Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Merry Little Christmas for Me

Today, somebody posted a video preview on facebook for this movie, which (sadly) won't be in theaters for another twelve months. Until then, though, I can look out my living room window and imagine Gandalf knocking on Bilbo's door. Clint started building this hobbit house a few summers ago. He was hoping to use only natural materials, but then his clay mixture started to prove recalcitrant, so he had to reinforce it with some plastic-ish webbing. He also laid rolled roofing under the soil on the roof to make it less leaky. Still, it looks hobbit-ish enough for me. Maybe this summer, he'll finish it and we can sit in there and puff smoky ships and dragons with our hand-whittled pipes.

This is what it looks like outside right now. Down in that hollow is our neighbor Thelma's yard. There's an apple tree back there in the haze, and it is the favorite eating ground of a family of deer. We see them all the time, and sometimes they leave their tracks in the snow around our house. When we have snow, that is.

So, on to the main reason for my post: Yesterday after baking, Lauren and I went out hunting for a second-hand pea coat for Jonah. Don't you think he would look nice in one? I don't want to pay full price because the boy is bound to start growing soon, I think. He's been about the same height for over a year now, and all the other boys in his class have started to sprout up.

After a futile coat search, I asked Lauren where she wanted to go, and she suggested the Jackson Antique Mall (which, by the way, is haunted...the top floor...very spooky up there).

She took off on her own looking for vintage coats and gloves, and I wandered around the booths looking at who knows what. Have you ever taken note of the astonishing number of freaky antique figurines in shops like this? I think they are supposed to be cute, but who would want to purchase a leering lamb or a winking lion? That is not cute; that is pretty close to demonic.

Anyway, I found a couple of wonderful things. Clint has been looking for liquor decanters for a top-secret project I can't tell you about, and after shattering the stopper of a $99 one he saw at Home Goods (oh, I wasn't supposed to tell you about that either), I cut him off from handling the expensive ones.

And lo and behold, I found a whole stash of them in a dusty bottom shelf--FOR TWO DOLLARS APIECE! I just got two, that's how reserved I was.

And as I was carrying them around and basking in my antiquing genius, I turned a corner into the chilly back room (where I think the ghost might also visit, judging by temperature alone), I found this set! A Fontanini Nativity. Do you know how long I've wanted one of these? A long, long time. Ever since Jonah stole the cow and lamb from someone. (I don't know who it was; if it was you, I am really sorry. But I just want to let you know that I am not giving them back because the set I just bought didn't come with animals. So I need them. Plus, I've had them a long time, so I think they're mine now anyway.)

Also, I bought a pair of earrings for myself and a pair for Lauren. They have BIRDS on them. Yes, birds. I love birds very much, but not the swarming ones. When they all fly up suddenly from a tree and swoop and swarm around in a complicated twist, I don't like them at all. I fear them. But birds on jewelry? I love those birds very much. Lauren said we should save them for Christmas, but that resolve lasted only until we got home. Five days is too long to wait!

I'll post a picture of the earrings when she wakes up--and when I have better light for shooting.

Meanwhile, Merry Christmas to all!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Book Review: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

Yesterday I finished reading this book by Allison Hoover Bartlett. A little embarrassed to admit that I didn't realize it was nonfiction until I started reading it, even though the cover quite clearly says it is a true story. Hmm. Silly girl, I am.

Usually, I steer quite clear of nonfiction as a general rule. I just love stories, and I have always found nonfiction to be pretty dry, but I'm reading Devil in the White City right now as well, another piece of NF, and it isn't dry at all! Neither was this book.

So, did you even know that book theft--especially rare book theft--is a pretty common crime? I had no idea. A book is much more likely to be stolen than a piece of art. And I'm not talking about cheap paperbacks either here; I'm talking about valuable books. Old books, rare books, first editions, things like that. Some of these books are worth hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. These are the things book thieves steal.

The book centers around two main characters: John Gilkey, a book thief, and Ken Sanders, a rare book dealer who is obsessed with tracking down book thieves, especially John Gilkey.

The author spoke with Gilkey many times, visiting him often in prison in the times when he was caught and punished for his crimes, and also out of prison when he had been released.

Of the two men, Gilkey was perhaps more fascinating than Sanders because his moral code was so different from anyone's I've ever met--in "real" life or on the page. I spent most of my time while reading the book trying to figure out, like the author was, whether Gilkey was insane, brilliant, a psychopath, or a little bit of all of them. Gilkey refused to use the word "steal" when talking about his career of theft. Instead, he said he "took" books, almost as if they belonged to him in the first place and he was just claiming his property. He seemed to desperately want to prove to the world that he was a man of learning and culture, and to do that, he felt he needed a wide array of impressive books. He studied bibliographies, planning the books he would steal, and he primarily used stolen credit card numbers (he worked for some time at Saks, where he copied down customers' numbers) or bad checks. He was methodical and unpredictable in his thefts, usually just "taking" one book at a time, and not always from the same geographical or literary area.

Rare book store owners are typically embarrassed to admit they have been stolen from. They seem to believe as a group that being the victim of theft or fraud implies that they have been lax in their duty, so they rarely report the crimes. And policemen and other officials are often not very interested in book theft anyway, as no one has been hurt and the criminal is likely not a dangerous person.

But whether a book thief is a dangerous person is a matter of opinion, I think. When a book thief named Daniel Spiegelman was caught and brought to trial for stealing a vast number of books (some of which were the only remaining books of their kind) from Columbia University, his judge stated the following when explaining Daniel's sentence:

"In callously stealing, mutilating, and destroying rare and unique elements of our common intellectual heritage, Spiegelman did not simply aim to divest Columbia of $1.3 million worth of physical property. He risked stunting, and probably stunted, the growth of human knowledge to the detriment of us all. By the very nature of the crime, it is impossible to know exactly what damage he has done. But this much is clear: this crime was quite different from the theft of cash equal to the appraised value of the materials stolen, because it deprived not only Columbia, but the world, of irreplaceable pieces of the past and the benefits of future scholarship."

When seen in this light, the theft of a book is really a crime against human history, especially if it is a rare book. If the thief endangers the book or removes it from public access, that piece of our history could be lost forever. In that way, the theft of one book can make us all that much poorer.

In all, this was an interesting and enlightening read. I learned a bit about the rare book market and trade, about the ways in which dealers evaluate books, and about the complex psychology of one particular thief. My only complaint, and it is a small one, is with the organization of the book. I am betting that the author had done so much research about the world of rare books that she wanted to include her findings in this book along with the story of Gilkey's thefts and Sanders's attempts to find him and hold him accountable for them. I understand how hard it is to find ways to incorporate tidbits of information in the context of the story. But while I sympathize and understand, I must complain that the flow of the narrative was often interrupted by these side-trips into the products of her extensive background research. It was all interesting--very much so!--but sometimes the story hurt for these interruptions, I think.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

40 before 40? Hmm...

Lately, I've been hearing lots of people talking about bucket lists and such (maybe I'm hanging out with too many oldies? don't know...), and the other evening when Clint and I went out on a date (he finally took me out...after much hinting and threatening), we both began to write our lists. Here's what we have so far. I'll start with Clint's (keep in mind, though, that the man either has to get really busy in the next 5 1/2 months or he'll have to re-title his list to 45 before 45 or something) (oh, and these aren't in any special order of to-do-ish-ness):
1. climb a 13-14,000 foot mountain (huh, that one's not on my list AT ALL)
2. stone the porch (not the lethal kind of stoning, mind you. I mean the sandstone around the pole thingies kind)
3. go on a mission trip and speak some Spanish to the natives (hopefully, they also speak Spanish)
4. brew beer
5. take an art class--maybe painting?
6. build a cool workshop
7. get a buck that has a nice rack (this is hunter lingo for antlers. What were you thinking?)
8. sell some of his woodcraft projects
9. go on monthly dates with me (this was his idea, I'm almost 86% sure)
10. go to Yosemite
11. visit the British Isles
12. eat horse (why??? I blame my dad for this idea) (I threw up a little bit just typing it)
13. visit Quebec
14. visit Nova Scotia
15. visit New Zealand and Australia
16. train to be a reserve police man
17. build a wood-fire oven for pizza and bread on the patio (yes, please!)
18. go to a Rush concert
19. go to a Bond/Riverdance/Opera Babes concert

Now for my list:
1. run a 5k
2. perfect the installation of a hidden zipper
3. learn a foreign language
4. take an art class
5. learn how to make chocolate like the lady in Chocolat
6. be more dedicated to my blog (it's been a long time!)
7. learn how to knit (if only I had a dear, sweet friend who could teach me)
8. sell some of my art
9. learn how to use photoshop
10. give Clint a cool-nerdy makeover (wouldn't he look sweet?)
11. learn how to felt wool and make cute little wooly animals with it
12. start a Christmas puzzle tradition at our house
13. go to an AWP conference (have I told you that it's in Chicago this year? And Margaret Atwood is the keynote speaker? that's what I'm saying)
14. learn how to make tiny animals out of clay and make a whole menagerie
15. visit the British Isles
16. eat my way through either France or Italy, consuming mainly bread, cheese, and wine
17. go to Maine
18. go to Boston
19. go to Florence and Rome
20. did I mention the British Isles?
21. see a famous person (I saw Sean Connery in a kilt once!)
22. finish writing another novel or two
23. design a dress and sew it
24. make a trench coat