Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2019 Issue

A Lighter Touch, Eight Vintage Fun Reads

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BARNABY and his fairy-godfather Mr. O’Malley, published in 1943, is one of eight vintage American humor titles recommended to keep you laughing through these grim times.

Suicide, depression, anxiety, tornadoes, homelessness, hurricanes, tidal waves, impeachment, climate change, corruption and an unending litany of bad news 24/7. Yes my fellow book people, it’s scary and dangerous out there, with seemingly no end in sight. Though there are no fast or easy solutions to our increasingly grim national landscape, I guarantee it will help (if only for a little while) to lighten up. To that end, here are eight titles - short and long, but mostly vintage, that have made me laugh, not once but many times. Though in places some of the language has become politically incorrect, the humor is still as refreshing as ever.

 

  1. (1895) Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses aka Cooper’s Indians by Mark Twain

If you were ever force fed James Fenimore Cooper in high school you’ll want to read this satirical essay by Mark Twain. The great American humorist pokes fun at Cooper’s prose style, incongruities and pretensions. Twain writes: The rules of discourse require “that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven- dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a minstrel in the end of it. But this rule is flung down and danced upon in the "Deerslayer" tale.” Matters not if you’ve read Cooper or ever plan to read him, Twain will make you laugh.

Full text online twain.lib.virginia.edu/projects/rissetto/offense.html but better to read it in hard copy.

 

  1. (1905) Pigs is Pigs by Ellis Parker Butler

Like most of the books on this list I first read Pigs is Pigs when my Dad handed me a little hard back copy - and though it looked old and dated, it has remained as fresh and funny.

This is the story of a freight agent and a customer who argue over whether guinea pigs are barnyard animals or domestic pets and which freight rate they should pay.

Here’s the agent expounding his position to the customer: “Pigs is pigs,” he declared firmly. ‘Guinea-pigs, or Irish pigs is all the same to the Interurban Express Company an' to Mike Flannery. Th' nationality of the pig creates no differentiality in the rate, Misther Morehouse! 'Twould be the same was they Dutch pigs or Rooshun pigs. Mike Flannery,” he added, “is here to tind to the expriss business and not to hould conversation wid pigs in sivinteen languages fer to discover be they Chinese or Tipperary by birth an' nativity.”

Both sides hold firm to their position and as time passes the guinea pig population at the freight station explodes. When at last the higher ups reach a decision and it’s time to deliver the animals they have multiplied mightily:

Wan wagonload more an, I'll be quit of thim, an' niver will ye catch Flannery wid no more foreign pigs on his hands. No, sur! They near was the death o' me. Nixt toime I'll know that pigs of whaiver nationality is domistic pets—an' go at the lowest rate.”

Online text www.gutenberg.org/files/2004/2004-h/2004-h.htm

  1. (1937) Education of Hyman Kaplan, by Leo Rosten, Harcourt Brace

In this collection of short stories about a NYC night school class for immigrants we meet teacher Parkhill and his brilliant, devious and megalomanic student H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N. Kaplan, whose native tongue appears to be Yiddish, has his own unique ideas of how to speak read and write English.

As Parkhill describes him: “Mr. Kaplan’s English showed no improvement during the next hard weeks. The originality of his spelling and pronunciation, however flourished...a man to whom “Katz” is the plural of “cat” soon soars into higher and more ambitious endeavor. As a one paragraph “Exercise in Composition,” Mr. Kaplan submitted: ‘“When people is meating on the boulvard, on going away one is saying, “I am glad I mat you,”’and the other is giving answer, “Mutual.”

The accents may have changed but the misunderstandings and rivalries among transplants are still hilarious. There are lots of inexpensive copies around in both hard cover and paperback. The author wrote a second volume, The Return of H*Y*M*A*N   K*A*P*L*A*N, but it’s not as good.  

 

4. (1941) Hotel Splendide by Ludwig Bemelmans, Viking

Ludwig Bemelmans is best known for his Madeline books; but the one I like best is Hotel Splendide. It’s a thinly disguised series of personal memoirs from Bemelmans’ years behind the scenes at the luxury Ritz Hotel in NYC. These are gentle and uniformly funny observations on the comings and goings of the high and mighty from the vantage point of the waiters, and kitchen staff. My favorite story is titled Night in Granada, about a rich and difficult patron who orders a huge cake to be delivered to her via gondola at a sumptuous party, and what happens when the cake falls into the lagoon.

 

           5. (1943) Barnaby (and Mr. O’Malley) by Crockett Johnson, Henry Holt

What, you never heard of Barnaby or his fairy-godfather, Mr. O’Malley? You are definitely missing out on one of the more elegant and convincingly funny comic strips of the mid-20th century. Mr. O’Malley is short, hatted, paunchy and winged. He flies and smokes cigars. A member of the Little Mens Marching & Chowder Society he frequently pauses to exclaim “Cushlamochree!” Barnaby plays straight man to O’Malley, a tongue-in-cheek top banana with a penchant for showing up at improbable times. Each appearance wreaks havoc in the life of young boy and his unbelieving parents, who dismiss the winged one as an “imaginary friend.” For a taste of Crockett Johnson online try ”Notes on the Origins of Barnaby” as it appeared in Comics Journal in April 2013. www.tcj.com/crockett-johnson-and-the-invention-of-barnaby/

 

        6. (1941) Subtreasury of American Humor edited by EB White & Katharine S. White

This is a fat funny anthology of vintage humor; inside you’ll find Cooper’s Indians and parts of Hyman Kaplan, along with dozens of other selections from the late 19th and first half of the 20th century. Both editors were long-time contributors of The New Yorker, and the collection is sometimes termed as "the New Yorker school of American Humor." Though some of the selections have dated, most have not. There are hundreds of copies to pick from offered online in both hardback and paperback, some for as little as $1. A great book for browsing and rediscovering American humorists of an earlier era.

          7. (1950) All the Ships at Sea by William J. Lederer, William Sloane

My Dad was friends with author Lederer from their days in the Philippines, and I can’t remember a time this book wasn’t in our house or in my own personal library. These are humorous stories about life in the US Navy, all of them sprinkled with funny bits and classic USN personalities from the overbearing captain to the zealous draftee who wants to go to Annapolis. Lederer’s sequel, Ensign O’Toole and Me, is entertaining but not quite as good. Plenty of inexpensive copies offered as paperbacks.

          

         8. (1991) Frank De Lima’s Joke Book by Frank De Lima, Bess Press

Out here in the Aloha State Frank De Lima is still cracking us up. Most of what’s in this joke book would be considered politically incorrect, even the subtitle, “Having fun with Portagees, Pakes, Buddha Heads, Buk Buks, Blallahs, Soles, Yoos, Haoles, Tidas, Pit bulls and other Hawaiian minorities” probably wouldn’t make it past the 21st century copy editor. Not withstanding such tender sensibilities Frank De Lima is a funny man who has been making the people of Hawaii laugh for more than 30 years. Here’s a sample: “Did you hear about the man who was half Italian and half Portagee? He made himself an offer he couldn’t understand.” Lot of copies listed on Amazon, and plenty of Youtube videos. Something to offend every ethnicity.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> C.F. Payne, <i>Micawber—Imitating Norman Rockwell's "Triple self-portrait,"</i> acrylic, watercolor & colored pencil, 2002. Sold June 2021 for $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Jane Russell, archive of letters written during a whaling voyage, 1840s. Sold July 2021 for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Guild of Women Binders, exhibition binding of A.F. Pollard’s <i>Henry VIII,</i> London, 1902. Sold July 2021 for $12,350.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Robert Frost, <i>Collected Poems,</i> author’s presentation copy, signed, with entirety of <i>Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening</i> inscribed, NY, 1930. Sold June 2021 for $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> James Joyce, <i>Ulysses,</i> deluxe limited issue, signed, London, 1936. Sold June 2021 for $21,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Mercator [family], <i>[World and Continents],</i> 5 double-page maps, Amsterdam, c. 1633. Sold June 2021 for $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> George Schlegel, <i>New York, Taken from Central Park,</i> hand-finished color-tinted lithograph, 1874. Sold June 2021 for $11,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolaus Copernicus, <i>De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium,</i> second edition, Basel, 1566. Sold April 2021 for $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Book of Hours, Use of Utrecht, illuminated manuscript, c. 1435-45. Sold April 2021 for $60,000.
  • <b><center>Doyle<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps<br>September 23, 2021</b>
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 20. ADAMS, JOHN QUINCY. Letter to the editors of the Boston Atlas on slavery and its political ramifications, 1842. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 208. HEMINGWAY, ERNEST. <i>A Farewell To Arms.</i> New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929. First edition. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 237. ADDAMS, CHARLES. Original drawing "Now Remember-act casual." $5,000 to $7,000.
    <b><center>Doyle<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps<br>September 23, 2021</b>
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 4. SMITH, ADAM. <i>An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations.</i> Philadelphia, 1789. The first American edition. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 131. BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VON. <i>Cinquieme Sinfonie en ut mineur: C Moll de Louis Van Beethoven. Oeuvre 67.</i> First edition of the complete score. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 73. Chinese Export Painting. Album of twenty-three original Chinese natural history studies of flowers and insects. Likely Canton: circa 1850. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b><center>Doyle<br>Rare Books, Autographs & Maps<br>September 23, 2021</b>
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 241. GOREY, EDWARD. Original drawing "Cat Drawing Wallpaper." Signed in Pencil in lower right margin. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 36. LINCOLN, ABRAHAM. Autograph note signed instructing Edwin Stanton to meet with the important African American abolitionist and officer Martin Delany. [Washington:] 21 February 1865. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 112. JONSON, BEN. <i>Workes</i>. London: William Stansby, 1616; Together with <i>Workes.</i> London: Richard Meighen,1640-41. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Doyle, Rare Books, Autographs & Maps:</b> Lot 161. STURGIS, LEE. <i>Salmon Fishing on Cain River, New Brunswick.</i> (Chicago:) Privately printed (for the author by Ralph Fletcher Seymour), 1919. First edition. $3,000 to $5,000.
  • <b><center>Fonsie Mealy’s<br>The Library of Howth Castle<br>September 22nd & 23rd, 2021</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Rosellini (Ippolito). <i>I Monumenti dell Egitto e Della Nubia,</i> Plate Volumes 1, 11 & 111, 3 vols. Elephant folio. €50,000 to €80,000.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Curtis (William), 1746 - 179, & other Editors. <i>The Botanical Magazine: or, The Flower Garden Displayed.</i> London 1793 - 1982-83. Together 184 vols. [with] other botanical material. €30,000 to €40,000.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Berkeley (George). <i>A Treatise Concerning the principles of Human Knowledge, wherein the chief Causes of Error and Difficulty in the Sciences…</i> Part I, Dublin, 1710 Rare First Edn. €15,000 to €20,000.
    <b><center>Fonsie Mealy’s<br>The Library of Howth Castle<br>September 22nd & 23rd, 2021</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Ruskin (John). A large finely executed Pencil Drawing, captioned <i>Oxford Cathedral, The Choir,</i> & Signed 'J. Ruskin Ch. Ch. 1838. €15,000 to €20,000.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Sir Edward L. Lutyens. Howth Castle Plans: A Series of 10 Original Architects Drawings and Sketches, Alterations and Additions for J.C. Gaisford St. Lawrence, County Dublin, Ireland. €8,000 to €12,000.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Newman (Rev. Fr. John Henry, later Cardinal, now Saint) A very good collection of 24 A.L.S. to [Thomas] Gaisford of the Gaisford St. Lawrence family of Howth Castle. €10,000 to €15,000.
    <b><center>Fonsie Mealy’s<br>The Library of Howth Castle<br>September 22nd & 23rd, 2021</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Manuscript Atlas: Hodges, Smith & Co. <i>The Estate of the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Howth Situate in the County of Dublin,</i> lg. atlas folio Dublin (Hodges, Smith & Co.) 1863. €4,000 to €6,000.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Anon. <i>Herbolario Volgare: nel quale se dimostra conoscer le herbe et le sue vrtu…</i> Sm. 8vo Venice (Gio Maria Palamides) 1539. €3,000 to €4,000.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Baron (Caesar). <i>Annales Ecclesiastici</i>. [With] <i>Annalium Ecclesiasticorum Caesaris Baronii... Apparatus.</i> [With] <i>Index Universalis Rerum Omnium</i> [and one other]. 38 vols total. €1,500 to €2,000.
    <b><center>Fonsie Mealy’s<br>The Library of Howth Castle<br>September 22nd & 23rd, 2021</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Log Books of Three British Warships. Three folio Volumes, containing meticulously arranged logs of the voyages of Royal Navy Ships from 1876 – 1881. €1,200 to €1,800.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Walpole (Robert). <i>Memoirs Relating to European and Asiatic Turkey,</i> lg. 4to Lond. 1817. €1,000 to €1,500.
    <b>Fonsie Mealy’s, Sep. 22-23:</b> Bosio (Antonio). <i>Roma Sotteranea,</i> Opera Postuma. Large thick folio Rome (Guglielmo Facciotti) 1632. €1,000 to €1,500.
  • <b>Il Ponte, Sep. 21:</b> ZEILER, Martin - <i>Topographiae Italiae.</i> Francoforte: Mattheus Merian, 1688. €3,500 to €4,500.
    <b>Il Ponte, Sep. 21:</b> HAMILTON, William, Sir -- HANCARVILLE, Pierre-Francois HUGUES - Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of the Hon. William Hamilton. Napoli: Francois Morelli, 1766-67. €38,000 to €48,000.
    <b>Il Ponte, Sep. 21:</b> [ASTRONOMIA] - Manoscritto astronomico. Italia: 1650. €1,000 to €1,500.
    <b>Il Ponte, Sep. 21:</b> DALI, Salvador - <i>Biblia Sacra vulgatae editionis.</i> Edizione “Ad Personam” Milano: Rizzoli, 1967. €40,000 to €60,000.

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