Friday, February 3, 2012

The Ice Balloon

Come January, I usually start getting a little nostalgic for the winter everyone back home on the east coast seems to be suffering through grumpily. This year was no different, so I decided to chill myself vicariously--the best kind of chill--by indulging in a little polar exploration from my armchair. Fortunately, Alec Wilkinson's The Ice Balloon arrived just in time to allow me this indulgence.

The history of polar exploration is largely a history of successive catastrophes. From Sir John Franklin's ill-fated attempt to find the fabled and, it turns out, utterly impractical Northwest Passage to Robert Scott's stubborn demise in Antarctica, the poles have withstood a great deal of human ingenuity and determination. Wilkinson's account of S.A. Andree's ambitious and novel attempt at the North Pole--he was the first to try it using a balloon--is the chronicle of another disaster, but one that comes alive in the telling with an unexpected degree of suspense.

Andree is presented as the first non-Romantic explorer, one whose faith in science and technical progress led him to believe almost dogmatically in the success of his expedition. (He was so confident of his success, in fact, that he brought a tuxedo along with him, certain he'd have reason to don it for a celebrated return to civilization.) And, in the story as Wilkinson tells it, it seems Andree had sufficient reason to believe in the success of his voyage.

By weaving into the narrative covering Andree's attempt--which includes several poignant biographical sketches--other episodes from the "golden age" of polar exploration, Wilkinson presents not just a vivid biography of a man, but of the obsession of an age and the characters who acted out the often harrowing consequences of that obsession.

Visit this page for more photographs of Andree's doomed expedition (which were discovered nearly 40 years after its mysterious demise).

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Super Bowl, Schmuper Bowl - an option.

My favorite weekend of the year is upon us, but no, it won’t involve being glued to the television watching Super Bowl commercials. Rather, this Saturday and Sunday is the return of The San Francisco Antiquarian Book Print & Paper Fair, held at the Concourse Exhibition Center.

Over 200 dealers from all across the globe will be hawking their wares, and while I’m always impressed with the scope of tomes on display, it should go without saying that Booth 312 will dazzle you the most. Was that too subtle? Then how about this: Green Apple Books will bring the best of our best, and we will be at Booth 312 all weekend.

What is the best of our best, you ask? How about a batch of Arion Press titles, including The Great Gatsby and Coney Island of the Mind; The Variorum Edition of the Poems of W.B. Yeats, SIGNED by Yeats; The deluxe edition of Danny Lyon’s Knave of Hearts, limited to 50 copies, and including a SIGNED print; SIGNED first editions from Ansel Adams, Haruki Murakami, Wayne Thiebaud, Maurice Sendak, Edward Abbey, Tasha Tudor, Robert Crumb, and many others. Did I say dazzling? I do believe that I did. But without a doubt, my personal favorite is the true first edition of Ambrose Bierce’s landmark story collection, Can Such Things Be? published in 1893. Oh, wait – maybe it’s the hand-numbered copy of Raymond Pettibon’s Pig Cupid. No, it would really have to be the beautiful, SIGNED first edition of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – man, what a way out signature. AAAAaahhhhh!

Please slide by Booth 312 and say “Hi” – show hours are from 10 to 7 on Saturday, Feb. 4th and from 11 to 5 on Sunday the 5th. Free appraisal service on-site during Sunday, and a discounted admission coupon is available HERE.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Beauty is Truth, that's all I know

Back in 2001 I slaved over a persuasive, compelling shelf talker for my first ever contribution to the store’s “Staff Favorites” display: Paula Begoun’s Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me.

Noone bought the book.

But, with a fresh breeze of enlightened curiosity blowing through our well-groomed readership, this is the perfect time to re-introduce Begoun’s deliciously comprehensive compendium which reviews the bogus claims and empty promises of 30,000 skin care and makeup products.

I’ve cultivated my life-long commodity fetishism for skin care technology through beauty blogs, cosmetic trade publications, those free department store cosmetic counter pamphlets, and Avon catalogue back issues.

But, none of those sources compare to Begoun’s truly subversive Don’t Go... which, if her confrontational message gets out, threatens the whole $29 billion cosmetics and toiletries industry, unfortunately, the news gathering that it’s generous ad budget supports (20% of the sector’s net sales, by one estimate), and a manicured and exfoliated army of magazine editors.

Begoun, a 25-year consumer reporting veteran, has compiled a concise, accurate efficacy rating system, and cosmetic ingredient dictionary, which sheds light on the silly “anti-gravity,” and “age-balancing” potions by cult brands with loyal consumer infatuation that have been repeating their lies so long some people believe them.

The book covers cleansers, toners, granular scrubs; eye creams; cuticle softeners, callous removers, anti-cellulite creams, lip plumpers, sunless tanning, night creams, flight creams, acne treatment, pre-shave oils and more.

Begoun (with Co-Contributor Bryan Barron), uses pointed, no-nonsense adjectives for luxury products like “mundane, out-of-date, exceedingly standard,” or “There is no logical reason to consider this product.” Likewise she often calls the prices of these so-called miracles in a jar, “ludicrous, obscene, and out of whack.”

You’ll usually find a used copy of Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me in the Red Delicious Room’s “Fashion and Beauty” alcove along with a super glamorous collection of books on tattoos, designers, and modeling, (and Gardening, ho hum).