Well, I guess most people use field guides to actually help them find stuff to admire in person rather than just look at them for the sheer joy of it the way I do. I don't know why, but looking at field guides makes me happy. Seeing all those little labeled photos and illustrations fills me with quiet delight. Especially if it's a Golden Guide. I think I was the only person in America that got truly excited when the Golden Nature Guides got the royal treatment from their publisher recently and got a new look and shitload of reprints of titles they haven't put out in years. Golden guides are my favorite because there's one guide for almost every interest involving the natural world, they're a satisfying size, and they were also mostly written and illustrated in the 1950's and the reprints have kept all the old art and writing except for the necessary updating of scientific information that needed to be done. There's one for Sharks, Mammals, Stars, Seashore Life, Birds, Weather, Trees, Space, Fish, Tropical Fish, Rocks, it just goes on and on. I have a ton of the new redesigned ones and I have a few of the really old ones, too, that I find occasionally.
One reason I love these things is the utter nutball weirdess that crops up sometimes in the illustrations- like this page spread from The Golden Field Guide to Non-Flowering Plants. I mean, I find this to be a bit of a disturbing image. I guess the illustrator was trying to give us a sense of scale by having this child sit here holding the giant puffball, but really, it just ends up scaring the shit out of us. "Oh yeah, puffballs, I've seen thosAAAAAAAH!!"
Speaking of mushrooms and fungi, there's also a little tiny bit of intrigue to be had in the world of Golden Guides. There was, very very briefly, a Golden Guide to Hallucinogenic Plants that was out in the late 60's but everyone got really frowny about it and it didn't go over too well. Now those copies are kinda valuable, at least in field-guie-collecting circles. But it's not always unsettling in the world of Golden guides, of course. Like this cozy and completely archaic image of a sponge diver collecting sponges. I guess they missed that detail in the update, but who cares? It's neat. And look at the bottom, it's a Boring Sponge!
For my money, the best guides are the ones that have 'Life' in the title like Seashore Life, Bird Life, Pond Life, etc. Those have a little bit of everything in there- plants, animals, insects, what have you- and they also give you strange advice about "collecting" and "storing" "specimens". Now, I get a real big kick out of this stuff, but that doesn't mean I like to go sloshing around in weed-strangled ponds with a mason jar trying to get more copepods for my collection. Besides, collections of things that used to be alive are kind of creepy and sad (unless it's a shell collection); I'll take the neat little pictures instead.
There's a funny thing I keep noticing in guides to mammals and birds and that is the fact that some of them have the qualifier "Least" in the name, such as "Least Chipmunk". I can't find an explanation of what they mean by "Least" here; it's as if they just want to declare "This is the Least chipmunk I've ever seen!" for no reason.
I like it when the scientific writing breaks character and the person's enthusiasm for their subject starts showing. Especially with birds. Like a description of cedar waxwings I once read that described a "delightful and amusing" habit those birds apparently have of passing little flowers from beak to beak down a whole row of birds on a tree branch. Just couldn't resist a couple darling adjectives! One guide said that the American Robin can usually be seen on suburban lawns "confidently hunting for worms". I love that! That's exactly what they look like! If robins had shoulders, they'd be thrown back with impunity the way they dart and hop around, pausing frequently to look up from the ground with pride at what a goddamn fantastic job it's doing finding worms. Sometimes in the midst of a bunch of really left brain diagrams and charts explaining things like tides or rain, you also see lovely things like this illustration of two people standing on a hill, gazing out at the night sky. Dammit, that's nice.
I got my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows last night at about twenty minutes after midnight. So if you're wondering where I am right now and where I will be over the next couple of days, I'll tell you. I'm approximately 1200 feet beneath the roiling waves of the Atlantic ocean, suspended in a bathysphere, reading this fucking book. Don't worry, I'm fine. I brought some supplies, but I don't think I'll need them- I think I could have gotten by with my copy of the book, a pillow, and a reliable light source. Although I didn't think to bring a box of Kleenex or a handkerchief, an oversight I momentarily regretted after reading Chapter Four, page 56. So just so you know, I Am Not At Home.
An exaggeration? Sure. I'm not really in a bathysphere and I didn't really become physically tearful upon reading page 56, but who knows how the rest of the weekend will go? I sure as hell don't.
See you later-
Whoever's reading this, this is not a plea for sympathy and I'm not turning this blog into a big tiresome personal confessional thing- I'm just writing this and throwing it out there to try and get it out of me. Writing this stuff down is said to help, so let's give it a try. Friends, that's not to say that I want you to feel you have to pretend you haven't read this- comments, insights, etc. are always welcome.
(Deep breath) This is awful. The new medication isn't working. I've been on it for over two weeks now and the only positive effect I can feel is that I'm not crying every day, like I was. And I was really thinking this new antidepressant was going to help. This medication difficulty has been going on now for, what- two months? Three months? The hardest thing to do is going to work and putting on a completely different face for everybody, but I don't have a choice in the matter- I have to go, I have to be functional, I have to get stuff done. It's just getting harder and harder to not let it show. I honestly don't know how I'm managing to pull it off every day, it's weird. I guess it helps to focus on tasks and get your mind off it, but it still doesn't go away and whatever bad feeling I manage to put away while I'm working comes leaping out of the box as soon as I leave.
So yes, this sucks and I'm getting very tired of this. And to top it all off, Jeff is either absent or busy. So I'm trying to distract myself with movies and stuff like that. Strangely, whenever I try to read I can't concentrate, which is a new one on me! Getting in the car and going somewhere sometimes works, other times I feel like I'm walking around in a silent movie out there.
And let's get one thing clear: I am not feeling sorry for myself. Don't think I'm hanging around wallowing in self-pity, because that's not what's happening. I'm just feeling godawful, trying to slash a little makeshift trail through this suffocating shit, you know?
So I'll continue with my efforts. Good thing the last Harry Potter book is coming so soon- that's been fun to look forward to and it's guaranteed to distract me from all this for a while. Thanks for listening, friends.
There's three illustrators from the 1950's an 60's that are so incredible, but they're not talked about nearly enough except for amongst a scant handful of arty blog writers. So I'm passing it around. All these people mostly did children's book illustration and sometimes stuff like visual development in animation. Their styles are similar- this look was really making the rounds at the time, but everybody made it their own. Of course, I can't bring up this stuff without mentioning the undisputed queen of this look, which is Mary Blair. She was phenomenal but compared to these guys she gets a ton of well-deserved if late adulation these days. She got a coffee table book! So yes- don't miss Mary Blair, but don't miss these fellows, either. Be sure to click on the pictures to get the full size images.
First, we have M. Sasek, a Czech illustrator who's a little more well known then the others I'm covering today. He did a long series of children's books about different cities and countries around the world, all titled "This Is New York" or "This Is London", etc. For a nice little slideshow, go here:
So if you're anything like me, you're sitting there marveling at how beautiful his stuff is. Me, I'm a sucker for all that flat, bright, jaunty color and sharp angles. How did he manage to imbue those illustrations with so much instantly recognizable Essence of Florida? Maybe it's the feeling of hard, bright sunlight in there.
Ahhh, here's my favorite guy: J.P. Miller. He died a few years ago and got a nice obituary and there were a few tiny ripples of "Aw, man!" out there in the previously mentioned land of arty writers that are soaking in this stuff. I immediately ran over and grabbed my ancient copy of: (remove your hats, please) "Lucky Mrs. Ticklefeather". This was a Little Golden Book from the 50's, which is mostly what J.P was doing at the time. He did some beautiful ones, including "The Little Red Hen", which has basically stayed in print for about 50 years. Here's two from "Ticklefeather".
And here's one from "The Little Red Hen" that's half of a double page spread. It features the most incredible house, complete with weathervane and laundry line.
If I get started gushing about J.P. Miller, I'll never stop. So on to Leonard Weisgard- he worked with Margaret Wise Brown a lot and his work went with her writing style very well. Take a look at these ships and boats!
And here's a detail from a huge illustration from "The Golden Bunny".
From the back cover of same.
Leonard Weisgard was really good at creating a beautiful little environment. I don't know how, but he manages to temper the realism approach with the flat color elements and it always works perfectly. Like in the bird illustration- it has such a nice real feeling, but those flat white daisies don't look out of place at all. He totally got away with it!
I might as well bring this up too; Richard Scarry's later style with the adorable Busytown animals is so wonderful, but what I like even better is the earlier, lesser known style, which knocks me out:
And here's some excellent suggestions for what to do with pillows besides put your head on them.