Thursday, July 31, 2008

Amazon to Publish "Beedle the Bard"

Well we all knew it was coming, right?, the buyer of J.K. Rowling's Tales of Beedle the Bard (for almost 2 million GBP back in December) will publish two editions of the Tales this year, just in time for Christmas. The Collector's Edition ($100) looks like it'll be quite a production, and the Standard Edition ($7.59) will be a perfectly serviceable paperback copy. Net proceeds, Amazon says, will go to the Children's High Level Group, a charity started by Rowling in 2005.

My question: do those "net proceeds" start after the $4 million purchase price gets factored in?

Group Urges SAA to Act on Archival Accreditation

A group of SAA members and other archivists/librarians are pushing the Society of American Archivists to "Appoint a Task Force to Examine the Feasibility of SAA Accreditation of Graduate Archival Education Programs," which I think would be a good first step toward a more coherent system of archival education in this country. I've signed onto the effort, which is discussed in additional detail here.

I concentrated on archives at Simmons as part of the History/Archives Management dual-masters program there, and I work with archival materials every day, albeit from the reference end and not the processing side. We've had the debate at work over whether we're "archivists" or "librarians," and most of us on the reference side tend to say that we're "librarians who work with archival materials," which is, I suspect, similar to what many people at many points along the librarian/archivist continuum do.

As archival education programs continue to expand, it's going to be increasingly important for some standards to be met, and the logical organization to set those standards is the SAA.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pamphlet APB

Even though I still haven't managed to find a copy of the subject of my last book APB (sadly, Japanese Amazon failed to deliver), I'm going to try again.

This one I don't even need an original copy of, just a photocopy. The pamphlet is "True narrative of the early life and cruel abduction of M. Jean-Népomucène-August Pichauld, Comte de Fortsas with an exposé of the supposed Fortsas hoax," trans. Véronique Vuilly. University City, Mo. : Contre Coup Press, [1983?]. It's a 22-page pamphlet with French and English text on facing pages.

150 copies were printed, "most of which," according to the colophon, "are for the Fifth Exchange of the Society of Private Printers." Six libraries have it, says WorldCat, and I've emailed their Rare Books rooms, so hopefully those will pan out. But in the meantime, if anyone's got a copy or has access to one, I'd really appreciate hearing of it.

[Update: Huzzah for the Special Collections Department at the University of Delaware; they're sending along a copy. APB rescinded.]

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Book Review: "Audubon's Watch"

John Gregory Brown's Audubon's Watch (2001) is a highly-imagined and elegant work of fiction, providing an imagined backstory to one of the most bizarre and famous episodes in John James Audubon's life (the New Orleans portrait) through Audubon's own vague, addled reminiscences and from the perspective of Emile Gautreaux, a New Orleans anatomist with secrets of his own.

Audubon's portions of the story are told in the form of musings to his daughters, both of whom died in infancy. Rather a strange narrative choice, but Brown manages to carry it off without the whole thing coming across as too macabre. Tying together strong elements of remorse and yearning, confusion and memory, time and guilt, Audubon's Watch is a recommended read for those interested in Audubon, or as a good summer afternoon's tale for just about anyone.

Kelmscott Chaucer Census

William Peterson and Sylvia Holton Peterson are conducting a census of the known copies of the Kelmscott Chaucer (1896), and have posted some information on their website about missing copies and "other unresolved problems." If you have any information for them, I encourage you to pass it along. Scholarly censuses of famous books like this are of immense importance to historians of print culture and the book.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Calling for Legacy Volunteers

I've a post over at LibraryThing today offering a brief update of the Legacy Library projects and issuing a call for more volunteer-catalogers. So, if you've got some spare time and want to work on Ben Franklin's library, or Carl Sandburg's, or John Dee's or W.B. Yeats' (there are a few more, too), stop by and grab the info, or just drop me a note.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Links & Reviews

- Raymond Scott has been quieter this week, but Paul Collins weighs in on that Sunday Mail article I mentioned last weekend (noting, correctly, that the newspaper was wrong in saying that the First Folio was printed on "goatskin" - it's on paper - and the statement Scott's Cuban contact that he gave Scott "an old copy of The Tempest" might not rule out the First Folio: it's the first play in the Folio, and since the general title page wasn't present ...).

- Robert Darnton's NYRB essay "The Library in the New Age" (which I discussed here) has prompted some letters in the NYRB, which are posted here with Darnton's reply. Jean-Claude Guédon (Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Montreal) notes the importance of the OCA and the key role that libraries and librarians should play in promoting open-source digitization projects. Darnton agrees in his reply, and then goes further: "[C]orporate interests, flawed copyright laws, unfair restrictions on fair use, and many other obstacles block the public's access to this public good. By removing those obstacles, the United States Congress can clear the way for a new phase in the democratization of knowledge. For my part, I think congressional action is required to align the digital landscape with the public good."

- Richard Cox is also headed to the coast of Maine for vacation - may he enjoy it as much as I did!

- Some two thousand books from the personal library of British P.M. William Gladstone sold at an Edinburgh auction for a total of more than £65,000. Another auction, with another 2,000 books, will be held in October.

- Off the Shelf notes that the BPL is hosting a small exhibit, "All the World's a Page: 400 Years of Shakespeare in Print" in the third-floor rare book room. The show runs through 30 September, and I'll have to go by soon and see it.

- From BibliOdyssey, frogs and their various constituent parts from August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof's Historia Naturalis Ranarum Nostratium (1753-1758), and some "after Catesby" natural history illustrations by G. Edwards.

- In the TLS, a profile of the British publisher Collins' "New Naturalist" series.

- For The Guardian, Andrew Dalby comments on the best books about lost and threatened languages. His own latest book is Language in Danger.

- In the NYTimes, the first of a projected series of articles on "how the Internet and other technological and social forces are changing the way people read." This seems to be the in-vogue debate of the summer.

- From the Bangor Daily News this week, horrifying news that the library of Swan's Island, Maine burned to the ground after a lightning strike. "Candis Joyce, the library’s director, said the library contained more than 10,000 books. Historical items included records from local quarries, weather data and ferry logs, she said." All concerned all the library the center of their community, and plans are to rebuild and reconstitute as soon as possible. Awfully sad to hear of this, but particularly so where clearly the library was a really important part of peoples' lives.

- In The Times, Alex Mostrous reports on the unveiling of a digital version of the Codex Sinaiticus, which is projected for completion by next year.


- Ophelia Field's The Kit-Cat Club: Friends Who Imagined a Nation is reviewed by Peter Ackroyd in The Times, Jonathan Keates in The Telegraph, and Jane Stephenson in The Observer. Sounds like a good one, I wonder if it'll be published on this side of the Pond.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Book Review: "The Confusion"

The second massive volume in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is The Confusion (Morrow, 2004) (my review for the first volume, Quicksilver, is here). Only slightly less voluminous than its predecessor (815 pages compared to 927), The Confusion is, I promise, just as complicated and just as bizarre.

There are two major plot-lines in this volume (amid millions of smaller ones): in the first, Jack Shaftoe (whose resemblance to Disney's Jack Sparrow continues here) and his Cabal - a motley crew of misfits if ever there was one - manage to escape from slavery, capture a treasure, lose said treasure, recapture said treasure, lose said treasure again, get captured again, &c. as they meander their way around the world. In the second plot-line (Stephenson has designed the volume with alternating sections - con-fusing them, as it were - so the reader bounces back and forth between the two with some regularity) we find our old friends Leibniz and Waterhouse, Eliza (now a duchess twice over, with a few children under her skirts), Sophie the Electress of Hanover, and all their assorted associates and hangers-on. They're mucking about with the politics and finances of Europe, par usual.

I mostly enjoyed the book, but it's hard not to get bogged down in Stephenson's minutiae, and I found myself frustrated at times, not particularly caring what happened to any of the characters. But I slogged through, and in fact the last few chapters did make the book well worth reading. I'll get to the third volume ... someday.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Wrongful Death Suit Filed in Comstock Case

Missouri police are still waiting for the results of DNA testing before they file charges for the murder of Springfield lawyer/book collector Rolland Comstock. But Comstock's adopted daughter, Faith Stocker, is sick of waiting; she's filed a wrongful death suit against Comstock's ex-wife Alberta, the News-Leader reports. Alberta Comstock and her son Michael are widely considered the main suspects in the case.

Stocker's suit seeks "unspecified damages for funeral costs and the 'mental anguish' caused by Rolland Comstock's untimely demise. It also requests punitive damages 'for aggravating circumstances sufficient to punish Defendant and to deter others similarly situated from like conduct in the future ...'."

Police officials say that the case is still active, and that they continue to await test results.

Read the whole story here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Forger "Comes Clean" in Memoir

The NYTimes' Julie Bosman reports today on a new book by biographer, manuscript thief and forger Lee Israel, Can You Ever Forgive Me? And over at Lux Mentis, Lux Orbis, Ian comments on the same book and includes a review by Kevin Mac Donnell.

Bosman notes that Israel has admitted to forging more than 400 letters, after realizing she could make a buck that way (she started out in 1991 by nabbing three Fanny Brice letters from the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and selling them to the Argosy Book Store). She was later caught in an FBI sting and sentenced to five years of probation and six months of house arrest.

I'm with Ian. No, I won't ever forgive you, Ms. Israel.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

More on the Internet and Reading

Nicholas Carr's Atlantic story "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" (which I discussed at some length here) has prompted a really interesting forum at Brittanica Blog, featuring posts by Clay Shirky, Sven Birkets, Matthew Battles, Michael Gorman, Carr himself, and others.

A side-forum has sprung up at Edge, and that's also proving very much worth a read.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Book Review: "Tristram Shandy"

I confess, I'm not sure quite how to review Tristram Shandy. Laurence Sterne's masterpiece (first published in nine volumes from 1759 through 1767) is like no other book I've ever read, so it's difficult to even figure out how to evaluate it. It's wonderful, and strange, and frustrating, and hilarious. Piling digression upon digression upon digression, Sterne's narrative (or quasi-narrative) twists and turns, doubling back on itself before suddenly darting forward for a page or two before falling back into a sub-sub-plot (see Sterne's own diagrams of the first five volumes here).

Flouting every 'convention' of print culture (in his own time or our own), Sterne writes, is his goal: "in writing what I have set about, I shall confine myself neither to his [Horace's]* rules, nor to any man's rules that ever lived." And how! Black pages appear, inexplicably, out of nowhere. Some chapters are entirely blank, with only the chapter headings to indicate their existence. Punctuation is decidedly unorothox (a young cousin, peering over my shoulder as I was reading, asked "What are all those lines in there?"). Like Swift, Sterne turns his satirical (or cervantick, as he would have it, meaning satirical plus funny) eye on all aspects of culture, from names to the law to courtship, medicine, language and religion.

He knows exactly what he's doing. In a chapter on digressions (Volume I, Chapter XXII), Sterne declares that these sidelines "incontestably, are the sunshine, ----they are the life, the soul of reading; ----take them out of this book for instance ---- you might as well take the book along with them; ----one cold eternal winter would reign in every page of it; restore them to the writer; ----he steps forth like a bridegroom, ----bids All hail; brings in vanity, and forbids the appetite to fail."

It takes an amazing talent to write a book like this that actually carries itself off in a way that works. Sterne does even better than that. Tristram's tales and opinions had me laughing out loud more than once, and constantly itching to find out what was coming next. Simply delightful; if you've never treated yourself to Sterne's works, do take the time.

* Horace famously praised Homer for not beginning The Iliad ab ovo (that is, from the egg). Sterne, of course, does just that.

Book Review: "Clio's Consort"

[Yes, I'm still catching up on reviews from last week. This one, then Tristram Shandy and I'm up to date].

Jeremy Belknap's may not be a household name (at least not in most households). But his role in American history is an important one, and his role in the formation of the Massachusetts Historical Society is a very important one. Former MHS director Louis Leonard Tucker's Clio's Consort: Jeremy Belknap and the Founding of the Massachusetts Historical Society (1990) offers not only a useful biographical sketch of Belknap, but also a close examination of his values as a historian and an in-depth treatment of the beginnings of the MHS and Belknap's preeminent role in the establishment of the Society in 1791 (as the first historical society in the Americas).

Tucker succinctly captures Belknap's historical mentality, his view that "history must not only be based upon the most authoritative primary sources but also be factually accurate, as consistent with truth as was humanly possible" (xii). Trained as a minister, Belknap's true love, or as he called it, his "hobby horse" (an overt nod to Sterne), was American history. He published a three-volume history of New Hampshire hailed by 20th-century critics for its uncharacteristic nature as a "modernist," "secular," "objective" history when such things were even less common than they are today. His highest phrase of praise for others was "accurate and indefatigable," adjectives which he certainly sought to cultivate in his own writings and efforts.

Concerned with the loss of contemporary historical materials and conscious of the need for an institution to house, preserve and publish such things, Belknap and several friends in Boston organized the Massachusetts Historical Society from the ground up in the early 1790s, basing the institution around a broad collecting policy that included the acquisition of books, manuscripts, pamphlets, broadsides, &c. that would be useful for scholars then and in the future. Belknap also envisioned a vibrant publications program to make manuscript collections more widely available in printed form, plus a facility to allow scholars free and open access to the Society's holdings; these two traditions continue at the MHS today.

When you work at a place with such a long-standing record of service, it's important, I think, to periodically go back and delve into the roots of the organization - if for no other reason than to remind yourself of the original mission and the folks who got things off the ground. Belknap does deserve more recognition than he gets, and Tucker's book is a good step in the right direction.

Raymond Scott Keeps Talking

He's going to be one of those gifts that keeps on giving, isn't he? Raymond Scott, the accused thief of Durham University's First Folio, continues to grant interviews, and now he's writing letters to newspaper editors too. The Northern Echo reports that Scott sent a letter there reiterating his innocence and calling for Durham University to sell off its entire rare book collection.

Scott: "Durham University just want yet another rare book to salt away in their ivory tower, for no one who is not part of the university can enter its hallowed portals. Apparently the £15m Shakespeare book is just the tip of a gargantuan iceberg of rare books hoarded by them, miser fashion, while pleading poverty and the parsimony of Government grants. Sold on the open market, these redundant relics would raise billions, yes, thousands of millions of pounds, which could benefit the university itself and the people of County Durham (I live in Tyne and Wear, alas) which is still a deprived area. I think any fair-minded person will find this morally repugnant. I say 'Free The Books'."


At least now he's calling it a book, although he seems to have caught the contagion of declaring its worth at £15m (we think this got started when some media outlet accidentally left out a decimal point - a closer approximation of the book's value would be £1.5m, which is probably still way too high an estimate for the Durham copy in its present, much-vandalized state).

Scott has also "called for police to return the book to him so he can auction it and donate a quarter of the proceeds to charity." In other recent Scott-news, the Daily Mail reports that his Cuban fiancee maintains that their November wedding will be going ahead as scheduled, and that Scott threw a party over the weekend to celebrate the "first week of being released, so far without charge."

While I agree with Travis and Scott Brown (whose Fine Books Blog post on the case is today's must-read) that Scott almost certainly wasn't the original thief of the Durham copy, he's certainly in it up to his armpits now.

Also, a quick note on the authentication process, as reported in the Washington Post. Stephen Massey, the former Christie's exec who authenticated the Durham copy at the Folger, checked the details of the Durham copy: "From a published census with detailed descriptions of existing First Folios, Massey knew the exact dimensions of the Durham First Folio. He knew that the table of contents had a handwritten notation in ink saying "Troilus and Cressida," beneath the printed title "Henry VIII." He knew the title leaf with the portrait of Shakespeare was missing.
All these details checked out, he said. The last page, which contained details that could prove the folio was the stolen Durham volume, was missing." So from this, it would seem that the title page was already missing (if anybody's got a copy of the published census and can verify this, I'd appreciate it).

More to come, no doubt!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Book Review: "Trying Leviathan"

Did you know that a New York jury in 1818 determined that a whale was a fish? I didn't, but I do now, thanks to D. Graham Burnett's Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature (Princeton University Press, 2007). Burnett takes as his subject the notable case of Maurice vs. Judd, in which an inspector of fish oil sued a merchant for $75, the cost of inspecting three barrels of whale oil. Judd, the merchant, claimed that the statute mandating inspections didn't cover his oil, since the law read "fish oil" and his came from whales. A trial ensued over whether the statute applied (and hence, whether "fish oil" included whale oil or not, and thus, whether whales were fish or not).

Featuring the testimony of taxonomists, whalers, merchants and legal experts, the trial offers a great example of the conflict between science, government, and common perception (some things never change). As Burnett writes, this case provides a look into the "contested territory of zoological classification," and he offers a brief but deep look at the problematic nature of cetacean classification through history. He also examines the question from the point of view of whalers (those "on the ground," so to speak), using evidence from logbooks, diaries, and, naturally, Moby-Dick, and he also digs into the question from the perspective of oil merchants and leather manufacturers (those most directly concerned with the practical issues at hand).

Burnett did his homework in writing this book, and it shows. The footnotes (positioned right at the bottom of the page where they belong) are both complete and instructive, and the bibliography is rich (my "to read" list expanded greatly just with the titles from this book). A readable and excellent book which brings an important but forgotten moment to life in fine style.

Book Review: "The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: The Pox Party"

The first of two projected volumes of M.T. Anderson's The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation is The Pox Party (Candlewick Press, 2006). The book is marketed for young adults, but it would probably be of interest to anyone with an interest in American history or the history of science. Octavian, a young slave, is being raised by the staff of Boston's Novanglian College of Lucidity as an experiment to determine the comparative abilities of the races. But as time goes on, circumstances change, and the boy soon finds himself in much different conditions than he's used to.

A hefty read for anyone given the issues it tackles, this book delves deeply into the dark side of the Enlightenment, as well as probing the difficult questions race and slavery posed during the period immediately preceding and during the American Revolution. Anderson has taken certain liberties with the history of the period (and offers due caution to the reader about this), but has managed to carry off a difficult project remarkably well, adding dashes of humor and wit to what could be a singularly depressing story.

Well researched, nicely written, and beautifully designed (Candlewick did themselves proud on this one). I enjoyed it so much that I read it in one sitting, and I've already pre-ordered the second volume, due for release in October.

Book Review: "The Fruit Hunters"

I'm sort of a fruit fanatic, so Adam Leith Gollner's The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce, and Obsession (Scribner) was a must-read for me. In the wake of other history/memoir/culinary travelogue books like those about salt, bananas, honey, &c., Gollner takes up the scrumptious topic of fruits (in all their mind-boggling variety). He visits tropical markets in search of delights we poor temperate Americans don't often have the pleasure of trying, profiles "rare fruit enthusiasts" from around the world, and offers up short capsule histories of fruit consumption, cultivation, and commodification. His cast of characters includes some members of fruit cults, a fruit detective, fruitarians (including the various splinter groups) and even Thomas Jefferson.

Gollner's quite critical of the modern fruit industry, calling our insipid grocery store offerings "Stepford fruits" and declaring "we're eating the shrapnel of a worldwide homogeneity bomb." Which, of course, we are. We want our fruits to be unbruised and long-lasting, and many of the best varieties simply don't travel well. Queen Victoria famously offered a knighthood to the person who could bring her a fresh mangosteen; Victoria never got to award that honor. A fresh mangosteen would probably be possible today, but it would still be costly (but if Gollner's to be believed, it might be worth it!). He also critiques some modern marketing techniques (but praises others, like those for the kiwi, the cranberry and the now-in-vogue "heirloom fruits") and weird projects (including the development of Grapples, an apple 'injected' with grape flavoring which sounds positively atrocious to me).

Having taste-tested many of the strange fruits he describes, Gollner is near his best when writing about those experiences. The smell of one particular durian, he writes, is like "undercooked peanut butter-mint omelets in body-odor sauce" (yum?). Most of them sound much better than that, I promise - reading this book made me hypercritical even of the comparatively tasty pears and plums I was snacking on at the time.

A hunger-inducing book, with an important message about what we eat and why. Well worth a read.

Book Review: "Joseph Banks: A Life"

Patrick O'Brian is best known for his series of "sea novels" featuring Captain Jack Aubrey (Master and Commander, &c.). But he's also a biographer, and his Joseph Banks: A Life is as fine a treatment of Banks as any I've read. O'Brian makes frequent and lengthy use of Banks' own letters, journals and diaries, sometimes stringing along huge quotations with only the slightest bits of connective prose. This and a couple other stylistic oddities were a little off-putting at first, but I got over them and quickly immersed myself in the book.

Bank's life (as globe-trotting botanist with Captain Cook; friend of Linneaus, George III, Samuel Johnson and Joseph Priestley; and longtime president of the Royal Society, among other positions) is one of those (like Johnson's or Priestley's, in fact) which I find it difficult not to be completely captivated by - how could one person have done so much?

The running heads for this book were useful and well-done; each page's header contains the years covered and Banks' age at the time, which made it easy to keep the chronology straight as I read. O'Brian's footnotes, however, leave something to be desired, and while he warns that certain editorial changes have been made to Banks' writings, he fails to note where those occur. Another minor quibble is with the lack of good maps; these are a must for books featuring travel or exploration, and those included here just didn't do the job (not only were they not detailed enough, but they were blurry as well).

A few minor faults, but otherwise quite a good biography, and one I would recommend.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Book Review: "Charlotte's Web"

I hadn't read Charlotte's Web for years, but I thought it might be worth taking along on vacation to read to the little cousins in the evenings should they be inclined to sit still long enough for a few pages. Little did I know they'd demand so many pages each night that I had to start keeping a glass of water handy just to be able to keep going!

E.B. White's classic tale of farmyard friendship has stood the test of time, with its memorable characters, timeless message of altruism, and simple but masterful prose. It's a book truly capable of captivating and being enjoyed by readers (or listeners) of all ages, and it's a great book to share with members of the younger generation.

Auction Report: Sotheby's

The Sotheby's London sale of English Literature, History, Children's Books & Illustrations went off on 17 July as scheduled. Here's how our highlights fared (prices include premiums):

- The Spilsbury autopsy cards made 17,500 GBP.

- The first edition of Wordsworth's An Evening Walk (1793) did beat its estimate, fetching 34,850 GBP.

- The damaged first edition of Gulliver's Travels (1726) also did better than expected, selling for 43,250 GBP.

- It was the Beatrix Potter artwork which stole the show: one piece sold for 289,500 GBP [Update: this is a record price for a book illustration at auction], another for 121,250.

- The Finnegan's Wake typescripts and the collection of household accounts and other items from the court of Nell Gwynn failed to sell.

Links & Reviews

Back from Maine; a good week of relaxing porch-sitting and ocean-watching. And I even got through almost all of the books I took up with me; I'll have reviews of those over the course of the next few days. I even managed to get a very weak wireless signal from the deck yesterday and was able to sift through the 775 items in my Google Reader (I had another 54 when I got home this morning). Of course those included some goodies:

- On the Durham First Folio recovery, see Paul Collins' Slate piece "Why Shakespeare is the World's Worst Stolen Treasure", which outlines some of the distinctive characteristics of the Durham copy I mentioned here. Also see Paul's Weekend Stubble post about the column, Thursday's Washington Post profile of accused thief Raymond Scott, and a trio of Travis posts about the case (here, here and here). In the first, he rightly takes issue with Collins' categorical statement that a stolen First Folio isn't saleable - it is, of course, just not on the open market; in the second he points out what seems to be an interesting book-thievery coincidence. [Update: Can't miss this one: the Sunday Mail profiles Raymond Scott's Cuban fiancee, and reports that Scott's "Cuban contact," the one who supposedly gave him the Folio (that would be Danny Leon Perez) says he only gave Scott "an old, battered copy of Shakespeare's play The Tempest."]

- Travis also notes that Jay Miller is set for release from prison on 13 November.

- All the attention being paid to the First Folio prompted this Buffalo News story about the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library's copy of the book, which came to the library under some fascinating circumstances.

- Cokie Roberts discusses her new book, Ladies of Liberty, on NPR.

- The Guardian's book blog profiled the Legacy Libraries. Tim has some comments on their post here.

- Book Patrol (among others) points us to Power Moby-Dick, an online annotated text of the novel. Pretty impressive.


- In The Telegraph, Helen Castor reviews A Daughter's Love: Thomas and Margaret More by John Guy, Allan Massie reviews Richard Holmes' Marlborough: England's Fragile Genius, and Marcus Nevitt reviews Burghley: William Cecil at the Court of Elizabeth I by Stephen Alford.

- Elizabeth Kolbert reviews and comments on Andrew Jackson Downing's 1841 Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening in The New Yorker.

- Over in the Washington Post, Daniel Stashower reviews Edward Dolnick's The Forger's Spell.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Off to Maine!

I'm off later today for our annual family vacation in Georgetown, Maine (where I'll be enjoying this view for a week). I'll return next Sunday, 20 July (to a near-overwhelming number of things in my Google Reader, no doubt).

The reading material, finally settled upon yesterday afternoon, will be:

- Joseph Banks, A Life by Patrick O'Brian.
- Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne.
- The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce and Obsession by Adam Leith Gollner.
- Clio's Consort: Jeremy Belknap and the Founding of the Massachusetts Historical Society by Louis Leonard Tucker.
- Trying Leviathan: The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature by D. Graham Burnett.
- The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson by Kevin Hayes.
- The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson.
- Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (for pre-bedtime reading to the cousins).

I probably won't get through all of them, but last year I came close to running out, and we can't have that. I'm also taking some photocopies of an interesting collection of Revolutionary War letters with me to transcribe, and will be working on a couple other little projects as well.

Links & Reviews

- An important dispatch from Travis: in the Brubaker case, he reports that the government has filed a Motion for Order of Forfeiture, and will be publishing information about how libraries who believe Brubaker stole from them can claim their missing stuff. So, if you work at one of these libraries and haven't yet done anything, the time for waiting has ended.

- In the Boston Globe today, an investigation into the business connections of the trustees of the Boston Public Library. Donovan Slack finds that three of the trustees who voted last fall to oust Bernie Margolis as president "have substantial business ties with the city, raising questions about their independence from Mayor Thomas M. Menino's administration." The trustees "also failed to disclose those ties as required by the state conflict-of-interest law." Slack adds "The outgoing library president, whose last day was June 30, said in an interview shortly after the vote that some trustees told him they could not vote to keep him for fear of jeopardizing their relationships with City Hall." The mayor's office maintains that "no one at City Hall attempted to use those financial relationships to sway library trustee votes."

- From BibliOdyssey, images from fencing master Achille Marozzo's 1536 work Opera Nova dell'Arte delle Armi, described as "the most important fencing manual of the 16th century and the first serious work to establish uniform rules for the use of weapons." Also, engravings from the "odd" Frauenzimmer Gesprechspiele (1646) by Georg Philipp Harsdörffer (including an interesting reworking of Arcimboldo's "Librarian."

- Via LISNews, a list of "100 Unbelievably Useful Reference Sites You've Never Heard Of" (you've probably heard of some of them, but it is definitely a good list).

- The Austin American-Statesman has a column on the Texfake saga, with some interesting backstory on old John Jenkins and his shenanigans. I've been meaning to write something up about Jenkins and his Union connection, which I will do upon my return from vacation. Apropos of this, another story in the A-S reports that two documents from the period of the Texas Revolution have been ordered returned to the state archives; they've been in private hands for some time after being "improperly removed" from the archives.

- This week's "Information Please" episode, from 1939, features writers Rex Stout and Moss Hart. I'm been enjoying these, they're witty and very amusing. This one includes write-in questions from Upton Sinclair and Ellery Queen, among others.

- From the new issue of College & Research Libraries News, a sampling of summer reading for various incoming college classes.

- In the LATimes, Louis Sahagun has an essay on Jefferson's Bible.

- Richard Cox comments on the recent debate over editing the papers of the 'founding fathers.' He writes "We have confusion here between scholarly historical research generated by documentary editors and access to the documents; one doesn’t necessarily require the other. Assertions about the problems of the “limited accessibility of the published volumes” (limited because of cost and residence in research libraries) still begs the question about just what degree the public wants access to such documents and confuses the needs of the public with that of scholars. ... Holding onto the continuing fiction that every American wants to read the entire correspondence of a Jefferson or Adams actually undermines the potential contributions of modern documentary editing."

- On NPR, author Edward Dolnick discusses his new book The Forger's Spell, about famed art forger Han van Meegeren.

- Paul Collins teases his new Believer article, "Bite Me: A Brief History of Dentistry and Music."


- In the Christian Science Monitor, Joseph Wheelan's Mr. Adams's Last Crusade is reviewed.

- Ted Widmer's Ark of the Liberties: America and the World is reviewed by David Oshinsky in the NYTimes.

Scott: "I'm Innocent"

Today's Daily Mail features comments from Raymond Scott, the man arrested this week in connection with the theft of the Durham First Folio. Scott has apparently now been released from custody [on bail], as he is described as giving the interview while "sipping Dom Perignon champagne and puffing on a giant Havana cigar." There's also a picture.

Scott claims "I have done nothing wrong at all." He says he bought the Shakespeare volume in Cuba, and that it is not the same book stolen from Durham University in 1998. He seems to think he baffled the police: "During the interview with the police I asked, 'How can you possibly know we are dealing with the same book?' 'They shuffled in their seats and looked uncomfortable. I am afraid the celebrations at Durham University were premature, it is not the manuscript that was stolen.'"

First of all, it is decidedly not a manuscript, Mr. Scott, it is a printed book. And the very suggestion that the Folger's staff would have gotten the identification wrong seems to me utterly ludicrous (even though I have learned since writing on Friday that, most unfortunately, identifying marks were removed from the Durham book, making its captors barbarians as well as thieves). First Folios don't just pop up out of nowhere, it's as simple as that. Knowing the collation and the distinctive characteristics of the Durham copy should have easily enabled conclusive proof. An official at Durham said of Scott's claims "The book was identified by leading experts at the Folger Library. They are confident of its authenticity as the one which was stolen from Durham University." If full First Folio census results were accessible online (which they don't appear to be at the moment), it should be a fairly easy match, even with the destruction inflicted on the book.

More from Scott: "I am an innocent man and I believe no charges will be brought against me. I am also confident that the book will be returned to Britain, not to the University of Durham, but to me. The police are welcome to ask me anything, including my inside leg measurement, which for the record is 31 and a half inches, but I have done nothing wrong at all. They took away boxes of books in the search of my home, most of them were new and could be bought on the shelves of Waterstone's. They also caused great anxiety for my sainted mother but, other than that, achieved nothing." He told the paper he "obtained the book through 'contacts' but refused to say how much he paid."

The Independent adds that police have called in "experts on rare and antiquarian books" to help examine the "mountain of tomes" removed from Scott's house (in five "people carriers"). Their report notes that Scott's next court appearance will be in November.

Travis also weighs in on the case; I agree with him that Scott may not be the original thief (if he was, he shouldn't have needed authentication, for example). There are still some unanswered questions swirling around, which hopefully will be cleared up as we move forward.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Book Review: "The Horror of the Heights"

A collection of some of Arthur Conan Doyle's creepy short stories of the supernatural, the macabre and the just plain weird, The Horror of the Height & Other Tales of Suspense (first published in 1913 and reprinted in 1992 by Chronicle Books) is another example of the excellent Conan Doyle works which tend to get eclipsed by Sherlock Holmes. Don't get me wrong, the Holmes mysteries are among my favorites, but there's so much more!

From creepy creatures (in the air or under the ground) to the undead, to paranormal possession, Conan Doyle's mastery of the odd and unexplainable (with his signature touches of humor) is on full display here.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Stolen First Folio Found

It's nice to be able to report some good news once in a while!

A copy of Shakespeare's First Folio stolen from the Durham University Library in December 1998 has been recovered. "A 51-year-old man, claiming to be an international businessman who had acquired the volume in Cuba," brought the book to the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. for authentication on 16 June, and agreed to leave the book at the library for research. Folger staff quickly determined the book had been stolen and contacted the FBI (who in turn contacted Durham University officials).

The Guardian reports that the suspect, now named as Raymond Scott, was arrested yesterday in the town of Washington, Tyne & Wear (near Durham).

Bill Bryson, who is chancellor at Durham (and the author of a recent bio of the Bard) told the paper "Like Shakespeare himself, this book is a national treasure, giving a rare and beautiful snapshot of Britain's incredible literary heritage. I'll certainly be joining the crowds who will be eagerly welcoming it home."

Other materials were taken along with the Folio in 1998, including "two handwritten manuscripts from the late 14th or early 15th century, one bearing an English translation of the New Testament and the other being a fragment of a poem by the Canterbury Tales author, Geoffrey Chaucer. A Beowulf edition printed in 1815 and two editions of the Old English epic by the 10th century scholar Aelfric, one printed in 1566 and the other in 1709, were also taken." Police confirmed that "other old volumes" were found in the suspect's home, but could not say whether they were the others missing from Durham.

Folger spokesman Garland Scott said "A great book is found and will be going home, and that's great news for Shakespeare lovers and rare book lovers everywhere. We're happy we could help."

Updates as I get them!

[Update: More on Raymond Scott, from the Northern Echo, where he's described as an "eccentric book dealer" who "lives with his elderly mother, Hannah" and seems to have a penchant for sports cars and, eh, unorthodox behavior: "Neighbours told how he would wear wrap around shades and a dressing gown to iron his car's seats - and then take the bus into town to do his shopping." Also a note on the provenance of the volume: It was acquired by John Cosin, bishop of Durham, and was part of the library he established in Durham in 1669.]

Conan Doyle on Books

The preface to the Conan Doyle collection I discovered yesterday (The Horror of the Heights & Other Tales of Suspense, reprinted in 1992 by Chronicle Books) is an excerpt from his Through the Magic Door (1907), which I'm apparently going to have to read in full very soon. The first paragraphs, I thought, are well worth quoting here:

"I care not how humble your bookshelf may be, nor how lowly the room which it adorns. Close the door of that room behind you, shut off with it all the cares of the outer world, plunge back into the soothing company of the great dead, and then you are through the magic portal into that fair land whither worry and vexation can follow you no more. You have left all that is vulgar and all that is sordid behind you. There stand your noble, silent comrades, waiting in their ranks. Pass your eye down their files. Choose your man. And then you have but to hold up your hand to him and away you go together into dreamland. Surely there would be something eerie about a line of books were it not that familiarity has deadened our sense of it. Each is a mummified soul embalmed in cere-cloth and natron of leather and printer's ink. Each cover of a true book enfolds the concentrated essence of a man. The personalities of the writers have faded into the thinnest shadows, as their bodies into impalpable dust, yet here are their very spirits at your command.

It is our familiarity also which has lessened our perception of the miraculous good fortune which we enjoy. Let us suppose that we were suddenly to learn that Shakespeare had returned to earth, and that he would favour any of us with an hour of his wit and his fancy. How eagerly we would seek him out! And yet we have him---the very best of him---at our elbows from week to week, and hardly trouble ourselves to put out our hands to beckon him down. No matter what mood a man may be in, when once he has passed through the magic door he can summon the world's greatest to sympathize with him in it. If he be thoughtful, here are the kings of thought. If he be dreamy, here are the masters of fancy. Or is it amusement that he lacks? He can signal to any one of the world's great story-tellers, and out comes the dead man and holds him enthralled by the hour. The dead are such good company that one may come to think too little of the living. It is a real and a pressing danger with many of us, that we should never find our own thoughts and our own souls, but be ever obsessed by the dead. Yet second-hand romance and second-hand emotion are surely better than the dull, soul-killing monotony which life brings to most of the human race. But best of all when the dead man's wisdom and strength in the living of our own strenuous days.

Come through the magic door with me, and sit here on the green settee, where you can see the old oak case with its untidy lines of volumes. Smoking is not forbidden. Would you care to hear me talk of them? Well, I ask nothing better, for there is no volume there which is not a dear, personal friend, and what can a man talk of more pleasantly than that? The other books are over yonder, but these are my own favourites ---the ones I care to re-read and to have near my elbow. There is not a tattered cover which does not bring its mellow memories to me."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Thomas Pilaar, 34, has been sentenced to pay fines of $53,549 and serve ten years in state prison after pleading guilty to stealing more than 1,400 books and DVDs from libraries in the Denver, Colorado area.

The AP reports "Pilaar was accused of using his own and other people's library cards from Denver, Douglas County, Aurora and Littleton to check out [library materials], which he later sold on Craigslist. About 1,400 books and DVDs were taken by Pilaar, of which only 500 items were recovered. The restitution covers the amount of losses suffered by all the victimized libraries. Denver Public Library last year estimated its losses at $35,000, while Douglas County reported that Pilaar had $11,000 worth of overdue materials, mostly pricey coffee-table books and DVDs."

Pilaar was arrested on unrelated charges last August.

E. Forbes Smiley, who stole at least 100 rare maps from major cultural institutions in the United States and Britain, was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison (and ordered to pay $2.3 million in restitution). Sure, the fine is higher, but half the prison time for what was a much more serious cultural crime?

Don't get me wrong: I'm pleased as punch that Pilaar will be spending some serious time behind bars. But what Smiley stole, frankly, is worth a great deal more, culturally (and fiscally) speaking, than the "coffee-table books and DVDs" Pilaar was making off with. I guess we ought to make it a rule that all federal prosecutors come from Colorado, or something ...

Random Observation

Picking which books to take on vacation seems to get more difficult every year. I've been moving stacks around for days, and still haven't managed to find the right mix. And I found a new (to me) collection of Arthur Conan Doyle stories (of the non-Holmes variety) this morning at Harvard Bookstore. Thankfully I'll probably be finished with those before Sunday anyway, so I won't have to add them to the piles.

Auction Report: Upcoming

Sotheby's London will hold a sale of English Literature, History, Children's Books & Illustrations on 17 July. A few highlights from among the 340 lots (not counting the Spilsbury autopsy cards) include:

- Some typescripts of Joyce's Finnegan's Wake (100,000-150,000 GBP)

- Several original Beatrix Potter watercolors (40,000-60,000 GBP apiece)

- A collection of household accounts and other items from the court of Nell Gwynn (40,000-60,000 GBP)

- A first edition of Wordsworth's first book, An Evening Walk (1793); just three copies of this book have sold at auction in the last three decades, so don't be surprised if it surpasses the 25,000-30,000 GBP estimate.

- A first edition of Gulliver's Travels (1726). This one has some damage (including a detached cover), but the estimate is still 20,000-25,000 GBP.

Publishers Relax(?) Age-banding Stance

The age-banding debate continues across the Pond. A report in The Guardian yesterday says that the Publishers' Association issued a statement indicating that there is "no question of age guidance being added to a book without full consultation with the author." Banding critic Philip Pullman says that's insufficient: "Our point of view remains that consultation is not enough. We could consult and consult to the point of nausea and publishers could still turn around and insist that a book be banded."

Opponents point to one book (Keith Gray's Ostrich Boys) which was already released with a "13+/teen" logo on it against Gray's wishes. Publishers' Association secretary Kate Bostock called that "a dreadful in-house mistake," and said that Gray has been the only author thus affected. She told the paper that consultations are continuing.

I agree with Pullman; scrap the whole business.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

You Can be the Future (of Cataloging)!

Tim's announced the Open Shelves Classification project, a collaborative effort designed to build a "free, 'humble,' modern, open-source, crowd-sourced replacement for the Dewey Decimal System." So now's the time to jump on board and get involved in what promises to be a really fascinating debate. I like the idea and intend to chime in where I can, but I'll be involved with the project only to some minimal extent (as I said yesterday, I've got enough dead libraries to worry about, and I don't think anybody's up for using Jefferson's classification scheme).

I highly encourage anyone interested in cataloging and organization (probably particularly those associated with public libraries, but certainly not them exclusively) to speak up and join the discussion. To paraphrase: the stakes are too high for you to stay quiet.

Domain Upgrade

I'm delighted to announce that you'll now be able to access PhiloBiblos directly at Links, feeds, &c. containing the blogspot address info should still work (if they don't, please let me know).

[Update: Something's fishy. I've switched back to all-blogspot for the moment. Stay tuned.]

[Later update: Well, something's obviously still confused; the doman-forward doesn't seem to be working just yet.]

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Book Review: "The River of Doubt"

Candice Millard's The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey is one of those that I've been watching for ever since it came out (2005). I knew sooner or later that I'd stumble across a copy, and finally did. [I'm not sure why it always works out this way, but it seems that whenever I wait for a book to come to me instead of buying it right off as soon as I hear about it, I tend to like it more (this is probably a clue that I should buy fewer books, isn't it?).]

One of the reasons I never reached out and bought this book was all the hype it got when it was released. Books that get that much attention almost always disappoint me. But, thankfully, this one did no such thing. In fact, it deserved every word of praise it received (and I'm about to give it a few more). I simply couldn't put it down. Millard has managed to write one of the best popular histories in print today, and I would not hesitate to rank it among the best ever written.

Roosevelt's trip down the Rio Duvida (now the Rio Roosevelt) in 1914 is recounted here in meticulous and mind-boggling detail, with the tone of a novel and the suspense of a thriller. I've read many biographies of TR and of this trip and its impact on the former president's life, but Millard brings the episode alive to such a striking degree that I found it impossible to keep my breath from catching in my throat at certain points. Millard has captured TR and his companions brilliantly, but beyond that she also manages to make the river itself, the surrounding ecosystem and the (usually) invisible but nearby native peoples into integral parts of the narrative.

Following Roosevelt and his party through the jungle is a remarkably painful experience - between the diminishing rations, severe health problems, poor planning, nasty weather and all manner of insects and other annoyances, I found myself cringing every time the group ran into another set of rapids or was forced to stop and build another dugout. I just wanted them to make it through ... and then when they suddenly reached their destination, I thought it had all happened too soon.

This book is almost sure to be one of my top books of the year, but of course I do have the occasional quibble. More detailed maps would have been very useful, as would in-text indications of the endnotes (which are excellent, but aren't marked). But these are very minor criticisms - it's a great book, and one I highly recommend.

Auction Report: Sotheby's

Sotheby's London had a Continental and Russian Books and Manuscripts sale today. Some highlights:

- A near-complete set of Piranesi's prints of Rome (1761-1778) fetched 127,250 GBP, much higher than the pre-sale estimates of 35,000-45,000 GBP.

- A German manuscript magic book (eighteenth century) containing "incantations, conjurations, spells, remedies and charms, in apparently several hands, in brown ink, including magical diagrams, the Sator word square, esoteric and Christian symbols, signs of the zodiac, planetary signs, Judeo-Christian terminology ('JesAtonay...Tetragramatonxinri'), with some entries in pencil" made 3,750 GBP.

- The first complete edition copy of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (1833) sold for 42,050 GBP, better than doubling its estimates.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Belated Links & Reviews

Apologies for the delay; I went home this weekend for a couple days of family, food and rest, and used today to play a little bit of catch-up. Without further ado:

- From the Penguin blog, a guest post by author Nick Hornby on the ebook "phenomenon." I'm not quite as sanguine as he is about reading in general, I guess, but then again I'm way off the average of buying seven books a year (that's closer to a fortnight for me, maybe a month if I'm trying to behave ...).

- The July issue of Common-place is out: it includes a history of Monticello as "historic place," among other noteworthy essays. One of the most browsable and consistently interesting collections of historical scholarship on the web continues to improve.

- Over at LISNews, Christopher Kiess asks whether future librarians might not need an MLS.

- An update on the vandalism at Robert Frost's home, Homer Noble Farm. NPR reports "Some of the 28 people charged with trespassing and vandalism accepted an unusual plea agreement - they had to take a class on Robert Frost." Poetic, perhaps, but not nearly harsh enough.

- Here's an FBI press release on the recent developments in the Brubaker case.

- In The Guardian, David Crystal suggests that text-messaging may not be killing the English language after all. He finds that the majority of text messages use standard orthography ("In one American study, less than 20% of the text messages looked at showed abbreviated forms of any kind - about three per message"), and offers a short history of English-language abbreviations (criticized by Joseph Addison and Jonathan Swift, among others, so those of us who complain about 'c u l8tr' aren't in bad company). Crystal also notes the pretty silly way text messaging has been programmed into phones ("No one took letter-frequency considerations into account when designing it. For example, key 7 on my mobile contains four symbols, pqrs. It takes four key-presses to access the letter s, and yet s is one of the most frequently occurring letters in English. It is twice as easy to input q, which is one of the least frequently occurring letters. It should be the other way round"), which I quite agree with, and concludes his essay by examining the recent trend of text-message-based poetry and novels. Read the whole thing (rtwt?). I don't necessarily agree with Crystal's conclusions, but he makes a fair case.

- Ben reports that the Oklahoma Bibliophiles' event with Kevin Hayes went very well. My copy of Hayes' Road to Monticello arrived today, and I've barely been able to keep myself out of it so far.

- Rachel notes Lawrence Downes' NYTimes essay "In a Changing World of News, an Elegy for Copy Editors."

- From Britannica and Old Time Radio, a 29 May 1945 broadcast of "Information Please!" featuring guest Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. and other panelists James Kieran, Franklin Adams, and Oscar Levant. Quite impressive indeed. More episodes here, including several with author and bookman Christopher Morley which I'm looking forward to listening to.

- Tim has a portion up of his talk at ALA about the future of cataloging.

- J.K. Rowling has joined the chorus of British authors opposed to the publishers' age-banding scheme.

- Laura points out the fascinating timeline of printing and book history created by Paul Dijstelberge using the Dipity software. I haven't played with that yet, but it looks pretty nifty.

- Another installment in the Who Was Shakespeare? debate, as reported by NPR. Also on NPR, Renee Montagne speaks to author Nigel Cliff about his book The Shakespeare Riots.

- Also from NPR, a discussion with Tony Perrottet, the author of the new book, Napoleon's Privates: 2,500 Years of History Unzipped.

- Rick Ring seems to have found Jefferson's own copy of an 1802 edition of his manual for parliamentary procedure.


- Larry McMurtry's new memoir, Books, is reviewed in the Christian Science Monitor and The Statesman.

- In The Telegraph, Jonathan Keates reviews James Cuno's Who Owns Antiquity?: Museums and the Battle Over Our Ancient Heritage.

- For the Boston Globe, Michael Kenney reviews If by Sea: The Forging of the American Navy by George Daughan.

Book Review: "The Sun Over Breda"

The third in Arturo Perez-Reverte's Captain Alatriste series, The Sun Over Breda picks up where Purity of Blood leaves off. We find our trusty narrator (Inigo Balboa) and Captain Alatriste in the trenches of Holland, fighting for Spain against the independence-seeking Dutch and their English allies. Perez-Reverte's incomparably lyrical prose is on full display here as always, but like the other books in this series, this one underwhelms.

There is more action in this one than the first two, including some detailed battle scenes, but there is also more than enough slow, almost ponderous exposition on camp life and culture, reminiscences of adventures past (I don't recommend dipping into this series in the middle) and clues foreshadowing things to come.

As I said about the last book, I'll keep reading these, but I'll keep hoping they progress into something more than the first three books have offered.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

For the Fourth

- Just because, here are some Wordle visualizations of the Declaration of Independence, using various word counts, fonts, color schemes, &c. Version 1, Version 2, Version 3, Version 4. Or make your own!

- In the NYTimes today, John Carter Brown Library director Ted Widmer has an essay, "Looking for Liberty," in which he asks the question "which document, precisely, is the Declaration of Independence?" Is it the manuscript engrossed copy on display at the National Archives? Or the manuscript copy presumed to have been "in the room" on 4 July when the Continental Congress voted to approve the text (but now lost)? Or is it the first printed version (the Dunlap broadside), which would have been the 'edition' of the Declaration which first made its way around the states and across the Pond?

Widmer concludes "It would be gratifying to point to a single Declaration and proclaim it the fountainhead of our rights. But to do so would be to assert a truth that is not quite as self-evident as we would like. The Declaration is surely a national treasure — but like many treasures, the quest it inspires may ultimately be more rewarding than the illusion of possession. Perhaps it is safest to say that this precious document, with all its flaws and variants, belongs to an American people not unlike itself."

- In Boston, the Declaration wasn't publicly declared until 18 July, when it was read aloud from the balcony of what is now called the Old State House. Henry Alline wrote a letter describing that public reading, and that's our MHS Object of the Month.

- In Wednesday's Washington Post, Andrew Trees had an essay titled "Three Cheers for July Second." He proposes "we make July 2 a national holiday to celebrate the Founders for some of their greatest but least appreciated attributes - their mistakes." He gives some examples of these (most of which seem like the least of their worries, really) and concludes "As we honor our nation's birth and those who worked to bring it about, we should include some veneration for their willingness to experiment and, just occasionally, get things wrong."

- In yesterday's Post, George Will discusses the Mecklenburg Resolves, that much earlier declaration of independence (20 May 1775, if taken at face value) whose words sound so familiar: "We the citizens of Mecklenburg County do hereby dissolve the political bands which have connected us to the mother country. . . . We do hereby declare ourselves a free and independent people . . . to the maintenance of which independence, we solemnly pledge to each other our mutual cooperation, our lives, our fortunes, and our most sacred honor." Like Widmer, Will is seeking "a moment" (or so, he says, is Peter De Bolla in his new book The Fourth of July and the Founding of America), and also like Widmer he sees that this is a trickier proposition than might be assumed.

But Will brings it home as only Will can do: "What de Bolla calls 'the intricate history of the nation's founding document' does not and should not inhibit Americans from asserting the truth that their nation originated on July 4, 1776. They hold that to be a self-evident truth, which means they have decided to believe it, thereby making it a self-validating tradition. So there."

Happy Fourth, everyone!

Forgotten Remnants

[I haven't found a good way yet to store random un-RSSed links that I stumble across and want to mention here. Right now they get pasted into a "Blog-Links" draft email that I rarely remember to check before I start writing up a links post ... hence this one, which comprises some I just rediscovered. Anybody found a good way to keep these handy?]

- Using astronomical and other references in Homer's Odyssey, researchers Marcelo Magnasco and Constantino Baikouzis at Rockefeller University in New York say they've pinpointed (to the day!) Odysseus' return to Ithaca ... April 16, 1178 B.C., close to noon local time. You can read their full paper (from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) here.

- In a strange twist of pots and kettles, Christopher Benfey (writing for Slate) takes Miles Harvey somewhat to task for Harvey's new book Painter in a Strange Land: The Strange Saga of the First European Artist in North America. Harvey (of The Island of Lost Maps fame) has tried to recreate the biography of Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, an early French settler (at the Fort Caroline settlement in Florida) whose artwork was supposedly the basis for later engravings of American Indians, botanical specimens, &c. (the originals have disappeared). Le Moyne is an elusive figure, so Harvey's book is somewhat speculative (or, as Benfey puts it, "space-filled" and "contrived"). Since I've been known to criticize this sort of biography (and for the same reasons) I wouldn't have minded Benfey's critique ... except that he'd gone in for a very similar treatment himself from Laura Miller in the NYTimes just a few weeks ago for his A Summer of Hummingbirds.

- Also from Slate, Alex Heard writes about the FBI's records management policies, which of course anyone who's ever taken an archives course knows all too well. Heard, who's writing a book "about the 1951 execution of Willie McGee, an African-American man from Laurel, Miss., who got the death penalty in 1945" had requested a case file from the FBI which hadn't been retained ... so of course he discovers the shocking truth that not every document ever created by the federal government gets saved forever. If I'm surprising you by saying that, just wait, an oxygen mask will drop down out of the overhead compartment.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

NPR Boosts Book Coverage

Publisher's Weekly reports that NPR has begun an expansion of its web-based book coverage, "adding weekly book reviews, and has hired six new book reviewers—including a graphic novel reviewer—and added more features to an already existing lineup of author podcasts, critics' lists and other book-focused content ... is now offering three or four book reviews a week, including such newly added roundups as Books We Like, short reviews of favored new titles, and Three Books We Like, which allows each NPR critic to gather and survey three titles on a particular subject."

The new reviewers include "Jessa Crispin, founder of the literary blog; John Freeman, book critic and a former president of the National Book Critics Circle; and Laurel Maury, freelance comics and graphic novel reviewer and a longtime contributor to PW Comics Week."

Senior supervising producer Joe Matazzoni said "We’re building up our book coverage because book content really works for our audience. Books are among the top three topics attracting traffic to the NPR site."

I like it, and the expansion has been immediately obvious - the number of NPR items coming through the Books RSS feed has been increasing noticeably lately.

[h/t LISNews]

Research Advice

In answering a reference question yesterday I came across the following in the February 1887 Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society (p. 220). Edward J. Lowell is delivering a paper ("German Manuscript Sources for the History of the Revolutionary War") and says, in part: "The scholar who should undertake to examine the manuscripts would need a pretty good knowledge of the German language, with some familiarity with the puzzling German handwriting, knowledge of the history of the Revolution, accuracy, patience, and a strong digestion. Without the last advantage no one should venture in Germany far from the large cities."

Thankfully, he does not elaborate.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Early NZ Journal Won't Be Exported

The Otago Daily Times reports that a bookseller in Dunedin, NZ has decided not to sell the recently-rediscovered journal of an early settler to an overseas buyer. Malcolm Moncrief-Spittle (whose name sounds like something from an Evelyn Waugh book) first said that he had accepted a bid "for a five figure sum" from a prospective buyer outside New Zealand; he later revised that statement, to say that "having subsequently checked further on the contents of the Protected Objects Act, he had changed his mind." He's now looking to sell the diary to the Alexander Turnbull Library (the National Library of New Zealand).

Edward Jerningham Wakefield's journal covers the period from 1850-1858, when Wakefield was serving as a representative in the NZ parliament and on the Provincial Council. He had previously visited the area in 1839 with his uncle William Wakefield, and published an 1845 book Adventures in New Zealand. The journal had been presumed lost until it appeared for sale at auction last year.

The contents of the journal will be published next month by Kilmog Press.

[h/t Shelf:Life]