Friday, June 3, 2016

Random Artsy Oddities: Botanical Spacecrafts and Obscure Books

This blog post will start with an avocado, but it's really about much more, including some wonderful books you've most likely never seen and won't see.  During my college years, an odd little discount bookstore opened in my hometown.  My dad and I would spend hours perusing the store.   Dad would buy me wonderful books filled with art prints, for just a few dollars.  And I would search for obscure children's books (because even before I became an elementary teacher, I always loved kids' books).  On one of my trips to the store, I became distracted by this adorable little book, The Artful Avocado by art critic/art historian/author John Canaday.
 I don't think I had ever seen or heard of avocados before my college years.  They just weren't a common or popular food item where I lived.  And I acquired my first house plant as a gift during my sophomore year of college, and also discovered the wonders of eating avocados.  So, when I found this quirky book about how to root and plant an avocado pit, I discovered I could follow the author's instructions and grow a lovely house plant, after enjoying a delicious food!

The author's words, for the way he recommended rooting the avocado in water, balanced by toothpicks or pins, were "like a miniature botanical spacecraft".  That's one of those book phrases that has stuck in my brain for decades.  (Other such phrases, such as a "perfect day for a bananafish", written by J.D. Salinger, and of course the Dr. Seuss quote from Horton Hears a Who, "a person's a person no matter how small", return to my lips over and over again.  Perhaps I'll have to write a blog post with a collection of favorite book phrases!)  And now back to the botanical spacecraft - here's an illustration from the book:
Fascinated, I rooted several avocados, and had a couple of really successful, lovely avocado plants for many years.  But they didn't live forever, and while I have a ton of house plants, I haven't had an avocado plant for at least a decade.  And I've been trying to root avocados ever since. 
This, above, has been in the water for about a week.  After a while, I will probably throw it away.  Below, is what is supposed to happen.  I've also tried rooting the avocados directly in dirt, as in the pic on the right, an alternative provided in the book. 
 But alas, I have not gotten an avocado to root in a very very long time.  What has changed about the avocados in the supermarket?  Why doesn't this work any more?  I've tried different varieties of avocados, different supermarkets.  My husband just rolls his eyes at the latest avocado pit rotting in water in our kitchen.  I should have a houseful of these beautiful plants!!
Meanwhile, the phrase "botanical spacecraft" reminded me of another book.
 But I couldn't locate my copy of it today.  Instead, I uncovered some other sweet books on my bookshelves that I purchased in that long-gone bookstore.  It is unlikely you've ever seen any of these gems.  The first one I'll share here is Go, Go, Grabote!  In this gem, a little character emerges from the eye of the author/artist, and heads off on exotic painted adventures.
 Something New Under the Sun is a very odd little book...
 Here's Looking at You is a book of poems, each illustrated by someone different. 
 Then there's a book about an "active" little boy, Timothy the Terror.
 And my personal favorite is Number 24, a quiet, wordless book, about someone waiting for a bus.  Most people seem to just scratch their heads at this book.
 Here's a treasure that my dad found in the store and gifted to me as a surprise.
Yup!  The illustrations are by the sculptor Alexander Calder!!!
They very much remind me of the animals in his Circus.
 My dad strangely also gave me this, below.  It is in very bad condition, but I wonder if it has some monetary value.  I suspect it is rare.  I'd like to find out, as it isn't doing anyone any good sitting on my book shelf.  Any ideas?
I don't dare to show you any of the images from inside the Picasso publication, here on the blog, as they are exceedingly X-rated!  Instead, I want to share a few other books that weren't from that little bookstore, but are stored with them on my bookshelf at home.  You probably haven't seen these, either!

Maybe you are familiar with Edward Gorey. But have you seen this little alphabet book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies?  I never shared it with kids at school, because I was worried that someone would get upset.  Because, after all, every letter of the alphabet stands for a child that dies in some horrific way.  Still, I find it hysterically charming.  Is there something wrong with me?
 And then there's this wonderful bilingual book (Russian and English), Here Comes the Cat.  The story is simple and sweet.  After pages and pages of mice, warning that the cat is coming, it turns out that the cat is not so bad after all!
If you are of my generation, perhaps you remember Gerald McBoing Boing?
 Today on NPR, I heard a story about the ground-breaking book Our Bodies, Ourselves, that I've owned since the 80's.  How many young women like myself learned absolutely everything about being a woman from this incredible book?
 And finally, I'll close with a lovely book, To Every Thing there is a Season


  1. Oh my yes!!! I went to Edwards Gorey's house / museum. There are little gravestones with the departed children's names! And the avocado book! I finally watched Big Eyes and John Canaday was the art critic that called out Walter Keane! I, too, collect childrens picture books-my favorites are pop-ups or "paper engineering" (to be more design / problem solving minded) Sabuda!!!

    1. I saw Big Eyes when it came out, and even though I've had and referred to that book for decades, I never made the John Canaday connection! Thank you!

      Meanwhile, I never knew there was a Gorey House/Museum! I just looked it up and am excited to learn that it's in Cape Cod. My brother lives on the Cape, so I'll definitely get there sometime in the coming summer or fall.

    2. You will love Gorey's place- I just had a huge smile on my face the whole time!