Saturday, December 31, 2016

Links & Reviews

One last roundup for 2016:

- David Barnett writes for the Independent about the enduring power of M.R. James' ghost stories.

- French publisher Le Seuil has threatened to sue the Van Gogh Museum over questions of the authenticity of several recently published Van Gogh sketches.

- A great post from Dan Hinchen at The Beehive about the wonderful things you can find when answering a reference question.

- The AAS has posted images from their Bien edition of Audubon's Birds.

- Over at Echoes from the Vault, Keelan Overton reports on her recent research on the St. Andrews Qu'ran.

- Kate De Rycker guest-posts at The Collation about her work preparing an edition of the works of Thomas Nashe.

- Rebecca Onion surveys five great digital history projects of 2016.

- Erik Kwakkel has been appointed Scaliger professor at the University of Leiden.

- The first batch of Kafka papers from the estate of Max Brod have arrived at the National Library of Israel.

- Michael Melgaard surveys the used and rare bookshops of Toronto.

- Scholars are concerned about the preservation of an extensive rare book collection at a soon-to-be-closed abbey in Altomuenster, Germany.

- PBA Galleries will offer stock from antiquarian bookseller Edwin V. Glaser in a 12 January sale.

- The January Crocodile mystery post is up at The Collation.

- I'm not entirely sure what to make of this, but pass it along: The Book As ...

- Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, died this week at the age of 96. NYTimes obituary.

- Leah Dobrinska has a "defense of marginalia" at The New Antiquarian.

- Lisa Fagin Davis posts about "training the next generation of fragmentologists" at Manuscript Road Trip. Speaking of which, Leiden University student Éloïse Ruby posts for the KB's blog about analyzing fragments from the KB collections.


- Julia Baird's Victoria the Queen; review by Janet Maslin in the NYTimes.

- Matthew Rubery's The Untold Story of the Talking Book; review by Dennis Duncan in the TLS.

Year-End Reading Report 2016

Another year over, and in the case of this one, good riddance.

I read 140 books in 2016, and here are my favorites:


Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright

The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula K. Le Guin

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

The Way We Live Now and the Palliser Novels by Anthony Trollope

League of Dragons by Naomi Novik


The Problem of the Missale Speciale by Allan Stevenson

Where We Lived by Jack Larkin

American Literary Publishing in the Mid-Nineteenth Century by Michael Winship

The Invisible Bridge by Rick Perlstein

The Skull Collectors by Ann Fabian

Happy New Year to you all, and good reading! I'm going to start 2017 with a re-read of one of my perennial favorites, Watership Down, in tribute to Richard Adams.

Previous year's reports: 2015201420132012201120102009200820072006.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Links & Reviews

Another busy week in the world of books!

- The Irish Times reported this week that the Jesuit Order in Ireland will sell "thousands" of rare books from its collections at Sotheby's London next summer. Some additional books and manuscripts have been deposited at the National Library of Ireland on long-term loan.

- A copy of Isaac Newton's Principia set a new auction record for a scientific book this week, selling for $3.7 at Christie's New York.

- The ISTC is now live at its new home.

- The Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand has issued a call for papers for their 2017 conference, "Connecting the Colonies: Empires and Networks in the History of the Book."

- A remarkable collection of rare books and manuscripts has been bequeathed to Trinity College, Cambridge by Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe.

- The British Library has acquired nine copper plates used to print diagrams and maps in several East India Company publications in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The plates were previously in the possession of a scrap metal dealer.

- Xinyi Ye has posted a video profile of Boston's Brattle Book Shop (one of my very favorite places, it must be said).

- The Fine Press Book Association seeks an editor for their journal, Parenthesis.

- There's a new Common-place out; it includes a Q&A with Carla Mulford about her recent literary biography of Benjamin Franklin, and John Garcia on print culture and popular history during the Mexican War, among other interesting pieces.

- Video of Matthew Kirschenbaum's 2016 Fales Lecture, "Bookish Media," is now available online.

- Bookbinder Michael Chrisman has been sentenced to twenty-one months in jail after defrauding a business partner; Chrisman had promised to bind seventy facsimile Gutenberg Bibles, but instead sent false invoices and used the funds for personal expenses. Chrisman was also ordered to pay some $483,000 in restitution.

- Registration is now open for the "Bibliography Among the Disciplines" conference in October 2017.

- The University of Michigan Special Collections have completed an eight-year project to digitize Islamic manuscripts from the collections.

- AbeBooks have posted their top sales of 2016.

- Mark Boonshoft writes for the NYPL blog about literary politics in 1790s New York City.

- Caroline Duroselle-Melish posts about sophistications in the First Folio over at The Collation, while Elizabeth DeBold explores explores "The Mysterious Case of Folger First Folio 33."


- Joanne Limburg's A Want of Kindness; review by Katharine Grant in the NYTimes.

- Matthew Rubery's The Untold Story of the Talking Book; review by Kevin Canfield in the WaPo.

- Boston's "Beyond Words" exhibition; review by Jane Whitehead at West 86th.

- Caroline Winterer's American Enlightenments; review by Benjamin Park at Professor Park's Blog.

No Upcoming Auctions

Happy holidays, good cheer, and good books to one and all!

Recent Reads

Just a few stray thoughts on some recent reads. I'll have another of these posts before the end of the year.

Ben Winters' "The Last Policeman" trilogy was good, but he takes it to the next level with Underground Airlines. Set in an alternate America where the Civil War never happened and slave culture clings on in four southern states, Winters' tale is chock full of slightly-twisted historical threads - like any good counterfactual, it explores what might easily have been had things gone just a bit differently. It's uncomfortable, chilling, heartbreaking ... and it deserves a wide audience.

Rick Perlstein's third volume of narrative political history, The Invisible Bridge covers the tumultuous years between Nixon's reelection and the 1976 Republican convention. A straight-up chronicle of these years in politics would probably be an interesting enough read, but as in the previous volumes, Perlstein deftly brings in the cultural contexts surrounding the political news of the day. This, combined with Perlstein's lively writing style and his great skill at sussing out the stories behind the headlines, makes this another excellent read.

My first foray into the magical world of Dorothy Dunnett. I found The Game of Kings a tough go at first (even, for a few nights, a book sure to send me to sleep after just a couple pages), but once I got into the rhythm of the thing, I was off and running. Not the sort of book you can read without giving it your full attention, since it's full of intricate plot threads that are easily lost and hard to locate again, but full of great historical detail, rich wordplay, and moments of pure comic genius.

First published in 1771 as L'An 2440, the title of Louis-Sebastien Mercier's utopian fantasy was edited to Memoirs of the Year Two Thousand Five Hundred when William Hooper's English translation was published at Philadelphia in 1795. This change was made simply "for the sake of a round number," according to the "Advertisement" preceding the text, as "there appears no reason for fixing it to any particular year." Extremely popular in its day (it is one of the books profiled by Robert Darnton in his The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France), the book employs many of what we now think of as typical utopian tropes: man wakes up and finds himself hundreds of years in the future, and spends an incredulous day walking around learning how things are done, and wakes up at the end to find it'd all been a dream. But, as Darnton points out, Mercier's work was one of the first to use these techniques, which were entirely fresh and new to his original readers. There's not much plot at all: the narrator is simply guided from place to place, learning how people are clothed, fed, educated, governed, &c. in the very Rousseau-ian society of far-future France. I found it a somewhat intriguing window into the historical moment, but unless you've got a real soft spot for utopian fiction, probably safe to give this one a miss.

After reading Keith Houston's book on punctuation several years ago, Shady Characters, I have been looking forward to his new one, The Book, with much anticipation. It didn't disappoint: it is a nicely-produced and well-written history of the book. Basic, but lively and chock full of interesting tidbits. Well done to Norton for lavishing so much attention on the design.

Dave Eggers' The Circle is a dark satirical look at a society where (most) people happily give themselves over to an all-consuming online presence ("The Circle"), with dramatic consequences. It's not exactly subtle, but for all the heavy-handedness, many (if not all) elements of the plot seem all-too-creepily plausible.

I really enjoyed Nancy Marie Brown's The Ivory Vikings, which provides an in-depth look at the Lewis Chessmen and their cultural context. There's a bit of speculation and a small amount of padding here (see the subtitle, "The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them"), but overall I was completely drawn into Brown's wide-ranging narrative, and even the speculation is carefully done and well explained.

Mutiny on the Bounty (the original version, but Charles Nordhoff and James Normal Hall) is one of those books that somehow managed to seep into my consciousness without ever actually having read it. I'm sure I saw one of the movie versions at some point, which gave me the basic outline of the plot. But that bare-bones version of the story that I thought I knew doesn't hold a candle to the actual novel, which is rich, riveting, and extremely well told. When I picked it up I didn't think it would be one of those books I had a difficult time putting down, but I very nearly read it all in one sitting.

I reread Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell this summer in advance of watching the BBC adaptation of the novel, and was extremely glad I did. It had been at least ten years since I read the whole thing, and I definitely needed a refresher. The book was just as good as I remembered it, and I was also extremely happy with the adaptation.

Marc Hartzman's The Embalmed Head of Oliver Cromwell: A Memoir is pretty much precisely what the title suggests: a memoir narrated by a decapitated head. Weird, yes, but Hartzman has done his research and manages to tell the story of the afterlives of Cromwell's head in a surprisingly vivid way. Would it have worked just as well as a series of narrative vignettes without the fictional component? For me, yes, since I enjoy books like that, but perhaps not for others. A worthwhile experiment!

Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea Quartet was one of those those series that, once I started reading, I couldn't believe I'd waited so long. "The Tombs of Atuan" was by far my favorite, but I liked the others too.

Colin Dickey always comes up with fascinating topics for his books, and Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places is no exception. As he writes at the outset, Dickey is concerned with the following question: "how do we deal with stories about the dead and their ghosts, and how do we inhabit and move through spaces that have been deemed haunted?" Drawing on several years' worth of observations from around the country, from famous haunted places to locations you've probably never heard of, Dickey deftly searches for the nuggets of truth at the heart of the ghost stories we tell ... and also for why we tell those stories.

Trollope's The Way We Live Now: darker than the Barsetshire books, but with the same way of getting at the humanity of his characters. Delightfully complex, wickedly funny - it may look like a long read, but the time just flies right by.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Links & Reviews

- Over at the Houghton Library blog, "Footprints of a Bibliographical Ghost."

- An ivory cup-and-ball toy from the family of Jane Austen will be sold at Sotheby's London on Tuesday.

- The Harry Ransom Center has acquired some 180 books from the library of Gabriel García Márquez.

- From Heather Wolfe at The Collation, a look at scissor impressions left behind in early modern books.

 - The NARA blog had a really fascinating post this week about how the Archives responded to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

- The Times ran an obituary of Martin Stone this week.

- A new exhibition at the National Library of Scotland features early photographically-illustrated books relating to Scotland.

- Abby Schoolman gets the "Bright Young Booksellers" spotlight this week.

- The BPL's Collections of Distinction blog highlights a ~1460 Strasbourg bible from the BPL collections, recently conserved and digitized.

- Swann sold two uncolored plates from Audubon's Birds of America this week.

- Lew Jaffe's post this week at Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie includes a query from another bookplate collector who is seeking dated English bookplates from particular years.

- The team working on building a replica common press at RIT has posted an update on their progress.

- Janice Hansen posts about examples of "mummy printing" (it's not what you think) in the UNC Chapel Hill rare book collections.

- Rebecca Romney offers a primer (treasure map?) on collecting books about pirates.

- R. M. Healey looks back at Bishop Richard de Bury (of Philobiblon fame) at Jot101.

- The Princeton Graphic Arts blog explores a rare print showing the interior of Paris's famed Lemercier lithography firm.

- Danuta Kean reports for the Guardian on what has been a truly terrible year for library funding in the UK.

- Kurt at American Book Collecting highlights a few of the association copies of Rosenbach's Unpublishable Memoirs from his collection.

- Jane Rickard writes for the Huntington Library's blog about evidence of early readership in Ben Jonson's Works.

- The Archives Hub team has posted a basic outline of their updated interface.


- Elaine Scarry's Naming Thy Name; review by Matthew Harrison in the LARB.

- Matthew Kirschenbaum's Track Changes; review by Tim Groenland in the Dublin Review of Books.

- Yale's new edition of the Voynich Manuscript; review by Toby Lester in the WSJ.

Upcoming Auctions

- English Literature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations at Sotheby's London, 13 December

- Rare Books, Early Photographs, Manuscripts, Maps and Paintings at Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers (Dublin), 13 December

- Printed Books, Maps, and Documents at Dominic Winter Auctioneers (Cirencester), 14 December

- Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts, including Americana at Christie's New York, 14 December

- Books, Photographs and Other Works on Paper at Bloomsbury, 15 December

- Americana, Travel & Exploration, World History and Cartography at PBA Galleries, 15 December

- Important Judaica at Sotheby's New York, 15 December

- Fine and Valuable Books at Bibliopathos (Milan), 15 December

- Bibliothèque d'un amateur at Pierre Bergé & Associes (Paris), 16 December

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Links & Reviews

Somehow it's December already.

- The Library of Congress has signed on as a "content hub partner" with the DPLA.

- The Bute Hours will be offered on Tuesday at Sotheby's London.

- Josephine Livingstone writes on "The Unsolvable Mysteries of the Voynich Manuscript" for the New Yorker Page-Turner blog.

- The Internet Archive is working on building a complete copy of its holdings in Canada.

- Simon Beattie's turned up a fascinating book: an 1858 selection of music for a Merseyside church. An inserted printed slip from the compiler faults the printers for their "slovenly work and bad printing."

- Nate Pedersen checks back in with Zoe Abrams for the "Bright Young Booksellers" series.

- December's Rare Book Monthly articles include a piece by Eric Caren on what's next for him, Michael Stillman on the unconventional sale of books from Newcastle Central Library, and another nice find by Bruce McKinney.

- Stephen Greenberg writes for the NLM blog about a new book in sheets acquisition.

- Caleb Kiffer writes for the Swann blog about a previously unknown first state of de Wit's map of the Netherlands; the map will be on the block at their 8 December sale.

- Egyptian media report that 43 boxes of books and manuscripts were seized at Cairo airport; some appeared to have been stolen from the Al-Azhar University library.

- Over at The New Antiquarian, John Schulman muses about bookseller retirements.

- Lauren Young covers bibliomania for Atlas Obscura, and the Princeton Graphic Arts blog takes a look at an early response to Dibdin, Beresford's Bibliosophia.

- Mark Peters writes about the new online version of Green's Dictionary of Slang for the Boston Globe.

- A poem copied out by Anne Frank shortly before her family went into hiding from the Nazis sold at auction last week for €140,000, while the gun used by Paul Verlaine to wound Arthur Rimbaud fetched €434,000.

- Also from the Princeton Graphic Arts blog, a look at a newly-acquired collection of twenty printed and manuscript dinner bills from ~1780–1830.

- The Telegraph ran an obituary of book scout Martin Stone.

- Sid Berger talked to Rebecca Rego Barry about his Dictionary of the Book (Rowman and Littlefield) for the Fine Books Blog.

- A Beethoven manuscript which came in for a bit of pre-sale dispute failed to sell at Sotheby's London on 29 November; at the same sale, the manuscript of Mahler's second symphony set a new record for a music manuscript, selling for £5.4 million.

- Letters documenting the end of author Robert Louis Stevenson's life have been secured for the National Library of Scotland.

- "A Curious Cutting" at Medieval Manuscript Questions.

- From the Michigan State University Libraries conservation lab blog, a look at a neat technique for keeping pamphlets together.

- The ABAA recently approved seven new members: congratulations to all!


- Yale's new edition of the Voynich Manuscript; review by Scott McLemee at Inside Higher Ed.

- Sarah Gristwood's Game of Queens; review by Sarah Dunant in the NYTimes.

- David Welky's A Wretched and Precarious Situation; review by Sara Wheeler in the NYTimes.

- Laura Miller's Literary Wonderlands; review by Andrew Sean Greer in the NYTimes.

- Graeme McCrae Burnet's His Bloody Project; review by Steph Cha in the LATimes.

Upcoming Auctions of Note

- Livres rares et manuscrits du XVe au XXe siècle at Christie's Paris, 5 December

- The Bible Collection of Dr. Charles Caldwell Ryrie at Sotheby's New York, 5 December

- Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts at Sotheby's London, 6 December

- Fine Books & Manuscripts including Americana at Sotheby's New York, 6 December

- Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures at Bloomsbury London, 7 December

- Livres anciens et modernes précieux et curieux, 1490–1837 at Binoche et Giquello Paris, 7 December

- History of Science and Technology at Bonhams New York, 7 December

- Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books at Swann Galleries, 8 December

- The Library of the late David Harrison: 17th-19th Century Literature and the Arts at Forum Auctions London, 8 December

- Miniature Books: Rico Onuma Memorial Auction from Lilliput Oval Saloon, Owned by Kazushige Onuma, Tokyo. Part II at PBA Galleries, 8 December

- American Revolution Documents, Arms and Relics at Alexander Historical Auctions, 10 December

- Books, Art and Ephemera at National Book Auctions, 10 December