Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Lazy lions lounging in the local library

An alphabet book that I loved from my old bookstore job a decade back had that phrase on the L pages and since then I've always loved saying it. I think it was made into a poster, too, showing the lions with lots of shelves of books behind them in the background. The book was Animalia, by Graeme Base.

I'm back today and feeling much better, despite the seven below zero temperature when I walked to work this morning. Bright sun and I squinted at it through watering eyes and wrapped my scarf around my head and ran. More snow due this weekend, and a warm-up, so perhaps I'll be able to snowshoe soon. Meantime, I'm working on a few small paintings and wallowing in the odd side effects of despair brought on by The Reader's Encyclopedia. The longer I read it, the more I realize how much I have yet to read, throughout the history of books. Will I ever read the Aeneid? How about something of Congreve's (other than the few poems I've read)? How about the Kalevala? Yes, yes, and probably not? What gets me most about some entries in this reference book, though, are the ones in which I understand not a single reference point. Not a one. And I've been reading steadily for several decades now. It's humbling. And heartening, I suppose - think of all I have to look forward to!

From the Ls:

Lady Bountiful. The benevolent lady of a village is so called, from Lady Bountiful in The Beaux' Stratagem, by Farquhar. (p.600)

lagniappe. In Louisiana, a gratuity given to customers by tradesmen. Mark Twain uses the form "lanny-yap." The word is a Creole assimilation of Spanish ñapa or yapa, "tip." (p.603) (This is interesting to used booksellers because of the old antiquarian tradition of saying "lagniappe" to someone who is buying a big stack of expensive books, as you - the dealer - write up their bill and throw in a few of their less expensive books for free.)

Languish, Lydia. In Sheridan's comedy, The Rivals, the heroine, a romantic young lady who is for ever reading sensational novels and molding her behavior on the characters. (pp.608-609)

leap year. A year of 366 days, i.e., in the Julian and Gregorian calendars any year whose date is exactly divisible by four except those which are divisible by 100 but not by 400. Thus 1900 (though exactly divisible by 4) was not a leap year, but 2000 will be. It is an old saying that during leap year the ladies may propose, and, if not accepted, claim a silk gown. Fable has it that the custom was originated by St. Patrick. (p.619) (Italics the editor's, not mine. I'd like a silk gown, though.)

left, right, center. In the ampitheater, where the French National Assembly of 1789 convened, the nobles still commanded sufficient respect to be given places of honor to the right of the president. The radicals moved naturally as far away from them to the left as they could. The moderates found themselves squeezed in between in the center. Hence the policital connotations of these terms. Carlyle, in The French Revolution (1847), was one of the first to speak in English of "the extreme Left." Derivatives like leftist, leftism, etc., did not come into general use until after the Russian Revolution (ca. 1920). (p.622) (This is the kind of entry I love best - I really had no idea where these now-common terms originated. Did everyone else already know this? Am I the only one?)

lobsters. English soldiers used to be called lobsters because they were "turned red" when enlisted into the service. But the term was originally applied to a troop of horse soldiers in the Great Rebellion, clad in armor which covered them as a shell. (This I knew, but the next part I did not...)
died for want of lobster sauce. Sometimes said of one who dies or suffers severely because of some trifling disappointment, pique, or wounded vanity. At the grand feast given by the great Condé to Louis XIV, at Chantilly, Vatel, the chef, was told that the lobsters intended for sauce had not arrived, whereupon he retired to his private room, and, leaning on his sword, ran it through his body, unable to survive such a dire disappointment. A great number of hotels and restaurants in France are named "Le Grand Vatel." (p.643)

Lying Traveler, The. So Sir John Mandeville, an explorer of the 14th century, as been called. (p.661) (I've always wanted to read him. I have yet to. I wish I knew who called him this. Pope? Walpole? His friends? History?)

Long entries of note today include lion and little magazine. I wonder what I'll do when I finish this project. Perhaps lounge in the library.

Hello, lioness (or is it princess ?)

Never heard the bit about "left, center, right" — now I'll know forever. I also found the information on "lagniappe" very instructive : more so, to hear it has been used by antiquarian booksellers in such a context. Do you think they picked it up from Benet themselves ? I can't fathom how it could have come into usage by booksellers otherwise. Not the type of thing you'll pick up on a street corner ! Unless perhaps in New Orleans...

Speaking of New Orleans, I've been thinking of sending you a duplicate book ticket I found, for a nineteenth century antiquarian bookseller in New Orleans, named W. F. Goldtwaithe. Think you'd like that one ? It's somewhat damaged, but whole and intriguing...

Dear Pierre, you may address me as Lydia Languish.

I first heard of "lagniappe" years ago, in an article about some forgotten practices of antiquarian dealers. The article was written by Ken Lopez and appeared on the old Antiquarian Booksellers Assocation of America website. I wish I had printed the article, as it seems to be long gone, now.

A New Orleans ticket, ooooh! I have only one from New Orleans, very tiny, from F.F. Hansell & Bro., Ltd., Booksellers. However, I know there are many others out there, because on page fifteen of "The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans" (Susan Larson, Louisiana State University Press 1999) there is a full page of book tickets - thirty-one shown in all. A black and white picture, but still, very nice! A Goldthwaite ticket is there...

I almost didn't buy this book - it was in a heap of books at a salvage shop (books and clothing etc. from Hurricane Katrina) - in fact I picked it up then put it back down. But Ryan was browsing behind me, picked the book up again, and opened it right to this page (which I had not seen). Needless to say, he brought it to my attention. He never gloats, either. One of his shining traits.

Thanks for thinking of me.
Hi Sarah! I have just discovered your blog recently and am really enjoying reading it everyday especially the items from the Reader's Encyclopedia. The entry today about being humbled with everything you haven't read really struck a cord with me. I checked out "1001 Books you must read before you die" thinking I had probably read many of the books listed. To my dismay I had only read about 20 of the books listed. Only 20! Its disappointing but I guess I will not run out of things to read in my lifetime!
Hi Robin, thanks for commenting - I too have the "1001 Books" book, and yes, it made me face the fact that there are hundred-mile-wide swaths of literature I have never even sidled toward. BUT, right after I spent a few evenings reading "1001 Books" I went to a library sale and found one of the books listed therein, which I never would have noticed otherwise - "Embers" by Sandor Marai - I bought it for a buck, read it in one sitting, and it ended up being one of the best books I read this past year. 1000 more books to go. No, it's not that bad...
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