The Battle of the Books. (Not found in Game of Thrones.)

It is pretty rare when a set of books comes in – with all the volumes present… but it happened today. And it’s always a happy day for me when Charles Dickens makes an appearance in the book shop.

Much to his dismay, the works of Charles Dickens were widely pirated, and he sold thousands of books – receiving nothing. His solicitors would send ‘Cease and Desist’ orders to U.S. publishers, who generally had ordered a copy of the latest Dickens novel and then set the type, reprinted the story, and took the profits. Copyrights were difficult to enforce in Dickens’s time, even though he made arrangements with publishers to print his ‘authorized’ version.

After his death, his works were widely reprinted in the U.S. by publishers who knew that Mr Dickens would no longer be sending legal representatives to protect his stories. The books that arrived today might be of that sort. Typically, early unauthorized editions contained no copyright information and – usually – no actual printing date. I was trying to pin down the date on this set when I ran across an ad in an Oakland Tribune issue from 1937.

The idea was to collect the twenty volume set by purchasing a couple of books at a time. (I remember doing that at the grocery store to acquire a set of Funk & Wagnall encyclopedias.) But – what a set of hoops the buyers were required to jump through!

According to the article from 1937, to obtain a set required a registration form, a printed mailing label, and a dozen ‘Dickens Certificates’ (obtained from the pages of the newspaper). Of course, the thirty-four-cent per volume price tag sounds pretty nice these days. Even the adjusted-for-inflation amount of $6.45 seems a bargain for a nicely printed hardback!

Such bargains could be offered when publishers were not required to pay royalty figures to authors or copyright holders. In the case of the Cleartype Edition library, the marketing expense was covered by the participating newspapers across the country – which also served as a distribution point for copies that were to be picked up in person rather than by mail.

Dickens wasn’t the only one ever to be defensive of his copyrighted works, and although he was vocal in his opposition to pirated copies, at least no lives were lost: the Irish in the mid-6th Century were a wee bit more emotional about their printed works. According to Wikipedia, the Battle of Cúl Dreimhne (Gaelic for the Battle of the Book) caused the deaths of some three-thousand Irish in a dispute over a copied religious book.

In the year 560 (or thereabouts), Irish abbot and missionary Saint Columba and Saint Finnian of Movilla Abbey disagreed over a religious book. Columba copied a volume owned by Saint Finnian, intending to keep the copy, but they disagreed as to whether it belonged to Saint Columba because he copied it or whether it belonged to Saint Finnian because he owned the original.

King Diarmait mac Cerbaill ruled on the disagreement, concluding that: “To every cow belongs her calf, therefore to every book belongs its copy.”

The judgment didn’t please Columba one bit. As a result, he staged a rebellion of the O’Néill clan against the King, which succeeded, but was said to have resulted in some 3,000 casualties.

Perhaps rightly shamed over the fuss, Columba took his copied book and left for Scotland, where he founded the Iona Abbey and devoted the rest of his life spreading the Christian gospel.

No lives need be lost in acquiring copies of books in our shop. And, although Charles Dickens might not have been happy about it, we are happy to offer the full set of the Cleartype Edition of his works, circa 1937, so patiently acquired by a newspaper reader and Dickens fan, in the time between the World Wars.

Music: If you don’t mind the mind…

Did you ever hear Jumpin’ Gene Simmons hit song, Haunted House? Some classic lyrics, there…

He ate the raw meat right from my hand
Drank the hot grease from the fryin’ pan
He said to me now you better run
And don’t be here when the mornin’ comes

It’s stuck in my head, sort of. I don’t remember all the lyrics – just the main guitar riff and the ‘hot grease’ part. I’m guessing it sometimes happens to some of you, too. A song you like, or don’t like, keeps playing on the jukebox-brain.

Funny thing is – and I’ve probably mentioned this somewhere along the line – there are other associations that get caught up in there. For example, I can tell you where I was when I first heard that novelty song. I was riding in a school bus with a little radio held up to my ear.

I can even tell you where the bus was driving when the song really caught my attention: we were westbound on what was formerly called Grand Avenue in McAlester.

Many years later, my brother-in-law Dennis introduced me to the music of Steve Goodman, a Chicago songwriter who died way too young. He wrote Go Cubs Go – which probably gets played more often than his song City of New Orleans, a train-riding hit for Woody Guthrie’s son, Arlo.

It was easy to remember that Dennis provided the musical introduction. We were at a family get-together and his record ended up in my Steely Dan album jacket. It was several years before we got that mix-up squared away.

For some reason, I was thinking about my mental-music-retention (talk about a slow-day-brain-activity, but anything can trigger it… the song Low Rider just came on the shop’s music system – which I remember first hearing as a DJ at Top-40 KQYX in Joplin, Missouri.): earlier, something made me think about the jarring way I was introduced to Led Zeppelin.


In Mr Sittel’s first-hour Mechanical Drawing class, we toiled away to the soothing sounds of his classical LPs, played on a little record player mounted on the corner wall. Whatever the reason, he invited us to bring in a record of our own to play during the period.

As a tenth-grader, during my first-ever stint in a public school, I was about as small as I could make myself. There were a number of seniors who sat directly across from me: I think Don Whitehead and Jim Sadler were among those sitting opposite, but I don’t think they ever spoke a word to me all year. I did listen, though, and I ascertained there was some sort of conspiracy afoot. Might have been Johnny Peccio who provided the record album.

Too naïve to know what it was all about, I watched along with everyone else as Mr Sittel carefully removed the record from the paper sleeve and got it spinning on the player. There was a palpable sense of anticipation before the first shocking blasts of guitar rolled out over our drafting tables. It wasn’t Classical Music, that’s for sure. Couldn’t have been a full couple of musical measures later before Mr Sittel grabbed the tone arm and scraped the needle from the LP.

I recall thinking that was sure to cause a scratch (something you young whippersnappers never experienced in your non-vinyl musical lives), a playback pop to be heard ever-after on what I heard described by a classmate as a ‘brand new record.’ Mr Sittel, red-faced and blustery, was none too happy.

And that was my introduction to Whole Lotta Love, the first song on Side 1, Led Zeppelin II.

Later, I acquired a copy of the record. It was one of those that was in the regular rotation, but truthfully, I was more of a Beatles fan.

And starting up their albums could be done without raising up memories of a surprised Mr Sittel, the speediest music censor ever, at McAlester High School.

Alexa: Write a Blog for me…

I was talking to one of our lunch guests the other day, and he made a quick pronouncement: You LOVE gadgets, don’t you?

It’s true. I always have. Years and years ago, before streaming video, before DVDs, Before Blue-ray and Laserdisk… there were videocassettes. The machines were big boxy things that sat on the shelving system that took up an entire wall and was dedicated to housing your stereo components.

At that time, we had just experienced a small financial windfall and I believed our household HAD to have a VCR (that’s video cassette recorder, for you young scalawags). They were so new that the machine could record only a single program, at a single time. Only the channel you were currently watching. Couldn’t program it to record later – you had to press, simultaneously – the Record and Play buttons.

By the time you had the show’s channel on the TV, waiting for the program to begin so the buttons could be pressed – you might as well have just plopped down on the couch and watched it right then and there.

But it was new tech. A gadget. I’m embarrassed to admit how much we paid for that thing, so I won’t.

Still love the gadgets, though. And thankfully, most of the prices have gone down, comparatively speaking.

Alexa is almost the ultimate gadget for me. I got on board that train when the Echo first came out from Amazon, and now own several. The device is capable of much more than I currently demand of it, but I’m still learning.

One of the things I love is the voice-control of other devices. I can turn on lights from across the room. I can ask Alexa to turn on the TV or turn the volume up or down.

Now, I can even do some of that same stuff in the car. From the parking space behind the store I can turn on the exterior lighting to unload supplies after dark. Listen to the game on the car speakers (a game not available through local radio) on streaming media.

With an AC transformer tucked under the dashboard I can plug in an Echo Dot, set it on the console, and ask Alexa about weather, news headlines, lame jokes, and even turn on the interior lights at the house from the driveway. Music streams through the Trans Am speakers from my Pandora account, and college football from the Sooners Sports Network.

Do I absolutely NEED it? Nah.

But I love gadgets.