Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wild flowers in Saudi Arabia

This time of year, we're used to this kind of scene in Texas--a proliferation of beautiful wildflowers painting the spring landscape.

Bluebonnets in Independence, TX

A mixture in my backyard, west of Houston

So wildflowers weren't far from the forefront of my thoughts when I came across this book: Wild Flowers of Central Saudi Arabia, photographs and text by Betty A. Lipscombe Vincett (1977).

Texas and wildflowers go hand-in-hand in the spring, but Saudi Arabia? That was news to me--news that the country had any wildflowers, let alone such a beautiful variety as found in this book.

The author wandered the wadis (dry river beds) and sand dunes near the Tuwaiq Mountain Range in the vicinity of Riyadh to capture these images. Click on the image below of the book's endpapers for an enlarged view of a map of the area.

Spring rains help this area come alive with a colorful array of flowers during the spring months, which parallels our own season of wildflowers in Texas and other parts of the US. The following images represent a sampling of the variety the author/photographer found in her Saudi Arabian explorations and included in this book.

A word of caution... I don't know about Saudi Arabia, but in parts of Texas, hidden among the beauty of the spring flowers, you want to watch where you're walking in fields of bluebonnets and other wildflowers. You just might rattle one of these critters!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

America's first bookshop caravan

Nearly one hundred years ago, the idea of a portable book shop, motorized on wheels, was just that--an idea. Then along came Christopher Morley's little book, Parnassus on Wheels, in 1917, and the idea soon became a reality in the summer of 1920 thanks to a woman named Bertha Mahony, whom I'll introduce a bit later. First, here's the roundabout way I discovered her.

The following book introduced me to the first book shop caravan in the United States: The Truth About Publishing, by Stanley Unwin (Houghton Mifflin, 1927). This book appears to have been from a special edition published for the American Booksellers Association, with the compliments of the Houghton Mifflin Company.

Almost hidden, deep inside this book on page 191, is a footnote about the first attempts to put a motorized caravan into action for selling books to rural customers.

In a chapter titled, The Actual Selling, the author wades into a subject he's long been interested in--the idea of a caravan book shop to serve the rural areas. He makes the comparison to libraries and the loan of books through traveling caravans, or what came to be known as bookmobiles. He goes on to describe a scenario for how such an undertaking might actually be successful. He foresaw a group of publishers managing the caravan bookshop as a cooperative working closely with local booksellers' associations. The goal would be "to put every new customer in touch with the nearest bookseller from whom supplies could be obtained between the caravan's visit."

The author asks the question, "Is this Utopian?" He then answers his own question: "I think not." He ends his thoughts on the subject with the following footnote:
In the summers of 1919 and 1920 the Women's Industrial Union of Boston, through its Bookshop for Boys and Girls, with the backing of a group of American publishers, made the experiment of sending a motor caravan, equipped as a bookshop, throughout the country districts and summer resorts of New England. The enterprise was not a financial success and the supporting publishers lost heart after two seasons. It is possible that greater perseverance would have brought about a different result. In any event, valuable educational work was done. In the summer of 1926 several adventures in the field, undertaken by enterprising young women, achieved a modest success.
And with that chapter's footnote, I put the book down and began searching for a footnote in history--the first book caravan in America. Akin to an early bookmobile, this caravan was for selling books, not renting them out. I thought it an intriguing bit of history and soon learned others felt the same, as there was a good bit of material on the subject.

Bertha Mahony was the driving force (no pun intended) behind the book shop caravan. She was the founding editor of the Horn Book Magazine (publications about children's literature) and later founded the Bookshop for Boys and Girls in Boston in 1916. She began to envision selling books from a rolling caravan throughout rural New England before Morley's Parnassus on Wheels was even published, but Morley's book may have provided the encouragement she needed to make her dream a reality.

The Horn Book site has a Virtual History Scrapbook with articles and images of the Bookshop Caravan. Barbara Bader wrote an excellent piece in 1999, titled Treasure Island by the Roadside.

My search on the subject led to an ad for the "Miniature Bookshop on Wheels." Extracted from a contemporary publication, it offers an illustration of the caravan, which I now have in my collection of book trade ephemera:

Real photos of the caravan, as well as related images of a log book, can be seen HERE. For another set of scrapbook entries, which feature original clippings of publicity for the bookshop caravan, click HERE. There, you'll also find a link to a readable format for the clippings. And finally, for a related post on book automobiles, see Larry T. Nix's recent article on the subject HERE.

For you bibliophiles and history buffs, once you start digging into the story of the bookshop caravan, you're in for an intriguing journey through the history of bookselling, bookshops, and caravans and bookmobiles, not to mention books, during the early twentieth century. It's a fascinating trip with some interesting stops along the way.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mysterious Saturn

April is National Poetry Month in the U.S. We were already more than a few weeks into it before I realized this and my last blog entry in March had been about the poetry of Walt McDonald. Looks like I unknowingly jumped the gun a bit on a topical post.

In recognition of National Poetry Month, before it slips away, I'm writing something about the mystery of Saturn. This Saturn is a poet, not a planet. And this is her book below, a book that seems to have slipped away somewhere under the radar. It is undetectable in an age when virtually nothing goes undetectable.

The Other Side of the Moon was published by W. & G. Baird in London, (1963)1971. What you see with this book is about all you're going to get, with respect to Saturn's identity. Whomever wrote the review on the jacket's front flap seems to think we will come to know who Saturn is by the end of the book, if we don't know already. She seems to have been well-traveled, well-read, and an active participant in life with myriad interests.

Here are some clues from that review about the identity of the author, Saturn:
Born in Wales of English parentage, Saturn has enjoyed the unique atmospheres of Cornwall and Italy. A good golfer, skier and rider, her writing began after she broke her back in a riding accident.

Her poems are an apologia for her wide travels and experiences: the reader feels her love for Swinburne, Keats and Shelley.

A true European, Saturn enjoys life and in "On looking at a portrait" and "Shadow" her courage in adversity comes through to the reader. In "Negative" and other poems the reader feels her realistic insight, and by the end of the book knows Saturn well.
With all these clues about who the pseudonymous Saturn is, I might as well not have any clues about her real identity. I have no idea who Saturn is. Even the mighty Google offers nothing about this seemingly prominent woman and the tragedy that befell her.

The dedication page states at the top of the page:
To the Immortals I have known. Their virtues--their frailties--but always their greatness.
At the bottom of the page, there is this:
For Marian with love
Perhaps these offer more clues. Immortality pops up in several poems. So does the idea of lost youth and a waning life and of not dwelling on the past, but trying to live life in the present and into the unknown future.

There's the poem, Hera, with its allusions to a female lover coming to the author's bed through the mist, and then disappearing like a shadow, leaving her "forlorn." Could this be Marian in the dedication?

The other side of the moon is what we don't see. Also referred to as the dark side of the moon, this may serve as a metaphor for the darkness--fear, depression, certain passions--that one struggles with while trying to live with what life doles out.

The fact that the author broke her back while horseback riding makes me wonder if she is not paralyzed and struggling with the inner conflict of living or dwelling in the past and what could have been, versus living in the present and looking optimistically toward the future.

One of the poems, Negative, mentioned in the jacket review bears out this philosophy of engaging in the present, with optimism for the future, rather than dwelling in the past and what might have been:
I must not think of the years that were
when my Lover was young
Several lines follow about what she must not think of before balancing her thoughts with the perspective of having been able to enjoy a lover at all, or spring colours, or a blackbird's song, etc.

The poems aren't great, but collectively they create a discernible theme of loss through unforeseen circumstances or the natural processes of aging and dying. There is some attempt at balance through feigned optimism, but it falls short.

I feel the sadness and loneliness from the "dark side of the moon," so in that respect the poems achieve a certain effect. There is a pervasive mystery that envelops the collection, from the source of the darkness to the identity of the poet.

As one of my favorite songwriter/poets, Townes Van Zandt, once wrote, "There ain't no dark till something shines" (from the song, Rex's Blues). I suppose I'm just trying to put a little spotlight on these poems and bring the darkness to light and maybe solve a mystery.