A Year in Books/Day 139: Schott’s Original Miscellany

  • Title: Schott’s Original Miscellany
  • Author: Ben Schott
  • Year Published: 2003 (Bloomsbury)
  • Year Purchased: 2004/2005
  • Source: Bas Bleu
  • About: If I decided to write a reference book, it would be in this mould: eccentric, far-reaching and a treat to read. The entries are ridiculously fun yet still informative (as, of course, all such books should be): Eponymous Foods, Hampton Court Maze, Public School Slang, The Language of Flowers, Churchill & Rhetoric, Proverbially You Can’t, Super Bowl Singers, George Washington’s Rules and The Bond Films are just a few. It is a little treasure of a volume, and one that suits those of us for whom so-called useless knowledge is one of life’s great enjoyments.
  • Motivation: We all know that I LOVE reference books. Of any kind. I also hanker after eclectic knowledge because, well, why not?
  • Times Read: Cover-to-cover:1/As reference tool: countless
  • Random Excerpt/Page 5: “An encyclopedia? A dictionary? An almanac? An anthology? A lexicon? A treasury? A commonplace? An amphigouri? A vade-mecum? Well…yes. Schott’s Original Miscellany is all of these and, of course, more.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10++

Fuel for My Jetpack, Mead for My Dragon

Modern Mechanix & Inventions

I love looking back at our old future.

Maybe it’s just nostalgia talking, but I liked seeing the Things to Come back before they came. I mean, we’re basically living in the future as we speak.  We’ve got it all – space ships, space stations, robots on Mars, handheld communicators that can put us in contact with anyone in the world, instant food, everything.  We even have flying cars, especially if you drive them off of someplace really high.

The problem with our current future is that it’s so unimpressive looking.  Ever notice how the iPhone looks like a bar of soap that’s got two more showers left in it?  Sure, its practical, fits in your pocket, and doesn’t require nuclear energy to play music or make a call – but man does it look dull!

I long for the days of our fun future, the inaccurate and impractical version with big, silvery pipes and unnecessary buttons and single levers that control everything.

And so it was with great pleasure that I came across a little gem from history called Modern Mechanix & Inventions.

Modern Mechanix & Inventions began life in 1928, seeking to make its name amidst the science and technology publications biz at the time.  Chock full of DIY projects and the car reviews of Tom McCahill, the magazine held its own until 2001, changing its title a couple of times during its run.

There are a number of places on the ’net to find archives with pictures of the covers, most being mixed in with other classic publications.  I wouldn’t be writing about it now if a friend hadn’t made mention about it on facebook (props to MarcosBnPinto!).  The visions presented in some of the mag’s more fantastic covers are the stuff that fueled the rockets of the imagination in the days before we exorcised the Man in the Moon.

I genuinely enjoy seeing stuff like this. It’s great food for fantasy, storytelling, or getting ideas for running a role playing game.  I’m always on the lookout for more retro-future artwork, so if you can suggest any, I’d be glad to take a look at it.  Drop us a line!

For a look at a number of these beautiful covers, visit Marcos’s tumblr here.

A Year in Books/Day 100: Living Authors

  • Title: Living Authors
  • Editor: Dilly Tante
  • Year Published: Original Edition-1931/This Edition-2001 (The H.W. Wilson Company/Bookspan)
  • Year Purchased: 2004
  • Source: Unknown
  • About: Since I spend so much time writing about dead writers, this is one of the most-used volumes in my personal reference library. Although I don’t remember where I bought it, I know that it only cost about $5; practically speaking, it is the best investment I have ever made in a book! ‘Living Authors’ features biographies of pretty much every still-breathing writer (400 of them!) of any importance at the time of initial publication (1931), which means that it covers the years that I most frequently focus on in my own writing. Each entry also has a detailed bibliography. For those of you wondering why I don’t just head over to Wikipedia/other informative web-site, I’ll stop you right there. It’s not the same! Dilly Tante filled his book with strange data and odd minutia, often provided by the authors themselves. It’s simply more interesting and fulfilling.
  • Motivation: I’m always excited to find reference materials contemporaneous to the subjects I write about.
  • Times Read: Cover-to-cover-1/As reference-countless
  • Random Excerpt/Page vi: “In themselves these facts are trivial and meaningless. If they concerned the man in the brown hat next door or the discreet lady across the way, they might be dismissed as idle gossip, both inexcusable and dull. But in the world of art, where talent is primarily a consolidation of personality, we have a right to be curious. Our desire to know the artist is matched by his desire to reveal himself, for the art of the modern world is fundamentally autobiographical, and Goethe, described by Spengler as “the man who forgot nothing, the man whose works, as he avowed himself, are only fragments of a single great confession,” may well stand as the type of the Western artist.”
  • Happiness Scale: Off the charts!
My copy of 'Living Authors' Edited by Dilly Tante

My copy of 'Living Authors' Edited by Dilly Tante: I'll award 2 bragging points for every writer you can name!


A Year in Books/Day 97: The Dictionary of Disagreeable English

  • Title: The Dictionary of Disagreeable English A Curmudgeon’s Compendium of Excruciatingly Correct Grammar
  • Author: Robert Hartwell Fiske
  • Year Published: 2005 (Writer’s Digest Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2005
  • Source: Writer’s Digest Book Club
  • About: I love this book. I know what you are thinking! “I know how to spell. I do not confuse or misuse words.” Neither do I. Even if your English is already agreeable, it is a great reference tool. It reminds you that linguistic sloppiness is never okay. It’s also an interesting study in how language is casually and unknowingly degraded on a daily basis.
  • Motivation: We’ve covered this one before: I think reference books are sexy.
  • Times Read: 3 or 4 or 70. I don’t know!
  • Random Excerpt/Page 342: “20. guesstimate. Use estimate, for crying out loud! It’s the same word!”
  • Happiness Scale: 8

A Year in Books/Day 33: Webster’s Dictionary of American Writers

  • Title: Webster’s Dictionary of American Writers
  • Year Published: 2004 (Barnes & Noble)
  • Year Purchased: 2005
  • Source: Barnes & Noble clearance rack
  • About: A dense, delightfully thorough history of every American writer of merit, popularity or notoriety since the 17th Century.
  • Motivation: I gobble up data like Wheaties or mac and cheese. I write about dead writers. I love history.
  • Times Read: Cover-to-cover-1/As reference tool-countless.
  • Random Excerpt/Page 65: “Grandson of the inventor of the adding machine, Burroughs was born into wealth and graduated from Harvard University in 1936. While living in New York, he met Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and became one of the early core members of the group that would become known as the Beats. He became addicted to heroin around 1945 and would remain a junkie for almost 15 years. While living in Mexico in 1951, he killed his second wife in an attempt to shoot a glass off her head at a party. He fled Mexico and wandered through the Amazon region, continuing his experiments with drugs, experiences described in ‘The Yage Letters’ (1963), his 1953 correspondence with Allen Ginsberg.
  • Happiness Scale: 9
    Signature of Allen Ginsberg

    Image via Wikipedia


A Year in Books/Day 4: Thorndike Century Junior Dictionary

William Alexander Craigie
Image via Wikipedia-William Craigie.
  • Title: Thorndike Century Junior Dictionary A Child’s Dictionary of the English Language Revised Edition
  • Author: E.L. Thorndike
  • Year Published: 1942 (a revision of the original 1935 edition/published by E.L. Thorndike)
  • Year Purchased: This copy was purchased new in 1942 for my 10-year-old Grandmother.
  • Source: This book was handed down to me by Grandma when I was 5.
  • About:The dictionary was compiled by E.L. Thorndike and 2 very impressive advisory committees, whose lists included Sir William Craigie (the third editor of the Oxford English Dictionary).
  • Motivation: I started reading dictionaries (quickly followed by any reference book within the grasp of my thin fingers) shortly before starting school. I have read entire volumes during otherwise boring road trips. I still prefer the tactile, almost sensuous quality of well-worn reference pages over the most comprehensive on-line compendium. Someone should coin a phrase for that special quality one feels when meandering through a dictionary; how the heart races when the eyes skip, so quickly, from word to word, roaming over territory new and old. E.L. Thorndike’s great work for schoolchildren made that possible for me.
  • Times Read: Countless.
  • Random Excerpt/Page vi: “To make a dictionary that comes near to this ideal requires not only adequate knowledge of the English language, but also expert scientific knowledge of children’s minds, and their needs in reading, hearing, and using words. It also requires ingenuity and thoughtfulness for every detail of every word.”
  • Happiness Scale: Off the charts.