Category Archives: Stuff Found in Library Books

Photos and information about weird, interesting, funny, and crazy stuff found in library books.

The Blue Flask: A Story in Text Messages

The Blue Flask: A Story Told in Text Message
Pt. 1

A few nights ago, I had a dream in which one of the key objects later appeared in physical form during the day. I thought this was a bit unusual, in that the object, while quotidian, is not something you would see every day, let alone find on the street…

The object is this: a blue thermos type aluminum flask. The dream was actually a fragment of memory about something that had actually happened: a battle of petty ecological one-uppersonship and unintentionally amusing symbolism. Seeking to appear both more recycly than thou and also make a statement of personal taste, this guy had dispensed with plastic water bottles for a flask that looked exactly like the one in the picture, except I am sure minus the millions of microbes. The guy’s sort of but not really rival, a female, at the first opportunity produced her own personal power statement water bottle, ornately patterned in some sort of pink, green, and brown-over aluminum paisley. Also, this bottle was significantly larger.

Because I was in fourth grade (not really it was only a few years ago), and had a clear line of sight to the bottle duel, I poorly concealed some giggling. Observing this my friend across the room looked at me questioningly, whereupon I silently pointed out the comparison. My friend also began quietly laughing, and later, in another location, we both laughed quite a bit.

This was a tiny episode in a sprawling “big fish”-type saga, and I have not thought about it in some time, until this week when someone brought to my attention the names of both bottle-owning individuals, reunited for a charity affair, a telethon to benefit the humorless…J/K those last two phrases.

 Pt. 2

The dream about the bottle was very fleeting, and it was about the incident, and then I dreamed about other unrelated stuff. But when I woke up I could see those bottles through my lashes before I quite opened my eyes. IKR! But it was a dream.

Pt. 3

Later the day of the morning/night of the dream, I went to the Bayerische StaatsBibliothek. This is not unusual, I go there almost every day. What is unusual is to see a blue aluminum water bottle wedged into the space between a windowsill and a window on the second floor in a rarely used reading room (and in fact by a window that is rarely opened since it is always winter). Instead of fleeing in distress I leaned out over the parapet and window frame and fished the bottle in with the help of my scarf. I brought it home and I still have it, figuring that like in The Grudge there is no point in getting rid of it since it has already located me. Even though I can drink as much Löwenbrau Triumphator as anyone in my adopted kingdom I don’t like to carry glass bottles around because I am afraid they will break when I inevitably drop them, so maybe I will use this flask to transport beer during Wies’n – the most fun it will ever have in all of its lives.

The Blue Flask: Postscript

The blue flask/dream incident last week was one of a series of very strange things that have happened to me this year, so though it was “haunting,” I didn’t freak out. While I was in the library, I remembered suddenly that I wanted to check out The Author of Himself, the autobiography of Marcel Reich-Ranicki. I got the book and have been reading it instead of packing. On Friday it was reported that Ranicki had died after a long illness.

The Black Minx

When I was little I was lucky to find my way very young to The Black Stallion books by Walter Farley. I read every single book (they appeared every other year or so from 1941 to 1983; the original book was made by Black_stallion_posterinto a stunning film of the same name) many times and like the Jim Kjelgaard dog books (Snow Dog, Big Red) I still read them once in a while. As a child I had Breyer horses and Barkies dogs and the scale of the models was compatible enough that I created an early kind of fan fiction diorama series in which the dogs from the Kjelgaard books met the horses from the Farley books.

Of the horses, I actually preferred The Island Stallion, Flame, and Black Minx, the Black’s (Shêtân) daughter. Also some of the “supporting” horse characters, particularly Wintertime and Sunraider. Of course Eclipse and the Piebald were fantastic villains. Unlike Kjelgaard, who told his stories from the perspective of the animals alone, Farley mixed the narratives voices between humans and horses mostly to good effect. Generally both these series of books are underrated and understudied; they are every bit as elegant and meaningful as Call of the Wild without the violence and free from the burden of having to explain the stereotypes of the time; so they remain free for children to enjoy today.

I was thinking about the Black Minx on and off for the past few weeks and even had a dream about the race with Eclipse that is the set piece of The Black Stallion’s Courage.

The Black Minx and Eclipse… Black Minx is the one horse whose speed potential we never really learn. Only “the boy”, Alec Ramsay, can inspire obedience in the headstrong filly. She was a poky frontrunner…she would get out in front of the other horses in every race, put lengths and lengths of distance between herself and the pack, and then…begin daydreaming until she wandered across the finish, albeit still the winner. She is also a bit romantic in other ways, falling in love with her colt rival Wintertime (who like Flame is a solid chestnut) and always wanting to play around with the other horses and guide ponies. Alec decides to “make” Black Minx more competitive by running her with Eclipse (who is dark bay), the wonder colt she bests in the Kentucky Derby but who rapidly thereafter matures into both a magnificent athlete and a terror, speedier (for a spell) even than the Black and cruel, toying with and breaking the spirits of his rivals.

But this plan backfires. The Black Minx bitterly resents having her dedication tested and the forced competition with Eclipse, whom she loathes. She never trusts Alec again. Moreover in these trials she is faster; Black Minx knows all along that even though Eclipse is very fast, she is too far ahead – all she has to do is hold her lead, which she does. Eclipse is bitter about Black Minx’s ease. Finally, in the Belmont Stakes, when all the horses (except the Black) race, Black Minx protests. Wintertime can’t keep the pace Black Minx and Eclipse set, so Black Minx simply slows down and keeps pace with Wintertime. Eclipse surges across the finish line breaking a track and world record. But as Alec races to Black Minx to make sure everything is OK, Eclipse realizes that Alec loved her best no matter what, win or lose. So for Alec and Eclipse, this is a sad story in terms of people-horse relations. For Black Minx, following her refusal to compete, she is retired, as is Wintertime, and they spend the rest of their days together. (In the very last books of the series, Wintertime and Black Minx have a daughter who is also unruly, Black Pepper.)

Tim Farley, Walter Farley’s son, maintains a Black Stallion Website that has a very fun forum, a lot of beautiful images of horses, naturally, stills and clips from the movies, and a real treasure – the vintage covers from the first editions of each of the books.

“The Man with a Bunch of Hoes”

When I was packing up some “important papers,” I found amid them this Roz Chast cartoon I had ripped from The New Yorker (undoubtedly belonging to someone else) in 2004. I remember I could not stop laughing when I saw this cartoon the first time and it always makes me laugh whenever I run across it in moving stuff around, which is why I have kept it so long. It made me faintly faint-y when it surprised me this time, but then when I reread it I still thought it was too funny.

New Yorker

Never Be the Same


Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Briefwechsel : mit Briefen von und an Gabriele Münter und Maria Marc

…After several years of seeking this book and not being able to find it, or finding it and having it be a million Euros or something, I was surprised to locate it in a German used bookstore’s inventory and not too crazily dear. It came in a package from Frankfurt am Main with probably the most Luftpost and other sticker adornments ever in the history of mail. I liked the wrapping so much that I just left the book in it for like a month and kept admiring it. Finally I actually needed to look something up and I had this week to open it. I was beyond thrilled to see that it had a dust jacket with fantastic 1980s typography and an X-acto bladed cutout of the “Show Him the Picture!” photo. The pages aren’t highlighted or written in, but they are pretty beat up and smell like bourbon and tobacco; I am always happy to find someone has really been reading a book hard.

I have been reading, listening to Bayern 2, and conversing with my two patient friends auf Deutsch a bit more diligently and was very pleased to be able to just sit down and read the book without too much difficulty, a far different experience from when first I met it. There are a lot more references to August Macke than I remember, and to AM’s influence…FM was always agitating on AM’s behalf.

I see from looking in Worldcat that this is something of a rare book (rarer now that the Little Mermaid dragged the USF copy to the bottom of the ocean or something – way to stay classy). I wonder why Piper never issued another edition, because in addition to the text of the letters there are extensive notations about the context of the references in the letters, and, very helpfully, descriptions of what was on the obverses of the postcards FM sent that he didn’t make himself. Between the paint, the content, and the terrible writing and incomplete addresses, FM was a real terror to the kingdom’s postal service – they regularly sent his stuff back or just handed it back and refused to deal with it – and they must have been relieved to see just normal “art” postcards such as people send today.


The other text I came across when I was organizing some shelves of books was this: The Decipherment of Linear B. I have always been very fascinated with cuneiform and with the work of Michael Ventris. The author, John Chadwick, was a friend and colleague of Ventris and though this is a very staid account of the process of identification and transcription of the cuneiform characters as both compared with Phoenician and Egyptian and deductively derived, Chadwick mentions Ventris’ untimely death in the introduction. I snatched this book from the trash and am very glad to have it now.

White Face et Wordsworth


Here are some more recent acquisitions from the rueful “Island of Misfit Books” project.

You probably know all about William Wordsworth, the English Romantic poet who was friends with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, with whom he visited Rheinland-Pfalz where they first got the idea to translate Goethe’s Faustus.

This volume is called Poems of Wordsworth Chosen and edited by Matthew Arnold. Arnold was an English professor (at Rugby and then Oxford) who was also a poet; “Dover Beach” is often referenced by Ian McEwan and appears in Fahrenheit 451. This book is a printing from 1893. The spine is very bent and there are fingerprints and some faint traces of pencil on almost every page…someone really liked this book.

Crime novelist and short story writer Edgar Wallace was also quite a character and became, in 1927, one of the first authors to secure a deal with a movie studio for stories and scripts. This turned out to be a good thing because Wallace was also, earlier, the creator of King Kong. (In the scene in the basement tavern in Inglourious Basterds during the “Who Am I?” game there are references to both King Kong and Wallace.) As you can see by the cover of White Face, Wallace was also academically ahead of his time, having devoted several hundred pages lo in 1930 to the exploration of the astonishing theory that, indeed, some segment of the population — perhaps even you — is in fact white. A film was made of White Face as well; it premiered in March 1932, just a few weeks after Wallace’s death in February of the same year.

Speaking of trends in scholarship, of course it is no longer necessary to speak French or go to France in order to become a person of letters on French subjects. Nonthetless, my favorite book in this trio is the Brief French Grammar. It was the property of a the New York Public Library in the second decade of the 1900s, and then of the Board of Education of the City of New York where it circulated until 1936. A very enthusiastic student marked a routing slip left inside the book with an emphatic red date: Le Juin 22, 1920. Completely adorable.









Franz Marc Holding a Cell Phone

Franz Marc holding a cell phone, 1915.

Here is a mysterious photograph from Franz Marc – Paul Klee: ein Dialog in Bildern, a volume beautifully illustrated with the artists’ postcards to each other and some interesting photographs. Klee seems more vulnerable and less arch than you might expect in these letters and drawings. Marc, maybe predictably, sort of absorbs and reflects Klee; yet the images and texts on the cards seem both entwined and quotidian. One of the photos is this fascinating unsourced image, captioned “Franz Marc im Unterstand, 1915/1916.” It’s hard to tell what kind of shelter this is…it appears shell-shocked and comfortable at the same time. There are some binoculars and map cases hanging, and an eerie prophetic broken mirror. FM is smoking, of course, but the captivating question is what is he holding?

It looks like a cell phone, the kind you would expect FM to have, not a Blackberry or an iPhone, just a functional Nokia with Alpenlaendische Volksmusik ringtones. Photography professors, librarians, and two photo archivists who specialize in early 20th Century images looked at this photo and everyone was perplexed about the photo shows. That’s just how FM rolls.

What do you think this object is?

This book (which is confusingly cataloged with lots of commas instead of the conjunctions and articles that appear actually in print) forms the combined catalog from three retrospectives from 2010 at
the Franz Marc Museum in Kochel am See;  the Stiftung Moritzburg (“Kunstmuseum des Landes Sachsen-Anhalt” in Halle, the craziest city in Flemish Brabant and the planet); and  Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern.

Air Signs Represent

Fabeltier, Franz Marc, 1912

This is a really big week for birthdays: Bob Marley on 6 February (1945) [“it takes a revolution to make a solution”] and Saint Thomas More on 7 February (1478). More and more scholars agree ...the New Isle Called Utopia is a true socialist manifesto and I  concur!

Most importantly though, 8 February  (1880) is the birthday of painter, writer, animal sanctuarist, soldier, and millinery fashion icon Franz Marc.

Fabeltier (1912) is a plate from Der Blaue Reiter. Is the image a tiny (Italian Greyhound-looking) fanciful creature by a regular-size strawberry, or a giant strawberry with a little dog, or something else? I don’t know; it’s just fun and mysterious. Marc made a few illustrations like this called various iterations of Fabeltier but like gargoyles the animals resemble dogs, horses, lions…I especially like this one but they are all fantastic.

Breyer Model Card: “Ruffian, Legendary Racing Filly”

Breyer Model Text and Photo of Ruffian

This is an eerie item to find and I would return it if I could because I love Ruffian and also I have had almost the entire collection of Breyer model horses since I was little. Unshockingly I played with the toy horses the way other kids did dolls.

I did not have this one though…I looked on the Breyer Website where the Ruffian model is listed as “retired” along with the Clydesdale! That’s terrible; the Clydesdale is awesome.

Here is the text printed on the card:

“A Thoroughbred blessed with blazing speed, Ruffian’s brief but brilliant career was marked by triumph and tragedy.

In 1972, a nearly black filly with a tiny star was foaled in Kentucky. Bred by Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Janney Jr. of Locust Hill Farm, she was a tough, independent tomboy who was big for a filly (16.2 hands) and unstoppable from the start.

With Frank Whiteley Jr. training, Ruffian won her debut race easily, dismissing the first of many records, in her next four outings. As a 2-year-old, she established an explosive, fly-to-the-front-style that overwhelmed her competition and earned her the Two-Year-Old Filly Championship. But could she do this over longer distances, and against colts?

At three, Ruffian reeled off five more victories, racing longer and faster and dominating the New York Filly Triple Crown. Then, the New York Racing Association proposed a contest between the three winners of the all-male Triple Crown races. Still undefeated, Ruffian was invited to test her speed against the country’s best colts. But Avatar and Master Derby scratched, leaving her to duel only with Kentucky Derby Winner Foolish Pleasure.

Billed as “The Battle of the Sexes,” the match race occured July 6, 1975 at New York’s Belmont Park. Headed briefly at the start, Ruffian battled to a 1/2-length  advantage when, suddenly, her right foreleg gave way.

So great was Ruffian’s courage that she fought jockey Jacinto Vasquez’s attempts to pull her up. Veterinarians struggled all night to save her shattered ankle, but Ruffian proved a poor patient, injuring herself even further after awakening from anasthesia. Ultimately, the difficult decision to euthanize her was made.

Now considered the greatest racing filly of all time, Ruffian was buried at Belmont Park and is remembered in the Hall of Fame.”

The Lure of Salvage 2

This book, The Hour of Our Death by Philippe Aries (New York: Knopf, 1961) and the pages inside it was rebound recently, with the ad hoc call slip of a patron (who apparently had found the book) joined to new (sewn) binding.

Call slip bound into “Remote and Imminent Death,” in The Hour of Our Death