A Bone to Pick….

“But see! nearer and nearer the great fish comes, mouthful after mouthful of the fishes falling into its horrid jaws. It must be starving; so eager is it for its prey that is seems unconscious of the fact that the tide has turned and is moving outward.  Now it discovers its danger and turns, but too late.  The water has gone back to the dep, leaving it struggling for breath in a shallow pool.   It thrashes wildly about with its tail, whose sticky secretions help to envelop it more and more thickly with mud and slime, until at last its struggles cease.”

This is from the autobiography The Life of a Fossil Hunter by Charles Sternberg, written in 1909.  I stumbled upon this title in the afterward of Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton.  His widow Sherri did a nice epilogue and mentioned the Sternberg book as one that Michael had used in his extensive research for Dragon Teeth.

As you can read in the section above, the style of autobiography and memoir was a little bit different back then than it is today. In today’s memoir, we would learn about how abuse in his childhood caused him to seek out a career in the wilderness, how his career caused lifelong challenges in all his relationships and he overcame all kind of obstacles to achieve his desires.  That’s pretty much how every memoir written in the last few years read anyway.  In Sternberg’s autobiography, he mentions a son about 1/3 of the way through the book.  Then he mentions a son about 2/3 of the way through.  We he mentions in the conclusion that he has “raised up a race of fossil hunters”, we learn that there are at least two sons, but that’s it.  No courtship, no marriage, no discussion of any toll his work/travels took on his wife… in fact, the word “wife” doesn’t even come up in this book.

But he did know how to breathe life into his fossil finds!

What’s the oldest book you’ve read recently?

 

26 thoughts on “A Bone to Pick….”

  1. Well, I suppose the bible counts here. Lots from Acts and Isaiah. Beowulf, too. Husband has been reading Paradise Lost and the poetry of Herbert Spenser. The poems are beautiful and he says they center him as devotional material. He got the book when he was in Cambridge, England.

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  2. Well, this is, as they say, right in my wheelhouse. I’ve mostly read contemporary books the last month or two, but just last week I started reading from a recent acquisition, Charcoal Sketches, or Scenes from a Metropolis, by Joseph C. Neal. It was written in 1837. My copy is from 1843.

    In honor of the season, here are two humorous gardening books I like:
    The Sparrowgrass Papers (1856) by Frederick S. Cozzens and My Summer in a Garden (1871) by Charles Dudley Warner. Both are available online, I think.

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    1. There was a reason I didn’t make this a contest today. I kind of thought you and Clyde might have quite a few good older picks. Clyde always has some good travel books from days past. But now of course in one fell comment you’ve mentioned three books that now I’m going to have to go out and find.

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      1. Daniel Defoe traveling around England. Tobias Small going to the continent. Henry James touring the Loire Valley. A few others who my old brain cannot dredge up.

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  3. Sort of on topic, we have discovered a fun comedy on TPT2 on Thursday nights called Upstart Crow out of England. It is a broad comedy about Shakespeare using many lines from a Shakespeare play. Last night it was based mostly on McBeth. Wonderful weaving of altered lines.

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    1. Also a new BBC version of Maigret, the French detective. Dark in imagery, dark in content, but often underplayed. Maigret is played subtly and underplayed by, wait for it, Rowen Atkinson.

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      1. Lol…I just saw it last night by accident. I had a hard time trying to explain to YA why it was so funny to see Atkinson playing that role.

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  4. A year ago I read All’s Well That Ends Well.
    I have been re-reading a set of meditations in which the author takes passages from great Christian writers through history an d then comments on them. Fascinating to see how minds digested Christian thought over time. A great deal of it would apply to the last couple years. I am not a mystic by any means but the Mystics are fascinating. He goes out of his way to include women from the middle ages and more recent times.

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  5. I always mean to read all of the Canterbury Tales. Bet it never happens. Did reread the first half of Beowolf in a new translation, but that was 5-6 years ago. Slowly read essays of Montaigne. Don Quixote a year or two ago. It surprised me how repetitive and often unfunny it was. Browsed the Decameron.
    I have always meant to be an antiquarian, but I get bored with most of it.

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    1. I know what you mean about antiquarian reading. That’s why I’ve settled on nineteenth century American material. It’s much more relatable. I’ve actually known some nineteenth century people.

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  6. I rarely read books that could be described as old. The book I just finished was a biography of folk guitarist John Fahey. It was published four years ago. John was so screwed up that his history is painful to read.

    A book I recently enjoyed was Hold Still by photographer Sally Mann. It’s impossible to sum up. A NY Times reviewer wrote: “Now her wonderfully weird and vivid memoir — generously illustrated with family snapshots, her own and other people’s photos, documents and letters — describes a life more dramatic than I had imagined. Perhaps that should be unsurprising, given how deeply her psyche and her oeuvre seem to have been marked by the South, its live oaks dripping Spanish moss, its terrible record on race and its multigenerational dynasties hiding gothic Faulknerian secrets.”

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  7. I don’t have anything to add here. Probably the oldest book I ever read and enjoyed was reading the Shakespeare plays in college. My recent reading mainly involves the latest nutrition, diet and wellness books.

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  8. Will read comments later.. Jane Eyre comes to mind… surely I’ve read something older than that, though? I feel like I’ve read a bit by Hildegard von Bingen, (13th century), as she was analyzed in God’s Hotel, but I can’t find any actual quotes right now.

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  9. Prompted by some comment or another on a recent blog, I reread Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carol a few weeks ago. I’ve loved the illustrations in that book since I was three or four years old, and I still do. Back then I made up my own stories based on the illustrations, and of course, they resemble Lewis Carol’s tale only in superficial and obvious ways. The book has always fascinated and frightened me, and it still holds the power to send me down many a rabbit hole.

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    1. I think of the poem “Beautiful Soup” – the Mock Turtle’s song – when I’m making or heating up soup. I have a melody in my head for the poem, don’t remember if I made it up or if it came from somewhere else. I consume a lot of soup, so it runs through my head often.

      BEAUTIFUL Soup, so rich and green,
      Waiting in a hot tureen!
      Who for such dainties would not stoop?
      Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
      Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

      Beau–ootiful Soo-oop!
      Beau–ootiful Soo-oop!
      Soo–oop of the e–e–evening,
      Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

      Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
      Game, or any other dish?
      Who would not give all else for two
      Pennyworth only of Beautiful Soup?
      Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?

      Beau–ootiful Soo-oop!
      Beau–ootiful Soo-oop!
      Soo–oop of the e–e–evening,
      Beautiful, beauti–FUL SOUP!

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  10. the dinos where around for many millions of yrs but humans have only been around a few n it looks like we are close to killing off ourselves n most other things on the planet soon = so much for humans being smarter n even more so so much for the idea that the rich or politicians or gods are smarter , duh

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  11. I’m reading a book right now that isn’t actually all that old but it feels old. The Potting-Shed Papers by Charles Elliott. I’m not sure where I got the idea but it might have been from a Bill Bryson book.

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  12. I haven’t read any books lately that I would call old. I did come across this poem, though, by G.K. Chesterton:

    Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget;
    For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.
    There is many a fat farmer that drinks less cheerfully,
    There is many a free French peasant who is richer and sadder than we.
    There are no folk in the whole world so helpless or so wise.
    There is hunger in our bellies, there is laughter in our eyes;
    You laugh at us and love us, both mugs and eyes are wet:
    Only you do not know us. For we have not spoken yet.

    The fine French kings came over in a flutter of flags and dames.
    We liked their smiles and battles, but we never could say their names.
    The blood ran red to Bosworth and the high French lords went down;
    There was naught but a naked people under a naked crown.
    And the eyes of the King’s Servants turned terribly every way,
    And the gold of the King’s Servants rose higher every day.
    They burnt the homes of the shaven men, that had been quaint and kind,
    Till there was no bed in a monk’s house, nor food that man could find.
    The inns of God where no man paid, that were the wall of the weak.
    The King’s Servants ate them all. And still we did not speak.

    And the face of the King’s Servants grew greater than the King:
    He tricked them, and they trapped him, and stood round him in a ring.
    The new grave lords closed round him, that had eaten the abbey’s fruits,
    And the men of the new religion, with their bibles in their boots,
    We saw their shoulders moving, to menace or discuss,
    And some were pure and some were vile; but none took heed of us.
    We saw the King as they killed him, and his face was proud and pale;
    And a few men talked of freedom, while England talked of ale.

    A war that we understood not came over the world and woke
    Americans, Frenchmen, Irish; but we knew not the things they spoke.
    They talked about rights and nature and peace and the people’s reign:
    And the squires, our masters, bade us fight; and scorned us never again.
    Weak if we be for ever, could none condemn us then;
    Men called us serfs and drudges; men knew that we were men.
    In foam and flame at Trafalgar, on Albuera plains,
    We did and died like lions, to keep ourselves in chains,
    We lay in living ruins; firing and fearing not
    The strange fierce face of the Frenchmen who knew for what they fought,
    And the man who seemed to be more than a man we strained against and broke;
    And we broke our own rights with him. And still we never spoke.

    Our patch of glory ended; we never heard guns again.
    But the squire seemed struck in the saddle; he was foolish, as if in pain,
    He leaned on a staggering lawyer, he clutched a cringing Jew,
    He was stricken; it may be, after all, he was stricken at Waterloo.
    Or perhaps the shades of the shaven men, whose spoil is in his house,
    Come back in shining shapes at last to spoil his last carouse:
    We only know the last sad squires rode slowly towards the sea,
    And a new people takes the land: and still it is not we.

    They have given us into the hand of new unhappy lords,
    Lords without anger or honour, who dare not carry their swords.
    They fight by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
    They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.
    And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs,
    Their doors are shut in the evening; and they know no songs.

    We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet,
    Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street.
    It may be we shall rise the last as Frenchmen rose the first,
    Our wrath come after Russia’s wrath and our wrath be the worst.
    It may be we are meant to mark with our riot and our rest
    God’s scorn for all men governing. It may be beer is best.
    But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.
    Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.

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