Sunday, November 04, 2007

Links & Reviews

- Big news from Boston today, the Globe reporting that the Boston Public Library's trustees will not renew the contract of Bernie Margolis, the library's president for the last decade. A spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas Menino told the Globe "While [Margolis] did a great job restoring the main branch in Copley, I believe the board is looking to expand their search for a new director, someone who would be interested in looking more at the branches. That's no slight at Bernie, because he did a great job. But with his contract up, it's the right time for someone new to come into the library and have a fresh approach." Margolis' contract expires on 30 June of next year.

- In Americana Exchange, Michael Stillman covers the September auction of a collection of Civil War documents which was the subject of a long legal battle between the collection's owner and the state of South Carolina. The state claimed ownership rights over the documents as official property, but a federal judge disagreed. Stillman comments on the case in general and also notes the low prices the items fetched at auction, citing the venue, lack of promotion, and other factors. (h/t Everett Wilkie)

- The "Devil's Bible", a thirteenth-century Bohemian manuscript copy of the Bible remarkable for its large portrait of the Devil, is now available digitally, here. The manuscript is also known as the Codex Gigas, as it is believed to be the largest surviving European manuscript. Beyond the scriptures, the codex also includes two works by Flavius Josephus, Cosmas of Prague's Chronicle of Bohemia, and several additional short texts. The digital exhibition website provides much more history, background and commentary, as well as excellent browsable images.

- From yesterday's NYTimes, a rather odd story about a Russian conductor's archive rescued from the trash and now the subject of an international legal tussle.

- I've long been meaning to add a link to Sylvia Plath Info, which is run by a slightly-Plath-obsessed friend of mine; it's a very useful site for all things Plath, and has some good posts from a recent multi-day symposium of Plath's life and works. Link now added.

- In a wide-ranging Times essay, Bee Wilson examines a new four-volume collection of primary documents, Eighteenth-Century Coffeehouse Culture, edited by Markman Ellis. Beyond the books, Wilson also comments on a recent documentary about coffee, "Black Gold."

- From BibliOdyssey, images from a late sixteenth-century Bavarian court dress and coats of arms book, and a selection of illustrations from swordplay manuals.

- Michael Lieberman notes that the recent San Jose earthquake resulted in a major reshelving project at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library, where more than 300,000 books on the top four floors toppled from their perches as the building swayed with the quake.

- Rare Books Review reports that the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has acquired an extensive collection of the personal papers of Katharine Hepburn, which are being catalogued and will be available for public research early next year.

- The newest issue of Biblio Unbound is out, here.

- Jim Watts comments on the use of a robotic calligrapher to reproduce a copy of the Luther Bible, noting "This robot reproduces calligraphy because, despite five-and-a-half centuries of printing, careful hand calligraphy retains connotations of prestige and expense. Thus famous documents, like the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, are displayed and reproduced in calligraphic form, which is how they are popularly remembered, despite the fact that the originals were printed broadsheets. It was the secondary, anachronistic hand-written form that was given iconic status."

- Over at Campaign for the American Reader, Marshall looks at Jon Kukla's Mr. Jefferson's Women. It's always interesting to see how some books manage to attract gushing reviews from some readers (including some pretty important ones) while getting completely panned by others (see Stacy Schiff's NYT review, which I commented on here). I was particularly struck by the Library Journal excerpt, which begins "It is hard to dislike a book that, like this one, starts off with a discussion of how J. Peterman Company shirts are related to Thomas Jefferson." Personally I'd be more inclined to the opposite view, and I think Schiff's charge of conclusion-driven research is a damaging one, positive blurbs notwithstanding.

- Writing for Slate, Joshua Glenn claims to solve the mystery of the mysterious unnamed object produced in Woollett, Massachusetts, the subject of much speculation in Henry James' novel The Ambassadors.

- I missed Paul Collins' appearance on last weekend's Saturday Weekend Edition, but thankfully Ed caught it. Paul discusses scary stories and Halloween biblio-oddities with Scott Simon.

- Over at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell discusses Abigail Adams' investment strategies, bouncing off a Woody Holton article in the new William & Mary Quarterly.


- In the Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley reviews Joe Ellis' American Creation.

- From the NYTimes, Mary Beth Norton covers My Dearest Friend, the new collection of John and Abigail Adams' letters.

- Over at Rare Book Review, Lynn Glyn comments on a new six-volume collection of letters by Joseph Banks.

- The Boston Globe's Michael Kenney reviews Woody Holton's Unruly Americans, and submits a joint review of Eve LaPlante's Salem Witch Judge and Emerson Baker's The Devil of Great Island. David Mehegan also commented on Salem Witch Judge this week.

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