Friday, September 29, 2006

New Issue of "The Avid Collector"

Abebooks just sent out the fall issue of its "Avid Collector" newsletter, which features "the toughest question in the book collecting world", a very interesting interview with dealer Priscilla Juvelis, some more questions and answers from booksellers, and profiles of two LibraryThing/Abebooks users (one of whom happens to be yours truly). And more! So check it out, and if you're not already an Avid Collector subscriber, you can sign up here.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Brits Hopping Mad at Smiley Sentence

The Times reports that British Library officials are displeased with the 42-month/$1.9 million fine sentenced slapped on E. Forbes Smiley. Scholarship and collections director Clive Field told the paper "In the library’s view, a term of imprisonment of 42 months - equivalent to around 12 days for each of the 98 maps Smiley admitted to stealing - and financial restitution of £1 million, do not adequately reflect the seriousness of the offences. Nor do they represent a commensurate punishment of Smiley for his serial thefts, or a serious deterrent to other would-be thieves of cultural property. It will go down in criminal and library history as one of the largest, most prolonged, premeditated and systematic of all thefts from libraries, and with no mitigating circumstances."

Can't help but agree.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Smiley Gets 42 Months in Federal Sentence

In today's federal sentencing hearing, map thief E. Forbes Smiley was handed a prison term of 42 months, according to the Hartford Courant. "U.S. District Judge Janet Arterton said she wanted to send a message to deter other would-be art and book thieves. The judge also ordered Smiley to pay $1.9 million to the map dealers and collectors who unwittingly bought the stolen goods." A report in the Boston Globe suggests that the $1.9 million figure may be subject to change.

Smiley spoke briefly during today's court appearance, saying in part "Your honor, I have hurt many people. I stole very valuable research materials from institutions that made it their business to provide those materials to the public for valuable research. I am deeply ashamed of having done that. I cannot imagine the pain and the anger that I made them suffer."

Federal sentencing guidelines had indicated that Smiley's sentence should have numbered from 57 and 71 months, so the judge's ruling dipped well below the minimum there. That's unfortunate.

Book Review: "Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage"

Dr. Johnson & Mr. Savage is what might be referred to as a microbiography: author Richard Holmes offers full portraits of neither title character, but rather an examination of the short period when the lives of Samuel Johnson - lexicographer, author, poet, and biographical subject extraordinaire - and Richard Savage - poet, rogue, and murderer - converged for a time. Savage, Johnson's first biographical subject himself, made Johnson's acquaintance soon after that young provincial arrived in London, and their companionship lasted for just about two years, until Savage departed for "retirement" in Wales.

Holmes has little to go on: while it's known that Johnson and Savage knew each other, "there are no authenticated letters between the two men, no mention of each other in private journals, not even a single surviving account from an eyewitness of seeing the two men in each other's company." And yet he's done quite a lot with what few scraps of evidence that do exist, creating an interesting web of narrative around a skeleton of knowable facts. While I am afraid that his speculatory meanderings (particularly in the realm of psychology) get the better of him at times (I felt the same about Greenblatt's recent biography of Shakespeare), Holmes generally at least informs the reader of his upcoming leaps, which is comforting if not exculpatory.

As the author notes, the Johnson we meet cavorting with Savage is not the frumpy but majestic old fellow that Boswell has left us, but a young, desperate man out to make his way in the world, captivated by this strange, conflicted, down-and-out poet. It's another side to Johnson that is interesting to find, even within Holmes' imperfect framework.

Banned Books Week

I almost forgot! It's the 25th annual Banned Books Week. The ALA site has lots of goodies, including a history of banned books and challenges, statistics on banned books, and all sorts of kitsch for sale. They note in a press release that the Harry Potter series tops the list of "most-challenged books in the 21st century."

Google has set up an "Explore Banned Books" page, where you can check out forty-two oft-banned titles via GoogleReader.

And over at LibraryThing, they're running a "Banned Books Bookpile" photo contest.

After you've checked out all those links, go celebrate your freedom to read.

Smiley's Day in Court (1 of 2)

Map thief E. Forbes Smiley's federal sentencing is scheduled for today, and the Bangor News has a good pre-sentencing wrapup of the case. I'll have information on the sentence up as soon as I get it. His state sentencing date is now October 13.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Book Review: "Patriotic Treason"

John Brown must be a tricky subject for any biographer. In Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America, Evan Carton (professor of English and director of the Humanities Institute at the University of Texas at Austin) has created a visionary Brown, whose "'madness' and 'treason' remain necessary" even today. Because Brown's "vision" was rooted in what Carton sees (and Brown saw) as the lessons of Scripture (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) and the Declaration of Independence (all men are created equal), Carton excuses his attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry and his calls for a violent slave as the actions of a man ahead of his time, seeking to fulfill American ideals of social justice and equality that remain elusive to this day.

In his afterword, Carton writes that many people with whom he had casual conversations in the course of writing this book believed Brown was black, and that many others thought he was crazy ("mentally unbalanced, a religious fanatic, a violent sociopath, or all three"). He takes previous biographers to task for their judgements of Brown, and adds "The historical misconception of Brown as a madman and the popular misconception of him as a black man, proceed from a common source: the stunted moral imagination and the incomplete embrace of democratic principles of the society that shapes the conventional assumptions of its historians and its ordinary citizens alike."

Well, I can't speak for the people who thought Brown was black, but as for the conclusion that he was more than a little bit off his rocker in one way or the other, that's frankly hard to escape. Brown refused to listen to wise counsel from, well, just about everyone that his foolhardy raid on Harpers Ferry was sure to be a disaster. He drew up a bizarre "Provisional Constitution and Ordinance for the People of the United States", which he intended to promulgate after his show of force. His religious fundamentalism and marytr complex are well known and documented, even by Carton. Sure, with the benefit of hindsight and our twenty-first century ideas, Brown's actions can seem less fanatical (or rather, more justifiable, perhaps) than they were in 1859 ... but I am hard pressed to think that we today would view a similar action in a positive light (in fact, such an action today would almost certainly be considered terrorism, whatever its object).

For its flawed interpretation, Carton's book is still a fairly good outline of Brown's life, particularly for the Bloody Kansas period. I would have liked more on the Harpers Ferry conspiracy, particularly on the involvement of key Northern abolitionist figures, but on the whole the biographical work was well done (aside from Carton's habit of adding dialogue and sketching in unknown details, which I found unnecessary). Of course, the perennial footnote problem was present here; while some quotes were sourced, they were not indicated in the text.

This new account of John Brown's life and activities, while interesting and an intriguing read, was just a bit too admiring for my taste.

Making BI Interesting at Williams

Instructing first-year college students on the resources their library offers is one of the toughest jobs college librarians face - tough in that the students think they don't need it, while the librarians know they do. At Williams College this year (as last), the library staff got creative, and it seems to have paid off. Well done!

Monday, September 25, 2006

An Ode to the Secondhand Book

Columnist Karen Turner has some thoughts on the used-book climate in Montpelior, Vermont ... and on one special book she found there. Well worth a read. (h/t Bibliophile Bullpen)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Early Carolina Documents Discovered

The Scotsman reports that several important documents pertaining to the early history of the Carolina colonies have been found in the archives at Aberdeen University, Scotland. The papers, which include the first known map of Charles Towne (first permanent English settlement in what would become the Carolinas), were among a collection belonging to James Fraser, who tutored one of Charles II's illegitimate sons in the 1660s.

Fraser's cousin Jean Boyd sent along the manuscript description of Charles Towne after a visit there; the document is believed to date from about 1691, twenty years or so after the establishment of the settlement.

"It includes a description of Native Americans, plants, wildlife, the price of goods and the local cuisine. The map shows a handful of streets, two forts and houses scattered in the woods.

Historians spent months translating the French script, which describes the rivers being full of fish, with birds, including pelicans and kingfishers. The creeks, he says, are full of crocodiles, some 22ft long.

He also recounts trade with Native Americans involving swapping skins of bears, racoons, otters and foxes for guns, lead and gunpowder, knives, rum and tobacco."

A fascinating find!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Government Makes Smiley Sentencing Recommendation

In court papers filed this week, federal prosecutors urged Judge Janet Arterton to sentence confessed map thief E. Forbes Smiley based on the standard sentencing guidelines. Smiley's attorney has urged a lighter sentence, while counsel for the victim libraries have called for a longer prison term. Under the guidelines, Smiley should be sentenced to jail for between 57 and 71 months, a pay a fine ranging between $10,000 and $100,000.

U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor's sentencing recommendation says in part "The government joins the victim institutions in condemning the defendant's reprehensible conduct in the theft of 98 antique maps, six of which will likely never be recovered and a number of the remaining maps altered from their original condition. The government also calls for punishment on behalf of the victim dealers who Smiley defrauded by selling them stolen maps and who have suffered severe financial and institutional harm."

O'Connor's pleading argues that while Smiley's cooperation should be taken into account, "that cooperation, along with a number of other grounds advanced by Mr. Reeve, was not enough to warrant a sentence more lenient than the guidelines." Like Reeve, however, O'Connor argues against the BL's memorandum in favor of a longer sentence than the guidelines provide.

Smiley's current federal sentencing date is Wednesday, September 27.

More on the Adams Marginalia Exhibit

The Boston Globe today runs a nice profile of the John Adams marginalia exhibit at the BPL, which I posted on earlier this month. I haven't gotten there yet, but I intend to go see the exhibit as soon as I can.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Book Review: "Financial Founding Fathers"

Economics professor Robert E. Wright and independent scholar David J. Cowen have teamed up to produce Financial Founding Fathers: The Men Who Made America Rich (just out from the University of Chicago Press). Loosely modeled on Joseph Ellis' Founding Brothers, Wright and Cowen's book is a collection of short biographical profiles which highlight nine men for their important roles in the formation of the American financial infrastructure during the first decades of the Republic.

Some of the subjects here are household names (Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson); others aren't but probably should be (Albert Gallatin, Robert Morris). All were instrumental at their own times in getting America's economy through the Revolution, out of the post-Revolutionary doldrums and then on a firm footing through the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Wright and Cowen argue, successfully in my view, that Gallatin's decision to utilize Hamilton's system rather than dismantling it was an important (and wise) choice, and make the interesting argument that perhaps Jackson's decision to nix the renewal of the Second Bank is not as repugnant to Hamilton's vision as many have assumed.

I must quibble, as I often do, with the lack of proper references here; while each chapter gets a short bibliographical essay, there are no citations, and only "the most important, most available sources that aided our story" are mentioned at all. This is most unfortunate, particularly with a book like this which offers so many jumping-off points for additional scholarship.

One other thing really bothered me about this book, and that was the way the authors titled their chapters. Hamilton is "The Creator," Tench Coxe "The Judas," Gallatin "The Savior." Stephen Girard is canonised as "The Saint," Robert Morris slapped as the "Fallen Angel." In their introduction (unsurprisingly called "In the Beginning") Wright and Cowen note that they "have linked a 'religious' motif to each of our financial founding fathers. The motifs play homage to the very old notion that there might be a higher power at work guiding the nation and also clarify each character's role in our story." This contrivance is unnecessary and hokey; the book would have been better without it.

Nonetheless, a readable introduction to American economic history and some its greatest founding characters.

Colgate University's Special Collections Profiled

The Oneida Daily Dispatch has an interesting look at Colgate University's Special Collections department, highlighting their Shakespeare First Folio which will go on display next year for the first time in recent memory. The copy was donated to the library by a member of the Colgate family in 1942, and was purchased at auction a few years earlier for $7,500 (remember, the Williams copy sold at Sotheby's in July for nearly $5.2 million).

After discussing the Colgate First Folio, the article recounts some of the most interesting First Folio anecdotes and stories, including the theft of the Bishop Cosin Library (Durham University) copy in 1998 and the loss of the Griswold copy with the sinking of the Arctic in 1854. It also discusses the locations of many of the c. 147 extant copies.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

New Tolkien Book in April

You've probably all read about this already, but since I forgot to blog it yesterday, Houghton Mifflin announced this week that they'll be the American publisher for a new JRR Tolkien epic, The Children of Húrin, to be released in April of 2007. The work, which Tolkien never completed, was written on and off from 1918 through the author's death in 1973.

Tolkien's son Christopher has "reconstructed and edited" the manuscripts into a coherent product, saying "It has seemed to me for a long time that there was a good case for presenting my father's long version of the legend of the Children of Hurin as an independent work, between its own covers, with a minimum of editorial presence, and above all in continuous narrative without gaps or interruptions, if this could be done without distortion or invention, despite the unfinished state in which he left some parts of it."

The Children of Húrin "has been referred to and extracted in other Tolkien work," and reportedly has characters and themes similar to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

More from GalleyCat, NYT

Smiley Requests Leniency; Sentencing Postponed

The Yale Daily News reports that E. Forbes Smiley's sentencing on state charges in the map thefts case has been postponed until October 13. "Officials from the New Haven Superior Court Clerk's Office said they were not aware of the reason for the delay." His federal sentencing date is currently scheduled for September 27.

In other news, Smiley has requested leniency in sentencing on the heels of a British Library request for a longer prison sentence than prosecutors have agreed to accept. Kim Martineau of the Hartford Courant writes that Smiley's attorney "argued in legal papers Tuesday that the judge should take into account his broad cooperation and years of volunteer work at soup kitchens and homeless shelters. He asked US District Judge Janet Arterton for no more than three years in prison at his sentencing next week."

Meanwhile, Smiley has - within the last few weeks - miraculously "remembered" two more maps that he stole, "throw[ing] fuel on the libraries' fears that he has more secrets to share." I'll say it certainly does that!

Robert Goldman, representing the BL, said of Smiley's argument that his cooperation should be taken into account "It's like asking us to thank the murderer who dismembered the body then returned the body parts."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Another Massive-Scale Library Thief

A 22-year old student library assistant at Texas Tech has been indicted for the theft of more than $75,000 worth of library books which he sold to an online textbook buyer, the AP reports, drawing on an earlier article in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (h/t Vic at Tavistock Books). Johnathan Nunley used a late-night circ desk shift to pilfer more than 1,000 newly-arrived library items and arranged to ship them to McKenzie Books (

Nunley removed pages from the books which contained library identification marks, and tried to hide other identifiers using magic marker. He had received almost $15,000 for those books that he stole-and-sold.

The indictment, handed down late last month, was on a third degree felony theft charge, which can carry a term of up to ten years in prison.

Texas Tech plans to change its student employment policy in the wake of the Nunley thefts, and may implement video surveillance of the circulation area.

For shame, for shame. I hope he gets the full ten years, and I hope that as with the Smiley thefts and others, libraries realize that they must become both more vigilant and more diligent about training their staff members as to the mission of the library (Miles Harvey's The Island of Lost Maps should be required reading, I think). Also, I must reserve some blame for the bookseller, who ought to have noticed Nunley's obscuring tactics long before a thousand books had come their way.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Book Review: "Banvard's Folly"

Paul Collins (of Weekend Stubble blog-fame) offers up quite a fantastic cast of forgotten characters in his 2001 book Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of Renowned Obscurity, Famous Anonymity, and Rotten Luck. Collins writes in the preface that he grew curious about all the "other" people that one finds mentioned in historical documents - not the ones we know, but those we've never heard of: "... buried in these footnotes of history are brilliant, fatally flawed thinkers who rose to dizzying heights of intellect and even fame, only to come crashing down into disaster, ridicule, or just the utter silence of oblivion."

From George Psalmanazar, an eighteenth-century Dutch huckster who pretended to be from Formosa and fooled most of London for a few years (and even wrote a lengthy history of the island made up of complete nonsense) to Concord grape developer Ephriam Wales Bull and Civil War veteran A.J. Pleasonton - who was convinced that sitting under blue glass would cure what ails you - and beyond, Collins' subjects never fail to amuse, intrigue, and tickle the curiosity. As a source of short character sketches of these folks, it seems unlikely that Banvard's Folly will be surpassed anytime soon.

While there were a couple of minor errors in the book (Edgar Allan Poe's death was not caused by rabies - even if that theory has come into popularity recently - and Jefferson was not inaugurated in 1806), Collins has done his research well, and it shows. I don't hesitate at all in recommending this book; it's well worth a read.

Maryland's "Birds of America" Prints Conserved

As part of a larger preservation project, the Birds of America prints belonging to the Maryland State Law Library have recently undergone conservation treatment, the Baltimore Sun reports. The overall project ran to $854,000, of which $300,000 was used for Audubon's birds. Other aspects included an "overhaul of the rare book room and the addition of a new display case, which are to be unveiled midweek."

The work on the library's prints was done at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia, with the last batch of birds due to be returned to the library by the end of the year. This set, according to conservators, had "a hard life" - the prints were glued to fabric, severely trimmed for rebinding in 1921 (which included cutting off the names at the bottom of the prints). "Fingerprints, smudges, wrinkles, blotches, rubbed-off color, tears, even drips from beverages marred the pages." Yikes!

"Conservation efforts began with unbinding the prints from four books. It included cleaning pages with specialized solutions, bleaching the stains, flattening the paper, mending tears, painting the cracks and placing the prints in thick mats. Discolorations and creases remain, but they are less noticeable than before." A new display case will highlight two prints at a time, to be rotated each week.

During the conservation, five of the 435 plates were found to be missing, their fate unknown.

The article adds that the first librarian at the library (which was formed originally as "
a repository for official, valuable and reference material for Maryland"), David Ridgely, subscribed to Audubon's work as it was being released. The total cost of the set then would have been around $1,000.

According to the paper, the first two birds to be displayed in the new cases will be of special significance to Maryland: the Baltimore oriole and the raven.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

To Talk of Many Things

A few short pointers to exciting news and posts from around the book-world:

- The Independent reports that, eh, similarities have been discovered between some lyrics on Bob Dylan's new album and the writings of little-known Confederate poet Henry Timrod. Timrod biographer Walter Cisco says "It's amazing. There is no question that is where it came from. It's too much to be a coincidence. I'm just delighted that Timrod is getting some recognition." Scott Warmuth, a DJ from New Mexico, discovered the connections between Dylan and Timrod ... using the Internet (h/t Shelf Life).

- Joyce at Bibliophile Bullpen points us to some newly-digitized (and free) books on bookbinding, and also has updated the Bibilophile Bullpen Calendar, where she's listing just about every "biblio-ish event" that comes her way. This is a fabulous resource, and many thanks to Joyce for putting it together.

- A thousand-year old manuscript stolen from the Al-AwQaf library in Mosul (Iraq) more than thirty years ago has been returned. It was recovered in 2003 when a man attempted to sell it at a British auction house. The manuscript, which dates back to 1013, is worth at least £250,000. (h/t Shelf Life).

- Paul Collins highlights a few "weird books" this weekend. Incidentally, I'm reading Collin's Banvard's Folly these days and will have some thoughts on that once I finish.

Friday, September 15, 2006

ILAB Fair in NY

The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) is holding a book fair this weekend at NYC's Javits Center, which has attracted quite a nice selection of exhibitors. Also, Fine Books & Collections will have a booth, where Nicholas Basbanes will be signing books on Saturday prior to the Grolier Club reception for the winners of the Collegiate Book-Collecting Championship. So if you're in New York this weekend and in need of something to do (or just want to look at what I'm sure will be some spectacular books), here's your chance.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Book Review: "All the King's Men"

I'm not entirely sure how it came about that I hadn't ever read Robert Penn Warren's masterpiece novel All the King's Men (1946), which is of course loosely based on the life of Louisiana's "Kingfish," Huey Long. For a long time it was one of those books that I knew I'd get to someday, but that day just had't arrived yet. A nice copy came through the store the other day and I picked it up to read ... and then just that very evening I saw the t.v. ad for the new film adaptation that's coming out shortly with Sean Penn as Willie Stark. I'd like to think that the trailer hadn't slipped into my subconscious and prompted me to grab the book, but I'm not sure that's the case.

Either way, I really enjoyed this book, and can't help but think it is, in fact, one of the best, if not the single best, American political novel. Beautifully written, with a narrative flavor distinctly its own, All the King's Men is a tale of politics at its worst, and of one man's struggle to come to grips with his role in a political arena which at once repulses him and ensnares him. Also, this book is the model for Joe Klein's Primary Colors (1996), which mirrors many of the themes in All the King's Men.

I'm sure that this will be a book I come back to many times, and I recommend it highly.

Smiley in the News

Confessed map thief E. Forbes Smiley will be sentenced on September 27, and this week has seen some new calls for a more severe punishment. The New York Times reports today that Robert Goldman, the lawyer for the British Library, has requested that judges impose a sentence of at least 78-97 months jail time on Smiley, rather than the 57-71 months agreed to by Smiley's lawyers and prosecutors.

Goldman's pleading suggests that federal sentencing guidelines "substantially understate the seriousness of the offense," and concludes that "The case of United States v. Smiley has made painfully clear that Smiley created his marketplace and built his inventory through the systematic looting of the world’s great libraries."

Smiley attorney Richard Reeve called the BL's plea "very interesting, but the reality is that map has been recovered. It’s going back to the British Library." He added that Goldman "ignores a central part of this case, which is that the libraries are getting back maps that they would never have gotten were it not for Mr. Smiley’s cooperation." Uh, Mr. Reeve, I think you're ignoring a central part of this case: the maps would never have left the libraries without the nefarious and illegal actions of your sleazeball client.

The Associated Press and Hartford Courant have similar articles. The Courant also has a Smiley timeline.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Bibliothecary's Lists

Using Paul Collins' post about the five books everyone should own as his springboard, Ed at Bibliothecary has been compiling a few lists of his own, which I've been enjoying very much. On Monday he offered "The five books I have yet to tire of that I can pick up and reread at
any time, no matter my mood."

Tuesday brought "
Great books that I have started to read more than once, but for some reason or other did not finish, not because I didn't like the book, just because something interrupted and I moved on to other books and have always regretted not finishing the book, but am sure I will one day get back to reading." Wednesday's was "Writers or books that other people have praised to the high heavens, but I have read and not only think that their work is total crap, but I curse the heavens for the time lost in reading their drivel."

While I might have chosen slightly different works for the Monday and Wednesday lists, I think Ed's got most of them just about right. What will he have in store for us today?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Brattle's Ken Gloss Profiled

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette today profiles Ken Gloss, the owner of Boston's Brattle Book Shop (one of my regular stops).

Yale Law Receives Book-Loan

The Association of the Bar of the City of New York has deposited nearly 1,300 volumes of Roman and canon law with the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale Law School, the Yale Daily News reports. Librarian Mike Widener "said the acquisition of the volumes is important because of the wide-ranging effects Roman and canon law have had on shaping modern law in Europe and elsewhere."

The idea for the transfer of the books came from Blair Kauffman, a librarian and professor at the Law School, who is also on the board of advisors for the New York City Bar. He said he started developing the idea almost a decade ago, while on a tour of the Library of the Association of the Bar's basement stacks. ... Kauffman said he proposed the idea of moving the books from the bar association's library to the Yale Law Library a few years ago, and while it was well received, it took time to receive official approval."

After the cataloging process is complete, the volumes will be available to the Yale community in about a year, the paper notes.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Creating a Writers' Archive

The Scotsman reports that the National Library of Scotland has secured a £1.8 million grant for the creation of a "digital repository" consisting of "blogs, journals and e-mails written by leading Scots."

Digital library manager Simon Bains said of the project "We won't be preserving everything - we'll select what appears to be of cultural significance from online journals, websites, blogs and e-mails. We'll be harvesting the work of prominent cultural figures, but also other interesting social history documents." The archive is scheduled to launch in 2008.

Five Books Everyone Should Own, and a Tricky Game Show

Paul Collins' latest posts are on the Festivaletteratura, a large literary festival in Montova, Italy where he's been spending some time. Sounds like a fantastic experience, even if, as Paul notes, Italian interviewers really liked to ask him to name five books that he thought everyone should own.

They dragged answers out of him, but he writes "I'm not sure that I can explain my resistance to issuing a personal canon, but I'm even more bewildered by the desire for one. To, the personal search for books is at least half the point: and it is utterly dependent on whatever odd cicrumstances, moods, and places happen to converge on any given day. Moreover, my stock of books constantly shifts every time I move house. I reevaluate what each book means to me, and whether I even want to keep it around. But in retrospect, I suppose the question was really a simpler one, and had little to do with canons at all. At least, I hope so. At its root, it is simply a variation on 'Tell us about yourself.' Strangely, for a memoirist, I really have no idea how to answer that question either."

I agree, I don't understand why anyone would want a list like that. I hope nobody ever gives me one (or asks me for one!). I'm always happy to give out recommendations, but I'd never presume to tell someone that any book is a "must-have."

Paul's second new post is about an old Italian game show which sounds quite hilarious.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Some Book-Gems at Upcoming Philly Auction

Next Thursday, September 14, Freeman's Auctioneers in Philadelphia will host a sale of rare books and manuscripts, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Among the highlights:

- One of two known Providence-imprint copies of the "Declaration of the Representatives of the United Colonies of North America, now met in General Congress at Philadelphia, setting forth Causes and Necessity of their taking up Arms", issued in July, 1775 by the Second Continental Congress. The pre-sale estimate on this item is $25,000-$35,000.

- A second edition folio of Thomas Jeffreys' The American Atlas: a Geographical Description of the Whole Continent of America (1778), with thirty maps. Estimated at $40,000-$60,000.

- Several Audubon items, including a first octavo edition of the Birds of America (seven volumes, 1840-1844), a later octavo edition (eight volumes, 1870-1871), a first octavo edition of the Viviparous Quadrupeds (three volumes, 1849-1854) and various lots of prints from the octavo and the elephant folio editions of Birds (the latter including his American Pipit, Brown Lark, and Wood Pewee).

- First editions of Bram Stoker's Dracula, JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit, HG Wells' The Time Machine, Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, AA Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh (signed by Milne and the illustrator); a second edition of Boswell's Life of Johnson ...

- Many early American newspapers, containing contemporary accounts of such events as the Battle of Bunker Hill, Benedict Arnold's treason, Washington's death, and the Burr/Hamilton duel.

Quite an interesting selection; were I to be in Philadelphia next week I'd be very tempted to go watch the bidding and see how things fare.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Sobel-Gingerich Interview

Harvard Bookstore has posted a very interesting interview between authors Dava Sobel (Galileo's Daughter, Planets) and Owen Gingerich (The Book Nobody Read, God's Universe), which makes for fascinating reading. It focuses mainly on the intersections of science and religion. Gingerich will be speaking at Harvard Bookstore on Friday, October 20 about his new book, as well.

Book Review: "The Affected Provincial's Companion"

Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy's The Affected Provincial's Companion, Volume One: A Bounteous Selection of Essays, Philosophical Diagrams, Poetry, and Other Such Arcadian Follies Concerning the Art of Curious Living and the Reintroduction of Ancient Charm into This Vale of Mud and Tears Known Heretofore as the Modern Life is an bizarre little collection of essays, fashion tips, mediocre poetry, ribaldry, etc., in the tradition of McSweeneys. Beautifully designed by Bloomsbury (check out the website, which is also great), this is a nice little bedside book, good for a chuckle (or an eye-roll) now and then.

Take the Gloves Off!

An article in Monday's Guardian has prompted much discussion in book circles about the long-present "white gloves question." The piece stems from a new paper written by consultant Cathleen Baker and Randy Silverman, a preservation librarian at the University of Utah. In their paper, "Misperceptions about White Gloves" [PDF], Baker and Silverman argue that gloves often do more harm than good to paper materials by "blunting the sense of touch," and impairing sensory perception. They suggest that clean, dry hands are much better suited to handle books and manuscripts than fumbly gloved fingers.

In the Guardian, reporter Jackie Dent examines some differing white-glove use policies (yes at Trinity College in Dublin, no at the British Library). BL preservation coordinator Sarah Jane Jenner demonstrated the impact of gloves for Dent, having her try to turn brittled pages with white gloves on: "It is practically impossible to turn the pages properly, and I clumsily reach for large chunks at a time. Parts of brittle Paul's Epistles crumble; my hand slides all over the page. Gloveless, however, I can effortlessly turn the pages."

After reviewing the literature, Silverman and Baker conclude that widespread white-glove use only has come about within the last twenty years, "probably driven by the good intentions of some curators with ready access to archival supply catalogues in which vendors have increasingly represented glove-use as a standard component of library and archival practice."

There has been no defense of the white glove (at least none that I've seen) in the wake of these articles, and I think it's safe to say that its use for books and manuscripts is on the wane (for photographs, negatives, and some three-dimensional objects the question is still open and the jury still very much out). But, old (or even relatively new, in this case) habits die hard, and some in the field will likely continue to make use of gloves in the near-term ... even if they dare not say so publicly.

(h/t to Everett Wilkie for the link to Silverman's paper)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Civil War Records Stolen

American Libraries Direct reports that two Civil War documents on display at the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina were stolen over the weekend. The items removed were a "handwritten furlough for a Confederate soldier and a certificate of medical examination for a slave." Motive and culprit are unclear.

Update on Apianus Theft

Author Owen Gingerich has raised questions about the AP account of the theft of a sixteenth-century astronomy book by Petrus Apianus (which I commented on yesterday).

Gingerich writes "Note that there is something very fishy about this AP story. The Astronomicum Caesareum was published in 1540 and is worth about £200,000. Apianus' Cosmographia of 1533 is worth £20,000 by a stretch. I made a special trip to Kremsmunster hoping to see a Copernicus once reported there, but got a very chilly reception. Had I suspected there was an Astronomicum Caesareum there, I would have collated it and thus had a detailed description of the volume, if that is really what they had and had loaned to the Peuerbach exhibition."

Exactly what volume was stolen from Peuerbach seems to be up in the air; I wondered about the date (and commented as I did only because there was an OCLC record for a 1532 edition as reported), but I'll leave it to the experts to figure this one out. Hopefully it will resolve itself soon, and I'll update this as I can.

Rare Shakespeare Books on Display

If you'll be in Stratford this weekend, you might want to stop by the Shakespeare Centre on Henley Street, which will be offering open tours of its facilities and displaying rare books, manuscripts and other items from its collections which are not normally displayed. According to the Coventry Evening Telegraph, the Shakespeare centre "is one of thousands of historic buildings across England throwing its doors open as part of Heritage Open Days 2006."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Secrets Out

- "Project X" is now revealed: it's former Diana butler Paul Burrell's latest tell-all, The Way We Were. According to a statement from publisher William M. Morrow, the book "takes the reader into the lively day-to-day life at Kensington Palace and includes, for the first time ever, a uniquely personal record of that time." GalleyCat adds more, with contributor Sarah noting "That very loud sound you're hearing right now? That's me rolling my eyes and groaning at the same time." Yup, me too.

- Another mystery was de-mystified over the weekend, as the "AN Wilson is a sh*t" perpetrator came clean: as guessed by many, it was in fact rival Betjeman biographer Bevis Hillier.

Book Review: "Horace Greeley"

Historian Robert C. Williams has penned the first full-length biography of 19th-century editor and presidential contender Horace Greeley in decades. Horace Greeley: Champion of American Freedom is a fair, readable account of Greeley's life and career, based around Williams' central thesis that Greeley worked tirelessly to promote the cause of "freedom" (defined here as "the opportunity to improve oneself and society through social and economic labor and reform").

An interesting character (comparisons could be drawn with that other famous 19th-century American whose biography I reviewed last month, Henry Ward Beecher), Greeley's opinions reached the kitchen tables and parlors of millions of Americans through his editorials and other writings in the New York Tribune, as well as his several books and speeches. A reformer, sometimes pragmatic and sometimes decidedly otherwise, Greeley believed (against all evidence) that if left alone, men would function for the good of themselves and of society.

Greeley's long-standing and petty grudge against William H. Seward and Thurlow Weed (for not paying enough attention to him and then refusing to offer him Seward's seat in the Senate in 1861) has always left a bitter taste in my mouth about Greeley, as have his inexplicable political contortions during the 1864 presidential campaign and his decision to accept the Democratic nomination for president in 1872 (he had already been nominated by the breakaway Liberal Republicans) even in the face of his strong opposition to Democratic policies. It is not to be regretted (Grant's second term notwithstanding) that Greeley failed to win the election that fall. As an editor, his words mattered - as a politician, his actions indicated that ambition overrode principle.

Williams' prose is at times clunky and repetitive (I maintain it is rarely necessary to say the same thing more than once or maybe twice), and it is impossible to get away from the near-constant reminders of his thesis. However, for anyone interested in the life of Mr. Greeley, this book will serve well.

Going to Any Lengths

A sixteenth-century copy of Petrus Apianus' Astronomicum Caesareum was stolen from an exhibit at Peuerbach Castle in Upper Austria, and the theft went unnoticed for days after the culprits substituted a dummy book in its place, the IHT reports.

The book, which has been described as the "most sumptuous of all Renaissance instructive manuals," is designed to show the motions of the earth-centered (i.e. pre-Copernican) universe. Each copy contained many volvelles, "rotating paper wheels which demonstrate planetary motion and movements of the stars." The IHT article says the stolen edition dates from 1532; the more well-known edition of the book was published eight years later).

Police said the book, worth nearly $40,000, was on display "in an exhibition case under an unsecured glass panel."

(h/t Bibliophile Bullpen, Rare Book News)

Book Review: "Chasing Shakespeares"

Sarah Smith's novel Chasing Shakespeares reminded me strongly of The Rule of Four, but with slightly better writing, and to a lesser extent Matthew Pearl's newest, The Poe Shadow (with its mix of history, research and fictional storyline).

In Shakespeares I liked the premise a bit more than the product, but Smith's book is certainly an interesting read and a good basic introduction to some of the many questions that continue to surround Shakespeare's life, most importantly of course the issue of whether he actually wrote the plays that have been attributed to him. It made me want to go out and read more, which I suppose is what any good book (fictional or otherwise) should do. A good starting point is the book's website, which happily for me, footnote junkie that I am, contains complete references and a full bibliography. Oh joy!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

1896 Bradford Facsimile on eBay

One of 150 copies of an 1896 facsimile manuscript edition of William Bradford's History of Plimouth Plantation is for sale on eBay. Bradford's original manuscript was lost during the Revolution, only resurfacing in the Bishop of London's library in 1855. It was returned to Boston years later, and now resides at the State House. This photographic facsimile was published by Ward & Downey (London) and Houghton Mifflin (Boston), and if the seller's pictures are any indication, is quite lovely.

The reserve on the eBay auction is $5,000, but at the midpoint of the sale on Sunday the bidding was, shall we say, tepid (the high bid was $26). The Plymouth Patriot Ledger has a short piece on the auction, titled "Hawking Plymouth's History," and Rare Book News also pointed out the auction.

[Update: As of Tuesday a.m., with a day and a half left to go, bidding's still at $26, well below the reserve].

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Book Review: "The Perfect Storm"

Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm has long been one of those books that I see all the time but just had never picked up to read. After a friend recommended it earlier this week I grabbed a copy to start on the T-ride home that afternoon, and I just finished it while listening to the remnant winds of once-Hurricane Ernesto barrelling over Boston. Junger's account of the 1991 Halloween Gale is a riveting and chilling look at the events of those days in October and their impact on the men and women of the Gloucester swordfishing fleet who faced the storm down, some of them giving their lives in the battle against the elements.

Junger has done as decent a job as possible, I think, in creating a narrative around a central event which contains many unanswered questions; just when and how the ship Andrea Gail foundered during the storm is unclear, as is why the ship's emergency signalling device failed to deploy. By relying on the narratives of other sailors who found themselves in similar situations but survived, Junger creates a plausible scenario for the events on the Andrea Gail while not lapsing into the trap of fictionalizing the narrative.

This is a not a pleasant book, but it does provide a fascinating glimpse into the depths.

Marginalia on Display

What did John Adams think of Mary Wollstonecraft's ideas about the status of women in political society? Or the theory that lightning rods increased the severity of earthquakes? Rick Brookhiser has a piece in the New York Times book review for this weekend called "John Adams Talks to His Books," in which he highlights some of the most interesting examples of Adams marginalia.

The essay almost coincides with an exhibit set to open on September 22 at the Boston Public Library, "John Adams Unbound". According to the library, "This event is the culmination of a three-year project to catalog, preserve, digitize and provide access to the extraordinary personal library of the second president, which has been held by the Boston Public Library since 1894." Some 3,700 volumes will be on display, and eventually the entire collection will be available online at

I will certainly look forward to this exhibit and all the associated events (Adams is one of my favorite figures of the Revolutionary era), and I expect the new digital library will be most interesting and useful (as, I should note, is the ongoing digitization of the Adams Family Papers at the Mass Historical Society).

Friday, September 01, 2006

Book Review: "Lost in a Good Book," "The Well of Lost Plots," "Something Rotten"

I decided to hold off on a review of the three final Thursday Next books (Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, and Something Rotten) until I'd gotten through them all. I finished Something Rotten last night ... and now will have to go hunting for Fforde's "Nursery Crimes" series. I enjoyed each of these books immensely, and recommend them highly. You may, however, want to pace yourself a bit more than I did so that you don't run out so quickly.

Chinese to Repair Historic Koran Manuscript

According to the People's Daily Online, China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage has provided 440,000 yuan (about $55,000) to the Cultural Relics Bureau of Qinghai Province to fund conservation and restoration of the country's oldest known manuscript of the Koran. The work, in thirty volumes, is believed to date from the 14th century, "however, poor management and the absence of conservation practices have placed the book in danger of being stolen and of rotting."

(h/t Shelf:Life)