In my aleatory wanderings around the internet, I’m always surprised at how often random and wonderful points of connection turn up between completely unrelated topics I’m poking at. I love those little juxtapositions, and the associations they set up. So I’ve decided to give in to the impulse to celebrate them and give them their own category on Like Fire.
First of all, I think it’s been a while since I’ve seen anything as beautiful as these wooden books. They were assembled in the late 18th century by one Carl Schildbach as a reference library, documenting the various trees and shrubs growing on the German estate he managed. The outer casing of each was made from wood of the plant in question and, according to Arthur MacGregor’s Curiosity and Enlightenment: Collectors and Collections from the Sixteenth to Nineteenth Century,
the interior was reserved for an exposition of the whole natural history of the plant… a complete seedling is included to one side, with its roots, seminal capsule and first pair of leaves. In the centre of the box the tip of a branch displays buds and leaves in various stages of development…blossoms are shown varying from full blooms to faded flowers, while fruits are similarly represented at every stage in their development… Examples of associated parasites and lichens are included…
I especially like the lichen details on the spines.
Those, in turn, brought to mind Joseph Cornell and his fantastic boxes. I don’t imagine Cornell would have ever encountered Schildbach’s wooden books from his quiet frame house in Queens, but the impulse to put together cabinets of wonders must be as deeply ingrained in our tool-using human selves as the need to categorize. Hence the wave of love for scrapbooking–which, while it’s easy to make fun of in light of the big-box industry that’s sprung up around it, is still a way of convincing people they can make things, and I’m all for that. As it turns out, there’s even a Cornell box book-and-kit set. And again, why not? It looks like it’s aimed mainly at kids, but it still looks like fun. And it’s blurbed by none other than Jonathan Safran Foer.
Who, coincidentally, is also on my mind today. His newly published Eating Animals has well and truly gotten my attention. The extremely loud and incredibly illuminated Huffington Post has run a series of essays and videos about it over the past week, with bloggers ranging from Deepak Chopra to Natalie Portman. The Vroman’s Bookstore blog is taking a thoughtful tack, starting out with a couple of videos and inviting readers to contribute. And if you haven’t read Safran Foer’s Wall Street Journal article, Let Them Eat Dog, you should—this is what a supplemental piece ought to read like.
The book examines his choice to become a vegetarian from a number of angles—ethical, factual, biographical—and while it’s by all accounts compassionate, Eating Animals hits where it’s supposed to: your gut, your conscience. He looks at factory farming and its environmental impact, but also at the myths we build in order to justify having created such an industry in the first place. From the WSJ article:
Dogs are wonderful, and in many ways unique. But they are remarkably unremarkable in their intellectual and experiential capacities. Pigs are every bit as intelligent and feeling, by any sensible definition of the words. They can’t hop into the back of a Volvo, but they can fetch, run and play, be mischievous and reciprocate affection. So why don’t they get to curl up by the fire? Why can’t they at least be spared being tossed on the fire? Our taboo against dog eating says something about dogs and a great deal about us.
The French, who love their dogs, sometimes eat their horses.
The Spanish, who love their horses, sometimes eat their cows.
The Indians, who love their cows, sometimes eat their dogs.
While written in a much different context, George Orwell’s words (from Animal Farm) apply here: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
As a soft-hearted animal lover and guilty carnivore, I’m pretty sure I have every right to be afraid of this book. Most of the choices I make in life are reasonably weighed out in units of fact, desire, and principle; eating bacon is not one of those. All sorts of freshly-minted books get all sorts of publicity, and that’s as it should be, but this is one that I think probably should be in people’s faces. It probably should be in mine, anyway. And at the rate I’m going, it probably will be.