3 Centuries of Farmer’s Almanacs – In the Collection

When shopping in second-hand stores, I always check out the book section, but I never really look at the magazine/whatever paper stuff was left lying around section. Sometimes that’s just because there is no such section in the store, which is most often the case. But when there is one I usually don’t find the selection of magazines enticing. They’re usually the boring standard magazines everyone gets (Time, National Geographic, etc.), and I have a hard time finishing those when they show up in my mail box. All of that is a lead-up to the fact that I took a shot recently and looked at the magazine area in my local thrift store. And this time I actually lucked out. Sitting there were two reprints of old Farmer’s Almanacs, and for a quarter apiece they were hard to pass up. But what really sealed the deal was the interesting coincidence that they were dated exactly one century apart. Curious coincidences often influence what I buy; so I purchased them and took them home.

And maybe that would have been the end of it for me. Sure, I would have flipped through the books and enjoyed it, but I wasn’t looking much deeper than that. That’s when, while explaining what had enticed me to buy the books, it was pointed out to me that not only were they 100 years apart from each other, but they were 100 years apart from the current year. Here I had nearly missed a golden opportunity to have 3 almanacs published exactly 100 years apart. I rushed out to buy a current one, as the year was coming to a close and they might’ve soon not been available. In my haste I purchased the first “Farmer’s” almanac I found (which in that late-September period is actually kinda difficult), but when I got home I noticed a few peculiar dissimilarities. This turned out to be because I had picked up the “Farmers’ Almanac” (apostrophe after “s”) and not the “Old Farmer’s Almanac” (apostrophe before the “s”). The Farmers’ Almanac was started about 25 years after what became the “Old” Farmer’s Almanac, and it has modernized in a way I’m not a particular fan of (and unfortunately I must say that I don’t like the format all the modern almanacs I’ve seen have taken on). But now to get my match, having exhausted all the local stores, I had to purchase one on the internet (which is a strange idea for a farmer’s almanac).

When I got them all together, I could see that the Old Farmer’s Almanac is quite a bit thicker (it’s 300 pages, 6 times as large as it was 100 years ago) and after flicking through it, I’m not quite sure how they managed to fill so much space. It’s still a nice, and somewhat useful little thing, but it has formatting problems and includes so much irrelevant fluff that my brain kinda turns off looking at it. In my lifetime, almanacs have always looked like this, and perhaps that’s why I never really got interested in them. But seeing these older versions (of what is now the longest running publication in North America) made me realize why people bought them in the first place. They aren’t necessarily pretty, but they are jam-packed with words, most of which are interesting or useful. And there is a beauty to that old-timey design that wasn’t laid out for aesthetics but for expense. Seeing the three sitting next to each other, if nothing else, gives one a perspective on how advanced paper manufacturing and binding has become in the last 200 years.

Morgan’s Revenge Game – In the Collection

As a person who grew up around dreidels, I know a thing or two about poorly designed top games to keep kids quiet (I think two is the max though). And that’s exactly what Morgan’s Revenge is, a “game” where one spins a top and sees what happens. Gambling at its most basic and silly.

The package comes in a nice canvas, drawstring bag, with the name printed on. Apparently, they’ve trademarked Captain Morgan’s face though. On the back mine says “Fort Worth Zoo”, I don’t know what the relation is there since I’ve never been. As might be inferred from that I did indeed get this second-hand, and unfortunately, I have no instructions. Fortunately, the game is as simple as can be and if you know what the letters/numbers on the side of the top mean you’ll never forget how to play.

To play each player gets a number of coins (there are 12 included, half of which are silver and say “2” but should probably just be used as singles for the purposes of the game {and you’ll probably want more coins anyway if you’re playing with more than 2 players}) and then everyone places one coin in the middle. Each player then takes a turn spinning the top and doing whatever action it lands on. The six action are: take a coin from the middle, take 2 coins from the middle, take all the coins from the middle (and I think, wonderfully enough, everyone has to put one coin out at this point), put a coin in the middle, put 2 coins in the middle, and everyone puts a coin into the middle. So as you can tell it’s super fun and interesting… for children… for a few minutes. At least the top can be persuaded to spin well enough to be entertaining for a little while.

Actually, the production’s quite nice, and the coins are very realistic (besides having “copy” stamped in them) and weighty, being made out of real metal. And the nice heavy metal top is fun to fondle and spin a bit. It goes together well and fits nicely in the bag, but I suspect that, like me, people are really buying this for the coins, and not for any entertainment factor that may come from randomly taking coins out of and putting them back into a pile in a manner that is very similar to one many Jewish people know but never had any interest in actually doing. It’s a nice little souvenir if you don’t think much about it (like most souvenirs).

Review- Ritepoint Chromatic

Every once in a while I like to take a look at something vintage and see how well it stacks up. Plus I’ve got a soft-spot for slim, fine (line) writing pens. Now I’m not entirely sure as to the status of the Chromatic (or Ritepoint, or whoever) but it does seem these pens (and refills) are discontinued, but easy to find online. Is it worth it to snag one?

The pen body is very slim and stylish, reminiscent of the Cross Century. It’s a smooth cylinder, with a gold-banded break for the twist mechanism and tapers at the back and front. At the fron,t a third of the taper is in the form of a gold-colored metal cone, from which the point extends when the mechanism is engaged. The back taper terminates more abruptly and affixed to it is a fairly solid, basically flat clip that runs almost the length of the back section.

The action of the pen is strange enough that I’m not sure it’s working properly. Turning the back half of the pen clockwise a quarter turn will extend the ballpoint and lock it into place. From there twisting will do nothing until enough force is applied counter-clockwise and the pen “clicks” at which point the tip will slowly retract completely. It’s an interesting compromise system and it works quite well. It’s just that everything feels a bit still and awkward. I can’t quite tell if it needs oil, is broken, or that’s just how it’s supposed to be.

As for the writing, it’s quite good. My pen has a blue “microtip” cartridge installed. The ink is smooth enough coming out that I can write in cursive, though the lines themselves have some start-up and shading problems (oddly reminiscent of fountain pens). The line width is equivalent to, or slightly thinner than, most “fine” points and the ink properties are fairly standard. The only other function; the clip is better than average but nothing to write home about.

It’s a decent little interesting piece of history, but I wouldn’t say it’s essential for any collectors. And the impracticality of having to hunt down new-old-stock or second-hand refills or fashion your own out of whatever might fit makes it not a good choice for the regular user. If it sounds interesting to you I’d say go for it, but it’s nothing to run out and hunt down.

Book Review – Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (By: James Finn Garner)

I’m slightly surprised that Politically Correct Bedtime Stories was published in 1994, but I guess the politically correct joke bit has been going around for quite some time. The book is a humorous re-imagining of 13 “fairy-tales” by James Garner, of whose other work I have no familiarity with, but he seems to be riding this one pretty well and perhaps for good reason. The joke, of course, being that he has rewritten these classic tales for a more “enlightened” modern audience with higher standards of… something. But is it successful?

The book is fairly short; 80 pages for 13 stories, including several blank pages. The average story is about 5 pages and Snow White takes up most of the rest. Going over the stories wouldn’t be very helpful because you and I probably already know them. And even ones like Rumplestiltskin and The Pied Piper that I’ve never actually read or watched have been absorbed through a kind of cultural osmosis. The cultural awareness of these stories also helps with the brevity of their retelling, which is a strength of the book. Garner has it down which parts of the stories to overrun with political correctness for maximum effect, but had he continued at the length of the original stories it would quickly have grown stale (Snow White was almost too long for me). And, of course, the humor comes from seeing these culturally-engrained stories changed by modern cultural preferences dialed up to the extreme. In some cases the moral is lost and in some it is retained; in some cases the plot is as predictable as the story we know, and in others it jumps off the tracks and heads spiraling down a cliff of ridiculousness, but in all cases they are recognizable.

The vast array of areas from which we get our folklore means that the only common thread between these stories is Garner’s extremely “politically correct” veneer and as such the book isn’t really a cohesive experience. Again its brevity helps here, making it easy to pick up and put down, reading a story at a time; or to make the massive changes in pace fly by. It knows what it wants to be, and that is an overblown parody of political correctness juxtaposed with stories never meant to fit that mold. And it is quite funny, not outrageously my-favorite-humor-book-ever funny, but more than funny enough to justify its reading time (and probably its price too). Exaggerated political correctness is just funny when applied well and not overdone. So is the idea that when using language that supposedly offends no one to tell a story, so many people will become “offended”. Most fairy tales are based on common sense (if perhaps containing outdated moral practices simplified for ease of retelling) and as one reads on they get the feeling that their common sense is being assaulted. And that, as so often it is, is funny. Still, I was consistently (and pleasantly) surprised by the directions the stories took (the 3 little pigs setting up a “porkinista” government after violently retaking their homeland is my favorite). It seems so easy to simply replace the language with “politically correct” alternatives, but continuous story variations keep one guessing and the book interesting.

I liked the book, and if you read the title and thought “that sounds funny”, you probably would, too. It’s well-written satire that is just offensive enough to both parties to be a bestseller while not alienating its audience. If the sequels are about as good I might have to pick them up as well, but until then, this one was a short, fun read that should appeal to anyone looking for its type of humor.