and the idea of books. These history books are all meaningful. They are important.

7. 1491, America in 1492, and 1493 all have to go if there's any hope of reaching today's resimplifying goal. All are easily obtained at the library. Browsing America in 1492, I flip to this sentence “Local autonomy in implementing the mit’a labor tax was one of the special characteristics of the system that enhanced its efficiency and flexibility.” I am reassured that I am not going to read 443 pages of this. 

8. I no longer want to read about why Ivan is Terrible, but I am keeping both books about the Trans-Siberian Railway. (I thought I blogged about Kuranov's book, but I guess not.)

9. I have to flip through the books that are being pruned to check for Tucked Away Inside items. Most will be removed and transferred to other volumes. I might leave a select few as easter eggs for future readers.

10. I will cheat and put some of these books elsewhere. Specifically I’m thinking about the vintage tourism guides, such as Romania. Yes, I’m just kicking the can down the road, but it's part of the sorting process.

11. As for what does get pruned, I will try to sell some at Bookmans. (So I can buy more books? Yikes!) I will put some into Little Free Libraries and give the rest to Goodwill. I don't have the energy for Facebook Marketplace, and I’m not at the "sell stuff on eBay" stage of Resimplify Me yet, though that will necessarily come.

Snugs was "helping" and playing with a spring while I pruned.

12. Syrian Yankee is in beautiful shape and it’s signed by the author. Checking on AbeBooks, however, it simply doesn’t have much value. Author Salom Rizk seems to have signed a lot of them. I’m going to take it off the shelf, but decide later about its best new home. These are the kind of mid-century books that were so prevalent on my great-grandfather’s and grandmother’s bookshelves at Oak Crest Lane, and I have a nostalgic weakness for recreating that kind of experience, even while knowing it’s unlikely that there will be future young explorers of my shelves.

13. I’m not a big fan of oversize books, but Riddles of the Sphinx survives this pruning.

14. Why do so many of these books dwell on taxation?

15. I'm cheating again and putting The Land and People of Czechoslovakia with the other old textbooks. So there.

16. Now I need to make some tough decisions about the Native American section and the oddly large Scandinavian section. 

17. Another cheat I’ve deployed over the years: I’m going to leave Simon Winchester’s The River at the Center of the World out on the bedstand to read (and prune thereafter). Minutes, later, I decided to do this with The Almost Nearly Perfect Peopletoo. I found this card tucked away inside that book, and it seemed like exactly the encouragement I need for this ongoing project.

18. I shudder as I realize that I have some unshelved piles of books at the moment. What if I do all this work to make everything fit and then come across another nonfiction book that belongs on this shelf?  

19. Getting very close now. Close enough that I may cut myself some slack and not prune things that I’m unsure about. Also, I have other nonfiction sections that some of these books can fold into. 

20. OK, I’m finished. There was a significant amount of “cheating” and I didn’t get to just one shelf, but I’m very satisfied with the number of books that were pruned (about 18). Looking at what remains, it’s very clear that I have favored stories of people over academic tomes.

21. Only about three dozen shelves to go! (Gulp.)

Monday, January 29, 2024

"The Monster Maker": A sci-fi film about pollution that didn't get made

In James Monaco's 1979 book Alain Resnais1, the author describes a tantalizing film project involving surrealist director Renais and Timely Comics/Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee that, sadly, never came to fruition.

Resnais, who was French, spent some time in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s working on various potential projects. One of those possibilities, as Monaco wrote, involved a documentary about H.P. Lovecraft, with some backing from William Friedkin. But that fell through, possibly because Friedkin got involved with The Exorcist2.

Another idea involved a film, proposed to be titled The Monster Maker, that would be written by Lee. 

Monaco spends part of a chapter on Renais' unrealized projects going into great detail about the project and its origins. The Monster Maker would have followed Larry Morgan ("a producer of grade C horror films") and his regular lead actor, Stephen Cavanaugh. Morgan aspires to produce something greater than schlock. And Cavanaugh, whose wife has recently died, "thinks air pollution was the cause. He goes a little crazy and blackmails Morgan into promising to do a film which will expose the evils of pollution once and for all time," Monaco wrote. The sci-film element comes at the end, with garbage itself becoming the monster (possibly having been "summoned" by the now-insane Cavanaugh).

"The sky darkens with smoke," Monaco wrote, describing the ending. "The bay overflows with pustulous flotsam and jetsam — and worse — dreck. Garbage runs rampant in the streets. In a montage of 25 extraordinary scenes, pollution triumphs in the city as crowds run screaming in terror from the stench, the smoke, the horror of it all."

For all of this, the tone would have been crucial — and perhaps impossible to nail. Lee and Resnais envisioned a comic-book-like story with "a subtle tone of cinematic irony to be a commentary on the style as well as an example of it." Why style? Wrote Monaco: "'The Monster Maker' is a grand and exuberant compendium of all the cliches of the B movie which have thrilled and enthralled audiences for fifty years: science fiction, sentimental romance, horror, revenge, and cataclysm — it's all there. That more important perhaps, 'The Monster Maker' takes these conventions seriously at the same time as it parodies them. This is not camp, but something more serious."

And thus the American Spider-Man co-creator Lee and the French surrealist Resnais were setting the bar extremely high. Monaco opined that The Monster Maker would not have been a very commercial project, and added that "with a little bad luck, it could easily have been a disaster for Resnais."

A disaster, perhaps. But there's no way it would have been an uninteresting one.

Resnais did extensive location scouting in New York for the unrealized project. In his book, Monaco includes a handful of those photos, reprinted from Resnais' photography book, Repérages, which was published in 1974. Those black-and-white images are further reproduced here. The quality is poor for several reasons, including the fact that I couldn't open the book flat to get good photos. But I think they give a good idea of Resnais' vision and inspirations for the meta-commentary pollution monster movie that was never to be. 
1. Yes, I'm a film nerd for having this book. My favorite Resnais movie is Last Year at Marienbad, but his most interesting and challenging film that I've seen is the one he made immediately afterward, Muriel. Also, it my opinion that Resnais' 32-minute 1956 Holocaust documentary, Night and Fog, should be be required viewing for American 11th grade or 12th grade students (with proper context, forewarning and discussion beforehand). This is especially needed in this moment, when society's knowledge of history, 20th century history in particular, is threatened by undereducation and by the willful promotion of false or revisionist history that seeks to advance hate-based agendas. Night and Fog's length fits neatly into a single class period, and I think those young people who watch it will be far less inclined to subsequently take dangerous demagogues and denialists of true history seriously. 
2. Interestingly, while the idea for a Lovecraft documentary floundered, Resnais in 1977 made a fictional film about an aging writer titled Providence. Some scenes were filmed in Providence, Rhode Island, where Lovecraft lived most of his life. Providence also features Ellen Burstyn, who was of course in Friedkin's The Exorcist. I need to track this one down!

Sunday, January 28, 2024

A water-stained postcard memory and fiddling with technology

Autumn (left) and Osmond "Bounds" Portifoy with today's postcard.

Since I started this blog in 2010, I've struggled at times with the technology to get quality pictures into the posts. This is supposed to be an ephemera archive, after all, so I want to include images that are sharp and true. 

For many years, the majority of the images for Papergreat came via flatbed scanner. It could be a cumbersome process, especially for posts with many images. The worst part, though, wasn't that it was time-consuming. It was that our various scanners struggled to faithfully reproduce certain colors, especially blues and purples, as I recall. There was an extent to which I could counterbalance that in photo-editing software, but often I just had to live with the flawed result.

In recent years, I made a big switch, and almost all images have come from my iPhone photography. The combination of speed (compared to a scanner) and high-resolution image was enough for me to make the switch. The downsides are that I need to be mindful of the lighting conditions, and it's harder to keep images from being skewed, depending on the angle at which I'm holding the camera. (Another upside, though, is that it has allowed for a lot more photos that include cats.)

I've been itching to try a scanner again, because it's better than an iPhone for things like postcards, old photographs and book covers that have a lot of reflectivity. So I got a CanonScan LiDE 300, which plugs right into my laptop.  

For the first test, I gave it a challenge. When we were at Bookmans here in Arizona last autumn, Joan found an amazing postcard of the Motel Providence in Media, Pennsylvania. Besides having some minor sentimental value for my family history (more on that in a moment), the postcard is a water-stained work of art. Somewhere along the way, it got pressed up against the back of another postcard, and the pigments from that other card's stamps and cursive writing now appear on the front of the Motel Providence postcard. 

For most, I suppose, that would mean the damaged postcard should just be tossed. To me, though, it has been turned into a one-of-a-kind artwork. To get more of a sense of the aesthetic I'm talking about, this January 2018 post and its many related links are a good start. I love a mint vintage postcard as much as anyone, but damaged cards that have nonetheless survived the passing decades are sublime.

Alas, the scanner couldn't handle the colors of this postcard as well as I would have hoped. First, here's the front of the postcard from a photograph taken with my iPhone SE:
This is a faithful reproduction. That stamp (hey there, President Lincoln) and the handwriting are basically hot pink atop the glossy photograph.

Meanwhile, this is the image from the CanonScan LiDE 300, and this is after some minor tweaks and a boost of a saturation levels in Pixlr:
Ugh. It could not handle the hot pink at all, turning it lighter and purple. I don't think this will be an issue with everything I use the scanner for, moving forward, but it's a bummer nonetheless and I'll have to be cognizant of comparing originals to the scanned images. (While I also adjust to wearing my new 1.25 reading glasses.)
Those reading glasses, plus my grandmother's trusty magnifying glass, show me the following text on the back of this postcard:
Area Code 215       Phone LO 6-6480
Media, Pennsylvania
Delaware County's newest and finest Air Conditioned economy motel. 10 miles West of Philadelphia — 4 miles North of Chester. Intersection of Rt. #1 & Rt. #252. 
No charge for "in room" Continental Breakfast — 6:00 A.M. to 10:00 A.M.
Interiors by Strawbridge and Clothier.
Radio & T.V. by R.C.A. Air conditioning by G.E. Fire proof & sound proof construction. Architecturally designed and engineered by MEDIA REAL ESTATE COMPANY.
Color photography by Jay Layton Manning, Ardmore, Pa.
Our family of four would sometimes stay at Motel Providence in the late 1970s through mid 1980s when we came from Clayton or Montoursville or Largo and visited my grandmother and great-grandparents at their house on nearby Oak Crest Lane in Wallingford. It was a perfectly fine motel that served it purpose. There was a fast-food restaurant right next door — I can't remember whether it was McDonald's or Burger King — and we'd get breakfast and bring it back to the room. I guess it was better than the "continental breakfast."

Motel Providence is now called the Media Inn & Suites. The large MOTEL PROVIDENCE letters across the top of the roof are gone. But I guess they haven't been gone too long. A nine-minute film was shot there in 2014, and the letters were still atop the building:

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Book cover: "The Haunted Universe"

  • Title: The Haunted Universe
  • Additional cover text: "Miracles, hauntings, UFOs, unexplained disappearances, monsters — are they the work of some alien power? Or are they the creations of the psychic power within us?:
  • Author: D. Scott Rogo (1950-1990)
  • Cover illustrator: Unknown
  • What's happening on the cover? Unknown. I guess I'm reminded of Magnolia, though.
  • Additional questions posed on the back cover: "Is our universe haunted by bizarre denizens of another dimension? Are we being manipulated by extraterrestrials for a reason? Or are we ourselves the actual culprits, unconsciously calling on the psychic energies of our minds to create these phenomena? Is it mind over matter, belief giving birth to reality?"
  • Publication date: 1977
  • Publisher: Signet (New American Library), W7508
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 168
  • Cover price: $1.50 (about $7.67 today, which is just about par for the course for a trade paperback)
  • Dedication: "To Martin Ebon, in thanks for his help and support"
  • Others thanked in acknowledgements: Berthold Schwarz, Raymond Bayless, Vincent Gaddis (inventor of the phrase "Bermuda Triangle"), John Keel and Ivan Sanderson.
  • Closing excerpt from acknowledgements: "Finally, I would like to thank those few 'respectable' parapsychologists and colleagues who urged me not to write this book, fearing it would adversely reflect on both me and the field. It was their timidity and reticence that helped me realize how important getting this material out in the open really is!"
  • First sentence: "By inclination I am a pretty reserved fellow."
  • Last paragraph: "I do not know what further research will prove about all the theories and speculations I have outlined in this book. They might all prove to be false. On the other hand, I shall be delighted if eventually science discovers that I am right!"
  • Excerpt #1: "We have pretty well established that people and objects disappear into nowhere, or show up out of nowhere, or disappear and then reappear sometime later. All this is reminiscent of the U.S. postal system: letters never arrive, show up weeks after they were mailed, or undergo similar remarkable adventures. This analogy isn't meant to be totally flippant. What I'm suggesting is that all of these oddities represent a transportation system. And like any other system, things are bound to go wrong everyone once in a while! The concept of instantly transporting objects and people via teleportation through some sort of 'hyper-dimension' is certainly not mere science fiction."
  • So, the idea of mail — including the Christmas postcards I sent to a pen pal in the Netherlands but that never arrived — getting lost could represent a "hyper-dimension" event and not merely human incompetence or poor design of sorting/processing machines? Apparently. 
  • Excerpt #2: "Dr. [Arthur] Guirdham is no slouch. He is a highly regarded and trained mental health specialist who was a practicing clinician for some forty years. However, there is one element of his approach to psychiatry that makes him unique among behavorial scientists. He believes that the world is haunted by evil forces and that these forces can exert a wicked pressure on unsuspecting man."
  • Rating on Goodreads: 3.69 stars (out of 5)
  • Goodreads review excerpt: In 2021, coffee wrote, "Specifically [Rogo] feels that collective conciousness created UFOs, miracles such as weeping statues, and cryptids such as Mothman and Big Foot. I'd say chronologically, so far this is my favorite of all of Scott Rogo's books, as he finally loosens up and rids himself of the crutch that is Raymond Bayless. ... Regardless, the book reads like someone who just read up a bunch of John Keel and wrote his own version of hwat [sic] he thinks is going on. That would be seen as me throwing shade, but I love John Keel so this was great reading."
  • Rating on Amazon: 4.2 stars (out of 5) 
  • Amazon review excerpt: In 2007, author Laura Knight-Jadczyk wrote a 5,100-word review of The Haunted Universe that veers into several tangents and concludes: "... I don't think I trust much of what he writes at all. Have to give him two stars for trying, but he loses points for obfuscation of evidence and subjective thinking."
  • Additional insight: If you're interested in contemporary thoughts about Rogo, two fans of his writing on X (formerly Twitter) are Theo Paijmans (@memizon) and Loren Coleman (@CryptoLoren).

But wait, there's more!

This card for ordering the Astara publication "Finding Your Place in the Golden Age" was tucked away inside, perhaps for use as a bookmark. 

Astara has been around since 1951 and is still going strong.  From its website: "Since 1951, Astara has existed to provide humanity with the knowledge of the Laws of the Universe, so that they may learn to make decisions based upon their own Higher Guidance. Spiritual self-realization is emphasized and information is provided to guide each individual on their own sacred life's path. Astara's teachings bridge the gap between contemporary Eastern and Western spiritual philosophies, presenting their mysteries in a clear context with the wisdom of ancient spiritual truths."

According to, Astara was founded by Robert and Earlyne Chaney, both former spiritualists. 

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Another Sweetniks doll by Lada Draskovic surfaces

Whoa! On the heels of November's post about one of Lada Draskovic's 1960s Sweetniks dolls showing up on eBay, a reader has gotten in touch and shared the story of her Sweetniks doll. It's incredible how many of these are still around and in great condition.

Kita from Texas wrote to share her information and the above photos of her Sweetniks doll, which she has kindly given me permission to share here:

"I was searching to see what I could find out about my beatnik doll. I ran across your blog about these dolls. ... I thought you would like to hear of another 'sighting' of the Beatnik/Sweetnik Doll! ... I wish I could remember where in San Antonio, Texas, my mother bought the doll. I will need to research if there was a Saks there. I thought most likely it was a famous store named Joske’s in downtown San Antonio. I was with her and I remember telling her I really wanted it. Too bad, too, that I don’t know what she paid for it. ...

"I have had her since the early 1960s and bought it new. She was enclosed in a plastic top, but I discarded that when I put it in my china cabinet, years ago. I am the original owner and for some reason I kept her all these years. She is in excellent shape, as you can see from the pictures. I always kept very good care of all my dolls and didn’t actually play with them. I was an outdoorsy kid, which was good luck for my beatnik! ...

"I am considering selling her. But, I would like to get her into the right hands, being that she is so rare. Not a strand of hair is out of place after all these years and lots of moving. ... A museum would suit her fine!"

Kita added later that she contacted Sotheby's for a possible auction consignment, but was told that they had no information on Draskovic's Sweetniks and couldn't help her further. These unique dolls truly remain a mystery! Meanwhile, another reader posetd this intriguing comment: "I have what I’m pretty sure is a Sweetnik doll from the early 60s — Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra." I asked for more details, but haven't heard anything further.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Farewell Titan, aka Titanoboa,
aka T-Dog Terwillinger

It's been a sad week. We had to say goodbye to Titan yesterday and helped him cross the rainbow bridge. Fortunately, we were able to do it at home, so he was in his familiar surroundings, around loved ones. He was 8, or maybe 10. We have little idea, really. We adopted him in the summer of 2018, and he was already very fully grown. (His name fit him well.) He had been at several stops before us, but never permanent ones, because he's always been a problematic cat, one way or the other. But we accepted him fully, problems and all.

He started as a TNR'd feral cat and had the tipped ear to prove it, but this was not an outdoor cat with outdoor cat skills. Or indoor skills, really. He drooled and ate and took naps, during which he snored. He peed where he wasn't supposed to. Often. But he was also incredibly friendly and gentle. Visitors loved him, probably because he happily galloped over to them as soon as they came in the door. Eventually, some people just started coming to visit Titan, not necessarily us. 

As we accumulated kittens in the past two years, Titan was our go-to cat for introducing the kittens to the adult cats. He accepted them all, and they used him as a big pillow for their naps. 

Here's the very nice tribute that Ashar wrote on Instagram:
"You were the gentlest giant who thought that he was just a wee tiny baby. You loved getting sink drink which usually involved you getting drenched. You loved to cuddle and sit with us. You made us laugh with your ridiculous laying positions. You chripped when you purred which sounded a lot like a tribble from Star Trek. You loved rolling around outside. You enjoyed food. Most of all you also managed to cheer people up and everyone loved you. You were such a good boy.

"You will forever be remembered in our hearts. We love you Titan."
Above: Titan and Mr. Bill.
Above: Titan the work-from-home pandemic helper cat #1.
Above: Titan the work-from-home pandemic helper cat #2.
Above: Titan meeting Autumn
Above: Titan napping with Bandit
Above: Titan eating from Big Boi's plate this week while Big Boi sits nearby (it's a long story)
Some final outside time this week.