04 March 2010

Looking Backward, WAY back...

Over the years this column has had many names (and been called many names). Here is my selection of Golden Nuggets from the past:

From the very first Words on Books, published on this date in 1902:

“The lumber schooner Amazon LLC hove into Mendocino harbor today carrying four seasick passengers and a crate of books destined for the new bookstore on Main Street. Idle bystanders, curious to discover what books were in the box, were told to wait until store opens Monday next.”

From 1903: “No doubt writing in haste for money, Polish writer Joseph Conrad (nee J√≥zef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski) undermines The Empire with a feverish tale of misbehavior. In one lovely passage, indeed the only lovely passage, set on shipboard, at sunset, on the Thames, the reader senses ‘The Heart of Darkness’ may be an edifying story well told. However, Korzeniowski soon dives into literary territory of the African variety.”

From 1908: “Well-known humorist Mark Twain, investor in the Mechanical Type-Writer, works daily on his autobiography, utilizing that machine with the assistance of a secretary, thereby risking further deterioration of an already deplorable handwriting.”

From 1912: “To celebrate ten successful years of insightful commentary, this column will now be named ‘The Discourse of Excursis Bibliomanicus.’

Forced by an editor to invent a name that would fit on one page, this column was renamed “The Back Number” in July, 1917:

‘In the room the women come and go, speaking of Michelangelo.’ With these words the Irish expatriate T.S. Eliot signals that writers of his generation will have nothing new to offer us. We know the women speak of Michelangelo. What else is there to speak of in Italy? Really, Mr Eliot, must we hear again from these insufferable women?”

Renamed “Saddle Stitched,” 1918: “Would I were to say ‘We told you so!’ would I be, thereby, gilding a lily? I think not! Hereby the remarks of Anonymous in The Times Literary Supplement: ‘The fact that these things occurred to the mind of Mr Eliot is surely of the very smallest importance to anyone, even to himself. They certainly have no relation to poetry.’ ”
1920: “Is my column, Folio Fiddle-Faddle, worth a hoot? I wonder, then receive this letter:

“Pa and I enjoy reading Fiddle-Folio-Faddle (sic) in the Mendocino Beacon news paper, which makes its way to us at Camp 24. Harvesting of the redwoods proceeds apace, and after church of a Sunday afternoon Pa will catch and skin a raccoon – a squirrel if we’re lucky. Soon the savory smell of simmering squirrel stew, or roasting raccoon ragout, signals Sunday supper. Later, we catch up with the literary life. We cannot afford to purchase even one of the books you recommend. Regardless, Sunday would be much less interesting without our Fiddle-Faddle-Folio.” (sic)

From the newly named Excursis Bibliomanicus Romanticus, 1934: “The Devil resides in Washington and bread lines stretch around the block. Yet here in Mendocino we are stuffed with the filling news of books and literature.”

From Bibliomania Exfoliosis, 1937: “The improved bridge over Big River brings new books to us almost every couple of months. Arriving rain-soaked and torn, yet these tomes were packed in excelsior, nailed firmly into wooden boxes by unionized longshoremen sitting on the dock of the San Francisco Bay.”

From The Reading Radar, 1942: “Buy Liberty Bonds, save tin foil, conserve words, that’s the ticket. Few travel far on gasoline coupons. More Americans stay home & read. Used books bundled by Boy Scouts for shipment overseas may have covers removed to fill paper drive quotas.”

1961: “Today we are reborn as ‘Crazy for Books!’ We are ‘crazy!’ about books! We are not ‘crazy!’ and we are not smoking anything herbal or stuffing white powder up our nose! Got it? Just writing! About books!”

1979: “The Man says I’ve served my time, so I’m back with ‘A Few Words on Books.’ Banned from the Beacon and fired by the Advertiser (and because community radio station KZYX has not yet gone live) this mimeographed flyer is yours to keep.”

Hang on to it, bro. It’s collectible.

NOTES: None this week.

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