Naughty teens, pernicious literature, and scare quotes: a glimpse at 1884

Youth's Golden Cycle

132 years ago – when (according to some) people slipped seamlessly from childhood into adulthood – John Fraser (Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature, University of Chicago) published a 439-page-thick doorstop book titled:

Youth’s Golden Cycle: or, Round the Globe in Sixty Chapters: Showing How to Get on in the World, with Hints on Success in Life; Examples of Successful Men; The Blessings of Loving Mothers, Careful Housewives, Clean, Cozy Homes; What and How to Eat and Drink: What to Read and How to Write; the Structure and Uses of the Most Important Members of the Body; How to Be and Keep Strong; The Wonders of Creation, Science and Art; Little Things-their Importance; Entertaining Stories of Animals; Animals-their Language and Habits; (etc.)

Back in 1884, titles were often as cumbersome as the books themselves.

This book was written for adolescent readers in response to “the rapid increase of the evils that result from the reading of pernicious literature,” “immoral fiction,” “bad books,” and other things being written by “vile writers” and being marketed by “worse publishers.”

Shocker: the market has been targeting teens for quite a while now. And adults have been afraid about the commercialized culture for as long as the market has been targeting teens. As the author says in his introduction:

“Every hour, the havoc wrought by the perusal of immoral fiction by our school-boys is assuming graver aspects. Almost daily we read of bands of youthful desperadoes, just entering their teens, being broken up by the police, and nearly always it is found that the organizations so broken up were directly suggested by dime novels…”

In other words, young teens and the media marketed to them have been viewed with alarmist fear for – well, for quite awhile now, even long before 1884. Cell phone apps and music videos may be new; the fears surrounding them are not. Nor are our lofty attempts to replace the offending filth with something nobler.

This particular book attempted to do just that: “Now the express object of this book is to counteract the evil influence of this vicious literature, and to furnish youth with reading that will be as exciting as any novel, and at the same time instructive, wholesome, manly, and fresh. Nor will it be of the ‘goody-goody’ order, to which so much of our Sunday-school literature belongs.”

Ouch. Genuine scare quotes in 1884. “Goody-goody” used pejoratively in 1884. Sunday-school taking it on the chin in 1884.

In some ways, things haven’t changed at all.

 

 

Psalm XXVI (for a Monday Morning)

Photo: CKirgiss
Photo: CKirgiss

Sometime or other, I picked up a small Book of Psalms for tens of tens of pennies. Maybe at a library sale. Maybe at a thrift store. Maybe at an estate sale. (Since then I’ve learned that it’s important – for my own sake – to document each and every book purchase on the inside front cover. “Bought in May 2006 for $1.00 at a tiny, crowded, musty fusty bookshop in southern Michigan when I was passing through.” That kind of thing.)

I picked up this particular Book of Psalms because

  1. it is leatherbound
  2. it has quirky (some might say elegant) gold-gilt type on the cover
  3. it is of a size and shape and weight that feels just right in my hands
  4. it has an intact binding
  5. it has a personalized fly-leaf noting that Aunt Lil gave it to her nephew Arthur on December 17, 1916
  6. it has a quirky (some might say historical) book stamp on the title page noting that it was once the property of Arlington Street Church, Boston
  7. it boasts 1882 as a publication date (and 1882 books are, as a general rule, good for the soul)
  8. it numbers the individual songs Romanically (which apparently is not a word, but whatever).

That last one is important. There is something mighty and majestic about “Psalm XXVI” as a title that “Psalm 26” lacks. Perhaps that’s why we say “Twenty-Second Winter Olympics,” but we write “XXII Winter Olympics.”

No matter. Whether XXVI or 26, this morning’s Psalm – as is so often the case – is best considered as a series of questions and challenges before starting yet another week of full, rich, real life.

Have I acted with integrity and trusted the Lord without wavering?
Have I invited the Lord to truly test the motives of my heart?
Am I always aware of His unfailing love?
Have I lived according to His truth?
Do I resist going along with hypocrites?
Do I refuse to join in with the wicked?
Do I enter the glorious presence of God, singing with thanksgiving and telling of His wonders?
Have I fully embraced God’s redemption and mercy so that I can (undeservedly) stand on solid ground?
Do I publicly and joyfully praise the Lord?

Of course not. At least not to the extent that I could or should, and certainly not to the extent that He deserves.

But (oh glory!) “of course not” is not a static state of being. Rather, it is the reality from which we launch ourselves anew each and every morning straight into the loving arms of our Creator and Savior, there to be embraced just as we are. For it is only in those arms – the source of all love, forgiveness, strength, and grace – that we have any hope to live a life that can answer “yes” to the questions of Psalm XXVI. After all, it is not just “A Psalm of David” but rather “A Psalm of Us All.”

 

the Word became flesh

Confession: I own too many books. Not just a few too many, or some too many. A lot too many.

Someone keeps saying it’s a problem.

I keep not listening.

So when I got an email today from one of my literature students with “book tree” in the subject line, I was intrigued. I thought it might be some kind of narrative thematic diagram resembling a family tree, which would be pretty cool.

But it wasn’t.

It was an idea. For a book tree. (Go figure.) Made out of books. To look like a tree. You know, for Christmas and all.

Which was so much cooler than cool I can’t even put it into words.

This email, and the resulting fervor it whipped up in my soul, is precisely why I don’t Pin. I would forfeit my life to this and that and such-and-such and so-and-so and ladeedahdeedoo and pretty soon I would be a crazy person who only converses with glue sticks and rotary cutters.

Truly.

Proof positive is that I spent several hours tonight constructing this:

Photo: CKirgiss
“The Word became flesh.”

It was a lot more work than I expected. The light schematic is pathetic. In a few places, I had to jerryrig shims of folded paper to keep things level. I didn’t know how to finish it off. I made a mess of my bookshelves.

But oh my, I am delighted. Beyond words. Because not only do I love my books (too much, says someone) but I love the season that my new book tree celebrates. The incarnation. The Birth of Christ. The eucatastrophe of mankind’s history (for all you Tolkien fans).

Breathtaking indeed. Beyond words.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Writing an unlined life

Photo: CKirgiss
Homemade journals. **Details at bottom of post.

Confession: I’m a journal freak. A blank-book maniac. Whatever.

I like journals. I need journals. I crave journals. (And pens to go along with them. Lots of pens. Lots and lots of pens.)

Over the years (like every other journal-freak-blank-book-maniac-whatever) I’ve worked my way through more pages than I can count, shifting from composition books to sketch books to notebooks to whatever happens to be on sale.

In the process, I’ve learned there are only two non-negotiables for this slice of my life.

One: no lines. I want the freedom to write sideways, crossways, or diagonal; to doodle, sketch, or chart; to meander, march, or stall; to shout, chat, or whisper; in short, to write or draw in any direction and in any size I want. I totally get that lines help keep things straight and neat and orderly. Not interested. That’s what closet organizers are for. And calendar apps. Journals are for life, and life is usually unpredictable, messy, spontaneous, and slightly (or greatly) out of control. A journal is meant to reflect that, not cure it.

Two: sewn binding. I want to know that my pages aren’t going to fall out. (Journals are meant to reflect life’s messy spontaneity, not mimic it.) I want my pages to lay conveniently flat. (Just because I want the freedom to write up, down, sideways, and around doesn’t mean I want to write over the side of a tumbling paginated cliff or into a valley of stiff binder’s glue.) I want the comfort of knowing my pages are each connected to another page just across the row of signature stitches. (If journaling is an exercise in solitary discourse, it’s reassuring to know that the pages upon which the discourse lives are not themselves solitary but rather sewn permanently into a larger community.)

If this sounds weird or obsessive or (gasp) even a tad neurotic, well (cough), yep.

It is.

Too bad for me, unlined sewn-binding journals aren’t easy to come by. At least not if a person cares even just a little bit about style and flair and appearances. And cost. Which means there are actually two more non-negotiables for this slice of my life.

Three: looks matter. At least a little bit.

Four: cost matters. A lot.

Even more too bad for me, cheap, stylish, unlined, sewn-binding journals aren’t easy to come by. So I’ve started making my own.

If this sounds silly or time-consuming or (gasp) even a tad snobbish, well (cough), yep.

It is.

But it is also thrifty, rewarding, and even a tad delightful. Wrong. A ton delightful. Oh my, yes indeed.

****

Photo: CKirgiss

These journals are made from the boards of old, discarded, rejected Readers Digest Condensed Books. You can find them anywhere. Everywhere. Often for free. Free is good. Spines are made of Tyvek tape (right) and duck tape (left). People who know what they’re talking about say you should never use duck tape for this. I used it anyway. (And my needle got kind of sticky.) Innards are made of printer paper, folded, cut to size, sewn into place.

Photo: CKirgiss

These journals are made from old leather wallets. You can find them at thrift stores for cheap. Cheap is good. Gutting them takes a while. A long while. To do it right you really need to rip out all the seams and then resew the edges neatly. Innards are made from printer paper. My good friend Joanna Benskin gave me this idea. (Her innards are made from lined composition paper. We are still very good friends.) This idea is probably out there on Etsy or Pinterest, but I don’t look at those sites. Sensory overload. I’m sick just thinking about it.

Photo: CKirgiss

Inside view of wallet journals. (I should mention that part of the motivation for these is that a good piece of leather shouldn’t go to waste. Ever.) Endpapers may or may not adhere. I left the pink one plain because really, what screams competent-and-independant-jeanswearing-thrifty-egalitarian-nonprincessloving-moderndaywoman more than a PeptoBismal Pink Journal-Wallet free of any design distractions?

Photo: CKirgiss

Confession: I didn’t make this journal. It’s a Moleskin skinny, which is neither cheap nor stylish (non-negotiables #3 and 4). But since I already owned it and didn’t go out to buy it in order to retrofit it, it’s sort of like I got it for free during the makeover stage. Really. This idea wasn’t mine. I saw it at a craft fair. Which had only ten exhibitors due to torrential rains. Ten exhibitors was enough to send me into sensory overload. No, that’s not the original old photo sewn onto the cover. What do you take me for? And yes, I know the people in the photo. The one on the left is an amazing mother and grandmother. The one on the right is a journal freak. A blank-book maniac. Whatever.

**Top photo: these journals are made from covers of old books. Look – I love (adore, collect, cherish, fondle, drool over) old books as much as anyone I know. I would never sacrifice one if it had even the barest hint of life, value, or that delightful fusty smell so many of us love. But these books were on their past breath – cracked, torn, crumbling, and unhinged. Really, their covers were all that remained of their former glory. I like to think I saved them from the grave and gave them a brand new life. Innards are either printer paper or unlined-and-sewn innards of cheap sale journals with seriously bleh covers, sliced out of their sad and sorry homes (which will be remade into happy, schnazzy book boards at some point), then rebound into these delightful covers from long ago. Spines are made from (variously) Tyvek tape, duck tape, or scraps of leather salvaged from thrift store stuff – you know – jackets, pants, vests, boots, bags…