Friday, July 2, 2010

FFB, Patti Vacation Edition: THIS FABULOUS CENTURY, ed. J. Korn? (Time-Life Books 1969); BRITANNICA BOOK OF THE YEAR, edited by various (EB, ongoing)

My folks picked up over the years an odd assortment of Improving books, having lost most of their initial adult libraries in a 1967 flood of much of Fairbanks, Alaska by the Cheena River (which runs through it). Somewhere in my parent's collection there's a photo slide of my mother's waterlogged back issues of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine piled on a table, and somewhere presumably nearby my father's already moldering Galaxy and Astounding/Analog and If and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction issues, perhaps wadded up in front of their television/stereo console, along with most of their books. But they slowly built the book collection back up, with such purchases as a 1973 Brittanica and a wildlife encyclopedia aimed at kids, a Reader's Digest Encyclopedic Dictionary they still use while working crossword puzzles and various odds and ends such as four volumes of the Time-Life book series, This Fabulous Century (apparently, my folks deemed the series too expensive to continue with)...they are definitive coffe-table books, rather quick and glossy glosses over the times, leaning heavily on the Life photo archives. If I can find it online, or find the copy I have of the 1930-1940 volume, I'll post the fine photo of a midwestern newsstand sometime in the mid/late 1930s, festooned with photo magazines such as Life, Look and Ken, pulps including prominent placements of Weird Tales and Golden Fleece (which shortlived latter should narrow the date range considerably) and such perennials as Harper's and The Atlantic Monthly...only one of the pockets of culture and history the books breezily introduced me to. Not too many books, even in several volumes, will tell you just a bit about Father Coughlin and the Jack Benny/Fred Allen "feud", and run an excerpt from Booth Tarkington's Penrod while also offering stark battle and Dust Bowl photography, and accounts of the emergence of jazz...certainly not too many history texts an eight- or nine-year-old was likely to run across.

The Brittanica Book of the Year was, of course, EB's yearbook supplement to their sets, and typically for EB, strove to be the most comprehensive, as opposed to similar productions from the World Book and Encyclopedia Americana folks, and such. In the 1970s, there wasn't too much coverage of Ghana in the Hartford Times (I think the Courant was the morning paper, delivered too late for my folks' liking), the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, the Nashua Telegraph, or even the Boston Globe, but you could rely on the BOTY to have however brief a rundown on Suriname or San Marino--I have always treasured the deadpan with with the BOTY reported the trade agreement between the USSR and newly-elected Communist government of San Marino, ca. 1978, SM being a country the size of a large town completely surrounded by Italy but never joining in during the turn-of-the-20th-Century reconsitution of that country nor since. The electoral politics articles were consistently fine, in fact, and while the pop-culture articles were somewhat lacking in scope, they were nearly unique, at least for what was available to me at the time, in the breadth of their coverage...not too many other places I knew of had much information on Japanese or South American television programming, or even as good coverage of the British.

My folks kept getting the BOTY for a decade, cancelling their subscription with the 1982 volume, and while I haven't actually seen a volume since mid 1990s, I am quite amused to learn that they are continuing to publish the books even now (the 2010 edition is pictured above). They certainly exposed me to aspects of human endeavor I might not've considered otherwise. And now the volumes I read nearly four decades ago collect dust, wherever one finds them.

For further "forgotten books" this Friday, a weekend FFB host Patti Abbott has taken off, please see:
Bill Crider, The Tell-Tale Tart by Peter Duncan
Scott Cupp, The Spider vs the Empire State by Norvell Page
Ed Gorman, No Way To Treat a Lady by Harry Longbaugh (William Goldman)
Glenn Harper, Obsessions by Julia Kristeva
Randy Johnson, The Kissed Corpse by Asa Baker (Davis Dresser, aka "Brett Halliday")
BV Lawson, Shroud of Canvas by Isobel Mary Lambot
Le0pard13, Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, plus film and song choices
Steve Lewis, Die a Little by Megan Abbott


pattinase (abbott) said...

Megan read this book incessantly as a kid. I think we finally bought her her own copy after she thumbed the library ones to death.

Todd Mason said...

It's telling.

George said...

Interesting choice, Todd. Time-Life Books held a certain attraction for me as I grew up. They were like LIFE magazines in hard covers.

Todd Mason said...

At least as wide-ranging as LIFE, and often (though sadly not always) better-written--and the photo editing was unsurprisingly good. I certainly read a lot of their books devoted to the sciences.