Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lorello Press Conference Audio

The indomitable Everett Wilkie has posted the audio [mp3] from Monday's press conference announcing the arrest of Daniel Lorello. The official press release is also available. Audio runs about a half hour.

I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet, but will do so tonight and update this post with my thoughts then.

[Friday night: I forgot there was a debate last night, so this had to wait another little while; it's certainly worth listening to. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo calls Lorello's crime "especially repugnant, because it's dealing with historic documents, which is literally stealing the legacy of the state of New York, page by page." Education Commissioner Richard Mills adds "Any theft of a historic document is reprehensible. It has the effect of erasing a page of history. A free nation must have access to its history, must have access to its documents."

Mills notes in the press conference that the State Library is "assembling a number of experts in research library security" to work with the facility to "make sure this doesn't happen again." He reports that the cameras Lorello feared are "on their way," and that "we need to do more." He says there will be a public report by these experts in the near future.

Also see Lorello's eBay feedback (courtesy of Joyce). ]

Mid-Week Links

Since my Google Reader is getting full:

- I've added a sidebar link to Northern Illinois University Rare Books & Special Collections, a fairly new blog very much worth adding to your reading list. Lynne Thomas' recent post on the Lorello thefts and the "Antiques Roadshow Effect" is just one of the many there that I recommend.

- Michael highlights some amusing new book covers you can use to amuse your neighbors while reading on the train (or wherever).

- fade theory notes a Boston Globe article on the typography used in presidential campaign materials. Two typographers predict the winners based on the fonts they use ... and they're not bad predictions, either ...

- For the second time in a week flooding has occurred at Montana State University's Renne Library. On 22 January, water soaked rare books in the Special Collections department, and on the 29th a frozen pipe burst and damaged a large portion of the library's reference collection.

- Jim Watts points out a James Gleick article in a recent New York Times Magazine. Gleick uses the recent Magna Carta sale noting that as "information" becomes cheaper and more widely available, the physical container may not: "[T]he same free flow that makes information cheap and reproducible helps us treasure the sight of information that is not. A story gains power from its attachment, however tenuous, to a physical object. The object gains power from the story. The abstract version may flash by on a screen, but the worn parchment and the fading ink make us pause. The extreme of scarcity is intensified by the extreme of ubiquity."

- Tim's got some thoughts on a news story that's been making its way around the library-blog-world: Amazon may not be allowing libraries to loan out their new "Kindle" e-readers.

- Rick Ring has a list of upcoming auctions - I'll keep an eye on these and if anything interesting comes out of them, I'll certainly pass it along.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bookdealer Wills $700,000 to University Library

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that David Bell, the former owner of Seattle's Magus Books, left the University of Washington library an endowment of more than $700,000. The fund will be used to preserve and conserve the library's special collections. Bell, who died two years ago, was an alumnus of the university, and was a longtime advocate of the library system there. "[L]ibrary officials knew Bell left something to the libraries, but expected the amount to be smaller - about $100,000. They learned of the total amount earlier this month. Bell's estate is likely to be settled soon."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"... Only This, and Nothing More"

I'm informed (thanks, Ian!) that today is the 'birthday' of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," which [probably] first appeared in print in the New York Evening Mirror on this day in 1845 .

Here's Garrison Keillor reading the poem (RealPlayer)

Summer Preservation Internship at UVA

The University of Virginia Library seeks applicants for an eight-week summer preservation internship. Application procedures, eligibility requirements, potential activities and contact information are here.

Lorello Tipster Profiled

The New York Times' story on the Lorello thefts focuses on Joseph Romito, the Virginia lawyer and "history buff" who alerted authorities that stolen items were being sold on eBay. Romito noticed the 9 November 1823 John Calhoun letter being sold by Lorello, "alerted the library, and was told that the matter was being looked into." Then he put in a high bid on the letter: "I knew I wasn’t going to end up buying it - I wasn’t going to pay for it - but I put in what I thought was a very high bid to try and keep it from going somewhere else. The government can be slow."

Romito has been called "the hero in the case" by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch also profiles Romito, who says when he saw the eBay description he looked in his copy of the Calhoun's published papers and saw that the letter was owned by the New York State Library. "Why would the state library relinquish this?" Romito says he asked himself.

The Albany Times-Union has a follow-up story today as well, noting that State Library staff have recovered 263 items so far (Lorello admitted stealing 300-400 items in 2007 alone). Robert Gavin's report adds: "Lorello sprinted away from reporters following his arraignment -- then walked the nearly six-mile trip to his home in Rensselaer County. He declined comment, and a ride, when approached by the Times Union on Route 43."

Gavin's TU story today does a bit more to flesh out the timeline of the investigation, noting that Lorello was confronted about the thefts last Tuesday. "Five days earlier, senior librarian Fred Bassett had received a call [from Romito] stating that Calhoun's letter, which was copied to microfilm in 1985, was somehow auctioned on eBay by someone with the idd1863 identification, court papers said. After Bassett determined the version being sold on eBay was authentic, he received more news - Calhoun's letter and its container were missing. When Kathi Stanley, another library staffer, checked other items being auctioned by idd1863, she found more items for sale, including a Currier & Ives West Point colored lithograph that also was missing, authorities said.

State Library Director Loretta Ebert examined the prior sales history for the idd1863 code, and learned of sales that included books matching the library's missing Davy Crockett's Almanack and The New England Anti-Slavery Almanac, court papers said."

Monday, January 28, 2008

From Lorello's Statement

A few noteworthy quotes from Daniel Lorello's voluntary statement [PDF]. All are as they appear in the statement, unedited (but not in all caps).

- He estimates that he stole 300-400 items just in 2007: "The reason I increased by rate of stealing things was because I learned that surveillance cameras were going to be installed in 2007 and in place by the end of 2007. But the cameras were not installed."

- "I particularly liked items associated with the Revolutionary War, Civil War, Mexican War, Black Americana, WWI, anything related to the Roosevelts, & Jewish items. I took items belonging to all of these wars and ethnic groups and sold them on ebay or traded for items which I sold."

- "I worked 6:30A to 2:30PM. In 2007, I estimate that I stole items 65% of the time between the hours of 6:30AM to 7:00AM. I chose that time of day because there was nobody around. 25% of the time I took thing during the working day. 10% on weekends and state holidays."

- "I used the on-line catalogue to pick items/collections. I'd then pick out the items I wanted, placed it in a folder and walked. I was never questioned or challenged."

- "I estimate that the Attorney General's office recovered approximately 90% of everything I've ever taken."

- He describes a conversation with his "boss's boss" on 22 January which made him "nervous"; the next day, he says, he "wrote the letter of apology and returned the Calhoun letter. I did this by driving to Pittsfield, MA. Post Office and paid $14.00 by Express Mail. I asked that all be forgiven." It was the auction for the Calhoun letter which was being monitored by state authorities.

- Lorello describes several specific transactions, including the sale of two Davy Crockett almanacs to a buyer in Colorado, a Poor Richard's Almanac to a buyer in New Jersey, and several others.

- "I am solely responsible for the theft of all these historical documents."

Hopefully Travis will weigh in on all this - it sounds to me like there is at least the potential for some federal charges here, but I'm not well-versed enough on those legal things to speculate much for now. I'll keep an eye on it, and report back whenever I can.

[NB: Travis weighs in, here]

NY Archives Employee Accused of Theft

Newsday reports:

"A long-time state archivist was accused of stealing hundreds of historic artifacts and documents from the New York State Library, including two Davy Crockett Almanacs, and selling some pieces on eBay.

Daniel Lorello, 54, an archives and records management specialist in the state Education Department, was arraigned Monday on charges of third-degree grand larceny, fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property and first-degree scheme to defraud.

Lorello pleaded not guilty. He was released on his own recognizance and placed on administrative leave from his $71,732-a-year job."

After a tip from a Virginia collector, who spotted one of the stolen items on eBay, authorities began monitoring Lorello's auctions and executed a search warrant on his home last weekend; they found "hundreds of documents" there, according to the state attorney general's office. Officials believe Lorello has made "tens of thousands" of dollars by selling or exchanging items stolen from the State Library.

A few of the stolen items: the two Davy Crockett almanacs, plus "a signed 1823 letter from former Vice President John Calhoun ... a Winfield Scott Hancock calling card and Currier and Ives colored lithographs."

The Albany Times-Union adds that Lorello, who has worked at the archives since 1979, "oversaw the movement of historic records during renovation of the State Archives," and that authorities believe the thefts occurred beginning in 2002.

"City Court Judge Rachel Kretser released him without bail and advised him to remain in the Albany area. He is scheduled to be back in court on Feb. 11.

Lorello declined to comment after he left court and then sprinted away as reporters pursued him outside the courthouse on Morton Avenue.

However, according to a statement authorities say he made, Lorello claimed he started doing it six years ago because he was burdened with bills for things like home renovation, tuition, and his daughter's $10,000 credit card tab.

According to the statement, he said hed come in early when no one was around, and stepped up his pilfering last year when he learned surveillance cameras were going to be installed. He estimates he took 300 to 400 items in 2007 alone, the statement says

The TU has obtained a copy of Lorello's four-page statement to police [PDF], in which he freely admits the thefts and describes various transactions. I'll have more on that statement after I've read it carefully. [More here]

Oh Mr. Lorello, there's a special place in hell ...

[Some of the news stories: Reuters, AP]

Ed and Edgar

Another reminder to visit Ed and Edgar, Ed Pettit's nice, shiny new blog to chronicle his Year of Poe. Today's inaugural post discusses his visit to Baltimore last weekend to see the Poe Toaster and meet his Poe War rivals. Plus, as of 1:30 p.m., there are still a few contest winners left to be chosen!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Links & Reviews

- First, let me note a new sidebar link to Ed and Edgar, Ed Pettit's new Poe-related blog. Ed writes: "I'll be travelling throughout the year to all sites related to Poe and interviewing all sorts of Poe fanatics. I'll also be spreading the Philly Poe gospel everywhere I go. The fun started in Baltimore on Poe's birthday and will take me to Richmond, New York, Boston, West Point, back to Baltimore and finishing in October in Philadelphia for Poe's death anniversary and his honorary holiday, Halloween." The official kickoff is tomorrow morning, 28 January, when Ed will write about his trip to Philadelphia last weekend for Poe's birthday. He's got a kickoff contest in the works, so make sure to stop by there tomorrow, and often.

- One of the most useful links from this week comes from the Typefoundry blog in the form of a post about the "Long s," that typographical oddity which makes pre-1800 printed materials look like they're scattered with strange one-armed f's where lowercase s's should be. Just Friday at work I was asked by a visiting 8th-grader why a book's title page referred to "Bofton."

- Motoko Rich has a fascinating story in the New York Times about a growing dispute over a recent edition of Robert Frost's notebooks. Claremont McKenna English professor Robert Faggen's 800-page Notebooks of Robert Frost was published last year by Harvard University Press, and includes the contents of some 47 notebooks plus additional materials scattered among various archival repositories. "The volume, which represents the first time the notebooks have been published in their entirety, was widely praised by reviewers. For scholars and fans of Frost’s work, the notebooks, filled with poetry fragments, lists, lecture notes and tangential musings, provide insight into his thinking and creative process." However, two scholars working independently with different volumes of the original notebooks have discovered what they say are very high numbers of errors in Faggen's edition.

- From BibliOdyssey, a lovely set of engraved round playing cards, produced by an artist known only as PW of Cologne around the beginning of the sixteenth century. The suits, notably, are Columbines, Hares, Parrots, Carnations and Roses.

- Vladimir Nabokov requested in his will that his last, unfinished manuscript (of a novel titled The Original of Laura) be destroyed after his death. Nabokov died more than thirty years ago, and his heirs have not yet carried out that request (the novel, on index cards, is sitting in a Swiss bank vault). Last weekend, Kate Connolly reported for The Guardian that Nabokov's only surviving son, Dmitri, recently hinted [to Slate's Ron Rosenbaum] that he might carry out his father's wish and burn the draft. Rosenbaum spoke with NPR's Scott Simon yesterday about the manuscript and Dmitri's difficult decision, saying that after his column in Slate, Dmitri emailed him to say that when the decision was made, it would be made privately and not announced. So it may be quite some time before we know how this all turns out.

- Joyce notes a NYTimes story from yesterday about the rediscovery of thousands of photographic negatives taken by Robert Capa during the Spanish Civil War.

- Over at Lux Mentis, Ian discovers an utterly brilliant alarm clock: it hooks up to your wi-fi (and, slightly troublingly, to your bank account), and every time you hit the snooze button it donates $10 to a cause you dislike. Heh.

- J.L. Bell highlights several upcoming lectures on the American Revolution, to be hosted at the David Library in Washington Crossing, PA. The lecture series is titled "Five Views of the Revolutionary War."

- A San Francisco ABC affiliate recently aired a report on Google's book-scanning project, focusing on the University of California's participation. [h/t RBN]


- From The Guardian, Hilary Spurling reviews Peter Ackroyd's new short Poe biography, Poe: A Life Cut Short. "Poe's brilliant, erratic, abbreviated career stands to gain rather than lose from the form of brief life patented by Ackroyd. A short biography is not a long one shrunk. Instead of patiently accumulated details, emotional complexity and architectural shaping, it operates by lightning strikes, atmospheric colouring, impressionistic techniques of concision and suggestion. If this one has a fault, it is precisely that it reads like the first, tenuous rough draft of a fuller, richer, more densely researched book."

- In the NYTimes, Geoffrey Ward reviews Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. Ward calls the book "profoundly moving," and says the author "overlooks nothing - from the unsettling enthusiasm some men showed for killing to the near-universal struggle for an answer to the question posed by the Confederate poet Sidney Lanier: 'How does God have the heart to allow it?'"

- Another joint review of Andrew Lycett's The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters, this one by Michael Sims for the Washington Post.

- Also from the Post, Jane Black reviews Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food. Black: "What should we eat? The answer is here. Now we just have to see if Americans are willing to follow good advice."

- Over at Reading Archives, Richard Cox offers an abbreviated version of a forthcoming American Archivist review of Keepers of the Record: The History of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. Cox calls the book "the most comprehensive history of a corporate archives we have, trumping the rather thin literature on corporate archives in general and making a nice addition to the scholarship on the history of archives."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Book Review: "People of the Book"

Geraldine Brooks already has two widely-acclaimed novels to her name (Year of Wonders and March); she completes the hat trick with People of the Book (Viking, 2008), a learned and lyrical work with a legendary and beautiful book as its centerpiece. The Sarajevo Haggadah is a mid-14th century Jewish manuscript prayer book containing rare illuminations of Biblical scenes from Creation through the Mosaic era. Brooks' book traces the Haggadah through time, alternating vignettes of its travels back through the centuries with segments told from the perspective of Hanna Heath, an Australian charged with conserving the book before it is publicly unveiled for display at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Using what little is actually known about the book's origins and its survival (practically miraculous many times over), Brooks adds fictional touches to create a possible provenance for the Haggadah, offering her readers a glimpse at the people who owned, rescued, used, craved, and even produced the book. The evidence of her copious research for these sections is obvious without being heavy-handed; it is clear that she has done her homework well to set the scenes she draws, and that she has worked diligently to understand the fundamentals of contemporary book conservation practices (though it should be made utterly clear that the vast majority of book conservators wouldn't be whisked about with UN escorts or be jet-setting round the world quite as much as Ms. Heath does).

I enjoyed this book for its vivid description and exposition in the historical portions, and for the way in which the historical interludes allowed the reader to learn more about the book and its roots than poor Hanna could hope to know, even with all the powerful modern tools at her disposal. There's a message here for those of us who study books as artifacts - there are stories there, real people's stories, and although they may be impossible to get at really, we should think of them.

As Hanna is preparing her essay about the Haggadah to accompany the exhibition catalogue, Brooks has her say "I wanted to give a sense of the people of the book, the different hands that had made it, used it, protected it. I wanted it to be a gripping narrative, even suspenseful" (pp. 264-265). This book does all of that, and more.

Recommended without reservation - People of the Book is not without a few minor flaws, but they are far outweighed by the excellent prose and fascinating narrative.

For more information on the real story behind the Haggadah, see Brooks' December 2007 New Yorker article, "The Book of Exodus" [pdf], or this page.

Four CA Museums Raided

Federal officials raided a gallery and four museums in southern California on Thursday, "as part of a five-year investigation into the smuggling of looted antiquities from Thailand, Myanmar, China and Native American sites." The New York Times has the full story.

"At the center of the investigation are the owners of the Silk Roads Gallery, Jonathan Markell and his wife, Cari Markell, and Robert Olson, who is said in the search warrants to have smuggled looted antiquities out of Thailand, Myanmar and China. In affidavits supporting the warrants, federal agents said the Markells had imported looted antiquities provided by Mr. Olson and then arranged to donate them to museums on behalf of clients who took inflated tax deductions for the gifts."

No charges have been filed, but are presumably forthcoming. Affidavits describe undercover work by National Park Service agents posing as collectors and report that "curators appeared to be aware that the objects that they were accepting as donations had been looted or illegally imported."

In a followup story today, the Times' Edward Watts hones in on the idea that museum employees were complicit in the acquisition of smuggled artifacts. The search warrant executed at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena "describes a deputy director of collections at the museum telling an undercover agent that she was supposed to put up 'token resistance' to accepting antiquities without proper paperwork. The artifacts, a collection of materials from the Ban Chiang culture in Thailand, were soon accepted anyway."

I recommend both stories in their entirety.

1888 Book of Mormon Stolen

The Deseret Morning News reports today that an 1888 edition of the Book of Mormon was stolen from a display case at a Deseret Industries [thrift] store in Centerville, UT. The book, donated by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' library and archives department "to help with funding the store and clearing room in the archives" was discovered missing on 17 January.

Centerville Police Lt. Paul Child said there are no signs of a break-in, and that D.I. employees claim the case was left locked. Investigators "are looking at the possibility of an inside job." A second 1888 Book of Mormon was purchased from Deseret Industries by a collector, and is now for sale on eBay. It has garnered bids of $355 so far.

"The 1888 edition of the Book of Mormon is hardbound and in pristine condition. There is a stamp on the inside front cover that reads: 'CHURCH LIBRARY ARCHIVES; THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTERDAY SAINTS.' The category number also is printed on this stamp, and the word 'WITHDRAWN' has been stamped over the writing. There is also a handwritten note on the inside cover."

Anyone with information is asked to call Centerville police at 801-292-8441.

Book Review: "Slam"

Nick Hornby's Slam is an excellent bit of fiction, told expertly from the perspective of a 15-year old English boy. Sam's an average Joe sort of kid, a pretty good skater (that's skateboarder, he'd have you know) who draws inspiration and support from a rather unlikely place: the poster of Tony Hawk he's got hanging on his bedroom wall. But even Tony's not much help when Sam finds himself faced with the fact that he's impregnated his equally youthful girlfriend.

Horny captures Sam's point of view brilliantly, and while I found one of his plot devices a little meh, I enjoyed the humor and overall message of the book. Oh, and I decided very early on that "rubbish" is a very underused adjective on this side of the Pond.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Early Printing in Thailand

Just in case I haven't made it obvious enough this week that I'm trying to catch up on a reading backlog:

From the most recent Common-place, Michael Winship (Iris Howard Regents Professor of English Literature II at the University of Texas at Austin and a wonderful 'historian of the book') has a "Tales from the Vault" column, "The Printing Press as an Agent of Change? Early Missionary Printing in Thailand." Highly recommended.

Possible Dunlap Broadside Scam

Over on ExLibris, Everett Wilkie passes along a bulletin from Bea Hardy, the director of the Special Collections Research Center at the College of William and Mary's Swem Library. Hardy reports:

"I was contacted earlier this week by email by a woman claiming to work for 'Atam Sahamanian, a private art dealer here in Manhattan.' She claims that he has been commissioned to sell the 18th copy of the Dunlap broadside of the Declaration of Independence by a descendant of a signer, discreetly, of course. She went on to say that after doing some research, she had concluded that William and Mary would be a good home for it and gave a string of reasons as to why. Should I be interested, she offered to send more pictures and the price.

If you have been or are similarly contacted, please be aware that the accompanying photo is not of a Dunlap broadside, and there are other reasons to view this offer with suspicion. A Google search for Atam Sahamanian or Atam Sahmanian (she spelled it both ways in the email) leads to a Yahoo! Answers post inquiring about a NY art dealer of that name who the poster alleges has scammed people. The post has been removed but is still in Google's cache. Google also turns up a high-end shirtmaker by that name in Manhattan who does seem to be legitimate.

It's always safest to buy from reputable dealers, such as members of the Antiquarian Booksellers of America, who agree to abide by a code of ethics."

Wikipedia's entry for the Dunlap Broadside is actually quite decent; also see the MHS' description of the broadside and this background page (which lists the locations of all 25 known copies).

If you receive a similar email, I encourage you to let me know - the more public we can make this, the better.

[Update: The New-York Historical Society has also been contacted, Director of Library Operations Nina Nazionale reported this afternoon on ExLibris. She includes the original email sent by an Olivia Day Thacher. More as I get it.]

[Further update: Here's the image that's being circulated with the email, and here's a Dunlap Broadside for comparison. Somebody better call the State of Texas and make sure they don't buy this one ... sorry, was that mean?]

[Still further update: Please see this important update to this post regarding a clarification made by Atam Sahmanian, Inc. - 28 March 2008]

Auction Report: RM Smythe reports that last week's autograph sale at R.M. Smythe & Co. set a house record for lots sold, with 77% of offerings drawing bids.


- A letter "written by President Abraham Lincoln, asking Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to approve the resignation of a cavalry captain at the request of the officer’s wife. Lincoln, typically a 'soft touch' in such cases, makes the argument that 'we are rapidly getting an over-proportion of officers.'" Sold for $14,500.

- A Mary Todd Lincoln letter written after her husband's death, in which the martyred president is described as "from my eighteenth year – Always – lover – husband – father and all, all to me – truly my all." Sold for $13,000.

- An autograph note with concept drawing by Norman Rockwell, estimated at $650; sold for $5,500.

- A signed copy of Woodrow Wilson's book Why We Are At War - the first to appear at auction for thirty years - fetched $3,000, a record.

[h/t Shelf:Life]

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Book-Fun From YouTube

From 1947, a very interesting (and unintentionally amusing) short documentary (10 minutes) on the long, very involved process of creating a printed book.

[My favorite line comes at about 4:48: "That is why they call him ... the Ready-Man."]

Miller Sentencing Postponed

Travis reports over at Upward Departure that Jay Miller, who pleaded guilty in late November to one count of "Interstate Transport of Stolen Goods," will now be sentenced on 7 March, rather than 8 February. The reason for the delay is that "the probation officer has not finished compiling the pre-sentence report."

Last February, Miller stole more than 400 rare books and antiques from the New Hampshire estate of retired Harvard professor William Ernest Hocking and took them to California. He was arrested there in July.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Update from FB&C

I have a confession to make: I'm behind on the last couple issues of Fine Books & Collections. I've finally cracked open the November/December copy, and found an update to a story I posted about, as well as another item of note:

- Back in September we discussed the sale of the Bishop Phillpotts Library by the Diocese of Truro; among the items sold from the collection was Rev. Franke Parker's Macklin Bible, a 63-volume extra-illustrated behemoth. Auctioneer Dominic Winter sold the Bible to a dealer who cut out 300 of the illustrations and then left the rest of the set behind; the story then was that the remaining material went to an American university library. However, Ian McKay reports in FB&C "While the auctioneer initially said that the carcass, which included more than 8,000 remaining illustrations, went to an unnamed American university, the Bible dealer David Lachman actually purchased it on behalf of a very wealthy client who is having it repaired and rebound."

- The extended version of an interview with Sandie Tropper of the American Society of Appraisers is available on the FB&C website: Tropper discusses a recent law which tightens the rules governing appraisals of books and other property.

[Later: I'm now entirely caught up (whew!), and should note that the January/February issue is full of delightful pieces. It's worth reading just for Ronald Ravenburg's fascinating article on a printer's copy of Hawkesworth's Voyages alone.]

McIntyre & Moore to Move, Downsize

The Somerville News reported yesterday that Davis Square's used book mainstay, McIntyre & Moore, will not be renewing the lease on their current space and plan to relocate as of 1 April. "Diminishing sales and a changing consumer attitude towards used books have contributed to the store’s decision to downsize after almost ten years at their Elm Street location. No decision has been made as to where they will end up, although the owners hope to relocate within walking distance to 'try and remain as local as possible.'"

Always sad news to hear of bookstore woes, especially from your own city.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Atlantic Drops Its Subscription Wall

The Atlantic's editors announced today that they are ending subscriber-only access to the magazine's website and will be opening up the entire contents of each issue immediately. Readers will also be able to access full browsable issues back to 1995 and selected "flashback" articles from the initial years of The Atlantic through the present.

Simply a wonderful move on their part, I think (and I hope they'll continue to add back issues to the digital archive as we go forward). I'm a longtime subscriber to the print edition (and will continue to be), but it's always good to have another way to get the content and the excellent supplemental materials provides.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

For Your Listening Pleasure

Ed Petit passes along "The Word Man," a BBC4 radio play by Chris Harrald about Henry Fowler (the man behind Fowler's Modern English Usage and the Concise Oxford English University, among other works). Witty and touching.

Listen here; click on the "Thursday" button (will work until this Thursday).

Beinecke Rare Book/Manuscript Internships Offered

Yale's Beinecke Library "welcomes applications from current graduate students in library science, information studies, preservation, archives or a related program for its newly constituted internship program. The program has been designed to provide practical experience to current graduate students interested in pursuing a career in technical services in a special collections setting."

For the summer of 2008, the library seeks four interns, one for each of the following areas: archival and manuscript processing, digital library and metadata development, preservation, and rare book cataloging/acquisitions.

More information, including application requirements, possible projects, and background, available here. Applications are due 29 February, so don't delay.

Book Review: "The Case of the Missing Books"

The first of what I hope will be many installments in the "Mobile Library Mystery" series, Ian Sansom's The Case of the Missing Books (2006) chronicles the arrival of Israel Armstrong - a portly, cynical, Jewish, vegetarian from London - to Tumdrum, a rough-and-tumble coastal town in Northern Ireland. Israel's come to Tumdrum to take up his position as the town's librarian, but finds things aren't going to be quite that simple. The library's been closed, and Israel finds himself assigned to man the "mobile library" instead; but of course the 15,000 books comprising the library's stock have gone missing, and it's his job to find them.

With biting wit and a fair helping of humor, Sansom deftly handles the absurdities and quirks of rural life and culture and the pitfalls they present to the unwary outsider (especially those as utterly comic as Israel Armstrong).

Lovely light reading, reminiscent of Garrison Keillor's sketches of Lake Wobegon. Highly recommended.

Book Review: "The Great Awakening"

Thomas Kidd's The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (Yale University Press, 2007) treats various aspects of what Kidd terms the first long Great Awakening, stretching from before Jonathan Edwards' 1734 Northampton revivals through approximately the end of the American Revolution. He argues that the early evangelical movement cannot be viewed as monolithic, but instead subject to deep internal struggles over the meaning of the movement's purposes, tactics and doctrines.

The first chapters of Kidd's book relate the earliest outbursts of evangelical fervor in New England, from ministerial calls for divine intervention in the 1670s to proto-revivals beginning in the 1710s, and the 1720-22 events in Connecticut which are generally considered the first publicized "awakenings." He provides well-written synopses of the efforts of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and other leaders of the revival movement, making the excellent point about Whitefield that while he generated significant excitement in most places he went, the movement had begun before he arrived on the scene. For those interested in print history (like me), Kidd throws in the fascinating tidbit that "works by or about Whitefield caused the number of printed texts produced in America to almost double between 1738 and 1741" (p. 47).

A middle section of The Great Awakening examines the deep and very meaningful rifts which emerged between radical and moderate evangelicals in the early 1740s and beyond. Among other things, Kidd notes, evangelicals clashed "over the role of exhorters and itinerants, the doctrine of assurance, the witness of the Spirit, ecstatic responses among laypeople, and the leveling effects of the revivals" (p. 155).

Finally, Kidd presents a series of chapters covering the Great Awakening's impact on Indians and African-Americans, as well as its course in Virginia and the Carolinas. He also has an important chapter evaluating the evangelical movement's importance to the American Revolution. He finds here as elsewhere that no universal conclusion is appropriate - some (perhaps a majority) within the evangelical movement supported the Revolution, while others remained loyal to the crown.

This is a clearly-written, well-researched and very readable book, with excellent endnotes for further reference. It is a necessary synthesis of the events comprising the first Great Awakening, and I'm sure it will stand the tests of historiographical time.

Links & Reviews

- At BibliOdyssey, images from Levinus Vincent's Wondertooneel der Nature (1706-1715). They've added some very interesting background on Dutch wunderkammer (cabinets of curiousities). Also, aquatint engravings of flowers by Priscilla Susan Bury from her A Selection of Hexandrian Plants, Belonging to the Natural Orders Amaryllidae and Liliacae (published beginning in 1831; her engraver was Robert Havell, who also engraved most of the plates for Audubon's Birds of America).

- In the NYTimes this week, a write-up of the National Library of France's current exhibit, "Hell at the Library, Eros in Secret." The exhibit "offers a peek at [the library's] secret archive of erotic art, putting on display more than 350 sexually explicit literary works, manuscripts, engravings, lithographs, photographs, film clips, even calling cards and cardboard pop-ups."

- Also in the Times, Susan Dominus profiles NYC's book scavengers, those industrious folks who find unwanted books and sell them to the Strand or other bookshops. Michael Lieberman adds comments on this story over at Book Patrol, using it to suggest that public libraries should begin buying used books.

- For all you catalogers out there, Tim points out Carnegie Mellon's Library of Congress Classification arcade game. Fairly amusing, actually.

- The Telegraph has a list this weekend of 100 Books Every Child Should Read.

- Michael Lieberman notes that the University of British Columbia has acquired more than 4,700 books on golf, donated by meat-packing magnate Sam Martz. The collection is called "the greatest collection ever assembled on the sport that will be kept intact and available for public perusal." Unfortunately, the university has no funds to catalog the books, so it may be awhile before they're available for use.

- Paul Collins points out an interesting map (with U.S. states renamed for countries with comparable GDPs - hello from Belgium!). Paul also highlights his recent New Scientist piece on an early-twentieth-century stereophone system (the Theatrophone) and comments on the most recent plagiarism scandal (that of Cassie Evans). Also about Paul Collins, I should note that in cataloging Isabella Stewart Gardner's library, I found that she had an 1869 edition of Pedro Carolino's New Guide of the Conversation in Portuguese and English, the basis for Paul's English As She is Spoke.

- From Rare Book Review, news that Christchurch, NZ bookdealer John Arnold Palmer, 77, has been exonerated on charges stemming from Operation Pukapuka. Palmer had been accused of receiving stolen property. "Three men have already been jailed through Operation Pukapuka prosecutions, and another awaits sentencing next month." Also at RBR, comments on last week's Sotheby's sale of Fred Feinsilber's library and news that the identity of Samuel Pepys' mistress Deb Willet may have been confirmed.

- In the Wall Street Journal, Andrew Higgins covers the rediscovery of a long-hidden archive of 450 rolls of film containing pictures of antique manuscripts of the Koran. Scholar Anton Spitaler of the Bavarian Academy of Science in Munich claimed the films had been destroyed by bombs in 1944, but, Higgins writes "Mr. Spitaler was lying. The cache of photos survived, and he was sitting on it all along." Fascinating story: read the whole thing.


- In the Washington Post, Michael Dirda reviews Brian Jay Jones' Washington Irving: An American Original. Dirda says that Jones does what he sets out to do well: "Nonetheless, Irving needs far more than a crisply written account of publishing successes and business failures or of his lifelong sociability and devotion to his brothers and sisters. What Washington Irving really needs is someone to champion his books. ... We really need a contemporary introduction to Irving's wonderful stories and sketches, one that makes people want to explore and enjoy his humorous, elegant and atmospheric prose."

- In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ed Petit has a joint review of Andrew Lycett's The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters.

Isabella Stewart Gardner's Library

This morning I finished entering the catalog of Isabella Stewart Gardner's library into LibraryThing. She had a fascinating and wide-ranging collection: manuscripts from the fifteenth century, incunabula, some great association copies from various crowned heads of Europe, nice collections of contemporary American first editions (Hawthorne, James Russell Lowell, Emerson, &c.), and, as might be expected, many books on the arts.*

Her LT catalog is browsable here.

*NB: I thought it very fitting that I entered ISG's copy of Poe's Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840) yesterday, on the author's birthday.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

On Poe's Birthday

Today is the 199th birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, and celebrations are underway in Baltimore.

Yesterday, the Carroll County Times ran an article about this year's festivities, complete with a Poe timeline and a profile of Jeff Jerome (curator of the Poe House). The piece notes that Jerome will be announcing a new Poe discovery at the celebration: "It's something about Poe we've always chalked up to rumor. It's not earth shattering, but it's very interesting."

Ed, our favorite Philadelphia-Poe partisan, has infiltrated enemy territory for the weekend and promises a report back. He also notes that he's got a new blog in the works: Ed and Edgar, "which will document my adventures with Edgar Allan Poe this year." Excellent!

Poe's also featured on today's "Writer's Almanac" with Garrison Keillor, so don't miss a segment from The Fall of the House of Usher and an excellent short essay on Poe's life and works.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Auction Report: Lyon & Turnbull

Edinburgh auction house Lyon & Turnbull had a rare books sale on 16 January. A few highlights:
- Several views of London surpassed their estimates: an balloon-view of London taken in 1851 fetched £1050; a Matthias Merian prospect of the city c. 1650 made £1250, and a W. Hollar engraving of London and Westminster from c. 1700 sold for £1400

- An elaborately-decorated manuscript Qu'ran dated 1289 sold for £1200.

- A 1682 edition of Pierre Du Val's La Geographie du Temps made £2100, better than doubling its high estimate.

- A 48-volume Works of Charles Dickens from the library of Theodore Roosevelt sold for £1600.

- Signed copies of all seven Harry Potter books, sold to benefit a rugby club, made £5800.

- Twenty-two documents "relating to the position of John Gibson as Sir Winston Churchill's footman/valet" barely hit their estimate, reaching £320.

- The Mussolini telegram failed to sell.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

In what I think can only be considered a remarkable testament to the power of collaboration and the strength of the LibraryThing community, barely a day after Tim noted Karen Schneider's suggestion that we add some famous womens' libraries to our collection of important libraries, several are well underway and a number of other potential additions have been found.

- Marie Antoinette's library (as found here) is being entered as I type; she and I already share two books (La Fontaine's Fables and Homer's Iliad).

- This morning I started on the library of Isabella Stewart Gardner (as found here), the well-known Boston socialite, art collector and philanthropist. She's got some amazing books (a first edition of the Hypnerotomachia poliphili!?), and since she's a close neighbor, I thought I'd have a go at her collection.

- The Leonard and Virginia Woolf Collection at Washington State University - we're working to resolve some technical issues but hope to get this one imported into LT fairly easily.

Other potentials include the library of Susan B. Anthony (at the Library of Congress, as Rachel very helpfully discovered and posted in comments yesterday), Madame de Pompadour, Mary Queen of Scots (unfortunately this catalogue may not be bibliographical enough), Catherine de Medici, Elizabeth Craigie, and Frances Currer (one of the most notable English female bibliophiles).

Keep them coming!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Libraries of Famous Women

Karen Schneider over at Free Range Librarian notes our efforts in the LibraryThing "I See Dead People['s Books]" group, and makes a very good point: "There is one interesting omission … the list of prospective authors is all male. Do we know the library of Eleanor Roosevelt, or Gertrude Stein?"

She's right, and it's something I'd very much like to rectify. We can, for various practical purposes, only add those libraries that have a) been compiled and b) are at least fairly widely accessible to allow the teamwork necessary for projects like this, but surely there must be a something out there. I'm going to be doing a little digging to see whose libraries I can find, but I want to throw it out to you all and see if there are any that spring to any of your inquiring and wide-ranging minds. As we find them, I'll start compiling a list. Feel free to submit in comments, by email, or over on the LT talk page.

[Update: The first discovery, by LT member andyl: Bibliothèque de la reine Marie-Antoinette au Petit Trianon; and the second, by MMcM: The Library of Leonard and Virginia Woolf.]

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Major Theft Case Brewing in Montana

Late last week, Rob Lopresti, Government Information Librarian at Western Washington University (Bellingham, WA) reported that as part of an investigation into thefts of government-issued maps from WWU first discovered in February 2006, Great Falls, MT police and Department of Homeland Security personnel "executed a search warrant on the property of James Brubaker, who sold maps, Indian artifacts, and other material on eBay under the handle Montanasilver." The search occurred, Lopresti said, on 12 December 2007. He reports "I have heard the authorities confiscated thousands of plates and maps, hundreds of books, and many Indian artifacts."

In a followup email, Lopresti passed along the following statement from Great Falls Detective Bruce McDermott: "Old books (late 1700's- early 1900's) have turned up in our search (over 1000 books) attributed to College and Public Libraries.....most have the library identifiers and the libraries will be contacted in the days to come. I would like the (other) libraries to know of these book thefts as well because we are hoping that (like WWU did in the feb. 06 case) they filed police reports or might have seen an elderly suspect. We wouild love to know if there are police reports associated with book/map thefts." Detective McDermott can be contacted by email.

I've been in touch with Detective McDermott, who informs me that charges have not yet been filed against Mr. Brubaker as the case is still being developed against him; he said a federal indictment will be sought soon, hopefully by March. He adds that the "overall case is even larger than the theft from libraries in that Brubaker is involved in the smuggling and illicit selling of Indian artifacts; specifically from a very famous Montana battle site and museum."

As soon as I get more, I'll get it out to you all. Detective McDermott said he shares the view that it's important to get the word out about these thefts, so if your library may have been impacted, do be in touch with him ASAP.

[Update: Finally, some new news! (3/27)]

Milton Exhibit at Cambridge

To mark the 400th anniversary of John Milton's birth, the Cambridge University Library has mounted a major exhibit, "Living at This Hour: John Milton 1608-2008." "As part of a nationwide programme of events to mark his life and works, the University Library will be exhibiting unique manuscripts and rare printed texts to illustrate his influence on contemporary and modern politics, literature, art and language. Amongst the exhibits are a selection of documents from the University Archives tracing his academic progress; a first edition of his plea for the liberty of the press, the 'Areopagitica'; and beautiful modern fine press editions of his shorter poems."

The exhibition runs from 15 January to 12 July 2008 (closed 21-24 March inclusive). Admission is free. For details of other events in Cambridge to mark the quatercentenary, see

I don't expect I'll get to see the real show, but the web version is quite nicely done.

Saving the Books

In the December issue of Perspectives - the American Historical Association's monthly journal - IBM historian James W. Cortada has an essay titled, rather provocatively, "Save the Books!" Cortada notes that librarians, "faced with space constraints in storing books and with declining budgets for maintaining the collections they have today," are either creating "off-site storage facilities and are learning how to make those conveniently accessible to scholars, or they are culling their collections of materials that patrons do not appear to use frequently."

Cortada goes on to say that as digitization projects advance, the "pace of disposing of such materials is about to pick up sharply over the next few years." He says this without, so far as I can tell, any actual evidence whatever other than the assumption that what has happened with some hard copies of newspapers and journals will also happen with books (he's clearly of the Nicholson Baker school of thought on that front). "In short," he writes, "librarians have proven perfectly capable of disposing and destroying physical copies of vast quantities of materials and of being confident that their reasons were sound and noble."

Debates continue to rage in the library and preservation communities about how best to maintain collections of newspapers and paper journals given their deterioration rate, high storage costs &c. Many libraries have certainly learned their lesson about getting rid of journal runs after the digital versions proved too expensive or went kaput; they're dialing back on the digital-only versions. The library world also remains very unsure how best to deal with digitized books; they make wider access much easier for basic use, but as Cortada notes, searching through a digitized book eliminates entirely the"serendipitous effect of walking down an aisle of books on a topic of interest or the ability to work with the original artifacts as read in their day."

All libraries cannot keep all books ... or even most books ... or even most books they'd like to keep. In any form. It's just that simple, and no one should think otherwise. However, the discussion within the library community is not generally about how best to get rid of their materials, but how to ensure that all readers can have access to whatever they need within a reasonably short amount of time. Efforts like the Five College Library Depository and others have proven very successful, and those will continue to grow and expand as we move ever more rapidly into the 'digital era.' Libraries are cooperating more than ever before to ensure that useful and accessible copies of titles will continue to be available to historians and other researchers as they need them.

Cortada's own personal research interest - the history of computers and computing - poses what I concede is a serious problem. "Nothing seems so out-of-date than a user manual for PC-DOS, or a book on how to write in a programming language published in 1960, let alone a volume on designing computer architectures published in 1958, or 1978, or even in 1988. All of these are routinely discarded because they are 'out-of-date,' and, to be sure, rarely checked out, let alone even looked at." Most libraries, faced with the need to save space, probably would gladly jettison materials like this. And in most cases, the manuals wouldn't be missed.

Of course there is a need for some copies of these titles to be available, as Cortada points out: "they are the ephemera of one of the early days of the emergence of what historians will certainly someday conclude was one of the most important technologies ever developed by humankind, and clearly of the 20th century." But the vast majority of libraries certainly don't need to keep materials like this around; there should be dedicated repositories (not just one, but several) for scholarly areas of this type which systematically collect this material, store it, and make it available - as conveniently as possible - through interlibrary loan or other methods as necessary.

Cortada adds what seems a bit of a strange argument at the conclusion of his essay: "Could a historian of books appreciate their 'application' if they did not see examples, hold them in their hands, and read them? Historians of computing find that they too must touch the machines and use them if they can to appreciate their usefulness when compared to previously available information handling tools, techniques, and devices." In answer to the question he poses, clearly not. But Cortada's second sentence seems to be arguing for the preservation of computer equipment itself, rather than the books about how to run it. I'm not sure even now how a digital version of DOS for Dummies wouldn't suffice (though I can certainly see how a photograph of a first-generation computer wouldn't be particularly effective for understanding how it was used).

Following the body of his essay, Cortada offers up a few paragraphs headed "What We Should Do." He argues - and I agree entirely - that historians should involve themselves in discussions with librarians about retention and preservation. Indeed - many librarians are not historians and may not appreciate the necessities of historical research. This is not their fault, and historians should not expect every library to share their personal collecting priorities. But certainly the two fields should engage each other in discussions about those priorities and how best to reconcile research needs with budgetary and space constraints.

Cortada also argues for a "major survey of private collections in North America to discover materials that are currently not in the control of librarians, but which can later be acquired once libraries recognize that a particular collection is worth preserving." I'm not sure how this would work or be paid for, but I certainly wouldn't object to it. I hope that Cortada will consider donating his own research collection (some 2,000+ books, he notes) to an institution and make it available to future researchers in his field - perhaps he already has done so. [Update: Mr. Cortada emails to say "I intend to donate my collection of books to an academic library when I am finished with my writing and publishing phase of my life; in the meantime I will continue to add to the collection in an organized manner". I'm glad to hear it.]

While I have some objections to Cortada's tone, which is a bit unwarrentedly shrill, I cannot fault his goals (my own major research focus is book history, after all). Historians and librarians must colloborate, must communicate, must work to understand each other (to the extent possible). One of the reasons I opted for a dual-degree history/library science program is that I think it's much more difficult to understand where researchers are coming from until you've sat in their shoes, and on the same token it's hard to "get" library decisions without knowing the foundations on which they're based.

I'll be the first to say that I will join Mr. Cortada at the barricades if the dire predictions he makes start coming true. But I don't think things either are or will be as bad as he suggests. I do think the discussion over his article and views should continue: I'm going to email him and suggest that he submit the article to American Libraries or Library Journal, because I think just getting it out to historians is probably preaching to the choir. Save the books, indeed - just do it sensibly.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Snowy Day in Boston

After about a week of unseasonably mild (and quite pleasant) weather, winter returned to Boston this morning with a vengeance. We got about eight inches (or so) of snow downtown over the course of six hours, following a couple hours of rain and a rumble or two of thunder rather early this morning. I got up early and walked over to the library to help shovel out and get a little work done during the quiet of a snow day, which was quite pleasant (even if a few people did question my sanity). Neither snow, nor rain, nor sleet, you know.

At any rate, here are a few pictures of the snow-covered trees (and cars, and fences) from my walks around Boston today.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Links & Reviews

- In the NYTimes, Mark Leibovich offers "Rights vs. Rights: An Improbable Collision Course." He comments on the Obama and Clinton campaigns, discussing them in the historical context of the civil rights and women's rights movements over the last century and a half.

- Ian has a dispatch from the Armory book fair in New York; sounds like the first day went well. [Update: second dispatch].

- On Ex-Libris, Terry Belanger notes the 10 January death of printmaking historian Gavin Bridson, author of American Botanical Prints of Two Centuries and co-author of Printmaking in the Service of Botany, among other works.

- The NYTimes noted this week that the Morgan Library has acquired the only known copy of the first dated Book of Hours printed in France (1485). "This volume is the first known book to have been produced by the French publisher Antoine Vérard, and it helped establish Paris as a leading publishing center." The Morgan purchased the book at Sotheby's in a November auction, for $471,304. The volume will be on display at the library for three months beginning in April. The Times story, which calls the book the first Book of Hours printed in France, prompted Falk Eisermann of the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (Union Catalogue of Incunabula) to note that details of a Book of Hours printed in Rouen around 1480 were published in their catalogue in September (the Ex-Libris archives are being spotty, so I'll add a link to his note when I can).

- Hanover College has received a major collection of about 50 classic rare books on North American and Pacific exploration from alumnus Ronald Kloepfer. Titles include Richard Hakluyt's Principall Navigations, George Vancouver's Voyage of Discovery, &c.

- Paul Collins notes a Guardian column in which Nicholas Lezard claims to have found a diamond in the rough of on-demand publishing: Jennie Walker's novel 24 for 3.

- Michael Lieberman comments on our Jefferson's Library project, making some good suggestions for the addition of images and links to digital texts where available. He writes "This is the technology shining. It adds a whole new dimension to social networking, a more intellectually stimulating and, in some ways, a more intimate experience." We hope so!

- On NPR, Fritjof Capra spoke recently about his new book The Science of Leonardo.

- The Figge Art Museum in Davenport, IA will host "Birds of America: John James Audubon" from 3 February through 11 May. The exhibit features nearly 100 prints from the Birds of America.


- In the Telegraph, Diane Purkiss reviews a new biography, Anna Beer's John Milton: Poet, Pamphleteer and Patriot.

- In the NYTimes, D.T. Max reviews Bill Hayes' The Anatomist, a necessarily unconventional treatment of Henry Gray (he of Gray's Anatomy) and H.V. Carter, Gray's artist.

- Also in the NYTimes, Owen Gingerich reviews Jack Repcheck's Copernicus' Secret, which he says "at last brings the astronomer to life in a way that past efforts have not quite achieved." However, he adds, Repcheck doesn't really get into the deep questions of Copernicus' life and impact on science.

- Another one from the Telegraph: Jim Endersby reviews Dry Store Room No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Fortey, calling it an "engaging wander behind the scenes at the Natural History Museum."

- And in the TLS, Fortey takes up the pen to review A Natural History of Time by Pascal Richet.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Book Review: "The Oxford Murders"

Guillermo Martínez' The Oxford Murders reminded me of something almost as soon as I started reading it. After about forty pages I realized what it was: a particularly insipid episode of "CSI." The book features a hackneyed plot, cliched characters, and nearly every twist is both entirely predictable and eye-rollingly silly. Had Mr. Martínez set out to write a satire of the literary/mathematical mystery thriller genre, he could have done no better. As a serious example of the genre, however, this book fails the laugh test.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Cormac McCarthy Papers Acquired

Texas State University at San Marcos has purchased the papers of author Cormac McCarthy for an undisclosed sum. "The papers include correspondence, notes, handwritten and typed drafts, and proofs of McCarthy's novels, including 2006's The Road, which won a Pulitzer last year." They will form part of the university's "Southwestern Writers Collection."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

New European Book Search Site

A consortium of five European book search sites have combined forces and mounted, an aggregator which lists more than 20,000,000 books from upwards of 2,000 sellers. I fiddled around with the site for a little while when I got the announcement, and quite like the advanced search function and the speed (which is phenomenal). I've added a link on the sidebar under "Other Book Sites."

Now if the dollar could just gain a little strength so if would be a less painful to buy books from overseas ...

LT Adds BL

LibraryThing announced yesterday that they've added search pipelines to more than thirty British libraries, including the British Library. This has been made possible with the assistance of Talis, the major UK library software company. More sources are always better, and this will be of tremendous use for folks interested in cataloging not only British books in general, but also more specialized, older and rarer items. Excellent news all around.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Books I'm Excited About

Since I'm still exhausted today (up too late watching New Hampshire news), I still haven't finished up the post I've been working on about libraries and historians. In the meantime, here are a few forthcoming books I'm waiting impatiently for:

- Nick Basbanes, Editions and Impressions: My Twenty Years on the Book Beat (Fine Books Press) - 11 January
- Jonathan Barnes, The Somnambulist (William Morrow) - 5 February
- James Morrow, The Philosopher's Apprentice (William Morrow) - 11 March

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

News from Across the Pond

Some biblio-news from the British Isles and Europe today:

- The Edinburgh Evening News reports that 22 Winston Churchill documents and photographs will be auctioned at Lyon & Turnbull on 16 January, along with a 1929 telegraph from the mayor of Rome to Benito Mussolini.

- Also going under the hammer at Lyon & Trumbull's 16 January sale: a signed set of all seven Harry Potter books, donated by J.K. Rowling to fund the restoration of the Portobello Rugby Club's clubhouse, which was burned down by vandals. The books may fetch up to £3000.

- The University of Ulster and the Heritage Lottery Fund have joined forces to pay for a £740,000, three-year program to restore more than 5,000 books in the collections the Derry & Raphoe Diocesan Library. "The majority of the collection dates from between the 16th to 19th centuries. The project will simultaneously train a team of skilled book conservators and facilitate a range of education and outreach activities to allow groups and communities across Northern Ireland explore the books’ themes and history." Conservator Caroline Bendix called the collection "a relatively undiscovered historical resource – a Cinderella of the book world. It is one of the most significant libraries in Ireland and gives a fascinating insight into the history of Derry city."

- Nuremberg's municipal library has announced that it will return more than 10,000 books believed to have been stolen from Polish owners by the Nazis in World War II. "After the war the books were handed over to the local Jewish commune, which subsequently placed it on an unlimited-time deposit with the Nuremberg authorities."

Monday, January 07, 2008

Wallingford Library Books Soaked

A malfunctioning fire sprinkler doused more than 7,500 books in the history, biography and geography sections of the Wallingford (CT) Public Library on Friday morning. "The damaged books are being shipped to an Illinois company that will freeze dry them to remove the water." Expected costs: $60,000, to be covered by the library's insurance company. Library managers said the damaged books represent about 4% of the library's collections.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

McCullough on Reading

When I went over to WNYC's site to find the audio file of Caleb Crain's interview with Brian Lehrer (mentioned in my last post) I noticed the interview which immediately preceded Crain's. That was David McCullough, discussing the importance of reading and education; the mp3 file is here.

McCullough speaks in his typical style about the importance of the book: "I believe in the book. I believe that books as tangible, physical objects provide something that nothing else can or will, in that they can be carried with us, they can be picked up later on, taken down from the shelf, read ten years later. They become part of the furnishings of our lives, literally. And the quality of what we read, and particularly the quality of what our children and grandchildren read is of the utmost importance."

He brought up a close friend of his, the writer Paul Horgan, who he called "the most cultivated, the most deeply, widely read man I ever knew. And he used to say, when he saw people, when he'd greet friends, instead of saying 'How are you?' he'd say 'What are you reading?' Now he wasn't asking that in order to test you, he was asking that to get going on a subject of mutual enthusiasm, to get going on something that he might learn from. I think that that's a very healthy way to ... 'What are you reading?' We are what we're reading right now as much as we were what we were reading when we're in grade school or high school. It's a lifelong thing, that's the big part of it. And it isn't just to get into college now, it's to continue to grow and have curiosity and a love of literature for the rest of your life."

Asked about reading on electronic devices or on the web, McCullough commented "What we stand to lose are those writers, those thinkers, who are speaking to the essentials of the human spirit, the essentials of the human heart. And if that goes, what kind of a civilization will we have?"

At the conclusion of the interview, Lehrer asked McCullough "What are you reading?" The response: Lanston Hughes' autobiography.

Caleb Crain on Reading

Back in December I promised I'd post on Caleb Crain's New Yorker piece "Twilight of the Books," a response to the NEA's "To Read or Not to Read" report issued in November. Better late than never, I suppose.

Crain summarizes much of the recent empirical data about the evident trends in reading, which show that Americans (and others) may be "losing not just to will to read, but even the ability." Of this evidence, he concludes "There’s no reason to think that reading and writing are about to become extinct, but some sociologists speculate that reading books for pleasure will one day be the province of a special 'reading class,' much as it was before the arrival of mass literacy, in the second half of the nineteenth century. They warn that it probably won’t regain the prestige of exclusivity; it may just become 'an increasingly arcane hobby.' Such a shift would change the texture of society. If one person decides to watch 'The Sopranos' rather than to read Leonardo Sciascia’s novella To Each His Own, the culture goes on largely as before—both viewer and reader are entertaining themselves while learning something about the Mafia in the bargain. But if, over time, many people choose television over books, then a nation’s conversation with itself is likely to change. A reader learns about the world and imagines it differently from the way a viewer does; according to some experimental psychologists, a reader and a viewer even think differently. If the eclipse of reading continues, the alteration is likely to matter in ways that aren’t foreseeable."

Crain then discusses Maryanne Wolf's recent book Proust and the Squid, which treats the biological and physiological history of reading as a human function. Wolf's book provides a handy springboard, allowing Crain to explore the differences between illiterate and literate cultures (it is only in the latter, researchers have found that "the past's inconsistencies have to be accounted for, a process that encourages skepticism and forces history to diverge from myth"). Wolf argues that as reading proficiency increases, brain chemistry changes and allows the reader to process what's being read more quickly and efficiently, making it possible to "integrate more of her own thoughts and feelings into her experience." Crain suggests that reading "makes you smarter because it leaves more of your brain alone," putting the lie to a theory set forth by Steven Johnson that high-intensity video games offer a "superior cognitive workout" to reading.

Finally, "Twilight" makes the excellent and not-made-enough point that it is much easier to expose oneself to different viewpoints through reading than on the television. I confess I hadn't thought about this much, but at least in my case this is certainly true: I'd much rather read an op/ed piece or article by someone I disagree with strongly than watch them spout the same lines on t.v.

If people rely less on reading, Crain writes, "Self-doubt, therefore, becomes less likely. In fact, doubt of any kind is rarer. ... After all, there is no one looking back at the television viewer. He is alone, though he, and his brain, may be too distracted to notice it. The reader is also alone, but the N.E.A. reports that readers are more likely than non-readers to play sports, exercise, visit art museums, attend theatre, paint, go to music events, take photographs, and volunteer. Proficient readers are also more likely to vote. Perhaps readers venture so readily outside because what they experience in solitude gives them confidence. Perhaps reading is a prototype of independence. No matter how much one worships an author, Proust wrote, 'all he can do is give us desires.' Reading somehow gives us the boldness to act on them. Such a habit might be quite dangerous for a democracy to lose."

Thankfully for us, Crain has provided much additional commentary and background on the research he used for his articles in some posts over at Steamboats Are Ruining Everything. He notes "If all goes according to plan, the result will be a series of blog posts that add up to an annotated bibliography about reading habits and literacy in America." It is that, and more. I highly recommend these posts to anyone interested in these matters; we all owe Caleb a great debt for the work he's done on this. The posts are:

Notebook: 'Twilight of the Books
Are Americans Reading Less?
Are Americans Spending Less on Reading?
Is Literacy Declining?
Does Television Impair Intellect?
Does Internet Use Compromise Reading Time?
Is Reading Online Worse Than Reading Print?

You can also hear Caleb discuss his article and the data here (mp3) in an interview on WNYC's Brian Lehrer show.


A shorter selection of links this week, since I've got some longer posts I'm working on for later today.

- Bibliopolis has revamped their blog page, and it's lovely. A great selection of book blogs.

- Richard Cox comments on Bill Bryson's Shakespeare: The World as Stage. Cox writes "I was surprised how much of his brief biography concerned records and archives. ... Bryson provides various descriptions of surviving documents, accounts of interviews with archivists about the records, tales of discovering and losing documents, and the process of analyzing documents alleged to be by Shakespeare or to have connections with him."

- Travis notes a very strange federal grand jury indictment in New York: Daniel Spiegelman, the subject of Travis' The Book Thief, has been charged with making false statements on a passport application (including name, birth date, birth place and social security number) ... in 1999. Travis has been in touch with the U.S. Attorney on the case, who couldn't tell him much. More to follow as it becomes clear, but I agree with Travis that this seems really quite odd.

- Speaking of thieves, some of the map history listservs were alive this week with news that Gilbert Bland, the infamous map thief who is the subject of Miles Harvey's excellent book The Island of Lost Maps, may be back in business. I'll have more on this possibility when I can, but I want to try and hammer down some facts first.

- Lori at Brookline Blogsmith has a post up of Booksmith's top sellers for 2007.

- Central Connecticut State University has posted a list of America's Most Literate Cities for 2007 (Minneapolis is in the top slot; Boston sneaks in at number 10). (h/t Reading Copy)

- Norman Mailer's archive at the UT's Harry Ransom Center opened on Thursday, The Guardian reported. The collection includes "more than 1,000 boxes of manuscripts, letters, magazines, drawings, photographs and more." Mailer sold the materials for $2.5 million in 2005. (h/t Joyce)

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Book Review: "The Pirates! In an Adventure with Ahab"

Gideon Defoe's second foray into pirate humor, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Ahab (or Whaling, if you read any edition but the American) is an utterly silly short book filled with non sequiturs, unexplained (and inexplicable) plot twists, and that distinct brand of dry wit that can and should be only deployed by Certain British Authors.

In this adventure, the Pirate Captain and his crew (who aren't generally given names, but are described throughout as "the pirate with ____ [insert feature here]" - the red scarf, gout, the hook for a hand, &c.)" must find a way to repay the dauntingly dangerous Cutlass Liz (of Nantucket) for their new ship. After various attempts (a variety show in Vegas, the discovery of the 'ultimate treasure') they meet up with Captain Ahab and take up his offer to hunt down the White Whale in exchange for a reward. Hilarity ensues, of course.

Punny and amusing, this is a good diversion.