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Poor Biff’s Almanac — Friday Recap, Rain Threats, B&N, Half-Priced Books

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Tonight’s Background Music is provided by Paul Hardcastle.
Album:  Hardcastle 1
Best Song:   Forever Dreamin’ is tied with Feel the Breeze

Yes, it is Friday evening.  I am finally home … finally in my pajamas … finally drinking a cup of coffee … finally writing in this blog … finally listening to some soothing music.

Outside it is mostly dark, but every few seconds the whole world lights up as if lit by a giant Klieg light with a wonky power switch.  A few seconds after each flash I hear a distant booming, like a Civil War cannonade.

They are predicting rain, but I’ve learned not to get my hopes up.  I love rain more than any of Mother Nature’s other gifts.  For Her part, she withholds it as a matter of course.  Apparently, she doesn’t like me very much.  Much of the sparkle has gone out of our relationship.

Earlier this evening, Lady Luck smiled on me and I  got to enjoy a visit to both Barnes & Noble and Half-Priced Books … all in one evening!   It was like winning the lottery ……  except without all the money, of course.  I love walking around Barnes & Noble.  It is like a miniature sabbatical to me.  It soothes my soul.  However, I can’t bring myself to pay fifty dollars for a soft-bound book.  So, much like going to Tiffany’s or to a Rolex store, I just look but don’t buy.

So I went to HPB and browsed around.  I found the book I had almost bought at B&N for $30, but it was only $7.99 at HPB.  It was about two years older so not as up-to-date, but good enough for my needs.  What book, you ask?  I am extremely embarrassed to admit that I bought “WordPress: The Missing Manual” by Matthew MacDonald.

Wordpress book

After 4 months of diddling around with WP, I still feel like a novice.  I feel I need to jazz things up a bit.  In other words, it’s time to figure out what I’m doing.

I also bought a DVD of “The Outlaw Josey Wales“, which is one of the greatest western / post Civil War movies ever made.  I paid a whopping $2 for it.

I found a fascinating book.  It is a coffee table book about Alexander Girard’s works.

Alexander-Girard-Book

I had never heard of him before and the book looked fascinating, so I hefted it down off of the upper shelf where it was displayed prominently.  And when I say “hefted”, I mean hefted.  According to Amazon.com, it weighs 15 pounds!  It was chock full of pictures and reproductions of his textiles and furniture and interior designs and architecture.  It was fascinating, but I couldn’t bring myself to pay the $50 price for it (though that is only $3.33 per pound).  Also, my arms were getting tired, so I had to set it down.

Also, as part of my continuing “What Year is This?” series, I overheard yet another conversation at HPB that made me want to go home and check the calendar to see what year this is.  As I’ve mentioned in another blog post (as well as this one and this one), vinyl albums are all the rage, so it wasn’t surprising to me that tonight a fairly large section of the music department was devoted to vinyl albums.  I was also not surprised that there were quite a few “young folk” (i.e. people in their 20s) flipping excitedly through all of the albums.  But I heard a snippet of conversation that nearly made me drop my teeth.  A young-ish woman exclaimed excitedly, “Oh look!  I found a Slim Whitman album!”

It was all I could do not to chuckle out loud.  When I was a young man way back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, every 3rd commercial on television was by Suffolk Marketing flogging a Slim Whitman album or by Heartland Music hawking a Boxcar Willie album.  We all collectively rolled our eyes when any of these commercials came on.  They were viewed as poorly made albums by artists that were, shall we say, not at the peak of their careers.  So, it was quite amusing to hear people in their 20s fawning over these albums nearly 40 years after the point where the artists were 20 years past their prime.

I really don’t know what is going on nowadays.  Vinyl albums.  Polaroid cameras.  Slim Whitman albums.  Lava lamps.

If 8-track tapes come back, I’m moving out into the wilderness somewhere.

Biff On Books: Father of the Bride, Vanity Fair, & Transistors

Free retro clipart illustrations at http://www.ClipartOf.com/

My latest excursion to HPB was on December 31 so that I could take advantage of one of their 20% off sales that they have 3 or 4 times a year. This particular one ended on the 31st, so it was important I get in there when I did! My finds that day included two classics and two technical books.

Father of the Bride, by Edward Streeter (1949)

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I have loved Edward Streeter’s books ever since I stumbled across the first one about ten years ago. I read “Mr. Hobbs’ Vacation” and then “Father of the Bride” (not realizing that it was the book that the Steve Martin movie was based [very loosely] on), and finally “Merry Christmas, Mr. Baxter”. I really like Mr. Streeter’s writing style. It is relaxed and casual and cozy and in someways very Wodehouse-esque. The books of his that I’ve read all follow the same theme that I identify so closely with, which is that of an everyday man who finds himself overwhelmed by the pace of modern life and by the monkey wrenches that other people throw into his desire to lead a quiet, uneventful life. The main characters in his books are all modern-day Walter Mitty’s, though they are more grounded and pragmatic and don’t spend their time fantasizing about alternate realities.

This particular copy of “Father of the Bride” which I found is in good condition and even has the dust jacket. The dust jacket itself is in pretty sad shape, but to find one at all is pretty rare. In spite of the dust jacket’s poor condition, it is actually the reason I bought the book. I really liked the colors they used and the drawings by Gluyas Williams. In fact, I am a big fan of Gluyas Williams pen sketches, so that is definitely a bonus. The book also has a Mylar book protector on it, which is nice. Unfortunately, the book itself is a “Book of the Month” club edition, which are considerably less desirable than “actual” copies. However, even “actual” copies of the book are only worth a few dollars, so I wasn’t too upset that this was a BOTMC edition.

Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackaray

(1977 Franklin Library edition)

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I don’t usually buy ornate, leather-bound copies of books because, though they are beautiful, they don’t make good reading copies. They are heavy and unwieldy and I live in fear of spilling something on one or accidentally tearing a page or something. However, this one caught my eye. It mostly caught my eye because I just finished reading Vanity Fair a few weeks ago and it instantly became one of my favorite books of all time. It is certainly in my Top Ten favorite books of all time, and probably in the Top Five.

Mr. Thackaray’s writing style is absolutely brilliant. It is at once sympathetic towards individual characters, and yet bitingly sarcastic of the society (particularly the class system) in which they move. However, I like his form of sarcasm and parody because it is subtle and never mean. It merely points out the truth and he often does it in an apologetic, “please don’t shoot the messenger” style. He wields his rapier like a master and even though he eviscerates Victorian sensibilities regarding class and wealth, one cannot help but marvel at how beautifully he wields the instrument with which he cuts those he feels are hypocritical, pompous, arrogant, or who believe they deserve the gifts that Providence (or more accurately, the class system) showers them with. But more importantly than that, the book is delightfully amusing. Mr. Thackaray’s wit is brilliant. Is it subtle at times, though always brilliant. What is more, many of the vanities and foibles and absurdities he points out in Victorian England, are still very much alive and well today.

What is even more remarkable, is that, though this is a book of parody, skewering Victorian England sensibilities concerning class and wealth and mobility, he manages to create characters that we end up actually caring about. I found the book, taken as a whole, created emotional roller coasters for me as the various characters’ fortunes rose or fell, as relationships formed or fell apart, as misfortune fell upon the heads of characters who did not deserve it. And, of course, the relationship between Amelia Sedley and William Dobbin was extremely frustrating, at times amusing, and on the whole gut-wrenching and tragic.
In short, “Vanity Fair” is a work of sheer genius and I marveled on every page at his mastery of the craft of writing and of social commentary. As if those gifts were not enough, he also did all of his own artwork for the novel. Frankly, I consider Thackeray to be a better writer then Dickens, though Dickens was much more prolific and well known. Interestingly, they were rivals throughout their writing careers.

So, being such a fan of the book, I bought this leather-bound version of it just so that I can see it sitting upon my shelf. My previous copy of the book, the Barnes & Noble Classics Series version, is looking a bit worn and is not particularly impressive to look at. I should point out, however, that I loved the B&N Classics Series of the book because it is annotated and that helped tremendously. In fact, I recommend it highly as a “reading copy” of the book. It explained some of the archaic language or phrases, it provided insight into tastes, fads, and activities of that time period, and also explained some of the esoterica that Mr. Thackeray referred to that would not be readily known by modern audiences.

Transistors, by Milton S. Kiver (1962)

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I can’t really review this book because I haven’t read it yet. I bought it for two reasons. One, I am interested in designing and building my own audio amplifiers as a hobby, both transistor and vacuum tube. My interest at the moment is in vacuum tube amplifiers, but right after that I plan to turn my attentions to transistor amplifiers. I found this particular book while browsing the “Technology” section at HPB, hoping to find a book on vacuum tubes. Not surprisingly, they didn’t. But I did find this book instead and I flipped through it and liked it for several reasons. The first reason is mostly because it was heavy and printed on thick, glossy paper (the kind that text books used to be printed on). Secondly, it had lots and lots of schematic diagrams and graphs. And thirdly because a huge portion of the book was dedicated to amplifier circuits. I read chapter one and really like Mr. Kivers writing style. It is informative without being dull (though a certain amount of dullness is to be expected given the topic).

I have not reviewed transistor theory since I was in college (a few millennia ago), so I am hoping I can refresh my memory pretty easily.

Vacuum tube theory, on the other hand, I’ve never been formally taught and what little knowledge I have I’ve picked up from some old codgers I’ve worked with over the years. So that will be more challenging.

Fundamentals of Electronics, by E. Norman Lurch (1981)

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I bought this book for many of the same reasons I bought “Transistors” above. It has a big section of transistor theory and its application in amplifiers. Also, it looked like a good, general-purpose reference for electronics to have laying around.

Plus, what’s not to like about a book by someone named “Lurch”?

Biff on Books – An Introduction

Free retro clipart illustrations at http://www.ClipartOf.com/

One of my pastimes is to go to used book stores or antique malls or estate sales and look for old books. I am pretty eclectic in my tastes and when I go browsing for books, I’m usually not looking for anything in particular. There isn’t even really a theme to my collection. I primarily buy humorous books, such as humorous essays (Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, S. J. Perelman, etc.), biographies/travelogues (Cornelia Otis Skinner, Margaret Halsey, Betty McDonald, Mrs. Kenneth Horan, etc.), humorous fiction (Mark Twain, James Thurber, E. F. Bennet, P. G. Wodehouse, Joseph C. Lincoln, Mary Lasswell, etc.), nonsense or hard-to-classify writers (Jerome K. Jerome, Max Shulman, Will Cuppy, Bill Nye [not the modern ersatz science guy], etc.), as well as collections of humorous writings such as were published by the likes of Esquire magazine, Bennet Cerf, Irvin S. Cobb, etc.

Often I will just buy a book because I like the way it looks, the heaviness or glossiness of its paper, or even the way it feels (i.e. its weight or what it’s bound in). I have bought such varied books for my collection that range from high school physics or math books from the early 1900s, travelogues from the late 1800s, a book on fonts from the 1920s, sales books for photographic film products from the 1950s, books on homemaking or sewing from the 1930s, or technical books (electrical or mechanical) from the early 1900s. In my estimateion, book publishing before, say, 1950, seemed to be an art form and publishers seemed to take great pride in the quality of the books they published. They used high quality paper (except during the war years), ornate board covers, and lovely drawings or photographs.

We are blessed here in the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area to have a chain of used bookstores called Half Priced Books (HPB). I have been a loyal customer of theirs for as far back as I can remember . . . probably starting in the late 1980s. Their business model is to buy books, CDs, DVDs, etc. from the public, and then resell them for, as their name implies, half the price that it would have cost retail. Their bread and butter, as you might expect, are all of the latest, hottest books, CDs, and DVDs. Fortunately for me, I don’t care anything at all about the latest anything. My interest is in what they call their “nostalgia” books. These are old or interesting books from yesteryear (approximately pre-1970, but can really be anything that is old, unusual, or not easy to categorize). A great deal of the items in this section I have no interest in, but once in a while I will find a gem and will purchase it eagerly, like a squirrel that has just found a particularly tasty nut. I would say 80% of my book collection has come from HPB. And better yet, most of them have cost less than ten dollars, and in a lot of cases less than five dollars.

At any rate, my intent for my “Biff on Books” entries are just to show the “treasures” that I have found on my latest book-buying jaunts. I don’t claim to be a professional literary reviewer, but I just enjoy sharing my treasures with other who may enjoy a love of books.

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