Reimagining American Community

baboon metaAn almost-forgotten hobby–or rather, a veritable mania–of mine and many other people some years ago was the haunting of second-hand bookstores of a larger city.

I knew only Chicago’s used book scene, back when these places were numerous and wildly eccentric. I spent many hours in the seedy Aspidistra Books on North Clark, the brilliantly selective O’Gara and Wilson’s in Hyde Park (Nobel Prize winners among the customers), and Evanston’s late lamented Bookman’s Alley (which visitor Garrison Keillor once complimented on its vast “objets d’ stuff”).

The beauty of browsing such places (we’re speaking of course of literal browsing here) was not only in the bargains to be had but in the bizarre profusion of books you couldn’t imagine even existed.

Almost all these bookstores are gone now but Abebooks, perhaps the largest purveyor of used books online, can take you back to those golden afternoons when you found yourself leafing through the oddest stuff.

Their Weird Book Room (found here) is not a joke but a real collection of improbable and even ludicrous titles. Here you will find Welcome to Your Face Lift, Muskrat Farming, and Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America. Some books are perfectly high-brow: Baboon Metaphysics was published by the University of Chicago in 2007, whatever on earth the title refers to. Whereas Outwitting Squirrels strikes me as a pretty low bar.

The how-to genre is well represented in the WBR. How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found sounds vaguely useful.

Less so, presumably, is Manifold Destiny: The One! The Only! Guide to Cooking on Your Car’s Engine, perhaps an earlier effort toward Car Talk humor.

Be warned: books here do occasionally sell out. I notice How to Land a Top-Paying Pierogi-Maker’s Job is no longer available. And why, exactly, one wonders.

Some books address questions which hadn’t occurred to me: How Green Were the Nazis? being a splendid example.

Others merely send my mind soaring: Beyond Leaf Raking takes us…well, I just don’t know where. Above the trees?

I have to add that you should really view the covers of these books on the Abebooks site to get the full effect: just reading the titles doesn’t convey their sublimity.

I trust this post partially solves the Christmas shopping question for some of you out there, eh?


About the Author
A native Texan, Elias spent several good years studying classics and medieval Italian at UC Berkeley before wasting several more years in financial journalism around Chicago. He has written for Strong Towns, the American Scholar, the New Urbs blog, and the Gary Catholic Worker and is the co-author of a textbook on character education. He briefly published something called The Armchair Historian. None of his three teenage daughters display an interest in the Greek and Latin classics thus far. He and his family reside in leafy Valparaiso IN.