Saturday, May 31, 2014

To Shakespeare by Hart Crane

Daily Dose

From Essays, by Ralph Waldo Emerson

WHEN

"When we have new perception, we shall gladly disburden the memory of its hoarded treasures as old rubbish."

From Self Reliance

Friday, May 30, 2014

Quick Review

How I Lost 10 Pounds in 53 Years: A Memoir, by Kaye Ballard (with Jim Hesselmann)

Doing a couple of things I almost never do here: first, here's a picture of the book with the hideous discount sticker still right there on the dust-jacket, and second, I felt obliged to acknowledge the "as told to" coauthor straight from the get.  The book's not new, it was published by Back Stage Books in 2006.  I missed it at the time.  I found it on the discount shelf at Half Price Books, for just $5.99.  I'm a fan of Kaye Ballard, so I don't tell this to embarrass her, but rather because it seems to me typical of this great entertainer's somewhat spotty luck in finding the audience she deserves.  Her nice coauthor I'll get to directly, but first, a quick review of the lady's career and my appreciation thereof.

I remember Kaye Ballard from television; costarring with Eve Arden on the Desilu sitcom, The Mothers-in-Law,  guest appearances on The Lucy Show and the like, singing on variety shows and talk shows like The Mike Douglas Show and Merv.  She was delightful; always funny, a great comedian and raconteur.  She's got great pipes, and she could always belt a show-tune with the best of 'em, but after years in vaudeville, nightclubs and Broadway, she also knew how to break your heart until it fit hers perfectly when she sang a torch-song, and when it came to clever lyrics and patter-songs and the like, there's been no one to touch her save a few of her idols like Bea Lillie and Martha Raye.  As a kid, I found her fascinating; she was a big, warm, noisy and funny lady, not unlike a kid herself -- still, evidently at 88 -- and I would defy anyone to not have fun listening to her tell a story about her beloved Italian grandma, Nana, or workin' all the stops of a Cole Porter tongue-twister.

Next for me as Ms. Ballard fan, came the hit Broadway production of Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance -- or rather a noisy, vulgar travesty of Gilbert & Sullivan, in which Kaye and George Rose were the only bright lights in a sea of very dim bulbs indeed.  I don't even remember who played the principle juveniles, only that they were terrible.  It was the early Eighties, and early days yet for personal microphones and electronic sound in the American musical theater.  The electrified orchestra, the chorus and the leads all sounded uniformly loud and inexplicably unintelligible.  It was ghastly.  The only relief for the audience from out of this hideous cacophony came whenever Rose's crisp and comic Major General made an appearance, and even better, when Kaye Ballard came on as Ruth.  I can close my eyes still and hear her big, beautiful voice telling the story of  "When Fred'ric was a little lad."  Other than the turns by the two ol' pros then, a grave disappointment throughout.

Ms. Ballard's had a lot of those; personal, professional and romantic.  She's been, more often than not, the best thing in bad shows, the star of good shows that didn't run, or the instigator of projects that just missed the right moment.  (A musical album based of Charlie Brown cartoons?  A Fanny Brice musical?  Anyone?  Oh, no, you go on.) She's never really been alone -- always surrounded, it seems by friends -- but that's the way she's had to go.  Which brings me to my other, best Kaye Ballard memories: the Ben Bagley records I collected with the devotion of a convert and fanatic when they were reissued on CD back in the day, and specifically the Cole Porter recordings, and Kaye Ballard's contributions to same, which taught me that one need not be Mabel Mercer to slay the people with Cole.  It's still Kaye Ballard's voice I hear when I warble to myself, "Tale of the Oyster," and when I want to break my own heart with a smile, I hear her singing "I Loved Him But He Didn't Love Me."  Those records made me the queen I am, people. "When I Was a Little Cuckoo," indeed.  (Those records were also where I first heard Blossom Dearie and Bobby Short, among others.  Nobody, I learn from Ms. Ballard's book, made a dime, but, oh, how grateful I am to the memory of the producer, Ben Bagley.)

And now I'm grateful to yet another theater queen I might otherwise never have known, Ballard's coauthor, one Jim Hesselman (cute) who managed somehow to tether the then just cresting octogenarian tornado that is Ms. Ballard long enough to get her story down in print.  My sincerest thanks, Mr. Hesselman, wherever you are now.  This book was like spending a wonderful, long, cool afternoon with the great lady, by the pool in her Palm Springs retreat, listening to stories about her Nana, and pals like Noel Coward, Judy Garland and Fred Ebb, etc.

If Kaye Ballard never quite had the luck, what she did have was an undeniable talent, or rather a whole collection of 'em: for comedy, singing, acting, friendship, cooking and life.  It's clear it must be a great pleasure to know the lady better.  It's certainly been a pleasure spending time with her autobiography.  Glad to know you, Kaye!  Love you.

Daily Dose

From Walks in London, Volume II, by Augustus Hare

NICHOLAS ROWE IN POETS CORNER

"The epitaph, by Pope, alludes to Rowe's widow in the lines:

To these so mourn'd in death, so lov'd in life,
The childless parent and the widow'd wife,
With tears inscribes this monumental stone,
That holds their ashes, and expects her own.

But, to the poet's excessive annoyance, after the stone was put up, the widow married again."

From Chapter VI, Westminster Abbey


Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From The Flamingo's Smile: Reflections in Natural History, by Stephen Jay Gould

EXCITEMENT

"The excitement of new theories lies in their power to change contexts, to render irrelevant what once seemed sensible."

From Chapter 13, The Rule of Five

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

New from Liberal Guilt Press:




Daily Dose

From The Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson

THE IDEA

"The idea of students at the University of Iowa not smoking dope is... well, simply inconceivable.  On any list of reasons for going to the University of Iowa, smoking dope took up at least two of the first five places."

From Chapter 19

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From Walks in London, Volume II, by Augustus Hare

OVERHEARD IN CHAPEL

"When Queen Caroline (wife of George II.) asked Mr. Whiston what fault people had to find with her conduct, he replied that the fault they most complained of was her habit of talking in chapel. She promised amendment, but proceeding to ask what other faults were objected to her, he replied, 'When your Majesty has amended this I'll tell you the next.'"

From Chapter 2, St. James Palace


Monday, May 26, 2014

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From Speak, Memory, by Vladimir Nabokov

OUR INNOCENCE

"Our innocence seems to me now almost monstrous, in the light of various 'sexual confessions' (to be found in Havelock Ellis and elsewhere), which involve tiny tots mating like mad.  The slums of sex were unknown to us."

From Chapter 10

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From Bend Sinister, by Vladimir Nabokov

THE

"The square root of I is I"

From Chapter 2

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Counting Our Blessings, Batman Fans



Daily Dose

From Poems: 1959 - 2009, by Frederick Seidel

SPIN

A dog named Spinach died today.
In her arms he died away.
Injected with what killed him.
Love is a cup that spilled him.
Spilled all the Spin that filled him.
Sunlight sealed and sent.
Recieved and spent.
Smiled and went.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From Poems: 1959 - 2009, by Frederick Seidel

A BEAUTIFUL DAY OUTSIDE

Too depressed to savor my melancholia.
I wore a cardboard crown. I held
A sceptre with a star on top.

I was on a hill, looking over at a mountain.
The sky was bald blue above.
Pine needles made
Something softer than a breast beneath the fits-all royal hose.

I was like an inmate at Charenton
Dully propped up on a throne outdoors, playing
“Fatigue of the Brave”—fatigue such as of a fireman holding
A still warm baby, waiting for the body bag.

Professional depression,
In an age of revolutionary fire
And having to grow up. The king did not wish to—
Still declined to be beheaded at forty-three.

But that I was depressed,
I had diagnosed the depression thus:
Ambivalence at a standstill—
Party-favor crown, real-life guillotine.

I still lived. I sat there in the sun:
Just water and salt conducting a weak current
Between the scent of pine and the foot smell
Of weeds reeking in the hot sun.

The children’s party crown I wore
Dazzled my thinning hair like a halo.
The crown was crenellated like a castle wall.
A leper begged outside the wall.

In an upper gallery of the castle,
A young woman curtsied to the king and said: “Sire,
You are a beautiful day outside.”
The king stuck his stick down her throat to shut her up.

Children, of all things bad, the best is to kill a king.
Next best: to kill yourself out of death.
Next best: to grovel and beg. I took for my own motto
I rot before I ripen.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From Poems: 1959 - 2009, by Frederick Seidel

THE PIERRE HOTEL, NEW YORK, 1946

The bowl of a silver spoon held candlelight,
A glistening oyster of gold
The linen between us was snowblind, blinding white.
I felt a weight too light to weigh
Which was my wings.

I heard the quiet of his eyes.
I heard the candle flame stand still.
I saw the long line of her jaw become
Too beautiful to bear.  I was a child.
I lifted my empty spoon and licked the light.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy

WEAKNESS

"Weakness is doubly weak by being new."

From Particulars of a Twilight

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Forthcoming Celebrity Autobiographies: Once Too Often to the Well




Daily Dose

From The Fetishist, by Michel Tournier, translated by Barbara Wright

MEN AND WOMEN

"Women are delicate, soft, perfumed lingerie.  Men are a wallet swollen with secret things and silky, sweet-smelling bills."

From The Fetishist

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From An Old Man's Love, by Anthony Trollope

HE COULD NOT

"He could not alter his own self.  He could not turn round upon himself, and bid himself to be other than he was."

From Chapter XI, Mrs. Badgett trusts only in the Funds

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

ALL

"All this time I had never been able to consider my own situation, nor could I do so yet.  I had not the power to attend to it."

From Volume Three, Chapter 1

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From The Poems of Sir Walter Scott

SPRINGLETS

"Springlets in the dawn are streaming,
Diamonds on the Brake are gleaming"

From Hunting Song

Friday, May 16, 2014

Paradoxes & Prejudices

I have a head-cold.  Botheration.  As a responsible citizen, I stayed home from work and I should of stood in bed, as someone or other once famously said. Instead I wandered the family manse seeking distraction to break up a little my otherwise restless napping, as one will when bored and nose-blowing.  Books came down from high shelves, only to be abandoned on the sofa.  I couldn't read for weeping, as it were, which is just a poetic way of describing a runny nose, an aching head and streaming eyes. Food, I found, had no flavor.  Likewise social media, as no one, it seemed was paying much attention to my misery.  Poor me.  So despite my determination not to waste the day away entire, I did what one does; I made a can of soup and watched television.

As I'd already resorted to infant amusements; chicken noodle soup and cartoons, I decided to go whole hog and enjoy a favorite from The Million Dollar Movies of my childhood, and so I watched a Charlie Chan.

You kids today won't know, but in the remote days before cable television -- and television remotes -- we watched pretty much anything on offer on a weekday afternoon home sick from school.  One was indulged to the extent of being allowed pajamas and real pillows on the couch, Premium Saltines and lukewarm ginger ale, and best of all, control of the television.  This was not so lux as it sounds, my dears, with but three channels from which to choose, but it did mean that instead suffering through The Edge of Night or the boring early news, one might watch the whole of some Hollywood hash from the supposed Golden Age, and if one was lucky, it might be Errol Flynn in Captain Blood, or, undreamt of good fortune, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!  More often than not though the Fates proved cruel and what was on offer was nothing more than Ida Lupino blind in the snow, or Ann Rutherford on a horse.  "Eesh," cries the memory of an uncouth nine year old me in snotty disappointment.  The best one might hope for most days was a Mister Moto or a Charlie Chan.

I remembered both of those "oriental" gentlemen fondly, but I'd seen neither in years.  What could be better with a warm ginger ale?  And so, to Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan in The Scarlet Clue, 1945, directed by one Phil Rosen and featuring Mantan Moreland as "Birminghan Brown, chauffeur" and young Benson Fong as Tommy Chan, "Number Three Son."  In this one, Charlie and Co. were ostensibly in pursuit of "radar secrets" at a radio station and... oh, Hell.  Need I go on?

For the moment, I must.  Appalling, kids, truly.  Forget for a moment the merest fart of mystery or the lingering odor of an old, dead plot.  Forget the coin-purse budget and the tattered print.  Forget even the sclerotic Sidney Toler in his ten-gallon-Panama-hat.  Forget all that -- or rather, don't and be warned! -- and let me confess what it was that finally broke me.  It was not, I'm ashamed to say, poor Mantan Moreland's bug-eyed horror of "haints," nor even his grotesque stooging with the hapless Benson Fong every other scene.  Not even the embarrassingly unfunny encounter with the "Norwegian" char-woman with the unconvincing Harry Tenbrook accent was enough to make me turn from this vile racist potpourri.  I was horrified, but I got a head-cold and I was all doped up on the antihistamines and shit, so, you know. 

So, what finally drew me in anger from my bed of pain to turn the wretched thing off?  When Charlie and the cops come in to question the cast of a radio soap, one of the minor characters, some camp in a pencil mustache, rolls his eyes and, for want of a better verb decamps from the stage, swishing.

And, scene.

After all the depressingly weedy "fun" that came before, this last straw was, I admit, willow-thin.  To be honest, I'd long since decided to turn the thing off and be done with it -- and Charlie Chan -- for good.  Don't get me wrong, I have always had a soft spot for those great supporting Hollywood camps like Franklin Pangborn and Edward Everett Horton, etc.  But after all that had come before, that last sad bit of bashing, though far indeed from the worst of it, was just too, too.

Talking to a reviewer friend recently, I was more than a little shocked to learn that he had decided not to accept what must have seemed to both said reviewer and his editor an assignment right up his street.  Rare enough for any part-time writer: the uncashed check, however small.  What's more, my friend had already read most of the book.  So?  The book he was asked to review was a soon to be reissued novel by Alberto Moravia, a novelist once of no small reputation, now much neglected in the United States.  Moravia moreover is a writer my friend otherwise much admires. Finally, the book is forthcoming from no less than Europa Editions, a publisher my friend specially loves.  He's reviewed with pleasure perhaps a dozen or more of their titles in just the last year or two.  Like NYRB, Europa brings back into print many a great and neglected work, as well as introducing all sorts of important and interesting European writers to grateful American readers, like my friend.

So what was wrong with the Moravia novel now not to be reviewed? Well into it, it seems that there is a sad little man who wants to hold hands with the handsome boys riding on the ferry and isn't that horrible, and aren't such perverts disgusting, etc.?  Done.  For my friend, that tore it.  I get it, I do.  We all have our limits.

Many an otherwise good or even great writer has had his or her... unfortunate moments.  Moravia wrote the famously anti-Fascist novel, The Conformist, later made into the even more famous Bertolucci film.  His writing was known for a spare realism, moral malaise and what for the time was a shocking sexual honesty.  And yet, that sad cliche of predatory old queen.  Disappointing.

I'm reminded of being not infrequently jolted by the casual Antisemitism of an Agatha Christie or a Josephine Tey, to say nothing of what might now be called "racial insensitivity" in nearly every white American writer before the Second World War.

Without having read the Moravia my friend decided not to review, I can't say if I would have exactly the same reaction.  I might well. Just hearing the scene described left me in depressed spirits.  Myself not so long ago made yet another futile go at William Faulkner and his Snopes.  I can say that his relentless brutality seemed specially egregious in the pornographic romance between Ike and the cow -- possibly the ugliest thing I've ever read by a major artist -- but ultimately what made me quit was the revolting fecundity of Eula, or rather Faulkner's thin-lipped pleasure as he endlessly maws the Female Principle like some cracker-barrel D. H. Lawrence.  Hateful stuff. Just hateful.

Actually, I tend to be of the school of thought that believes it unfair to judge the whole history of art by the politics of today.  (One Fourth of July not so long ago, I was frankly outraged by the friend who suggested that my habit of reading from the Adams/Jefferson letters each year on that day somehow constituted an "endorsement of slavery."  Oh please.)  Nonetheless I do find myself ever increasingly chary of spending my time in the dank corners of a circumscribed artistic sympathy and, having wandered all unsuspecting into narrow ways, my instinct is strong now to just back the fuck up and go.  I seem to be in some ways less tolerant myself nowadays, or at least grumpier than ever, even when I am not suffering from a head-cold.

Back then to soup and Saltines, and maybe just a little music to sooth my jangling sensibilities.  Maybe some Schubert, or even Wagner.  What could go wrong, right?

Daily Dose

From Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Joel Carmichael

AFTER

"After a pause she smiled.  'Yes, yes,' she agreed.  'I could never do it.  My heart isn't big enough to get attached to an entire orphanage full of horrible little girls.'"

From Part Seven, X

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, by Victor Hugo, translated by Walter J. Cobb

HOW STRANGE

"How strange and sweet to him was this human affection, to him who had loved only books."

From Book IV, Chapter 2, Claude Frollo

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Couple More Unlikely Titles



Daily Dose

From The Histories, by Herodotus, a new translation by Tom Holland

ABOUT

"About what might lie beyond the land that this account has been side-tracked into discussing, ignorance is universal."

From Book Four {16}

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Couple Unlikely Titles



Daily Dose

From Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, translation by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAffe

DARK

"Dark drifts covered the horizon.  A strange shadow coming nearer and nearer was spreading over men little by little, over things, over ideas; a shadow that came from indignation and systems.  All that had been hurriedly stifled was stirring and fermenting.  Sometimes the conscience of the honest man caught its breath, so great was the confusion in the air in which sophisms mingled with truths.  Minds trembled in the social anxiety like leaves at the approach of a storm.  The electric tension was so great that at certain moments any chance comer, though unknown, gave off light.  Then the twilight obscurity would fall again.  At intervals, deep and half-smothered mutterings enabled men to judge the amount of lightening in the cloud."

From Chapter IV, Cracks in the Foundation

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Caricature


Daily Dose

From The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War 1890 - 1914, by Barbara Tuchman

SOME

"Some on the Right could no longer keep their heads turned from the truth.  Mme de Greffuhle, goddess of the gratin, becoming secretly convinced of Dreyfus' innocence, wrote to the Kaiser asking to visit him to ascertain if the Germans really had employed Dreyfus as a spy.  The only answer she received was a large basket of orchids."

From Chapter 4, "Give Me Combat!" France: 1984 - 99

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Hazlitt's Garden

Daily Dose

From A Grain of Wheat, by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o

SHE BELIEVED

"She believed in the power of women to influence events, especially where men had failed to act, or seemed indecisive."

From Chapter 13

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Times Go By Turns

Daily Dose

From O Pioneers!, by Willa Cather

AT ALL

"They had not seen him at all.  He had not overheard much of their dialogue, but he felt the import of it.  It made him, somehow, unreasonably mournful to find two young things abroad in the pasture in the early morning.  He decided he needed his breakfast."

From Chapter V, Neighboring Fields

Friday, May 9, 2014

As We Rush

Daily Dose

From Parade's End, by Ford Maddox Ford

SHE HAD

"She had certainly meant their parting to be for good.  She had certainly raised her voice in giving the name of her station to the taxi-man with the pretty firm conviction that he would hear her; and she had been pretty well certain that he would take it as a sign that the breath had gone out of their union... Pretty certain.  But not quite..."

From No More Parades, Part Two

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Brief Complaint, Only Tangentially Related to My Last


I have yet another complaint for which I expect no remedy.  In the first place, I don't know quite what it is of which I mean to complain.  Put it another way, I don't have the vocabulary to accurately describe the problem, though I may say I am not the only one to complain of it.  Customers and booksellers at the bookstore where I work and elsewhere have commented on this, but none of us seems to be able to communicate our dissatisfaction to anyone in a position to do anything much about it.

Sticky covers.  There.  That's about as close as I've been able to get to a description.  The new series, Drop Caps from Penguin Classics of which I so recently wrote is a perfect example.  Here are these handsomely designed new editions of classic books -- as well as some I would simply call popular -- published in stoutly bound and brightly colored hardcovers at a reasonable price.  Each copy comes without a dust-jacket, but shrink-wrapped from the publisher. ( For any that might not know, shrink-wrap is basically a thin plastic bag in which merchandise, in this case new books, are sealed to keep each copy pristine.  The plastic is shrunk by means of applied heat to conform to the shape of the thing inside, thus, shrink-wrap.)  Most attractive, these new uncovered books, at least until actually handled, however briefly by human hands.  The problem is in the treatment used in covering the cardboard covers, not in the plastic packaging.  The surface of these new books is not the more traditional colored or painted cardboard and cloth.  Instead, there is this... stuff, and while this... stuff, as I say, looks great, it isn't as smooth as the usual covers; it seems to be just porous enough to register dirt, oil, fingerprints, everything with which the book may happen to come in contact and this almost immediately once the books have been taken out of the shrink-wrap.  This same substance, or something like or at least equally disagreeable, is now used regularly on the more traditional dust-jackets that come wrapped around most hardcover books.  Whatever this paint or process is, it is new enough that I only noticed it on new books just a few years ago.  Since the first one I handled seemed at the time to be an isolated experiment, perhaps by one publisher, it seemed to be just some passing fancy of some designer somewhere.  In the past two or three years though, this... stuff, whatever it is has been adopted by more and more publishers in one form or another.  I can only guess at the reason why, as no one I know in publishing seems still to have the faintest idea what I'm talking about when I've asked.

My theory is that there must have been someone, probably a designer, who liked the look of this matte finish that still showed color as well or better than the traditional photographic technique (?) used when printing pictorial dust-jackets.  Maybe this stuff was less expensive as well.  I wouldn't know.  It has the feel, and here I do mean the actual feel of an aesthetic choice made in some airy isolation wherein no practical voice was ever raised to point out that books are meant to be read and that to read a book it must be handled, carried about from place to place, most likely, picked up and put down on surfaces of various composition and cleanliness, in other words, used.  Books are meant to be used.  That seems so obvious a fact as to be embarrassing to mention, until one considers for instance all the impractical, not to say impossible shapes, sizes, prints, fonts and related nonsense into which the merry art school types have been making books ridiculous now and then for years and years.  Novelty art books like Madonna's Sex, years back come immediately to mind.  Remember that one?  It had metal covers on a spiral binding, metal covers that fell off, usually after one look.  It was really cool, so long as one never opened it.  Or the coffee-table-book memorializing the great electric guitars which was an oversized book shaped like an electric guitar.  That one fit on no bookshelf or display table anywhere ever.  Didn't last out a Christmas season, as I remember.  Skyscraper books shaped like skyscrapers, dye-cuts that invariably had tiny bits that broke on every other copy of the book coming out of the carton, buff paper covers as pure and white as salted slush just from being shipped in a truck from the printers; the list of impractical beauties is long and checkered.

And now, there's this... stuff.   It not only doesn't hold up to use, it actually feels kinda creepy just holding it; less plush than tacky, as if the inks had never quite set.

As I said at the beginning of this, I can't pretend to know what I'm talking about here.  Don't take my word for this.  Unwrap a copy of Ellery Queen's The Greek Coffin Mystery and just run your thumb across the covers.  See if it doesn't feel wrong.  See if it doesn't leave a smudge, even if your hands are clean as a choirboy's.  It's just not nice.  Whatever this... stuff is, I say again, it is not pleasant.  It was a bad idea.  I wish it would stop.  Stop.  Just quit it, publishers, Penguin Classics, please?

(I don't mean to pile on the good people at Random Penguin and Penguin Classics.  Gods bless them and all who sail under their flag.  They do good work!  But it is worth mentioning that the last time Penguin hired some other very talented new designers to produce that other hardcover series of reissued classics, the ones with nice cloth covers, they managed to fuck that up a little bit too.  The designs are lovely, and the books well made.  I bought myself a nice hardcover copy of Wilkie Collins' Woman in White from that bunch.  Lovely thing it was, with birds all over it.  The idea seems to have been to reproduce in an a relatively inexpensive and more modern design, something of the richness of earlier cloth covers that were often elaborately embossed.  With these new designs though, the birds were just inked onto the cloth, not impressed in any way and so by the time my lovely new book had taken one or two bus commutes, the birds were already fading no matter how carefully, even lovingly I handled that book.  Now maybe, just maybe this effect was somehow anticipated by the designer and this wear was seen as reproducing in quick-time some of the more weathered charms of older books, but that is probably just me bullshitting on behalf of artists I don't know.  Honestly, I think nobody could be much bothered to rub two copies together and notice the effect before the damned things shipped out to the warehouse and the retailers.  The result again was something that was lovely, until it was used, because, you know... books.)