. . . Little Leather

. . .

Nothing ages like senility: A tale of two libraries

The Little Leather Library is a set of teensy-weensy cheaply-bound booklets stored in a plain cardboard container about half the width of a sneakers box, marketed around 1920. My father had a set (presumably inherited from his father), and they made up a large part of my childhood reading.

The "leather" looks like the seal on rotgut bourbon, the paper is the color of burnt caramel, and the smell is pure nostalgia. Aside from that, the Little Leather Library's enduring appeal for me lies in its editorial hand, which rested heavily on "modern classics" (i.e., the fin-de-siècle). Here are some volume titles:

Salome by Oscar Wilde
  1. "Fifty Best Poems of England" (including representative works by Francis Thompson, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Georgina Rossetti, and Algernon Charles Swinburne)
  2. "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"
  3. "The Happy Prince"
  4. "Salome"
  5. "The Ballad of Reading Gaol"
  6. "Bab Ballads"
  7. "Barrack Room Ballads"
  8. "Short Stories of De Maupassant"
  9. "Man Without a Country"
  10. "Sherlock Holmes"
  11. "The Gold Bug" (the volume is filled out with a repeat of the first 30 pages of "The Gold Bug")
  12. "The Tempest" and "Midsummer Night's Dream" (and what other two Shakespeares could they possibly have picked?)
  13. and, for good or ill, most influential of the bunch, "Dreams" by Olive Schreiner
A heady mix for a healthy growing son of the US Navy...

+ + +

... and as a strapping middle-aged man, I was delighted to find the continuing education course that is The Golden Gale Electronic Library: a world-wide distributed database of texts viewable only with the the Golden Gale Book Reader program.

The program is -- well, let the coder without sins throw rocks at it; Greek font or no Greek font, I wish I could extract the whole text into an editor and be done with it -- but what a public service in these texts! Starting from the sizable splash of the leaden Benson brothers' upper-class Anglo-Catholic end-of-the-nineteenth-century public-school boy-mania, Golden Gale has captured over a hundred volumes of otherwise vanished ripples. So far, I've galed along to:

  • "Don Tarquinio: A Kataleptic Phantasmatic Romance" by Fr. Rolfe (Baron Corvo), a Renaissance adventure that grounds the Baron's personal obsessions solidly and satisfyingly in historical context and beat-the-clock narrative structure.
  • "Stories Toto Told Me, or, A Sensational Atomist" by Baron Corvo (Fr. Rolfe), the most popular of the Baron's work in his own time, and a typically queasy mix of pedophilic exploitation and Catholic aesthete speculation. The next best thing to tertiary syphilis.
  • "Plato and Platonism" by Walter Pater, first recommended to me by Samuel R. Delany.
  • "The Outcry," Henry James's novelization of a very bad Henry James play that attacks those beastly Americans who come over to good old England and start appropriating....
  • "William Blake: A Critical Essay" by Algernon Charles Swinburne: "But if we regard him as a Celt rather than an Englishman, we shall find it no longer so difficult to understand from whence he derived his amazing capacity for such illimitable emptiness of mock-mystical babble as we find in his bad imitations of so bad a model as the Apocalypse: his English capacity for occasionally superb and serious workmanship we may rationally attribute to his English birth and breeding...."
  • ... with more to come, I'm sure.
Toto by Baron Corvo

. . .

One (or a team, for all I know) offers what's likely to be the last suggested new logo and new title for a while:

New Logo = a big book with a winged monkey sitting on it wearing specs
New Title = The Long Sentence

It's true, I've always had a soft spot for winged monkeys. Probably several, since monkeys have strong jaws and I don't exercise much. And just last night I said that the Little Leather Library smelled like if Oz's Scarecrow had somehow lived long enough to star in The Wild Bunch....

. . .

"Going with the flow has driven some people insane."
- pop outsider Professor Anonynomous

"Is this the way I used to fall off this log?"
- rockin' weblogger Fred Metascene

For Phillips, his experiment's success initiated a new business model. Rather than having to compete with larger labels such as Chess for rights to the blues and R&B artists he'd been recording, he could sign potentially more lucrative (since they didn't have to deal with segregation) teenage crackers cheap and exclusive. They were eager to follow Elvis's trail, and Phillips was eager to help them.

On the world outside Memphis, the most immediate effect was rockabilly: a collection of easily copied mannerisms that spread fast as Jimmie Rodgers's yodel and shriveled afore the crops came in.

More lasting, being easier to sell, was a transvaluation in which success became a matter of "being real" and "keeping it real," setting sincerity and spontaneity against skill and groove. And I'm comfortable calling that a "rock" attitude, even though its effects haven't been confined to a single recording genre or even a single medium. (Andy Kaufman imitated Presley in more ways than the obvious one.)

As intended, it's generated records of otherwise unattainable moments which, god knows, I idolize. But they remain by design and essence isolated: every hit its own one-hit wonder. Amateurism is a lottery of grace whose winnings are taxed to fund the lottery program.

Irresponsibility is a heavy responsibility, man. You can keep the spark in a stodgy old-fashioned marriage to your art just by occasionally greeting the muse at the door in a little leather G-string. But how to maintain l'amour fou? And why to? Exposed to air, infatuation turns fatuous.

The symptoms aren't hard to find: half-assed tourism (i.e., "experimentation"), flame-outs, desperation unto suicide, or lassitude unto retirement -- or even unto professionalism. (Unless you're a complete fucking nutcase.)


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.