Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Fun: Literary Ice Cream

What could be better than a library-themed Ben & Jerrys ice cream flavor, right? Well, if a certain Facebook group has its way, that flavor could be coming soon. Lots of suggestions for what to call the flavor have been tossed around this week, so in case you've missed the posts, I wanted to round them up and spread the word (my colleagues and I have been having great fun thinking up additional names - testing the library/literary punning skills is always enjoyable!).

- Stephen Gertz at Book Patrol got the ball rolling, posting about the Facebook group and urging readers to submit flavor suggestions and to support funding for their local libraries (always a good idea).

- Menachem Kaiser at The Book Bench weighed in from The New Yorker, throwing out some additional suggestions.

- Alison Flood of The Guardian joined the fracas, reporting that Ben & Jerrys officials aren't at all opposed to the idea. Flavor guru Andy Carbone told her "From Cherry Garcia to Bohemian Raspberry, some of our best-loved flavours have been fan suggestions. We've honoured rock'n'roll icons, so why not librarians?"

- And Elizabeth from Reading Copy posted yesterday with some more good flavor names (more literary than library, but no matter).

I think Gooey Decimal System seems to have the edge at the moment, and as a friend pointed out to me, the possibilities for playing that up on the packaging, &c. are endless! (yes, Dewey has its limitations, &c., but you gotta love the pun). Anyway, join the fun - suggest away!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Macclesfield Alphabet Book Stays in UK

The British Library has been successful in raising the £600,000 that will keep the Macclesfield Alphabet Book - a lovely little "font sample" manuscript from c. 1500 - in the British Isles.

The Guardian reports: "The 46 leaves of parchment may have been a demonstration of a luxury book workshop's skill, ready to show off to a potential customer, or a complete pattern manual for a craftsman to copy. It contains gold embellished borders, title pages, and 14 alphabets wreathed in flowers and foliage, made up of humans or serpents, fish, dragons and other animal figures." A BL curator described the manuscript as "the most complete set of designs for manuscript decoration known to have survived from late-medieval Britain."

Unknown until it was discovered in the Macclesfield Library (presumably during preparations for one of the recent sales), the manuscript was purchased after a lengthy public appeal for funds, and with the support of the Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Beginning today, the Alphabet Book will be on display in the BL's Ritblat Gallery.

More from The Guardian, Rare Book Review. There's a picture here [via Laura]

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Simmons Alum Nominated as U.S. Archivist

President Obama has nominated my fellow Simmons library science alumnus David Ferriero, currently the Andrew W. Mellon Director and Chief Executive of The Research Libraries at The New York Public Library, to be the Archivist of the United States (i.e. head of the National Archives). Ferriero previously was the library director at Duke and worked at the MIT libraries for thirty-one years prior to that.

Neat! And good luck!

New Hope for Filling the "Watergate Gap"

David Corn reports in Mother Jones on a fascinating new project that might - just might - shed some light on the infamous 18 1/2-minute gap in the Watergate tapes. Corporate security analyst Phil Mellinger thinks that a CSI-like technique - electrostatic detection analysis - might be able to reconstruct notes taken by Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman during the 20 June 1972 meeting.

Two pages of Haldeman's notes from the 79-minute meeting are in the National Archives, and Mellinger thinks that a middle page may have been removed (corresponding with the gap in the tapes, interestingly enough). Mellinger proposed that the archives give electrostatic detection analysis a try, and NARA Watergate records archivist David Paynter says he's currently awaiting permission from his superiors to do just that. He told Corn "Here's another avenue to shed light on an important episode in history. It's very exciting."

As Corn notes, even if this procedure works, it might tell us nothing. "It's possible Haldeman didn't take any more notes corresponding to the gap. The impressions on the second page, Paynter points out, could have come from the writing on the first page. There's also no telling if any recovered notes would alter the basic tale of Watergate—or further incriminate Nixon." But there's a chance it could greatly enhance our understanding of those minutes. Cool!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Book Review: "The Mapmakers"

The revised edition of John Noble Wilford's The Mapmakers (Vintage, 2001) updates the original edition of 1981, bringing the history of cartography and cartographers into the twenty-first century (of course given the current pace of technological changes, it's certain that it won't take twenty years before more revisions are warranted). This is probably the best single-volume history of cartographic endeavor, and most specifically the best treatment of those Wilford calls "the great pioneers of mapmaking."

From the earliest period of human history, we've been making maps: some good, some bad, some grossly inaccurate. Wilford surveys the historical trends in cartography and profiles those responsible for the greatest breakthroughs (and the greatest blunders). Eratosthenes and Ptolemy, Columbus and the Cassinis, Frémont and John Wesley Powell, all get their due here. Wilford tracks the involvement of governments in cartographic pursuits, and offers in-depth examinations of how changing technology (from aerial photography to laser imaging to GPS) has shaped the field.

While the majority of Wilford's text focuses on historical mapmaking and its difficulties, he also covers more recent efforts to map the still-hidden parts of our own planet (including the deep seas). In the final chapters, Wilford turns his gaze to the skies, focusing on the efforts to create useful maps of the moon, the local planets, the solar system, and even the universe.

Entirely readable and very nicely paced, this is an excellent introduction to the field, and the extensive list of references at the back will be very useful for anyone seeking further information (my one quibble is that there aren't footnotes referencing specific sources; I would have appreciated those).

Book Review: "Fakes & Forgeries"

Brian Innes' Fakes & Forgeries (Reader's Digest, 2005) is a very basic introduction to the subject, taking a wide-angle view which encompasses everything from counterfeit money to identity theft to forged antiquities, art, and books. Unfortunately that breadth means that nothing gets covered in any great depth, and Innes' text is strangely disjointed: the narrative bounces around rather rapidly, and characters/topics blip in and out, sometimes without any introduction whatever. Occasionally the only mention of a given topic was in a picture caption, which also seemed slightly bizarre.

The best use of this book might be as an entry point into more research on a given area of the subject, although without any source notes, even that might be a stretch. Perhaps for the very casual reader, this would be a sufficient overview, but overall, I think there are better books out there.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Two New Early American Libraries

I've added two new fairly small but very interesting collections to the Libraries of Early America project this weekend:

- Hannah Lee Corbin (1728-1782): one of the "Virginia Lees," the sister of Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee (among the bunch of other Revolutionary-generation Lees). Hannah was well educated at her family's plantation Stratford Hall, and would become a strong advocate of increased rights for women. Like Lady Jean Skipwith, Hannah had a long widowhood (she was married to Gawin Corbin from 1748 through 1759/60, and cohabited with Dr. Richard Lingan Hall until his death in 1774), and significant amounts of money, enabling her to purchase many books for pleasure reading (a large portion of her collection is novels). Her LT library is drawn from several invoices and inventories, for which many thanks to her descendent Dr. William McCarty for bringing them to my attention.

- John Fitzpatrick (~1737-1791): a British merchant who settled at Manchac, a small trading outpost north of New Orleans in the late 1760s and lived there until his death. His library, inventoried at his death (the first I've entered where the values are given in pesos and reales), contained twenty-five books, a selection of literature, history and commercial works.

The two share four titles: Rollin's Ancient history, Smollet's Peregrine Pickle, The spectator, and Pope's Works.

Links & Reviews

First, some bad news: yesterday in my circuit of Boston/Cambridge bookstores I found out the hard way that the Harvard University Press display room/shop had closed since my last visit. A real shame, that.

[After I put it together, I found that this week's selection of links is weirdly skewed toward the Boston Globe, but I will say they've had a pretty good run of book coverage lately, so I've let it slide].

- In the Boston Globe, Hobson Woodward talks to Anna Mundow about his research for A Brave Vessel.

- Also from the Globe, a writeup of the Google Books discussion I discussed here. The reporter interviewed Google's Dan Clancy and others the day after the talk, and includes some comments about what they're calling the "uber book platform," to make their digital copies available (see their recent deals with Sony and Barnes & Noble, for example).

- I'm awfully glad J.L. Bell picked this up: he takes on an absolutely ridiculous op/ed [read: puff piece] that was printed in the Globe last week, by a proponent of so-called "intelligent design." The piece claimed the support of Thomas Jefferson for the pseudo-scientific claptrap these folks peddle (why the Globe stooped to printing it is quite beyond me), which Bell rebuts elegantly.

I particularly like this paragraph, where Bell notes that TJ didn't have the works of Darwin and Wallace to inform his thinking: "Thus, Jefferson never had a chance to consider the most fundamental ideas of modern biology or the best evidence for it. For Meyer to cast Jefferson as a creationist like himself is therefore akin to claiming that the third President would support only organic farming—after all, that’s the only type of agriculture he had his enslaved laborers practice. Or that Jefferson would oppose nuclear power, genetic engineering, and the mumps vaccine—he undoubtedly never wrote a word in favor of any of those things!"

- Ian noted the arrival of a new reference work, Stephen Matyas' Declaration of Independence: A Checklist of Books, Pamphlets, and Periodicals, Printing the U.S. Declaration of Independence, 1776-1825. With an appendix checklist of American newspapers printing the Declaration of Independence. You can download the book for free at the author's website.


- Richard Eder reviews Richard Holmes' Age of Wonder in the Boston Globe.

- Laurie Scheck's A Monster's Notes is reviewed by Ed Siegel, also in the Globe.

- In the LATimes, Nick Basbanes reviews Paul Collins' The Book of William.

- Michael Dirda reviews Keith Thomas' The Ends of Life in the WaPo.

- James MacGregor Burns' Packing the Court is reviewed by Adams Liptak in the NYTimes.

- Also in the Times, Janet Maslin reviews Douglas Brinkley's The Wilderness Warrior.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

This Week's Acquisitions

Just one arrival through today:

- Errands into the Metropolis: New England Dissidents in Revolutionary London by Jonathan Beecher Field (Dartmouth University Press, 2009). Publisher. I've been looking forward to this one, and will probably read it fairly soon.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Book Review: "Edgar Huntly"

Charles Brockden Brown's 1799 gothic novel Edgar Huntly, or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker is another of those works that's rather difficult to review. Like Brown's other works, it contains fascinatingly complex motifs (concealed or mistaken identities, sleep-walking, unrequited guilt, revenge) and intensely complicated problems (tangled financial matters, inter-racial warfare, and the persistent dilemmas associated with growing up).

In his prefatory note, "To the Public," Brown notes that his unconventional uses of particularly American gothic motifs is entirely intentional: "One merit the writer may at least claim; that of calling forth the passions and engaging the sympathy of the reader, by means hitherto unemployed by preceding authors. Puerile superstition and exploded manners; Gothic castles and chimeras, are the materials usually employed for this end. The incidents of Indian hostility, and the perils of the western wilderness, are far more suitable; and, for a native of America to overlook these, would admit of no apology. These, therefore, are, in part, the ingredients of this tale, and these he [the author] has been ambitious of depicting in vivid and faithful colours." He certainly succeeds there.

It's impossible to evaluate 18th-century novels in the same ways I would a novel published today: the styles are utterly different, as are the motives (of both writer and reader). But that's alright. I enjoyed the twists and turns of the narrative, and even after all these years, Brown's ability to creep out his reader remains as powerful as it ever was. Well worth a read.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Google Books Settlement Discussion @ BPL

After work tonight I went down to the BPL for their panel discussion on the Google Books Search Settlement, featuring project engineer Daniel Clancy, MIT Libraries Director Ann Wolpert and professors John Palfrey of Harvard Law School and Hal Abelson of MIT. The discussion was moderated by Maura Marx of the Open Knowledge Commons. The Rabb lecture hall was packed to the gills with librarians, authors, publishers and other interested folks, and the very energetic discussion ended up running much longer than the planners had intended.

While there were entire elements of the Google Book Search program and the settlement which didn't get touched on at all, the exchange ended up being fairly wide-ranging (probably as wide-ranging as it could possibly be in a couple hours). Clancy provided a very succinct overview of the program and the settlement (his bottom line: "ultimately, people want access"). The three other panelists then responded briefly to various aspects of the program, and the key word quickly became "queasy". Each of them confessed what I think many of us feel about Google Books: it's a great thing in principle, but the devil's in the details.

Questions of access models, privacy, copyright and future actions by Google and/or its partners in the settlement all came up, as well as the fundamental question of whether we as a cultural community/society want to allow a single company to effectively commercialize the corpus of digitized out-of-print books. Another major point of contention was the perceived lack of input by librarians and "public-interest" folks in the settlement; Clancy argued that in fact much of the settlement debates centered around how best to make the knowledge base available to the greatest number of people.

John Palfrey made several of the best points of the evening. He praised Google for having the "chutzpah" to make the effort in pursuit of this settlement (by challenging the authors and publishers), and pointed out that "we" (the library/cultural institution community) should have done it ourselves five years ago and left the commercial interests out of it (but we missed the boat). Now, he argued, we must "get in front of the mob and call it a parade," and he urged librarians to make noise and get active in shaping the new digital world, not being shaped by it. I think if those in the audience took one thing away from this evening's discussion it should be that: the world is changing, and if we're not riding the wave, we're getting swept under it.

I confess I haven't made up my own mind about the Google settlement (as proposed). Yes, I wish that the whole digital debate had been different, but that ship sailed a long time ago. And I still don't think we know enough about the pricing structure that Google will offer for institutional subscriptions to the corpus of materials covered by the settlement to say whether or not that's a workable option. I know that librarians need to be even more involved than they have been thus far, and I certainly hope that they will be.

Overall, tonight's debate raised quite a few good questions and provided some really useful details to those in attendance. And we'll have to wait and see what ends up happening with the settlement in court before we really know whether we will need to work to shape its provisions to our advantage, or whether we're back to square one.

Calling All Libraries: Do You Have Any Washington Books?

Since I am fairly confident this blog gets read by at least a few librarians out there, a plea: if your institution holds any books which once belonged to George Washington, would you be so kind as to let me know? Why, you ask?

I've been working for several months on the Washington library, which is now entirely entered into LT to the best of my knowledge. The most extensive bibliography of the Washington collection was published in 1897 (Appleton P.C. Griffin, , William Coolidge Lane, and Franklin Osborne Poole. A catalogue of the Washington collection in the Boston Athenæum. Boston: Boston Athenæum, 1897 - digital version here) - and while it's a great starting point, quite a few books have moved around in the intervening 110 years or so.

The locations as I know them are listed at the top of this page, and in each bibliographic record within the LT-catalog. The good folks at Mount Vernon tell me they have received many more original Washington books, and are preparing a list for me to update their holdings. But I'm sure there are hundreds more Washington titles now in institutional collections, and there's no easy way to find them (Google's come up with a few, but not many).

Additionally, and this is a quest for anybody - I'd like to know of any auction records for Washington books that are not already reflected in the LT-records (i.e. all those through 1897, plus a few more that I've found after that). Any leads, lot numbers, prices, buyers, &c. are always appreciated.

Feel free to shoot me an email (philobiblos at gmail dot com) or post a comment here, and thanks in advance for anything you can provide!

Rare Books & Financial Shenanigans

Dow Jones reports that a former chief compliance officer at broker WG Trading Co. "pleaded guilty Tuesday to criminal charges in connection with more than $100 million in loans allegedly made to her bosses." Deborah Duffy told the court "I assisted in the unlawful transfer to my bosses of more than ($100 million) to my bosses' benefit as loans." Duffy is cooperating with authorities, who have also charged her bosses - Paul Greenwood and Stephen Walsh - in connection with the misuse of funds. Duffy faces up to 20 years in prison.

"Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan have alleged Greenwood and Walsh, both former owners of the New York Islanders professional hockey team, misappropriated $550 million of funds invested by charities, university foundations and pension plans and used that money to finance their luxurious lifestyles." Some of the $160 million misused by the duo was spent on rare books purchased at several auctions, the report concludes.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Links & Reviews

Apologies for the delay in getting this out this week:

- At the Boston Public Library's Rare Books Room, an exhibit sponsored by the BPL and UMASS Boston has opened: "Sermons, Slavery and Scandal: The Printed Words of Early Boston, 1660-1830." The show will run through 30 September, during the regular hours of the rare books room (M-F, 9-5).

- Also at the BPL tomorrow (Tuesday), a panel discussion on the Google Books Settlement (6 p.m., Rabb Lecture Hall). Google Books Engineering Director Daniel Clancy, MIT Libraries Director Ann Wolpert and professors John Palfrey of Harvard Law School and Hal Abelson of MIT will explain and discuss the proposed settlement, and will take questions from the audience.

- From Vridar, an overview of the motives for forgery. [h/t Literary Fraud & Folly]

- Over at AuntieQuarian, the Rellas: a selection of 2008-09 Research Library awards. I'm pretty pleased that MHS won the "Best Pencils" award. We all decided we very much like the "Best Lunchtime Ritual" award as well ...

- In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Katie Haegele offers a list of summer reading for young adults.

- The semi-annual post about anthropodermic (human skin) bindings has arrived, courtesy of Carolyn Kellogg at Jacket Copy.

- Paul Collins notes his new Believer article on William Gardiner's 1832 pamphlet The Music of Nature.


- Adam Kirsch reviews Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder for Slate.

- Kathryn Hughes reviews Anna Letitia Barbauld: Voice of the Enlightenment in the Guardian.

- In the CSM, Marjorie Kehe reviews The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.

- Hobson Woodward's A Brave Vessel is reviewed by Jonathan Yardley in the WaPo.

- Also in the Post, Michael Grunwald reviews Lynn Hudson Parsons' The Birth of Modern Politics.

- A fascinating review essay in the TLS, "Google Books or Great Books?" by Peter Green.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

This Week's Acquisitions

Catching up from the mini-vacation. Here's what arrived recently:

- U. S. Sharpshooters: Berdan's Civil War Elite by Roy M. Marcot (Stackpole Books, 2007). Edward R. Hamilton.

Thomas Jefferson: Architect: The Interactive Portfolio by Chuck Wills (Running Press, 2008). Edward R. Hamilton.

The Geese of Beaver Bog by Bernd Heinrich (Ecco, 2004). Edward R. Hamilton.

Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages by Ammon Shea (Perigree, 2008). Edward R. Hamilton.

Faking Literature by K. K. Ruthven (Cambridge University Press, 2001). Edward R. Hamilton.

Fakes & Forgeries: The True Crime stories of History's Greatest Deceptions by Brian Innes (Reader's Digest, 2005). Edward R. Hamilton.

Schott's Miscellany 2009: An Almanac by Ben Schott (Bloomsbury, 2008). Brookline Booksmith.

Edgar Huntly, Or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker by Charles Brockden Brown (Penguin, 1988). Brookline Booksmith.

Disquiet, Please! More Humor Writing from The New Yorker; edited by David Remnick and Henry Finder (Random House, 2008). New Yorker.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

To the Coast!

I'm off tonight for the usual trip to the Maine coast (much abbreviated this year, alas). Posts will resume on Sunday.

The books which are coming along:

- Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Huntly
- Patrick O'Brian, The Mauritius Command
- John Noble Wilford, The Mapmakers

Book Review: "Curiosities of Literature"

Modeled on Isaac D'Israeli's Curiosities of Literature, John Sutherland's Literary Curiosities (Skyhorse, 2009) is a loose compendium of short pieces about literature and its characters. Sutherland writes in the introduction "Some of the pieces may be considered too unserious for even unserious readers; some boring; some already stale; some codswallop. Most, I hope, will divert. Driving the enterprise is less the intention to instruct, or inform, then to communicate the random pleasures which may be found in reading literature, and reading about literature."

Fair enough. If one takes Sutherland at his word, and sees this book as a bit of brain candy, to be amused (and possibly intrigued) by, it does the job. The essays are generally interesting, and there are some intriguing questions examined. There are no references cited, which of course always bothers me (at least a bibliography would be helpful, in case anyone is struck by the need to delve further into a topic).

Overall - fine for the occasional browse, or an afternoon's diversion.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Auction Report: Sotheby's

Sotheby's London sold English Literature, History, Children's Books & Illustrations today (full results here). Highlights:

- An archive of the personal and official papers of Sir Harford Jones, East India Company factor at Basra, resident at Baghdad, and minister to Persia (1783-1811). More than 3,100 items. Sold for £217,250.

- A first edition of Darwin's Origin of Species (1859) made £67,250.

- A presentation copy of Plath's Colossus (1960) fetched £17,500.

The sale total was £904,775.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Book Review: "Newton and the Counterfeiter"

Thomas Levenson's Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientist (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009) highlights a little-known entry on Isaac Newton's C.V., his time as Warden of the Royal Mint in the late 1690s. Levenson contrasts Newton with one William Chaloner, a big-time counterfeiter whose downfall Newton eventually secured, but not until Chaloner had managed to tweak the strings of justice a few times.

The book works. Levenson provides capsule histories of Newton's scientific and alchemical careers, plus the English financial, political and criminal justice systems (particularly as relevent to counterfeiting). He puts the existing sources to good use in trying to suss out details about Chaloner's life and activities (plus those of other forgers, coiners and rogues). The way he manages to bring the two together was effective, and carried off very well. It's the kind of story that would make a good novel, but which written by the right person works even better as history.

I'll quibble, as usual, that the notes (which are very good) are not indicated in the text. The bibliography is extensive, and useful. Overall, a fine read, and one I'll happily recommend.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Links & Reviews

- Police say that the investigation into the murder of book collector Rolland Comstock (July, 2007) is continuing. Green County, Missouri sheriff Jim Arnott said that authorities are still awaiting lab results and re-analysis of certain evidence related to the case. One detective is devoted solely to solving Comstock's murder, Arnott said. More via KSPR.

- In Slate, Paul Collins examines the life and legacy of Wycliffe A. Hill, "the man who invented
the Hollywood schlock machine."

- A British bookselling newsletters, Sheppard's Confidential, solicited suggestions this week for a collective noun for a group of booksellers. The blog passes along the list. This is a bit of a spin-off from the group of librarians list posted here back in 2008.

- The obscure Jefferson reference of the week goes to Jeff Pasley's correspondent at Publick Occurrences, for this.

- Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of John Quincy Adams' 42d birthday. In a post at The Beehive, I highlight his diary entry from that day, and offer a sneak peek to JQA's next adventure.


- In the WaPo, Ron Charles reviews Laurie Scheck's A Monster's Notes.

- Hobson Woodward's A Brave Vessel gets top billing in the Boston Globe "Shelf Life" column today, and is reviewed by Patricia Hagen in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

This Week's Acquisitions

Sorry for the lack of posts this week, it was a busy one. Here's what arrived:

- The Shakespeare First Folio: The History of the Book. Volume I: An Account of the First Folio Based on its Sales and Prices, 1623-2000 by Anthony James West (OUP, 2001). Amazon (used).

The Shakespeare First Folio: The History of the Book. Volume II: A New World Census of First Folios by Anthony James West (OUP, 2003). Amazon (used).

The Founding Fathers Reconsidered by R.B. Bernstein (OUP, 2009). Amazon.

The Printing Press as an Agent of Change by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein (Cambridge University Press, 1980). Colophon.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Book Review: "The Angel's Game"

Carlos Ruiz Zafón's followup to the much-acclaimed The Shadows of the Wind is The Angel's Game, out this month in English from Doubleday. Since I was disappointed with the former (mainly because of the ending) I picked this one up with relatively low expectations. I think that mindset improved the experience for me - I enjoyed this one for the most part, although once again the ending seemed both rushed and contrived.

This book occurs before the events in Shadows, although the setting and some of the characters are similar. David Martín, a struggling writer, enters into what seems to be some sort of unwitting Faustian bargain with a mysterious publisher, who charges him with creating a new religion. David soon discovers he's not the first to attempt this assignment, but once he learns what happened to his predecessor, the bloom rapidly falls off the rose.

I loved the first half or two-thirds of the book. David's early career, his triumphs and failures, and his tempestuous acquaintance with a very funny young assistant, Isabella, make for delightful reading. His dealings with Sempere & Sons booksellers, and his visit to the Cemetery of Forbidden Books (perhaps Zafón's best creation, although I wish he would lavish a bit more attention on it) are well written and captivating. The main plot seems fascinating. But as the story draws on, Zafón's tangled web begins to unravel. The ultimate resolution left me wanting something different.

Worth reading for its humor and its creepiness, and for its occasional lavish paean to the book. The design is lovely (the cover image alone is enough to make a bibliophile drool), which certainly helps. Maybe you'll even like the ending. I wish I had.

A Very Cool Find

Laura's got a great post at bookn3rd about an incredibly awesome find she made at an antiques shop in York during a recent visit. Check it out (and if you don't already read her blog regularly, you should definitely start).

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Bibles at the BL

Many have blogged this already, but in case you've missed it, the grand and reunited digital edition of the Codex Sinaiticus is now online via the British Library, here. The website is very detailed about the manuscript and the digitization project, and the images are quite well done. You can also listen to a 10-minute podcast about the project, and Laura noted on Twitter another short podcast about a current free exhibition at the BL, of misprinted Bibles.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Book Recommendation: "A Brave Vessel"

Since I work with Hobson Woodward, the author of A Brave Vessel: The True Tale of the Castaways Who Rescued Jamestown and Inspired Shakespeare's 'The Tempest' (Viking, 2009), it certainly wouldn't be fair of me to review it in the same way I would review any other book. But I will say that I have read A Brave Vessel, and enjoyed it greatly. Hobson's done a great job of recreating the Sea Venture voyage and its aftermath, and argues persuasively that William Strachey's narrative of the events was known to Shakespeare and utilized by him in the composition of The Tempest. He puts the notes to good use by adding further details there, and offers an excellent and lengthy bibliography.

Links & Reviews

- The AP reports on some of the items known to be missing from the National Archives. Senator Charles Grassley has demanded "an accounting" of all missing items.

- Sarah Vowell weighs in on the controversy over Rhode Island's official name in the NYTimes, making the case that "of Providence Plantations" shouldn't be dropped. I quite agree. Teach people that "plantations" in this case doesn't refer to slaveowners' farms, but just means settlements.

- As Ian noted on Twitter this week, the new ABAA website is now live, and looks great.

- Nick Basbanes posted his summer reading list on his blog this week.

- Via The Bunburyist, an online exhibit from the Westminster Libraries, "Arthur Conan Doyle: The Prolific Writer." There's even a quiz (weirdly, I did better on the advanced one than the simple one).

- Over at Pazzo Blog, a recap of the 30 June book auction in Northampton.

- Britannica Blog profiles E.O. Wilson (one of my perennial favorites).

- Also in the Times op/eds, Nicholas Kristof offers up his list of the best children's books ever. Mine would be a different list, but that's okay. Still worth reading.

- As I noted yesterday, the new Common-place is up.

- From BibliOdyssey, satirical maps of Europe.

- In the Globe today, a survey of some Boston neighborhoods mentioned in literature.


- In the WaPo, Marie Arana reviews John Ferling's The Ascent of George Washington.

- Nick Owchar reviews Zafon's The Angel's Game in the LATimes.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Book Review: "The Book of William"

I'm always a little apprehensive about reading new books by my favorite authors: I get very excited about them, but then I worry that I might be disappointed, or something. In any case, I needn't have fretted about Paul Collins' latest, The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World (Bloomsbury, forthcoming). It's pure bibliophilic gold - the best book about books - or a book, in this case - published in recent memory (perhaps since Nick Basbanes' A Gentle Madness in 1995).

The book is organized, appropriately enough, into acts and scenes; each act focuses on a separate century of the First Folio's existence, highlighting changes in its reputation over time and delving deeply into its production, use by later editors, and other aspects of the book's biography. Collins, with his knack for sussing out intriguing details about anything at all (Nancy Pearl has written "I'm pretty sure that if Paul Collins wrote a history of the Detroit phone book, I would read and enjoy that too"), makes the thrills of bibliographic research jump off the page.

Our author ably captures the vagaries of seventeenth-century publication practices and the brutal copyright battles of the eighteenth century (by the end of which Samuel Johnson and David Garrick had rehabilitated the First Folio's standing in the scholarly world and made the books collector's items). The nineteenth century brought the first scholarly census of First Folios (by Thomas Frognall Dibdin, in a footnote in his Library Companion), plus efforts to create photographic facsimiles of the book. Henry Clay Folger's obsessive collecting of Folios necessarily is treated at length (79 of the 228 known copies are at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC), and Collins concludes with a visit to the campus of Meisei University in Japan, which holds 12 First Folios of its own (and has a detailed website devoted to the books).

In visiting many of the sites which now house First Folios, Collins was able to view many of them himself (though not as many as the great Folio census-maker Anthony James West, who Collins also spends some time with in the book). His descriptions of the artifacts themselves are wonderful: Samuel Johnson's copy, covered with foodstains which seem to correspond remarkably with Johsnon's favorite plays, leads Collins to muse "Books bear a tangible presence alongside their ineffable quality of thought: they have a body and a soul" (p. 111). The "Meisei Folio" (one of the twelve copies in Japan) is in its original binding, and was heavily annotated by the man who was probably the book's very first owner (Collins suggests University of Aberdeen professor William Johnstone, some of whose books apparently went to the University of Abderdeen library - one hopes that perhaps a confirmed book of his also might contain marginalia which could be compared ...)

Collins also provides perhaps the most useful survey I've read of reproduction techniques and technologies, from entire resettings of type for the later handpress editions of the Folio (and later the smaller-format editions) to photographic facsimiles and now to digital scans which make examination, comparison, and collation of the Folios by scholars around the world easier than it's ever been (although in some cases removes the experience of the "genuine article"). The Hinman collator and other, more modern scholarly tools for comparing different copies of books even get their due!

In chronicling the creation, sale, study, and even destruction of First Folios from their genesis in 1623 to the 21st century, Collins has provided a pitch-perfect popular history of this amazingly rich and complicated story. This is a book that anyone with even a passing interest in Shakespeare, books, reading, or bibliography will want to devour. And the twenty-page section of further readings at the back is a superb contribution in its own right. I confess, I've already ordered a few things from it, including the first two volumes of West's census (of a projected five).

Read this book.

Book Review: "Trilobite"

Once I'd read Richard Fortey's Dry Storeroom No. 1 (review) I knew I'd be on the lookout for his earlier works. Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution (Vintage, 2001) is the first of those I stumbled across. Fortey, who spent a career studying trilobites, shares his enthusiasm with the fossilized critters, outlining their discovery, biology, habits, geography, you name it. He also offers up a survey of his predecessors in the field of trilobitology (each with their own quirks and foibles, of course), and describes many of the key scientific debates of the 20th century (plate tectonics, punctuated equilibrium, &c.)

Fortey is one of the best active writers of scientific narrative. His sense of humor and obvious enjoyment of his field of study are infectious, and although there are many detailed scientific descriptions and explanations, those never overpowered the narrative (and were fascinating to read). Plus, I greatly respect anyone who can use such delightful words as ruckle, beetling, fusty, boffin and sempiternally, and phrases like cobble of knobbles and pong of putrefacation (look them up, I did).

If you can read this book and not get at least a little itch to go out and crack open some slates looking for trilobites, you've got more will power than me.

An Independence Day Hodgepodge

It's become something of a tradition around here that I post a collection of Independence Day-related links: in 2007 I highlighted some digitized images of relevant documents (that post is now slightly out of date but the URLs still work), and in 2008 I put together a hodgepodge similar to this one.

- A new issue of Common-place is up: it features several articles on Thomas Paine's reputation then and now.

- In the NYTimes, historian John Gilbert McCurdy examines the bachelor founders. Among them, at least for a time, were Delaware's Caesar Rodney, North Carolina's Joseph Hewes, and Massachusetts' Elbridge Gerry (Gerry married in 1786). McCurdy is the author of Citizen Bachelors: Manhood and the Creation of the United States. In yesterday's Times, lawyer Adam Freedman noted the English roots of our founding document, and historian Kathleen DuVal reminded us of the different political systems deployed by the Indians and Spanish residents of North America.

- Over at McSweeney's, Peter Krinke has a little fun, offering up a lost John Adams diary entry from 3 July 1776.

- In the WSJ, Rachel Emma Silverman reports that a ciphered letter sent to Jefferson in 1801 by his friend Robert Patterson has been cracked by mathematician Lawren Smithline. And the message? "In Congress, July Fourth, one thousand seven hundred and seventy six. A declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled. When in the course of human events ..." In the Jefferson papers at MHS are some of Jefferson's own codes and ciphers, which I find endlessly fascinating.

- Last weekend I mused about what it would be like to take Jefferson's recommended reading list to heart. Tom Edsall from the 19th Century Shop emailed to say that they'd recently released a catalog which features a ready-made collection of books drawn from the Skipwith List (comprising about 90% of the titles included there, in correct editions and period bindings). You can read their description here [PDF - the collection is at pp. 41-42 of the PDF, pp. 78-81 of the catalog]. For $525,000, it could all be yours. It's an absolutely brilliant idea.

- I finally decided last night to start watching the HBO "John Adams" series from last spring. I watched the first two episodes, and enjoyed them very much. With the important caveat that they are not entirely accurate (see John's series of Boston 1775 posts), the series was very well cast, and I enjoyed the episode covering the runup to Independence very much.

Enjoy the Fourth, all.

Take John Adams' words of 3 July 1776 to heart: "But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

"You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not."

This Week's Acquisitions

Here's what arrived this week. The Brattle's review copy shelves will be the death of me yet.

- The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World by Paul Collins (Bloomsbury, 2009). Publisher. Review coming later today.

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham (Random House, 2009). Brattle.

A Brave Vessel: The True Tale of the Castaways Who Rescued Jamestown and Inspired Shakespeare'sThe Tempest by Hobson Woodward (Viking, 2009). Brattle. Hobson's a coworker of mine, so I've really been looking forward to this one.

The Book in America: A History of the Making and Selling of Books in the United States by Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt, Lawrence C. Wroth and Rollo Silver (R.R. Bowker, 1951). Brattle.

John Jay: Founding Father by Walter Stahr (Hambledon, 2006). Brattle.

Samuel Johnson and the Life of Reading by Robert DeMaria, Jr. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). Brattle.

Fatal Journey: The Final Expedition of Henry Hudson by Peter C. Mancall (Basic Books, 2009). Brattle.

Curiosities of Literature: A Feast for Book Lovers by John Sutherland (Skyhorse, 2009). Brattle.

So Long as Men Can Breathe: The Untold Story of Shakespeare's Sonnets by Clinton Heylin (Da Capo Press, 2009). Brattle.

Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientist by Thomas Levenson (Houghton Mifflin, 2009). Brattle.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Dunlap News Hits the Press

The discovery of a previously-unknown Dunlap Declaration which I mentioned yesterday has now hit the big time: stories from the AP, Times, Independent are among those out so far.

Book Review: "The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet"

Reif Larsen's The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet (Penguin, 2009) is the sort of book that doesn't lend itself well to reviews (or at least, to the composition of a review). This is partly because it's difficult to describe, and partly because it's somewhat uneven: I want to rave about certain aspects of it, and some others just didn't seem to work quite right. So I'm not sure how this is going to end up, but let me give it a try.

T. S. Spivet is a 12-year old Montana ranch boy, whose proclivities run to making maps, tormenting his older sister, and analyzing the stuffing out of every aspect of his life and the lives of those around him. He's intensely precocious in some respects, but childish in others ("I had a stash of Cheerios in every pocket of every piece of clothing I owned, which often led to a mess in the laundry room"), and the tensions between these two conflicting elements of his personality carry through the book. The story opens with a surprise phone call to T. S. from an official at the Smithsonian, announcing that Spivet has won their prestigious Baird Prize and asking him to travel to D.C. for the award ceremony. Naturally, an odyssey ensues as T. S. packs up and ships out, hopping a train headed east.

We follow his travels across the country as he muses about himself, his family (distracted parents, both marred by a recent tragedy), and his hunger. A subplot, in the form of a pilfered notebook from his mother's study, revolves around one of T. S.'s ancestors, another precocious young scientist trying to make her way in the world. The narrative is complemented by marginalia - footnotes, drawings, charts and maps - part of the wonderfully complex and delightful design of this book (it is certainly one of the most aesthetically pleasing trade hardbacks I've read recently). These additions do nothing to detract from the narrative, indicated as they are with handy arrows which tell you precisely when to check them out. If you don't like footnotes, this will probably annoy you. I found it enjoyable.

At about the halfway point, things start to get a bit odd, and it's all downhill from there. The final few chapters, covering T. S.'s time in Washington, didn't fit well at all with the rest of the book; the end came suddenly and, I'm sad to say, was a disappointment. Spivet's wit and humor mixed with pathos and emotional upheaval, which made the first two thirds of the book a delight, evaporated into a grand muddle of weirdness which I think Spivet himself would have been unable to diagram coherently.

Overall, I have to give Larsen very high marks for the design of the book, the wonderful character he's created in T. S. Spivet, and the first nine or ten chapters. I will look forward to his next book with anticipation.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

26th Dunlap Declaration Discovered

We don’t know exactly how many copies of the Declaration of Independence John Dunlap printed in Philadelphia on the night of 4 July 1776, but we now know that at least twenty-six have survived the ravages of time. The twenty-sixth copy was discovered in October 2008 by rare book dealer Joseph Felcone of Princeton, NJ.

Felcone was at the National Archives of the UK, working on his current project, a "full-blown inventory and copy-specific bibliography of 18th-century New Jersey printing." From the Colonial Office record group, he had requested several volumes of bound pamphlets, letters, broadsides and other documents. Because he was on a tight schedule, he writes, he had to move quickly: "I turned a page, saw the impression of type on the blank verso of a folded-in sheet, unfolded just enough of the top corner to see the words D of I [Declaration of Independence], knew it wasn't NJ, and kept right on going. A few pages later something made me turn back to the Declaration just to see what printing it was. I opened it, saw it was a Dunlap, folded it back, and kept on going, and promptly forgot about it."

When he got back to the States, Felcone emailed Dr. Mandy Banton, then Principal Records Specialist for Diplomatic and Colonial Records (since retired), telling her of the Dunlap broadside and suggesting that they might wish to remove it from the bound volume and find more suitable and secure housing for it. Felcone says that she wrote back and thanked him for the notice, and that the copy had indeed been taken out of the bound volume and housed separately. His discovery, perhaps rather ironically, makes the UK National Archives the single repository with the most Dunlap Declarations (three copies of the twenty-six known).

Felcone’s own understated words must suffice as a fitting conclusion: "The whole thing was really very English. No cause for excitement. You find a new D of I, you have a cup of tea, and you move on."

Officials at the UK National Archives say a press release about the discovery will be made public later this week.

Book Newsletters Arrive

The July Fine Books Notes and Americana Exchange are now live. The former includes an interview with the Library of Congress' Mark Dimunation, and a piece on an interesting Poe family Bible in Virginia; the latter has a brief notice on the recent Graham Arader sale, including a post-sale statement by Arader, among other features.