Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

March 30, 2009

Diversions, Distractions and Diabolical Deeds: Entertainments for a Darkened Room

What a weekend!  The weather Saturday was amazing and facilitated long-distance trips to some Toronto booksellers I don’t usually have the pleasure of visiting.  They were very nice about letting me photograph some books and even nicer about letting me buy some, and a very good time was had by all involved.  My eight-month-old was awarded the “best behaved baby” award in two bookstores before having a total meltdown at the Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library, requiring my husband to have me paged from where I was hiding on the fourth floor- oops.  Still, the project was entirely successful!

I present to you the Inklings Community Book Collection for March – Diversions, Distractions and Diabolical Deeds: Entertainments for a Darkened Room, in honour of Earth Hour.


For most people who chose to participate in Earth Hour, the question was simply how to entertain themselves until the lights came back on.  I could have filled this section of the collection ten times over.  Filling the leisure time of non-work hours seems to have been the special concern, especially, of late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century persons.  I also doubt that we will see many more books of this type in the future. How to Watch TV (outside of a McLuhan-esque context), or Excelling at 101 Video Games don’t seem likely candidates for future publication.  So a glance back at these books is really a look at a vanishing world, one where entertainment was more involved than hitting a few buttons.

The Illustrated Book of Patience Games tr Professor Hoffman, George Routledge & Sons , 1920

Submitted by Susan, who found it at her cottage.

Susan says: “My contribution is not particularly clever but it is a book that reminds me of
times spent with my grandmother and family at the cottage, playing games under
coal oil lamps. Come to think of it, coal oil can’t be very ‘green’. How did
they make it, squeezing coal? I thought that was how diamonds were made…”

The Compleat Gamester, Or Instructions How to Play at All Manner of Usual and Most Genteel Games by Charles Cotton, Imprint Society, Barre, Massachusetts, 1970

Found at The Monkey’s Paw in Toronto, Ontario

This book, originally published in 1674, is divided into several general categories including card games, table games, board games, and outdoor games.  If card games and board games are too dull for you, Cotton includes more hearty activities like cock fighting, bowling and early forms of billiards.

Clog and Character Dances by Helen Frost, Barnes & Co. New York, 1924

Found at The Monkey’s Paw in Toronto, Ontario

Probably the most instructive guide to clog dances you’ll ever see.  Detailed instructions (“3 left, step right, place left heel forward; repeat”), illustrations and musical scores.  What better time to take up clogging than by candlelight with your friends?

Mr. Boston Official Bartender’s and Party Guide, Warner Books, New York & Boston, 2000

Found on my husband’s bookshelf.

This I figure typifies what most people did and do in their leisure time, dark or not.

The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights Deluxe Edition tr. Malcolm C. Lyons, Penguin Classics, 2008

Found in my dining room (Toronto, Ontario).

Storytelling and reading has always been a good evening pastime, but I didn’t want to include just every book ever so I chose two goodies.  The Arabian Nights is a story about storytelling and a lot of stories to be told.  No more iconic storyteller can be found, I contend, than Scheherazade.

Songs of the Sourdough by Robert Service, William Briggs, Toronto, 1908.

Found in my living room.

A little Canadian content.  Where Arabian Nights is classic bedtime reading, Service is the king of campfire reading.  Songs of the Sourdough includes the two most famous of Service’s poems, The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee.


The second category of books are those concerning the greater issues brought forth by Earth Hour – existing in a world without or with less electricity.  There is a large and growing body of literature on this subject, but I only snapped a couple.

Food Security for the Faint at Heart by Robin Wheeler,New Society Publishers, 2008

Found at the University of Toronto Bookstore, Toronto, Ontario.

Canning, pickling, foraging, freezing in the absence of a freezer and more!  Maybe you prepared your appetizers before the lights went out, but you could have prepared the fruits of your garden months in advance!

Lost Crafts: Rediscovering Traditional Skills by Una McGovern, Chambers, 2009

Found at the University of Toronto Bookstore, Toronto, Ontario.

The list of skills this book covers can only be described as “exhaustive”.  If I were about to begin life on an off-the-grid parcel of land, I’d want this book with me.

Mainspring by Jay Lake, Tor Books, 2007

Found at the The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy in Toronto, Ontario.

Those preparing for a fossil-fuel-free future might want to read up.  Lake’s alternate past is entirely powered by clockwork – including the cosmos.  I’d like a wind-up airship, thanks!

Diabolical Deeds

The dark, however brief, is good cover for all kinds of naughtiness.  The sinister among you can provide better examples than I.  I’m a Good Girl.

How to Commit a Murder by Danny Ahearn, Washburn, New York, 1930.

Found in my husband’s book collection.

In addition to murders, Ahearn advises on stick up a fur joint, muscle out rival gangs and set up a good con.  Useful stuff, actually.

Kama Sutra by Vatsyayana, Cosmopoli Kama Shastra Society, London, 1961

Found at The Monkey’s Paw in Toronto, Ontario.

I think this is pretty self explanitory.


I hope you all had a great weekend, whether you turned your lights off or not!  Special thanks to Susan for her contribution to the virtual collection.  Your prize is ready for delivery!

For those of you who want to play along next time, I have decided to do a collection once a month, on the last Friday of the month.  Tune in then!  I’ll try to make it worth your while.

5 thoughts on “Diversions, Distractions and Diabolical Deeds: Entertainments for a Darkened Room”

  1. JK says:

    Lovely, Charlotte! I neglected to meet the deadline thanks to the throes of illness, but as for my contributions, with a quick scan of my shelf, the rather obvious “Sex and the City” jumped out (more for title than content), as did Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, which riffed nicely on your Arabian Nights and conjured the need for storytelling against the dying of the light, as well as a new generation who carry the burden of the past and the hopes for a new world.

  2. RCA says:

    Now that I’ve seen this done, I will make an effort to find truly rare, obscure books. For this virtual collection, I wish I could have tracked down an original copy of “I Am Legend,” the first post-apocalyptic vampire story, and one that I read years ago. I don’t think it ever came out in hardcover. By Richard Matheson. Walker and Co. publishers, 1954.

    1. Charlotte says:

      Man, that would have been a great contribution! I probably could have found it at the Merrill Collection, too. Well, next time…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: