Friday, March 30, 2007

Galileo Watercolors Authenticated

The University of Padua has unveiled five watercolor illustrations in Galileo's own copy of his 1610 work Sidereus Nuncius ("Starry Messenger"). The drawings, on pages 8-10 of the book, "show the moon with ochre and light-brown shadings, highlighting its craters and valleys. They do not feature in any other copy of the book."

A team of experts including William Shea (Galileo chair in the history of science at the University of Padua), Horst Bredekamp (head of the Art History Institute at Humboldt University in Berlin), Antony Griffin (an art historian at Princeton University) and folks from the National Library of Florence have worked to authenticate the drawings, which they originally believed were forgeries. Bredekamp told the press "when I realised after close examination and tests that they were authentic, I was overcome with emotion."

The location of Galileo's copy of Sidereus Nuncius has been unknown for centuries, hence the high level of surprise at this discovery. Shea told the press he was contacted by New York dealer Richard Lan, who will say only that the book came from a South American collection.

The Italian paper Corriere della Sera has published the illustrations, and reports that the University of Padua is hoping to buy the book from Lan.

Quite a find indeed!

[h/t Shelf:Life]

Boston Book Fair This Weekend

As part of the Boston Antiques Weekend extravaganza, many book and ephemera dealers from the New England region will be at the Bayside Expo Center (map) tomorrow and Sunday (10-7 Saturday; 10-5 Sunday). Admission is $10 for one day or $15 for both (and you can print a whopping $1-off coupon here).

I'll be there through the morning and probably most of the afternoon tomorrow, so I hope to run into a few of you all. Should be a great weekend - lots of books, and other exciting things too.

Audubon's Mammals in NYC

I recently mentioned the pair of Audubon exhibits opening in New York City this week, but must use today's excellent NYTimes spotlight article on the Natural History Museum's show of Audubon's quadrupeds as a reminder. And, happily enough, starting tomorrow through 20 May, admission to one of the shows will get you into the other as well. Not a bad deal!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Book Review: "The Solitude of Thomas Cave"

The Solitude of Thomas Cave, by Georgina Harding (Bloomsbury, 2007) is a cold, brooding novel; not surprising, perhaps, considering that the main portion of the book occurs during a Greenland winter in 1616-17. Thomas Cave, a sailor from the ship Heartsease, takes a wager from a shipmate that no man could survive a solitary winter on the desolate coast of Greenland - with supplies from the ship, Cave sets up camp and prepares to wait a full year for the ship's return.

The months of loneliness are a fertile ground for Cave's memories, which stray often to a lost wife and child. He hunts polar bears when he can, but otherwise hunkers down to wait out the battering storms and anticipate the return of sunshine. Accompanied by comments by Thomas Goodlard, a young sailor on Heartsease who sees Cave as the bet begins and in its aftermath, Harding's novel is a beautiful reminder of the nature of solitude in the human mind. Written sparingly, but brilliantly, this is a short book, but one which deserves much attention.

Book Review: "Defining the World"

Henry Hitchings' Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary (FSG, 2005) is a lively and readable trek through the incredible feat that was the creation of Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1755). Hitchings ably guides his reader through Johnson's haphazard creative process, outlining the way in which the lexicographer culled his illustrative quotations (when not from memory, that is) and worked with his small coterie of amanuenses to make the projected dictionary a reality.

This book centers on the Dictionary from first to last; with Johnson it's easy to be distracted by the man himself, and there is just enough of the biography here to get a feel for the creator without losing sight of the creation. Hitchings discusses various aspects (quirks?) of the Dictionary, from Johnson's perennial defining words (interstices, morbid, e.g., which each appear several times) to his nationalistic, "middle-class, backward-looking, Anglocentric, male" biases to the few downright mistakes, and the more common vague or circular definitions. Among those oddities I enjoyed most: the definition of "defluxion" as "a defluxion," and the dismissal of "trolmydames" (used by Shakespeare in The Winter's Tale) with simply "Of this word I know not the meaning."

The definitions of "oats," and a few others notwithstanding, as Hitchings points out, the "real surprise of Johnson's Dictionary is that despite its author's reputation as a man of rather cramped sympathies, its entries are as clinical and unprejudiced as they are." The work was taken seriously, for all its wit.

Hitchings also includes some fascinating details about the printing and publication details of the Dictionary, from the type and paper used to the various later editions, abridgements and pirated versions which spread Johnson's reputation far and wide. These are important and interesting topics, and they were most welcome (to me, at least).

Well footnoted at least, this book's main fault is the lack of a full bibliography. But perhaps Johnson's quote about dictionaries can be extended more widely here: "The worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true."

More News from Heritage

Michael Lieberman at Book Patrol has some details on the rumors that have been softly swirling in recent weeks about major changes at Heritage Book Shop. Quite a surprise that this hasn't been more noticed in the mainstream media, but hey, I guess that's what the biblioblogosphere is for!

Michael reports that the Weinstein brothers are planning to sell the building which currently houses their open shop, and will auction off most of their inventory. One of the brothers will continue to sell books, but "in a much reduced capacity." There's more in Michael's post about the consequences of all this, which will certainly be profound; do make sure to read his entire writeup.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Recent Reviews

Well it may be Wednesday but I'm finally getting around to reading this past weekend's book review sections. Here are a few of the pieces I found interesting:

- In the NYTimes, Jonathan Rosen reviews David Damrosch's The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh. One I hope to get a chance to read soon.

- The Philly Inq's Sandy Bauers reviews Andrew Blechman's Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird. My review here. Also, Roger K. Miller reviews Andrew Burstein's The Original Knickerbocker, a biography of Washington Irving. I didn't read this one since I have the book at home to read first, but I thought I'd pass it along anyway.

- Across the pond, Kathryn Hughes reviews Emily Cockayne's Hubbub: Filth, Stench and Noise in England, a not-for-the-squeamish history of 16th-17th century England. Another one to find, I think.

- In The Times, John Brewer reviews James Walvin's The Trader, the Owner, the Slave: Parallel Lives in the Age of Slavery. Profiles of John Newton, Thomas Thistlewood, and Olaudah Equiano.

HP Cover Art Revealed

The jacket designs for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows have been released: we have the Scholastic version (US) and the two Bloomsbury versions (children's and adult). Let the endless analysis of each line begin!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Whoops Alert!

The Billings Gazette reports that the librarians at Rocky Mountain College are searching for someone who got a real bargain at last spring's (!) annual book sale. They suspect that someone snagged just the first volume of Clarendon's History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England (1719). The other two volumes are still at the library, and the director says if the buyer comes forward, they'll reunite the set, sell it online, and split the profits. This could be a really lucrative deal; the paper notes that just two complete sets of this edition are currently for sale on ABE (priced at $1500 and $2900).

Monday, March 26, 2007

Book Review: "The Egyptologist"

I seem to be in an epistolary novel phase at the moment for my fiction reading (is it odd that I didn't realize that until about the fifth one in a row?). Arthur Phillips' The Egyptologist is the latest, and one I've enjoyed over the course of my recent commutes.

With several different narrators speaking from different time periods about vaguely contemporaneous events, this one can get a bit tricky to follow at times. Phillips has created a fascinatingly deluded amateur archaeologist (RM Trilipush), whose adventures we follow right through to the bitter end ... and I do mean bitter end. And then there's the Australian detective pursuing Trilipush, but he's retelling the story thirty years later. So the fog of mystery never quite lifts, and while I guessed one of the plot twists about halfway through the book, I can honestly say I never expected it to end as it did.

An odd book, but well done.

Crippen Book at Auction

Scotland's Daily Record notes (extremely briefly):

"A prayer book that belonged to murderer Dr Crippen, who poisoned his wife and fled to Canada with his mistress, is to be sold at auction in Ludlow, Shropshire. It bears an inscription by Crippen."

For a bit of background, this is Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, who is prominently featured in the recent Erik Larson book Thunderstruck (which I reviewed here).

I'm checking for more information on the auction and will hopefully be able to update this with some further details.

[h/t Shelf:Life]

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Reviewer Humor

After writing my review of Jonathon Green's Chasing the Sun yesterday I got curious to see if there had been any reviews of it when it first appeared, so I fired up a couple of the databases to see what there was back in the files. Back in March of 1996, Tom McArthur reviewed the book in The New Statesman - interestingly, he made the same comment I did about how Green called the book "not an academic history," but that's not my point here.

Toward the end of the (quite favorable) review, McArthur, the author of English Today and The Oxford Companion to English Literature writes

"But, alas, I have been made uneasy, and in an all too personal way. Some of my own work has been quoted at various points, but throughout my name has been misspelt - mildly so, with a big 'Mac' - but misspell [sic?] all the same. Someone has been handling my reality without due care. But Green and I are both lexicographers, creatures who revere accuracy and consistency - and, of all things, names are the most sacred. Most of the names in Chasing the Sun are as they should be and some sins are venial (the US dialectologist Raven McDavid only becomes "MacDavid" once, and the French scholar Henri Bejoint once becomes English 'Henry'), but I am "Mac" forever, with all the power of print, and I'd like to get my own back.

Yet, when all is said and done, Jonathon Green has done lexicography proud. In my own book, Worlds of Reference (1986), I was often unable to provide - for reasons of space and time - more than passing sketches of various historical, cultural or other points, but he has filled them out with much vital detail. You done good, Jonathan."

I'm not sure if that ultimate "Jonathan" was intentional or not, but either way, it amused me. Incidentally, McArthur's name is correctly spelled in my edition (the first American) so it must just be the British version (yes, published by Jonathan Cape) which contains the error.

Book Review: "Caught in the Web of Words"

One of the best parts of an open-ended reading assignment is getting to read books that have been sitting on the shelves for ages, patiently awaiting their turn. One of those is K.M. Elisabeth Murray's exquisite Caught in the Web of Words: James A.H. Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary." A biography of the author's grandfather, the great don of English lexicography and main editor for decades of the nascent OED, Caught in the Web is a balanced and revealing portrait of not just the man, but the incredibly complicated inner workings of the OED's creation.

I read Simon Winchester's works on Murray and the OED several years ago (The Meaning of Everything, and The Professor and the Madman) and enjoyed them well enough, but Murray puts them to shame. Drawing on the voluminous correspondence of Murray and his comrades-in-words, Ms. Murray is able to delve deep into the controversies - lexicographical, financial, spacial, and otherwise - that played into the long process of dictionary-making, and also reveals the personal side of the editor. A man who in effect gave up his life for "the cause," Murray nevertheless remained a committed family man, whose humor, dedication and intensity shine brightly in this book. Bicycle crashes (yes, plural) sand-monsters, ghost stories ... and always words.

This one flew by; I had a terrible time putting it down. Even the novel I've got going didn't tempt me from Caught in the Web. Excellent endnotes complete the package, and make this a definite recommendation. If it's been waiting on your "to be read" shelf as long as it was sitting on mine, why not give it a go? I know I've said that quite a few times already this year, but hey, that's what I'm here for, right?

Links &c.

- Lew Jaffe at Bookplate Junkie has a writeup on the Boston bookplate meeting and some other interesting bookplate-related news. I'd intended to get to the meeting yesterday morning but unfortunately schoolwork had me tied down.

- Over at The Book Depository, there's a good post about how publishers can influence blogs and join the conversation about their books. I agree; it would be interesting to get the "backstory" on some of the new titles. I think publishers have a great deal to offer the biblioblogosphere (rather than just advertising), and I suspect we'll see more and more involvement as we move forward.

- BibliOdyssey has some wonderful illustrations from the 1621 work Nova Typis Transacta Navigatio. Novi Orbis Indiae Occidentalis, which "weaves fact and fantasy as it narrates the adventures of a group of Benedictine missionaries led by Father Bernardo Buil, who accompanied Christopher Columbus on his 2nd voyage to the New World."

- Joyce points out the profile of rare book/archival collection dealer Glenn Horowitz in today's NYTimes. Also see comments from Scott Brown and Michael Lieberman. Also from Joyce, a link to Justice Stephen Breyer's appearance on NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" quiz show, which is indeed hilarious. Not particularly book-related as such, but Joyce makes the connection expertly.

- I really like that Bytown Bookshop posts some of their most intriguing book finds: this time they've got a publisher-recycled dust jacket.

- It hasn't taken long for BiblioHistoria to take off; some great posts there this week as well.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Book Review: "The Meaning of Night"

Michael Cox's recent novel The Meaning of Night: A Confession (2006, W.W. Norton) is one of those that will keep you up at night ... particularly if you're using it as your pre-bedtime reading. I had an awful time forcing myself to read for just 45 minutes a night from it. In the vein of Palliser's Quincunx, this is a tale of disputed inheritances, consequential conspiracies, and dark English drama. "Edited" by the aptly-titled J.J. Antrobus, Professor of Post-Authentic Victorian Fiction, University of Cambridge, The Meaning of Night is the collected confessions of one Edward Glyver (one of the primary narrator's variously assumed names).

I'll spare you the plot, since I'm of the general view that novels should be read and not summarized. Cox has researched well, and adds much to the text with Antrobus' useful footnotes, which provide context or background information on characters (real and imagined), places, and books mentioned in the narrative. Yes, there are books here, and a private library described clearly enough to whet the appetites of any bibliophile. The descriptions are active and well-drawn, and if the characters are a bit typecast, each has his or her own quirk.

A solid (in every sense) work.

Book Review: "Chasing the Sun"

[Note: This is the first of a series of books I'll be reading in the next few weeks on lexicography and lexicographers, which will culminate in a sort of annotated report for a class. I'll review each separately here, but may have some final thoughts on the series later on].

Jonathon Green's 1996 book Chasing the Sun: Dictionary Makers and the Dictionaries They Made is a wide-ranging and copious study of lexicographical pursuits from the Sumerian-Akkadian word lists of the second millenium BC through the contemporary period. It focuses almost exclusively on English-language sources after the sixteenth century or so (when the trend away from Latin began), but the author can hardly be faulted for this.

A scholarly treatment of the evolution of both the theory and practice of dictionary-making, Green's work is "not an academic history" (as he puts it in the preface) only in the sense that it is free of specialized philological jargon and readable by the lexicographical layman. It is not in any sense "popular history" in the sense that the term is currently used. Accessible, indeed, but hardly a breezy beach read.

Green leads the reader through the various stages of lexicographical development, and includes significant background on the debates which continue to occupy today's 'arbiters of language' - what words should be included? why, or why not? what is the lexicographer's proper role: documenter, or decider? Longstanding issues all, and none decided yet.

Chasing the Sun's most notable feature is its short biographical sketches of the great lexicographers of history, from those whose influence is quite forgotten today to those who at least many would recognize as having something to do with dictionaries (Johnson, Webster, Murray, e.g.). As I mentioned, the central focus for much of the work is England, but Green crosses the pond for two worthy chapters on American lexicography and the Webster-Worcester wars of the mid-19th century. Unfortunately (probably a function of some publisher-imposed page limit) Green's lengthy treatment of early efforts forces him to give short shrift to the OED, today's gold standard.

Of particular interest to Green is slang, to which he devotes two chapters here (practically if not particularly imaginatively named Slang I and Slang II), and which has been the subject of his other books. This was a good addition here; it complemented the rest of the work quite well.

Chasing the Sun concludes with Green's thoughts on the overall role of the lexicographer, which he sees as "to reflect the language, which in turn is a reflection of the culture in which it exists." He discourages censorship, noting "If the culture in part is racist, sexist, and in other was politically incorrect, then so too much the dictionaries be. The best they can offer is some parenthetical declaration that a given word or phrase, in a given defintion or usage, is so." And he points out that objective lexicography is oxymoronic; "to abandon all humanity, to achieve some Platonic perfection of an entirely disinterested dictionary is impossible."

A fine, deeply-considered work, and well worth the time it takes to read. Better and more useful footnotes would have been welcomed, but we'll take what we can get.

New Goodies from the Bibliothecary

Over at The Bibliothecary, Ed's got some great biblio-projects simmering: on Thursday he announced the release of his Philadelphia City Paper cover story article "Monks, Devils, and Quakers: The Lurid Life and Times of George Lippard, Philadelphia's Original Best-Selling Author."

And beginning today, Ed's starting a serialized version of Lippard's best-known novel, The Quaker City; or, the Monks of Monk Hall. Chapter 1 is now available, and he'll post a new chapter each Saturday for about a year. He's also begun a blog specifically about the serial.

Lippard's a special fascination of Ed's, and for good reason - he's an addictively fascinating character. I'm looking forward to enjoying his work over the next year, and I hope you'll follow along too.

Meet the McTague-Busters

The Evening Sun (PA) has a report today on the brothers who stumbled onto the Denning McTague archives theft case. Dean and Jim Thomas of Thomas Publications (near Gettysburg) began bidding on some of the Civil War documents McTague was selling on eBay ... and then realized that they'd seen some of the items before - in fact, Dean had photocopied one of the documents more than two decades earlier while doing research at the National Archives.

"'I called the Archives to see if they were having a sale,' Dean said with a laugh." Federal agents responded, and worked with the brothers to arrange more purchases from McTague.

Good going, Messrs Thomas.

Globe Discovers BPL Maps Site

Well it's been five months since the site was unveiled, but the Boston Globe finally has a write-up of the BPL's digital maps portal. At least the better-late-than-never report includes some interesting comments on the digitization process and the (excellent) online viewer at the site:

"To achieve that level of resolution, the maps and atlases are laid out on a sort of reverse air-hockey table that sucks air instead of blowing it, pulling the documents flat, said Thomas Blake, director of the library's digital imaging lab. Technicians then focus a digital camera 10-times more powerful than most consumer models and capture an 88 megapixel image."

If you haven't had a chance to stop by and check out the site, I do highly recommend it.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Early Mormon Texts Exceed Estimates

The Orson Pratt-signed first printing of the Book of Mormon and a second printing Mormon hymnal (mentioned here) each sold for $180,000 (including premiums) at the Swann auction in New York yesterday, the Deseret Morning News reports. "Some person or organization in Sale Lake City" purchased the hymnal (if I had to make a guess I'd say it's a pretty safe bet it was the LDS church itself), and a buyer "in the northeastern United States" snagged the Book of Mormon. Both hammer prices exceeded the presale estimates, which were $90,000 for the Book and just $40,000 for the hymnal.

The Morning News notes that these prices are "believed to be among the highest ever paid for historic documents associated with the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." The piece also has some typically interesting quotes from book dealer Ken Sanders, who pronounces "you'll be hard-pressed to find any first edition [Book of Mormon] sold for less than $100,000." Given this particular copy's provenance I'm not sure I'd go that far, but Ken knows his business and the LDS market. Some underbidders for both items are also quoted on the high prices attained at yesterday's sale.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

New Blog of Note

I wanted to point out that I've added a sidebar link to BiblioHistoria, a brand-new blog about books. They're just getting up and running, but it looks like they'll be a good place to add to your reading rotation.

Audubon Watercolors on Display at N-YHS

The New-York Historical Society's newest Audubon exhibit, "Audubon's Aviary: Natural Selection," will open on 30 March and run through 20 May. Forty-three watercolor compositions of 21 species will be on display, showing how Audubon "reworked a bird's portrait - honing and perfecting his depictions, sometimes for more than a decade - until the image met with his satisfaction." The watercolors have been selected from the Society's collection; they hold the original watercolors which were used to make The Birds of America.

"Another highlight will be a newly restored taxonomic listing of 425 bird species created in 1837 by Audubon and Charles Lucien Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon, which will be on view to the public for the first time."

And while you're in New York, the American Museum of Natural History will also be hosting an Audubon exhibit: "The Unknown Audubons: Mammals of North America."

I'm hoping to get a chance to see both of these.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Slave Ship Log Surpasses Estimate

The log of the slave schooner Juverna (mentioned yesterday) sold today at Bonhams for £4,600 (with premium and tax charges tacked onto that). The hammer price exceeded the £2,000-3,000 pre-sale estimate. No word yet on the buyer.

Locked Safes Pique Interest of Historical Society

Two 300-pound iron safes were recently discovered in an old farmhouse owned by the Monroe Historical Society (CT), AP reports. Problem is, they're locked tight, so no one knows just what's inside. The society seeks a volunteer locksmith to crack the combinations and reveal the secrets of the safes.

Bring on Geraldo!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bonhams to Sell Slave Ship Log

Bonhams auction house in London will sell a rare 19th-century slave ship's log on Wednesday as part of an auction of Science & Marine items, CNN reports. The logbook, Lot 170, covers the schooner Juverna's journey from Liverpool to West Africa to Suriname, and then back to Liverpool from July, 1804 to July of the following year. The catalog describes the item as "A hand written, detailed daily logbook, recording winds, courses, weather conditions and general observations on a classic 'Triangular Trade' slaving expedition from England less than two years before the abolition of slavery and in the midst of the Napoleonic War." Pre-sale estimates are £2,000-3,000.

In a lengthy footnote, Bonhams details the ship's journey to Calibar and the Cameroon River, where 110 male and female Africans were loaded for shipment to South America. Nineteen of the captives died on the transatlantic journey; when the ship arrived in Paramaribo, the ship's doctor and nine crewman (of sixteen) deserted. At Paramaribo, the ship was loaded with cotton and coffee for the return trip to Liverpool.

The auction will occur just days before the 200th anniversary of the bicentennial of the abolition of the British slave trade, which occurs on 25 March.

CNN's report notes that some are questioning the sale of this item, saying that it allows the book's current owners to "profit from slavery." Mark Ellis of the International Bar Association suggests that an action could be brought against the owners under the common law practice of 'unjust enrichment'.

Bonhams expert Lionel Willis notes the matter-of-fact nature of the logbook and Capt. Robert Lewis' documentations of the "cargo." "The slaves are the same as the cargo of salt that [Lewis] brings down and the same as the cotton he brings back. It is chilling when you read through the log book the fact that there's no sense of any feeling of the humanity of the people involved."

It is indeed chilling to read this sort of document - I still get goosebumps thinking about an estate list I copied recently which listed the plantation's slaves and then suddenly, without even skipping a line, moved into an inventory of the horses.

Probably the sort of item that ought to have been donated to a museum rather than brought to public auction, really. Hopefully it will go to an institution where it can be examined, researched, and remembered.

[h/t: Shelf:Life]

Monday, March 19, 2007

More on McTague

Several new tidbits of information today on the Denning McTague case:

- The "criminal information" (apparently something like an indictment, but it seems to be less serious, which probably has something to do with McTague's Smiley-like "cooperation") filed against McTague charges him with the theft of 165 archival documents from the National Archives. A press release notes that 161 of the items have been recovered.

- Over at Upward Departure Travis McDade has some more information on the charges, and notes that McTague's guilty plea is scheduled for 4 April. He writes that the charges filed fall under 18 USC 641 (theft of government property) rather than 18 USC 668 (theft of major artwork). This means that if the combined value of McTague's thefts is less than $1000, the only punishment is that the offender "shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both."

Travis: "Another troubling aspect of the statute is this: 'The word ‘value’ means face, par or market value or cost price, either wholesale or retail, whichever is greater.' This valuation scheme stands in direct opposition to the idea that the value of unique national documents of the sort that McTague stole are worth far more to the culture than just their price on the open market. I simply can’t believe that a statute that’s used to prosecute someone who steals a box of government staplers is also being employed to prosecute a man who stole a Jeb Stuart letter."

Agreed. Why on earth wouldn't the prosecutors file under the major artwork section (particularly given that a previous Archives thief was charged that way)?

- Also, some more background on McTague (whose website, by the way, has been removed, but is still available in cache form). It pains me to have to write this, but he attended my alma mater, Union College, graduating in 1989. All the more reason for him to have known better, in my view. Additionally, I have learned that his eBay username was 'hchapel', and he was previously employed as a 'local history librarian' in Nyack, NY (which begs the question of what he swiped from there). His "rare book business" was apparently originally started by his mother before he took it over.

More as it comes ...

Martineau Podcast Available

Hartford Courant reporter Kim Martineau's talk at Simmons College from 26 February (on the Smiley map thefts) is now available in podcast form. You can stream it on the web or download it as an MP3. It was a very enjoyable talk, and the audio quality on the MP3 seems quite nice.

More Info Coming

I've got some interesting new information coming in about the thieving intern, and will hopefully be able to do a follow-up post on that before the day's out. As they say, stay tuned!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Links &c.

- I can't resist passing along the link to "Dylan Hears a Who!" My favorite is "Green Eggs and Ham," but I confess I didn't make it quite all the way through the list. eNotes comments "It's exactly what you think it would be." Yup.

- Over at Bookplate Junkie, Lou's got a selection of his Egyptian-themed bookplates, and provides a reminder that the American Bookplate Society will be meeting in Boston next weekend. He also has a cautionary note (in two posts: here and here) to anyone in the market for George Washington bookplates ...

- Joyce at Bibliophile Bullpen has a "birth announcement" for a new bookstore blog: Book Trout, from Dan and Rachel Jagareski of Schuylerville, NY's Old Saratoga Books. I've added a link to the sidebar.

- Paul Collins points us to an article he's written for the newest issue of The Stranger: a salute to Leo Guild, "king of all hack writers and presumed author of the worst pulp novel ever."

- Hugh Hollowell has a brief "numberline primer" for book collectors. Useful.

- Ian's been busy at Lux Mentis, Lux Orbis this week, with posts on some new wonderful library images, some backchannel bookworld rumors about changes in the works at Heritage Bookshop, some delightfully bookish events in Portland, and the deathiversary of H.P. Lovecraft.

- Reading Copy comments on the announcement that Scholastic is planning a multimillion dollar ad campaign for Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows. "[W]hy? Is there someone out there who hasn’t heard of Harry Potter? Could people who have read the previous six books be any more excited about the prospect of another JK Rowling book?" A coworker and I were chatting about this the other day; we concluded wouldn't it make much more sense for Scholastic to promote something after Harry Potter?

Bookstore Theft in Montpelior

The Boston Globe reported (yesterday, sorry) that two books have gone missing (presumed stolen) from Book Garden in Montpelior, Vermont. Copies of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and Sylvia Plath's Ariel (valued together at $1300) were snatched from the shop's front counter on Tuesday. They were not discovered to be missing until Thursday.

Co-owner Rick Powell said he is considering whether or not to keep the shop open, or just deal over the internet. "It's not so much the monetary loss; it's the loss of trust," he said. "If this keeps happening it's hard for us to stay in business."

[h/t Bibliophile Bullpen; Joyce has been putting her "Police Line" graphic to heavy use lately]

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Saxton Atlas Sold

Back on 1 March I posted about the upcoming sale of the Macclesfield copy of Christopher Saxton's atlas, the first printed atlas to depict England and Wales. The hammer went down Thursday at Sotheby's, where an unnamed buyer won the volume for £669,600.

"The price was the highest ever paid for a volume of Saxton's first printed Atlas of England and Wales, which was the first atlas of any country to map individual counties. The last copy of the Saxton Atlas of England and Wales bound with a set of Boazio charts was auctioned for £1,100 by Christie's in London more than 50 years ago."

Friday, March 16, 2007

Rockford Rare Books Sold

Last week I mentioned that Rockford College would be selling off portions of its rare book collection; the first auction session was yesterday, and the Rockford Register Star has a report on the results. The eleven volumes sold netted the college approximately $28,000, just slightly more than the pre-sale estimate of $19,900.

"Two of the books up for sale Thursday - a 1929 edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and a 1903 English Bible - netted $10,800 each. The college will orchestrate another auction of more than 350 other books June 7. Selling off superfluous assets is the college’s latest attempt to brighten its financial picture."

Rockford president Richard Kneedler said of the sale "This book sale is partly about money, but it’s also about making sure that the rare books and archives of Rockford College are related to the mission of the institution. We were very careful to retain books of a regional interest and those from Jane Addams’ personal collection."

I really have to say if the college is in such bad shape that $28,000 from selling rare books is what's going to keep it afloat, that's a problem. As I wrote before, the amount of money gained from this sale is probably minimal compared to the number of potential donors who will look elsewhere to find suitable homes for their materials rather than 'entrust' it to Rockford.

NARA Intern Stole Documents

Just about every news outlet in the country has grabbed this AP story: a Philadelphia man who interned at a National Archives site last summer has been charged with the theft of more than 165 original Civil War documents from the Archives, which he then sold on eBay. Denning McTague, 40, who runs a website for selling rare books, has now admitted the thefts - and, drawing directly from the Smiley playbook, has agreed to help prosecutors recover the documents in exchange for a plea deal.

Documents stolen include an official War Department announcement of the death of President Lincoln, additional War Department telegrams, and a JEB Stuart letter. Prosecutors say most of the materials have been recovered. US Attorny Patrick Meehan said of the items "These are pieces of American history to be preserved, not sold to the highest bidder."

"McTague, who holds master's degrees in history and information systems, was recommended for the unpaid internship by a professor at the State University of New York at Albany," according to a spokesperson for the Archives. The Albany Times-Union confirms that, but said that SUNY Albany would not name the professor.

"As an intern, McTague was responsible for arranging and organizing documents in preparation for the upcoming sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, of the Civil War. His responsibilities included ordnance records dating from 1816 to 1907, prosecutors said. While visiting researchers must examine items in secure research rooms, McTague, as a temporary employee, may have had access to the stacks," NARA admitted.

A former curator at this NARA branch was sentenced to 21 months in prison back in 2002 for stealing hundreds of documents from the repository. Clearly the lessons of that case went unlearned. Again, cooperation notwithstanding (they shouldn't really have even needed it here if the materials were sold on eBay), McTague should do some serious time.

[Update: Travis has some thoughts on this over at Upward Departure. He notes this is the fourth reported theft from NARA facilities in recent years, and that "three of the four were only caught when they tried to sell the items on eBay." He's even got a contest: guess McTague's prison sentence, win a signed copy of Travis' book, The Book Thief. His guess = 34 months.]

Continuing Pukapuka Investigation Nabs Librarian

I first wrote about Operation Pukapuka (Maori for 'book') last October, to note the sentencing of several book thieves accused of lifting thousands of books from New Zealand libraries, erasing the ownership marks, and selling them. As is often the case with these things, another shoe has dropped.

Massey University (Palmerston, NZ) librarian Karen Dale Churton, 48, has now entered a guilty plea on charges that she stole six rare books from her workplace valued at more than $23,000 (NZ). The Manawatu Standard reports that Churton, who was named the University's New Zealand-Pacific Librarian back in 2001, "removed six rare and valuable books from the library and had their records deleted. She removed many of the ownership markings by 'washing'."

The thefts took place between March, 2002 and March, 2003, the police have concluded, and Ms. Churton later sold the books "through Otaki's Bethune's Rare Books auction house. Three books were sold on August 19, 2002, for $1910, one on November 28, 2002, for $5400 and two on March 6, 2003, for $16,000, totaling $23,310."

Two of the stolen books have now been recovered. "Police sought reparations for the stolen books, with $17,110 going to the Massey University library and $6,200 to Bethune's Rare Books Ltd. in Otaki." Churton, who will be sentenced next week, told the court yesterday that she was "disappointed in herself and sorry and would like to repay the money, which had been used on her family."

Radio New Zealand adds that this case has prompted a security review at Massey's libraries: head librarian "John Redmayne says the current lock and key system could be replaced by a more secure key pad and other measures may be adopted." Clearly necessary; there's nothing like closing the barn door after the horse is out.

Ms. Churton ought indeed to be "disappointed in herself and sorry." She ought also to spend some time in prison. Such flagrant abuses of cultural trust and responsibility cannot be tolerated or taken lightly.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Book Review: "Gilbert White"

English nature writer Richard Mabey's eponymous biography Gilbert White was first published in 1986 by Century Hutchinson Ltd., and is now available in a first American edition from the University of Virginia Press. The book won the Whitbread Prize for Biography; not a bad choice, I think.

The Natural History of Selborne, White's magnum opus (now in more than two hundred editions, the jacket of Mabey's book informs) is one of the best-known and remarkable pieces of environmental/nature writing ever written. But until Mabey's, there was no full-length biography of its author. That, a true shame, has been well-corrected here. Mabey outlines White's life in Selborne (and, briefly, beyond) carefully, but concentrates on the long process through which White emerged as a chronicler of the world around him. An idiosyncratic and not-entirely-deliberate chronicler, to be sure, but an acute observer of the "links between humans and other creatures, a celebration of the life of a whole community."

White was fascinated by the actions of birds, particularly the swallows and swifts which frequented the vicinity of Selborne. Anyone who's ever spent any time watching that group knows how entirely engaging their antics are - it's hardly a surprise that White was entranced by them and spent much time tracking their movements and working to solve the perennial question of his day - did they migrate, or hibernate over the winter? White's writings on swallows (which Mabey calls the "high point of his prose") are well characterized here, and receive a fair treatment as compared with the Natural History, which usually gets all the attention.

A fine and readable (not to mention well-researched) biography of White; it's good to see this will be easily available here in the States now.

Book Review: "The Moonstone"

Considered one of the foundational texts of English detective fiction, Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone is one of those books that you just know you'll have to read someday if you enjoy that genre. I've used it as my "backpack book" in recent weeks (the one I have with me all the time and pull out when I have a free moment on the T or between classes or for the last few minutes of a lunch hour), and found it hard to resist pulling out at home when I should have been working on other things.

This book deserves its place among the foremost examples of detective literature. T.S. Eliot called Collins' novel "the first, the longest, and the best of Modern English detective novels" - while I doubt it continues to hold the middle distinction, The Moonstone may still have a lock on the other two. Conan Doyle, Poe and Collins form, for me, the great triumverate of this genre; I'd be hard-pressed to choose my favorite among them (Collins' The Haunted Hotel is another fascinating early book of this type that I quite recommend).

The Moonstone is the tale of a great Indian diamond which goes missing from the chambers of its young English owner. The search for both the culprit and the diamond, told from the perspectives of various characters, form the basic plot. The suspense doesn't end until the final pages, and the pacing (done as it was for weekly installments) is wonderfully done. Collins' characters are wonderfully memorable, from the erstwhile and Robinson Crusoe-obsessed retainer Gabriel Betteredge to the mystifyingly coy Detective Sergeant Cuff and beyond.

This is a book to savor; if it's been sitting on your shelf awhile, pull it down and read awhile. I'm willing to bet it won't take you long to get hooked.

Upcoming Sale

The Sheffield Star reports that the library of the late Paul Betts will be sold at Bonham's in London on 27 March. Betts, an advertising executive, began collecting in his late teens, and, said his son "Such was the strength of this interest he was still adding to his collection almost up to his death, despite the fact that ill health had by then deprived him of the power even to hold his new acquisitions. He had no rigid collecting policy, preferring to buy whatever caught his eye whenever he saw and could afford it."

Looks like there will be some exciting items among the nearly 400 lots, including a 1495 Wynkyn de Worde printing of Higden's Universal History (Polichronicon) and a five-volume collection of travel accounts published 1625-6 by Samuel Purchas (the inheritor of Richard Hakluyt's materials, interestingly). Both of these are expected to fetch as much as £30,000.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

NYTimes Frees "Select" for Students/Faculty

Anyone with a .edu email address can access the "Times Select" portions of the NYTimes for free as of 13 March, as Joyce noted yesterday. Just go here to register. When the paper started charging to read its op/ed columnists last May, I stopped reading them ... and haven't really missed them all that much, to be honest. But hey, free's free (again).

AHA Ratifies Anti-War Resolution

Back in January I commented on the American Historical Association's approval of a resolution calling for an end to the war in Iraq. That approval was contingent upon its ratification by the full membership of the AHA through an email vote, which took place last week after a comment period.

The results of the email ballot have now been released: of 2,018 ballots cast, 1,550 (75.61%) were in favor of the resolution; 498 (24.29%) were opposed. Those voting represented 14.67% of the AHA membership.

I wasn't particularly surprised by the results, but I was extremely surprised at the low number of votes. Not even 15% of AHA members could be bothered to click on a URL and cast a vote on this resolution? Seems pretty pitiful, really.

This was a tough decision for me. While I agree wholeheartedly with the substance of the resolution ("Resolved, That the American Historical Association urges its members through publication of this resolution in Perspectives and other appropriate outlets: 1. To take a public stand as citizens on behalf of the values necessary to the practice of our profession; and
2. To do whatever they can to bring the Iraq war to a speedy conclusion
"), after much deliberation I concluded that it was not in the best interests of the AHA to take this position as an organization. I voted against the resolution on those grounds, my support for it as an individual notwithstanding.

Emma Wedgwood Darwin's Diaries Online

Sixty pocket diaries written by the wife of naturalist Charles Darwin are now available online, The Guardian reports. Emma Wedgwood Darwin's writings cover the periods 1824, 1833-4, 1839-45 and 1848-96. The digital version was prepared from microfilm copies at Cambridge University.

Author Janet Browne has written an editorial introduction to the digital edition; she notes that these diaries "provide a wonderful historical resource, not only for Darwin scholars but also as a social document of prosperous middle-class life in the Victorian era. ... It should be noted that these diaries are not discursive journals. However Emma Darwin (1808-1896) used these little books to make notes of appointments, important family events, a seemingly endless succession of illnesses and remedies, primarily relating to her children and husband, visits to and from relatives and friends, concerts to attend, minor expenses, charitable activities and other daily memoranda. In this sense, they constitute a vivid record of daily life in the Darwin household."

Certainly a noteworthy new resource.

Dispatches from China

- Shanghai Daily reports that a replica of China's oldest existing private library will be built at the University of Rhode Island's Confucius Institute. A slightly scaled-down copy of Tianyi Pavilion, located in Ningbo City, is now under construction in Providence.

"Tianyi Pavilion Library, built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), has amassed a collection of 300,000 volumes, 80,000 of which are rare books. Emperor Qianlong (1771-1799) in the Qing Dynasty ordered another seven royal libraries be constructed in China, exactly like Tianyi Pavilion."

The article notes that the Confucious Institute is "a project launched by the National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language and aims to enhance the understanding of the Chinese language and culture among learners of Chinese worldwide."

- And another story I read yesterday but forgot to post: Reuters says that Shanghai booksellers are cracking down on "image thieves" - people who snap photos of book pages for reference (mostly students, say the booksellers). Jiang Li, a manager at Shanghai Book City, is quoted as saying "We have put a sign on the wall telling people not to do it. A more important problem than (our) financial interests is that they infringe the copyright of those books."

The Reuters piece goes on to note (and this was confirmed by a friend in Shanghai when I sent him the article to check) that "roughly-bound photocopied versions of popular works are hawked by street-side vendors within days of the originals' release," (just as music albums and DVDs). [h/t Shelf:Life]

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Book Review: "The Devil in the Shape of a Woman"

Carol Karlsen's 1987 book The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England provides a sort of demographic, sociological, and anthropological examination of the witchcraft trends in early New England. By examining the records, Karlsen has created what she suggests was the archetypal 'witch' based on income, age, marital status, &c.

She argues in part that women who had inherited or stood to inherit fairly large amounts of property or land were at particular risk, as they "stood in the way of the orderly transmission of property from one generation of males to the next" (p. 116). These women (and others), Karlsen suggests, were targeted largely because they refused to accept "their place" in colonial society. How their actions translated into being accused of witchcraft by - usually - other females is left unexamined for the most part, unfortunately.

This is a fairly useful study into some of the various elements of the witchcraft cases. I don't find Karlsen's arguments as compelling as those made more recently by Mary Beth Norton, for example, but this is hardly a bad book just for that reason. Recommended for those interested in the witchcraft phenonmenon.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Recent Reviews

A few reviews from recent days:

- Kurt Anderson's Heyday (Random House), a historical novel set in the antebellum period. Reviewed by Allen Barra in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

- Joel Rose's The Blackest Bird (W.W. Norton), another take on the Mary Rogers murder, from a fictional perspective. Reviewed by Wendy Smith in the LATimes.

- Karen Ordahl Kupperman's The Jamestown Project (Harvard University Press), and a number of other new books appearing on the 400th anniversary of Jamestown's settlement. Reviewed by Tony Horwitz in the Washington Post.

- Peter Mancall's Hakluyt's Promise (Yale University Press) and Benjamin Woolley's Savage Kingdom (Harper Press), also focusing on early American settlement. Reviewed by Fintan O'Toole in The Guardian.

- Edward Pearce's The Great Man (Jonathan Cape), a new biography of Robert Walpole. Reviewed by Tristram Hunt in The Guardian.

- James Oakes' The Radical and the Republican (W.W. Norton), a 'joint biography' of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Reviewed by James McPherson in the NYRB.

- F.P. Lock's Edmund Burke (Oxford University Press), the second volume of Lock's Burke biography. Reviewed by Jonathan Clark in the TLS.

GalleyCat Poll Results

Last week, the folks at GalleyCat asked "What's the most likely way a book gets on your reading list?" They've now posted the results. Not particularly surprising, and the numbers are probably too low (and the sample far too unscientific) to mean anything, but there they are nonetheless.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Links &c.

- Joyce passed along this story from today's New York Times, which suggests "As more museums and archives become digital domains, and as electronic resources become the main tool for gathering information, items left behind in nondigital form, scholars and archivists say, are in danger of disappearing from the collective cultural memory, potentially leaving our historical fabric riddled with holes."

James Hastings, director of access services at the National Archives, told the Times "If researchers conclude that the only valuable records they need are those that are online they will be missing major parts of the story. And in some cases they will miss the story altogether." And researchers who think like that are shoddy researchers indeed.

It is not, in my view, the responsibility of archives and museums to make their collections digital (though if they can, more power to them); rather, the institutions should focus on making records of their holdings available (as they are indeed doing) so that researchers can find out what's where and use it as they need to/are able to. Mounting online public access catalogs will spur reference questions and non-local visits (I can personally vouch for that), without incurring the high costs of large-scale digitization efforts.

It's an interesting article on digitization efforts, but the 'historical fabric' will only be 'riddled with holes' if we succumb to the ridiculous idea that only digitized materials matter.

- The New Yorker's "Shouts and Murmurs" column this week takes on the controversy over the inclusion of the word 'scrotum' in this year's Newbery-award-winning children's book. Slightly raunchy, but quite hilarious.

- Off the Shelf (and many others) have posted on the ongoing poll (at the lower right) to determine "The Oddest Book Title of the Year." The nominees this time:
Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan
How Green Were the Nazis?;
D. Di Mascio's Delicious Ice Cream: D. Di Mascio of Coventry: An Ice Cream Company of Repute, with an Interesting and Varied Fleet of Ice Cream Vans;
The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification; Proceedings of the Eighteenth International Seaweed Symposium;
Better Never To Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence.

My vote went to the shopping carts, although the spoon boxes were a close second. BBC also has a story up about this, eh, contest (via Shelf:Life)

- Over at Upward Departure, Travis has several posts worth reading: in one, he very nicely comments on the work that this blog and others do in exposing and publicizing thefts of books and maps. He's also got a pair of entries (here and here) on Constantin von Tischendorf's discovery (and theft) of an ancient Old Testament manuscript (the Codex Sinaiticus) at St. Catherine's monastery near Mt. Sinai.

- Paul Collins has posts about a writer's fellowship where you can live - for free - in Jack Kerouac's Florida home (apply here), and about the 1861 game "The Checkered Game of Life" by Milton Bradley.

- Ed at Bibliothecary posted a very interesting omnigatherum on William Blake, which is worth checking out.

- If you haven't yet made the AbeBooks blog Reading Copy part of your regular blog-reading schedule, I encourage you to do so. Their posts are always timely and of interest.

- Bytown Bookshop has one of the best "borrower beware" notes I've ever seen.

- Michael Lieberman comments on what appears to be a rather suspicious book-marketing scheme thought up by business 'guru' Richard Paul Evans.

- BibliOdyssey, feeing my endless appetite for natural history illustrations, has a beautiful selection of John Gould's hummingbirds.

Book Review: "Children in Colonial America"

Children in Colonial America, edited by Marquette University's James Marten, is a new anthology of some of the most recent historical scholarship on American children and childhood during the colonial period. Marten notes that he tried with this book to bring a cross-regional and cross-racial perspective into the discussion, at which he's succeeded perhaps to the extent possible. By interspersing the historical essays with documents of relevance to each section of the collection, Marten provides some necessary primary source context (not to mention some amusing and thought-provoking selections).

Of particular interest to me were the essays on Indian childhood in traditional and "praying" contexts during the early colonial period in southern New England, the raising of upper-class children in eighteenth-century South Carolina, a very interesting discussion of youth education in Philadelphia, and some thoughts on the role of Boston's youth in the pre-Revolutionary riots against British authority.

A useful, current and largely impressive anthology on an under-studied topic.

Update: Civil War Documents Returned

In early September I posted about some Civil War records which had been stolen from a display at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library (NC). Today there's good news to report: a McClatchy wire service dispatch notes that the exhibit curator, Shelia Bumgarner, said the documents had been placed anonymously in her mailbox and were discovered on Friday.

"Bumgarner said she was recently approached by someone who said he knew where the documents were, and that they had been taken by someone who believed the exhibit glorified the Civil War - which wasn't her intent, she said. 'I'm sorry the person was offended,' she said. 'I wish they had come to me and talked to me about it and we had tried to work it out.'"

Friday, Bumgarner found an envelope in her box. Inside was a copy of "Philadelphia Trumpet" magazine. A note was on the front, telling her to look through the entire magazine. The documents were in a manila envelope between the pages."

The documents - "a hand-written furlough for a Confederate soldier and a certificate of medical examination of a slave" - are owned by author Walt Hilderman, who believes their theft was connected with his controversial book They Went Into the Fight Cheering: Confederate Conscription in North Carolina.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Today's Mysterious Book-Theft Story

Shelf:Life links to this odd little story, a transcript from an Australian t.v. news program in which Macquarie University professor Don Barker tells a reporter that he discovered an apparent theft from the United Theological Seminary (in Dayton, OH) back in December.

"DON BARKER: It's a page from a codex, which is, ah, like our books today that we know today, not a roll, but a codex with pages and it's the first page of a book of what was probably a book of psalms.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Macquarie University academic recommended the police be called in.

DON BARKER: I said, 'do you know how much it's worth?' They said, 'no'. I said, 'well it's worth about $600,000'. Well they started to take a lot of interest in the manuscript then.


And I suggested that they get the police involved because I've got a feeling it was stolen. They made a real search of the whole library and everywhere else and couldn't find it."

Unfortunately the story contains no further information on the missing item, and I was unable to find any news reports noting the discovery of the theft or the investigation. There is an article in the Dayton Daily News from 30 November 2006 describing Barker's visit to the UTS, but it must have appeared before it was noticed that the codex leaf wasn't where it should be. So questions about this case remain unanswered. If anyone has any further information, feel free to pass it along.

Montesquieu's Library

The International Herald-Tribune has an article today on the continuing impact of Montesquieu (in France, at least): "You can hardly turn around in the Bordeaux area without bumping into a plaque, a statue or some other reminder of Montesquieu, a great thinker whose books inspired the American Constitution. The Lycée Montesquieu is around the corner from my home and I often have business on the rue Esprit des Lois, a street named for his masterwork, 'The Spirit of Laws.'

The whole piece is quite good, and worth reading, but the relevant paragraph for our purposes comes near the end:

"Montesquieu's library of 3,800 volumes, then one of Europe's largest private libraries, is preserved in the rare books department of Bordeaux's City Library. When I visited the collection recently and leafed through the works it was breathtaking to find scraps of paper inserted here and there with comments written in his own hand. 'He rarely made notes on the margins of the books themselves,' the curator, Hélène de Bellaigue, told me. 'He was a confirmed bibliophile.'"

This practice stands in stark contrast with our John Adams, who wrote so voluminously in his own books. If you haven't seen the new John Adams Library website, do stop by; you can examine digital and transcribed versions of most of his interesting and witty marginalia. It's interesting to me that Montesquieu opted for inserted notes, though - I do the same thing. I've never been able to comment inside the book itself; the only marks I generally make are light pencil corrections to errors I happen to notice.

At any rate, next time you're in Bordeaux, it sounds like Montesquieu's library might be a fascinating visit.


I'm sure this isn't "new news," but I just had to post it. In a short author profile of V.S. Naipaul, The Guardian has this little "Did you Know?" tidbit:

"Naipaul's friend and protégé Paul Theroux opened a rare-book catalogue to find one of his first editions, inscribed to his mentor, for sale at £1,500. When challenged about this act of 'betrayal', Naipaul apparently replied, 'take it on the chin, dear fellow, and move on'. The two have been at loggerheads ever since."

Friday, March 09, 2007

NBCC Award Winners

The 2006 National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced last night, and the winners are:

- Fiction: Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss (Atlantic Monthly Press)
- Autobiography: Daniel Mendelsohn, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million (HarperCollins)
- Nonfiction: Simon Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (Ecco)
- Biography: Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (St. Martin's Press)
- Poetry: Troy Jollimore, Tom Thompson in Purgatory (Margie/Intuit House)
- Criticism: Lawrence Weschler, Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences (McSweeney's)

They've got all the roundups and other information (including the rest of the nominees) over here at Critical Mass.

March 'Avid Collector' Released

The March edition of AbeBook's "Avid Collector" newsletter is now available here. It includes a spotlight essay on Bible-collecting by Scott Brown (the new issue of Fine Books & Collections is also great, by the way), a good Q&A, and all sorts of other worthwhile diversions.

Google Books Goes Europe

Reuters reports that Germany's Bavarian State Library will join the Google Books Project; about one million of the library's 9-million book collection will be digitized. Most of those scanned will be in German, but a library spokesperson said that books in "Italian, French, Spanish, Latin and English" will also be included. Only items whose copyright has expired will be scanned.

Google Germany spokesman Steve Keuchel: "
This is a very important step for us, particularly in view of the criticism that's been levelled at the project. And it's pleasing not just for us, but also for Google users, particularly in the German-speaking world, because the deal means that we'll be able to significantly raise the number of German books in the Google Book Search."

Other European libraries involved with the Project include the Bodleian at Oxford, Complutense University in Madrid and the National Library of Catalonia.

[via Shelf:Life]

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Dorchester Auction Update

The Dukes of Dorchester Rare books sale (mentioned here and here) went off without a hitch today, reports the Dorset Echo. The Kelmscott Press edition of Chaucer's works sold for £74,000 (a new record for a Kelmscott Press book); it was beat out for the top price by a first edition of Newton's Principia Mathematica, which went for £75,000 (or over £90,000 with the added premium).

A Newton Euclid sold for £62,000, and a first edition of Darwin's On the Origin of Species hammered in at £42,000. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations fetched £34,000, and a subscriber's edition of T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom was had for £22,000.

Auctioneer Guy Schwinge "said the majority of books would go to private collectors and dealers though he believed some would go to museums." All told, nearly a million pounds was realized in today's sale.

Censoring Swimsuits

A coworker forwarded me this post from The Consumerist blog, which led me to an article in the newest Library Journal on the same topic. Apparently the publishers of Sports Illustrated (Time, Inc.) decided, without discussion or notification, not to send this year's swimsuit issue to any libraries which have subscriptions to the magazine. Spokesman Patrick McCabe told LJ "Over the course of time, we've received feedback from some of those institutions saying it wouldn't be an acceptable thing for them to have or to share with their constituents, and the decision was made that this was one way to hopefully alleviate that issue."

No differentiation was made between different types of libraries, and apparently Time is allowing libraries to specifically request the issue using a toll-free number or a web interface. The 'block' has been dropped for future years.

The Comsumerist post includes a quote from one serials librarian and links to the SERIALST listserv, which is abuzz with comments on the matter.

My questions are these: were all "institutions" subject to this ban, or just libraries? Did office buildings and reception rooms receive their copies? Did individual subscribers? Presumably (unless it disappeared in the mail).

I agree with what seems to be the library-consensus on this issue: all issues paid for should be received (especially if they are part of the regular volume sequence, as this is), and it's up to the individual library to decide how or if to display the swimsuit issue.

How Do You Find Books?

GalleyCat wants to know. They've got a poll running with the question "What's the most likely way a book gets on your to-read list?" Stop by and vote, if so inclined.

Antique Quran Seized by Indian Police

Bangalore authorities have nabbed a man attempting to sell what he says is an Quran "written by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb," which would make it about 400 years old. The emperor's "supposed signature is found on the last page," The Hindu reports (or it's signed on every page, according to the Pakistan Times).

"Speaking to presspersons here on Wednesday, Police Commissioner N. Achuta Rao said the CCB police, on a tip-off, arrested M.G. Sukumar (44) from Thrissur, Kerala, at a hotel on M.G. Road where he was waiting for potential buyers. He said they were yet to ascertain whether the Koran and the painting were indeed antiques, as claimed by Sukumar." The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has been called in to determine the antiquity of the book.

"Each page [of the Quran, which weighs 13 kg] is a copper plate coated with paper which is, in turn, coated with a chemical that has helped protect the beautiful calligraphy. Moreover, every page has a unique fragrance of its own. Gold and silver has been mixed with the ink and each of the 30 sections is written in a different calligraphic style."

The man also had a large Tanjore painting decorated with semi-precious stones.

Rockford College to Sell Rare Books

The Rockford Rock River Times reports that Rockford College plans to auction off the institution's rare book collection, just months after selling thousands of pieces of art. "Liquidation of the rare books is the school’s latest attempt at reducing the sizable debt that’s plagued the private liberal arts college for decades," Stuart Wahlin writes for the paper.

Vice President for College Development John McNamara said of the plan "The Board of Trustees has thoughtfully looked at all of our strategies, and asset deployment is one of them. It’s been going very well." Asset deployment? Is that what they're calling it these days?

The sales will not include materials related to Jane Addams (Rockford's most notable alumna, according to the report) or "books that are critical to the history of the college." Two auctions will be held: one on 16 March for fourteen notable pieces, and another later in April. Among the items sold will be the Bertha Holbrook Collection of A-B-C books, containing some 2,000 items; this was donated to Rockford by the collector's husband after her death.

The supreme understatement of the article: "Some fear parting with such gifts may be sending the wrong message to potential donors." Or, as an ExLibris commenter put it yesterday afternoon, "Rather, they are sending the *right* message to potential donors. Don't
give us your books, because we can't take care of them."

Stories like this are really painful to see. I know firsthand after sitting on the budget committee of my own small liberal arts college how fiscally tight things can be. But thankfully our administrators and trustees knew and cared about our institutional treasures, working to enrich them rather than sell them off for a little bit of short-gain financial gain. In the long run, this maneuver can only do harm to Rockford College, and I hope the institution's leaders realize that before too much more time passes.

Book Review: "The Book of Books"

I can say that Les Krantz and Tim Knight's The Book of Books is precisely what the subtitle says it should be: "An Eclectic Collection of Reading Recommendations, Quirky Lists, and Fun Facts about Books." It's more the first two than the third. This is basically a collection of (very short) lists of books connected by some theme or characteristic. A few are taken from other organizations and 'annotated' here by Krantz and Knight, but most seem to be new. The quibbles to be had with lists like this are infinite, so I won't start them; on the whole, this is a somewhat useful reader's guide if you happen to stumble upon a theme you're interested in. It's skewed heavily toward the popular reading, not surprisingly.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Other Interesting Items at Swann Sale

Earlier in the week I mentioned that a first edition of the Book of Mormon will be sold at Swann Galleries in NYC on 22 March as part of their Printed & Manuscript Americana sale. I got a chance to browse through the catalog today and found a few other items that I thought were particularly noteworthy (although most of the sale looks like it will be fairly interesting). All out of my price range, of course, but interesting nevertheless.

- Lot 18: The Aitken Bible - the first printing of the complete Bible in English in America (Philadelphia, 1782; 1781). With the rare general title page. One of fewer than 100 known copies of this work; the only Bible ever authorized by Congress. Estimate: $30,000-40,000.

- Lot 43: Report of the Committee, to Inquire into the Conduct of Brigadier Gen. J. Wilkinson (Washington, 1810). The official report of the congressional investigation into the Aaron Burr/James Wilkinson plot. Quite rare. Estimate: $1,000-1,500.

- Lot 81: First edition of Noah Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York, 1828). Pretty rough condition. Estimate: $8,000-12,000.

- Lot 115: Benjamin Franklin's Rules for Reducing a Great Empire to a Small One (London, 1793). First solo edition of this biting pamphlet (first printed in 1773), which attacks the British government's handling of the American colonies in the years leading up to the Revolution. Estimate: $300-400.

- Lot 126: First collected edition of The Federalist Papers (New York, 1788), in two volumes. In rough shape (covers detached, losses to backstrips, library markings), but nonetheless estimated to bring $40,000-60,000.

- Lot 254: Nathaniel Ames' An Astronomical Diary; or Almanack for the Year of our Lord Christ 1772 (Boston, 1771). With three engravings by Paul Revere. Estimate: $2,000-3,000.

- Lot 267: Thomas Paine's Common Sense, a February, 1776 printing (the later of two printed that year at Norwich, CT). Estimate: $5,000-7,000.

- Lot 321: George Vancouver's A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean, and Round the World (London, 1798). Includes the complete Atlas. Estimate: $40,000-60,000.

- Lot 336: Alexander Wilson and Charles Lucien Bonaparte's American Ornithology; or, The Natural History of the Birds of the United States (William Jardine, ed; London and Edinburgh, 1832), with 97 hand-colored plates. "Contains all of Wilson's works and the first 3 volumes of Bonaparte's continuation, with all plates re-engraved to scale by Lizars." What makes this set interesting is that it each volume is signed by noted American ornithologist John Cassin. Estimate: $2,000-3,000.

Two Bird-Art Exhibits in Chicago

The Illinois State Museum Chicago Gallery has announced two upcoming exhibits, which will run in tandem from 12 March through 24 August.

'John James Audubon: The Birds of America, Prints from the Collection of the Illinois State Museum' will feature some thirty prints from the two major 19th-century editions of Audubon's Birds of America, "with commentary on the life of John Audubon, and a history of the production of these prints." Comparative examples from the works of Catesby, Wilson and Gould will also be on display, as will some of the Museum's mounted birds.

'While All the Tribes of Birds Sang' "includes bird-related art and artifacts that provide a broader visual context of the relationships to the avian world. Included in this exhibition are artifacts from the anthropology and decorative arts' collection and artwork from the museum's permanent collection, as well as loans by contemporary Chicago artists."

The ISM Chicago Gallery is on the second floor of the James R. Thompson Center, 100 West Randolph Street (Chicago). For more information, call 312-814-5322.

Rare Chaucer Edition to be Sold

Another highlight of tomorrow's Duke's of Dorchester sale: an 1896 edition of Geoffrey Chaucer's works, produced by William Morris and illustrated by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. This copy - one of 48 made - is believed to be the personal copy of Burne-Jones. It's expected to fetch as much as £100,000.

The Guardian has a bit more background, and a photo.Link

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Book Review: "Bridging the Divide"

Edward W. Brooke, the first African-American to be popularly elected to the Senate, tells the story of his life in a new memoir, Bridging the Divide: My Life (Rutgers University Press, 2007). A committed centrist who worked throughout his career to find solutions to some of this country's most pressing problems and injustices, Brooke has written a candid political autobiography and offers important insights into the state of contemporary American political discourse.

After attending Howard University and fighting in Italy during WWII, Brooke got his law degree in Boston and built a practice here before entering elected politics. After several false starts, Brooke was elected attorney general of Massachusetts in 1962 and 1964, then ran successfully for the Senate (as a Republican) in 1966. He served two terms before being defeated in the 1978 election after a messy divorce which made its way into the newspapers. Brooke writes vividly of his forays in public life, including the investigation into the Boston Strangler case, his efforts to pass civil rights legislation in the Senate, and the various campaign ups and downs he experienced.

Two elements of this book particularly resonated with me: Brooke's account of his visits to Vietnam in the late '60s to better understand the conflict raging there, and his brief discussions of the current political polarization. On the former, Brooke writes (p. 167) "During [Vietnam], as a senator, I could at least try to influence events. Today, I watch our occupation of Iraq only as a concerned citizen. As events unfold there, I fear that those who gave us today's war did not learn the lesson of yesterday's."

On the latter (p. 181): "The polarization of Congress; the decline of civility; and the rise of attack politics in the 1980s and 1990s, and the early years of the new century are a blot on our political system and a disservice to the American people. I do not see any signs of a return to civility, and I can only look back on my time in the Senate as a golden era that I pray will come again." It's easy to say, but Ed Brooke walked the centrist walk throughout his career, and when he speaks, we ought to listen.

A well-written and interesting memoir; recommended.