Wednesday, February 28, 2007

New Dispatch

Over at McSweeney's there is, delightfully, a brand-new installment of "Dispatches from a Public Librarian": Troubleshooting Library Computer Problems.

Books Missing

Everett Wilkie just posted on ExLibris a list of books which have gone missing on their trip from Germany to the University of Minnesota library. The following is from the email bulletin:

"...These books are considered World Heritage items because they were the personal property of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld and were the books he was able to collect while he was in exile in Nice, France after the burning of the Hirschfeld Library by the Nazis on May 10, 1933. Of the 19 books in the package seven (7of the 19) were more modern books that were gifts to us from the Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaft e. V. in Berlin.

The titles of the nineteen missing books are as follows:
1. Magnus Hirschfeld: Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes, 1912
2. Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen 6.1904
3. Magnus Hirschfeld: Die Weltreise eines Sexualforschers, 1933 (mit Schutzumschlag)
4. Magnus Hirschfeld, Andreas Gaspar (Hg.): Sittengeschichte der jüngsten Zeit -Sittengschichte des Weltkrieges Band, 1930
5. ditto, Band 2, 1930
6. Magnus Hirschfeld, Andreas Gaspar (Hg.): Sittengeschichte der jüngsten Zeit -Sittengeschichte der Nachkriegszeit, Bd. 1, 1931
7. Magnus Hirschfeld, Berndt Götz: Sexualgeschichte der Menschheit, 1929
8. dies.: Das erotische Weltbild, 1929Magnus Hirschfeld: Sexualpathologie
9. Band 2, 1918
10. Band 3, 1920Magnus Hirschfeld: Geschlechtskunde
11. Band 4: Bilderteil, 1930
12. Band 5: Register, 1930 Diese Bücher enthielten ein lose beigelegtes Exlibris (siehe Anlage) auf gelblichem Kartonbzw. waren als "additional gift" (Nr. 1) gekennzeichnet.Weitere sieben Bände aus dem Dublettenbestand der Magnus-Hirschfeld-Gesellschaftwurden nicht einzeln aufgelistet; alle mit einem beigelegten Vermerk: "additional gift"
(13)Magnus Hirschfeld: Von Einst bis Jetzt, ed. by Manfred Herzer and James D. Steakley. 1986
(14 & 15)[Selection from] Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen, vols 1 and 2. ed. by Johann Wolfgang Schmidt. Frankfurt: Qumran 1984
16, 17, 18, & 19 - titles missing at this time.

I will forward the last four titles as soon as I get them. If you have any leads on these missing books please contact Jean-Nickolaus Tretter at or Tim Johnson at Should you have received any or all of our missing German books I can assure you that we will make arrangements for their return at absolutely no cost to you and with a minimal effort or work on your part. If you have any additional questions, comments, or concerns please feel free to contact us at any time. Please also feel free to circulate this message as you see fit. Thank you for your attention to this matter."

Each book was wrapped in white tissue paper and contained a bookmark inside the front cover reading:
"Dieses Buch stammt
aus dem Nachlass
Li Shiu Tong
(1907 - 1993)

Dem Letzten Freund
und Erben

Die Bücher aus dem
Nachlass wurden
von der Magnus-
Gesellschaft e. V. im
Oktober 2006 mit

Visualizing LibraryThing

Man, what will they think of next? The new "visualization site", Many Eyes (which looks like a whole lot of fun, I'll have to play with it some more) is currently featuring "Harry Potter is Freaking Popular," which shows the top fifty books currently listed in LibraryThing. I like the capabilities this has, including snapshot view in comments (i.e. you can select multiple 'bubbles' using 'control + click' and have it show up, to make a point or just indicate which of the titles you've read). Pretty cool. As Tim points out, the possibilities for LT data + Many Eyes visualizers are (probably) endless.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

On Longfellow's Bicentennial

For some reason I thought Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's birthday was 28 February so I was planning to post then about his 200th, but, realizing that would have been a day late, I've collected a few key links and musings to get in just under the wire.

- First, I recommend (again) Nicholas Basbanes' essay "Famous Once Again" in the February issue of Smithsonian. It's a good introduction to HWL and also notes some of the many recent commemorations of his life and works (including a postage stamp and an ongoing exhibit at Harvard's Houghton Library).

- Via Bibliophile Bullpen, a WBUR broadcast, "Weathering Longfellow's 200th."

- Also, I should note The Longfellow Bicentennial Committee website - they've got the full list of upcoming celebratory events, including a major gala at Harvard's Sanders Theater on 25 March that sounds like quite a time! And there's the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Birthplace, which has a very useful poetry database. If you get a chance, do stop by the Longfellow National Historic Site in Cambridge; it's a great place where the guides will give you a really amazing tour of a building which featured heavily in the poet's writings (hearing poems like "The Children's Hour" and "The Old Clock on the Stairs" in context is worth the trip in itself). I did an internship there awhile back and enjoyed it very much.

- The HWL poem that always manages to affect me the most (with "A Psalm for Life" a close second) is "Christmas Bells" - not for its first three stanzas (the well-known ones, and most often sung today as "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day") but for the last four. Written on Christmas Day, 1864, as the Civil War dragged inexorably on (and just shortly after Longfellow learned that his son had been wounded in battle), these verses speak so starkly - and so simply, as was Longfellow's way - to the pains of war and hopes of peace that have changed not a whit since they were penned.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Longfellow.

Mr. Wordsworth ... in the Kitchen ... with the Butter Knife?

[Note: this is a long post]

There's been an ongoing discussion over on ExLibris lately that prompts this post, which is a short* examination of what seems to be a game of literary "Telephone". The discussion started - I think - with a post about binding errors [update: I'm reminded the original question dealt with what appeared to be an intentional misbinding] and what value (if any) they brought to books. It then slowly morphed into a conversation about shrink-wrapped books, and from there to the difference between "shrink-wrapped" and "unopened" (that is, a book in which the top and fore-edges of the leaves remain connected from where the sheets were folded into gatherings ... not to be confused with "uncut", where the page edges have not been trimmed straight by the binder. See here, the first and second images).

An anecdote, introduced into the thread at this point, starts us on our investigation. Wrote one member (all such of whom shall remain anonymous for our purposes: "
There is an amusing story regarding Wordsworth and Coleridge at Dove Cottage which illustrates their different temperaments: Wordsworth was greatly annoyed to see Coleridge opening new books with the butter knife."

Ah, wrote another Ex-Libran "Smiling to think of the scene (was Dorothy in the doorway? - did she take sides? - I don't remember!)." But wait, said a third: "Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, it was Wordsworth, not Coleridge, who sliced open books with a butter knife. I have a feeling that Harriet Martineau may be the source of that story."

My curiosity then piqued (an effect almost unavoidable under the circumstances) I checked a few book indexes from my shelves and then clicked over to Google Books (which, as I think I've said before, I am coming to think of as a sort of "master index" even though it's not there yet). I found a few citations which named Wordsworth the buttered-knife fiend, and passed them on to the list. Not to be countered, however, the original poster who'd pointed the buttered blade at Coleridge replied "The particulars seem fraught with confusion & conflation. It does
appear that SOMEBODY committed the heinous deed, but the doctors disagree." Pasted below were three more citations, all naming Coleridge. And so the project was on. What's the root of this story? How's it gotten so snarled?

Off we go.

From what I've been able to determine so far - and this could change at any moment, mind you - the originator of this story seems to be Thomas De Quincey, who tells it in his The Lake Poets: Wordsworth and Southey (written 1830-40, but to be found in Volume II of The Collected Writings of Thomas De Quincey, 1889). On page 312 of that volume, De Quincey writes: "[Robert] Southey had particularly elegant habits (Wordsworth called them finical) in the use of books. Wordsworth, on the other hand, was so negligent, and so self-indulgent in the same case, that, as Southey, laughing, expressed it to me some years afterwards ... 'To introduce Wordsworth into one's library is like letting a bear into a tulip garden.'"

De Quincey continues, recounting the tale of the "first exemplification" he had of Wordsworth's 'less than gentle' treatment of books. It was, he writes, "early in my acquaintance with him, and on occasion of a book which (if any could) justified the too summary style of his advances in rifling its charms. On a level with the eye, when sitting at the tea-table in my little cottage at Grasmere, stood the collective works of Edmund Burke. The book was to me an eye-sore and an ear-sore for many a year, in consequence of the cacophonous title lettered by the bookseller upon the back - 'Burke's Works.' I have heard it said, by the way that, Donne's intolerable defect of ear grew out of his own baptismal name, when harnessed to his own surname - John Donne. No man, it was said, who had listened to this hideous jingle from childish years, could fail to have his genius for discord, and the abominable in sound, improved to the utmost. Not less dreadful than John Donne was 'Burke's Works'; which, however, on the old principle, that every day's work is no day's work, continued to annoy me for twenty-one years. Wordsworth took down the volume; unfortunately it was uncut; fortunately, and by a special Providence as to him, it seemed, tea was proceeding at the time. Dry toast required butter; butter required knives; and knives then lay on the table; but sad it was for the virgin purity of Mr. Burke's as yet unsunned pages, that every knife bore upon its blade testimonies of the service it had rendered. Did that stop Wordsworth? Did that cause him to call for another knife? Not at all; he

'Look'd at the knife that caus'd his pain:
And look'd and sigh'd, and look'd and sigh'd again';**

and then, after this momentary tribute to regret, he tore his way into the heart of the volume withis knife, that left its greasy honours behind it upon every page: and are they not there to this day? This personal experience first brought me acquainted with Wordsworth's habits in that particular especially, with his intense impatience for one minute's delay which would have brought a remedy..." De Quincey goes on to say that he'd purchase the Burke volume cheaply and wouldn't have mentioned the incident at all, "only to illustrate the excess of Wordsworth's outrages on books, which made him, in Southey's eyes, a mere monster..."

But what of Coleridge? Ah, De Quincey says in the next paragraph, "has Wordsworth done as Coleridge did, how cheerfully should I have acquiesced in his destruction (such as it was, in a pecuniary sense) of books, as the very highest obligation he could confer. Coleridge often spoiled a book; but, in the course of doing this, he enriched that book with so many and so valuable notes, from such a cornucopia of discursive reading, and such a fusing intellect, commentaries so many-angled and so many-coloured that I have envied many a man whose luck has placed him in the way of such injuries; and that man must have been a churl (though, God knows! too often this churl has existed) who could have found in his heart to complain."

I just couldn't resist quoting that at length; it had to be done. So, now, onward.

In Holbrook Jackson's The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1981, page 423), much of De Quincey's account is quoted verbatim. Heather J. Jackson in Marginalia (2001, page 95) references the same, noting that De Quincey "compares [Wordsworth] unfavorably with Coleridge." The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (1993, page 781), summarizing De Quincey's work: "Coleridge is shown in all his intellectural grandeur and human weakness: simultaneously the most original English mind of his time and a compulsive plagiarist. Wordsworth's genius is fully honoured, but he is also the proud bibliophobe - sacreligiously cutting open precious pages with a used butter-knife on the kitchen table...".

Not all authors seem to have been so careful in their use of De Quincey, however. In How to Form a Library (1886) Henry Benjamin Wheatley comments (page 53) "Southey cared for his books, but Coleridge would cut the leaves with a butter knife..." Channeling Wheatley to a suspicious degree, Adrian Joline, in The Diversions of a Book-Lover (1903, page 27): "If I am not mistaken, Southey was careful with his books, but Coleridge would cut the leaves with a butter-knife, and De Quincey was merciless toward them." A.J.K. Esdaile, in Autolycus' Pack and Other Light Wares (1969 reprint, page 51), speaking of Samuel Johnson: "Let us trust that he did not, like Coleridge, cut books open at breakfast with the butter knife."

The examples abound, in biographies, newspaper articles, and works of literary criticism. For the most part, they convict Wordsworth; the earliest example I can find which places the blame on Coleridge is Wheatley's 1886 comment. That certainly doesn't mean earlier examples don't exist, just that I haven't come across them. I'd be interested to see other citations, either taking the story back earlier than De Quincey's account (presuming his truthfulness in having witnessed the event, these shouldn't exist), or finding pre-1886 examples naming Coleridge as the butterer (quite possible). I have not yet had a chance to read the newest account of the Wordsworth/Coleridge relationship (Adam Sisman's The Friendship), which may or may not contain this anecdote.

No matter what, this has been a fascinating examination, and it shows, I think, both the power of the new technologies (this little study could not, I suspect, have been done in a single morning to the same degree without Google Books) and the literary knots that exist out there just waiting to be untangled. And so, at long last, I must conclude on De Quincey's evidence, that it was indeed Mr. Wordsworth, in the kitchen, with the butter knife.

* Alright, not-so-short.
** A paraphrase, apparently, from Dryden's "Alexander's Feast".

Book Review: "Toussaint Louverture"

English professor and novelist Madison Smartt Bell's new book, Toussaint Louverture (Pantheon, 2007) is at once a biography of the Haitian Revolution's main leader and at the same time a remarkably useful overall history of that conflict. Louverture makes for an incredibly difficult subject given the paucity of objective sources on his life and legacy, but Bell has handled that dilemma carefully and well.

As Bell notes in his afterword, most portrayals of Louverture show "an extreme Toussaint: either a vicious, duplicitous, Machiavellian figure ... or a military and political genius, autodidact, and self-made man, a wise and good humanitarian who not only led his people to freedom but also envisioned and briefly created a society based on racial harmony, at least two hundred years ahead of its time." What Bell has - I suspect consciously - attempted to do here is tack toward the middle, showing Toussaint (to the extent possible) in his own context.

We don't get a great deal here about the motivations of the man, and to his great credit Bell has refrained from attempting to psycho-analyze his subject. Where there are speculations - and there are some, of necessity - they're carefully noted. In the absence of a huge amount of personal detail, Bell provides a fascinating and detailed account of the incredibly complicated politics of Saint Domingue during the years of revolutionary conflict. The balance of power seemed to be constantly shifting (both between and amongst the groups within the colony and with the various European powers), and Bell has managed to recreate the essence of that without bogging the book down. I do wish that he'd included more about the relationship with the fledging United States, including the support offered by the Adams administration during the early years of the rebellion.

Louverture was and remains an impossible figure to pin down. Was he in fact out to secure an independent St. Domingue? If so, why not declare it (he insisted throughout that he remained loyal to France)? Why did he fall into the trap that led to his arrest and deportation? These questions, unfortunately, will probably never be answered. But Bell's book provides a fresh examination of these and other issues, and is an important introduction to its subject. Recommended.

Other recent reviews (I've decided that for some books I'll include links to other recent reviews, which - I feel obligated to note - I make a point not to read until after I've written my own): "The Elusive Louverture" by James Smethurst (Boston Globe, 2/25); "The Moses of Haiti" by Theola Labbe (Washington Post, 2/25).

AP Grabs Book-Theft Story

The Associated Press has blurbed the major book theft that occurred recently in Northern New Hampshire, which I mentioned briefly on Sunday. Joyce at Bibliophile Bullpen has a list of some of the major philosophical works stolen from the estate of William Ernest Hocking. She's also got email addresses where you can send tips or information. Booksellers - and probably those in New England particularly - should be on the lookout for these items.

Monday, February 26, 2007

On Google and Booksellers

The Register ran an article yesterday commenting on how some booksellers are coming to embrace the eventual concept of Google Books as massive retail clearinghouse:

"When Google first unveiled its plans at the Frankfurt Bookfair in 2004, traditional booksellers trembled at the thought of competing with the Google behemoth. But the tables have seemingly turned with e-savvy retailers now looking forward to becoming involved because there is no fee for publishers to participate in Google Book Search. (Although they must pay to ship titles to Google). On the other hand the industry's traditional portals, such as ABE, Amazon and Alibris, charge vendors to market their wares online and add shipping costs to their prices.

According to Conor Kenny, who heads up landmark Galway bookstore Kennys - also probably the oldest online bookstore in the world - vendors are looking forward to embracing Google. 'Put simply, the power of Google cannot be overlooked,' he says.

The mark up for online vendors on book sales is around 35 per cent before handling. However, if purchased from, say, Kennys via Amazon, the huge internet retailer charges around 15 per cent on the sale.

For its part, Google says it is not taking a cut from booksellers, and claims it hasn't figured out how to generate revenue from the project. Yet."

An interesting angle to the Google Books Project. Also, if you haven't read Jeff Toobin's "Google's Moon Shot" from the 2/5 issue of the New Yorker, I recommend it; it's a good rundown of the Project's progress to date and where Google sees it going.

[h/t Shelf::Life for the bookseller story]

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Links &c.

- Tim Spalding's got some very good points at Thingology about the new "Library Ninja" video making the rounds on YouTube (it's linked in Tim's post). Speaking as someone who is taking a class in Reference Services this semester, I entirely agree with Tim: for 'simple' reference questions, books are rarely (not never, but rarely) the most efficient way to find the answer.

Tim writes of books and the Internet "I don't see them as rivals. The web has supplanted a few things that books used to do, but not the important ones. And libraries can do things with computers they are only just starting to explore. People who love books need to fight against these ideas. They're a trap. They're wrong, and they're very dangerous to the things we love." Exactly. It cannot be a competition between books and computers: reference, whether simple or complex, must be an integrated process in which all possible sources are used to obtain the most effective answer in the most efficient and explainable way.

- Ed's put up a good Omnigatherum yesterday, which should not be missed.

- Over at Weekend Stubble, Paul Collins comments on a c. 1912 version of "mad-libs," which he also spoke about on NPR's "Weekend Edition" this weekend. He's also got a post about several novels told from the perspective of chairs. That reminded me of a recent Common-Place article about a James Fenimore Cooper novella narrated by a pocket handkerchief. The author notes "Cooper did not invent the conceit of narrator as inanimate object. The object narrative dates to the early eighteenth century in Britain and usually involves currency (Johnstone's Chrysal; or, The Adventures of a Guinea [1760]) but also includes other articles of daily life: slippers and a bedstead narrate The History and Adventures of a Lady's Slippers and Shoes (1754) and The History and Adventures of a Bedstead (1784), respectively." So Paul, I see your three chair-narrated stories and raise you a handkerchief, a pair of slippers, and a bedstead!

- Critical Mass has a roundup and a full writeup of Simon Schama's Rough Crossings, which is a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction. My review is here.

- Over at Upward Departure, Travis has posted a few of the search strings that have directed people to his blog, with humorous commentary.

- Ian posted several important things this week at Lux Mentis, Lux Orbis (at least one of which I could have sworn I wrote up a post on already but clearly I just imagined it): a rather funny clip from the "Significant Occupation Series" on being a rare bookseller, and also a note on a major book theft in northern New Hampshire (on which Joyce has more).

- ephemera had two useful posts this week regarding the storage and protection of paper collectibles. Part I; Part II.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Talk About a Bargain

An auction on 22 March will include a rare copy of the Declaration of Independence, on which the opening bid is slated at $125,000. Even if it were to sell for that (and it's expected to sell for two or three times that price) its current owner will be making out like a bandit; he purchased the item for $2.48. The AP reports that Michael Sparks, a Nashville music equipment technician, found the Declaration (one of 200 copies printed by William Stone in 1823) at the Music City Thrift Shop last March.

Raynors' Historical Collectible Auctions of Asheville, NC will host the sale; owner Bob Raynor said of the piece "When we quickly looked at it there was no question that it was authentic." The AP adds "The document matched other authenticated official copies based on the size of certain random letters and the placement of the names of Adams [John Quincy, who as Secretary of State ordered the copies printed] and Stone."

This is why it always (well alright, sometimes) pays to sift through the detritus.

[h/t to Bibliophile Bullpen and Ed]

Book Review: "Nature, Empire, and Nation"

University of Texas-Austin Professor of History Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra has collected a few of his recent published pieces in Nature, Empire, and Nation: Explorations of the History of Science in the Iberian World (2007, Stanford University Press). Blurbed as "revisionist history at its best" by Johns Hopkins' Richard Kagan, this book reexamines some of the traditional conceptions of science as practiced in the American colonies of Spain (and to a lesser extent, Portugal). While the book's nature doesn't allow for a particularly cohesive narrative to develop, each essay stands alone very well.

Cañizares-Esguerra argues, primarily, that we must seek to understand what was happening in the scientific and natural history milieu of the Spanish colonies in order to achieve a broad understanding of the impact made by the colonies on the "Scientific Revolution" and the "Enlightenment" as they are traditionally defined. He claims that English and French hostility to Spain (as well as Spanish secrecy) has colored the historiography of the Scientific Revolution and marginalized to a large degree the important contributions to cartography, natural history and other sciences made in the early empire.

It was fascinating to me to read of the many institutions established very early in the colonial period to foster learning, investigation and science in the early colonies: twenty universities by the early eighteenth century, a network of pharmaceutical "labs" to identify profitable remedies from the native plants, and government-sponsored expeditions for various purposes. Clearly - and most particularly after a series of reforms instituted by the Bourbons - the colonies were not stagnated, backwards places, but rather were playing an important role in expanding human knowledge of the natural world.

In the fourth chapter, Cañizares-Esguerra discusses his hypothesis that 'modern' conceptions of race (as innate bodily and mental differences) emerged in seventeenth-century Spanish America, where creole (that is, American-born descendants of Europeans) consciouness developed a line of thinking which blamed inborn differences for the perceived deficiencies of the native peoples. By rejecting the idea that climate and astrology govern human nature (and thus that the American climate was responsible for the "backwardness" of the Amerindians ... and by extension the creoles themselves, eventually), it was necessary to find a more suitable explanation - that the Amerindians were descendants of Noah's cursed son Ham, and thus blighted no matter where they lived. Interestingly, Cañizares-Esguerra notes that this theory, while adopted willingly by the creoles themselves, never gained much credence in Europe, where it was ignored as just more colonial rambling. Nonetheless, this would seem an important precursor to the later conceptions of scientific racism that emerged.

Another chapter I found particularly intriguing concerned the influences of Latin American thinking and study on Alexander von Humbolt; Cañizares-Esguerra maintains that the idea of biodistribution theory that Humboldt would publicize had its roots in colonial thinking.

Quite an interesting take on things in these essays, all of which I enjoyed very much. We're seeing more and more with recent historiography that as much as we like to think we know, there's still a whole lot we haven't examined or wrapped our heads around just yet. Cañizares-Esguerra has done a good job in elucidating just a few of the many potential areas of new scholarship that colonial Latin America has to offer.

Book Review: "The Vast Memory of Love"

Novelist Malcolm Bosse's The Vast Memory of Love is set in 1750s London, and features the typical themes of carousing nobles, down-and-out protagonists who have to resort to all manner of unsavory actions to keep afloat, &c. The book revolves loosely around the Elizabeth Canning affair (which actually happened), and also features regular appearances by (and first-person commentary from) author and magistrate Henry Fielding.

Bosse's habit of inserting "contextual tidbits" into the text was somewhat annoying (at the start of many chapters he threw in a list of historical events that were happening at the same time as the fictional occurrences), but on the whole this wasn't a bad novel. He's handled the seedy underbelly of Georgian London quite well, from the cutpurses and the Newgate turnkeys to the meetings of the notorious Hellfire Club.

This made for a good read, but didn't blow me away.

Blair Enters Rare Book Battle

It's rare for a leading politician to feature in a book-related news story, but Tony Blair claims that honor this week. During "Prime Minister's Questions" on Wednesday, Blair was asked by Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington West and Gateshead East, whether he would support the return of the Lindisfarne Gospels from the British Library to their Northumbrian homeland.

Blair responded: "Well, as I am sure my Honourable friend is aware, it is obviously a matter for the British Library Board to decide where the Gospels are located. But I certainly share my Honourable friend's desire to see them widely available in the North-East. I know she has met recently the minister concerned in order to discuss it and I am perfectly happy to give her any support I can in making sure that as many people in the North-East get access to what is obviously a huge cultural icon for people there."

Local authorities are hoping to arrange a short-term loan for the Gospels so that they can be displayed in a three-month exhibition at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. A spokesperson for the Association of North East Councils told the Sunderland News "All of the region's 25 councils support a short-term loan of the gospels to Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. A short loan to Sunderland would give the public an opportunity to experience a unique part of their heritage while giving a significant boost to the regeneration of the city. The gospels remain one of the region's greatest and most beautiful treasures."

MP Hodgson and several colleagues have scheduled a meeting with BL officials to make their case.

(via Shelf::Life)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Review of "The Conjuror"

Our friend Ed from Bibliothecary had a review in the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday of Cornelia Frances Biddle's new mystery The Conjuror. He concludes "Biddle ... successfully uses 19th-century Philadelphia, mining the landscape for the kinds of jewels that illuminate a good mystery, and shaping characters that ring true to the elements of their creation. The Conjurer is a worthy inclusion in the genre, and I hope there are many more Martha Beale mysteries to come." A good review, and once again Ed's managed to find another book for me to add to my reading list!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Insects at BibliOdyssey

BibliOdyssey is great all the time, but I particularly enjoy when they post natural history illustrations. Like on Saturday, for example, when their images were of insects, plants, and other assorted creatures from Jacob Christian Schäffer's Abhandlungen von Insecten (~1760-70) (online here). They've also got a bunch more on Schäffer, including links to some of his other works.

DNA Testing May Confirm Copernicus Remains

I'm not sure how I feel about this article given the sources and the fact that they didn't even get the publishing date of De Revolutionibus right (it's 1543, not 1530) but I thought it was bizarre enough that I needed to pass it along anyway.

Polish scientists are planning DNA tests in an attempt to confirm that remains found at Frombork Cathedral in 2005 are those of scientist Nicolaus Copernicus; to create the profile, they'll be using bloodstains from manuscripts stolen from Copernicus' library by Swedish invaders in 1656-60. Blood droplets found on some of the manuscripts, scientists say, may be from Copernicus' fingers, "possibly from cuts ... caused by his writing quill."

Geneticist Maria Allen, in charge of the DNA team, told Poland's Dziennik newspaper "I hope the stains on the document turn out to be the blood of Nicolas Copernicus - then the entire puzzle will be pieced together and we will be able to confirm whether the bones found in Frombork belonged to this illustrious scientist."

We'll see, I guess - seems to me that creating a DNA profile from those blood drops (assuming they're even from Copernicus) would be a fairly dicey proposition.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Solving a Musical Mystery

I love stories like this: an expert on Reformation-era music has solved a longstanding question over composer Henry Purcell's piece "Come Ye Sons of Art." The ode - originally written for Queen Mary's birthday in 1694 - has confused scholars for more than a century with its "eccentricities," "unimaginative additions," and "schoolboy errors" which made the composition bear little resemblance to Purcell's other known works.

Dr. Rebecca Herissone has been studying Purcell's work for four years, and "after coming across a tiny fragment of Purcell's original score, which had been discovered in a rare book on musical theory and published in an academic journal," she concluded that "radical changes" had been made to the piece by Robert Pindar, who edited an anthology of Purcell's works in 1765. That anthology is the earliest surviving version of the score; the original is believed to have been destroyed in a fire at Whitehall.

Herissone "noticed that the few bars of music from the original version were very different to what had become the commonly-accepted score," and "that Pindar had even got the title of the work wrong. The original score showed Purcell's intended title was 'Come All Ye Sons of Arts'." She's constructed a new version of the piece which she suggests is closer to Purcell's original.

Pindar is unknown, and probably wrote under a pseudonym. Herissone says of him "for sure he wasn't a very good musician. He gets his harmony wrong and uses a kind of cut-and-paste approach to his arrangements that isn't very imaginative."

A playing of the "corrected" version of "Come All Ye Sons of Arts" is planned by the University of Manchester's baroque orchestra, and you can hear an audio sample here.

Leak Hits Lexington Public Library

A burst pipe flooded parts of the Lexington (KY) Public Library overnight on Monday, causing closures on Tuesday and an immediate effort to save rare books damaged by the water. The Lexington Herald reported yesterday that "Some of the most-damaged pieces will be flash-frozen and moved by truck to a Chicago company that specializes in repairing damaged books."

Today, an update makes clear that the prognosis is good: few if any volumes are believed to have been irreparably destroyed, and the Library's run of Kentucky Gazette newspapers from 1787-1840 escaped any damage.

Berger Battle Continues at NARA

In today's Washington Post, R. Jeffrey Smith has an article discussing the ongoing 'discussions' at the National Archives concerning the handling of the Sandy Berger document thefts.

"A report last month by the Republican staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said for the first time that Berger's visits were so badly mishandled that Archives officials had acknowledged not knowing if he removed anything else and destroyed it. The committee further argued that the 9/11 Commission should have been told more about Berger and about [NARA Inspector General Paul] Brachfeld's concerns [that Berger may have taken/destroyed more documents than he's admitted]..."

Sounds like there's a little bit of circular firing squad action going on here, both inter- and intra-agency (not that there isn't enough blame to go around). But I can't fault Brachfeld for pursuing these questions. It is, after all, his job to protect the documents in NARA's custody and make sure proper procedures are followed (which, in this case, they clearly were not).

What really roiled me about the article was this comment from Berger's lawyer, Lanny Breuer: "It never ceases to amaze me how the most trivial things can be politicized. It is the height of unfairness ... for this poor guy, who clearly made a mistake." Unfairness? Mistake? The former national security advisor destroying original, classified documents? Smuggling them out of the Archives in his socks? Mistake, you bet, but far from accidental; he deserved every punishment he got and then some. And I know on my part this has absolute zero to do with politics - I'd feel exactly the same about this crime no matter who committed it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

On Tagging

Over at Thingology, Tim's got a great post comparing the tagging features of LibraryThing and Amazon. Taking a random sample of 1,000 ISBNs and running them through both sites, Tim found that LT's books are tagged approximately ten times as much as Amazon's. He's got some very good thoughts on why Amazon's tag-effort has (thus far) been a flop (my favorite: "Amazon is a store, not a personal library or even a club. Organizing its data is as fun as straightening items at the supermarket. It's not your stuff and it's not your job."), and offers some useful suggestions for e-commerce tagging plans work.

For all the time I spend at Amazon, I've never tagged a book there. What's in it for me? If I tag my own books on LT, I can not only easily find subsets of my collection as I need them, but also see who else has used similar tags to my own. I've no need to do anything like that on Amazon, so it's no surprise to me that others don't see the point either.

Original Washington Resignation Speech "Unveiled"

The state of Maryland has acquired the original draft of a speech delivered to Congress by George Washington on 23 December 1783, in which the commanding general announced that he was delivering up his commission as head of the army and returning to Mt. Vernon. Maryland announced the purchase of the speech - for $1.5 million - yesterday, according to the Washington Post.

This copy of the speech, complete with marks of Washington's (very notable) copy-editing, was given to aide James McHenry after its delivery in Annapolis, and has been passed down through his descendants. For two years the state and the speech's owners had been in discussions about a purchase, which was made possible through funding by the state and two Baltimore businessmen.

The speech and related documents are online here [pdf].

Monday, February 19, 2007

Book Review: "The First Copernican"

In The First Copernican: Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution (Walker, 2007) Dennis Danielson brings to life the man without whom Copernicanism might never have been presented to the world. Mathematician and astronomer, pupil and teacher, none more than Rheticus can be credited with the 1543 publication of De Revolutionibus, Copernicus' magnum opus and the book which would - eventually - open the eyes of the world.

Danielson skillfully traces the peregrinations of the young Rheticus around central Europe: from his birthplace in Feldkirch to educational institutions in Zurich, Wittenberg, and Nuremberg, and then on to Frauenberg in pursuit of a rumored "new idea" being espoused by amateur astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. Planning to stay a month, Rheticus remained with Copernicus for several years, during which time his teacher wrote the manuscript outlining the new cosmology. When Rheticus left in the fall of 1541, he carried with him the manuscript of De Revolutionibus, which he delivered to printer/publisher Johannes Petreius in Nuremberg for publication.

This biography of Rheticus points out excellently the interconnectedness of mid-sixteenth-century European science (particularly astronomy), tracing various figures back to who taught them, who they were corresponding with, and where they were located. Danielson also does a good job working in the vital religious threads which were at play during the period.

Rheticus' story cannot be told without its more troubling aspects: expelled from his university post and his homeland following charges of sexually abusing a male student, Copernicus' disciple fled to Krakow and other cities, for many years forsaking astronomy and geometry for the practice of medicine. In a bizarre twist, it was another young scholar, Valentin Otto, who persuaded Rheticus late in life to return to his former calling and finish research into a projected work on triangles (published first in 1596 by Otto).

Danielson has done his research well, and its shows in this work. The text (very well designed) is nicely complemented by appropriate illustrations; I found both the footnotes and the index useful (an additional bibliography would have been welcome, however). An excellent biography.

Astronaut Wishes and Library Dreams

Billionaire software developer and soon-to-be space tourist Charles Simonyi says he'd like to see a library in outer space, Zee News reports. In an interview with Russian news agencies, Simonyi commented "Everywhere where humans are I think there should be a library. There should be books and there should be a library." Simonyi added that when he goes into space this April, he'll be carrying copies of Goethe's Faust and Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

"The latter 'describes a particular future where humanity gets outside the earth and it deals more with the politics of the situation than the particular (technology) involved,' he said, adding its a lot of fun.'

Faust, meanwhile, 'is a part of our literary heritage. It belongs to all of humanity and it deals with man`s relationship with the universe and man's relationship to science,' he said, adding that there was no better place than space to read both books.

As for why he should bring along heavy hard copies of the works in a age when nearly all things are virtually and weightlessly available, Simonyi insisted the books would be more practical, since special permission would be needed to use the computers inside the International Space Station (ISS)."

An extraterrestrial library, eh? Maybe someday, but if Simonyi's got some money he wants to throw around, I can think of some libraries right here on terra firma that could put his funds to good use.

Martineau to Speak at Simmons

Hartford Courant reporter Kim Martineau will speak at Simmons College on Monday, 26 February at 6 p.m. She will discuss her coverage of the E. Forbes Smiley map theft case and its implications for libraries. The event will take place in the Faculty/Staff dining room, and is free and open to the public. For directions or more information, feel free to email me or leave a comment.

This event is sponsored by the American Library Association's Student Chapter at Simmons College.

Small Press Celebration in Somerville

Three of Somerville's small presses (Ibbetson Street, Sunnyoutside, and Cervena Barva Press) will be celebrated tonight (19 February) - 8 p.m. at Club Passim, 47 Palmer Street, Cambridge.

"Presented by Richard Cambridge’s resident 'Poet’s Theatre,' the event will include selected readings by poets from said presses such as Catherine Sasanov, Mary Bonina, Timothy Gager, Lo Galluccio, Ann Carhart, Philip Burnham, Nate Graziano, Jason Tandon, Deborah M. Priestly, and Molly Lynn Watt, to name a few. Poet and vocalist Jennifer Matthews may make the scene as well. There will also be a book table with books from all the publishers," notes the Somerville News.

MacDowell Colony Honored in LOC Exhibit reports that the Library of Congress is about to open an exhibit titled "A Century of Creativity: The MacDowell Colony 1907–2007." The display, which runs 22 February through 18 August, will be in the "Southwest Gallery of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First Street, SE, in Washington, D.C. Exhibition hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The exhibition [will also be] accessible online."

The MacDowell Colony, located in Peterborough, NH, is recognized as the first and leading artist residency program in America. The current exhibit will include "historical, artistic, and personal documents created by such artists as composers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein; playwright Thornton Wilder; novelists Willa Cather and James Baldwin; poet Edwin Arlington Robinson; visual artists Milton Avery, Benny Andrews, and Janet Fish; and others who have made profound contributions to the nation’s creative legacy."

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Hochschild on NPR

Author and historian Adam Hochschild (Bury the Chains) was interviewed on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday about the upcoming movie "Amazing Grace," which concerns the abolition of the British slave trade. He comments on the film briefly (but says it takes some major historical liberties, as I expected it would - I'll see it anyway) but quickly moves on to discuss some of the major British abolitionist figures (Wilberforce, Clarkson, Equiano) and then John Newton (the author of "Amazing Grace" the hymn). A very worthwhile segment.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Book Review: "The Great Negro Plot"

Novelist Mat Johnson tries his hand at non-fiction with The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York (Bloomsbury, 2007). It is a broad overview of the 1741 events in New York which led to the arrest of more than half the city's male slaves, the execution of more than thirty 'conspirators' (black and white) by hanging or burning at the stake, and the spread of a great conflagration of hysteria throughout the colonial city. With shades of Salem, the witch-hunt ended only when the main accuser, maid Mary Burton, began to accuse powerful people who were known to have played no role in the conspiracy.

Johnson has taken an unfortunate tack in his approach, however. It's clear that he's read the historical research into the conspiracy, but he's tried to make this book into a fiction/non-fiction mashup and it just didn't work for me. Presumably the dialogue he includes comes from contemporary documents, but he makes no note of the sources (his bibliography is fairly pitiful). There's no index at all, and very little in the way of background or context for the events he describes. For some, this might be acceptable; I found it frustrating.

Those interested in really learning about the 1741 conspiracy in New York would be better served by Jill Lepore's New York Burning; Johnson's work might whet the curiosity, but little more than that can be expected of it.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Book Review: "George Mason, Forgotten Founder"

Biographies of the American founders may be a dime a dozen these days, but Jeff Broadwater's George Mason, Forgotten Founder fills one of the few gaps, providing a comprehensive and readable treatment of one of Virginia's most important Revolutionary and Anti-Federalist leaders. George Mason's "relative obscurity is explained," Broadwater argues in the preface, "by his own reluctance to seek the historical spotlight. Mason never sought national office. He never wrote his memoirs. He made no concerted effort, as best as we can tell, to preserve his papers. Even more important is the elusive nature of Mason's accomplishments ... Mason remained one step away from the dramatic event or the single line ... that could ensure certain immortality."

A financially comfortable (and unindebted) planter in the years leading up to the Revolution, Mason came fairly slowly to the "patriot cause," but after 1769 proved himself a key - if somewhat unwilling - leader in Virginia's debates during the immediate leadup to the war. He was instrumental in the design and structure of Virginia's post-independence constitution and Declaration of Rights, and later played a major role in the Constitutional Convention (only Madison, G. Morris, Wilson and Sherman spoke more frequently in debate). Faced with several losses on points of great importance to him, however, Mason concluded that he could not support the Convention's finished product and did not sign the Constitution. He spoke against its passage in the Virginia ratifying convention, but was unable to muster enough support to block ratification or force concessions.

Broadwater's analysis of Mason's motives, actions and philosophy is cautious and well-sourced; he suggests that Mason's strong commitment to English opposition philosophy, while making him inclined toward a strong central government, made him mistrust any government "more than did Madison or Washington, and he lacked Jefferson's optimistic [to put it mildly] faith in the wisdom of the people." I really wish that Broadwater had followed up more on a point he started to make in the preface - however much they may have disagreed on specific policies (and they did), Mason can be aptly compared to John Adams in an important respect: the two shared a "jaundiced view of unchecked individualism, transient popular majorities, and the inherent virtue of the marketplace." Not exactly concerns that we associate with some of their better known comrades-in-arms (Hamilton, Jefferson, Franklin spring to mind).

Mason can be distinguished from his colleagues in another very important way: here was a man who really did not seem to want to be in charge. He certainly wanted to be involved, in his own way, but Broadwater, by outlining Mason's extremely spotty attendance record at legislative sessions and other public duties (with the glaring exception of the Philadelphia Convention) shows that Mason's major concerns did not center around governing (he seemed to find it an awful chore most of the time, sort of like mucking stalls). He refused a seat in the post-ratification Senate, preferring to stay home with his family.

Something else which complicates our portrait of Mason and makes him difficult to pin down on the ideological spectrum of today (I suspect that, like Adams, he wouldn't fit on our present continuum at all) were a few of his important positions. He opposed slavery and the slave trade (and made perhaps the most strident speech in opposition to its continuation at the Convention), but did not free his slaves. He was very much concerned with local issues and spent much of his time and energy focused on those matters instead of writing grand philosophical tracts. He understood perhaps better than anyone the conflict that was sure to come between north and south in the future, and he worried that any republic as big as the one he'd helped to create could survive in the long term. It has, I'd say, largely because in each generation there are people like Mason who ask the tough questions.

Broadwater's book is, for the most part, excellent. There are the usual minor typographical errors (conservation for conservatism, tenants for tenets, Fort Stanwick for Fort Stanwix) and the index could be much more extensive (several people mentioned in the text get no mention in the index at all), but on the whole I had no major complaints. Broadwater's captured the essence of Mason's character well, and does a good job at dispelling the myths that have grown up around him while restoring him to his rightful place near the top of the heap. Recommended.

Links &c.

- If you find yourself in western Newfoundland in the very near future, you might discover a good book at an ongoing sale: the First United Church in Corner Brook is selling off the collection of English professor David Freeman, who died last summer. The sale, taking place at Freeman's house, will run daily for the next few weeks.

- Maybe Newfoundland's not for you? How about Byrn Mawr? They'll be hosting a lecture and reception on Thursday, February 22 to celebrate the college library's "recent acquisition of an early 15th-century manuscript that offers important insights into the role of women in late medieval Europe." Bert Roest of the University of Groningen will speak on The Perfect Life for Women: The Recourse to Jerome in the Spiritual Edification of Female Religious in Fifteenth-Century Italy.

- eNotes Book Blog points out an interesting article (with associated links that will occupy you for a while if you let them) about reading Harry Potter in translation. I've heard of at least a few folks doing this in order to learn/practice different languages.

- Our friend at Book World has been reading Sentimental Murder: Love and Madness in the Eighteenth Century (John Brewer) and has an excellent and detailed review. Definitely one I'm going to have to read!

- By way of followup to my AHA Dispatches post about the anti-war resolution that the membership will soon be voting on, the organization has announced a discussion forum where AHA members will be able to debate and comment on the resolution prior to the vote, which will begin on 1 March. I haven't had a chance to read any of the comments yet but look forward to joining the debate shortly.

- Richard Cox has some thoughts on a new book about the state of handwriting in the digital age. Unfortunately, it sounds like the kind of book that only the most dedicated will find readable: "many of the essays are deeply theoretical and quite dense, some reflecting what critics have complained of in facing the dense academic writing style that cuts off a broad readership’s benefits."

- Over at Book Patrol, Michael notes the rather steep technical requirements for viewing the BL's recently-announced digital version of a pair of da Vinci notebooks. No wonder I couldn't get it to work on my computer!

More later.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Manguel Speaks

Edmonton's Vue Weekly has a short interview with author Alberto Manguel, in which Manguel discusses his library, his writing process, translation, and the ephemerality (is that a word) of the printed word:

"VW: How much of a concern is the notion of posterity to you?

AM: None at all.

VW: Yet we want books around as long as possible.

AM: Of course. Other people’s books.

VW: Why not yours?

AM: When you look at the history of books, the enormous number written, then published, then read, then preserved, you see a cone narrowing to almost zero. I have no right to suppose I’m going to inhabit any part of that almost zero."

[h/t fade theory]

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Civil War Colonel's Papers Donated

The papers of Lt. Col. Benjamin Franklin Eshleman, who commanded the Washington Artillery unit during the Civil War, have been donated to the special collections department at the University of South Carolina's Beaufort South campus, reports the Beaufort Gazette. The collection mainly concerns the period following the war; former owner and Eshleman descendant Jack Castles said "When I read through them, I realized that they give you a very unique glimpse into what motivated these people and how they dealt with their lives after the Civil War."

Post-war materials are comparatively uncommon, so this collection is important as a look into how Confederate veterans dealt with the aftermath of the conflict.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

JJ Rousseau Book Discovered at Lloyd Library

Japanese scholar and Rousseau expert Takuya Kobayashi has confirmed that Cincinnati's Lloyd Library holds philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau's copy of Dominique Chabrey's 1658 Omnium Stirpium Sciagraphia et Icones (an abridged edition of French botanist Jean Bauhin's three-volume Historia Plantarum Universalis). The book "includes Rousseau's signature on the title page as well as hundreds of annotations throughout in his handwriting." Kobayashi is completing a doctoral dissertation at the University of Neuchâtel on Rousseau's study of botany.

"This discovery added important new knowledge about Rousseau and the whereabouts of his library's contents. The 1678 Chabrey was known to have belonged to Rousseau at the time of his death, but its location was unknown until early in 2006 when the volume was brought down from Lloyd's stacks and brought to light. It had been at the Lloyd since at least 1893, but very little attention was given to the signature and annotations within before last year. According to Kobayashi, the book is one of only eight botanical books worldwide verified as having belonged to Rousseau. Two are in the United States (one at Harvard and one at the Lloyd); three are in the United Kingdom ; one is in France ; and, two are in private collections."

The Chabrey and other Roussaeu books will be on display March 10-May 31 for an exhibit titled "In Rousseau's Own Hand—His Book, His Notes, and Botany."

Rare Hammett Books Stolen

Fifteen rare books by and about author Dashiell Hammett were stolen over the weekend from John's Grill, a San Francisco restaurant/museum. A plaster replica of the Maltese Falcon statuette was also nabbed. The restaurant's owner is offering a $25,000 reward for the recovery of the items.

Monday, February 12, 2007

"March of the Librarians"

And who says librarians can't laugh at themselves?? Filmed on location at last month's ALA Midwinter Conference in Seattle: "March of the Librarians".

Well, I laughed, anyway.

Books Stolen from Northwestern

From a post to Ex-Libris:

The following books have been stolen from the Herskovits Library of African Studies at
Northwestern University Library. Should anyone have information about any of these books, please contact: David Easterbrook, Curator of the Herskovits Library at 847-491-4549 or via email at dleaster [at]

1. Galibert, Leon. L’Algerie ancienne et moderne… Paris, 1854.
2. Genty de Bussy, Pierre. De l’etablissement des francais dans la regence d’Alger… Paris, 1839.
3. La Faye, Jean Baptiste de. Voyage pour le redemption des captifs, aux royaumes d’Alger et de Tunis… Paris, 1721.
4. La Faye, Jean Baptiste de. A voyage to Barbary for the redemption of captives… Now first
English ed. from the French original. London, 1735.
5. Lieussou, Aristide. Etudes sur les ports de l’Algerie. Paris, 1850.
6. Martin, Maria. History of the captivity and sufferings of Maria Martin… N.Y., 1913.
7. Renaudot. Alger. Tableau du royaume, de la ville Alger… 4th ed. Paris, 1830.
8. Renault, B., ed. Histoire pittoresque de l’Afrique francaise… Paris, 1847.
9. Rumigny, Marie Theodore Gueilly. Essai sur la Province d’Alger… Paris, 1841.
10. Salame, Abraham. A narrative of the expedition to Algiers in the year 1816… London, 1819.
11. Walker, Thomas H. B. The presidents of Liberia. Jacksonville, Fla., 1915.
12. Africa redeemed: or, the means of her relief illustrated by the growth and prospects of Liberia. London, 1851.
13. Bayley, Solomon. A brief account of the colony of Liberia. (Wilmington, DE., 1829?)

Library Essay in CSM

I periodically remember to check through the Christian Science Monitor's book section for articles that have escaped my attention and usually manage to find one or two interesting things lurking in there. Today's no exception: they've got a short, fairly funny essay by a self-confessed "library nerd," who seems to know suburban Long Island's public libraries fairly well indeed. She also keeps a list of all the books she's read since 1980. She should meet LibraryThing!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Links &c.

- turned ten last weekend, and its employees have been posting a series of posts (here are those from Anirvan, Charlie, Wendy and Giovanni) about the website, its growth and what's coming next.

- Over at Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie, Lew's posted some science fiction bookplates for your viewing pleasure.

- The Book Depository notes that if you'll be in Abu Dhabi at the end of next month, you could check out the 17th Annual Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

- Joyce's got the funniest version (YouTube clip) I've seen yet of the "book helpdesk" theme. I'm going to have to send this to the IT folks I know, they'll love it.

- There's a very good and thoughtful post at Fine Books Blog commenting on a Caxtonian essay [pdf] by printer Michael Russem, "The Failure of Fine Printing." Scott suggests - and I agree - that the main reason that fine press books may be purchased but are rarely read is their fragility.

- Michael at Book Patrol disagrees slightly with Scott, saying "I don't believe for a minute that fine printing is failing, if anything it is alive and well and prospering." He also reports that someone has swiped the "Author Signature Book" from Seattle Mystery Books. Full description at the second link. Shame on them.

- GalleyCat points out the recent debut of The Great American Book Giveaway, where you can sign up for a chance to receive a pre-publication copy of one of five books each week. So far the choices are, eh, lackluster, but I suppose if this catches on with publishers it might someday be worthwhile.

- Ed posts on Zittaw Press, a small outfit in California which prints some great gothic novel reprints. I wasn't aware (shame on me) that forger William Henry Ireland also wrote novels; I'll definitely be adding them to my list.

- Over at Lux Mentis, Lux Orbis, Ian's got a post on the launch of Biblioexpeditions, which hopes to become a for-profit "book tourism" company. Something to watch!

- Reading Copy, which is quickly becoming one of the best blogs for book news and information out there (a true testament to ABE's staff) has a number of good posts this week, including a link to this key "Publishing News" essay by London bookseller Bill Samuel and a point-out to the Guardian's recent writeup of LibraryThing. There's also a link to this interesting interview with author Richard Adams (who wrote Watership Down, one of my very favorites). I'd meant to post that a week ago but forgot. Better late than never, right?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Book Review: "Islands"

South African archivist Dan Sleigh uses his first novel, Islands (translated from the Afrikaans by novelist André Brinke) as a sort of fictionalized history of the first half-century or so of Dutch colonization in the Capetown region and Mauritius. The plot, such as it is, centers in an episodic fashion around a native woman whose life becomes entangled with the men of the VOC (Dutch East India Company) who settle her homeland, and then later focuses on her daughter. The episodes are effectively short biographical sketches of the men, with little dialogue.

While much "happens" in Islands, none of it ever really manages to be very exciting. There are many explorations made, crimes committed, punishments meted, &c., but somehow it all never cohered into a neat narrative. Sleigh's attempt to disguise history as fiction was evident and clumsy - he'd have been better off using his obviously prodigious research in writing a straightforward history a la The Fatal Shore, or even a more satirical, biting commentary like English Passengers (which handles the same general themes in New Zealand, but carries it off brilliantly). Islands just ends up coming off as a boring novel with little to recommend it aside from the inherently interesting subject matter.

There were some proofreading issues, but the biggest drawback to this 756-page beast is the fact that it's separated into just seven chapters, none of them under fifty pages long. Finding a convenient stopping point was nearly impossible, and since this book functioned well as a sleep-inducer, those breaks were quite necessary. All in all, not a book I can recommend except to the most dedicated fan of the VOC.

Book Review: "The Portrait"

I guess I'm on a bit of an Iain Pears kick lately; it's just a week and a half since I reviewed Giotto's Hand, and now I've finished his most recent work, The Portrait. A vastly different animal, this book; hardly seems possible that the same hand could write such starkly contrasting narratives. Told entirely in monologue form (a portraitist speaking to his muted subject as he works) The Portrait is a deliciously creepy and nicely crafted tale of long-planned retribution for past transgressions. It is also a neat exposition of the artists' relationship with those who make their living being critical of others' creations.

While the monologue style is disconcerting at first (largely I suspect because we're unused to reading it) it didn't take long for it to become more gripping than annoying; it certainly pulled me in. While I wanted to read quickly to find out what would happen (though I confess I had the ending predicted well before the halfway mark), I also wanted to take it slowly and read Pears' elegant prose. He's captured human attitudes and frailties expertly here. I recommend this one.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Book Review: "Mistress of the Art of Death"

An agnostic female doctor, a Muslim eunuch bodyguard, and a Jewish investigator walk into twelfth-century Cambridge ... no, it's not the start of a bad joke, but the opening of Ariana Franklin's new novel Mistress of the Art of Death. Trained by Salerno's best doctors, Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar (Adelia for short) and her colleagues have been summoned by King Henry II to examine a series of deaths in Cambridge for which the town's Jews are blamed. Henry, whose beneficence to the Jews allows him to make a fair bit of money by taxing them, wants the murders solved and the Jews absolved so that they can go back to making him money.

This is a well-researched novel, with excellent and vivid period details (not to mention some seriously depraved crimes). The elements of suspense are well played, although I felt that the murderer's character wasn't developed enough (some of the others, in contrast, were handled very well). My main quibble with the book was the 'obligatory' romantic subplot, which I thought was largely contrived and a bit goofy. Nonetheless, this was a good mystery and I fully expect a few sequels.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Review of New Lincoln Books

David Waldstreicher has a good review essay in the February 4 Boston Globe on three recent Lincoln books: James Oakes' The Radical and the Republican (about Lincoln and Frederick Douglass), James F. Simon's Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney, and Douglas L. Wilson's Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words. I've got at least one of these on my shelves to read, but since I don't know quite when that'll get done, enjoy Waldstreicher's comments in the meantime.

Spanish Police Nab Antiquities Theives

The BBC reports that 52 people have been arrested in 68 police raids across Spain for illegal possession of archaeological antiquities. More than 300,000 items have been recovered, including "bronze statues, ancient coins and columns," mostly from sites of Iberian, Roman, Moorish and Visigoth provenance in region near Seville, Cadiz, Huelva, Jaen, Malaga and Badajoz. The report notes that the police began an investigation after they "uncovered a group of people smuggling historical objects from undersea sites in the Gulf of Cadiz."

Thirty of those arrested are described in the report as "thieves," nine as "collectors" and thirteen as "accomplices."

Supporting the BL

By way of followup to last week's post on proposed budget cuts at the British Library, I wanted to point out that the Library has set up a "Supporter's Forum" page with addresses to which you can write in support of the BL. There is also a petition circulating; you must be a British citizen or resident to sign.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Princeton Joins Google Books

Princeton University's library system has now signed on with the Google Books Project, under an agreement to digitize up to a million books within six years. Subjects and timetable are yet to be determined, according to the Princeton Packet. Those materials digitized will already be out of copyright protection.

University Librarian Karen Trainer said of Google's efforts "Research libraries for a decade have been trying to figure out how to digitize collections on their own. Nobody has been able to figure out as comprehensive and accurate and high volume a way as Google ... Having a portion of that [local history and rare books] collection not covered by copyright available online will make it easier for Princeton students and faculty to do research, and joining the Google partnership allows us to share our collection with researchers worldwide, a step very much in keeping with the university's official motto of Princeton in the nation's service and in the service of all nations."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

World's Longest-Running Newspaper ... Now Only Digital

Sweden's Post-och Inrikes Tidningar newspaper, which circulated in print from 1645 through January 1 of this year, now only exists in digital form, the AP notes. "It's a fate, many ink-stained writers and readers fear, that may await many of the world's most venerable journals."

Former editor Hans Holm said of the decision "
We think it's a cultural disaster. It is sad when you have worked with it for so long and it has been around for so long."

Post-och Inrikes Tidningar ("mail and domestic tidings") was established by the queen to announce government decisions; today the paper contains "legal announcements by corporations, courts and certain government agencies." Its circulation in print form was about 1,000 per day.

A spokesman for the World Association of Newspapers said the publication will remain at the top of their "oldest newspapers" list, since "
An online newspaper is still a newspaper."

This has prompted some alternate definitions of newspaper: must it be printed? I guess if we're going to allow "e-books" to be known as books, we'll probably have to let this one go too.

(h/t Everett Wilkie, Ex-Libris)

Pipe Bursts in Notre Dame Library

The AP reports that a frozen pipe burst and flooded three floors of Notre Dame's Hesburgh Library, causing damage to some 1,500 books. "The flooding damaged parts of the economics and music collections on the second floor and reached the rare books and special collections areas in the basement, but caused minimal damage to those collections. Wet books were opened and placed next to table and floor fans. The cost estimate of the damaged is not yet available," according to a university press release.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Book Review: "Manhunt"

Manhunt: The Twelve-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, by James Swanson (Morrow, 2006) is a fascinating and well-written account of the immediate lead-up and aftermath of Lincoln's assassination. Unlike many books on the subject, Lincoln does not get center stage here: John Wilkes Booth does (just, I suspect, as the famous actor would have hoped). Swanson does quite a nice job of both setting the stage for the shooting of Lincoln (and the near-murder of William Seward) and then the conspirators' escape from Washington. Others have as well. What Swanson does more ably than I've read in a long time is describe Booth's escape and the events of the twelve days following the assassination.

Deftly alternating perspectives between Booth and his fleeing co-conspirators to the "manhunters" who are hot on their tails, Swanson brings the race to life. He also demonstates just how much evidence existed against Dr. Samuel Mudd, whose descendants have worked relentlessly to clear his name but who clearly knew who Booth was and understood what he was doing by assisting the escape.

While the book falls into some speculative traps at certain points (how can we know just what Booth and Herold spoke to each other during their five days in a Maryland pine thicket as they waited to cross into Virginia, for example), and also contained a few unwelcome editorial interjections, its flaws are few compared to the great research that Swanson brings to bear here. My only major problem with the text was its lack of citations - sure, I believe Swanson that he got all his direct conversational quotes from primary accounts ... but it sure would be nice to know what's coming from where. We don't get that, and it's unfortunate.

Nonetheless, this was an attention-holding book, and I think gets at the anxiety and fear and real importance of those twelve days in America's history.

LT Hits 10 Million!

LibraryThing has passed another major milestone, reaching 10 million books catalogued on Saturday. Tim says to stay tuned for all kinds of fun celebratory events. Quite an exciting piece of news, this.

Also, for any Boston-area LTers, I should note that Abby Blachly, the LT Librarian, will be speaking at Simmons College on Wednesday evening 2/7 at 6 p.m. in room 428 of the library building. All are welcome, so feel free to stop by. If you have any questions, drop me an email.

A School Librarian on "Making the Sale"

Going on my rule that anything Joyce calls "well worth reading" probably is, I followed her link to this column from last week's Charlotte Observer. The author, Thomas Washington, is a librarian at a DC private high school, and he's got some interesting things to say both about the state of librarianship and reading culture (at least among the students at his school).

There really are two points (separate but equally important, to use a "Law & Orderism") in this essay: that the focus of librarianship has shifted in an important way in the last few years, and that reading (particularly the somewhat-nebulously-defined "literary reading") among young adults is in a steep and troubling decline.

To the first point: Yes. Librarianship is changing, and we're right smack dab in the middle of it. In my program, I would say it's still a majority of people who got into the field because of their interest in/love for books and reading. But books are no longer the focal point of a library education: as Washington notes, "[t]he buzzword in the trade is 'information literacy,' a misnomer, because what it is really about is mastering computer skills, not promoting a love of reading and books. We teach students how to maximize a database search, about successful retrieval rates. What usually gets lost in the scramble is a careful reading of the material."

This is not to generalize universally: there are classes in which books remain a primary focus. But they are not the core classes that everyone shares - they are the niche classes, taken only by those being shunted into "school librarianship" or "childrens' librarianship", &c. For the rest of us, books hardly feature at all (hence my decision to focus on archives - which at least gets me closer to books - and history, where I actually get to read them). Book history, a field which is of great interest to many of my student colleagues, gets one course a year (which is always packed to the gills). People want this knowledge, but it can be hard to find time for in the course of a typical library science (excuse me, library and information science) education.

Library education needs to "get back to basics", but it's going to take a long time to get there. Educators have been lulled by the siren song of "information literacy" and I suspect it will take a significant sea change to return books to their preeminent position in the curriculum (if it ever happens at all). Yes, electronic media are of great importance, and will continue to be, but they can only ever hope to complement the printed word, not replace it. Google Books is great for finding mentions of a topic in various books (I think of it sort of as a giant index) but its limitations are such that I almost always head for the library after a quick overview search there. Other databases can be extremely useful (and the ability to update them regularly is a great advantage) but they can't do it all.

To Washington's second point, about students and reading, I should say first of all that I admire him and others like him who choose to go into school librarianship (or even public librarianship, for that matter). I couldn't do it, I don't think - it'd depress me too much. Give me a rare book or scholarly reference collection that brings people in because they want to study the books and glean knowledge from them and I'll be happy as a lark, but I don't think I could spend my days fruitlessly trying to persuade students to pick up a book. The success stories must be incredibly rewarding (I've had a few even just selling used books, and they are fun) but the setbacks have to be disheartening.

I don't think there's a good answer to this problem except that we must all (and by this I mean we as librarians of all stripes, as readers, as bibliophiles, as citizens) try to make books and reading as accessible and enjoyable for others as we find them ourselves - and attempt to pass along the joy, provocation, sadness or knowledge that we have found on the printed page in the hope that it might pique someone's curiosity enough to turn that first page.

Today's students and young adults aren't "too busy," they're "too distracted." It's much easier to click on the t.v. and surf the channels, or waste hours IMing and playing around on the Web than it is to nestle in and devote a few hours to reading a book. Distractions happen (even for those of us with "to be read" piles stacked to the metaphorical ceiling). But no, movies aren't substitutes for books; nor are video games. It's not the same. Persuading someone to watch a DVD isn't "making the sale"; persuading them to pick up the book and give it a spin when they return the DVD is.

We cannot throw in the towel; this is too important an issue to surrender.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Links &c.

- Over at The Bibliothecary, Ed's got a number of interesting things for us: his review of John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things, an excellent "omnigatherum" filled with goodies (including Nicholas Basbanes' "Smithsonian" essay on the bicentennial of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's birth (coming up at the end of the month) and a nice post on Walking Stewart, another of those literary oddities that piques the interest of people like us (mine is Psalmanazar at the moment, a fixation also caused by Paul Collins ... although Stewart seems awfully fascinating too).

- Speaking of Paul Collins, don't miss his posts from this weekend: "Night of the Living Doughnut," "The Chamber-Horsemen of the Apocalypse." The latter is hysterical.

- At Upward Departure, Travis comments on the most recent Smiley revelations. He notes "... while missing and unaccounted for maps keep rolling in (that makes four since the sentencing), we’ll continue to get closer to the time when Smiley is out of 'prison' while much of his damage remains unrepaired."

- BibliOdyssey has some great posts as usual, including this one of some Danse Macabre illustrations and this one of some woodcuts of Aldini's scientific experiments. Book Patrol has more on Aldini and the influence his work had on Mary Shelley.

- Forrest at FoggyGates posts a hilarious parody of Carroll's "Jabberwocky" featuring various publisher names. Read the whole thing, but I have to share my favorite verse:

Beware Jovanovich, my son!
The knopfs that crown, the platts that munk!
Beware the doubleday, and shun
The grolier wagnallfunk!
- Ian reports that Portland, Maine is already preparing for PotterMania on July 21 with huge celebration plans, "including using the narrow gauge railroad as the Hogwarts Express and 'building' a facsimile of Diagon Alley at the routes end in a huge turn of the century warehouse complex." I think that's the week I'll be up in Maine for vacation - might have to check out Portland's festivities! Over at eNotes Book Blog, Mark notes the coming of "Pottermagedon" (I like it!) and comments on the $65 "deluxe" edition of Deathly Hallows that will be available: "Sixty-five bucks? That is wild. What could possibly be more deluxe about a book? Is it actually magic?" One can hope!

- Via Bibliophile Bullpen, Victor Hugo's great-great-grandson is peeved after losing a six-year battle to stop a modern sequel to Les Miserables from being published. Cosette ou le Temps des Illusions (Cosette or the Time of Illusions), by journalist François Cérésa, may now be published by Plon. I say let the book be published and allow the court of public opinion to decide; the guy resurrects Javert, how good can the book be?

- Our friend at Book World has re-read David Copperfield and has some thoughts on it.