Reading Offline: Elephants on Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments
by Alex Boese
Really odd book about various "scientific" experiments, some gruesome, many just insane. Have't yet gotten to the elephants on acid part, but am definitely freaked out by the "let's decapitate an animal and try to keep just the head alive" chapter. Ugh.
Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay
by Nancy Milford
I never read much of Millay before, but Milford wrote a really interesting biography of Zelda Fitzgerald, so I was interested to see her next book. Still in the first chapter, but the prolog was amusing in itself. I always appreciate reading the background of how the author started on the book.
Kitchen Confidential Updated Ed: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
by Anthony Bourdain
I gave this to Jon as a gift a while back and only just recently remembered I never did borrow and read it myself. Am very amused so far. Sadly it's not the updated edition I've linked to - preface in our copy's dated Nov. 2000. Wonder what's been added/changed/corrected.
The New Kings of Nonfiction
by Ira Glass
Collection of nonfiction articles previously published in various magazines. Bought a while back in an airport and there are still a few articles I haven't finished reading. I really liked the Bill Buford article that became Among the Thugs.
Batgrl is a pop culture junky who loves to mess about with cameras and video games. And is constantly amused by Jon, who she did honest and truly did meet online. Though she's been blogging since the '90s, evil sp@m'rs managed to break the old blog, and thus there's only more recent stuff here. (No great loss, actually!)
"Published in 1935, the Secret Museum is a mystery book. It has no author or credits, no copyright, no date, no page numbers, no index. Published by "Manhattan House" and sold by "Metro Publications", both of New York, its "Five Volumes in One" was pure hype: it had never been released in any other form.
Advertised as "World's Greatest Collection of Strange & Secret Photographs" and marketed mainly to overheated adolescents (see the 1942 Keen ad, left), it consists of nothing but photos and captions with no further exposition. This was not a book published to educate (despite appearing on some public library's shelves), but to titillate (literally)— it's emphasis was on the female form ("Female Beauty Round the World") and fashion, and it featured as many National-Geographic-style native breasts as possible. But anything lurid, weird, or just plain unusual is fair game. This was a book to gawk at by flashlight under the bedcovers."
So you have the condescending text, often racist - but then you have all of these fascinating photos. The MeFi thread discusses whether it's worth looking at or not - I found the photos interesting, but then I'm interested in the people, their clothing, what they were thinking. Some of the ornate headdresses are truly works of art. Also I find inspiration in some of them. Like this photo and caption:
"WEARING O' THE GREEN" IN THE LATVIAN COUNTRYSIDE
"The feast of S. John's Day, June 24, called by the Lettish people "Ligo," is one of the merriest Latvian holidays. It is on this occasion that the country people decorate themselves and their houses with garlands of foliage, preferably oak leaves. Old and young participate in this festival, which is a remnant of pagan celebrations in connexion with the ancient nature-worship of the Lettish"
"In Latvia, Midsummer is called Jāņi (Jānis being Latvian for John) or Līgo Svētki (Svētki = festival). It is a national holiday celebrated on a large scale by almost everyone in Latvia and by people of Latvian origin abroad. Celebrations consist of a lot of traditional elements - eating Jāņu cheese, drinking beer, singing hundreds of Latvian folk songs dedicated to Jāņi, burning bonfire to keep light all through the night and jumping over it, wearing wreaths of flowers (for the women) and leaves (for the men) together with modern commercial products and ideas. Oak wreaths are worn by men named Jānis in honor of their name day. Small oak branches with leaves are attached to cars in Latvia during the festivity.
In the western town of Kuldīga, revellers mark the holiday by running naked through the town at three in the morning. The event has taken place for the past seven years. Runners are rewarded with beer, and police are on hand in case any "puritans" attempt to interfere with the naked run."
I'm always interested in artwork with the Green Man, and I think my original interest was the fact that the bearded gentleman in the middle of the original photo reminded me of that artwork. But now I'm very into trying to design a leaf hat with oak leaves. Granted it's really more of a wreath, except I associate wreaths with things you hang on doors rather than wear on your head.
Thank you, MetaFilter, for inspiring me to wear leaf hats.
Now to find a nearby oak tree...
Another photo in the book also struck a memory for me:
IN THE FANTASTIC DRESS OF THE NOTORIOUS STRAW BOYS
"During the early years of the nineteenth century sections of Ireland were overrun by one of the many terrorist gangs that have from time to time existed there, known, from their peculiar but effective grass masks, as the Straw Boys. Through these masks they could see without being recognized, and their habit of dressing as women added to their grotesque appearance."
"...On St. Stephen's Day, December 26th, crowds of people take to the roads in various parts of Ireland, dressed in motley clothing, wearing masks or straw suits and accompanied by musicians – remembering a festival with antecedents that long predate Christmas. The Wren – sometimes pronounced and written, wran – was once common all over Ireland. In some areas, the Wrenboys are called Mummers and the festival has a strong English influence, incorporating characters like St. George.
...The straw suits worn by the Wrenboys also have historical resonances, though more recent ones. In the 18th and 19th centuries, they were worn as disguises by the Whiteboys during Ireland's prolonged agrarian wars. The suit is woven in three parts: head, chest, and skirt. The straw of choice for the suits is that which comes from oats and, since there is little demand for oats, good straw is becoming increasingly difficult to find. In many cases, oats are grown specifically for the Wren.
The Wren, in common with many customs in rural Ireland, came close to extinction. From the twenties and thirties onward emigration took a great toll among those who would have taken part. There was strong clerical opposition – the money raised in the collections the Wrenboys took up went towards holding a ball in a local hotel or public house and naturally there was alcohol involved. The Church saw the Wren, as it saw the house dances that kept traditional music alive in those times, as an "occasion of sin."
That the Wren survived at all was due to the efforts of a few individuals and small groups of people working in isolation. Nowadays, the Wren is enjoying a revival...
Also googled my way to the Guild of Straw Craftsmen website. Where I found the Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival link. Which completely reminds me of local celebrations of Mardi Gras in rural Louisiana. Also reminds me of the wheat weaving crafts that were made in Kansas and that I used to see a lot of around Christmas time - my mother the school teacher often received these as gifts from her students. Meanwhile here's a BBC site on the Fermanagh Men of Straw. Lots more straw and harvest lore all over the place...