Thursday, August 31, 2006

Google Book Search Goes Downloadable

Google unveiled its newest trick yesterday, announcing that out-of-copyright books available through its Book Search feature are now entirely downloadable (and hence printable) as PDF files. By selecting the "full view" radio button when you search books, you can limit your results to downloadable records.

I played around with this feature for a little while yesterday, and found that some titles look quite good in PDF form, but others are not nearly as clean-looking. It will be interesting to see the reaction from the bookselling and library communities to this feature (not to mention the publishers). Personally I'm a fan of open access to information, so I'm thrilled with this step and look forward to finding a few titles that have eluded me! (Also I quite enjoy that ones of the first examples Google offers is John Ferriar's 1809 poem The Bibliomania - an apt choice).

(h/t to just about everyone)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Historic Documents Returned to Poland

A small archive of thirteenth-century letters and other documents has been returned to Poland after spending a few decades in the possession of an American WWII veteran, the BBC reports.

The seventeen letters on vellum, some written by Popes Alexander IV and Gregory X, were discovered in Austria during the war by GI George Gavin, and are believed to have originated in the archives of Wroclaw, Poland. Gavin's son Philip recently decided to repatriate the documents, and they were accepted by "Wladyslaw Stepniak, deputy director of the Polish national archives, at Warsaw airport on Monday." Stepniak told the AP "We are very, very grateful. These letters are of great value to us."

Hoaxes and Secrets

- As GalleyCat and Bibliothecary noted on Monday (scroll down a bit), there's another good literary hoax out there: the biographer of poet Sir John Betjeman was so taken by a "love letter" ostensibly written by the poet that he included it in his book ... and then the Times book editor realized that the first letters of each paragraph in the letter spell out "AN Wilson is a sh*t" (Ed has the letter in full with the initial letters bolded). Who's the culprit? Possibilities include a rival biographer. The book is about to be reprinted with the letter excised - will the 13,000 copies containing the hoax experience a momentary pang of collectability?

- Also, as followup to "What is Project X?", GalleyCat has some new speculation on the contents of William Morrow's September 12 secret release: Borders "chatter" has the book being shelved in British history, which is leading some toward the possibility of a Princess Diana-related title. But the embargo seems for the moment to be holding fairly well. As I've said, I think this will be incredibly anti-climatic for me since there's a minimal chance that I will care in the least about this book once I know what it is. But the guessing game is amusing nonetheless.

New Mount Vernon Facility to House Washington Books

The AP reports that a new visitor facility at Mount Vernon, the Donald W. Reynolds Museum, will "house furnishings, china, silver, clothing, jewelry, Revolutionary War artifacts, rare books and other personal effects of the Washington family. Many of these treasures will be exhibited at Mount Vernon for the first time in the new museum." The museum, along with the Ford Orientation Center, was "built so that most of it is located under the four-acre pasture inside Mount Vernon's main gate, to ensure that the pastoral setting and views to and from the mansion are preserved."

The new facilities will open October 27.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Famed Italian Conservationist Dies

For any bibliophile, the Florence flood of 1966 is an event that will live in infamy. Millions of rare books and pieces of artwork were destroyed when floodwaters ravaged the city in early November, soaking the National Central Library and burying its contents under mud.

Umberto Baldini, the director of Florence's institute of conservation, was responsible for much of the tremendous effort in the aftermath of the flood to repair and preserve the damaged materials. Baldini died earlier this month, and The Australian has an excellent retrospective on his career and particularly his post-flood activities in Florence and later as the head of Italy's Central Institute for Restoration.

"Baldini retired in 1987, though he continued to write and to work part time, hoping to stimulate a new generation of conservators. He also counselled frequently against forgetting the lessons of the flood, warning that the environmental damage done during the past 40 years to Italy's forests - which act like a sponge to absorb and slowly release floodwaters - made a repetition of the Florentine disaster inevitable."

(h/t Rare Book News)

Irish Genealogical Maps to Debut Online

Ireland's Ordnance Survey department is preparing to "unveil an online map archive with details of every town, street, and farm on the Emerald Isle dating back nearly 200 years -- an unprecedented achievement expected to be a treasure trove for those tracing their Irish ancestry," reports the Boston Globe.

"For 5 euros a day, roughly $6.40, computer users can access visual images of more than 30,000 maps of Irish localities dating back to 1824, a database cobbled together from the vast archival holdings of the government and universities in Ireland. Users can search the database by zooming in on maps, or using key terms, to pinpoint where their relatives once lived, eliminating often fruitless searches in Ireland's aging paper archives, which are spread out among several facilities and often consume time that could be spent visiting ancestral hometowns."

The site,, will be demonstrated this week at a genealogy conference in Boston. I think we can expect more and more useful efforts like this from around the world as digitization continues to become more widespread - what a boon they will be for armchair researchers everywhere!

Happy Birthday, LibraryThing!

One of the best book-sites around celebrates its first birthday today - congratulations, LibraryThing! In just a year, the site has grown from scratch to a community of over 73,000 members, who have cataloged nearly 5.2 million books. If you're not addicted to LT yet, go there and play around for a half hour or so ... it'll grab you!

I must note too that yesterday I had my first out-of-the-blue real-world encounter with another LT user, who came into the shop having seen my recommendation of it in a forum post. What fun!

Monday, August 28, 2006

First Folio Quest

Paul Collins (of Weekend Stubble blog-fame) has a piece in the September issue of Smithsonian about Anthony James West, who has tracked down and examined every known copy (all 230 to date) of Shakespeare's First Folio. Collins notes that just four books in the world have been copy to a copy-by-copy census (the others being Audubon's Birds of America double elephant folio, Copernicus' De revolutionibus and the Gutenberg Bible).

West's work, which is being published by Oxford University Press, will document payment records, provenance, and copy-specific details for each book. He's been working on the project since 1989, and has visited five continents in pursuit of the goal. Even so, he told Collins, new Folios appear every now and then: "As long as Folios are misfiled in libraries and hiding with long-lost relatives, the count of 230 copies will inch upward. At least a dozen known copies remain untraced. 'I have about 130 leads,' West says, adding that some are 'quite hot.'"

Certainly a piece worth reading (particularly if you liked Owen Gingerich's The Book Nobody Read, about his similar pursuit of the Copernicus).

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Book Review: "Compass"

It seems these days that every tool has its history book, and the compass is no exception, its story being taken up by Alan Gurney in Compass: A Story of Exploration and Innovation. This pairs well with books like Dava Sobel's Longitude (although Sobel's is a slightly better read), and Gurney has done a fairly good job of outlining the long history of the the humble compass. A decent armchair history, and recommended for all the mariners out there who are interested in how they get where they're going.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Book Review: "Hudson's English History"

In the tradition of Ben Schott's several Miscellanies and Steven Gilbar's Bibliotopia (review), Roger Hudson's Hudson's English History: A Compendium is an intriguing collection of historical trivia and things you had no idea you didn't know (different types of sixteenth-century vagabonds, some bizarre seventeenth-century names, costs of living over the centuries ... you name the obscure historical list, it's probably in here).

Perfect for the casual read while dinner's cooking or leafing through at leisure.

Book Review: "The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street"

Helene Hanff's sequel to 84, Charing Cross Road (review), The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is Hanff's journal from her eventual trip to London, where she's wined, dined, toured and fussed over by friends old and new. Like 84, it's a charming little book which cannot fail to delight the reader; Hanff's style and effusive wit are addictive. This one doesn't have much of anything to do with books, more's the pity - but it's good just the same.

I have to add just a couple samples of Hanff's musings, the ones that made me laugh out loud:

- "I ordered 'Chicken Maryland,' which turned out to be a slice of chicken, braided and fried flat like a veal cutlet, accompanied by a strip of bacon and a fat sausage. Dessert was 'Coupe Jamaica,' I didn't order it but the couple at the next table did: a long, narrow cookie sticking up out of a ball of vanilla ice cream that rested on a slice of canned pineapple. It would probably confuse Jamaica as much as the chicken would confuse Maryland."

- After suffering through quite a hassle trying to have a check cashed: "Nothing infuriates me like those friendly, folksy bank ads in magazines and on TV. Every bank I ever walked into was about as folksy as a cobra."

- Walking around London on July 4: "... was walking down Waterloo on my way to St. James's Park when who should I run into, standing on a corner on a little pedestal looking small and spruce, but Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne who lost the Battle of Saratoga to us rebels. I think he was supposed to link up with some other general's forces but there was a snafu and Burgoyne's entire army was captured ... Can't imagine what possessed the British to put up a statue to him, I suppose he won some battle somewhere but he lost the American Revolution almost singlehanded. Wished him a happy Fourth."

Will have to hunt up some other Hanff books now, as I've enjoyed these two so well.

New Link Added

I thought I had added a link to The Bibliothecary long ago, but discovered this morning that I had somehow managed to forget. So, error rectified now. It's a great site, and one I visit often.

Update from Manchester

The Manchester Evening News augments yesterday's brief note about the postponement of Norman Buckley's sentencing. The judge apparently told the police and the Manchester Central Library to make a greater effort to both discover how many books Buckley actually stole, and also to recover those which he sold.

Prosecutor Simon Barratt told the court yesterday "The library's system is such that they don't know how many books he has stolen. There were 400 books recovered from his house and 55 books outstanding. No books have been recovered from people he sold them to. He indicated he sold 300 books in total, some through private sales. Neither the library not the police can verify that. The police say their manpower does not allow them to look for the last 53 items."

Judge Clement Goldstone "said it was impossible to sentence Buckley until he knew the financial loss to the city of Manchester through the theft of its library's historic books," according to the Evening News. "Resources or no resources, there is going to have to be a move to help the court in this regard," said the judge. "Details of the buyers must be accessible by looking back through the defendant's internet sales account. It may be time-consuming, but I believe it can be achieved and it should be achieved."

Goldstone said he will try again to sentence Buckley on October 25, pending psychiatric tests (Buckley's defense claims the librarian was acting obsessively after a breakup).

Good for the judge, and shame on both the library and the police department for not giving this case the attention it deserves. Obviously both are strapped for cash and time, but even tacitly permitting weasels like Buckley to get off easily sends entirely the wrong message.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Thieving Librarian's Sentencing Postponed

Manchester librarian Norman Buckley, who's confessed to stealing more than 400 rare books and other items from the Manchester Central Library system, was supposed to be sentenced today. The BBC reports that the judge has postponed sentencing after "the court was told the police and library do not yet have full details of the total number of books stolen."

The new sentencing date is October 23.

Ken Sanders Profiled

The Salt Lake Tribune today runs a lavish (and well-deserved) profile of Salt Lake book dealer/collector Ken Sanders, which begins: " Ken Sanders is not merely a book lover. His devotion runs deeper than that. No, Sanders has full-fledged bibliomania. The bookstore owner exhibits all the classic symptoms of the disorder listed by Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia: buying 'multiple copies of the same book and [the] accumulation of books beyond possible capacity of use.'" (I'm not sure that counts when you're going to sell them again, but we won't hold that against the author).

Sanders' store, the article concludes, "is pure bliss for bibliophiles," but is "
more than just a place to find an old map, diary or literary classic, ... doubles as a 'secular gathering place for the community.' Sanders promotes environmental causes, holds poetry events, small film screenings and political protests."

Always good to see the book community getting this kind of publicity.

Blake Exhibit Opens at USC

The Thomas Cooper Library at the University of South Carolina's Columbia campus (mentioned on Monday for their acquisition of the Wickenheiser collection of John Milton materials) will host an exhibition "William Blake: Visionary & Illustrator" in the mezzanine gallery through September 15. The show was prompted by the recent arrival of an original engraving from Blake's "Book of Job".

"The exhibition features illuminated or hand-copied embellished books and drawings by Blake (1757-1827), who helped usher in the Romantic Era. It charts Blake’s parallel careers as a respected engraver and an artistic visionary," according to The State. The library holds more than forty Blake items.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Book Review: "Boston's Abolitionists"

As part of Commonwealth Editions' "New England Remembers" series, Kerri Greenidge, a former park ranger/historian at the Boston African-American National Historic Site on Beacon Hill, has written Boston's Abolitionists, a short overview of the anti-slavery movement in Boston during the first half of the nineteenth century. It is difficult to provide anything nearing a full treatment of such an important topic, let alone in fifty-seven pages of text, but Greenidge's effort is a decent introduction to the subject.

The role of Boston and its citizens - black and white - in the American abolition movement cannot be understated; without the efforts of David Walker, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner and others history would have undoubtedly taken a much different course. While Greenidge's work makes this point, I can't help but wish that she had been able to go into more detail: deeper discussion of Garrison's journalism, the Anthony Burns episode, and perhaps most importantly the pre-Revolutionary abolition efforts would have been most welcome. The omission of footnotes is also a perpetual bugaboo of mine - even in a basic work like this, citations are important.

Greenidge writes well, and her knowledge of the subject is clear. I hope that she'll have the opportunity to expand on this work in future. But if you're looking for a good overall rundown of abolitionism in Boston, this will be an excellent starting point.

[The author will be speaking about her book at Boston's Old State House at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 13]

Book Review: "A Gentle Madness"

Nicholas Basbanes' first "book about books", A Gentle Madness, has been on my "to read" list for ages and I've finally tackled it (finishing the last third or so sitting on the roof of my apartment enjoying a wonderfully cool August afternoon). With a journalist's knack for a good story and a bibliophile's recognition of and respect for good books, Basbanes has created a massive yet fascinating compilation of book collectors through the centuries, accurately describing the important role private collectors have played in the transmission and preservation of cultural treasures.

From Samuel Pepys to Thomas Phillipps to John Larroquette and uber-thief Stephen Blumberg (and far beyond), Basbanes captures the essence of book collecting, whether done legitimately through the auction house (ah, to have been a fly on the wall at some of the great sales he documents!) or dealers ... or illegitimately through deceit and thievery (see Blumberg).

This is a must-read for any book-lover who has not yet had the pleasure - and Basbanes' excellent twenty-page bibliography is an excellent starting point for the "books on books" shelf you've been meaning to put together.

BL Gets Coleridge Treasure Trove

The Guardian reports that the British Library has acquired an archive of materials relating to poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his extended family, thanks in part to a £250,000 donation from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. The collection, which comprises some 350 bound volumes and another 29 large archive boxes, was previously in private hands.

The article adds that a previously unknown manuscript verse by Coleridge was discovered in the files, as well as "letters, journals and courtroom notes of three generations of Coleridge judges," which offer insight into Victorian-era legal and social circles.

The British Library expects cataloging of the collection will take about a year.

(h/t Bibliophile Bullpen)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dewey Humor

The Onion dives into that ever-flowing fountain of humor that is the Dewey Decimal System this week, noting the difficulty catalogers are having in assigning a call number to recent Jim Belushi title Real Men Don't Apologize. "If no decision is reached within the week," the report concludes, "librarians may be forced to shelve it in the 'phantom zone' between Jenny McCarthy’s book of marriage tips and novels in which a cat helps solve a mystery."


Monday, August 21, 2006

Milton Collection Going to SC

Former St. Bonaventure Univ. president Robert J. Wickenheiser's collection of some 6,000 items related to English poet John Milton has been sold to the University of South Carolina for $1 million, the Buffalo News reports.

Patrick G. Scott, head of special collections at the Thomas Cooper Library at the University's Columbia campus, calls the Wickenheiser trove "a very valuable collection. One million is a very, very conservative appraisal. But his aim was to find someone to value the collection as a whole."

The collection was begun when Wickenheiser was in graduate school, and has been added to greatly in recent years. It now contains more than 6,000 pieces, including early Milton imprints, catalogues, illustrations and other items. Scott noted "
it is probably the best collection of Milton illustrations that has ever been formed."

South Carolina's purchase of the material was assisted by a $500,000 grant from the William L. Richter Foundation.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

More Library Rules

After posting this week on the library rules from medieval Paris I remembered I had a copy of the early "Laws of Union College" on my shelf and decided to refresh my memory of the library provisions. This version of the rules was implemented in 1802. It's a bit long, just to warn you, but fairly interesting.

"Chap. VII - Of the Library

Sec. 1. The eldest Tutor, in case of no other appointment, shall be Librarian, and shall be entitled to such compensation as the Trustees shall see fit to allow.

Sec. 2. Every book shall be lettered on the back, and its place on the shelf numbered with gilded figures.

Sec. 3. There shall be an alphabetical catalogue of all the books in the library printed, divided into chapters according to the subjects treated of in the several books; and in each alcove a written catalogue of all the books placed therein.

Sec 4. All donations to the library of the value of one hundred fifty dollars and upwards, shall be placed by themselves, and the names of the donors written over them in large gold letters. The placing of all the books is to be directed by a committee appointed by the Trustees. There shall also be an account kept of the donors of books open to inspection.

Sec. 5. Every book delivered from the library shall have a paper cover on it, which shall be returned undefaced with the book. The Librarian shall keep an account of the person borrowing, and returning, the time of doing it, the title, size, number of pages, and prints or maps, if there be any, of every book, which account shall be signed by the borrower, except where any person (but a student) who is allowed by the laws to borrow books, shall send an order subscribed with his name.

Sec. 6. No books shall be delivered except to the following persons, unless by special permission from the Trustees, viz. The Trustees of the College, all such persons as have made donations of the value of one hundred and fifty dollars, and the Officers of instruction, and all the students belonging to the College.

Sec. 7. The Librarian shall open the library every Friday and Saturday morning, for the purpose of delivering books, and receiving those which have been delivered. The students shall come to the library not more than four at a time when sent for by the Librarian, and shall not enter beyond the Librarian's table, nor shall any student be permitted to take down any book from its place. It shall be the duty of the Freshmen to attend in alphabetical order at the library on the day for delivering books, and to give such notice to the students as the Librarian shall direct.

Sec. 8. All persons who borrow books shall be responsible for the damages done to them, to be estimated by the committee of inspection appointed by the Trustees. The Librarian shall keep an exact account of all damages of books, and exhibit it quarterly to the said committee.

Sec. 9. No student shall take from the library, without special leave from the President, more than one folio at a time, which he may keep six weeks; or one quarto, which he may keep four weeks; or one octavo, which he may keep two weeks; or two duodecimos which me may keep the same time. Every student who shall not return books as this law requires, shall be fined at the discretion of the Librarian, not to exceed twelve cents each week of neglect. The Librarian shall keep a list of all fines by him inflicted, and at the close of each quarter shall deliver it to the Steward to be charged in the College bills.

Sec. 10. No person but a member of the Faculty shall be allowed to receive more than three volumes at the same time; nor shall any person be allowed to detain any book from the library more than three months, on such penalties as the committee of inspection shall see fit to inflict. No Officer of College, except by permission of the Trustees, shall take from the library, or have in his possession at the same time more than twelve volumes.

Sec. 11. No person shall lend to another any book which he has received from the library, nor let it go from under his personal custody, under the penalty of losing the privilege of borrowing for one year.

Sec. 12. All books received by the undergraduates shall be returned to the library the week preceding each vacation, and all books borrowed by others shall be returned the week preceding the commencement.

Sec. 13. No collegiate exercises shall be performed in the library, nor shall a lamp or candle ever be carried into it.

Sec. 14. The second Tutor shall be keeper of the museum, and shall keep by him a list of all the articles in it, and see that they are preserved in good order, for which he shall receive such compensation as the Trustees shall judge adequate.

Sec. 15. Each student shall be charged fifty cents in every session bill for the use of the library."

Thieves Stop at Nothing

The Richmond Review (VA) reports that book thieves have hit a display at the Brighouse branch of the Richmond Public Library, snatching all but one of about a dozen books that were pulled to show the impact of vandalism on books. "Library officials are learning nothing is safe from thieves intent on adding new titles to their bookcases."

I'm sure this happens at every library (sadly), but this article goes on to note the lengths to which some materials thieves will go: "
Library staff recently found an English-language Pippi Longstocking book with barcodes from a missing Chinese cookbook placed over top. Some page thieves even glue the new facing pages together - something casual readers might not notice."

(h/t Bibliophile Bullpen)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Book Review: "The Eyre Affair"

A coworker had been recommending Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books, and called the shop last weekend to tip me off that the first couple of the series were remaindered at one of the shops in Cambridge, so off I went after work to pick them up. The Eyre Affair being the first, I thought that was probably where I should start.

Set in an alternate history where the Crimean War's still being fought, Wales is a communist state and airships (blimps) are the preferred mode of air travel (oh and re-developed dodo birds are common household pets), Fforde's England is a bit different ... and when an original Dickens manuscript is stolen, it's up to SpecOps agent Thursday Next to put a stop to the criminal's shenanigans before he changes the course of literary history forever.

Not "great literature", but definitely a fun read. I enjoyed trying to find all the hidden literary allusions in this book, and I'm sure there were a great many that I missed.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Big Gift to Yale Map Collection

New Haven book, map, and ephemera dealer William Reese is making a $100,000 donation to the Yale University map collection, according to a Yale press release and a report in today's Hartford Courant.

"Reese's donation will go toward the cataloging and digitizing of some of Yale's 220,000 maps, which are stored in a warren of rooms on the top floor of Sterling Memorial Library." Yale will match the donation and "start a major fundraising push next month, to make the collection a major center for studying hand-printed maps and the history of cartography but also for using geographic information systems technology to draw modern maps," according to the Courant.

In a statement, head librarian Alice Prochaska wrote "We will be seeking to endow the position of Map Curator, to support the creation of a full electronic catalog with digitized versions of the holdings of this great collection, and to support and extend the high-powered consultative service in Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) that the staff provide." As the Courant notes, digitized records of the maps could prove useful if (heaven forbid) they should ever appear on the market - it will also decrease the need for physical access to the items in many cases.

I hope that Mr. Reese's most generous gift will be used wisely and effectively to improve the Yale map collections ... and who knows, maybe this will spur others to give as well.

Lost Diary Donated to Bookshop

The BBC reports that a diary covering the last days of Dr. James Young Simpson's life was discovered at an Edinburgh second-hand bookshop after it was dropped off anonymously. Simpson first discovered the anesthetic properties of chloroform.

The diary, written by the doctor's nephew Robert Simpson, "describe the physician's last days in Edinburgh before his death in 1870." It has been purchased by the library of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh and added to the Simpson Collection there, which contains some 3,000 items of the doctor's papers, letters, books, etc.

Early biographies of Simpson cited this diary, but its whereabouts were unknown until it suddenly reappeared.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"Summer in the Archives"

Sewanee University archivist Annie Armour recently posted the first of what will apparently be a series of "musings" - this initial installment discusses a couple of the interesting things her summer assistants have discovered over the years. I could do without the unexploded grenade, but the 1519 Latin vulgate bible (Nuremberg, with woodcuts) would have been quite a find!

I can't say that I ever discovered anything quite that exciting during several "archives summers" at Union, but they certainly were never boring!

I'll look forward to more of these from Ms. Armour.

(h/t Jordan Patty, Archives listserv)

A New Dispatch

One of my favorite McSweeney's columns is Scott Douglas' "Dispatches from a Public Librarian", a usually funny take on library culture, education, etc. There's a new dispatch this week, in which Douglas excerpts some rules and regulations from a Paris library circa 1300.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Book Review: "Lemprière's Dictionary"

Lawrence Norfolk's first novel, Lemprière's Dictionary (1992) caught my eye on the paperback stacks at the shop a few weeks ago, and since my fiction "to read" pile was fairly short at that point, it soon found its way to the top of the heap. It took me a while to get through; at a dense 530 pages this is not a book that lends itself well to T-rides. When I got close to the end I felt the need to devote an evening's reading to finishing it so I didn't lose any of the twists and turns.

This is in some ways a bizarre novel, filled with anachronistic technologies, quickly shifting perspectives and enough allusions to classical mythology to bridge the River Styx (it had to be done). Its sprawl reminded me slightly of Palliser's The Quincunx, but there were also elements of Ian Pears, Umberto Eco, and even Charles Dickens at play here. Norfolk's writing is excellent at times and plodgy at others (that's plodding + stodgy), and most of his characters (even the human ones) offer little emotional connection. I finished the book without any sense of triumph or loss for any character at all.

Norfolk's got a few other books floating around since this one, and I suspect I'll eventually give another one of them a whirl. I didn't dislike this one (the suspense and plot-twists alone would have kept me reading), but I can't help but think it could have been better.

A Good Idea!

I have to pass along a handy new website ... BookWormz. Finding yet another nifty way to use GoogleMaps technology, this site allows you to search for independent bookstores by zip code. It's a user-based system, so if your favorite indy store's not in there, you can add it! Very useful for travel and vacation planning, or just finding out what's nearby.

Chinese Uncover Ancient Paper

Archaeologists working in China have discovered a very early scrap of paper, according to news reports. The ten-square centimeter section of paper (made from linen fibers) was discovered during the renovation of an early military garrison in the Yumen Pass, Gansu province. It dates to 8 BCE, furthering China's claim to primacy over the development of paper. Legend puts the creation of paper at 105 CE by courtier T'sai (or Cai) Lun, but archaeological evidence has pushed the date much further back.

Fu Licheng, described as the curator of the nearby Dunhuang Museum, told reporters that more than twenty Chinese characters written on the paper had been deciphered, but that the passage's meaning was unclear. My guess? Grocery list.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Summer Readings

The Christian Science Monitor asked some bookstore employees and owners what they've been reading this summer. The answers range fairly widely, but most of them aren't particularly surprising.

Also, over at NPR, "Weekend Edition Sunday" does a little segment every week throughout the summer on a selected person's recent reading. So, if your "to be read" shelf is empty (ha!) and you need some suggestions, here are a few.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

You Really Can Find Anything ...

Author/blogger Paul Collins has posted some of his recent noteworthy eBay book finds: an Alta edition of Jane Eyre with a bullet hole through it (no bids), and several copies of the recently recalled How Opal Mehta... (one of which has a "Buy It Now" price set at $199; another has 1 bid with a starting price of $1). No first edition Bibles signed by the author up there at the moment that I could find, but don't worry, they'll be back.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Mum's the Word on Maps Meeting

The Harvard Crimson reports today that library officials call this week's meeting between the Smiley-hit libraries and FBI investigators "positive and productive," but "that the libraries agreed not to comment on the meeting’s proceedings." The paper says that university officials "will not announce" whether an investigator has been hired to pursue claims that Smiley took more maps than he's admitted to. Harvard's library is currently preparing a "victim impact statement" to be submitted before Smiley's sentencing on September 22.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ambitious Dutch Newspaper Digitization Project

Dutch book blog Filip::Books (link added to sidebar) posts on a new announcement by the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (KB, the Dutch Royal Library) that it will undertake the creation of a digital database of "regional, national and colonial newspapers starting at the 17th century." Comprising some 8 million pages and 25 billion words, Filip comments, "This huge database will provide insight into the political, cultural and economic history of the Netherlands and its former colonies. As many book collectors know from their own experience, old documents can be very fragile. This will not only preserve old newspapers, but a database would also allow computerized research into the development of the Dutch language."

While I'd be even more excited about this project if I could read Dutch, it's an excellent endeavor nonetheless and I hope it succeeds.

Stolen Darwin Book Recovered

A signed first edition of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species stolen from Down House (Darwin's home) back in February, 2004 has been recovered, notes the Bucks Free Press. A recent lead in the case prompted the arrest of Amir Adam Ladak and the return of the book. Ladak pleaded guilty on August 1 and now faces sentencing.

(h/t: BibliophileBullpen)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Current Reading

Since I've just started two fairly substantial books and it might be a few days before I post any reviews, I thought I should make a brief note. I finished reading Jerry Ellis' Walking to Canterbury a couple days ago, but decided not to post a full review. Normally I enjoy travel books, but this one was just a bit too quirky (in a weird way, not in an endearing way) for me.

I started Icelandic author Halldor Laxness' Independent People, which came highly recommended from a customer a few weeks ago. Unfortunately I made the mistake of reading the introduction in the copy I picked up, which gave away just about every important part of the plot (think one of those obnoxious movie trailers after the viewing of which you know you've just seen practically every laugh line or key moment in the film). After reading thirty pages or so I gave up and set the book aside for another time. As a replacement, I have now begun Lawrence Norfolk's Lemprière's Dictionary, which I'm enjoying quite well so far for my trips back and forth to work on the T.

I'm also reading (finally) Nicholas Basbanes' A Gentle Madness, the first volume in his great compendium of book culture. This one I'm having trouble putting down.

UC Libraries Join Google

Following up to a post from last week: the University of California library system will join other major libraries in Google's Book Search program, Reuters reports. Scanning of "several million" books in the 34-million volume UC system could begin within weeks.

College Book Collecting Champs Announced

Scott Brown at Fine Books Blog announces the winners of the first College Book Collecting Championship, sponsored by Fine Books & Collections magazine,, PBA Galleries, Heritage Book Shop and the Grolier Club. Daniel McKee of Cornell won first prize for his collection of Educational Books of Japan's Meiji Period; William Miglore of Amherst took second for collecting Ray Bradbury; David Rando (also of Cornell) rounded out the top three with his reference books related to Finnegan's Wake.

An excellent idea by Fine Books & Collections, and congratulations to all the winners! I hope that this contest will continue to flourish, and that more colleges around the country will establish book collecting contests on their campuses.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Online Longfellow Exhibits at MMN

The Maine Memory Network - one of the best public memory sites out there - has announced the opening of three new online exhibits centered around Portland-born poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. These draw on a 2002 bricks-and-mortar exhibition at the Maine Historical Society, "Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: The Man Who Invented America."

I had the opportunity to intern last fall at the Longfellow National Historic Site in Cambridge, the house where Longfellow lived for much of his adult life (if you get the chance to visit and have a tour, jump at it!), so it's neat to see these MMN exhibits which nicely complement my experiences at the house.

Libraries Meet with FBI on Smiley Maps

As the Vineyard Gazette reports this morning, representatives from the libraries hit by map thief E. Forbes Smiley met behind closed doors in New Haven yesterday with the FBI, to examine the recovered items and to express concerns that Smiley was involved in more thefts than he's admitted.

The British Library has now admitted that four historic maps are missing from its collections: Peter Apian's 1520 world map, another world map by George Best (1578) and two copies (1624 and 1625) of Sir William Alexander's chart of New England and the Maritime Provinces. Clive Field, the BL's director of scholarship and collections, said library records indicate that Smiley is the only patron to have examined all four of those maps since 1997.

Smiley refused comment when reached at home by the Gazette reporter.

Monday, August 07, 2006

WSJ on the "Classics Market"

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal ran an article on the current market for classic works of literature, particularly translations. It gets at the question of the necessity/desirability of "updated" translations - is it true, as Viking publisher Paul Slovak says, that "Times change, and there is a sense that every generation can find a new translation that speaks to them"?

(h/t: GalleyCat, to which a link has been added on the sidebar)

Antique Torah Subject of Legal Battle

A former curator stole a 13th-century manuscript Torah from the French national library. Christie's auction house sold said Torah to Brooklyn art/antiquities dealer Yosef Goldman. The Bibliotheque Nationale has sued Goldman for return of the Torah, who has now in turn sued Christie's for selling it to him in the first place. The AP has the story, calling the situation "an antiquities lover's triangle."

Sunday, August 06, 2006

New Links

There are a few new links on the sidebar:

- Fine Books & Collections: The Blog - The good folks at Fine Books & Collections magazine have put together a fantastic blog to accompany and complement the print version - this is one of my new favorite sites and I've been using some spare time to go back and read over their archive (highly recommended). One of the newest posts is quite interesting as well; it discusses the Archimedes Palimpsest and the use of technology in the rare book universe.

- Weekend Stubble - Author and professor Paul Collins posts here on book-related things. Collins wrote the well-known Sixpence House, in which he and his family take up residence in the "book town" of Hay-on-Wye in Wales. That's currently approaching the top of my "to read soon" stack, but for now, I'm enjoying the blog.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Book Review: "The Magic Circle of Rudolf II"

Cultural historian Peter Marshall's forthcoming The Magic Circle of Rudolf II: Alchemy and Astrology in Renaissance Prague (Walker & Company) offers a look inside one of what must have been among the most fascinating royal courts of Europe in the late sixteenth century, that of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. A curious scientist at heart, Rudolf's tastes ran more to observation, experimentation and study than to governance: he brought some of the "most creative, original and subversive minds" of Europe to live and work in his presence, and in doing so allowed the seeds to be laid for great advances in the worlds of art and science which would bear fruit in the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution.

Marshall provides five pillars of influence that contributed to the atmosphere Rudolf created at Prague: Neoplatonism, hermeticism, Cabalism, magic, alchemy and astrology. As a young man Rudolf's interest in the occult was piqued - this translated into a lifelong obsession with alchemical processes, the Philosopher's Stone and associated corollaries. Since Rudolf had the funds to indulge his fancies (and the power to avoid the long arms of the Inquisition), he was able to amass massive collections of natural curiosities and artistic wonders in his palaces, and to create alchemical laboratories (where upwards of two hundred men could work at a time!) in the pursuit of his goals.

A fair portion of Magic Circle is given over to short biographical sketches of many of the talented artists, scientists and alchemists that enjoyed Rudolf's patronage over the years. From the artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo (whose major works are figures from Rudolf's court, including my favorite "The Librarian", actually Rudolf's court historian Wolfgang Lazio) to the English duo of alchemists and prognosticators John Dee and Edward Kelley to Giordano Bruno (later burned at the stake for his acceptance of Copernican cosmology) and astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler (among many others), Rudolf created a safe haven for scientific (including what we would today call pseudo-scientific) and artistic exploration to occur, even as the quakes of Reformation and Counter-Reformation were being felt throughout the rest of Europe.

Of course the idyll couldn't last, and Marshall's retelling of Rudolf's decline, ouster and death (and the eventual sacking and dispersal of his collections by the Catholic and Protestant forces over the years) is depressing (but well done). While Rudolf's faults as an administrator are clear, his acceptance and toleration of dissent and openness to new ideas and beliefs are just as admirable in a historical leader as we might find them today.

A fine work indeed.

Conference on Book Trade History

Shelf Life points out what looks like a very interesting conference in London this December, "Books On The Move: Tracking Copies through Collections and the Book Trade" sponsored by the Antiquarian Book Association." Workshops will include "Lost': The Destruction, Dispersal and Rediscovery of Manuscripts," "What Can We Learn by Tracking Multiple Copies of Individual Editions?", and "Bibliophily and Public-Private Partnership: the Library of Gustave van Havre (1817-92) and its afterlife in Antwerp libraries".

More information here. Unfortunately this meeting comes just at the end of my fall term, but I'm going to look into making the trip nonetheless.

Bush's Ranch Reading

Boston Globe books editor James Concannon comments in "Off the Shelf" on the books President Bush is taking with him on his ten-day trip to Crawford: Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power by Richard Cawardine; Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural by Ronald C. White, Jr.; and Polio: An American Story by David M. Oshinsky.

Concannon adds "I'd suggest a fourth, Truman by David McCullough, which chronicles how an average man in the same job (which he often wasn't sure he was up to) labored mightily during wartime to make decisions that were best for the nation, regardless of political consequences. This president might draw comfort from that one."

I wonder what Laura's reading.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Domesday Book Now Online

The UK National Archives has released an e-version of the Domesday Book; the web exhibit includes a searchable text, page images, and an excellent introduction to the eleventh-century census. Reuters has more (including a new survey which found that 2% of Britons thought the Domesday Book was a novel written by Dan Brown).

(h/t Jack Kessler)

Yale: "We're Satisfied"

The ever-vigilant Everett Wilkie notes a press release from Yale dated August 1, in response to news reports which lumped that institution with the BL, Harvard and the BPL in believing that E. Forbes Smiley stole more maps from them than he's admitted to:

"Several recent news stories have mischaracterized Yale University's views regarding the federal investigation of map thefts by E. Forbes Smiley. Yale is confident that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office have conducted a thorough investigation of the thefts, and the University is grateful for the extraordinary efforts that the federal authorities have made to recover maps stolen from Yale."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

UC Libraries Could Partner with Google

The LATimes reported late Tuesday that the University of California's library system - with its 34 million volumes - is in talks with Google about joining that company's ambitious Book Search Library project to digitize and offer access (in some form) to many of the world's books. The report notes "UC President Robert C. Dynes and top UC librarians are negotiating a contract to follow six other prestigious library systems, including Harvard's and Stanford's," into the program, which began several years ago. "A UC deal with Google could be announced within a month, officials said. However, the arrangement first faces close scrutiny from the UC regents and the publishing world for potential copyright issues and concerns that UC might lose out on future revenue."

The project is the subject of ongoing litigation by authors and publishers who say that Google cannot scan copyrighted materials even if it doesn't provide full access to them. UC associate vice provost for scholarly information told the Times that the California system would probably follow the example of the University of Michigan, which allows Google to scan books in and out of copyright.

Google plans to digitize "several million books in UC's holdings over the next six years or so" - UC will receive copies of the scanned books and will save book purchase and other costs (although the project will require an initial outlay of several million dollars for equipment, storage, and logistics).

I'm a huge fan of the Google Book Library Search project; although I agree that there could be some legitimate concerns, I think Google has acted in good faith to mitigate them. It's excellent to see other large academic libraries getting involved, and I hope that the UC partnership is approved.

Note: Those libraries currently affiliated with the project are Stanford, Harvard, University of Michigan, New York Public Library, Oxford University and (provisionally) the Library of Congress.

(h/t: Bibliophile Bullpen)

Book Review: "Nature Revealed"

Award-winning Harvard biologist Edward O. (or E.O.) Wilson is one of the most interesting and elegant writers of scientific nonfiction I've ever read - his Consilience might be my favorite work of scientific philosophy, and his memoir Naturalist is a beautiful tale of his life in science. Nature Revealed is a new collection of Wilson's writings, recently published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

This volume basically reprints Wilson's articles in their original formats, which at times makes for tricky reading where the text has been compressed. It also skews toward the technical; this won't bother trained scientists, but for the general reader (like me) it meant that I skimmed just a few of the more detailed pieces.

Those are, however, my only quibbles with this book. It is an excellent cross-section of Wilson's career, from his longtime work with ants to his expositions of island biogeography, sociobiology and the idea of consilience, to his growing advocacy for the protection of biodiversity around the world in this age of environmental degradation.

One of the things I enjoy most about Wilson's work is that he doesn't feel compelled to stick to the laboratory; one of my favorite pieces in Nature Revealed is an article published for the first time (an earlier version appeared in Nature last year), in which Wilson has examined archival and historical documents in an attempt to determine which species of ants plagued several Caribbean islands some centuries ago. He argues (in Consilience among other recent publications) that the major academic disciplines can be "united in one skein of cause-and-effect explanations" - that the unity of explanation "is inherently natural to the human mind and accurately reflects the real world." Wilson's own work has clearly benefited from this inter-interdisciplinary approach, and I think that as educational institutions around the world seek new methods of instruction in the 21st century, consilience and its offshoots will play an important role.

For Wilson devotees, those interested in his ideas, or anyone who enjoys excellent scientific writings, Nature Revealed is well worth your time.

Coincidentally, as I was reading this book I came across an excellent web interview with Wilson, in which he discusses religion, science, sociobiology and many of his other ideas. He speaks just as well as he writes, and if you've got a spare hour, I highly recommend this exchange. Also watch for his forthcoming The Creation: A Meeting of Science and Religion (although I understand the title may be different now). That's due out next month.

Plight of the Lebanese National Library

NPR's "Day to Day" profiled the Lebanese National Library on Tuesday, highlighting the difficulties posed by decades of war. The library's materials, including rare manuscripts dating back centuries, are now being stored above a shop in the port of Beirut; they were nearly hit by an Israeli strike on the port in mid-July. The books and manuscripts are already in need of significant work after years of inadequate storage and neglect.

The report notes that restoration work is ongoing on the National Library's collections, funded partly by grants from the EU. The emir of Qatar has donated $25 million to restore a building for the library's use ... the building is currently housing more than 1,500 refugees, and plans for the library may have to be put on hold now that funding will be needed to replace infrastructure destroyed in the recent fighting.

Just a grim reminder of yet another cost of war.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Book Review: "The Most Famous Man in America"

Debby Applegate's new book (her first), The Most Famous Man in America, details the life and times of Henry Ward Beecher, a public figure whose fame in his own time has been largely eclipsed in the period since his death. The son of famed minister Lyman Beecher and brother of novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry's story is well-told in this fascinating and readable biography.

Applegate gently integrates her narrative of Beecher's life with a useful social, religious, and political history of America from the first quarter of the nineteenth century through the late 1880s at the height of the Gilded Age. The tensions of the era are evident at every turn, seen through the lens of Beecher and his interactions with his family, his friends, and the wider world. As Beecher came to slowly reject the staid Calvinism of his father and preach a new religion based on God's capacity to love, he mirrored the changes occurring simultaneously in the society around him.

From his earliest days, Beecher faced extreme pressure to excel, and worked hard to do so. Overcoming a speech impediment, Henry transformed himself through hard work and practice into a brilliant orator and minister, eventually accepting a call to head up the large Plymouth Church in blooming Brooklyn. It was here that Beecher made a name for himself through his preaching, lecturing, and writing - his stature grew to such a height that Lincoln chose Beecher to make the keynote speech at Fort Sumter when the Stars and Stripes were raised there at the end of the Civil War.

The final section of Applegate's book focuses on what must be seen as the defining period of Beecher's life, his entire career notwithstanding. A lurid sex scandal with all the trimmings (blackmail, additional allegations, cameo appearances from the leading figures of the day, incriminating documents in the newspaper, a salacious civil trial) consumed the last years of Beecher's career; Applegate recounts these events deftly, weaving them into the context of Beecher's entire life - while this section of the book reads more monographically than biographically, it is certainly riveting.

Beecher has found a fine biographer in Ms. Applegate; I recommend The Most Famous Man in America without reservation.

Restoring an Archimedes Manuscript

Via Rare Book News comes this report from today's San Mateo County Times (CA), about the ongoing recovery of a manuscript containing treatises and diagrams of the Greek scientist Archimedes. The manuscript was discovered under the text of a Greek prayer book (the text of which had been painted over by a French forger with illuminations of the early evangelists), and is now being examined with a particle accelerator and x-ray beams in the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory.

The palimpsest, owned by Baltimore's Walters Art Museum, is called by curator William Noel "
the ugliest manuscript I have ever seen. ... It doesn't look like a great document. It's a pig's ear of a manuscript, and that's because it's 1,000 years old, it's been reused, it's been burned and been eaten by mold. But these are foundational text[s] for the history of the Western mathematical tradition."

Ian Hoffman's article outlines the very interesting history of this document, which is "probably a copy of a copy of a copy of Archimedes' original writings on papyrus. The copy on the parchment appears to have been made in Constantinople, the center of the Byzantine world, then kept in a library in the Holy Lands, possibly in Jerusalem. In A.D. 1229, a monastery scribe ran short of parchment and recycled Archimedes' treatises and four other books from the library. With pumice and lemon juice or milk, the scribe erased the five books, then he cut them in half, rotated the pages and wrote a prayer book."

It's only because the Archimedes texts were erased that the document survived, say some; otherwise it might have been destroyed. In 1906 the palimpsest was noticed and photographed, but then disappeared until 1970 when it was discovered with the pages painted over. The work was purchased anonymously for $2 million in 1998, allowing the restoration process to begin.

The article notes that the Exploratorium will broadcast a live webcast of the restoration efforts at 4 p.m. PDT on Friday, August 4.

More on the Thieving Librarian

A neat followup to Saturday's post on Manchester librarian Norman Buckley, who stole more than 400 items from the Manchester Central Library: Grumpy Old Bookman publishes the statement made to police by the Somerset bookseller who cracked the case and alerted the library to the thefts.

The report is an excellent write-up of the events as they unfolded, revealing that the American bookseller who first raised questions about the items up for auction on eBay was Vic Zoschack of Tavistock Books; Clive Keeble of Keeble Antiques noticed the alert and contacted the Manchester library, getting the ball rolling and eventually stopping Buckley in his tracks.

As GOB adds, "I think this case demonstrates a number of things, not least that there are some very responsible and public-spirited people around in the secondhand and antiquarian book trade, and such integrity deserves to be recognised. Hint: buy more books from them." Quite so.

Fred Kilgour, Founder of OCLC, Dies

One of the leading figures in modern librarianship has died. Frederick G. Kilgour, 92, founded the company known today as OCLC, changing the library catalog forever through the implementation of WorldCat and other cooperative database efforts. A full obituary for Kilgour can be found at It's all good, a joint blog by several OCLC employees.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What is "Project X"?

While the general focus of this blog is not new books, I can't help but mention this interesting publisher's gimmick: HarperCollins imprint William Morrow has announced the upcoming release of a book ... and much beyond that. Their release notes: "A world wide publishing event, this book will make headlines around the world. A shattering, provocative and mesmerizing true story, it will receive major national media attention here in the U.S. in addition to making news around the globe." Title, author, subject - all "to be revealed upon publication."

The initial print run of this title is 300,000 - and the retail price will be $25.95. Some clues to its identity come in the shelving suggestions from Ingram: Biography & Autobiography, and Childhood Memoir. Galleycat suggests it might have something to do with Michael Jackson. In an update today, they note that Publishers Weekly got HC publicists to deny that the book was by a White House insider. The PW article mainly focuses on many booksellers' suspicions of the embargoed title and their unwillingness to order large quantities of it without more information, noting that these stunts can backfire just as often as they drive up sales.

Grumpy Old Bookman, following up on the Michael Jackson theme (which will be rather disappointing if true, because I couldn't care less), suggests that the author could be Macaulay Caulkin.

Plunking the ISBN (0061138959) into Amazon reveals a book info page titled simply "Project X" - how very mysterious!

Beware the Dread Copyright Pirates

Copyright issues are some of the thorniest matters facing the book world in this digital age. A recent column from business writer Denny Hatch focuses on one print-on-demand publishing firm which seems to have a rather questionable approach (to put it nicely) to intellectual property rights. Additionally, this lot have been the subject of many discussions in the bookselling community in recent months after a suspicious cycle of purchases and returns.

Yale Displays Shakespeare's Will

A current exhibit "Searching for Shakespeare," at the Yale Center for British Art includes a most interesting document: Shakespeare's will, which has never before left England (the exhibit also includes the six portraits ostensibly of the Bard, original period theatrical costumes, and early editions of Shakespeare's plays).

Will's will is the subject of a profile in the July/August Yale alumni magazine, available online here. The document, "dated March 25, 1616, less than a month before Shakespeare's death, is a rich trove of information - and of questions. One provision alone, Shakespeare's bequest to his wife of his 'second best bed,' has generated reams of scholarly and not-so-scholarly speculation."

The piece interviews three Shakespeare experts on the relevance and importance of the will: Harold Bloom, Lawrence Manley, and Lena Cowen Orlin. All have interesting comments on some parts of the will, including that rather odd "second best bed" provision.

(h/t to Jack Kessler via Ex-Libris, who notes that the photos in the magazine are quite nice, as is the original document).

BPL Believes Smiley Stole More Maps

The Boston Public Library has now joined the British Library, Harvard and Yale in maintaining that E. Forbes Smiley stole more maps than he's acknowledged, reports the Boston Globe. BPL president Bernard Margolis said "I think all of the affected institutions believe [Forbes Smiley] took other maps." He declined to say how many additional maps are missing at the BPL or whether the library has any evidence linking Smiley to the thefts.

Smiley admitted to stealing thirty-four maps from the BPL; all but three of those were recovered by the FBI, and Margolis told the Globe that another "will be returned to the library by a private collector who heard about the thefts and realized it was stolen."

[Update: Harvard's list of thirteen missing maps is now available here - if you have any information on them, please contact]