Archive for December, 2014

A Christmas Clog

December 23, 2014

By Emily Meehan, Reader Services Student Assistant

Every year, when the day after Thanksgiving rolls around, I jump at the opportunity to put on a Christmas sweater, blast Christmas radio in my car, and truly embrace the holiday spirit. To tell you the truth, I find that the joy and anticipation of Christmas Day helps to alleviate stress going into the last few weeks of the school quarter – it may look bleak now, but just around the corner is joyful and triumphant! So, I thought I would incorporate my holiday mentality into my work at the Clark Library and discover what it has to offer on the true meaning of Christmas.

I found that our Fine Press Collection includes a few treasures from our featured unique California printers about the celebration of Christmas in California. In 1960, Lawton Kennedy, who had a strong printing relationship with the California Historical Society, printed a small book entitled “Christmas in California,” which includes two parts: “Christmas at Sutter’s Fort in 1847” and “Christmas Before the Americans Came” (“Americans” meaning white, non-Spanish settlers). The story on Sutter’s Fort details a grand Christmas feast that mirror’s Sutter’s recent success and then his foretelling at dinner of his own downfall if large reserves of gold were to be found on his property. “Christmas Before the Americans Came” tells of how members of a Spanish mission, Spanish settlers, and Native Americans all prepared and celebrated the holiday in different ways, all totaling to about a week of festivities and sharing between communities.

Cover of Christmas in California, published by the California Historical Society and printed by Lawton Kennedy

Cover of Christmas in California, published by the California Historical Society and printed by Lawton Kennedy

Lawton Kennedy printed another early California Christmas story with the California Historical Society called “Christmas at Rancho Los Alamitos,” by Katharine Bixby Hotchkis. Hotchkis was the daughter of the last private owners of the ranch and describes the yearly Christmas parties that grew to be grand in scale with the attendance of both the owner’s and all of the ranch employees’ extended families. Through these personal memories, the importance of Rancho Los Alamitos is brought forth by making allusions to its past and founding as a large commercial ranch. Another edition of the book printed over a decade later by another famous California printer (Anderson, Richie, & Simon) makes mention of the donation of the ranch to the city of Long Beach for it to avoid demolition by land developers and be preserved as a historical site.

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Cover of Christmas at Rancho Los Alamitos by Katharine Bixby Hotchkis, printed by Lawton Kennedy

 

As these books are about California history and printed by a historical society, one would think the contents would be more historical and factual in their telling. Instead, they read more as personal stories that seek to describe and remember in vivid detail what Christmas was like in these different settings. I think this signifies the fact that there is no one Christmas “history.” The amazing thing about Christmas is that even when one does study the cultural foundations of the holiday, there are so many different traditions and ways to celebrate – not just in different larger cultures and communities, but in different families, even individuals. There were definitely some similarities found between the stories, like the preparation of a large feast, anxious waiting on the arrival of guests, and after-dinner entertainment in the form of stories, dances, magic acts, etc. However, the only thing that was truly constant throughout all of the stories was the different communities coming together and sharing their traditions and resources to celebrate the holidays, regardless of background. I think that’s the true meaning of Christmas, don’t you?

Illustration by Gene Holtan in Anderson, Richie, and Simon printing of Christmas Eve at Rancho Los Alamitos

Illustration by Gene Holtan in Anderson, Richie, and Simon printing of Christmas Eve at Rancho Los Alamitos

The last book I found in our Press Collection on Christmas in California was Remembered Christmas: Los Angeles in the 1930s, written and printed by Vance Gerry of the Weather Bird Press located in Pasadena. Again, the title makes you think that this is going to incorporate some historical facts, but it is instead a short retelling of Christmas memories of Gerry as a child growing up in Los Angeles. I was particularly drawn to this book because its simple, delicate, hand-crafted form embodies the holiday nostalgia of making Christmas crafts as a young child.

Cover of Vance Gerry’s Remembered Christmas

Cover of Vance Gerry’s Remembered Christmas

Yet, it was the descriptive words of Gerry that brought me closer to his (and therefore, my own) Christmas memory. He talks of walking down a main street in LA with the shops fully-decorated with toys and lights in the window as such a sensory experience as he says, “the essence of the dreamlike sequence has never been erased from my mind.” We quickly jump from the bustling street to his warm home on Christmas Eve, which he remembers as “the close approximation of a Norman Rockwell painting.” But it was the last lines of the book in which I felt completely justified in my search for the meaning of Christmas at the Clark:

“As the Christmas fire that we really didn’t need died down an aunt played a carol on the piano and in that contented room everyone seemed wrapped in affectionate warmth and happiness, the texture of which I never felt again.”

Some people may read these lines as depressing, but in my optimistic holiday spirit, I see them differently. One never feels the same way at Christmastime ever again because each time is so unique and different, even if your family practices the same traditions every single year. And it’s special because that unique, warm feeling you get from your loved ones or just by drinking a huge mug of peppermint hot cocoa only happens for such a short time once a year. That’s why I cherish the holiday season. I know some say that it has turned into a commercial holiday that has destroyed its true meaning, but based on these personal stories I found at the Clark, I still think it has some value.

Wishing you the warmest of holiday feelings from the Clark!

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Audiobooks and English Essayists

December 17, 2014

By Katherine Monroe, student library assistant

Have you ever read one of those books that just makes you want to stop everything else you are doing and delve into its pages?  I find this to be true even when I listen to audiobooks, an activity I have taken up in order to stay sane in the LA traffic on my way to work at the Clark Library.  As I listened to Mary Ann Shaffer’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society over a period of two weeks, I became enamored with all of the characters.  This fictional book is set up as an exchange of letters between a London writer, Juliet Ashton, and people on Guernsey; through these letters, it tells the story of how the islanders dealt with the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands that lasted from 1940 to 1945 and how their creation of a book club helped save them and also created long-lasting friendships in a time of such uncertainty.

One of my favorite characters, Dawsey Adams, initiates contact with Juliet because it is her copy of Charles Lambs’ The Essays of Elia of which he is now the proud owner.  Since I didn’t know who Charles Lamb was, and since I happen to work at a special collections library which specializes in works of 17th– and 18th-century British literature and history, I decided to search the catalog to see if I, too, could read Charles Lamb and find out what it was that had captured both Juliet and Dawsey.  Well, I am happy to say that I now understand the appeal of this English essayist and poet who was born in 1775 and died in 1834.  The Clark owns several works by the man, including a lovely little hand-colored children’s book, The King and Queen of Hearts, printed in 1805.

King and Queen

Another work that Lamb actually co-authored with his sister, Mary (who is herself an interesting, if not tragic, character) is Tales from Shakespear, Designed for the Use of Young Readers, published in 1807.  The two-volume work contains twenty of Shakespeare’s plays, converted into prose for the education of children, along with twenty engraved plates by William Blake.

Title and frontispiece

And then there is the humorously-titled Satan in Search of a Wife, published in 1831.

title

The Clark copy is a first edition with 6 lively woodcut engravings.  The first part presents Satan moping while his mother asks what ails him, until it is revealed that he has fallen in love with the tailor’s daughter while he was escorting her father to his fiery domain.  As Satan prepares to go off and bring her back, his mother asks: “But what will you do with your horns, my son? / And that tail – fair maids will mock it –”  To which Satan replies: “My tail I will dock – and as for the horn, / Like husbands above I think no scorn / To carry it in my pocket.”  The second part tells of how the maiden, already in love with Satan, resists at first (due to his too-human disguise) but then gives in; Satan carries her off where a grand feast attended by Medusa and overseen by “Bishop Judas” is held to mark the occasion.

Sad satan

While that poem was a lot of fun to read, especially in trying to figure out who was mentioned as being a resident of Hell, I still liked those Essays of Elia which had first inspired me to search the stacks at the Clark.

Elia binding 1

The beautiful red leather volume of Lamb’s witty recollections of his life, all published under the penname of Elia in the London Magazine and collected in 1823, bring to life early 19th-century London, along with scenes from his childhood.  In “Five and Thirty Years Ago,” he recounts how he hated to be forced to spend days outside of his horrible school, Christ’s Hospital, yet has almost fond memories of those moments:

How merrily we would sally forth into the fields; and strip under the first warmth of the sun; and wanton like young dace in the streams; getting us appetites for noon, which those of us that were pennyless (our scanty morning crust long since exhausted) had not the means of allaying – while the cattle, and the birds, and the fishes, were at feed about us, and we had nothing to satisfy our cravings – the very beauty of the day, and the exercise of the pastime, and the sense of liberty, setting a keener edge upon them! – How faint and languid, finally, we would return, towards nightfall, to our desired morsel, half-rejoicing, half-reluctant, that the hours of our uneasy liberty had expired!

In both his poetry and his prose, Charles Lamb shows himself to be an entertaining and engaging writer of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  It is easy to see why characters as wonderful as those in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, as well as real people such as myself, would enjoy reading the works of such a man.

The King and Queen of Hearts: with the rogueries of the knave who stole the queen’s pies: illustrated in fifteen elegant engravings (London: printed for Thomas Hodgkins, 1806) *PR4862.K41

Elia. Essays which have appeared under that signature in the London Magazine (London: printed for Taylor and Hessey, 1823) *PR4861.A1

 Tales from Shakespear. Designed for the use of young persons (London: printed for Thomas Hodgkins, 1807) *PR4862.T11

Satan in search of a wife: with the whole process of his courtship and marriage, and who danced at the wedding/by an eye witness (London: Edward Moxon, 1831) *PR4862.S21

The Clark & Wilde on SoCal Connected

December 11, 2014

The Clark Library’s Oscar Wilde collection was the focus of a segment that aired last night on KCET TV’s SoCal Connected.  UCLA Professor of English Joseph Bristow and the Clark’s Manuscript & Archives Librarian Becky Fenning Marschall were both featured, as were some Wilde collection highlights.  For our non-local friends (and our local friends who may have missed it), the Clark segment is posted online for your viewing pleasure!

oscar