Outside Reading | Newberry

Outside Reading

How am I supposed to get any work done if you keep sending me books to read? Yeah, I know we need you to send in books, but you could concentrate on the old regulars. A few Midnights in the Garden of Good and Evil or a couple of those dear old Divine Secrets do not disturb my routine. Sending me unusual things just keeps my nose pressed to the computer screen when I could be explaining the finer points of sorting ukulele music to the volunteers. (We haven’t had much ukulele music lately. You could work on that in your spare time, y’know.)

Take this little pamphlet, for example. It’s a bit of ephemera from Chicago’s wild-eyed side, distributed in support of Ernst Thaelmann, who was in the slammer. This is hardly unusual for radical literature, which frequently makes appeals for the faithful who have been misunderstood. I’d never heard of Ernst Thaelmann, which is also not unusual, as I did not go to school in a time or place where we studied radicals of the recent past. When I tried to look up a price, I found there were numerous books about Ernst Thaelmann, who nearly derailed history and went behind bars for it.

Seems Ernst did his work in Germany and, in the last days of what we can call the Old Republic, ran for President and came in third. He claimed that the man who beat him, Adolf Something, would lead the country to war. At length, he was arrested and tossed into solitary confinement, where he stayed for over ten years. A couple of months after D-Day he was executed and the story put around that he had been killed in an Allied bomber attack. That a government would lie about such a thing after having held him prisoner for so long argues that he was a fairly potent protestor.

Or take this young man, from much the same area at a much earlier date. That mysterious book mentioned Monday turned out NOT to be a guide to the hidden treasure of Opis, in ancient Babylon, but the travel memoir of a man named Gottfried Opitz. He spent some time in Poland (during a great unpeace, if my German does not fail me), went from there to Russia, and then moved on down to Turkey, encountering nine hundred pages’ worth of adventures along the way. He MIGHT, of course, have encountered hidden treasure along the way, but reading Fraktur is bad for the eyes (thanks to Suzanne Karr Schmidt and Paul Gehl who each risked eyes on the project) and I think I will reap my treasure by selling the book.

I will say I doubted even the expert opinion I received on the identity of the book when I was unable to find a Print-On-Demand copy for sale. (Rule 117: If there isn’t a Print-On-Demand copy of the book somewhere, the book does not exist.) Finally I did find Gottfried’s opus offered for sale in paperback from one of these outfits, and the last puzzle piece was in place.

I am currently trying to figure out this cabinet photograph of pampas grass (and what someone spilled on it), a pin cushion which is neither silver nor pewter but might be vintage tin, a stack of family photos including generations of children so thoroughly cute that these MUST have been bought at garage sales (no group of children is infallibly cute: SOMEONE in the family has to have dropped their bread butter side down), and this stack of Big Band records issued by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

WHEN am I going to have time to price the comic books I was writing about last week? (Yeah, that one with the warning label about explicit content will require my full attention.)

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