For the Irish so Loved the Book…

For the Irish so loved the Book… They built shrines in which to house them.

On this St. Patrick’s Day, I’m reminded of the monks who illuminated the Book of Kells and other precious manuscripts. Beyond their talents as artists, scribes and custodians, their dedication to preserving vital texts sometimes extended to the creation of ‘cumdachs’. And they are stunning.

A cumdach or book shrine is an elaborate ornamented box or case used as a reliquary to enshrine books regarded as relics of the saints who had used them in Early Medieval Ireland. They are normally dated later than the book they contain, often by several centuries. (from Wikipedia).

Today is an ideal time to take a moment and appreciate the beauty of some of these unique and exquisite contributions from the Irish that will speak to every book lover’s heart.

Cumdach or Book Shrine of Molaise | est. 1001 AD - 1025 AD

Cumdach or Book Shrine of Molaise | est. 1001 AD – 1025 AD

bday 3-17 repro of Shrine of O'Donnell - Cathach or Battler

Reproduction of the Shrine of O’Donnell – Cathach or Battler (original dated 1084)

bday 3-17 shrine for a book was found on the bed of Lough Kinale in 1986

Shrine for a book | Found in the bed of Lough Kinale in 1986.

bday 3-17 Shrine_of_Book_of_Dimma

Reproduction of Shrine of the Book of Dimma, Roscrea, Co Tipperary. 12th century (original in Library of Trinity College, Dublin)

bday 3-17 St Columba psalter holy book 561 ad to 1843 ad

St. Columba psalter (est 561AD to 843AD)

Domhnach Airgid Shrine

The shrine known as the Domhnach Airgid (“silver church”) was originally 8th century, but little is visible from before a major reworking around 1350 by the abbot of Clones.

The Stowe Missal | the metalwork is elaborately decorated, with some animal and human figures, and one face and the sides probably dates to between 1027 and 1033.

The Stowe Missal | the metalwork is elaborately decorated, with some animal and human figures, and one face and the sides probably dates to between 1027 and 1033.

How Santa was Busted in a Book Store

december the truth about santa busted

So ‘Santa’ got busted by one of the twins in our local bookstore yesterday.

I was  shopping with the twins in our local book mecca. Rowan peeled off quickly to go read in the Kids fiction section. Malcolm stuck with me while I wandered around. When we stopped to admire the Hobbit display, Malcolm turned to me and – finally -asked…

MALCOLM: “Mom, are you Santa?”

I need to point out that the twins are ten and to this point appeared to fully believe in Santa-Tooth Fairy-Easter Bunny et al. so I had no indication “the question” would come in this moment.

Seeing the real fear of the answer in my son’s eyes. I gently responded

ME: “What do you think?”

MALCOLM: “I don’t know. Just tell me, Are you really Santa?”

I put my arm around him and told him that I was one of millions of parents who help keep the “magic” of Santa alive while children are small. I explained that once kids are old enough to see how parents help Santa, they are old enough to keep the magic going for younger children.  I told him that his question meant that he was growing up and I was so happy that now he could join the “grown-ups” and keep the magic of Santa going from the other side.

He looked sad for a minute. Then he took my hand, looked at me with relief and said..

MALCOLM: “Thanks for telling me the truth.

–long pause —

MALCOLM: Honestly, I was just worried that you were going to tell me that the Elf of the Shelf wasn’t moving around on his own.”

ME: “Uhm…”.

MALCOLM: “Oh my GOD!. MOM! Are YOU moving the Elf?!!”

ME: “Uhm…well…What do you think?”

UPDATE: After digesting this critical need-to-know data overnight, Malcolm came home from school today…and gave me a knowing “Santa-like” wink as his sister ran into the house and to begin looking for where her elf had ‘moved’.  One down, one to go.

learning the truth about santa

Bibliophile Birthday: Philip K. Dick, Sci-Fi Short Story King

"Blade Runner' based on the short story ' Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep'

“Blade Runner’ based on the short story ‘ Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’

I love science fiction short stories so much.  I don’t know if it’s simply the best way for me to experience “hard” sci-fi without putting on my “science” hat (which is ill-fitting), or that it allows me to sample many different writers in the genre before committing to their longer works.

That said, in the many years that I have read and re-read through countless sci-fi short story collections. From the various “Best of..” compilations and chronological anthologies to the annual collections of top short fiction and sci-fi magazines – I eat these stories like candy.  I’m fat with this fiction. But it was Philip K. Dick’s work that I would constantly return to – digging out old anthologies and collections – to revisit the unique storyteller’s landscapes that Dick created. His stories are unforgettable, but they demand pilgrimage. They deserve pilgrimage.

Sci-fi readers know Dick. But many mainstream pop culture consumers have only brushed up against his work through several successful films that have been adapted from his work.  From the almost comic action-fest of the original “Total Recall” film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger to real masterpiece works like “Blade Runner” – the closest some folks get to his work is from movie adaptations of his short story works. I wish more people were aware of the “source”, the fount from which these iconic films flowed.

I’ve collected below some of the movie posters from particular movie adaptations that I liked – in hopes that someone who’s not experience Philip K. Dick’s writing may be inspired to search out a short story collection that includes some of his inspirational tales that launched the more familiar films.

He was born on this day in 1928.  He died far too soon at age 53.

Bibliophile Birthday: Illustrator Rene Bull (1872 – 1942)

bday 12-11 Rene_Bull Arabian Nights art

Born on December 11, 1872, Rene Bull started his artistic career as a political cartoonist and sketch artist. He later turned his talents to illustration, creating richly detailed art for “The Arabian Nights” (1912), “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” (1913), and other children’s titles. Remembering his lush imagery on his birthday, here are some of my favorite Rene Bull artworks.

bday 12-11 a ReneBull

bday 12-11 rene bull arabian nights illustration bday 12-11 rene bull arabian nights art mountain bday 12-11 rene bull arabian nights art eagle

Bibliophile Birthday: Georges Melies, the ‘Inspiration of Hugo Cabret’

Georges Melies

Georges Melies

Born on this day in 1861 , “Cinemagician”, Georges Melies was re-introduced to a whole new generation of film fans (and bibliophiles) through Brian Selnick’s monumental 2007 book, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”. Thank God.

In the very nascence of film-making, Melies was an illusionist-turned-filmmaker who recognized the contributions that manipulating audience perceptions could have on moving pictures.  He is credited with being one of the first film-makers to use stop-motion tricks, dissolves, time-lapse photography and hand-painted color in movie making. He moved stage magic into the realm of movies…and the craft has never looked back since.

bday 12-8 georges melies hugo cabret selznick artIn 2007, author-illustrator Brian Selznick built a beautiful story filled with Caldecott-winning illustrations that re-introduced the man who took film-making from its toddlerhood into the realms of real movie magic. The name and contributions of Georges Melies are resurrected (both in the book AND in the real world) in an instance where art imitates life…and vice versa (thank you Oscar Wilde!).

“The Invention of Hugo Cabret” almost qualifies as a wordless book, with page after page of story-telling illustrations punctuated by intermittent pages of text.  The dark frames surrounding each page of illustration create a lovely silver-gray effect as the closed book is viewed edge-on.  It’s a thick book and on the shelf it looks like one of the most challenging tomes in the Kids/YA section. But in truth, it’s an ideal choice for reluctant/challenged readers as well as adult fans of the finest illustration arts.

When we see the wonders of special effects in film today – sitting through one on-screen spectacle after another – it’s easy to become inured to the magic behind the movie-making. We don’t really think about the journey from the earliest days of cinema to the full-on multimedia experiences we enjoy today.

Today is a good day to remember Georges Melies and his vision with a wonderful re-read of “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”.

Reading: Through the Lens of Alfred Eisenstaedt

bday 12-6 alfred eisenstaedt sophia loren reading in a role by candlelight

Sophia Loren, reading in a role | Photo By Alfred Eisenstaedt

Alfred Eisenstaedt, was a brilliant photographer who captured some of the most iconic images in history.  All of his work had a distinct ‘in-the-moment’ sensibility that made his photos unforgettable.

Eisenstaedt, fleeing Nazi Germany in 1935, emigrated to America and took a job as a staff photographer for LIFE magazine. His work touched the hearts and mind of readers and over the years his arresting photos graced 90 LIFE covers.

His ability to see and photograph layered candid images made his work memorable for generations. Reviewing his photography, it also emerges that he loved to photograph his subjects reading.

Perhaps it was the sense of retreat from the world that a reader’s profile offers. Maybe his subjects were devoted bookworms. Whatever the inspiration, Eisenstaedt’s lens was drawn to these interludes. Some of my favorites are collected below.

His shutter opened and closed, giving these passing moments powerful permanence. Reading is beautiful.

bday 12-6 Alfred Eisenstadt ATO Reading Sewanee

ATO Fraternity Members Reading at Sewanee | Photo By Alfred Eisenstaedt

bday 12-6 alfred eisenstaedt elderly matron reading

Elderly Matron Reading | Photo By Alfred Eisenstaedt

bday 12-6 Alfred Eisenstaedt, author, Hoffman Reynolds Hays, reading book among shelves in American History Room in New York Public Library, 1944

Author Hoffman Reynolds Hays Reading Among Shelving | Photo By Alfred Eisenstaedt

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12-year-old Boy Sitting in a Barber Chair | Photo By Alfred Eisenstaedt

bday 12-6 alfred-eisenstaedt-actor-charles-laughton-reading-aloud-from-book-while-straddling-a-chair

Actor Charles Laughton Reading Aloud | Photo By Alfred Eisenstaedt

bday 12-6 alfred-eisenstaedt-actress-dorothy-mcguire-reading-a-script-in-bed-at-home

Actress Dorothy McGuire Reading a Script in Bed at Home | Photo By Alfred Eisenstaedt

bday 12-6 alfred-eisenstaedt-actress-mia-farrow-reading-to-her-adoptive-vietnamese-daughter-lark-and-others-outside-at-home_i-G-27-2760-S32TD00Z

Actress Mia Farrow Reading to Children | Photo By Alfred Eisenstaedt

bday 12-6 alfred-eisenstaedt-farmers-daughter-delphaline-reading-a-book-as-she-lies-on-iron-bed-in-her-bedroom

Farmer’s Daughter Delphaline Reading a Book | Photo By Alfred Eisenstaedt

bday 12-6 alfred-eisenstaedt-author-w-somerset-maugham-reading-while-sitting-on-the-rocky-shore-during-his-summer-on-cape-cod

Author W. Somerset Maugham Reading | Photo By Alfred Eisenstaedt

bday 12-6 alfred-eisenstaedt-rabbi-reading-the-talmud

Rabbi Reading the Talmud | Photo By Alfred Eisenstaedt

bday 12-6 alfred-eisenstaedt-high-school-girl-reading-at-the-newburyport-free-library

High School Girl Reading at Newburyport Free Library | Photo By Alfred Eisenstaedt

bday 12-6 Alfred-Marilyn_Monroe_by_Alfred_Eisenstaedt_HQ_20

Marilyn Monroe Reading | Photo By Alfred Eisenstaedt

bday 12=6 Alfred eisenstaedt Publicity man Russell Birdwell reading Los Angeles Times on beach front between Malibu & Santa Monica

Publicity Man Russell Birdwell Reading Los Angeles Times | photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt

bday 12-6 alfred eisensteadt reading by log cabin

Photo by Alfred Eisenstadt

The Wrong Books and the Father of Modern Magic

bday 12-6 robert-houdin magician portrait I’m always fascinated by the ways that books can change a person’s life. But the particular story of Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, the father of modern magic, is perhaps the most magical tale …one that began with the wrong book.

In the mid-1820s, young Jean saved up to buy a copy of a two-volume set of books on clockmaking called Traité de l’horlogerie, or Treatise on Clockmaking, written by Ferdinand Berthoud.The bookseller had put the books off to the side for Jean. He reached up to the shelf and grabbed the books. He wrapped the two volumes and handed them to the young aspiring clockmaker.

bday 12-6 houdin Suspension-ethereenne-de-Robert-Houdin-Maison-de-la-MagieWhen Jean got home and opened the wrapping, instead of the Berthoud books, what appeared before his eyes was a two-volume set on magic called Scientific Amusements. Instead of returning the books, his curiosity got the best of him. From those crude volumes, he learned the rudiments of magic. (From Wikipedia)

While the books showed the secrets behind the magic tricks, they didn’t lay out all the particulars of ‘how-to’ accomplish them, so Houdin sought out lessons from a local amateur magician. As he honed his dexterity and stagecraft, Houdin’s path to becoming a pioneer in magical circles was set.

As his profile as a conjuror rose, Houdin brought magic off the street and out from festivals and moved it indoors.  He bought and refitted a small theatre specifically to showcase magic – both his performances and other mystical spectaculars. It became a mecca for all the greatest magicians of that era. NOTE: This same theatre was purchased after Houdin’s death by George Melies, one of the greatest innovators of film,  to show his first  moving pictures at the dawn of movie-making. Houdin is also credited with establishing a formality for stage magicians, always appearing in dress clothing. His influence is perhaps why we now imagine traditional magicians in top hats and tail coats.

bday 12-6 Magician robert houdin theatre magic

Robert-Houdin’s accidental book mix-up opened a door he may never have stepped through otherwise. Might he have been famed and remembered as a clockmaker? Perhaps. He built some pretty amazing automatons later – combining his interest in mechanics, theatre and magic. But it’s his vision, innovation and legacy as a magician that ensured his fame for centuries to come.

What a brilliant beginning! A bookseller’s mistake planted the seeds of Robert-Houdin’s legacy as the “Father of Modern Magic”.  The next time I end up with the ‘wrong’ book on hold at the bookstore or library, I think I’m going to take some time and give it a chance. An unwanted book might just open the door to new and unexpected adventures.

Ta-Dah!

The Orange Tree | Automaton by Robert-Houdin

The Orange Tree | Automaton by Robert-Houdin