Weird Book Room
October 15, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Of all the books you’ve written, do you have any favorites?
Oh, I’m very fond of a book called Quick Service and another called Sam in the Suburbs, a very old one. But I really like them all. There are very few exceptions.
—P. G. Wodehouse, the Art of Fiction No. 60, 1975
I wonder how Wodehouse (born today in 1881) came down on Love Among the Chickens, one of his earlier novels and, to my mind, one of his strangest. It is, as its title page quite clearly states, “A Story of the Haps and Mishaps on an English Chicken Farm.” (Wonderful use of haps, there. Why is it that we only hear of mishaps these days?) Read More »
August 14, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
From “Hanging: From a Business Point of View,” a chapter in James Berry’s My Experiences as an Executioner (1892). Berry was a renowned hangman in England from 1884 to 1891; he refined the “long drop” method pioneered by William Marwood, and once famously failed to execute John Babbacombe Lee, “The Man They Couldn’t Hang,” when the scaffold’s trap door repeatedly stuck.
I am not ashamed of my calling, because I consider that if it is right for men to be executed (which I believe it is, in murder cases) it is right that the office of executioner should be held respectable. Therefore, I look at hanging from a business point of view.
When I first took up the work … I made application on a regular printed form, which gave the terms and left no opening for mistake or misunderstanding … I still use this circular when a sheriff from whom I have had no previous commission writes for terms. The travelling expenses are understood to include second-class railway fare from Bradford to the place of execution and back, and cab fare from railway station to gaol. If I am not lodged in the gaol, hotel expenses are also allowed. Read More »
July 23, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Given the ungodly humidity, today seems as good a day as any to peruse an 1858 volume whose full title is The Swamp Doctor’s Adventures in the South-West; Containing the Whole of The Louisiana Swamp Doctor; Streaks Of Squatter Life; and Far-Western Scenes; in a Series Of Forty-Two Humorous Southern And Western Sketches, Descriptive Of Incidents And Character, by John Robb (“Madison Tensas, M.D.” and “Solitaire”) author of “Swallowing Oysters Alive, etc.”
Oh, the glories of the public domain! Here’s a sordid bit from a chapter called “The Mississippi Patent Plan for Pulling Teeth”:
I had just finished the last volume of Wistar’s Anatomy, well nigh coming to a period myself with weariness at the same time, and with feet well braced up on the mantel-piece, was lazily surveying the closed volume which lay on my lap, when a hurried step in the front gallery aroused me from the revery into which I was fast sinking.
Turning my head as the office door opened, my eyes fell on the well-developed proportions of a huge flatboatsman who entered the room wearing a countenance, the expression of which would seem to indicate that he had just gone into the vinegar manufacture with a fine promise of success.
“Do you pull teeth, young one?” said he to me.
“Yes, and noses too,” replied I, fingering my slender moustache, highly indignant at the juvenile appellation, and bristling up by the side of the huge Kentuckian, till I looked as large as a thumb-lancet by the side of an amputating knife.
June 18, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
James Montgomery Flagg was one of the most famous illustrators of the early twentieth century. His most ubiquitous creation is that iconic World War I–era poster of Uncle Sam—the one where he points straight through the fourth wall and proclaims, I WANT YOU FOR U.S. ARMY—which is, depending on whom you ask, a stirring call to arms or a brazen, manipulative act of jingoism that did violence to the national psyche.
Flagg, born today in 1877, was a master draftsman with heavy, distinctive penmanship. He was versatile and prolific, and he came to prominence at a time when improvements in printing technology made it easier than ever to reproduce complex drawings—accordingly, he enjoyed a degree of celebrity unknown to his profession before or since, hobnobbing in Hollywood, vacationing in Europe, throwing caution to the winds of many nations. At the height of his powers, he was reputedly the best-paid illustrator in America.
Flagg loved to draw women, preferably voluptuous women, and he was no stranger to the bawdy and the blue. But none of this explains what compelled him to illustrate Virgins in Cellophane, a collaboration with Bett Hooper, published in 1932—one of the creepiest paeans to chastity (wink, wink) this side of purity balls.
Virgins’s subtitle is “From Maker to Consumer Untouched by Human Hand”: that consumer is lecherous enough to launch a thousand nightmares. The drawing on its cover features three ample, pink-nipped nudes bursting forth from some guy’s vest pocket—said nudes are duly wrapped in cellophane, their condition undoubtedly pristine, their maidenheads presumably intact, and the guy’s fleshy, prurient fingers are in the process of plucking one of them out like a cheap cigar. Read More »
June 9, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
Above is an advertisement from our seventieth issue—published in the summer of 1977—for Deep Foot and its sequel, Deeper Foot, two apparently seminal avant-garde novels. Click the photo to see the ad in full; it merits scrutiny.
Anyone seriously seeking Truth, Love, and a real and true ALTERNATIVE to the deadness and shallowness of the American Dream, rather than merely seeking people or trips to become dependent upon: THESE BOOKS ARE FOR YOU!
“This generation may hide these masterpieces under their beds,” the ad goes on, “but the next generation will more likely use them like a Bible!”
I’m of that next generation, and I can tell you: we most certainly would, if we only knew where to find them.
Information on the whereabouts of Richard M. Vixen has been hard to come by—we appreciate any tips you can offer. We do know that Avant-Garde Creations, of Eugene, Oregon, was in existence as recently as 1981, when the company took out an ad in Yoga Journal—a questionnaire, in fact, whose first prompt is “Are you conscious of a deep desire to be in an environment in which you could choose to be with any of 20 (or so) people, all of whom you love and who love you?”
Evidence indicates that Mr. Vixen wrote, in addition to the series advertised here, The Game of Orgy (with a foreword by Robert Rimmer) and The Magic Carpet and the Cement Wall, for Kids from 8 to 92. A rhapsodic Amazon review of Deep Foot describes it thus:
A triumphant, voluptuous novel about a woman's enlightenment. A mercilessly erotic, tenderly passionate journey into love and awareness.
When Lotta escaped from her prison of beliefs (about what she thought her life was supposed to be about) she found a whole new world of love and beauty awaiting her, and she fell in love with … Everyone!
A dissenting critic writes, “Reading it felt a bit like watching a non-lethal crash between two clown cars happen in slow motion.”
January 29, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
If you’re flush, you could spend your days schlepping from to one rare-book room to another, hoping to stumble upon a first edition that’s both a worthy investment and an aesthetic treasure. Or you could just go to Amazon and buy one of these recently published e-books, which will, given their pedigree and initial cost, most certainly appreciate in value.
(“This book is one of the most expensive available on Amazon in Kindle version. It does not exist on paper version. It caters to the richest people. Those who can buy it without flinching. It is not for the poor, stingy, or for those who count their money. Therefore, please do not buy this book if you do not have enough money on your bank account. If you are not wealthy but think you can read this book and ask for a refund afterwards, give up immediately, you are not the readership target. Any unusual thing is expensive! This is the law of supply and demand. Only a privileged few can buy and read this book. The others: go your way. Many free books are available for your long winter evenings. However, if you have a lot of money, and if the price of this book does not disturb you more than that, welcome and good reading.”)