Friday, May 1, 2009

What's All This?

Say hello to the Cokesbury Party Book; published in 1932 by Abingdon Cokesbury, publishers of religious books in New York City and Nashville, compiled by Arthur M. Depew. A lucky find at the Deseret Industries Thrift Store in Rexburg, Idaho. Who knows how it got there. The DI, as we call it, typically has lots of books, a fair number of them religious and a fairer number of them of the trashy romantic novel type. Occasionally, a rare gem. It was there I found a copy of Ivy Ruckman's "Melba the Brain," a book I loved in childhood -- but this copy was signed by the author, making it even more rare. And then there's this book.

But a blog about the book?

Definitely. First of all, it's a time capsule of sorts, giving we moderns a peek into the lives of those who lived on the cusp of the Great Depression, between the great wars, during the presidencies of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This book was published 77 years ago. A lifetime. But it may as well be a thousand years, because the world of today resembles only marginally the world of then. Then, technology and the might of the city was only beginning; today, technology and the city, for good and evil, bring us both dream and nightmare.

There's more. I've long enjoyed the novels of Sinclair Lewis, the great Minnesotan whose novels, like those of John Steinbeck, encapsulate the formation of the United States as both a great power and a great user and abuser of men. It is in this era that the likes of Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Rochester, Buffalo, and cities of the like rose from the grasses and lakeshores to become powerhouses of manufacturing, of commerce, of education and fledgeling liberality.

And leisure. Then arose the American Leisure Class. To which this book was targeted.

There is some humor to be found in this book, humor to our modern eyes. Who, for example, would host a party themed on the life of George Washington, featuring a game in which the host hides a number of hatchets throughout the house for the guests to find, the winner finding the most hatchets? Try that today and you either worry about having an axe murderer in the midst, or someone fussy about not wanting to play with hatchets in the first place.

There is a connection to the past. In Lewis' Main Street, heroine Carol Kenicott attended many a party themed along the lines of those in the book. Even hosted one herself. And all the time felt the fool. But went along with it because that is just what you did.

So over the next year, I'll read the book and post party tips from it. Accompanied with what I hope will be humorous commentary on the elements of the tips, and why they may appear humorous -- or indeed offensive -- to our modern ways of thinking. We'll delve into the arcanity of the Mother Goose Party, Newspaper Night, College Field Day, Stunt Night, and Gipsy Night. And we'll imagine what it was like to live back then, to play back then. And think about how we play today and how people in 77 years may regard what we considered amusing.

I hope this is a fun journey. I know I'm looking forward to it.

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