Thursday, May 31, 2007

Rare Books (and a Turtle) Recovered

What do a preserved hawksbill sea turtle, some antique surveying equipment, and a 1754 book on Spanish history have in common?

They were all discovered at the home of an ex-employee of the San Diego Natural History Museum, the AP reported late last week. Police found the items at the residence of Ruben Lopez, 23, "who worked as a cleaner at the museum in May 2004." With other rare books and pieces from the museum's collections, the thefts are valued at around $15,000, according to the museum. The items were known to be missing but staff were reportedly unsure about whether they'd been stolen or simply misplaced.

The hawksbill sea turtle specimen was in rough shape: "
There's a lot of damage - the bill is broken, the legs are dangling. It looks like someone had a tug of war with it," said a museum spokesperson.

Meth was also discovered in the house, and Lopez has been charged with "
grand theft, possession of narcotics for sale and embezzlement." The recovered items were returned to the museum last Friday. It's not clear from the AP article whether police were investigating Lopez for the museum thefts or for other reasons.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hearing Hosseini

Author Khaled Hosseini spoke to a packed house at the BPL last night; he also read a selection from his new novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns. I very much enjoyed reading Hosseini's earlier novel, The Kite Runner, and am looking forward to the new one as well. Hosseini's talk was fairly brief - for much of the event he simply took questions from the audience about his books, his writing process, his ongoing work with the UNHCR and on the state of Afghanistan today. He struck me as a very down-to-earth author who enjoys writing about tough but important issues.

If you have a chance to hear Hosseini speak and read from his works, go for it. He'll be at the First Parish Church in Cambridge on Thursday evening (tickets available at Harvard Bookstore), and then will be heading out across the country (list here), for the next month and a half.

New 'Avid Collector' Newsletter

The May issue of AbeBooks' The Avid Collector newsletter is out: it features an interview with the owners and manager of Bromer Booksellers here in Boston, some interesting q & a, and the other usual monthly columns. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Book Review: "Prodigal Summer"

After hearing Barbara Kingsolver speak in Cambridge last week about her new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (to be read and reviewed in its own right soon) I decided I'd like to try one of her novels, so on a friend's recommendation I picked up a copy of Prodigal Summer at the shop. I found it one of those books where I was torn between wanting to read slowly, rationing chapters to prolong the experience, and wanting to just settle in with it for a few sustained hours and read the whole thing at once. On a lazy Memorial Day weekend, you can probably guess which won out.

Prodigal Summer tells the stories of three very different people whose lives end up intricately connected by the time the book - but not their stories - comes to a close. Kingsolver's style is simple and easy to understand, but at the same time she's expertly captured the essences of rural life and the important connections between and among people and their environment. She writes of the natural world - of birdsong and ginseng, chestnut blight and blacksnakes - with the ease and detail of someone who's experienced it. I could practically hear the wood thrushes and magnolia warblers, and was delighted to find that this book dredged up a few memories from my own childhood, of wandering on my grandpa's hillsides looking for ginseng and admiring our few remaining chestnut trees.

Beyond the beautiful descriptive prose and emotion-rich narratives, Kingsolver's book also contains a strong and recurring environmental message. I noticed several precursors of the "locavore" (eat local) philosophy she discusses more fully in the new book, and many of the characters in Prodigal Summer grapple with questions of pesticide and resource use, food chains and the like. If these themes seem to be a bit heavy-handed at times, it's because they haven't sunk in for us yet, and we need every reminder we can get. As Kingsolver writes, in a line I've already memorized, "Every choice is a world made new for the chosen."

This is an important book, both for its message(s) and for its simple, elegant prose. I'm glad I read it.

Lincoln and the Ages

Adam Gopnik has an "Annals of Biography" article in the current New Yorker, "Angels and Ages: Lincoln's Language and its Legacy." He examines the ongoing debate about whether Secretary of War Edwin Stanton's benediction over Lincoln was "Now he belongs to the ages" or "Now he belongs to the angels," while also reviewing a few of the recent Lincoln niche biographies and offering thoughts on a few Lincoln-related sites (the Soldiers' Home, the Petersen Boardinghouse).

It's a good piece, which I recommend. Gopnik's main question about Stanton's words is interesting, and he's done an excellent job trying to track the versions as far back as he can. In the end, of course, as Gopnik concludes:

"History is not an agreed-on fiction but what gets made in a crowded room; what is said isn’t what's heard, and what is heard isn’t what gets repeated. Civilization is an agreement to keep people from shouting 'Fire!' in a crowded theatre, but the moments we call historical occur when there is a fire in a crowded theatre; and then we all try to remember afterward when we heard it, and if we ever really smelled smoke, and who went first, and what they said. The indeterminacy is built into the emotion of the moment. The past is so often unknowable not because it is befogged now but because it was befogged then, too, back when it was still the present. If we had been there listening, we still might not have been able to determine exactly what Stanton said. All we know for sure is that everyone was weeping, and the room was full."

Gordon Brown's Reading List

The British press is quite interested in the book choices of the incoming prime minister, current chancellor Gordon Brown. The Times reported Brown's vacation list yesterday (he'll be visiting Cape Cod later this summer), calling the P.M.-presumptive "arguably our most profoundly bookish leader since Churchill."

Brown told the paper he'll be reading Al Gore's The Assault on Reason, Alan Greenspan's The Age of Turbulence, and Sebastian Faulks' novel Engleby.

The BBC adds some more Brown book choices, noting that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is near the top of the list. Brown has called J.K. Rowlings' books Britain's "greatest export." Thomas Keneally's new novel The Widow and Her Hero was also mentioned as a planned summer read.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Few More Links

Some things have crossed the transom since yesterday's links post that I didn't want to hold off on passing along:

- Slate asked a few well-known writers what font they use to compose in, and why. I was surprised by many of these choices and reasons. I guess I'm pretty boring, I just use the default font 99% of the time (I am, however, partial to Book Antiqua in certain situations).

- The University of Pittsburgh has been selected to receive the European Union depository collection - the most extensive collection of public European Community/European Union documents and publications in North America, according to a press release. Plans are in place to digitize much of the collection, which was created by the Delegation of the European Commission to the U.S. (based in D.C.). [h/t: Rare Book News].

- Much buzz in the biblioworld today about this AP story out of St. Louis, where a book dealer is burning excess stock "to protest what he sees as society's diminishing respect for the printed word." Tom Wayne, whose book-fire burned for about fifty minutes until the fire department made him put it out because he didn't have a permit, pledged a bonfire a month until his extra stock (some 20,000 books) is depleted. Wayne says he tried to give the extra books away, but libraries and thrift shops didn't want them. Meanwhile, "dozens of customers took advantage of Sunday's book-burning, searching through those waiting to go into the fire for last-minute bargains." GalleyCat comments here, leading with headline "Publicity-Hungry Bookseller Lures AP Reporter to Clearance Sale with Flickering Lights." The whole thing seems a bit melodramatic to me, really, but as a marketing ploy, it just might work. Joyce has a post on this too.

- A new issue of Medical History is now online; the articles include several of interest to bibliofolk, which I look forward to reading once the fulltext links are up.

- The University of Otago has mounted a nice online accompaniment to their exhibit "A Quick Stab at the Eighteenth Century."

- From the NYTimes, news that the Book of Kells is going to undergo a two-year intensive laser examination, to "study the chemicals and composition of the book, its pigments, inks and pages of fine vellum."

On Memorial Day

Senator John McCain has an op/ed in this weekend's Opinion Journal, an annotated list of his top five books about soldiers in battle. In the last entry, on All Quiet on the Western Front, McCain writes that the book is "an indelible depiction of World War I, but it is also a timeless reminder that whether a conflict is necessary or not, whether it is ably commanded or mishandled, whether its outcome is just or unjust, war is a deadly enterprise. We should all shed a tear when war claims its wages."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Links & Reviews

- There's a most depressing story in today's Boston Globe about many small-town Massachusetts libraries being forced to cut hours or close completely due to lack of funding. Sickening, simply sickening.

- Review and musings on Anne Fadiman's Rereadings at Biblio's Bloggins.

- Over at Steamboats Are Ruining Everything, Caleb points out some good ongoing university press book sales. Sometimes there are very good deals during the seasonal sales, so do keep them in mind.

- A rare portrait in miniature of Scots poet Robert Burns - together with a lock of his hair - was sold at auction this week in London. It was expected to fetch as much as £700, but surpassed that mark easily, realizing £2,200 before premium and tax. The miniature has, until now, remained in the possession of the Burns family.

- Charle's Rappleye's
Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution has won the third annual $50,000 George Washington Book Prize, which honors "books that contribute fresh insights to that national conversation about the years the country was founded." Other finalists were Catherine Allgor's A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation and Francois Furstenberg's In the Name of the Father: Washington's Legacy, Slavery and the Making of a Nation.

- From the Telegraph, a review by Marcus Nevitt of John Adamson's The Noble Revolt: the Overthrow of Charles I.

- Our Bibliothecary friend Ed's review of The Children of Húrin ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

- At Fine Books Blog, Scott comments on Andy Rooney's ramblings about book fairs, and also reveals what might be the strangest, most unexpected Amazon recommendation I've ever seen. I've had some weird ones, but never anything quite as disturbing as this. Scott also notes a new plan from Alibris which will allow anyone to list up to 1,000 books for sale for a $20 annual fee plus a $1-per book charge and a commission.

- Travis puts his rebuttal skills to work over at Upward Departure, responding to another in what's becoming a lengthy series of commenters who don't like Travis' coverage of the David Breithaupt thefts.

- NPR ran a segment this week in which they interview Khaled Hosseini, whose new novel A Thousand Splendid Suns has just been released. I haven't listened to this since I want to read the book first, but will pass it along. Incidentally, Hosseini will be in Boston this week - on Tuesday 29 May he'll speak at the BPL at 6, and on Thursday he'll be at First Parish Church in Cambridge, an event arranged by Harvard Bookstore. That's at 6:30 p.m.

- Jill Lepore reviews Nancy Isenberg's new Aaron Burr biography, Fallen Founder, in the NYTimes. Another one I've skipped so far until I can get through the book; I'm taking a short break from biographies at the moment but it's probably first up when I resume them. Another one near the top of the list is Andrew Burstein's The Original Knickerbocker, a biography of Washington Irving. That's reviewed by Dennis Drabelle in the Washington Post.

- On Thingology, Tim recommends the video of Everything is Miscellaneous author David Weinberger's talk at Google. I'm looking forward to a spare little while when I can watch it.

- BibliOdyssey takes us this week through some illustrations from the Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Frogs in Books: Followup

Back on 7 May I noted the auction of artist Robert Lenkiewicz's library, which included several books found to contain dried, flattened amphibians or reptiles. Emily asked in comments "Does the presence of a dried animal increase the value of the book in which it was found?" ... so I emailed the auction house, Lyon & Trumbull, to try and get an answer. Alex Dove, from the books department (and the discoverer of at least one of the dried frogs) responds:

"We only sold one lot with a frog, Lot 539. I don't believe if had any bearing on the final hammer price of the item. The other frogs/toads were given away to interested clients."

Lot 539, according to the catalogue, is a collection of bound tracts from the 1850s pertaining to fairies and folklore in Durham and the northern counties of England. The description notes "Loosely inserted is a dried and flattened frog." It sold for £300, the upper end of the presale estimate.

And yes, there's a picture.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Book Review: "Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony"

NYU history professor Karen Ordahl Kupperman's Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony has just been released in an updated edition by Rowman & Littlefield. Much has changed since the original publication of Roanoke in 1984, and this revision brings the interpretations up to date and cements its position as the history of the "lost colony" and its predecessors for another generation of historians and students.

Kupperman works diligently to provide the important contextual and background information needed to understand the colonization movement in England, its nexus with international relations and privateering, and - perhaps most notably - the state of native society in the Outer Banks region where the several Roanoke colonies were founded. There is much discussion here of Richard Hakluyt, the great promoter (whose biography, by Peter Mancall, I enjoyed so well back in March), and of the great duo Thomas Hariot and John White, whose book Kupperman hails for its insightful and surprisingly accurate ethnographic portrayals of the Roanoke peoples.

Using the latest archaeological and interpretive historiographical information, Kupperman expertly guides her reader through the multiple colonization attempts at Roanoke in the 1580s, culminating of course with the establishment of the famous "lost colony," the fate of whose inhabitants remains unknown to this day. She points out the flaws in the early plans which brought about the quick ends of the first colonies, and maintains that had those lessons been learned better (or, perhaps, had the third attempt with its family-based model succeeded), some of the later errors during the early years at Jamestown might have been avoided.

Concise but detailed, this is an excellent in-depth treatment of the Roanoke colonies. The notes also contain many good suggestions for further reading in various areas.

Atlas Recovered: The Details

As promised, more details about the recovery of the 1823 Tanner Atlas. The AP reports that the atlas, snatched in late April from the Rockland County Historical Society, was recovered when a former employee of the Historical Society attempted to sell the book to a rare book dealer in Philadelphia. The employee's name has not yet been released, but he "is expected to surrender to Clarkstown Police next week. Police are withholding the person's identify until the suspect is in custody." No charges have been filed yet.

New York book dealer Donald Heald, who has a copy of the Tanner atlas available for sale at $85,000 (the Rockland copy has been appraised at $65,000) describes the book as "quite rare - there have only been six sold at auction in the last 30 years." He adds "I'm glad the person was arrested so quickly. I hope it sends a signal that these special books are difficult to sell. We're a small community, we all belong to the same antiquarian book organizations and we usually know when something has been stolen."

Today's Lower Hudson Journal News has some more details in a report by Christopher Lieberman. The Philadelphia shop involved was the Philadelphia Print Shop, where co-owner Christopher Lane received an email from the suspect asking if the shop would be interested in purchasing the book. Lane says "It's a very rare atlas. I realized immediately there was a possibility it had been stolen." Two hours later he saw an email bulletin about the theft and contacted the Historical Society and police.

After weeks of email correspondence, the suspect agreed to bring the book in for Lane to examine, and did so on Thursday. From the Journal News report: "'This person walked into the shop,' Lane said yesterday. 'I told him we need to go to the back room and he should go down and take a left. I went the other way,' Lane said, laughing. 'Inside the room were five police detectives.'"

A successful recovery - now the question is whether the suspect will actually face any kind of punishment for his crime. That very much remains to be seen.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Book Review: "John Donne: The Reformed Soul"

I often find fault with subtitles for the eye-rolling breathlessness they seem to lend to a book's cover (...The Fair That Changed America, The Men Who Made America Rich, ...The Election That Changed the Country, The Drink That Changed the World, Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World, &c.). You get the point. The subtitle to John Stubbs' new biography of poet and cleric John Donne, however, is well chosen and utterly without hyperbole. John Donne: The Reformed Soul is the story of a man whose life, whose very soul, was indeed reformed, reshaped, reborn - in many and various ways, no less - over the course of his earthly existence.

Stubbs says it best, in a closing chapter: "For almost sixty years, Donne ... survived by altering. He had transformed himself from a closeted Catholic, as boy and youth, to a government secretary; from social outcast, after he married, to a pillar of the community, as a priest; from avant-garde poet, in his writing, to a popular preacher" (p. 442). Donne, who saw his brother persecuted to death for clinging to the Catholic faith, became a staunch defender of Anglicanism and dean of St. Paul's. The man who wrote the barely-veiled lines "
License my roving hands, and let them go, / Before, behind, between, above, below" as a youthful poet, who married for love and came close to committing professional suicide by doing so would, in his bereavement, preach a marriage sermon in which he called that sacrament "but a continuall fornication sealed with an oath" (p. 350).

Donne mellowed on that last point within a year or so, to be fair, but his life, as Stubbs vibrantly recounts, was indeed a life of reformation. As his nation and the world changed around him, Donne changed as well.

This is the second exhaustive biography I've read in the last month or so that has brought a historical figure I hadn't known much about to life for me (the other was Hugh Brogan's Alexis de Tocqueville, which I reviewed here). Stubbs does an admirable job of fleshing out Donne's life and works, though it is the life with which he concerns himself primarily. Michael Dirda and Thomas Mallon point out in their reviews that Stubbs may be too quick to glean autobiographical details from Donne's poetry, but these usages seem to be tactfully done and appropriately hedged so as to make them unobjectionable. The research is thorough, and the notes and bibliography are both reasonably comprehensive and useful. Like the Brogan book, this no breezy weekend read, but it too will reward your attention.

Stolen Atlas Recovered

Over on Exlibris, moderator Everett Wilkie writes:

"I am happy to report that the 1823 Tanner atlas reported stolen in a 5/5/07 Exlibris report has been recovered in Pennsylvania by a bookseller who was aware of the item because of the Exlibris report. Further details will probably be forthcoming."

Will post those additional details as they come in, but this is excellent news; it proves the point that getting the word out about these thefts actually does help - at least sometimes - in making their recovery possible.

Steinbeck Auction Flops

It was billed as "the Steinbeck sale of the century." But yesterday's PBA auction of several Steinbeck drafts, letters and an unpublished short story was largely unimpressive. The 64-page manuscript draft of The Sea of Cortez did realize $92,000 (with premiums), but the draft of Sweet Thursday went unpurchased, as did a manuscript copy of an untitled Steinbeck play. An unpublished short story went for $1725. Presale estimates had suggested the collection would sell for more than $500,000.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Darnton to Head Harvard Libraries

Big news from the field of book history: Robert Darnton, currently Professor of European History at Princeton, has accepted the position of Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and director of the Harvard University Library, according to a Harvard press release. He will begin work at Harvard on 1 July.

Harvard president-elect Drew Gilpin Faust said of the selection "We are truly fortunate that Bob Darnton has decided to return to Harvard. Bob is one of the most distinguished historians working today. His deep engagement with the history of the creation and dissemination of information will provide him with unparalleled insight as he grapples with the challenges and opportunities facing the Harvard libraries in the years ahead. I look forward to working with Bob in this area of mutual passion and interest."

Darnton comments "Having, as a historian, studied the world of books in the distant past, I now have an opportunity to do something for the cause of books and book learning in the present. And I want to help find a way in which the new and the old media can reinforce each other, strengthening and transforming the world of learning."

One of the most prominent and excellent writers in the book history field, Darnton is the author of (among other books and many articles) Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France (1968), The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie (1979), The Literary Underground of the Old Regime (1982), The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History (1984), The Kiss of Lamourette: Reflections in Cultural History (1989), Revolution in Print: the Press in France 1775-1800 (1989, Daniel Roche co-editor), Edition et sédition (1991, written in French, not available in English), Berlin Journal, 1989-1990 (1991), The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Prerevolutionary France (1995), and George Washington’s False Teeth: An Unconventional Guide to the Eighteenth Century (2003). The Harvard press release adds "he is currently completing a book on the art and politics of slander in the 18th century."

Excellent news for Harvard, for Boston, and for book history. I want to extend my congratulations to Dr. Darnton on his appointment and wish him all the best of luck with his new position.

Stolen Jewish Library May be in Russia

The Times reports today on the longstanding hunt for a stolen library: the collection of the Rome synagogue, looted by the Nazis in 1943. Some or all of the 7,000 missing volumes are now believed to be in an "abandoned Soviet military archive" or "warehouse or other undocumented location," according to the Italian government. The search for the library, which is privately funded, is being assisted by Ekaterina Genieva, director of the Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow.

"The collection, known as the Library of the Jewish Communities, includes illuminated manuscripts, books and Torahs and Bibles printed in the 16th and 17th century. There are works of philosophy, mathematics and astronomy, as well as religious works. A 1324 copy of a treatise on medicine by the Arabic scholar and philosopher Avicenna was one of the library’s gems." The books were taken from Rome in two groups in October and December of 1943, and are believed to have been swept up by the Soviets as they pushed through Germany at the end of the war.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Damaged Diary: BL Issues "Clarification"

The British Library has issued a revised statement in the case of the Tyldesley Diary (see previous posts here, here and here). This new press release notes:

"On 11 May 2007 the British Library issued a statement on this matter, prepared in good faith and based on information received at that time. The internal inquiry is still progressing and so not all the relevant facts are yet known. However, we are now in a position to correct and clarify aspects of our initial statement. It is clear that the diary had not been deposited for rebinding, but for safekeeping and so that an archive box and a complete photographic copy of the manuscript could be made. The removal of the binding and its replacement by a modern copy was authorised neither by Mr Tyldesley nor the Library. It is now known that the diary was in good condition in 2002 and that the damage occurred sometime thereafter. The staining appears to have occurred when the diary was not in its archive box. In addition to the staining the diary has at some stage unfortunately been damaged by damp, mould and mildew. The exact degree and nature of the damage - and the extent to which it can be remedied - will be assessed as a first stage in the conservation process. Investigations are continuing to determine how precisely how the damage occurred.

The Library had a very positive meeting with Mr Tyldesley on Wednesday 16 May 2007 at which we acknowledged the seriousness of the situation. We assured Mr Tyldesley that an internal inquiry was under way and that the Library would, so far as is possible, make good the damage to his manuscript. In addition, we agreed to meet his expenses associated with this matter. We are pleased that Mr Tyldesley has accepted our offer to conserve the diary and to restore the original binding. We believe that Mr Tyldesley is now reassured that the Library is now doing everything it can to put things right, and that he is now looking forward to a satisfactory resolution of the issue. The Library is grateful to Mr Tyldesley for his forbearance in this matter and apologises for the distress that he has been caused

Mr. Tyldesley notes "Hopefully this matter is on its way to being resolved now. Obviously the diary can never be returned to its original condition, but the BL has promised to do all it can to conserve the manuscript and restore the original binding."

Gotham Book Mart Purchased by Landlord

Scott Brown keeps us updated on the latest Gotham Book Mart news, noting that yesterday's 'liquidation' auction ended when the building's landlord bought the entire contents for $400,000 (since they were owed more than $500,000 in back rent, they'll basically get all the books for the cost of the auction, and can then turn around and sell them in lots or at auction). The NYTimes and NYPost also have coverage of the auction, which is variously described as "like a wake," a "sad spectacle," and "the end of an era."

A few paragraphs from the NYTimes story:

"Minutes before the sale began, the auctioneer, Eliot Millman, announced that some of the most desirable merchandise - including shelves of papers, books and manuscripts of the artist, author and illustrator Edward Gorey - had been withdrawn because their ownership was in dispute. A few groans and shuffles echoed through the room.

The auction started an hour late. The inventory was divided into more than 100 lots. The first offering was for the inventory as a whole. One bid was made. The landlord’s lawyer, John Faust, stood up and placed a bid of $400,000 on all the items being auctioned. Bidding then began on individual lots. But the individual winning bids would not count unless their total surpassed the $400,000.

As the bids came in - $300 here, $25 there - enthusiasm waned, and many prospective buyers left the room, knowing what would happen."

Linnaeus Turns 300

Today is the three hundredth birthday of Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish scientist who developed the Latin binominal nomenclature (genus, species) system still currently in use for naming living organisms. New Scientist reports that in honor of Linnaeus, his "old university, Uppsala, is awarding honorary Linnaeus doctorates to notable scientists such as primatologist Jane Goodall and DNA co-discoverer James Watson. London's Chelsea Flower Show next week will feature a Linnaeus tribute garden, including his signature flower, Linnaea borealis."

Also today, the NYTimes has a short article on Linnaeus, which includes some good background on his life and work. It notes some of Linnaeus' less well-known "firsts" - he came up with the idea of using Celsius thermometers with zero as water's freezing point and 100 as the boiling point (Celsius himself wanted it the other way round, apparently), and Linnaeus was also the first person to grow bananas in Europe successfully. The Times piece also notes Linnaeus' discovery of the fact that plants reproduce sexually: writing as an undergraduate, Linnaeus declared in a paper "Yes, love comes even to the plants."

In Uppsala today, celebrations included a memorial service, speeches, parades, flower displays and a meeting of Linnaeus descendants from around the world. The royal families of Sweden and Japan attended the memorial service at Uppsala Cathedral, according to the Russian newspaper Pravda.

More Linnaeus in the news today: a long and extremely interesting profile in The Independent, and a Wired piece by David Weinberger brilliantly titled "Order Is in the Eye of the Tagger."

Smiley Restitution Payment Upped

On Tuesday, confessed map thief E. Forbes Smiley was ordered to pay $2.3 million in restitution to the institutions he stole from and the dealers he sold to, the AP reports. That's up from the $1.9 million sum tentatively announced at Smiley's sentencing last September. Unfortunately, just because Smiley was ordered to pay doesn't mean he will - that will depend "on his ability to pay after he gets out of prison and the government's ability to sell his assets."

This restitution figure is based on the 96 maps recovered and four that are known to remain missing; it does not include those maps which Smiley is widely believed to have taken but not admitted.

The AP piece briefly summarizes the Smiley saga, noting that the dealer "offered little explanation for his motives, aside from selfishness. Prosecutors have said he acted out of resentment toward the prestigious libraries and to pay for his expensive tastes and mounting debts."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Book Review: "The Savage Garden"

In his second novel, The Savage Garden (2007, Putnam), Mark Mills takes us back to postwar Tuscany, where Cambridge undergraduate Adam Strickland undertakes as his thesis project the analysis of an enigmatic Renaissance memorial garden. He quickly discovers that there's much more to the garden than meets the eye, and also - naturally - becomes involved with the complicated family dramas of his host family as their past actions catch up with them.

The novel is noteworthy for its examination of literary symbology (Ovid, Dante, and the Greek myths abound), and for the plot twists, some of which were unexpected and therefore quite welcome. I found myself wishing that Mills had included more from the Renaissance-era events which led to the creation of the garden in the first place, but perhaps creating the 'unfulfilled urge to know more' was part of Mills' plan from the outset.

This book has been compared to Iain Pears' work - I don't think it rises to Pears' level in Fingerpost or Scipio, but it is comparable to the Argyll mysteries.

Here We Go Again?

From the AP:

"The Smithsonian Institution toned down an exhibition on Arctic climate change, fearing that it would anger Congress and the Bush administration, a former museum administrator said. The official text of the exhibition was rewritten to minimize and add uncertainty about the relationship between global warming and people, said the former official, Robert Sullivan, who was associate director in charge of exhibitions at the National Museum of Natural History. Officials omitted scientists’ interpretations of some research and let visitors draw their own conclusions from the data, Mr. Sullivan said. In addition, graphs were altered 'to show that global warming could go either way,' he said. Museum officials denied that political concerns had influenced the exhibition, saying the changes were made to increase objectivity."

More complete version here. Sullivan is quoted as saying of Smithsonian administrators "The obsession with getting the next allocation and appropriation was so intense that anything that might upset the Congress or the White House was being looked at very carefully."

This reminds me of the Smithsonian's Enola Gay controversy back in the mid-90s, which is captured well here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

News from ACRL

A few tidbits from the latest issue of College & Research Libraries News:

- The University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science and the Rare Book & Manuscript Library of Illinois have combined to create the Midwest Book & Manuscript Studies (MBMS) program. "Courses include the history of the book, special collections librarianship, archival studies, and printing history." Graduates will receive a certificate of special collections librarianship; MBMS will also comprise the Soybean Press, and several lecture series.

- Florida Atlantic University has opened the Arthur and Mata Jaffe Center for Book Arts; the 4,800-square-foot center will house "prominent collections of books handmade by artists." The Center "will offer exhibitions, lectures, workshops, films, performances, and classes in letterpress printing, bookbinding, handmade paper making, and box making."

- The Kelley College of Business at Hardin Simmons University has been given a 17th-18th century Torah scroll produced at a South Arabian Jewish scriptorium (probably in Yemen). The scroll, on vellum, is notable for its height, 27 inches.

- The archives of the JC Penney company have been acquired by the DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University. The collection includes more than 1,500 linear feet of business records, 20,000 photographs, and the personal papers of James Cash Penney and his third wife, Caroline.

Major Bookstore Liquidation in NYC

Scott Brown's got the inside track on the very sad end of a venerable New York City institution, the Gotham Book Mart. There's some good background here, as Scott notes, on the bookstore and its financial troubles over the last several years. Tomorrow, the New York City marshal and a "liquidating auctioneer" will dispose of the stock.

More updates from Scott here and here.

Links & Reviews

- At Adventures in Ethics and Science, Janet Stemwedel replies to Ann Althouse's comments that novels shouldn't be read in school. She posits eleven good defenses of literature in the classroom, and commenters have added quite a few more. Althouse's comment that students should be taught "about history, science, law, logic - something academic and substantive - and leave the fictional material for after hours" is positively mind-boggling ... as Janet says, "It's not all John Grisham out there." Indeed.

- From Scott at Fine Books Blog, more on the theme of "books in the background" - in this case, books manufactured specifically for movie sets, and thoughts on the Nicholson Baker essay "Books as Furniture." Scott also notes the upcoming sale of Rockford College's Bertha A. Holbrook Collection of A-B-C Books. More on the Rockford sales here.

- Frank Cottrell Boyce reviews Tolkien's The Children of Húrin for the Independent. Best line: "It's a prequel [i.e. to LOTR] in the sense that a book about neolithic traders of the Dorset coast is a prequel to Persuasion." My review here.

- David Crystal's new book By Hook or by Crook: A Journey in Search of English is reviewed by Nick Groom, also in the Independent. A mixed bag: "At his best, Crystal can be a compelling guide, but he can also be too self-conscious, oddly faux naïve, and overly fond of truncated sentences and paragraphs."

- Over at Steamboats are Ruining Everything, Caleb muses on book design, singling out Henry Glassie's Pattern in the Material Folk Culture of the Eastern United States for special praise.

- From the Washington Post Book World section: Rebecca Stott's novel Ghostwalk is reviewed by Ron Charles, and Daniel Stashower reviews Nigel Cliff's The Shakespeare Riots, about an 1849 clash between fans of American Edwin Forrest and English actor William Charles Macready.

- The New York Times profiles miniature books, noting the Grolier Club exhibit which complements our show here in Boston.

- Our resident Bookplate Junkie has some puzzles for us: you could help solve a mystery.

- From Paul Collins, eBay auctions for a counterfeit detection book from 1870, and another noteworthy title: Premature Burial and How It May be Prevented: With Special Reference to Trance, Catalepsy, and Other Forms of Suspended Animation (1905).

Endowment for USC's Hemingway Collection

University of South Carolina alumnus Edward S. Hallman has provided a $3 million endowment for his alma mater's collection of Ernest Hemingway materials, the Associated Press reports. Dean of libraries Paul Willis said that with the expected $150,000 per year income from the endowment, "we'll be able to develop a strategic plan for this collection."

"The collection includes Hemingway's first editions, advance copies, salesmen's dummies, British editions, translations, typescripts, galley proof and periodical appearances. Many of the books contain personal inscriptions, and the typescripts show revisions that are of interest to scholars."

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Presidential Candidates' Reading Choices

The AP recently asked all eighteen currently declared presidential candidates "What is the last work of fiction you've read?" Chaos, bad jokes, and complete misunderstandings of the term 'fiction' ensued:

- Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE): The Runaway Jury by John Grisham.
- Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS): The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson. Note: not generally considered fiction; more a religious/spiritual self-help guide.
- Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY): Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Note: also not fiction.
- Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT): The Broker by John Grisham.
- Fmr. Sen. John Edwards (D-NC): Exile by Richard North Patterson.
- Fmr. Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R-NY): The Beach House by James Patterson and Peter de Jonge.
- Fmr. Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR): "My oldest son's screenplay."
- Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA): "The Democrats' proposal to balance the budget."
- Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH): Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman.*
- Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.
- Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL): Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
- Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM): "The administration's energy plan."
- Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA): Term Limits by Vince Flynn.
- Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO): An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore. Hilaaaarious [rolls eyes].

Former senator Mike Gravel (D-AK), former governor Tommy Thompson (R-WI), former governor Jim Gilmore (R-VA), and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) did not answer.

* The AP piece calls Kucinich "Perhaps the most avid reader in the presidential field," saying he "consumes about a book a week."

Links to Some Ruxin Talks

Some more - most welcome - fallout from the Paul Ruxin talk on Johnson/Boswell association copies (original post here). Jerry Morris sent me an email with some links to a few earlier Ruxin talks, and Mr. Ruxin has given permission for me to add the links here.

- "Soft-Hearted Sam," a talk delivered at the Florida Bibliophile Society on 20 March 2005.

- "Other People's Books," presented to the Aldus Society in May 2004.

- "Lord Auchinleck's Fingal," also presented to the Aldus Society in May 2004.

All very much worth reading; enjoy!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Book Review: "The Shadow Club"

Robert Casati's The Shadow Club: The Greatest Mystery in the Universe - Shadows - and the Thinkers Who Unlocked its Secrets (Little, Brown, 2004) is one of the stranger books I've read so far this year. It is neither a historiographical examination of shadows, nor strictly a scientific survey, nor yet a look at shadows in psychology, myth, religion, &c. It's some of each of those, but in no discernible systematic fashion. I found myself continually trying to figure out how Casati had gotten from one point to the next, before concluding that there must not be much rhyme or reason to the meanderings at all.

Wit and erudition this book has in abundance; some sections (particularly those pertaining to the role of shadows in early astronomy and early childhood cognition) are very interesting. Other parts just didn't do it for me. So, a mixed bag.

Catablogging Samuel Johnson

After my post on the Johnson/Boswell talk this week, I received an email from John Overholt, who's been cataloguing the printed books portion of the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Samuel Johnson at Harvard. For about the last two years, as he's catalogued, John has blogged about his findings at Hyde Collection Catablog, which I am very ashamed to say I didn't know anything about until John brought it to my attention. It's a wonderfully fun and varied look at Johnson and his contemporaries through books, and I've really been enjoying reading through the archived posts.

Additionally I should note that with the completion of the cataloguing process, John's been hired as the assistant curator of the collection, for which he deserves many congratulations. A large exhibition of the Hyde materials is planned for 2009, so we'll all have to stay tuned for that.

And Things Get Murkier ...

After writing the previous post, I found I had an email from Peter J. Tyldesley, the owner of the diary damaged at the British Library. He's launched a website about the case, at which he claims the book was never in fact at the BL to be rebound, but was deposited there for safekeeping. There's much more there at the website which I'm still reading through myself, but I did want to get it out as soon as I could.

Curious and curiouser, indeed.

Damaged Diary: The BL's Side

On Tuesday I wrote briefly about a diary which had been damaged while under the care of the British Library. The BL's full statement on the incident follows:

"This is an isolated incident dating back to a service we offered in the 1990s. We are of course doing our best to find out what happened to the diary since it was left in the Library in 1994.

The Library used to operate a binding service specifically for private clients. In 2000 this service was stopped but we regret that a diary belonging to Mr Tyldesley, which was assigned to this service in 1994, was not returned at that time.

In the intervening period since 1994, it suffered accidental damage causing staining to the pages and the front cover was removed. The book had been kept in safe storage in a protective box and it was not until the box was opened that the stains were discovered.

As soon as this unfortunate incident came to light earlier this month we took steps to rectify the situation. We can conserve the book to remove the stains and rebind the front cover, which we have offered to do immediately. We have also apologised to Peter Tyldesley for any distress caused.

The Library takes the care of its collections extremely seriously and aspires to the highest standards of conservation.

(signed) Helen Shenton, Head of Collection Care, British Library."

There are some very important things to note here. First, the original Times story does not mention that the book was at the BL for rebinding (in fact it says that the owner "transferred it to the library in 1994 because he was nervous of looking after it"). Second, this explains the removed front cover; obviously this step would be taken if the book was to be rebound. That leaves the spilled liquid as the accidental damage, which can be chalked up to an unfortunate accident. Third, the BL's pledge to conserve the document by removing the stains and completing the rebind was omitted entirely from the Times article.

As I noted on Tuesday, there was something weird about the way the Times portrayed this incident. Clearly there was rather more to the story than they shared. Yes, there still seem to have been some missteps along the way, but they seem on the whole much less sinister than the Times would have had us believe.

[h/t to Christopher Edwards, Ex-Libris, for the BL's full statement]

[Update: See here. There's apparently still more to this story ...]

[Additional update: Mr. Tyldesly has responded further in a comment to this post.]

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Handy New Tool at viaLibri

Jim Hinck at viaLibri has unveiled a really nifty new feature: Library Collection Search. Enter in author, title, keyword or a combination of those and then select from a list of ten national/international union catalogs or twelve major library OPACs. I just took this feature for a test drive, and found it worked excellently.

Searchable union catalogs: WorldCat, COPAC, KVK, CCPB, ICCU, ESTC, VD17, ISTC, STCN, artlibraries.

Searchable OPACs: LC, BL, Hollis, Yale, Huntington, Folger, Morgan, AAS, Getty, CCA, Chicago Art Institute, Kew. Jim notes that he's taking suggestions for additions.

I like it! Simple, fast, and useful - doesn't get better than that.

Links & Reviews

- Over at Upward Departure, Travis has some discussion of a 1977 theft - unsuccessfully prosecuted - from the Ohio Historical Society.

- LibraryThing has rolled out the first full live iteration of LibraryThing for Libraries, at the Danbury Library in CT. This integrates LT user data (other editions, similar books, and tags) into the library's OPAC. I haven't played around with it too much yet, and there are certainly still some kinks to work out (it only recognizes books with ISBNs so far, for example) but I think it's got excellent potential.

- Forrest at FoggyGates points us to an op/ed column in today's NYTimes by Judith Pascoe on the death of Dr. John K. Lattimer, a urologist as well as a collector and documenter of the macabre. I know Lattimer as the author of the very interesting book Lincoln and Kennedy: Medical and Ballistic Comparisons of Their Assassinations (it also contains much information on the attempted murder of William Seward, which is why I originally had call to use it). Pascoe's essay, however, concerns Lattimer's ownership of a certain, eh, urethral portion of Napoleon's anatomy.

What is purported to be the emperor's penis was - apparently surreptitiously - removed by the priest who administered last rites to the dying exile; before Lattimer, it was owned by Philadelphia bookseller A.S.W. Rosenbach, who had it displayed at the Museum of French Art in New York. Pascoe's argument runs that the organ "should be allowed to go home and rejoin the rest of his captivating body." How Lattimer's estate will dispose of the collection (which also includes, as Pascoe notes, Lincoln's bloodied shirt collar) is unclear at this time.

- As fade theory notes, Colophon Book Shop (Exeter, NH) is having a 50% off sale on a wide variety of books on books, now through 15 June. I'll warn you though, it's a dangerous thing to start going through their lists ... believe me, I've done it. In fact Christine's email to me when I placed my order read in part "How'd you do that that fast? We're stunned and impressed." What can I say, I'm a sucker for sales - especially good ones.

- I usually wait for the Perez-Reverte mysteries to appear in paperback so I haven't gotten his newest Captain Alatriste adventure, The Sun Over Breda. Kai Maristed has a review in the LATimes.

- Richard Cox comments on Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters by Elizabeth Brown Pryor (just out from Viking). He writes: "Obviously, I read the book because of the emphasis on Lee’s letters, but I also found Pryor making an effort to provide a balanced and critical review of Lee’s life and activities that moves us past the stereotypes and impressions of the resident of Arlington and the Confederacy’s military leader. Pryor minces no words in portraying Lee’s attitudes about slavery, for example, or about his doubts and struggles about his personal religious views."

- Back on 2 May I wrote about a new book which purports to identify Jack the Ripper. Matthew Sturgis reviews The Fox and the Flies: The World of Joseph Silver, Racketeer and Psychopath in The Telegraph. Of author Charles van Onselen's work, Sturgis concludes "It is a triumph of research and persistence. And, indeed, the most entertaining part of the book is the epilogue detailing how the archival detective-work unfolded." But, Sturgis says, van Onselen's contention that Silver was Jack the Ripper isn't quite sufficiently justified by the available evidence: "quite why Silver abandoned his serial-killing spree to devote himself to a life of petty larceny and organised prostitution remains rather hazy. It is all pretty tenuous stuff."

- In The Guardian, David McKie confesses to an obsession with trying to read the titles of books in the backgrounds of newspaper photographs: "Whenever I see such pictures I have an uncontrollable urge to seize the nearest magnifying glass and try to decipher the titles."

- From the same paper, a short profile of the Darwin Correspondence Project, which now contains the full text of more than 5,000 letters to or from Darwin up to 1865 (more than 9,000 more will be added in future).

- At Fine Books Blog, Scott notes the upcoming appearance at auction of a first edition of H.A. Rey's Curious George. The book, which is expected to fetch more than $10,000, will be sold 12 July at PBA Galleries; it's believed to be the first such copy on the market in more than a decade.

- Via Rare Book News, word that Princeton has acquired the papers of British literary critic Sir Frank Kermode; the National Library of Scotland has begun a $3.6 million project to digitize its holdings, which comprise more than 1 million books from the rare book collection alone; and the New Hampshire Institute of Art has received more than 2,000 rare early photography books from the collection of John Teti.

Thieving Librarian's Sentence Reduced

Well, I can't say I didn't see this one coming. Karen Dale Churton, the thieving librarian from New Zealand who appealed her 11-month jail sentence last week, won over the judge. Justice Alan Mackenzie agreed yesterday to reduce Churton's jail time to just four months (of which she'll probably serve less than half), after finding that the trial judge set too high a bar for Churton's sentence. Churton's "first offender" status also worked in her favor, said MacKenzie.

Once again, a person who has abused the trust placed in them to safeguard materials entrusted to their care gets a slap on the wrist.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Events Upcoming

There are a few neat things going on in the book world over the next few days that I thought I'd better pass along:

- On Thursday, 17 May, the Boston Athenaeum sponsors "Libraries and the Organization of Knowledge: Searching the Past, Seeking the Future" as part of its bicentennial lecture series. Terry Belanger, founder and director of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, will speak, along with former ALA president Michael Gorman. The talk will be at 6 p.m. in the Rabb Lecture Hall at the Boston Public Library.

- On Tuesday, 22 May, the American Printing History Association is screening "Letterpress Unbound," a film about letterpress masters printers Ruth Lingen and Peter Kruty. Producers Champe Smith and Sally Gardner will be at the screening, as will the featured printers. This event will begin at 6 p.m. at the Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street in NYC.

Feel free to add anything I've missed!

Johnson/Boswell Association Copies Talk at BPL

Finally being freed from the yoke of classes I had the chance last night to get down to the BPL for "Guilt by Association: The Passions of a Private Book Collector," a talk by Paul Ruxin as part of the Library's Lowell Lecture series. Mr. Ruxin, an attorney by vocation who also serves as a trustee at the Folger Shakespeare Library and is involved with the publication of The Private Papers of James Boswell at Yale, started collecting early and fine editions of the writings of Johnson and Boswell, but has since branched out to collect 'association copies' somehow related to the pair or their writings.

The discussion was riveting - Ruxin had brought along some of the most interesting books from his collection, including a copy of one of JB's books which he'd inscribed to his friend and mentor George Keith, and a bound edition of MacPherson's Ossian poems containing an essay by Boswell's father on the authenticity of those works. The coup de grace was Sir Joshua Reynolds' copy of Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, the discovery of which solved a longstanding bibliographic mystery. Ruxin commented on how the association copies make him feel closer to those who once owned them, read them, and experienced them.

Incidentally, today is being hailed as "Johnson/Boswell Day", for it was on this day in 1763 that Dr. Johnson first made the acquaintance of the young James Boswell - and on this day in 1791 when Boswell's Life of Johnson was first published. Bruce Tober also has just mounted a fascinating essay on Robert Dodsley, one of the publishers who encouraged Johnson to begin work on his great Dictionary of the English Language.

So, happy Johnson/Boswell Day to all, in honor of which I'll close with one of the quotes from Johnson's great letter to MacPherson in their correspondence over the Ossian poems: "Stubborn audacity is the last refuge of guilt."

Rare Kashmiri Manuscripts Lost to Violence

Daily News & Analysis (India) has a short article today on the widespread destruction of rare books, manuscripts and other cultural artifacts in the disputed Kashmir region. Indian authorities say they have no idea exactly how many manuscripts have been destroyed - mostly in fires set by militants at institutions such as Islamia College and the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Book Review: "Spellbound"

Histories of writing/spelling/dictionaries &c. are a particular interest of mine, so I was delighted to see James Essinger's Spellbound: The Surprising Origins and Astonishing Secrets of English Spelling (Delta, 2007) come across the transom. Essinger's enthusiasm for spelling and its idiosyncracies is abundantly evident from the get-go, and this book is a reasonably interesting general introduction to the history of English and some of the language's oddities. However, Essinger's desire to target this book at a 'general audience' got in its way, I think - his enthusiasm has a tendency to run toward the goofy (it's very hard to take seriously someone who uses a quote from "Gladiator" as an epigram, and who repeatedly refers to the "magic" of spelling as if it were somehow conjured up by some benevolent - or malevolent, depending on your inclinations - wizard somewhere).

Essinger's account of the development of English as a language - both spoken and written - is basic but fairly informative. He throws in some "fun facts" about why certain words are spelled as they are, as well as some trivia about a few of the best-known English dictionaries. I was struck, though, but how many of his 'conclusions' were preceded by "my guess is" or one of its equivalents ... again, not exactly the sort of thing to inspire confidence.

Readable and breezy this book may be - but it's difficult to take it with more than a grain of salt. References would have helped, as would a more complete bibliography. Sometimes more than an author's affinity for a subject is required to make a good book.

Diary Damaged at BL

The Times (London) reported yesterday on an extremely unfortunate and disconcerting accident at the British Library: an eighteenth-century diary on deposit with the BL was severely damaged when someone (somehow) spilled oil on it and cut off the front cover. The diary's owner, Peter J. Tyldesley, told the paper that he "wanted to weep" when he saw the manuscript's condition. "There are sections which are completely destroyed, sections where the entire text block has disappeared into a smeary mess," he told the Times. "In some ways, it’s so bad it’s difficult to imagine it was ever a diary. It’s been a truly shocking experience."

Tyldesely's ancestor Thomas Tyldesley (1657-1715) was the diary-keeper; the book details preparations for the Jacobite Rising in 1715.

The library's reaction to the damage is really mind-boggling: collections manager Helen Shenton told the paper that Tyldesley's diary "suffered accidental damage," and called it an "isolated incident." "The book had been kept in safe storage in a protective box and it was not until the book was opened that the stains were discovered. We apologise for any distress caused to Peter Tyldesley."

Something's fishy about this. If the book was in the box, how'd the oil get in there? And who cut the cover off?

Bizarre, any way you slice it.

[h/t Shelf:Life]

Monday, May 14, 2007

Book Review: "The Little Book of Plagiarism"

Judge Richard Posner (of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals) has been described by Gary Rosen as a "one-man think tank" for his extensive body of writing on topics ranging from aging to the 2000 election to intelligence reform (and far, far beyond). His newest book, The Little Book of Plagiarism (Pantheon, 2007) is a short (just 109 pages) but witty and to-the-point discussion of various aspects of plagiarism as it's viewed today.

Posner spends a significant amount of time trying to develop an adequate definition of the term plagiarism, which proves tricky once he explores some of the odd little nooks and crannies of the concept. He finally settles on "nonconsensual fraudulent copying" (p. 33) though even this has certain deficiencies. The book then discusses typical punishments (best left to "informal, private sanctions, he concludes) and the fact that "the stigma of plagiarism never seems to fade completely, not because it is an especially heinous offense, but because it is embarrassingly second-rate; its practitioners are pathetic, almost ridiculous" (p. 37).

The middle portion of Posner's essay examines the confluences and divergences between plagiarism and copyright infringement (one is not necessarily the other), the issue of 'self-plagiarism' (hilariously exemplified by the fact that Laurence Sterne's love letters to his mistress contained lines taken verbatim from letters he'd written previously to his wife), and the history of plagiarism as an idea.

Finally, Posner comments on the relative ease with which modern plagiarism can be detected (including through the use of programs like Turnitin), and the fact that the potential for success should be a deterrent to plagiarism since success and the corresponding scrutiny makes discovery so much more likely (pg. 80). He takes aim at the double standard he sees between the treatment of students and professors accused of plagiarism, and bluntly states "the Left, which dominates intellectual circles in the United States, is soft on plagiarism" (p. 94).

The Little Book of Plagiarism is notable for its trenchant commentary, well-reasoned arguments, and useful examples.

Mariner's Museum Archivist Sued for Thefts

The Mariner's Museum in Newport News, VA has filed a civil suit for $1.35 million against a former archivist, Lester Weber, and his wife Lori Childs. The five-count lawsuit alleges that Weber and Childs conspired to "remove an estimated $160,000 worth of property from The Mariners' Museum and then sell the goods" on eBay, according to the Daily Press.

"The couple is also accused of permanently altering historical documents belonging to the museum so that they could claim control of the property."

"The museum is seeking $250,000 in compensatory damages, $750,000 in three-fold damages and $350,000 in punitive damages." (Well, I guess if criminal charges won't result in any punishment, going after the checkbook might be a useful strategy). Under Virginia law, the paper notes, the museum "can sue Weber and Childs for three times the amount of damages it claims to have suffered by the couple's alleged conspiracy. It also can seek reimbursement of legal fees."

Weber worked at the Mariner's Museum from 2000 through last September, when he was "dismissed." Museum officials did not tell the paper what materials Weber reportedly stole or altered, but seemed to indicate that they may have been uncatalogued items.

The Newport News police department is also investigating the thefts, the Daily Press report notes. Federal authorities may also be involved.

WVEC's Mary Nelson also reported on the Weber case Friday; she spoke with both Weber and his wife, who denied the accusations leveled by the museum. Weber told Nelson "I would never have stolen, never would steal from an employer. I really enjoyed working at the place. I don't understand where this is coming from." Childs told Nelson she was included in the suit "Because I am the one who had the ebay account. It's my whole little pocket money."

Nelson adds: "
We checked out eBay finding bluprints [sic] of naval ships ... not originals, but duplicates from originals. And because the lawsuit claims Weber and Childs 'permanently altered' archival items, we asked museum officials if they believe Weber and Childs duplicated museum documents and sold those on eBay, but we received no clear answer."

If the latter scenario is what this turns out to be, it could make this case a very notable one to watch. I'll keep my eye on it.

[h/t Everett Wilkie, Ex-Libris]

Links & Reviews

- From Book Trout, Rachel recommends Sense and Nonsensibility: Lampoons of Learning and Literature, by Lawrence Douglas and Alexander George. Sounds amusing, I'll have to keep my eye out for this one.

- Joyce has some useful reference links, mostly for identifying first editions.

- Bookride offers up comments on a few of the famous billionaire book collectors, including James Goldsmith and Maundy Gregory.

- The Sunday Telegraph reports on why the Harry Potter release this summer probably won't be particularly good news for bookstores. [h/t GalleyCat]

- Another review of the new John Donne bio, this one by Thomas Mallon in the NYTimes. Might have to move this one up in the pile, or by the time I read it it'll have been reviewed to death.

- Richard J. Cox explores the new book Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe's America by Andrew Ferguson (forthcoming, Atlantic Monthly Press). Cox compares the book to Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic, but notes that Ferguson's "humor is subtler and may be sensed primarily by how the individual reader views Lincoln."

- Paul Collins has been in touch with descendants of Arthur Ostrander, who was the assistant of George Poe (he of the amazing respirator machine). Collins says the Ostrander family still has Poe's respirator machine, and that a journal article is in the works. Also from Paul, electric spiders.

- Amazon has launched a podcast network, GalleyCat reports.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Meet Cornelius

If you're reading this post directly on the blog site, you'll see a new addition to the top of the sidebar; if you're reading through Google Reader or another feed aggregator you might want to click through just so the rest of this post makes some semblance of sense.

Cornelius (aka "An Owl with Books") was created c. 1625 by members of the Bloemaert family, a well-established Dutch artist clan. The engraving is inscribed "H. Bloemaert pinx: C. Bloemaert sculp: et excud:", meaning that it is taken from a painting (pinx.) done by Hendrick Bloemaert (c. 1601-1672) and was engraved (sculp.) by Hendrick's younger brother Cornelius (c. 1603-1692).

The caption reads, in Dutch, "Wat baet keers off bril, als den Wl niet sienen wil" ("What good could a candle or spectacles do, if the owl doesn't want to see"). The open book to the owl's right is the Bible; the visible text is "Ghij en sult niet dootslaen, Ghij en sult niet stelen" ("Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal"), and the sheet protruding from the closed book which the owl clutches reads "T' is omt profyt" ("It is about profit").*

As noted in the exhaustive monograph Abraham Bloemaert and his Sons: Paintings and Prints by Marcel Roethlisberger and Marten Jan Bok (Davaco, 1993), pg. 444, the proverb in the caption is traditional: "Preferring night to day, the owl cannot see in daylight, hence its popular reputation for stupidity and blindness towards faith. ... Here, it ignores the lesson of the open Bible and blindly clings to the closed book which is about greed. Spectacles stand for foolishness." The owl here is symbolic of stupidity, the precise reverse of its general use as a symbol of wisdom in our own time.

I like the image, although I must admit that once I understood the caption I gained a totally different perspective on the engraving than I had initially. I briefly considered lopping off the proverb, but decided it was better left on as an important statement about how symbols evolve and change their meanings over time.

*Translations also from Roethlisberger and Bok, p. 444.

Book Review: "Stephen Decatur"

In Stephen Decatur: American Naval Hero, 1779-1820, (UMass Press, 2007), Robert Allison (history professor at Suffolk University in Boston) provides an excellent updated biography of one of America's first great naval champions. Decatur, who holds the distinctions of being the youngest man ever to serve as captain in the Navy and the last captain killed in a duel, managed to have an almost unbelievably successful naval career back when the American navy barely existed at all.

From the Barbary Wars (during which Decatur led a swashbuckling raid on Tripoli harbor to destroy the captured American ship Philadelphia) to the War of 1812 (when he defeated the British frigate Macedonian and hauled it back to the U.S. as his prize) and the Algerian wars in the aftermath of the Treaty of Ghent, Decatur sailed his way into the great esteem of his fellow citizens. Even when defeated in the closing days of the War of 1812, he was honored by his victorious opponent, who refused to take "the sword of an officer, who had defended his ship so nobly."

Allison's biography draws on vast contemporary sources (well noted, although a full bibliography would have been a good addition) to provide additional and very useful context to Decatur's life and the times in which he and the country lived and labored. His battle accounts are excellent, and he's captured well the naval culture as it began to form during the period. The opening and closing vignettes of the duel which killed Decatur are also marvelous; it surprised me that even more than fifteen years after Hamilton's death at Weehawken duels were still so common.

A balanced, well-written and attention-holding treatment of Decatur and the early republic. Highly recommended.

Book Review: "Scholarium"

Translated from German, Claudia Gross' Scholarium (Toby Press, 2004) is a dark mystery set in the turbulent times of early fifteenth-century Cologne. As scholars debate complex philosophical matters, one of their own is found brutally murdered, and the killer - who seems also to hail from the educated community - has left a trail of troubling clues behind.

This book reminded me slightly of The Name of the Rose, and even in a good way. Deeply philosophical and suspenseful, it's an interesting examination of medieval education and scholarship - and the difficult conclusions that were being reached about how the world works. Gross also incorporates the important question of the role of women in academia during the period, as well as some bizarre heretical practices and an alchemical explosion or two.

Aside from a few inconsistencies and what may have been rough patches in the translation here and there, this book was a fascinating read.

Scurvy Treatise at Christies

The Daily Record reports that a first edition of Scottish physician James Lind's A Treatise on the Scurvy (Edinburgh: Sands, Murray and Cochran for A. Kincaid and A. Donaldson, 1753) will sell at Christie's on London on 6 June as Lot 155 of a sale of Valuable Printed Books and Manuscripts.

Lind's book was the first to recommended citrus fruits/juices and green vegetables be added to sailors' diets to combat scurvy. Lind served as a Royal Navy surgeon for ten years before attaining the post of physician in charge at Haslar Royal Naval Hospital. This copy of his book, with the early Edinburgh imprint, was presented to John Clevland, secretary to the Admiralty in 1753, according to Christie's lot description.

The presale estimate: £10,000-15,000.

Other interesting lots from this sale:

- Autograph manuscript fair copy of T.F. Dibdin's book An Introduction to the Knowledge of Rare and Valuable Editions of the Greek and Roman Classics (1802), his first bibliographic work. £3,000-4,000. Lot 65.

- Four Samuel Johnson letters to his stepdaughter, Lucy Porter; 1761-1780. £5,000-8,000 each. Lots 89-92.

- First edition, first issue of Isaac Newton's Opticks (London: 1704). £15,000-25,000. Lot 160.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Thieving Librarian Appeals Sentence

Former Massey University librarian and confessed book thief Karen Dale Churton appealed her 11-month prison sentence yesterday; her lawyer called the term "manifestly excessive" and asked that it be reduced or replaced with community service. He said that Churton is "genuinely remorseful," but "She is still not entirely able to understand what led her to the temptation to steal these books."

Maybe eleven months in prison will help her figure that out.

The judge who heard the appeal, Alan Mackenzie, will announce his decision next week.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Links & Reviews

Much news this morning:

- Chicago's Newberry Library and Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies have purchased a copy of Postilla Litteralis super totam Bibliam, a Bible commentary by Nicolaus de Lyra printed in the 15th century, according to Chicago Public Radio. This copy is the third known in the U.S.

-The Herald reports that three key Gaelic documents may go on tour through the Highlands and Scottish islands. The Fernaig Manuscript (a collection of early Gaelic verse dating from the late seventeenth century), the Islay Charter of 1408 ("
the only Gaelic language land charter in existence and the earliest complete example of the public use of Gaelic in the 15th century") and the 1609 Statutes of Iona (signed by the clan chiefs and designed to "civilize" the Highlands) have never been displayed together. If the current plan goes forward, the three may be exhibited at Iona, Islay, Inverness, Skye, Uist and Stornoway. [h/t Shelf:Life]

- fade theory's got the video of Salman Rushdie on "The Colbert Report" discussing literary criticism and book review sections.

- In the Christian Science Monitor, Gregory Lamb reviews a few of the recent Jamestown books, focusing on Benjamin Woolley's Savage Kingdom.

- Joyce's police tape has reappeared: a copy of John Banim's The Ghost-Hunter and His Family (London: 1852) has gone missing from Motte & Bailey Booksellers in Ann Arbor. Full description here.

- Also from Bibliophile Bullpen, books as commodes.

- BibliOdyssey's most recent compilation of images comes from Remarkable Persons, a collection of sensational illustrations and text by James Caulfield (1819-20).

- Reading Copy notes that AbeBooks has opened a Religion and Spirituality room.

- Over at the LATimes, Janice Nimura reviews Rebecca Stott's Ghostwalk ... hmm, might have to add this one to the list.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Book Review: "Empire of Blue Water"

Journalist Stephan Talty's Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan's Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe that Ended the Outlaws' Bloody Reign (2007, Crown), aside from having a fairly self-explanatory subtitle, is one among many books on pirates being published this spring to take full advantage of the upcoming release of the third "Pirates of the Caribbean" film (I'm trying to decide if I want to read all of them that I've got in sequence or spread them out over the next couple months).

Captain Henry Morgan - the man himself - was a Welshman transplanted to Jamaica who found himself through a combination of hard work and pure unadultered good luck one of the most successful pirates the world has ever known. The leader of four profitable raids on Spanish cities in central and South America, Morgan became a useful proxy in the wars between European powers for control of the Caribbean, as well as a feared leader of men. Hauled under arrest to England after peace is made with Spain, Morgan works his way into the good graces of Charles II and ends up returning to Jamaica as a knight with a commission as the lieutenant governor, charged - ironically - with stamping out Caribbean piracy. And then of course he drinks himself to death.

Morgan's story is, for the most part, well told by Talty. He has captured the man and the times nicely, and his descriptions of the glory days of Port Royal (and of its destruction by a massive earthquake soon after Morgan's death) are vivid.

There are some important style points, however, on which I must give Talty lower marks. I did not think necessary his introduction of a "prototypical pirate" (named Roderick) whose trajectory we follow along with Morgan's through the battles and their aftermath. Talty ought to have relied on archival sources and real people where possible. Also, some of the comparisons Talty drew seemed both awkward and silly: for example, his likening the piratical custom of making improvements to captured ships to better suit their own purposes to "grease monkeys cackling as they dropped a supercharged V-12 into their father's vintage Olds" (p. 53) left me shaking my head.

More fundamentally, Talty's treatment of the pirates' system of 'profit-sharing' was overly simplistic. "Pirates were democrats," he declares at one point (p. 52). While it's true that there were communitarian and quasi-democratic elements at play in pirate culture, it's significantly more complicated than Talty's bold generalizations indicate. The hierarchy of pirate command structures were often in danger of collapse at any moment, it's true, but this does not mean democracy; a better descriptor might be 'barely controlled anarchy.' And egalitarian socialism certainly wasn't the rule - as Talty's own discussion of incentive-based-pay (p. 203) makes clear, taking risk in battle was rewarded with extra loot; it doesn't get much more capitalist than that.

The narrative is accompanied by useful maps, a semi-comprehensive bibliography, and notes (unindicated in the text) which leave something to be desired.

It's hard to separate myth from reality when it comes to telling pirate tales. In Empire of Blue Water, Stephan Talty's done an admirable - if not a perfect - job. Recommended.