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8 How-To Books From 100 Years Ago That Are Still Useful

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Nineteenth and early 20th century authors knew a thing or two about baby-naming, football-watching, drink-making, and more.

1. How to Name a Baby without Handicapping It for Life, by Alexander McQueen

We're living in an age in which any noun, president's last name, or word ending in –"dyn" can be hung round a child's neck for the rest of his or her life. However, this is not the first time in history there has been a naming free-for-all. This book, written in 1922, lays out "The Seven Rules of Naming." Some of them fly in the face of modern convention (such as insisting that a name should be pronounceable and indicate gender clearly), but maybe that's a good thing. Names warned against include Chateau Thierry, Centennia, Liberty Bond, and Fritz De LaRue. Approved names include Cuthbert, Theophilus, Meta (for a girl only!), and Wertha.

2. The Perfect Course of Instruction in Hypnotism, Mesmerism, Clairvoyance, Suggestive Therapeutics, and the Sleep Cure: Giving Best Methods of Hypnotizing by Masters of the Science, by The Psychic Research Company

This manual covers just about every use of your latent clairvoyant forces and extrasensory abilities you can conjure. Whether you want to learn hypnotism to use in your dental practice (though you shouldn't call it "hypnotism"; your patients might think you're a quack) or simply render a neighbor catatonic with your mind, this book tells you how to do it. And there is no doubt that the information written here, in 1901, is just as accurate today as it ever was.

3. How to Mix Drinks, by Jerry Thomas

How often do you come across a mixology book that will tell you how to ferment your own old-school absinthe? (The secret is in how long you macerate the wormwood!) How to Mix Drinks is from 1862 and offers 600 drink recipes, most of which you've never heard of, and a few of which are illegal in this country. But really, you know you don't want to let your youth slip by without ever trying a Raspberry Shrub, a Yard of Flannel, or a Philadelphia Fish-House Punch.

4. How to Make a Shoe, by Jno. P. Headley

It isn't just that this 1882 book aims to teach that seldom-tackled craft of making your own shoes. This book does it entirely in rhyme. One long wonderful 119-page, shoe-cobbling poem. Observe: Nails are driven, both iron and steel / Around the top, in mind / And on the outside some prefer / A few more nails to find.

5. How to Hunt and Trap, by Joseph H. Batty

This book is part instruction manual and part awkward novel about men exploring their manliness. But aside from that, the camping, hunting, trapping, and pelt-preparing information is beautifully illustrated and still applicable to the modern wilderness aficionado. Just don't forget to cross check the author's 1887 list of potential animals to hunt with a modern Endangered Species list. Because, wow, there is a lot of crossover.

6. How to Write a Novel

Today, the marketplace is glutted with book-writing techniques and short cuts. So this 1901 approach actually has a freshness to it; a stern simplicity. This extremely thorough book offers examples of technique among "our young writers," such as H.G Wells, and helps you through some pitfalls that you think the internet has solved for you but actually hasn't (topography, scientific accuracy, grammar, and so on).

7. Football and How to Watch It, by Percy Duncan Haughton

There was a time when the majority of Americans didn't understand football, as opposed to now, when it appears to be only me. There is no guarantee that this book, written in 1922, will make the game clearer. But it does offer many detailed photographs and diagrams and as a bonus, a florid, Mr. Burns-esque narration, ("Hence, the two-hundred pound fat boy is fast disappearing, and in his place appear strong, versatile athletes who must of all things be possessed with that quality best described as the ability to handle themselves with dexterity and even grace.")

8. Kites: How to Make and How to Fly Them, by George J. Varney

When you made a kite in 1897, you created a masterpiece of engineering and aeronautic art. Materials had to be just right (no lightweight tear-proof plastics or nylon strings), folds and knots had to be specific. This book is not for the trifling kiter. If you think you have what it takes to make the Kite Nymph (pretty lady soaring like an angel above you) or Chinese kites that sing, or the double box Clayton kite that can be used for atmospheric experiments, take a look at his book.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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A Limited Edition, Handwritten Manuscript of The Great Gatsby Can Be Yours for $249
SP Books
SP Books

Fans of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby need to put this on their holiday wish list: The French manuscript publisher SP Books is releasing a deluxe, limited-edition version of Fitzgerald’s handwritten Gatsby manuscript.

A handwritten manuscript of 'The Great Gatsby' open to a page
SP Books

The 328-page, large-format edition is cloth-bound and features an ornamental, iron-gilded cover. The facsimile of Fitzgerald’s original manuscript shows how the author reworked, rewrote, and otherwise altered the book throughout his writing process, changing character’s names (Nick was named “Dud” at one point), cutting down scenes, and moving around where certain information was introduced to the plot, like where the reader finds out how Gatsby became wealthy, which in the original manuscript wasn’t revealed until the end of the book. For Fitzgerald superfans, it's also signed.

A page of the handwritten manuscript with a pen on it
SP Books

The publisher is only selling 1800 copies of the manuscript, so if you’re a lover of literary history, you’d better act fast.

It’s available from SP Books for $249.

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Pop Culture
An AI Program Wrote Harry Potter Fan Fiction—and the Results Are Hilarious
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

“The castle ground snarled with a wave of magically magnified wind.”

So begins the 13th chapter of the latest Harry Potter installment, a text called Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash. OK, so it’s not a J.K. Rowling original—it was written by artificial intelligence. As The Verge explains, the computer-science whizzes at Botnik Studios created this three-page work of fan fiction after training an algorithm on the text of all seven Harry Potter books.

The short chapter was made with the help of a predictive text algorithm designed to churn out phrases similar in style and content to what you’d find in one of the Harry Potter novels it "read." The story isn’t totally nonsensical, though. Twenty human editors chose which AI-generated suggestions to put into the chapter, wrangling the predictive text into a linear(ish) tale.

While magnified wind doesn’t seem so crazy for the Harry Potter universe, the text immediately takes a turn for the absurd after that first sentence. Ron starts doing a “frenzied tap dance,” and then he eats Hermione’s family. And that’s just on the first page. Harry and his friends spy on Death Eaters and tussle with Voldemort—all very spot-on Rowling plot points—but then Harry dips Hermione in hot sauce, and “several long pumpkins” fall out of Professor McGonagall.

Some parts are far more simplistic than Rowling would write them, but aren’t exactly wrong with regards to the Harry Potter universe. Like: “Magic: it was something Harry Potter thought was very good.” Indeed he does!

It ends with another bit of prose that’s not exactly Rowling’s style, but it’s certainly an accurate analysis of the main current that runs throughout all the Harry Potter books. It reads: “‘I’m Harry Potter,’ Harry began yelling. ‘The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!’”

Harry Potter isn’t the only work of fiction that Jamie Brew—a former head writer for ClickHole and the creator of Botnik’s predictive keyboard—and other Botnik writers have turned their attention to. Botnik has previously created AI-generated scripts for TV shows like The X-Files and Scrubs, among other ridiculous machine-written parodies.

To delve into all the magical fiction that Botnik users have dreamed up, follow the studio on Twitter.

[h/t The Verge]

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