Friday, February 06, 2009

Dumpster Diving

One of my online friends, Grace, blogs a lot about thrifting, and closer to home, I've been reading Northern Cheapskate. Matt and I don't spend a lot on buying stuff -- clothes, housewares, and so on -- and when we do spend, we tend to really investigate what we're getting and buy something good that will last awhile. One of our vices, however, is used books. And I found a surprising source for cool used books.

Our county doesn't pick up our recycling; we have to drive it into town every week or so to the recycling center. Inside the recycling center is a giant bin for telephone books and, amazingly, other books. It's often full of old textbooks, or weird medical journals, or awful management books. I've found, however, that it sometimes contains some real gems.

The first one I found was Friheten, by Nordahl Grieg. The cover caught my eye -- I assumed the title was "Freedom" and the dramatic graphic of a flaming figure falling through the sky made me think it was probably either something Communist or fascist. What a pleasure, after doing some online digging, to find that Nordahl Grieg was a cousin to Edvard Grieg and was a left-wing poet and journalist during the Nazi occupation of Norway. He wrote in exile and his poems were smuggled back into Norway and used by the population as their own small way to resist the Nazis: a phrase murmured at the bakery and answered by the next line was enough to provide a little comfort. He flew with the RAF as a war correspondent and was shot down over Germany in 1943.

The book is full of his war poems and was published by Gyldendal Norsk Verlag in 1945. Grieg is considered a national hero.

Another one I found is "The Book of Good Manners" by Frederick Martens (1923), which is an absolute scream. It is full of things such as the definition of morning dress and evening dress, the role of chaperones for young unaccompanied women in Europe, requirements for well-bred children, and how servants should speak to and about their masters. The scan from one of the plates here is a little blurry -- the spine is in tough shape and I didn't want to break it on the scanner. The top photo is captioned "The Graceful Bow" and the bottom one is "Let spoon enter mouth quarterwise."

One of the best parts is "A List of Words and Phrases Not Used in Well-Bred Conversation." There are two columns: "Incorrect" and "Correct." Incorrect includes cunning, complete your dinner, genteel, murderous, and sheeny (a slur I had never heard), and the respective correct terms are dainty, finish your dinner, well-bred, deadly, and Jew.

The next list is even better: "Slang and Colloquialisms Which Will Not Pass Muster." Incorrect terms are aggravating papa (a refractory lover), cake-eater (an effeminate young man), dinge (Negro (sic), another slur I had never heard), finale hopper (a dancing man who always stays to the last dance), stiff (vulgar, when applied as a term of contempt to the living; unpardonable when used for a corpse) and wild woman (an objectionable euphemism for a girl or woman who is no better than she should be).

The book deems "elegance of phrase" vulgar as well, and sniffs (rightfully) at people who say "what an unpleasant effluvium" instead of "what an unpleasant odor" or "I feel so lassitudinous" instead of "I feel very languid." There is no need, the book informs us, to say "You are too previous" instead of "You presume." I quite agree.

The last one I grabbed is "The Sexual Life" by C.W. Malchow, M.D. (1905), a frank but turgid (as most texts from 1905) look at "the natural sexual impulse, normal sexual habits and propagation, together with sexual physiology and hygiene." The book has a slightly bizarre dedication from the author to his mother, "To whom I owe most for whatever I may be; whose physical deformity inspired gentleness, and whose simple, true life will ever command my highest esteem." Gee, thanks.

While the book does encourage both men and women to get educated about pleasing themselves and their partners, it does stress that "There is but one finish to proper copulation, and that is -- simultaneous orgasm, which ejaculation into the upper extremity of the vaginal passage. Anything short of this does not completely suffice for the satisfaction of the natural sexual instinct. Time is of the essence of this, as well as other contracts, for an untimely orgasm is invariably disappointing and unsatisfactory." Whew, no pressure there.

Anyway, it does drag on in that fashion, which is funny for a bit, but gives one a headache after awhile. There are passing references to homosexuality (which the author dismisses in one sentence, saying it "need not give us any concern"), a little bit on pregnancy (and fear of) being the chief cause of women not enjoying sex, and condoms leading to "race suicide." It's interesting to read as a scientific relic, and to find the social commentary peeking through once in awhile, but this one will probably find its way back to the recycling bin, or at least the library book sale.

Digging these books out of the recycling bin isn't exactly thrifting, because it doesn't replace me buying books I like. It's more like hunting for treasure. In any case, it's getting me to the recycling center more often, which is a good thing.


  1. I am so glad you posted this. I have always wondered whether it is uncouth to use "effluvium" in polite circles.

  2. It's uncouth to use it, but emitting it is just fine.

    I do want to put a caveat here and say I have not checked with the recycling center to see if they care that I do this. Maybe I should

  3. i love how used books become treasure. i have an unhealthy addiction for used book sales. i'm also that person that goes on amazon and buys copies of books for a dollar, mostly old copies of poetry books by baudelaire or rimbaud.

  4. Despite the fact that the woman in the photo is using her spoon correctly, I'm shocked by the fact that she has bobbed hair. I bet she lives in the big city and rolls her stockings, too.

  5. Anonymous3:25 PM

    Let me know if you need anything translated, it is in Norwegian, right?

  6. Anonymous3:26 PM

    Ohh...I'm the case you are wondering. :-) -Bente