A Whole Book of Rube Goldberg Schemes

There’s nothing to match curling up with a good book when there’s a repair job to be done around the house. — Joe Ryan

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Public domain. Originally appeared in Collier’s.

One of my favorite events is our annual Friends of the Library Book Sale, . The last day of the sale is bag day where you acquire as many books as you can fit into a shopping bag all for a fixed price. It used to be a dollar, but this year it was four dollars, which is still a bargain. The thing that amazes me is how many classics and great books are still left on the last day.

Another feature of making this an annual trek is that you can trace your life interests based on what kinds of books you bring home. Having grown up in close proximity to New York, I often reflect that my bio could be written based on which parts of the City I visited in the various eras of my youth, from Yankee Stadium to Central Park to Greenwich Village to Soho to Madison Avenue.

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Photo by the author.

So it is with the bags of books I bring home. There was a time when I would scarf up classic literature and other times it would be history and biography. Friday I went for the art books, though I also found a number of Life magazines from 1971 or so that slid easily into the side of the bag. And I also brought home this small jewel of a book The Best of Rube Goldberg.

Reuben “Rube” Goldberg was an American cartoonist as well as author, and inventor. His cartoons are what made him famous, and rich. The cartoons were essentially depictions of ultra-complicated ways to do simple things. His first was appeared in 1914 and by 1928 he was pulling in $125,000 a year.

He also wrote articles and stories for magazines and even travelled some with a vaudeville act. These were the days before television and the Roaring Twenties to boot. Later in life he did political cartoons and even won a Pulitzer Prize for one depicting the dilemma of atomic power. Post-World War II he also devoted himself to being a serious sculptor.

Growing up I often heard the expression “that’s another Rube Goldberg scheme.” Everyone knew what it meant because his cartoons had been absorbed into pop culture. Games like Mouse Trap and Crazy Clock (1964 and 1965) capitalized on this notion of comical contraptions designed to achieve a simple end, further cementing Goldberg’s influence. Years later our daughter built a huge and hugely complicated Rube Goldberg sequence in our basement, which should have been filmed or documented and was probably photographed.

Goldberg was a contemporary of another cartoonist who made it big in pop culture in the pre-TV era, Robert Ripley, whom I interviewed here at Ennyman’s Territory in 2008.

If you like quirky stories, here’s a link to my Featured eBook of the Day: Newmanesque, free for members of Amazon Prime.

Have a very special day.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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