Sunday, March 16, 2008


Nothing Doing

I've a Lost and Found piece in the latest Tin House about the hands-down winner for the best book title ever:
I don't know about you, but I wasted all but about fifteen minutes of my childhood. Those fifteen minutes were spent on a beach in Cornwall busting a nodule of quartz out of a fist-sized chunk of flint; thirty years later, I still have it somewhere in my office, in an old coffee can. Everything else I made during those years—the swords nailed together from old pickets, the forest forts that defended nothing from nobody, the poorly assembled Revell model cars with Tester's paint smeared lazily on them, the Sherman tanks drawn in near-medieval 2D perspective—they're all pretty much gone now.

Come to think of it, I haven't used the piece of quartz for much either.

But if I want reminding of where the rest of that time went, I have Robert Paul Smith's 1958 book How to Do Nothing With Nobody All Alone By Yourself. A step-by-step guide to grinding oyster shells against the front stoop for no damn reason, to turning buttons and string into buzzsaws that won't cut anything, and to making paper boomerangs that don't come back, Nothing is about what you do when you're nine years old and have neither money nor anyone paying much attention to you, and where your one guiding principle is that you avoid grown-ups and don't ask for help....

It is, in effect, a Dangerous Book for Boys for the 1950s. There's even a 20-page section on how to play Mumblety-Peg with a penknife -- something which no children's publisher in their right mind would dare to publish today.

Oh, the jolly lawsuits that would follow!

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