Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings

By Paul Ruffin | Go to book overview

Some Rare and Unusual Books

At the Texas Book Festival in Austin this year I encountered some quite unusual books. Lining shelves and laid out on tables were books on everything from aardvarks to zymurgy (the branch of chemistry that deals with the process of fermentation, a fact that everyone should know). I mean to tell you, it was simply mind-boggling to discover what Texans are writing about and Texas presses are publishing.

Now, here are three unusual books that one university press has available: The Development of the Rudder; Ships’ Bilge Pumps: A History of Their Devel opment, 1500–1900; and Those Vulgar Tubes. Of these I found the last one the most enticing. I have really never given so much as a mote of thought to the evolution of rudders or the history of bilge pumps between 1500 and 1900 (or any other time period), and I doubt that anyone reading this has, with the possible exception of former colleague Phil Parotti in the SHSU English Department, who was a naval officer and may well have had full Naval Academy courses on rudders and bilge pumps. He has never mentioned these subjects to me.

Ah, but Those Vulgar Tubes—now, that’s a book that ought to be well worth the reading. The subtitle is External Sanitary Accommodations aboard European Ships of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries. We’re talking toilets here, “the downward trunking through which effluvia was directed into the sea.” Effluvia. Now there’s a euphemism for you. Can’t you just hear your wife say, “Honey, scrape that dog effluvia off your boot before you come in this house!”

The title Those Vulgar Tubes is purported to have come from a poem in which a ship’s chaplain begs to use the officers’ inside water closets instead of the “vulgar tubes” the common sailors were required to use. It seems an illsuited subject for poetry, but who am I to say? As soon as I can get my hands on this book, I’ll review it for you. Sounds fascinating.

In the booth of a rival university press I discovered an unusual book titled Freshwater Mussels of Texas—big at 8½ [H11003] 11 inches, 224 pages, with 144 color

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Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xii
  • Things Literary, More or Less 1
  • Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur 3
  • The Mosquito 15
  • The Lady with the Quick Simile 19
  • Workshopping a Cowboy Poem 22
  • Was Emily Mad or Merely Angry? 28
  • On the Death of Edgar Allan Poe 31
  • Making Preparations for the Tour 34
  • The Girl in the Clean, Well-Lighted Place 37
  • Explaining a Poem to a Student 40
  • Some Rare and Unusual Books 43
  • Tales from Kentucky Lawyers 45
  • The Boy Who Spoke in Hymns 48
  • Making a Dam in Segovia 51
  • Just Thinking about Shit 54
  • To San Juan and Back 60
  • On Likker and Guns 81
  • Drinking 83
  • Rats! 100
  • The Bowhunter Asks for My Bladder 117
  • The Day the Sharpshooter Killed Something He Didn’t Intend to 120
  • Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, off to the Gun Show We Go … 128
  • From "Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White but Not Quite Trash" (an as-Yet-Unpublished Memoir) 135
  • Trains 137
  • Learning about Sex 143
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