Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Book Review: "The Fourth Bear"

At a reading recently, I heard Jasper Fforde say The Fourth Bear was his favorite book to write. It's easy to see why. One of the most interactive and complicated of his novels, this one seems full of Fforde's heart and soul. The second installment in Fforde's "Nursery Crime" series, featuring the inimitable and oft-suspended DCI Jack Spratt and his deputy Mary Mary, The Fourth Bear takes up the investigation of the mysterious disappearance of investigative reporter Henrietta Hatchett (that is, Goldilocks). Naturally, Goldilocks was on the trail of an explosive story (involving sunbeams and cucumbers, but you'll have to read to find out how).

Good satire, bad puns, and Fforde's stupendously glib wit are here in spades; recommended.

Bulwer-Lytton Award Winners Named

The 2007 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest winners have been announced. The award "honors the memory (if not the reputation) of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873). The goal of the contest is childishly simple: entrants are challenged to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels."

This year's overall winner was Jim Gleeson of Madison, WI. His entry: "Gerald began--but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them 'permanently' meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash--to pee."

There are, naturally, additional winners in various categories: adventure, children's literature, detective, fantasy fiction, historical fiction, purple prose, romance, science fiction, vile puns (awful, but hilarious) and western.

I must mention the winner of the children's lit category: "Danny, the little Grizzly cub, frolicked in the tall grass on this sunny Spring morning, his mother keeping a watchful eye as she chewed on a piece of a hiker they had encountered the day before."

Back on 1 July, San Jose State Univ. professor Scott Rice spoke to NPR's Liane Hansen about the contest, which is in its twenty-fifth year.

[h/t The Little Professor]

Monday, July 30, 2007

HRC Director Interviewed

Today's Chronicle of Higher Education features an interview [subscription required] with Thomas Staley, the director of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas.

Staley discusses the ideas behind HRC's major acquisitions of archival collections, particularly those of living writers: "The point is, we believe that this is a living place. And that's a difference. This is not just a library. This is a center for learning that radiates its research all over. But also inside the university, it's a wonderful, wonderful place to study. Writers are not coming here because they're pushing a book or anything like that. Writers are aware of us because writers talk to other writers. They know this place is serious."

The interview also touches on one of the most controversial of HRC's practices - buying archives of British writers and removing those materials to the U.S. Staley says "I think part of their argument, and it's a good argument, is to say we're losing things across because we're not supporting them, and these brigands or these vultures are here. What they're raising isn't simply 'Stop Texas.' It's 'For godsakes, get some sort of program where we can preserve our heritage.'"

Another interesting answer came in response to a question about digitization: "There are all kinds of things in digitization that you can't reproduce. In the Joyce proofs, we have people who can tell you, even if it's just a printers' sign or an editor's sign, whether it was Sylvia Beach or Joyce, because of the ink. You don't get that in the digitized version. There's the quality of the paper. The smell of certain things that is very important. The olfactory elements. ..."

Japanese Illustrations

BibliOdyssey once again manages to amaze with a collection of Japanese plant illustrations from the collections of the Museum at the University of Tokyo.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Book Review: "The Reckoning"

Charles Nicholl's prize-winning 1992 study The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe is a richly-detailed, if highly speculative, examination of the life, career and death of Marlowe, the well-known Elizabethan poet and playwright. A fascinating reconstruction of espionage and politico-religious intrigue during the later years of Elizabeth I's reign, the book offers up a plausible if not entirely proven (or prove-able) theory about Marlowe's murder being part of a high-level court struggle.

Nicholl's done his archival research, and includes many discoveries about Marlowe as well as significant amounts of biographical material relating to others in Marlowe's political, poetical and social circles. While I think in some cases that Nicholls' aren't the only conclusions that could be drawn from the available evidence, his theories seem just as possible as any others (admittedly, more evidence may be known now than Nicholl had access to; things might have changed in the last fifteen years).

My one major quibble with this book is the lack of good citation apparatus; in a book of this type, where significant amounts of the author's credibility depends on the reliability of the evidence being cited, it is an unconscionable negligence on the part of the publisher to leave footnotes unindicated in the text, forcing the reader to guess what might be cited and then look in the back to check for it. If not for this shortcoming, I'd feel much more positive about the book. As it is, I still recommend it highly for anyone who's up for a lot of details and some good old-fashioned court intrigue.

Links & Reviews

- A blog birth announcement, first: Bookshop Blog, "to help you be a better bookseller." I've added a link to the sidebar.

- In the NYTimes, Bruce Barcott reviews Eric Jay Dolin's Leviathan, a history of whaling in America. I'm looking forward to this one too.

- Scott at Fine Books Blog posts a short video featuring interviews with some major book dealers on why they joined the ABAA.

- Walter Bowne has an op/ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer about some unacceptable behavior by book dealers at a recent library book sale. A good "outsider looking in" piece that ought to be read by all the rabid bookhunters out there.

- Over at Mutterings, an early Kellogg's Corn Flakes ad. Colonel comments "Tony the Tiger? This woman would eat Tony for lunch and use his rib bone for a toothpick ..."

- In the Times, A.N. Wilson reviews Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (spoiler warning). I like his concluding paragraphs, and include them here:

"What these books ultimately hinge upon, however, is an unshakeable belief that love is stronger than death, and that while the pursuit of power is illusory, the pursuit of love will always in some way be rewarded.

It would be easy to write a sermon that spelt out such familiar ideas. But there are not many writers who have JK’s Dickensian ability to make us turn the pages, to weep – openly, with tears splashing – and a few pages later to laugh, at invariably good jokes. The sneerers who hate Harry Potter, or consider themselves superior to these books often seem to be hating their harmlessness – the fact that they celebrate happy middle-class family life, and the adventures of children privileged enough to attend a boarding school. But, as WH Auden said in another context, why spit on your luck? We have lived through a decade in which we have followed the publication of the liveliest, funniest, scariest and most moving children’s stories ever written. Thank you, JK Rowling."

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Stolen Books Alert

This notice was posted on ExLibris yesterday afternoon:

Dear Colleagues,

Six months ago the following three books were stolen from us in transit. Should anyone be offered these books, we would greatly appreciate your getting in touch with us.

I. PISSINUS, Sebastiani Lucensis. De cordis palpitatione cognoscenda, & curanda libri duo. Frankfurt: Claudium Marnium & heredes Ioannis Aubrii, 1609. 8vo. 193, [23] pp., including index. Woodcut printer's device to title, chapter initials, head- and tailpieces. Contemporary limp vellum with remnants of ties, title in manuscript on spine; small wormhole at inner margin of a few leaves (text not affected). Contemporary ownership inscription of the Collegii Paris Societ[atis] Jesu to title.

II. SKODA, Joseph. Abhandlung uber Perkussion und Auskultation. Vienna: Mosle's Witwe &
Braumuller, 1839. 8vo. xviii, [ii], 271, [1] pp. Contemporary quarter-calf over marbled boards, extremities somewhat worn. From the library of Dr. Ferdinand Vielguth of Vienna on first flyleaf.

III. BURNET, Thomas. Archæologiæ philosophicæ: or, the ancient doctrine concerning the originalsof things; Dr. Burnet's theory of the visible world; by way of commentary onhis own theory of the Earth. being the second part of his Archæologiæ Philosophicæ, Written in Latin by Thomas Burnet, LL.D. master of the Charter-House. Faithfully translated into English, with
remarks thereon, by Mr. Foxton (with) [JONCHERE, Étienne Lécuyer de la]. The immobility of the Earth demonstrated by reasons drawn from the established rules of physics,mechanics, and geometry. Proving the Earth to be in the center of theUniverse; and that all the Celestial Bodies perform their diurnial motions round it, and not the sun. In opposition to the solar system. [translated by J[ohn] M[organ]. London: Printed for E. Curll, 1729. Three books in one (first title in two parts). 8vo. [viii], xxxii, [viii], viii, 90, 6, 40; 96, 41-104, 32 pp. (pages 41-104 mis-bound). Separate title to each book. Contemporary Cambridge binding (small piece torn away at hinges), spine decorated in gilt; fly leaves stained, sporadic browning on text and a few minor worm holes. From the library of Abner Jackson, Trinity College, with his bookplate and withdrawn stamp.

Thank you in advance,

Cassandra Joffre
B & L Rootenberg Rare Books & Manuscripts, ABAA, ILAB, ABA
(818) 788-7765
Fax: (818) 788-8839
PO Box 5049
Sherman Oaks, Ca. 91403

Friday, July 27, 2007

On James Gilreath

I had one of those strange moments of convergence last night when I read Travis' Upward Departure post on James Gilreath, a former LOC librarian who pled guilty to stealing items from the Library after getting caught trying to sell them to a Boston dealer back in the mid-90s. It's not a case I know much about, probably because the guy's guilty plea got him out of any significant punishment - he spent a year in "home confinement" and is currently paying off a $20,000 fine in $50 monthly installments, as Travis notes.

The reason Travis' mention of Gilreath sort of threw me for a loop was that I'd only just opened a newly-arrived box of books from Colophon, one of which was The Judgment of Experts: Essays and Documents about the Investigation of the Forging of The Oath of a Freeman (1991), a collection relating to the infamous Mark Hofmann forgery of the earliest American printed document. The editor? None other than James Gilreath, back when he was working for (and presumably stealing from) the Library of Congress.

Just a hint of irony, having the editor of a book about an attempted literary crime turn out to be engaging in one of his own.

CSM on Miniature Books

In the Christian Science Monitor, April Austin writes up the ongoing miniature book exhibit at the BPL (its counterpart at the Grolier Club closes tomorrow). A bit behind the eight-ball, but worth reading nonetheless.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ffun with Fforde

Brookline Booksmith hosted a reading tonight with author Jasper Fforde (LT), and I'll just say if you have a chance to catch one of his events, go for it. He entertained a large audience with his "principles on writing" (scrawled on a piece of paper this afternoon, he said), tales of publishing woes, fun with Welsh pronunciations, &c. He took a bunch of questions as well, including one about the printers' oops in the British edition (he was intrigued when I told him I'd bought a copy of that edition specifically because of the error, thinking his publisher would be thrilled that it was increasing sales).

Fforde's as amusing in person as he comes across in his books, so if he'll be near you, stop by and see him.

Links & Things

Alright, the delayed book reviews are finally all written, the books that arrived while I was on vacation (and those I purchased up in Maine, more on which later) are all catalogued, but the Google Reader still runneth over. A few goodies:

- First, continuations. Part two of "The Affair of the Diamond Necklace" at Mutterings of a Mad Bookseller is here (also, here's Part one, in case you missed it). And over at Bibliothecary, Ed continues his tale of what sounds like a super-exciting visit to Philadelphia by recounting a behind-the-scenes tour at the Free Library (first installment here).

- From BibliOdyssey, images from Athansius Kircher's Musurgia Universalis (1650), "an exhaustive compendium of musical knowledge at the transition point between sacred renaissance polyphony and secular Baroque music."

- Joyce passes along an op/ed from the Hartford Courant by Janet Nocek, director of the Portland library and a member of the Executive Board of Library Connection, a Greater Hartford library consortium. Nocek was one of the "Connecticut Four", libraries who challeneged the Patriot Act's national security letters provision as it applied to libraries. She writes about her experience under the court-ordered gag rule.

- Your Friendly Neighborhood Book Dragon makes the argument that the Harry Potter series is a "brilliant, ingeniously-crafted, long-resonating message about choice." "This isn't a fantasy series. Its not even a kids book, in the common sense of the phrase. This is a non-author's daring stand against a bleakening future, against apathy and selfishness. And it's BEAUTIFUL. Millions of children will internalize the Harry Potter myth, will latch onto one character or another as a small part of their psyche, and by that will come to unconsciously understand that we have CHOICES. We have the choice to be good or evil, to do harm or good, to be brave or craven. More importantly, we can choose to CHANGE. We can choose to turn the darkness in ourselves into light."

- fade theorist points out two news items: first, that Publisher's Weekly has a comparison chart for some of the major "social book cataloging" sites (in which they get at least a few things wrong), and, second, that the University of Edinburgh has announced a new one-year postgraduate program in Material Cultures & the History of the Book, which sounds quite interesting.

- Tim's giving away some copies of Everything is Miscellaneous to those who comment on the thread What Does Tagging do to Knowledge? It's a good discussion down there so far.

- Also, I forgot to link earlier to this Times story, in which just one of eighteen publishers and literary agents recognized Jane Austen's work when it was submitted using a different name (the others rejected the submissions).

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Book Review: "The Treasure of the San José"

I always try to take at least one maritime-related book with me to the coast for vacation, so I was intentionally in the middle of Carla Rahn Phillips' The Treasure of the San José: Death at Sea in the War of the Spanish Succession (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) when I headed up to Maine this year.

Phillips' subject is the much-fabled San José, a Spanish galleon sunk in a battle with English warships in 1708 off the coast of the Spanish Main. Using careful research of archival data, she provides the first in-depth historiographical analysis of the ship, its voyage, its crew, and its destruction - and as she does so, attempts to illustrate how historical memory can differ so wildly from actual events.

Some of the noteworthy elements of Phillips' treatment are her greatly detailed expositions on Spanish shipbuilding practices and measurement nomenclature, excellent biographical reconstructions of the ship's officers (very detailed) and crew (much less so), and a useful discussion of the Spanish imperial bureaucracy during the early eighteenth century. She dissects the available evidence regarding the still-missing and much-sought cargo that went down with the ship (and most of its crew), but certainly the most fascinating portion of the book to me was Phillips' minute description of the battle that resulted in the loss of the San José, drawing on the accounts of both the Spanish and English participants.

A good, narrowly-drawn, archives-based study of an important incident, Phillips' book does much to dispel longstanding myths and provides a close look at maritime practices as well as the difficulties posed by allowing memory to stand in for fact. While I thought the archival citations could in some places have been more extensive, the endnotes and bibliography were quite useful and welcome. I should add as well that the overall design is quite nice, and certainly added to my positive impression of the book.

Book Review: "A Splendor of Letters"

The third of Nicholas Basbanes' books, A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World (HarperCollins, 2003) completes the trilogy begun with A Gentle Madness and Patience & Fortitude; in this volume, Basbanes discusses the important issues surrounding the preservation of the written word. As he writes early in the book, "the setting down of what Ralph Waldo Emerson ... called the 'splendor of letters' remains only half the task at hand; ensuring that what has been recorded is passed on properly to the next generation ... makes up the rest."

Like Basbanes' other books, this one takes an anecdotal and fairly idiosyncratic approach to its topic; also like the others, it works here. You find yourself bouncing from the perils of book thievery (p. 11-12) to the importance of the Rosetta Stone as surrogate (p. 23) to notes found trashed beneath the shadow of Hadrian's Wall (p. 56-7) to the bombing of the Sarajevo library to the potential impacts of digitization on third world countries - and you enjoy the ride.

Filled with jumping-off points (I've got about ten books and articles written down to find), good stories and incisive commentary, A Splendor of Letters is yet another Basbanes delight. Recommended.

Book Review: "The Snoring Bird"

Biologist Bernd Heinrich's The Snoring Bird: My Family's Journey Through a Century in Biology (Ecco, 2007) is an intriguing glimpse into the life of a man perhaps best known for his work with ravens (Ravens in Winter) and hibernation (Winter World). It cannot properly be called an autobiography, as much of the book concerns the life and career of Heinrich's father, an extremely unorthodox fellow whose views about human interaction, biology and life in general come across as more than a little peculiar.

Relying on family memory, documents and other sources as necessary, Heinrich tells his father's story as best he can - from a comfortable life in pre-WWI Poland through a rough time during and after the Second World War through a tenuous post-war existence in Maine. "Papa", who never got a college degree, became an expert in ichneumons (a sort of wasp) and made it his life's (rather obsessive-compulsive) work to classify as many of the worlds' species as he could. To fund his collecting trips around the world, he arranged for European and American institutions to hire him as a specimen collector (usually for birds, mammals and other things).

It's clear that Heinrich still bears some residual bitterness toward his father, whose slights and inattentions to the people around him feature prominently in the book. It made, at times, uncomfortable reading; I felt like I was hearing more than I wanted to know. It's also clear just from Heinrich's description of his own interactions with people over the years that the son inherited at least a few of his father's less orthodox tendencies.

More the story of a family's journey than of a century in biology, this book was most interesting for its descriptions of life in wartime and post-war Europe than anything else. I enjoyed it, but not quite as much as I expected to.

Reminder: Audubon on "American Masters"

PBS' "American Masters" will debut its biography of John James Audubon, "Drawn from Nature" tonight (check your local PBS station for air times; it's 10 p.m. on WGBH for us Bostonians). The Albany Times-Union and Louisville Courier-Journal offer previews.

Wild About Harry

As I note in my review of Deathly Hallows, it's been a pretty surreal week or so for those of us who pay any attention at all to the crazy phenomenon that is PotterMania. Last week I was - thankfully - far from the hubbub, hiding from the Internet, most newspapers and just about anything else with the potential to give away what happened. Since then, "have you finished it?" has been the question of the hour, and it's totally fascinating to see people walking down the street (carefully), waiting for buses, or sitting on the train completely enthralled by a book which is instantly recognizable.

It's been neat, and more than a little heartening to see a kind of instant community spring up around a book. As I wrote last night, this will fade, and we'll all soon go back to our other books and our own thoughts and troubles, but I must admit, this little interlude has been quite something.

Over at LT the Hogwarts Express group has been going full-bore with discussions on all aspects of the book; Tim's mounted a really nifty usage chart showing the number of message-posts over the course of the last few weeks, which is utterly fascinating. Also, some Slate writers have been discussing the book for a week or so now; many of the entries are well worth a read (I read through them all this morning since I'm trying now to catch up on all the things I'd been hiding from until I finished the book).

Sales of Deathly Hallows have been brisk to say the least. Barnes & Noble alone reported 1.8 million sales Saturday and Sunday, and Canada's Raincoast Books sold 812,000 copies. On Saturday, Borders stores sold 1.2 million copies, "the highest single-day sales of any title in the company's history" (a total of 8.3 million copies were snatched up in the U.S. on Saturday, according to Scholastic). Amazing, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Book Review: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"

Warning: This review may contain some unintentional spoilers. If you haven't finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I'll be entirely unoffended if you quit reading now.

"Have you finished it yet?" This has been the near-constant whispered refrain between all the Potter-fans at work and beyond for the past couple days; thankfully I'll now be able to join the legions who can answer that question in the affirmative (and be able to take the spoiler-avoidance stoppers out of my ears). After a shipping delay followed by a visit to a Borders branch entirely bereft of copies yesterday morning, I found the final remaining first-shipment copy at one of the little independent shops in Boston; I promptly snagged it and barely set it down until I finished it this evening.

Rowling's seventh book forms a dramatic capstone to the series which has captivated readers for nearly a decade. While I am a latecomer to PotterMania myself, I admit to being a fairly zealous convert; the anticipation I felt for this book was both a surprise and a delight. Deathly Hallows is a roller-coaster ride in which many longstanding questions are finally answered and the great struggle between Harry and Voldemort is finally and decisively resolved. There are moments of intense humor, great hope, and, as expected, incredible sadness. It is almost certainly the best book of the series.

Some critics may whine about Rowling's writing and say these books aren't "great literature" - and maybe by some definitions they're not. But they are great stories, and they have managed to do something very special: they've got people - many people - reading, and talking about reading, and thinking about what they read. I realized upon boarding the train today on the way to work that five other people in the car were holding the same book; we all shared a brief smile, a moment of unexpected, tacit camaraderie. Any book that can do that must surely contain a generous portion of greatness.

The tales of Harry and his gang may end with Deathly Hallows, but their exploits will live on; these books will hold their power to amuse, to amaze, and to educate. The current atmosphere of intense anticipation will fade with time, but the powerful message contained in the series will long endure, as will their great power to inspire and to pique the imagination. As one of books' most important characters tells their hero near the end of this volume, "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"

Book Review: "First Among Sequels"

NB: I am now fully immersed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, so just about everything else is in suspended animation until I finish that (hopefully sometime tonight). It's easier to blog at work than read at work, however, so I thought I'd try to get at least one short review out today.

First Among Sequels, the fifth installment of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, debuted last week, and as his fans have come to expect, it's another winner. Thursday's up to her usual antics: fighting book-crime, dealing in black-market cheese, trying to prevent the arrival of the end of time, and, well, dealing with intransigent teenagers.

Fforde fills this book with the usual (and hilarious) scads of literary puns and allusions, and the constant action moves it along very quickly. A few too many of the plot elements were left hanging for my liking, but hopefully that means the next book will arrive in fairly short order. It's always a delight to escape into BookWorld for a while.

Editorial Urges Library Security

An editorial in yesterday's Concord Monitor uses the example of E. Forbes Smiley to push for better library security measures:

"Smiley's career led many of the world's premiere libraries to make security improvements, but most smaller institutions, including many in New Hampshire, remain very vulnerable. Libraries that haven't completely cataloged their collections - a box of papers from a famous person, for example - or taken note of the rare maps and prints that can easily be excised from seldom-read books are easy prey for a knowledgeable thief.

The collections of the world's libraries are in trust for all humanity. The challenge for institutions is to make their contents as accessible as possible while simultaneously safeguarding them. That's not easy to do.

There will never be money enough to provide perfect security or even, perhaps, to catalog every item in a way that makes it accessible to the public online, but the latter effort should be undertaken. Searchable, online catalogs of a library or museum's contents make its easy for honest dealers, other museums, researchers and law enforcement to identify stolen items."

The editorial goes on to urge communities to take advantage of a state grant program which offers up to $10,000 "to improve the storage conditions, security, conservation and microfilming of town records. Every community should take advantage of the program to catalog what they own and to take steps to foil thieves like Smiley."

Monday, July 23, 2007

More Catching Up

- An interesting new paper (PDF) argues that the optimal term for copyright protection is 14 years, which sounds (intuitively) just about right to me. More at ars technica, via Slashdot.

- The July Avid Collector is up, full of good bookish things as usual.

- Matt Raymond at LCBlog rounds up some of the recent debate about simplying library classification systems.

- Noah at The Millions comments on Neal Stephenson's massive Baroque Cycle trilogy, bouncing off a recent John Derbyshire review of the books.

- Ed visited the Edgar Alan Poe house in Philadelphia and files this report.

Long-Lost Rowley Church Records Found

The Boston Globe reported yesterday that a volume of the records for the First Congregational Church of Rowley (MA), missing since the 1960s, was recently found in a bank vault. The volume covers the ministry of Samuel Phillips, which lasted from 1661 until 1696. Scholars are delighted, and church officials say the records will be placed on permanent loan at an institution for research access.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Catching Up

Well I have four book reviews to write after a blissfully Internet-free week in Maine, but I figured I'd start with a quick run-through of a (very) few of the items that came across my Google Reader while I was away. I'm sure I've missed something important and will try to catch up with it if so.

No, by the way, my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows did not arrive on time, although I suspect that's because the Post Office didn't resume my mail delivery on Saturday as I'd requested (shocked, anyone?). I have, however, managed to avoid having the ending spoiled for me yet (though I very much doubt I'll get through the book without finding out what happens).

- Most serious things first - Travis has some updates on the book crimes front for us: the freshly-sentenced Denning McTague will begin his 15-month prison term in 15 August; after his release there will be a two-year period in which "the defendant shall not engage in physical contact with archival material without the prior consent of the court." Also, he notes that former Rockland County Historical Society curator Rebecca Streeter-Chen was indicted last week on a charge of second-degree grand larceny in theft of an 1823 Tanner atlas. No further court dates are scheduled yet.

- Paul Collins has an article about Charles Kellogg in the New Scientist; he's posted some extras at Weekend Stubble.

- Caleb Crain reviews Leviathan (by Eric Jay Dolin) in the New Yorker); some "web extras and informal footnotes" are here.

- BibliOdyssey has some botanical illustrations from 'Tradescant's Orchard,' a 1620s manuscript. Lots of good background as well.

- Over at Mutterings of a Mad Bookseller, the interesting story of "The Affair of the Diamond Necklace," which some say led to the ultimate execution of Marie Antoinette.

- Lots of news from LT: there will be a party in Cambridge on 28 July; Project Ocelot is now fully unveiled (Connections News is my favorite new feature); Tim's recent talk at the Library of Congress is now online; the homepage has some new flavor (which I quite like).

- Biblio's Bloggins reviews Jasper Fforde's First Among Sequels. My review's coming soon, maybe even tonight.

- Lew Jaffe's got some bookplate odds and ends for us.

More soon. Many reviews in the works.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Vacation Reading

I'm off later today for a week on the coast of Maine with family and friends, so I probably won't be posting again before the evening of 22 July ... and given that Deathly Hallows will be waiting for me when I get back, it might be another day or so. I'm sure I'll have much news to catch up on when I return ("my Google Reader overfloweth ...").

In the meantime, here are the books I'm taking with me (along with the new Common-place and a bunch of articles I've accumulated recently). I doubt I'll get through even half of these, but I like to have a good good selection.

- Jasper Fforde, Thursday Next in First Among Sequels.

- Charles Nicholl, The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe.

- Nicholas Basbanes, A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World.

- Carla Rahn Phillips, The Treasure of the San José: Death at Sea in the War of the Spanish Succession (in progress).

- Bryan Waterman, Republic of Intellect: The Friendly Club of New York City and the Making of American Literature.

- Bernd Heinrich, The Snoring Bird: My Family's Journey Through a Century of Biology.

Links & Reviews

More reviews than links today, for some reason. But, here you are.

- Bookride examines Adam Smith's An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.

- Your Friendly Neighborhood Book Dragon reviews David Quammen's The Boilerplate Rhino, an essay collection of his that I've somehow missed. I'll have to find it, sounds pretty good.

- For the London Review of Books, Matthew Reynolds reviews a the five-volume Poems of John Dryden collection being published by Longman. Reynolds writes "Of all the great English poets, Dryden must be the least enjoyed."

- BibliOdyssey offers up some lovely Aztec manuscript illustrations from the Tovar Manuscript.

- Over at Paper Cuts, Dwight Garner comments on the OED's continued calls for citizens' assistance, partly through the BBC program "Balderdash and Piffle."

- In The Telegraph, Richard Francis reviews Ian Mortimer's The Fears of Henry IV.

- At Steamboats are Ruining Everything, Caleb notes some new publications by Peter Terzian, including a review of Jenny Uglow's Nature's Engraver in Newsday.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Book Review: "The Big Over Easy"

Before I delve into Jasper Fforde's newest Thursday Next novel (First Among Sequels) I thought I'd read The Big Over Easy (2005), the first installment in his Nursery Crimes series. This one centers on the Nursery Crime Division's investigation into the untimely death of Humperdinck (Humpty) Jehoshaphat Aloysius Stuyvesant van Dumpty, who is, naturally, found smashed at the base of his favorite wall. Of course, things are not ever quite as they seem ...

The Big Over Easy is Fforde at his usual level of wittiness, brilliant allusion, and hilarity. His novels are sort of brain candy for readers, chock full of little puns and references from around the world of literature. Good solid fun all around.

15 Months for McTague

Well, frankly it's more than I expected. Denning McTague, the Thieving Intern, will be spending 15 months in federal prison for his crimes, the AP reports.

"'I'm so deeply sorry,' a tearful McTague told U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell. 'I feel like I've inflicted a lot of pain on the people at the archives.'"

"McTague's lawyer described him as a quiet, decent man who became mired in debt as he earned two graduate degrees and tried to keep afloat the rare book business he had inherited from his mother. McTague, however, told a psychiatrist that he was angry his internship was unpaid, prompting Dalzell to question whether revenge was a motivating factor."

McTague will also pay a $3,000 fine.

It's not enough time, nor is it even at the high end of what the prosecutors wanted (18 months), nor will he serve it all ... but it is definitely a harsher sentence than I expected he'd get.

Book Patrol on Fine Press Books

Michael Lieberman has an essay in the latest Alcuin Society newsletter. In "Fine Presses and the Bookseller," Lieberman discusses some of the hurdles he's encountered in working with fine press and book arts "producers," and suggests some alternative distrubution methods which might benefit all sides. As he concludes, "It is our responsibility as book artists, printers, booksellers, librarians and, more importantly, as people who love and cherish the book as an object of beauty to make certain we are doing all we can to work together to further our cause."

While We Wait

Travis provides some more excellent commentary on the McTague defense materials, examining the twenty-seven letters of support submitted by friends, relatives and acquaintances on McTague's behalf. Travis includes some quotes from letters written by people in the book trade, who - quite frankly - ought to know better than to defend or even be seen as condoning the actions taken by McTague.

Sentencing's still set for 2:30, as far as I know. As soon as I know something, I'll post.

Lee Letter Collection Profiled

In what must be one of the most extensive archives-related stories I've ever seen in a mainstream newspapers, the Washington Post has a lengthy profile of a letter collection just opened for research at the Virginia Historical Society. The 4,000-item cache of letters, ephemera and documents was collected by Mary Custis Lee, the eldest daughter of Gen. Robert E. Lee. The collection, stored in two steamer trunks, was forgotten from 1917, when they were stored in a vault at Burke & Herbert Bank & Trust in Alexandria (VA), until 2002, when a bank administrator found them.

A Lee descendant, Rob E.L. deButts Jr., brought the documents to the Virginia Historical Society and sifted through the jumbled mess; archivist Lee Shepard told the Post "He'd pull out a pile of her postcards and then he'd pull out something from the Colonial period and then he'd pull out letters from Robert E. Lee. There was no rhyme or reason to it. She was the unofficial family historian, but she was also a bit of a pack rat."

"A few weeks ago, Shepard opened the Mary Custis Lee papers to the public. It's a strange and eclectic collection. There are postcards that Mary Custis Lee gathered in Paris, Egypt and Atlanti City. And a fan she picked up in China. And a dried rose she plucked in a garden in Khartoum. There's a list of 266 slaves owned by one of her ancestors in 1766. And an account book kept by her mother's step-great-grandfather, George Washington. There's a handful of letters her father wrote to her during the Civil War. And another collection of letters that illuminate - but do not quite solve - the mystery of how Robert E. Lee's daughter happened to be arrested in Alexandria in 1902 for refusing to leave the black section of a trolley car."

Historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor examined the collection for her book Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through his Private Letters," published this spring. She says one portion of the collection was particularly fascinating: letters between Robert E. Lee and his future wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis. These letters - which have not yet been made public - "'sparkle with sexuality, and with an impatient young man who hates his boss,' Pryor says. 'Again, it's a very different person from this rather austere image that we've had. One of the great things about all these letters is that he had a great sense of humor, a laughing-out-loud-in-the-library sense of humor.'"

Peter Carlson's Post article goes through some more high spots of the collection, so I recommend reading the whole thing, which is nicely done and, frankly, much appreciated.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

New Common-place Released

The July issue of Common-place (the best history e-journal out there) is now available. It includes features on the house Ben Franklin rented with he stayed in London, and on the loyalist daughters of Boston's Rev. Mather Byles, a conversation with historian Peter Mancall (whose book Hakluyt's Promise I enjoyed very much), and much more.

There's also a nice review of the Massachusetts Historical Society website; it's always nice to see the place you work get praise!

More McTague Defense

Travis has part two of his analysis of Denning McTague's defense sentencing memorandum (part one here). He notes "In the McTague sentencing, there is really only one major disputed legal point: whether DMcT 'abused a position of public or private trust ('characterized by professional or managerial discretion'), or used a special skill, in a manner that significantly facilitated the commission or concealment of the offense.' The government claims he did and he claims he didn’t. (Okay, archivist readers - do you exercise a special skill?)"

It seems ludicrous to suggest that McTague could have committed these crimes without abusing a position of public or private trust - that's exactly what he did. And yes, I think that being trained as an archivist and knowing how to handle documents (thereby fooling people into believing he could be trusted with them) is a special skill which McTague used to his full advantage in carrying out these attacks on our cultural heritage.

Travis writes that McTague's lawyers have done a good job in the brief of pinning the blame for McTague's 'break' on just about everyone except the Thieving Intern himself. Yes, it's difficult to get jobs in libraries (but if he thought it was hard before ...). No, they don't even pay particularly well once you get one. Yes, it sounds like McTague had some financial difficulties and that his life wasn't exactly perpetual sunshine. But that should not, does not, cannot give him carte blanche to abuse his position, steal archival artifacts, and try to profit from their illicit sale.

The defense memo, Travis says, characterizes McTague's crimes as "more self-destructive than self-interested" - be that as it may, they're still crimes, and he deserves as severe a punishment for them as can be handed down. Self-destruction may be at the heart of it, but self-interest was clearly a major contributing factor.

Book/map/archives thieves are one thing when they come from the outside and steal. Inside jobs are, to me, even more nefarious and should be punished with an extra helping of vigor. I hope McTague's judge takes this opportunity to set an example and show all the would-be McTagues out there that this kind of criminal behavior cannot and will not be tolerated.

Memorial Service for Comstock

An 'informal memorial gathering' for murdered book collector Rolland Lee Comstock will be held today from 2-3 p.m. CDT in the Greene County Courthouse Rotunda, 940 Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Book Thief in Billings

Greg Tuttle of the Billings Gazette brings us yet another tale of book theft, this one from Big Sky Country, where Richard Edward Covington, 44, has been arraigned on a felony theft charge "related to the disappearance of rare and valuable books from Parmly Billings Library." Covington, already in jail on charges of robbing and knifing a 46-year-old woman in April, appeared in court via video, "pleaded not guilty to the felony theft charge, and Judge Gregory Todd set his bond at $5,000. The judge ordered the bond concurrent with a $250,000 bond set in April, when Covington was charged with robbery."

"According to an affidavit filed in the theft case, Billings police began investigating the theft of nine rare books from the library's "Montana Room" collection in May. The stolen books included one about frontier life published in 1877 and valued at $550. Another book, published in 1904, about the Lewis and Clark expedition and valued at $650 was also among the stolen library property.

A library employee told a police detective that she learned of the theft when a local book dealer called her. The book dealer reported that a man had come to his store and wanted to sell eight rare books he found in a "free books" bin at the library. The books appeared very old and had price stickers attached to them ranging from $400 to $900.

The same man returned in April and tried to sell a ninth book, the book dealer said. ... The book dealer paid the man $40 for the books and had him fill out a receipt. The receipt was found in a journal kept by Covington when a police SWAT team raided his house, prosecutors allege." The raid was related to Covington's arrest on the robbery charge.

But wait, there's more.

"According to Covington's wife, Doris Covington, Richard Covington is the primary suspect in the slayings of three people last September. The deaths of Norman Leighton, 69, his companion Patti Hubbert, 54, and the couple's neighbor, Gerald Morris, 43, remain unsolved. Police have said they haven't ruled out involvement by Covington. The case remains under investigation, and no charges have been filed."


Monday, July 09, 2007

McTague Defense: He's the Best!

We heard from the prosecution last week in the matter of Denning McTague's sentencing; now Travis has the first part of his report on McTague's 89-page defense motion.

The first line is a doozy: "By all accounts, Denning McTague is a quiet, unassuming, and fundamentally decent man." Yes, if by 'fundamentally decent man' you mean 'trust-abusing thief'.

Travis adds "As regular readers know, all of these defense memos and briefs make you want to place laurels at the feet of the thieves in question. And that’s what they’re supposed to do. But I felt like donating to the McTague defense fund by the time I’d made it through 28 pages of triumph over adversity. After 89 more pages of friendly testimonial I wished I was DMcT."

Ugh. The judge won't be able to throw the book hard enough at McTague.

Of Wilde and Forgeries

Anthony Gardner has a long report in the Sunday Times about the recent appearance of some Oscar Wilde manuscripts which may be forgeries. It's an intricate tale, so I won't try to condense it here; take the time and read Gardner's article.

John Murray Archive Exhibited

The National Library of Scotland recently opened The John Murray Archive, a 150,000-piece collection of materials from one of Britain's greatest and longest-running publishing houses. The archive includes items from the firm's founding in 1768 through 1920 - among them correspondence with more than 16,000 authors and other figures including Darwin, Lord Byron, Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott.

A £1 million exhibition at the NLS is designed to showcase select pieces from the collection: the hall "has a green door like the John Murray house in London, and it leads to a shrunken reproduction of the drawing room where famous visitors gathered and talked. Tall pods of glass, each devoted to a literary or scientific figure, are dimly illuminated with purple lighting, each displaying single sheets of original letters," the Scotsman reported recently. Rare Book Review adds "The innovative technology used in the exhibition will allow visitors to view transcripts of the letters, learn about their background and even e-mail a copy home to study at their leisure."

The exhibit includes, for example, Charles Darwin's letter to Murray proposing the publication of The Origin of Species, as well as coded messages from Benjamin Disraeli about the establishment of a daily newspaper.

Scotland's National Library purchased the collection eighteen months ago for £31 million.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

From the Unfortunate Names Department

Historianess reports some fascinating names she came across recently while working on seventeenth-century England: Praise-God Barebone (c. 1596-1679; biography), his brother Christ-came-into-the-world-to-save Barebone, and the baby of the family If-Christ-had-not-died-thou-hadst-been-damned Barebone (commonly known simply as Damned Barebone).*

*There is apparently some dispute about whether the second two actually existed.

Book Review: "The Pickwick Papers"

It's one of my favorite Dickens works, but I've never managed to quite get all the way through The Pickwick Papers (or The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club) until this summer. I've been reading it slowly over the last couple months, just a chapter or two before bed most nights.

A series of loosely-connected vignettes centering around the adventures (misadventures is probably more apt) of Mr. Pickwick and his fellow Pickwick Clubbers Messrs. Snodgrass, Winkle and Tupman (not to mention his able and unforgetable servant Sam Weller) as they travel the countryside making friends, getting into trouble and sowing chaos, good cheer or simple bemusement.

Occasionally good for a laugh-out-loud moment, and always an interesting satirical commentary on social clubs, journalism, politics and English society in general, Pickwick Papers is Dickens at his A-game.

Links & Reviews

- The Patriot-News reports on some upcoming Audubon festivities in Pennsylvania, including a 17 July sneak preview of PBS' American Masters episode "John James Audubon: Drawn from Nature", which will premiere nationally on 28 July (9 p.m.). The Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art in Millersburg will host the early viewing, to complement their ongoing exhibit "The Mysterious John James Audubon," which runs until 29 September.

- Paul Collins was on NPR's "Weekend Edition" yesterday discussing the novels of John Philip Sousa (yup, that Sousa). He's got more on the subject here at Weekend Stubble.

- Tim points out "A Hipper Crowd of Shushers" in today's New York Times, about a group of young librarians in New York City.

- Sarah Schweitzer reports in the Boston Globe on a new translation of a firsthand account of Lafayette's visit to America in 1824-1825.

- Nigel offers part two of his series on celebrity book collectors: today's profiles include Madonna, Keith Richards, Richard Attenborough, and Jay Leno.

- From BibliOdyssey, illustrations from the 1690 work Magnetologia Curiousa, and a collection of Jean le Pautre ornamentation engravings from the 1750s.

- Lincoln's Melancholy author Joshua Wolf Shenk reviews Ferguson's Land of Lincoln in the NYTimes. Also in the Times, Christopher Caldwell comments on two recent Tocqueville books: Hugh Brogan's Alexis de Tocqueville (my review here) and Joseph Epstein's shorter biography of the same name.

- Other reviews: Michael Harris on Andro Linklater's The Fabric of America in the LATimes; Randy Dotinga on John Ferling's Almost a Miracle in the CSMonitor; Desmond Bryant on Michael Stephenson's Patriot Battles in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

- Michael Lieberman comments on the premiere of "The Hollywood Librarian" at the recent ALA conference in D.C., as well as the rather unorthodox distribution plan for the film.

- LibraryThing recently hit another milestone, passing Harvard's book count. A celebratory bash is planned for 28 July in Cambridge.

- A new film, "William and Miguel," speculates that Shakespeare and Cervantes met during their lifetimes. The producer says of the film "Our story is something of a fiction based on facts, but it certainly could have happened."

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Book Review: "A Glorious Defeat"

In A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and its War with the United States (Hill and Wang, 2007) historian Timothy Henderson provides a good general introduction to the roots and causes of the U.S.-Mexican War. Examining the issues largely and effectively from the Mexican perspective, Henderson distills the weaknesses in Mexico's post-independence political, social and economic systems which, he argues, forced the country into war with its northern neighbor.

The military conflict we know as the Mexican War takes up just twenty pages toward the end of this 190-page book; the vast majority of the text treats the major and widening differences between the United States and Mexico in the early decades of the nineteenth century (in 1800, Henderson states, total income in the U.S. was twice Mexico's; by 1845 it was thirteen times greater, pg. 18). Continuous political and military upheaval in Mexico from independence in the early 1820s through the late 1840s and beyond contributed greatly to the instability which led to war, Henderson maintains, as did Mexico's inability to maintain its control over the region of its territory we now know as Texas.

After Texas' annexation by the United States in 1845, Henderson argues, "peace was an entirely sensible but politicially ruinous proposition" (pg. 150). Provoked into a war the nation could not win (a conclusion Henderson believes was held by most Mexicans), Mexico's leaders concluded that "desperate glory of death on the battlefield seemed preferable to the ignominy and compromise of surrender" (pg. 191).

A solid book, concise and readable. Decent footnotes and a good list for further reading.

Book Review: "The Lost Constitution"

William Martin's latest Peter Fallon mystery is The Lost Constitution, in which the Boston bookdealer and his erstwhile associates attempt to track down a rumored early draft of the Constitution said to bear the annotations of some of New England's delegates to the Philadelphia Convention. Fallon's search (which takes places over less than a week, somehow) is constantly hampered by the common everyday obstacles to life in New England: leather-jacketed hit men, trigger-happy ATV-riding militiamen who kidnap your girlfriend, and a whole slew of people who want to get their hands on a document which may or may not exist and may or may not say anything at all of any importance whatever.

Alternating with the contemporary narrative are scenes from the "Lost Constitution's" past, beginning with its theft from Will Pike (Rufus King's assistant at the Convention) and following it through the intervening centuries as it passed from hand to hand, bank vault to bank vault.

If you are able to refrain from asking the major question of why, if what was written on the draft was so important, it was never revealed before, this isn't a bad book. There are historical anachronisms, to be sure (for example, a 1786 musket ball is described as the size of a Concord grape, when that variety wasn't developed until 1849), Martin's writing style is set firmly on 'potboiler standard' ("She was in her sixties, wore her bleached hair in a beehive that was big in the sixties, and had worked for the Fallon family since the sixties"), and the number of 'surprise' plot jerks (twists is too gentle a word) is rather high. But, for all that, I was entertained and intrigued throughout, and that's what really matters, isn't it?

There are some riotous moments, including Martin's depiction of a pair of Portland bookdealers who fit the New England mold perfectly. Here's one of them, Paul Doherty, interacting with "a couple from Chicago, foliage tourists, commonly called leaf-peepers, who were asking for a catalogue."

"'Are you collectors?' Doherty was asking them.
'Not yet,' said the wife cheerily, 'but we're interested.'
'Do you know what you're looking for?' Doherty snapped.
'Well,' said the husband, more wary than cheerful, 'we're not sure.'
'Catalogues are expensive,' said Doherty. 'I try not to waste them.'
'Waste them?' said the husband. 'Why do you print them then?'
Doherty gestured at the table. 'Take a business card. It has the Web site. Read that.'"

I suppose to people who don't know a few bookdealers like that this wouldn't be very funny, but I laughed.

I feel obligated to add that Martin did much research for his book at the Massachusetts Historical Society (before I started working there) and acknowledges our librarian (my supervisor) warmly in the book. I've held nothing back from this review because of that connection, but did want to mention it. The Lost Constitution is an amusing read as literary mysteries go, and offers some good insight into New England's book culture and historical context.

Dracula First Edition Found

Via Rare Book News, a report from the Northern Echo that an 1897 first edition of Bram Stoker's Dracula has been found "during a house clearance in Great Smeaton, near Northallerton." The house and book collection had "belonged to a retired midwife who was originally from the Hutton Rudby area."

"The first edition will be sold by auction [by Northallerton Auctions] at The Applegarth Salerooms, Northallerton, at approximately 3 p.m. on Friday, July 20." Recent sales of Dracula first editions suggest that the book could sell for more than £4,000.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Heritage Updates

- Michael Lieberman's got a good roundup of many of the recent news stories relating to the impending closure of Heritage Book Shop, including the Edward Wyatt article in Tuesday's New York Times.

- Scott Brown reports today on unconfirmed rumors that Heritage's stock has been sold to British auction house Bloomsbury, which is planning to open a New York branch this year. That would certainly be a killer kickoff auction if the rumors prove true.

Book Collector Murdered

Rolland Lee Comstock, 70, a Missouri bibliophile known to travel far and wide in order to get his books signed and for his ability to spot emerging authors and gamble on their eventual success was found shot to death in his home on Tuesday, the Springfield News-Leader reports. Theft does not seem to have been the motive: "A Greene County Sheriff's detective on Thursday scoured Rolland Lee Comstock's extensive book collection for missing volumes, aided by a person familiar with the slain attorney's unique cataloging system. Nothing appeared to be missing from the two-story library," which holds more than 50,000 volumes.

Police say eight detectives are working the case, the first homicide this year in rural Greene County. Comstock suffered "multiple gunshot wounds," including a fatal shot to the abdomen. The Columbia Tribune notes that there were no signs of forced entry around Comstock's home.

Nick Basbanes profiled Comstock in Patience & Fortitude, noting his penchant for tirelessly collecting any items relating to his favorite authors and his willingness to gamble on a writer's eventual success (he once bought 1,085 copies of Jim Crace's first book, Continent, because he'd heard it was to be remaindered, Basbanes notes). He had a rather different approach to book possession than most people: "I get a kick out of possessing ten copies of a great book. If one copy is great, it stands to reason that having ten copies is going to be ten times as great" (P&F, 174).

Basbanes is quoted in the News-Leader report on Comstock's death: "This is going to be buzzing through the book world. Now what's going to happen to that collection, we don't know yet ... It's a very daring, innovative collection, and it is unique to my recollection."

Comstock's will is to be filed next week, his attorney told the paper. Comstock is survived by an ex-wife, "with whom he was embroiled in an ongoing civil suit," along with children and step-children.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Letter Collection Exceeds Expectations at Auction

On Tuesday, Christie's in London sold an extraordinary collection of autograph letters accumulated by Swiss banker Albin Schram over the last thirty years, The Times reports. The collection had been housed "in a filing cabinet wedged between the washing machine and tumble dryer in the basement of his home in Lausanne. Schram’s family did not know of the collection's existence until after his death" two years ago.

Schram's first purchase, a love letter from Napoleon to Josephine during their engagement (one of just three known to exist from that period) sold for £276,000 (more than five times the presale high-end estimate), setting a new world record for a Napoleon letter, the paper notes.

Other highlights from the sale, which passed the the £2 million estimate halfway through, included a consolation letter from John Donne to Lady Kingsmill on the death of her husband. The only Donne manuscript or letter to be sold at auction since 1970, according to Christie's, this sole for £114,000. A letter from famous English diarist John Evelyn to even-more-famous English diarist Samuel Pepys (dated 14 January 1698/9) sold for £10,200.

The catalogue for this sale would certainly make for some interesting browsing.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Book Review: "Animal Dreams"

Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Dreams takes Thomas Wolfe's "you can't go home again" as its main theme, beginning as it does with main character Cosima (Codi) Noline returning to the small mining town of Grace, Arizona where she grew up but which she thought she'd long ago left behind. Codi is forced to grapple with all the trials of a new life in an old place, where long-buried secrets lurk in the shadows. She must also deal with the growing senility of her father and the absence of her sister, who's gone to Nicaragua to help the farmers defend themselves from the Contras.

Kingsolver's prose, as with everything of hers I've read, is excellent. Her ability to describe elements of both the natural world and human nature is well honed, and she puts it to as good use here with the pueblos and arroyos of the Southwest as with the verdant forests of Appalachia in Prodigal Summer.

What this novel lacks in suspense or plot twists it makes up for with its elegance and simplicity.

The Glorious Fourth

A few interesting items and links to mark the Fourth of July.

- The first printing of the Declaration of Independence, printed on the night of 4 July, 1776 by Philadelphia's John Dunlap and dispatched throughout America the next morning. It was this broadside version which was read aloud at New York on 9 July and at Boston on 18 July. The copy linked here, from the Massachusetts Historical Society, is one of just 25 known to exist.

- John Adams' manuscript draft of the Declaration, made before the Continental Congress started editing the document and in fact before the full Committee of Five (that is, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Sherman, and Livingston) had made their changes.

- Thomas Jefferson's manuscript copy of the Declaration; one of several copies he made, this one shows the Declaration as drafted by the Committee of Five.

- John Adams' letter to Abigail Adams of 3 July, 1776 (his second of the day, in fact), in which he writes:

"But the Day is past. The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. -- Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not."

- I also recommend an article by Charles Warren in the July, 1945 issue of William & Mary Quarterly, "Fourth of July Myths." Warren dissects some of the more longstanding stories about "Independence Day" (most of which, interestingly, are still with us today, more than sixty years after Warren tried to bat them down).

However you plan to celebrate, I hope you enjoy the day, and remember to take a moment to pause and reflect on what it's all about.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Prosecutor Wants 12-18 Months for McTague

Travis reports on the federal prosecutor's sentencing memorandum in the Denning McTague (aka Thieving Intern) case. I agree entirely with Travis' characterization of the memo's first paragraph: almost all "fantastic ... Right up until the last sentence."

"Defendant Denning McTague, a thief, stole American history. Although educated in history and raised surrounded by historical documents in his mother’s antiquarian business, McTague did not steal these 164 documents from the National Archives because he cherished the importance of the historical event or the character of the document’s author. No, McTague stole the items to place them for sale on ebay, that is to make money. McTague used his knowledge and skills to take advantage of an opportunity and the people that trusted him at the National Archives. For these reasons, as well as for the reasons provided below, the government recommends a sentence of incarceration within the advisory guideline range of 12 to 18 months."

Travis notes "While this doesn't come as a surprise, it still stings a little to see it written out." He's got some more observations about the brief, which includes some Word-induced typographical anomalies (that is, obnoxious manifestations of the auto-correct feature).

The defense brief isn't out yet, but will certainly call for less jail time (or probably none at all); perhaps they'll take a page from the Smiley judge's book and ask for less than a week, since McTague says he snatched all the documents over the course of two days.

McTague's sentencing is set for 12 July at 2:30 p.m.

[Updated to change McDade to McTague in two spots. Sorry Travis!]

Monday, July 02, 2007

"Is Little Nell Dead?"

Michael Lieberman points out Lenore Skenazy's column from the New York Sun last week, which is mainly about the buildup to the impending release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but also notes a very interesting 19th-century example of a similar sort of literary anticipation.

"When Charles Dickens finished the last installment of The Old Curiosity Shop, in 1841, his American fans were so desperate to find out the ending that they stormed the New York piers and shouted to incoming ships, 'Is Little Nell alive?'"

Actually, as far as I can tell, the story has the crowds shouting "Is Little Nell dead?" The only mentions of the "alive" version seem to come from Skenazy and those who've quoted her column.* But be that as it may, it's still a fascinating parallel.

*If you find a contradictory example, please send it along.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Links & Reviews

I should have done a mid-week roundup this week, probably!

- Joyce comments on marginalia in books: "Every book carries its history on its back, and front and endpapers. Sometimes it's boring and ugly, and inappropriate. Unless it was done by your own child, crayon decoration on a contemporary children's book is distasteful and unnecessary, crayon on a children's book 100 years old can be fascinating. Marginalia in a book say, younger than 1950 is usually annoying and ugly, marginalia in a book from a book older than 1950 is a tiny time capsule. It can be a message from the past. Now I am not talking about general pencil markings, indistinct marks and doodles, I am talking about words , pictures, signatures, inscriptions - not everything should be removed all the time." Leave it there, she says, quite appropriately.

- In The Guardian, Barbara Kingsolver talks to Ed Pilkington about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (my review here). Pilkington got the full-immersion treatment at Kingsolver's farm, complete with turkey, um, affection.

- AHA Today provides some good links to several academic blog directories, and also recommends BibMe, one of the many new bibliographic utilities. I've yet to play with this one much (I'm sort of a bibliographic luddite and still like to make my own, but maybe that's just because I haven't found an automated one that works right).

- Over at Thingology, Tim engages former ALA president Michael Gorman's recent post about humans and learning, arguing that this whole "hive mind" thing isn't all bad. I've got a couple thoughts cooking about Gorman's argument and a few others he's made recently, and hope to have something up on that before too much longer (there, I've said it, maybe that'll get me moving on it).

- Scott Brown at Fine Books and Collections has announced the winners of this year's Collegiate Book Collecting Championship contest: David Butterfield of Christ College, Cambridge for "Landmarks of Classical Scholarship," Craig Citro of UCLA for "Mathematician Emil Artin," and Diana Looser of Cornell for "Drama of Oceana." Three honorable mentions were also awarded. Finalists will be profiled in the Sept./Oct. edition of FB&C.

- Lynn at Cuppa Joad reviews Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map, about John Snow's discovery of how cholera spread in London.

- Michael Lieberman highlights a progress report from the "Google Five" (the first institutions to sign up for the Google Books Project). Panelists all said they are pleased with progress, but noted that challenges remain, from bad metadata to scanning damage.

- Joyce, among others, recommends "Good Copy, Bad Copy," a free online documentary about copyright today. Between this and the Streeter "BookTV" piece I'm going to need to set aside an evening soon.

- Scott posts on auction descriptions of restored dust jackets, which he suggests (and I agree) that we'll probably be seeing more of in the future.

- Lesley McDowell reviews Linda Colley's The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh in The Scotsman. It's billed as the biography of "an ordinary woman," but McDowell notes there's much more to it than that. Sounds like a good read, actually.

- Bookride has posted the first installment of a series on celebrity book collectors; today's subjects include Johnny Depp, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Whoopi Goldberg.

- Paul Collins is on Radio New Zealand discussing his recent essay on collecting things radioactive ... and he's also discovered that a man by the same name in England recently won a
stinging nettle-eating contest (by eating 56 feet of nettle leaves).

- One quick non-book recommendation from me: I saw "Ratatouille" (the new Pixar film) on Friday night, and trust me, it's worth seeing. Beautifully animated, nicely cast, and a good story to boot. There's even an amusing and poignant Proust allusion in there. Don't miss this one.

Manx Manuscript Goes Home Again

A thirteenth-century Latin manuscript known as The Chronicles of the Kings of Mann and the Isles will be exhibited at the Manx Museum in Douglas, Isle of Man from 5 July through December through a loan agreement with the British Library, 24 Hour Museum reports.

The Latin manuscript, largely written c. 1257 at Rushen Abbey, is an retrospective account of Manx history. Later additions were made through 1316. "After the abbey was dissolved in 1540 the manuscript is thought to have passed through a number of private hands until becoming the property of Sir Robert Cotton, whose collection of medieval works was one of the founding collections of the British Museum and are now cared for by the British Library."

"The manuscript has not been on display on the island for 10 years and will form part of the new Viking and Medieval Galleries at the museum, which also open on July 5, which is Tynwald Day, a Manx national holiday."

[via Shelf:Life]