My Favorite Things

No, this is not one of the Oprah-esque lists where I tell you about A Few Things I Love, which turn out to be $400 slippers and a box of 22k gold toothpicks. Like this.

The My Favorite Things of the title is in reference to a book written by the late Dorothy Rodgers, wife of the late Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame). I picked up this book at our town transfer station (which we call The Dump), where locals drop off trash and recycling, including unwanted books. These books go into a pleasant little shed called the Book Barn.

The Book Barn at the dump is the source of many, many great finds. The advantage of picking up books at the dump (besides the fact that they are free) is that so many are out of print. I would otherwise never come across a book like Dorothy Rodgers’ My Favorite Things. Published in 1964, it is so of its moment that it could never be recreated now. The book’s very appeal—its era-specific trendiness (a selling point at the time of publication) means that it seemingly stopped being relevant long ago. But this book is more than the sum of its Mad Men-era parts. It’s clear from reading it that Dorothy Rodgers was one of those sorts of women who, in any civilization, is a class act. The tips and tools she utilized for decorating and entertaining may belong to an time long since past (thanks for breaking America, hippies!), but they are really never out of style.

Part I is called “The Things That Go Into a House” and Part II is called “Entertaining at Home”.  Literally everything you need to know about leading a civilized domestic life is contained in Parts I & II.

 

 

Another recent dump find was the Meals with a Foreign Flair cookbook, published by Better Homes & Gardens in 1963. I probably will send it back to the dump from whence it came. The food styling and photography is fascinatingly grotesque, the title faintly offensive in a PC sort of way. Also, it stinks.  I’m actually wheezing as I type this, due to the mold spores emanating from the book. I am very likely the first person to crack open its pages in approximately six decades and am paying the price.

 

Still, it was worth a look, so I picked it up from the Book Barn, taking a swift tour around the world through the culinary lens of mid-century home cooks, who were interested in moving beyond hot dogs and towards foreign foods such as cappuccino. An admirable impulse.

After a few Meals with a Foreign Flair I ended up back in Dorothy Rodgers’ well-appointed living room. Mrs. Rodger’s home is a place to which I will return again and again, perusing My Favorite Things while enjoying Menus with a Sense of Balance.

 

 

 

Find of the Week: The Dictionary of Paper

I’m betting this particular find will come to be increasingly valued as a relic from another time — another world, even. Back when paper’s preeminence was so great and its forms so varied that the manufacture of it required a 499-page dictionary just to understand the terminology involved.

Here’s a quaint, almost poignant excerpt from the Elegy Preface:

“It is not easy to classify and define paper terms. Once might expect this of an industry which is centuries old, universally located, and almost unlimited in the application of its product. The true significance of many of the terms can be explained more adequately by the historian than by the technician…The situation is further confounded by the fact that new uses for paper are discovered almost daily…”

My copy of The Dictionary of Paper was published in 1965, its third edition, by the American Paper and Pulp Association. The book was intended to be understood by the paper layman but used by the paper technician. As a result it transcends the usual sloppy oversized trade publication paperback sliding down the bookshelf of some middle manager’s office and is actually a bit of keepsake, still relevant as a resource. Besides, it’s printed on great paper that emits that library, papery smell when you crack open the book. I keep leaning over to inhale as I write this. Weird, I know. Maybe there’s a term for that impulse — just a minute while I look it up in the Dictionary of Paper.

TMI on the paper already!

According to the Dictionary of Paper, Lard Paper is not just a myth.

Tattoo: Secrets of a Strange Art

When I was 18 a friend of mine went into the Marine Corps. He came back from Parris Island with an intense desire for a tattoo. This was before acquiring a tattoo was made with about as much consideration as buying a new pair of flip-flops. This was back when getting a tattoo was a big deal. Now, anyone under 30 won’t remember this, but believe me when I tell you that back in the day, getting a tattoo was pretty much left to aspiring sideshow acts, white trash (whose tattoos were always done outside the confines of an actual tattoo establishment — that weird greenish ink and sad little block lettering always gave it away), prisoners, and military types — or anywhere these types intersected.  Of course my friend was a military type — that fact had escaped me as I was a late bloomer in the independence department, assuming we would all troop towards adulthood in the same direction more or less — and then I realized that oh yeah! This is the part where we grow up and do stupid things that we regret later. Or not, in the case of my friend. We’ve since lost touch and I don’t know how many tattoos he’s collected (but I’m sure it’s several. They are like potato chips — you never stop at just one). But I would wager that he’s not regretted a single one, especially that first one, which he designed himself. Which, in retrospect, was a pretty nice piece of work.

Continue reading

Find of the Week: The Art of Thinking

 

The Art of Thinking by Ernest Dimnet

Vintage books with compelling titles are nearly always interesting finds. I had never heard of The Art of Thinking but of course such a title is irresistible. Maybe it will prove to be a life-changing discovery. It turns out that the book made a big cultural splash when it was first published in 1928 by Ernest Dimnet, a French priest.

“The happiness of most people we know is not ruined by great catastrophes or fatal errors, but by the repetition of slowly destructive little things”

— Ernest Dimnet (1866-1954)

Books: I Married Adventure

My introduction to the ubiquitous nature of the vintage book I Married Adventure was through the blog Decorno — going all the way back to Aught ‘7 — in a post called “Things That Are Wrong. Now, Always and Forever”. Coming in at #13 on the list of Things That Are Wrong? I Married Adventure. The comments in response to the post found most readers agreeing; they were all so totally over this book being everywhere.

Not being highly attuned to the whims of decorating at the time, at least as documented by blogs, I had somehow missed the news that I Married Adventure, first published in 1940, was all over the world of interiors in the new millenium. Apparently decorators loved snatching up the book with its snazzy zebra-patterned cover and placing it in what are called “tablescapes”. (By the way, I also never realized regular people used this word — I thought only HGTV hosts did — until I was reading various blogs about this particular book and encountered the word “tablescape” over and over again. Oh, the things I wish I didn’t know.) Continue reading

The Death of Books? Not so Fast

Jamie Schwaberow for The New York Times

Pages, printed and bound, aren’t going away anytime soon.  Our appreciation for books may be more along the lines of perceiving them as objects ripe for manipulation as opposed to the noble repositories of knowledge, but as a lover of books, I’ll settle for that.  I just want books to be around, and if they are primarily around as decorative items, as doorstops, as props for a Pottery Barn catalog shoot with the covers ripped off so that the binding is exposed in some sort of arty attempt to get the books to “match”, that’s perfectly alright with me (not that anyone’s asking).  It’s taken years for me to reach this state of equanimity.  I used to gnash my teeth at reading accounts of books being purchased by the yard for the fake-old new libraries of fake-old new rich people.  But now I save my hysteria for worthier causes – which no doubt I’ll share at some point.  Now I realize that all those designers buying books by the yard and styling Pottery Barn catalog shoots are actually saving books, if not in the literary sense, then in the literal sense.  These designers are creating a nostalgia market so great that generations to come wouldn’t even dream of having a house without books, even if those same generations can’t recall ever having read anything from a printed page instead of a screen.

The New York Times has a story today on this very thing: designers crafting something altogether book-ish but unliterary out of books.  Read about it HERE.  The book is dead, long live the book.