Friday, August 31, 2007

On Happiness

From the "Things that Make Book-People Happy" Department:

- Ian at Lux Mentis, Lux Orbis waxes poetic about some new "injection molded plastic cases" he's recently purchased for use when traveling to book fairs and such.

- After much construction Mrs. Bookworld has "a room of her own," documented in a post complete with drool-inducing pictures of some beautiful new in-wall bookcases. In a follow-up post she notes that she's now hunting up all the books from around her house so that they can be arranged on the new cases.

Ah, book arrangement - that is the question, isn't it? Ever since I finished the Great Book Move I've been pondering this and preparing a post on the subject, which should appear before the end of the weekend.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Book Review: "Among the Gently Mad"

Nicholas Basbanes' 2002 book Among the Gently Mad: Strategies and Perspectives for the Book Hunter in the Twenty-First Century offers a good short introduction into the Basbanes canon; as it repeats and in some cases expands upon topics treated in the magnificent A Gentle Madness and Patience & Fortitude, it would make a good springboard into those works. For those who've read Basbanes' earlier books, the repetition is more than offset by the new material here.

In this book, Basbanes offers his thoughts on how the world of book collecting has been changed in recent years by the omnipresence of the Internet. He also tells us a bit more about his own personal collecting interests, habits and strategies while offering a few takeaway points for those who find themselves happily afflicted with his 'gentle madness.'

As the world of bookselling and book-buying continues to change rapidly, some of the specifics offered in Among the Gently Mad may already be behind the times. But I think the first principles hold true, and will continue to do so: err on the side of caution (pg. 19), keep an open mind (pg. 94), and, most importanly, learn about whatever fields you choose as your own. "You can devour all the primers in the world for advice on such fundamental concepts as taste and technique, but unless you are willing to do your homework - to become conversant with the literature in your chosen field, to learn the rudiments of bibliography, to read, for goodness sake - you are doomed to mediocrity" (pg. 137).

Mr. Basbanes and his wife recently spent a day at MHS looking at materials for a forthcoming book; knowing he was coming in I took my copies of his books in with me in case he had a spare moment to sign them. Not only did he sign them, but he wrote wonderful personal inscriptions in each, and thanked me several times for bringing them. A simple action, but sufficient to make books I've enjoyed very much even more meaningful to me. Annual Report

The team has announced their annual report of the most-searched-for out-of-print books in America (through BookFinder, at least). Without raw numbers it's tricky to gauge their genre lists, but I wasn't surprised to see a fair of overlap with last year's report, with four of the ten genres seeing the same titles on top this year as last (that's if you move Football Scouting Methods to a new category, as they seem to have done).

Speaking of Birthdays

LibraryThing's marking its second birthday today; their celebratory post includes some stats and factoids, "Twelve things you didn't know you could do on LibraryThing," as well as a new feature announcement. Congratulations to Tim, Abby and the gang for their success so far in making LT an indispensable resource and delight. Here's to many, many more birthdays.

This also provides a handy moment to remind readers that I'm giving away a year's membership to LT; the deadline is high noon tomorrow, and you have to play to win!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

PRB&M New Arrivals

The good folks at Philadelphia Rare Books and Manuscripts have a great list of new arrivals up for your perusal - interesting books, nice descriptions, and more than a hint of whimsy. I was delighted to find a first American edition (1797) of William Godwin's Enquirer, which is now on its way to Boston (my, er, back-to-school present to myself).

[Updated: Link fixed]

Book Review: "The Boilerplate Rhino"

A selection of David Quammen's essays from Outside, The Boilerplate Rhino: Nature in the Eye of the Beholder is a nicely-written, often humorous compilation of popular natural history writing at its best. Quammen has a knack for interesting connections and off-the-beaten-path finds which, combined with his quick wit and thought-provoking style make for a great read all around.

I enjoyed each of the twenty-five pieces, from Quammen's musings on durian fruit to the conundrums of just why there are so many different sorts of beetle and just what the heck is a slime mold, exactly. He seems just as much at home discussing Albrecht Dürer's rhinoceros as Thoreau's Walden or Percival Lowell's mythical Martian canals or Guamanian cuisine (which, apparently, includes fruit bats).

Further reading ideas are given for each essay, which is always appreciated, and Quammen's bibliographic disclaimer made me laugh out loud (not for the first time in the book): "Since this bibliography is intended primarily as a guide to your further reading and a way of giving credit to other authors where credit is due, rather than as a manifest of my (amateurish and risible) scholarship, I have refrained from ferreting out and supplying all that first-edition information. Also, there's the fact that it would have made me crazy" (pg. 257). Personally, I (and, I suspect, others) actually prefer knowing which particular edition of a work a writer used.

Along with Quammen's other books, I recommend this one, whether for an occasional dip or a concerted full read.


Today marks the birthdays of John Locke (1632) and Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809). I admit that I haven't read much Locke recently but I enjoyed Holmes' Autocrat of the Breakfast Table earlier this summer.

Mencken Collection Acquired

The George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University is the new home of a 6,000-item collection of materials relating to writer H.L. Mencken, the Baltimore Sun reports. Accumulated over decades by George Thompson, an Ohio accountant, the "books, letters, photographs, even T-shirts," together are believed to be the "largest private collection of Mencken literary memorabilia."

Thompson's collection, partially donated and partially purchased, supplements the Peabody's existing Mencken holdings, known as the Robert A. Wilson Collection - these were donated by an alumnus in 2005. "Set up like bookends, the Thompson and Wilson collections are separated only by a walnut library table. Together they make up the Mencken Alcove at the Peabody - the six-floor, Victorian research library open to the public."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Up For Grabs

I recently won a one-year membership to LibraryThing in the Harry Potter Review Contest, and since I long ago upgraded to a lifetime membership (after playing with the site for significantly less than an hour, I think), I decided I'd pass along the membership to an interested reader.

I can't say enough good things about LT; it's a wonderfully bookish site with all sorts of fascinating features even on top of the excellent cataloging capabilities. It's a bit (alright very) addictive, but that's all part of the fun.

So, if you'd like the year's membership, just email me (philobiblos gmail com) before noon EDT on Friday, 31 August; I'll pick a winner at random.


Hay-on-Wye, Wales is probably the world's best-known "booktown," but Stars and Stripes' Kevin Dougherty profiles a few others in a recent story. Bredevoort in The Netherlands and Redu, Belgium get most of the ink in Dougherty's piece, but that's alright - they sound fascinating. Bredevoort is home to less than 2,000 people, "but, incredibly, there are roughly 200,000 tomes on the market in ... two dozen bookstores." In Redu, the human population's just 450, but there are 22 bookshops.

These all sound like places where someone like me could get in real trouble ...

[h/t Shelf:Life]

UAB Gets Proust Collection

A gift from Professor William C. Carter has propelled the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Mervyn H. Sterne Library onto the list of top destinations for Proust scholars, the Birmingham News reports. "Last week, Carter donated a treasure trove of rare books, photos and memorabilia related to Proust, plus an extensive collection of items Carter amassed during a friendship and correspondence with Mississippi-born historian and novelist Shelby Foote, who was a great admirer of Proust."

The gift means that UAB now has "what is believed to be the third-largest collection of Proust-related items in the world, behind France's Bibliotheque Nationale and a collection at the University of Illinois, home of pioneering Proust scholar Philip Kolb."

Monday, August 27, 2007

On Exclamation Marks

From Wayne Curtis' review (unfortunately not online) of Jennifer Michael Hecht's The Happiness Myth: Why What We Think Is Right Is Wrong in the Spring issue of The American Scholar:
"... Hecht is fond of exclamation marks, which she deploys like a bottom-pinching uncle who doesn't know when to stop."

Just made me laugh.

Book Review: "Everyday Nature"

In Everyday Nature: Knowledge of the Natural World in Colonial New York
(Rutgers University Press, 2007), Long Island University history professor Sara Gronim examines how scientific innovations of the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries were received in New York and became - gradually, fitfully, as she argues - part of the general consciousness.

Gronim argues that New York's peculiarities as a religiously, socially and racially diverse colony lend it as a suitable example, as does the absence of any dominant scientific figure or institution. She maintains that "Innovations in understandings and practices that could be incorporated into familiar social relations and familiar material practices stood a good chance of being accepted. Those innovations, however, that bolstered some people's [sic] social power, religious claims, or political goals at the expense of others were as often as not vehemently rejected" (pg.7) ... at least for a time.

The book's chapters examine various aspects of natural knowledge, including views of health and medicine, anomalous portents and their interpretations, interest in formal scientific practices, agricultural advances and innovations in other areas. Gronim also profiles a few of the more interesting scientific personalities in colonial New York, including Cadwallader Colden (better known for his uncanny political ability to tick off just about everyone) and his botanist daughter Jane.

There are some fascinating details here, including a good discussion of how political rivalries stymied attempts to establish scientific societies in in pre-Revolutionary New York, and the surprising news that almanacs offering a Ptolemaic view of the solar system (that is, earth-centered) were published in New York through the 1730s.

The book has a patched-together feel in some places (the last chapter, on the slow rise of geography and cartography, seems particularly out of sync), but aside from the slight interruptions in narrative flow, I found Everyday Nature quite worthwhile. I'm afraid it's unlikely that the conclusions drawn will be easily extensible to other areas (the general thrust may hold, but I think it would take a close examination of the details in each instance to make the case); for New York, however, Gronim has laid a good foundation.

Morgan Library Gets Levy Grant

Word from the Morgan Library this morning that they've received a $450,000 grant from the Leon Levy Foundation for a three-year project to upgrade the manuscript catalog records and make them available through the library's OPAC.

Morgan director Charles E. Pierce, Jr. said of the grant "The Leon Levy Foundation has made an extraordinary gift to scholarship and public enjoyment of the Morgan’s rich resources. Accurate collection information is the foundation of all that we do-from providing scholarly access to mounting public exhibitions. Every major improvement we make to our online catalog results in the use of the Morgan’s collections in new and unexpected ways."

"As a result of the grant, the Morgan will hire a team of project catalogers to examine targeted areas of the collection to ensure that items are described fully and accurately in CORSAIR. Though most of the Morgan’s collections are represented in the catalog, in some cases the entries have not been revisited in many decades.

The grant will also enable the Morgan to examine undocumented materials and graphic items-such as individual letters of major authors and portraits and photographs-and make certain they are properly cataloged. Moreover, it will allow for the upgrading of tools used for the physical tracking of collection items, an essential part of responsible collection management."

Every little bit helps!

Institution Profiles

Seems like there's been quite a few media profiles of various biblio-institutions recently; here are some of them:

- The Getty Research Institute in LA, covered by Suzanne Muchnic for the LATimes. Her hook is the impending arrival of the Getty's new director, Thomas W. Gaehtgens.

- The Carter G. Woodson branch of the Chicago Public Library earns some ink in the ChiTrib for its ongoing exhibition of the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection, believed to be the largest collection of African-American history and literature in the Midwest.

- Myrtle Beach Online writes up some big changes at USC's Thomas Cooper Library.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Links & Reviews

As expected, quite a few more interesting things from the last couple days:

- Scott Brown announced a new collection of Nicholas Basbanes' essays to be published this fall; FB&C is offering deluxe and limited editions of Editions and Impressions: Twenty Years on the Book Beat to subscribers before the trade edition is released early next year.

- James and Ben Long's book The Plot Against Pepys (Faber & Faber) is reviewed twice in the Telegraph: by Noel Malcolm and Nicholas Shakespeare. One I'll have to hunt up, I think.

- From BibliOdyssey, images of knights from two books in the Polish National Library.

- Matt Raymond at the LC Blog discusses some interesting things found by interns among the Library's copyright deposits.

- Ed goes multimedia, offering up what sounds like yet another great BBC radio play, "Spy Nozy and the Poets" (I'm going to listen to it this afternoon; the link will be good until Tuesday). Ed also points out a hilarious scene from "Blackadder" on YouTube.

- A new biography of Scottish author James Hogg is reviewed in The Scotsman. Also from Scotland, a David Stenhouse review of Scotland's Books by Robert Crawford.

- Paul Collins inaugurates his "Search for the World's Most Boring Book Title".

- Michael Lieberman posts on a couple books which example reading in art.

- In the Boston Globe today, columnist Sam Allis chats with the Brattle's Ken Gloss.

- An Illuminated Life, a biography of librarian Belle de Costa Greene, is reviewed in the Washington Times; unfortunately the review indicates that Greene's scholarly contributions get short shrift.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

NYTimes Obituary for Stern

Better late than never: the New York Times today finally contains an obituary for Madeleine Stern, who died last Saturday.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Two 1482 Maps Stolen from Spain's National Library

[This post will be a test of my translation skills. If I screw up, somebody please tell me.]

elmundo reports (in Spanish) that two world maps from a rare 1482 edition of Ptolemy's Cosmographia were recently stolen from the Biblioteca National in Madrid. According to the article, the maps had been housed in a secure section of the library.

An investigation by a special unit of the Civil Guard has been initiated. If I find out anything more, I'll certainly pass it along.

Alchemy in Colonial America

J.L. Bell at Boston1775 writes on Cambridge (MA) Dr. Samuel Danforth's flirtations with alchemy during the 1770s, making note of Danforth's 1773 letter to Benjamin Franklin announcing that he'd discovered the Philosopher's Stone (Franklin's response is, naturally, priceless).

It would be fascinating to see a full study of alchemical thinking in colonial New England; I remember being quite surprised and intrigued to discover that among the Winthrop Library books at MHS are John Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica, as well as Five Treatises of the Philosopher's Stone, Michael Maier's Jocus Severus, and Agnello's A Revelation of the Secret Spirit (there are probably more such with the majority of the Winthrop books at the New York Society Library).

Bell's post got me doing a little digging and I've discovered a few interesting articles on John Winthrop Jr.'s alchemical predilections, including several of those in the footnotes to this piece.

John Constable Drawing Found

A small pencil drawing by British artist John Constable has been found in a "grangerized" biography of JMW Turner, the Telegraph reports. "Hyam Church, Suffolk," a sketch of the Church of St. Mary in Higham, was sold at Christie's in 1896, but then faded from view until it was recently discovered by a British Library curator Felicity Myrone.

"Yesterday Mrs Myrone said she found the drawing in one of the 13 volumes bequeathed by John Platt, a retired velvet merchant and Justice of the Peace from Warrington. 'It's a fantastic find - a real treasure trove,' she said. In a practice common amongst Victorians, Mr Platt had 'Grangerised' a two-volume mid-19th century biography of JMW Turner by George Thornbury, effectively turning it into what is now a very expensive scrapbook. Platt collected a total of 1,607 letters, manuscripts, prints and drawings in some way connected to Turner and his contemporaries. Every page of [the biography] was unbound and then rebound with all of Platt's additions."

Platt's books have been at the BL since 1919.

Grangerizing (or 'extra-illustrating,' as it became euphemistically known) was frowned upon by many in its time and is looked upon even less favorably today.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Book Review: "Nature's Engraver"

Jenny Uglow's new biography Nature's Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) is one of the best examples of the genre I've read this year. Uglow has captured the spirit and nature of Bewick remarkably well, and the text is nicely complemented by the many delightful examples of Bewick's woodcuts scattered throughout.

Beyond the straight retelling of Bewick's life and business (interesting though that is), Uglow provides a well-researched look at the history of book illustration in England and the gradual development of the various engraving processes which Bewick largely scorned in favor of the more traditional woodcut (a form of which he must be counted one of the great masters). The book charts his rise from "wild child" of the English north to acclaimed illustrator, in high demand by the top publishers and authors of England.

A short section in which Uglow discusses Bewick's impact on some other British literary figures (Wordsworth, the Brontës, &c.) was particularly fascinating, as was her recounting of a meeting between Bewick and John James Audubon (two great artists whose styles were infintely different, but each marvelous in its own way).

Importantly, Uglow also takes us beyond Bewick as artist and naturalist, giving her reader a view of the man which most of his contemporaries might not have had: an unorthodox deist in religion, Bewick was also fairly radical in his politics, joining many of his Newcastle neighbors in actively supporting pacificist principles and political candidates during the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. For people like Bewick, best known for a single occupation, I think it's easy (at least it is for me) to see them in a sort of vacuum, just doing their thing; Uglow's book does a good job of adding those additional dimensions that often go unconsidered.

I'll add my obligatory comment about the unsatisfactory citation style (references go unnoted in the text), but that's the only minor fault with this excellent biography.

Links & Reviews

I was trying to save these up for Sunday, but I'm sure there'll be more by then:

- One I forgot from last week - Stephen King has an essay in Entertainment Weekly on the end of the Harry Potter series. It's one of the more insightful commentaries on the books I've read.

- Michael at Book Patrol comments on "mega-listers", including one such who's harvesting ABE's "want list" data.

- In the Telegraph, Alan Marshall reviews Wayne Franklin's new biography of James Fenimore Cooper (the first volume of two).

- Rachel at fade theory notes that Alberto Manguel recently reviewed Nathan Englander's The Ministry of Special Cases, and that a new short story collection edited by Manguel - Summer Stories - is reviewed in the Globe and Mail.

- From BibliOdyssey, wonderful botanical illustrations from Jacob Bigelow's American Medical Botany (1817-1820), the first color-plate illustrated book produced in America.

- Richard at Bytown Bookshop points out a neat site for typophiles; Type Cases highlights many different methods of organizing type founts.

- Ed from Bibliothecary has a review of A Philadelphia Perspective, the Civil War Diary of Sidney George Fisher in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer. Ed also comments on the new crop of Shakespeare books, including an upcoming biography of Shakespeare's wife by Germaine Greer.

- Scott Brown confirms that Heritage's stock has in fact been sold to Bloomsbury Auctions, with an estimated worth of some $10 million. That'll definitely be an auction to watch.

- Judith Maas reviews Ghostwalk for the Boston Globe, coming away from the book about the same way I did.

- LibraryThing's got yet another noteworthy feature: TagMirror. If mine is any indication, this actually works quite well indeed.

I decided to do up a separate post on alchemy in colonial America, so stay tuned for that.

Obituaries of Note

The New York Sun on Madeleine B. Stern; Stanford Daily on Jay Fliegelman.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Book Review: "Labyrinth"

Yet another version of the "grail quest" forms the plot of Kate Mosse's novel Labyrinth, which has inevitably been compared with The Da Vinci Code. Those comparisons are actually fairly apt - neither book is well edited, the characters in each are quite flat, and I found that I'd guessed the "big twist" about halfway through in both cases.

This time, the story is told through parallel plotlines, one set in the present and the other set in the early years of the thirteenth century. The structure works, for the most part, and the historical aspects of the story are clearly well-researched and add much to the narrative. However, the book seems vastly over-written and spottily edited (I nearly gave up after the first couple of chapters, which are narrated in a grating, omniscent voice; thankfully that particular problem fades after a while).

As a casual read this is an adequate novel; it kept me occupied during the commutes for a few days. It's not great - don't expect Eco - but it's better than at least a few of the other Dan Brown spinoffs.

Watermark Database Upgraded

Version 3.0 of the Thomas L. Gravell Watermark Collection is now live at The collection comprises more than 7,000 images of watermarks created between 1400-1835. Beyond the database itself, the site includes a good bibliography of watermark literature, links to other online watermark databases, and some other useful resources.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Book Review: "The Business of Books"

James Raven has done the book-history community a great service with his newly-published The Business of Books: Booksellers and the English Book Trade, 1450-1850 (Yale University Press). In a study which is sure to stand as the definitive treatment of the English book business, Raven treats his reader to a detailed and extensive examination of all aspects of the book trade and its people from the beginnings of British publishing through the middle of the nineteenth century.

Raven points out that this is largely a "new and broadly cast" business history, in which he seeks to situate the book trade within the larger economic, social and political climate of England (pg. 4). The focal points here are the printing, publishing and bookselling industries (in their oft-intertwined forms) and the printers, publishers, and booksellers. Given the unfortunate paucity of extant business records, Raven has done a more than admirable job of reconstructing the contours of the trade as it developed.

The portion of the book I enjoyed best was Raven's exquisite walking tour of the mid- to late eighteenth century London bookselling scene - ah, to have strolled Paternoster Row and St. Paul's Churchyard during that time!

A few of the many additional elements covered here include financing and cooperative publishing practices, the growing book export trade, battles over government regulation and reprint rights, advertising competitions, the rise of the secondhand book trade, and ultimately the key changes that would occur to the trade with the arrival of mechanized printing during the middle of the nineteenth century.

Supplemented by nearly sixty pages of detailed footnotes and a twenty-page (but still select!) bibliography, Raven's work offers many additional avenues for inquiry and make an important concluding point - that literary history, book history and related fields are connected in important ways to the larger economic, social and political atmosphere: "For many it is no longer sufficient to consider literature without considering larger publishing strategies, professional networks, and the manner in which booksellers put the work of writers in print and created a literary market" (pg. 378).

A fine study, and highly recommended for those with a serious interest in the first centuries of the English book trade.

Bryson on Shakespeare

The Sunday Times this week had an extract from Bill Bryson's forthcoming book Shakespeare: The World as Stage. Recommended.

UK Regional Treasures Shortlist Released

The British Library has released the shortlist for its Hidden Treasures contest: public libraries from around the UK were invited to submit interesting items from their collections, and the BL will choose four (one each from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) to digitize and host on the main BL website. The four winners will be chosen next month.

The Guardian reports on the shortlist, nothing that it "includes priceless medieval manuscripts from Renfrewshire, Exeter, and Hereford, and a psalter dating back to around 1250 from Blackburn. There is also an 18th century atlas of Ireland from Armagh. One of the funniest and most poignant entries came from Dorset, a wartime record made by the Dorset Federation of Women's Institutes, illustrated with original watercolours showing evacuees bemused at rural life, long gossipy queues at a vegetable stall, and the spirit of a cow floating in the clouds over Charmouth, having unfortunately trodden on a landmine."

All of the shortlisted entrants are listed here.

[Via Shelf:Life]

Monday, August 20, 2007

Madeleine B. Stern Dead at 95

An announcement from Eric Holzenburg at the Grolier Club that just came across the lists:

"Madeleine B. Stern, surviving partner in the antiquarian book firm Rostenberg & Stern, and co-author with the late Leona Rostenberg of a number of memoirs of their life in rare books, died peacefully at home on Saturday after a brief illness. She was 95 years old.

For those of you in the New York area who may wish to pay their respects, a memorial service will be held tomorrow, Tuesday, August 21, at Campbell Funeral Chapel, 1076 Madison Ave. (at 79th Street), at 11 am."

Another great member of the biblio-universe gone to their rest. I'll be sure to post a full obituary soon.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Book Review: "Round the Fire Stories"

I suspect the book I took out of the local public library most often during my middle school years was an edition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Round the Fire Stories, first published in 1908 and reprinted several times since. I recently came across a copy of the 1991 Chronicle Books edition and bought it, knowing I'd enjoy a re-read of the stories. Conan Doyle does not disappoint. These are some of his creepiest and most suspenseful works, at times surpassing even the Sherlock Holmes stories in quality (Holmes makes a few uncredited cameo appearances in these stories, but is otherwise absent).

In the preface, Conan Doyle writes "In the present collection those [stories] have been brought together which are concerned with the grotesque and with the terrible - such tales as might well be read 'round the fire' upon a winter's night. This would be my ideal atmosphere for such stories, if an author might choose his time and place as an artist does the light and hanging of his picture. However, if they have the good fortune to give pleasure to anyone, at anytime or place, their author will be very satisfied." I was of course too impatient to wait for winter nights, but summer evenings sufficed just as well; if the author of these knew just how much pleasure these works have brought to me over the years, I suspect he'd be very satisfied indeed.

Links & Reviews

I'm still working on getting my house put back together after the Great Book Move; putting a few hundred books into something resembling order is taking longer than expected. I'll have more to say about book-organization shortly, but in the meantime, here are some goodies from the week:

- Via StarDotStar, a site to rank book search sites, largely from a sellers' perspective.

- Ed at Bibliothecary notes that a British man attacked a Joshua Reynolds portrait of Samuel Johnson at London's National Portrait Gallery on 8 August, smashing the covering glass and beating Johnson with a hammer. The damage has been estimated at more than £10,000.

- Louis Menand has a review essay in The New Yorker about several recent books on the crafting of biographies.

- Joyce has a guest post by
Judith Murphy, Conservator for Special Collections at the Center for Southwest Research in Albuquerque on terms for paper degradation.

- Travis adds some more details to the Jay Miller thefts, filling in some of the details about when and how the thefts were carried out.

- BibliOdyssey has some gripping and graphic images from John Gabriel Stedman's Narrative of a Five Years' Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, in Guiana, on the Wild Coast of South America, from the year 1772 to 1777.

- Paul Collins goes deep on the most difficult aspects of biographical writing: "reductionism and the deterministic interpretation of source material."

- Over at Boston 1775 (a great Boston history blog), J.L. Bell comments on Thomas Paine; he's right on the mark about why Paine's not typically included in the pantheon of iconic American founders. Reading this reminded me of a little tidbit I came across in an early almanac once (I've got a copy somewhere, I'll try to find the full citation), Tom Paine's epitaph:

Here lies Tom Paine, who wrote in Liberty's defense,
But in his Age of Reason lost his Common Sense

Back to shelving.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Book-Scholar Jay Fliegelman Dead

The biblio-world has lost a friend. Noted Stanford University professor, author and book collector Jay Fliegelman died on 14 August after a long battle with liver disease and cancer, the Stanford News reports. He was 58.

One of the most important scholars of American Studies, Fliegelman's books include Prodigals and Pilgrims: The American Revolution Against Patriarchal Authority, 1750-1800 and Declaring Independence: Jefferson, Natural Language, and the Culture of Performance. He was working on a third monograph, Belongings: Dramas of American Book Ownership, 1660-1860, but it's unclear now when or even if that will be published.

You'll remember Fliegelman from his profile in Nick Basbanes' Patience & Fortitude, where his wonderful collection of association copies is covered at length. Each of the books in Fliegelman's collection "was the property at one time or another of a person significant in the making of American history, or someone who had a profound impact on the life of an important figure," Basbanes writes (p. 142). Belongings was to be, in Fliegelman's words "a kind of cultural history of America, disguised as a fully-illustrated catalog of my own library."

He owned Simon Bradstreet's copy of John Goodwin's Imputatio Fidei, Jefferson's Paradise Lost (which Madison borrowed and signed his name in), and copies of Frederick Douglass' autobiographies presented by the author to the Englishwoman who purchased his freedom.

Basbanes captures Fliegelman's worldview just about perfectly with this quote, I think: "I wake up sometimes and I will go to my library and move a book from one shelf to another, because in the middle of the night I thought about certain connections between the two. I am wondering, does this author belong with this author? If so, I want them to commune with one anothr, physically, right now. It's a matter of what becomes visible when I bring these two things together that's not visible when they're kept apart. All of these books are about the presence of the past in the present" (pp. 148-149).

Fliegelman is survived by his wife, his sister, his wonderful collection, and many whose lives he impacted through his work and his example.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Book Review: "Kings of Infinite Space"

Paul Trilby just can't catch a break. James Hynes has put him through the wringer before in Publish and Perish, but that was almost tame compared to what happens to the poor guy in Kings of Infinite Space. After losing his job and his wife in Publish and Perish due to the bizarre antics of a maniacal cat, Paul's slowly been descending into the depths of despair, and the bad luck hasn't stopped. As Kings of Infinite Space begins, Paul's working as a temp writer for the Texas Department of General Services, and is about to be kicked out of (yet another) apartment ... again due to the bizarre antics of the same maniacal cat, this time in ghostly form.

Just as a few positive developments start to lift Paul's spirits (he gets a raise, meets a nice girl, has some fun, &c.), the weird stuff starts. And not just visitations-by-devilish-felines weird, I mean really weird. "Office Space" meets "The X-Files" as the book progresses as Hynes turns up the creep factor bigtime. With the same dry humor and biting satire that saturated his earlier works on academia, Hynes tackles government bureaucracy and office culture here, and does it well.

A book filled with the strange and unbelievable, yes, but funny and disturbing and a good casual read.

But Will They Read It?

Here's a Friday-worthy news bit: icSouthLondon reports that a crime novelist's manuscript - which rather ironically happened to be about the theft of a rare book - was swiped by burglars last weekend. Laptops belonging to Will Hodgkinson and his wife were snatched from their apartment, and with the computers went the near-finished manuscript. "I've been working on the novel for about eight months and I was supposed to be handing it in this week to the editor. I had pretty much seven years of work on the laptop, which was basically my entire back catalogue."

Behold, the power of backups. This (well, among other reasons, namely that I'm afraid my computer could just conk out any moment) is why any file of any value or usefulness is stored at in at least two different places, including one in a web-based email account ... just in case.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

'Poe Toaster' a Hoax

It has been a poignant and touching annual tradition: late at night on 19 January (Edgar Alan Poe's birthday) for many years, a black-clothed figure laid three roses and a bottle of cognac on the writer's grave in a Baltimore cemetery. The story has captivated Poe fans for decades, but now the bubble may have burst.

The AP reveals that 92-year old Sam Porpora, former historian of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, says he concocted the story of the Poe Toaster in the late 1960s, when he told a reporter that the Toaster had begun leaving his yearly offering in 1949. "We did it, myself and my tour guides," says Porpora. "It was a promotional idea. We made it up, never dreaming it would go worldwide." He says since that time, someone actually has taken over the annual practice.

Hearing the news, Poe House curator Jeff Jerome, who has led annual vigils in the churchyard to await the arrival of the Toaster, "reacted like a man who's been punched in the stomach by his beloved grandfather. He's sad. He feels betrayed. But he's reluctant to punch back," according to the AP report. "[Porpora's] like a mentor to me. And I can tell you that if it weren't for him, Westminster Hall may not be there. But to say the toaster is a promotional hoax, well, all I can say is that's just not so."

But does Porpora's story even hold water (or cognac)? "He said he invented the stranger in an interview with a reporter in 1967, but the story to which he refers appeared in 1976. Shortly afterward, the vigils and the yearly chronicles of the stranger's visits began. During the same interview, Porpora said both that he made the story up and that one of his tour guides went through a pantomime of dressing up, sneaking into the cemetery and laying the tribute on the grave ... Jerome found a 1950 newspaper clipping from The [Baltimore] Evening Sun that mentions 'an anonymous citizen who creeps in annually to place an empty bottle (of excellent label)' against the gravestone."

Jerome says he'll continue to keep the annual vigil, whether the Toaster appears or not. Jeffrey Savoye, of Baltimore's Poe Society, says "Even if Sam's story is true, so what? It's a tradition. It's a nice tradition, whether it dates back to 1949 or the '70s."

I suppose - but these revelations do cause it to lose a little of its allure.

Spanish Publishers Call on The Don

Don Quixote, that is. The Times reports on a rather odd gimmick deployed by Spanish publishers this summer: "... strange characters have been spotted stalking sunbathers on Spanish beaches, wildly overdressed and acting oddly, even for this time of year. Little Red Riding Hood, Mary Poppins, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza [and Arturo Perez-Reverte's Captain Alatriste] are just some of the characters accosting tourists on the coasts, part of a novel campaign by Spanish publishers to promote reading."

Thomas Catan writes that the ten actors have visited Zarautz and Valencian beaches, where, "After acting out scenes from their respective stories, the ten actors fan out across the beach 'in search of readers to reward for their bravery', Don Quixote explains."

Here's where it gets, eh, weird. "Anyone spotted reading is given a Frisbee, a pack of playing cards, a bookmark or beach pillow." Bookmark or beach pillow make sense, but a Frisbee? Playing cards? I thought the idea was to keep people reading? Why not have a selection of books?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More on Streeter-Chen Plea

As expected, Travis comments on the Streeter-Chen guilty plea, arguing (rightly, in my view) that there should have been federal charges filed in this case, rather than leaving things up to the states.

The Great Book Move

Apologies for my radio silence yesterday afternoon; I was in the midst of some major book-shifting. I arranged for a day off so that I could take delivery of six (6) new giant bookshelves (not optimal, but cheap and more easily portable than others). My day was occupied with assembling shelves, rearranging surrounding furniture, cleaning, and getting a large portion of my book collection out of bags and onto the new cases. It was hard work, but enjoyable most of the time.

I'm not done yet. Nothing's in order, which makes for some pretty hilarious shelf-neighbors. My bed is currently parked in the living room since I didn't clean out the room where the books had been yet. I need bookends. And I haven't figured out a good way to light the new space. But the books seem happy, and it's fun to see them all at once. The best news is, I have a couple cases to spare now!

I took a few pictures over the course of the day, which can be seen here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Streeter-Chen Pleads Guilty

Rebecca Streeter-Chen entered a guilty plea yesterday on one count of second-degree larceny for the theft of an 1823 Tanner Atlas from the Rockland County Historical Society back in April, the Journal News reports.

"Prosecutors recommended [County Court Judge Victor] Alfieri sentence Streeter-Chen to prison for 1 to 3 years on Oct. 15, Chief Assistant District Attorney Louis Valvo said yesterday. Alfieri, however, indicated he would sentence Streeter-Chen to six months in the county jail and supervised probation ..., but he would consider alternatives, Valvo said." Here's an alternative: 1 to 3 years.

Streeter-Chen told the court that she entered the Historical Society building on 22 April, took the atlas from a storage room, and then, as we know, attempted to sell it.

More as I get it. Travis will probably have comments as well, so don't forget to check in there.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Jefferson Library Catalogue Now Online

The Library of Congress has digitized E. Milicent Sowerby's five-volume Catalog of the Library of Thomas Jefferson (1952-1959), making the volumes available in either HTML or PDF format. A very useful resource indeed.

[Update: I'm reminded by several people that any use of Sowerby's Catalog should be complemented by a close read of Douglas L. Wilson, "Sowerby Revisited: The Unfinished Catalogue of Thomas Jefferson's Library," The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 41:4 (October, 1984), pp. 615-628.]

Cataloguer's Collection Goes to USM

The Portland Press Herald reports that retired University of Southern Maine library cataloguer Albert Howard has donated nearly 2000 books to USM's special collections. Howard began his collection in 1958, and it contains works printed as early as 1490. He purchased the first book in the collection (a 1502 Venice edition of Latin poems by Statius) for $30, telling the paper "At that time, $30 was a lot of money. I got to like the creatures and discovered that in the 1950s on a librarian's salary, I could buy one or two every once in a while."

He says he decided to donate the books because "I've spent a lot of time with (my collection). Any collection of anything, whatever it is, is part of your personality. I feel it means more to me seeing it go someplace than selling it off."

Partial exhibits of sections of the collection are being displayed this summer at USM's Glickman Family Library.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Links & Reviews

Oh so many good things this week!

- From BibliOdyssey, a collection of American Civil War envelopes, a sixteenth-century Spanish parchment manual, and some William Wallace Denslow illustrations from the Wizard of Oz books.

- Joyce has resumed regular book-related almanac entries at Bibliophile Bullpen, a most-welcome development.

- At Weekend Stubble, Paul Collins names his title of the week: L.A. Abbott's Seven Wives and Seven Prisons: Or, Experiences in the Life of a Matrimonial Monomaniac. A True Story, Written by Himself (1870). It's online here, and one current online description calls the book "The misadventures of a homeopathic doctor turned serial bigamist, on the run in upstate New York."

- From John at Boston 1775, word of the XXVI Symposium of the Scientific Instrument Commission, to be held at Harvard and MIT in September. The theme will be "Scientific Instrumentation on the Frontier."

- Ian at Lux Mentis writes on professional niceties in the bookselling world.

- The Little Professor points out some very amusing text in the appendix to a Fordham University manual for theology grad students.

- Jonathan Bate reviews The Letters of John Murray to Lord Byron in The Telegraph, writing "At a stroke, [editor Adam] Nicholson's towering act of scholarship has rendered all existing biographies of Byron obsolete."

- In the NYTimes, Nathaniel Philbrick reviews Amerigo: The Man Who Gave His Name to America (just out from Random House). Philbrick calls the book "wonderfully idiosyncratic and intelligent."

More on Miller

Over at Upward Departure, Travis has two posts containing more information and background on Jay Miller, arrested recently for the theft of rare books from the estate of William Ernest Hocking. Travis notes that Miller lived at one point with ------ ------ [name removed by request] (described as the niece of Hocking's granddaughter), and during that period had "stolen some of the books from the Hocking library and sold them to see how much he could get for them. The family never pressed charges or reported this to the police."

In his second post, Travis reports this isn't the first time Miller's found himself in trouble with the law: "he hasn’t confined himself to these gentle crimes; he’s the owner of two felony convictions for sex offense and a related violence charge. Yikes." He also reveals why Miller's bail request was denied: "the defendant had no stable residential history, no stable form of employment, had substance abuse, & the deft. was scheduled to fly back to Thailand."

Miller certainly sounds like a good candidate for some serious judicial book-throwing.

Book Review: "Robbing the Bees"

It's rare that I don't finish a book (in fact I think this is only the second time this year). But Holley Bishop's Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey, the Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World just didn't do it for me. After the grave error on page 36-37 my credulity was strained to the breaking point, and because the book got even more repetitive and breezy as I read further, I quit about halfway through.

Bishop's discussions of how bees and honey were seen and used through history are mildly interesting, or would have been if she'd put them into a coherent order. Likewise her semi-journalistic accounts of visiting a large Florida honey operation had potential, but I was put off by the fact that she compressed stories from three years' worth of visits into one year. This style of writing can be excellent in capable hands (see Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief, for example), but Bishop's effort falls flat.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Fortsas Hoax Anniversary

Joyce reminds us that it's the anniversary of the famed Fortsas Auction, one of the great biblio-hoaxes of all time. The Special Collections department at the University of Delaware has a good write-up about the hoax as well as a list of resources. In short, during the summer of 1840, many European bookdealers received a printed catalogue announcing the sale of the library of the mysterious "Count Fortsas," a collector with a taste for the unique: his library "consisted entirely of books of which he held the only known copies. If the Count learned of the existence of even one other copy of a book in his collection, that title was immediately purged from his library."

When the booksellers converged on the small Belgian town of Binche for the 10 August auction, they learned that the whole thing was an elaborate ruse dreamed up by former military man and famed jokester Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon.

Good fun.

[Update: For more, see my 2008 post, "Fortsas Lives!"

CA Man Arrested in Book Thefts

Back in late February I noted the theft of some 400 rare books (as well as some antiques) from the estate of retired Harvard professor William Ernest Hocking. Now, the AP reports the arrest of Jay Miller, a 36-year old resident of Berkeley, CA. Miller "was arrested last month at a storage facility in Richmond, CA, by local police and FBI agents in connection with the thefts. He was turned over to the FBI on a federal warrant for interstate transportation of stolen property. The state warrant was on burglary charges." He's currently in custody pending extradition to NH.

Some of the stolen items were apparently recovered at the storage facility, but "Madison Police Chief John Pickering said still missing are 175 books and the card catalog to the family library, as well as some statues and an antique clock." Pickering says they have some further leads which they're following up.

"Pickering said that Miller, who used to run a book business in California, had been an acquaintance of the family at the estate. 'He knew the comings and goings of the family during the winter and he took the opportunity to strike when nobody was there,' Pickering said. 'He was almost like part of the family at one point, many years ago.'"

Well, I guess now we'll get to see how New Hampshire metes out justice to book thieves. I'm glad so much has been recovered, and hope that more of the items will make their way home soon.

Iraq National Library Occupied

The Guardian reports that some twenty Iraqi security forces "seized" the Iraq National Library building at gunpoint yesterday. Library director Saad Eskander "said the soldiers, who said they had occupied the building to defend Shia worshippers heading to the shrine of Khadimiya, about 15 miles away, had positioned themselves on the roof of the library. They had already started to dismantle the main gate, and had smashed doors and windows inside the main building, he said."

Eskander fears the presence of the security forces will prompt attacks: "They have turned our national archive into a military target. Tomorrow or the day after, the extremists will attack the Iraqi forces there. The reckless actions of the Iraqi forces and the US military, who appear to condone the operation, will put the staff and library and archival collections in real danger." Eskander told the AP that US troops had "forcibly entered" the building on Monday.

The paper could not get a comment from the UK or US military operations on the apparent seizure of the library building.

Eskander is entirely correct. The library building and grounds must be off-limits as a base for military operations, in order to prevent reprisal attacks on it and other cultural institutions. We saw in the destruction at Sarajevo what happens when libraries become targets of attack, and after the looting in 2003 Iraq's library is having a hard enough time trying to recover. Eskander's made a brilliant go of it, and I hope his powers of persuasion hold out now.

[h/t Book Patrol]

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Book Review: "Amazing Rare Things"

I'm a sucker for natural history illustration, so I couldn't miss a new book out from Yale, Amazing Rare Things: The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery. Highlighting paintings held in the Royal Collections, the book features beautifully-reproduced artwork by Leonardo da Vinci, Alexander Marshal, Maria Sibylla Merian and Mark Catesby, as well as a selection of those works collected by Cassiano dal Pozzo for his "paper museum." Each section includes an essay on the artist's background and his/her works; these are good introductions to the illustrators and complement the chosen illustrations well.

David Attenborough contributed the introduction to the book, noting that for all the different purposes behind the creation of natural history art, "there is a common denominator that links all these artists. It is the profound joy felt by all who observe the natural world with a sustained and devoted intensity." Attenborough also intersperses short comments amongst the essays and plates; these you can almost hear him reading in that distinctive voice of his.

A lovely book, one which I shall browse often.

Dilemma of the Day

My current commute-book is Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey, the Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World by Holley Bishop. Somewhat overly casual style and silly subtitle notwithstanding (a rant for another day), the book looked interesting, and I was enjoying it fairly well ... until the bottom of page 36, when Bishop, discussing the arrival of honeybees in North America via the English settlers, writes "Native North Americans at the time had never seen bees or honey and had no words for them. John Elliot [sic], the New England Puritan pastor who was translating the Bible into native dialects for the Algonquian and Cherokee tribes ..." (my italics).

The misspelling of Eliot's name I would have been able to deal with, but Bishop's inclusion of Cherokee among Eliot's translation projects is completely outrageous. Eliot worked in the mid-1600s (his translation of the Bible into the Natick dialect of Algonquian was published in complete form in 1663, and is something I've recently been researching). It wasn't until 1824 that efforts to create a Cherokee translation were even begun (and a full version of the entire Bible in Cherokee wasn't published until 1965). Not to mention the fact that Eliot, a New Englander as Bishop notes, was hardly in the correct region of the country for missionizing to the Cherokee even if he'd wanted to.

So, my dilemma: is this error of sufficient gravity that I won't be able to take any of the rest of the book at all seriously? I recognize fully the nit-pickiness of this, but such a blatant and frankly ridiculous error is quite troubling. I think I'm resolved to give it another chapter or two and see if I can manage, but it might be a tough go.

(Some) Buck Heirs Reach Accord

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports today on the ongoing dispute among heirs of author Pearl Buck over ownership of the recently-rediscovered typescript of The Good Earth. Yesterday, members of Buck's family and representatives of Pearl S. Buck International announced they'd agreed - after telling their lawyers to butt out - that the children would retain ownership of the document and another 100 boxed of items, but that they could be archivally-stored and displayed at the nonprofit's headquarters. But we knew that. What about the claim put forth by the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace in WV?

Edgar Walsh, Buck's 70-year old son, told the Inquirer "he was unfamiliar with the West Virginia claim but hoped to talk with representatives there and reach a settlement." The chairman of the birthplace foundation said she didn't mind the typescript being displayed in Pennsylvania while its ultimate ownership is being decided, but gave no indication that the birthplace's claim would be abandoned.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Diaries of "female Pepys" Will Stay in UK

Way back in December I noted the effort by the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester to stop the export of a collection of diaries and letters written by Mary Hamilton (1756-1816), tutor to the daughters of King George III. An American library purchased the 4,200+ pages of material at auction last year, but a temporary export ban was put in place which allowed Rylands to raise £145,000 and purchase the archive, the Manchester Evening News reports.

Archivist Elizabeth Gow says of the collection's author "She was incredibly well connected and really part of the elite at the time. There are letters which she has written to the princesses. There is also correspondence with literary women of the time and she takes a gossipy tone, making humorous remarks about Samuel Johnson. It will take a long time to categorise everything that's here but it will be of immense use to people interested in society, politics, literature and royalty during this period."

Also see the University of Manchester press release, which includes a quote from Bill Simpson, the director of the John Rylands Library: "The export of important literary archives, such as the papers of Mary Hamilton, impoverishes the nation's heritage. When the Culture Secretary halted the export of the Mary Hamilton archive, we gladly accepted the challenge of raising the funds to purchase it. We are grateful to our funders, without whose support this major acquisition would not have been possible."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Book Review: "Hubbub"

If you've ever been listed seventeenth-century England as a place you'd most like to time-travel to, I suggest reading this book first. Emily Cockayne's Hubbub: Noise, Filth and Stench in England, 1600-1770 (Yale University Press, 2007) is an absolutely disgusting journey through the streets, homes, markets, beds and privies (or "houses of office," as they were known) of early modern England. And it's utterly fascinating. You may want to shower between chapters, but it's worth it.

Using a wide variety of archival sources, from diaries and letters to fictional narratives to court records, Cockayne has created a compendium of annoyances surely unmatched in historical literature. She recognizes the limitations and inherent biases of her sources (most tend to be male, wealthy, and particularly whiny, or as she puts it in the case of Robert Hooke, a "creepy hypochondrical nerd"), and notes that while some exaggerations of grievances is to be expected, even if that's taken into account, life even for the richest of England's people was no picnic in the park.

In aptly-named chapters which, when recited, sound like a bad parody of Snow White's famous companions (Ugly, Itchy, Mouldy, Noisy, Grotty, Busy, Dirty, Gloomy) Cockayne catalogs the daily nuisances faced by every man, woman and child (these would of couse have been all the worse the further down the social ladder one found oneself). From what we would consider ghastly standards of personal hygiene (the noted diarist John Evelyn resolved on a "Course of yearly washing my head," when he was 33, p. 60) to the common ravages of intestinal parasites, fleas and other pests, to rarely (if ever) washed clothes, bedding and wigs, keeping clean and healthy was well nigh impossible.

Hubbub really does touch on just about every imaginable nuisance: pigs in the street, noisy neighbors, bad lighting, rough or nonexistent paving (in some cities well into the eighteenth century, she notes, each property-owner was responsible for paving the road in front of their building - needless to say, that didn't work out all that well), smoke, piles of rotten detritus everywhere ... I could go on. It gets almost comical (if uncomfortably and skin-crawingly so) at times: I have to admit I laughed out loud at this sentence about Samuel Pepys: "On the morning of 20 October 1660 he stepped into a 'great heap of turds' that had escaped from his neighbour's house of office and found themselves in Pepys's cellar" (pg. 144). Doesn't get much more filthy than that.

The move toward solutions to these various dilemmas forms just a small part of Cockayne's treatment, but she does discuss how cities and towns slowly began enacting paving regulations, zoning rules, rudimentary food inspections and other such salutary measures. What surprised me was how long those things took given the long-standing gripes that were clearly being bandied about.

Cockayne's also done an excellent job of finding images to complement her chapters, although Hogarth admittedly did much of that work for her. The only minor flaw is in the reproduction quality of the artwork; the images are printed quite dark, which makes some of the fine background details she discusses almost impossible to see. Aside from some minor repetitions within the text and a touch too little analysis of her discoveries, Cockayne's Hubbub is really a masterful book. The extensive footnotes and bibliography add much, and once again I've found a few interesting sources I'll want to examine further.

Highly recommended for the non-squeamish.

Book Review: "Purity of Blood"

The second of Arturo Perez-Reverte's Captain Alatriste novels, Purity of Blood (U.S. edition by G. P. Putnam's, 2006) sees the enigmatic Captain taking on the familiares of the Holy Inquisition after his young ward (the narrator) is captured following an ambush. Sparely-written like its predecessor, Purity of Blood gives the reader just enough details to go on without a single superfluous sentence. Perez-Reverte's description of the Inquisition's power and mindset is brutal, and gripping.

That said, I found the plot of this one rather dull, and the ending was entirely expected. A good, straightforward story, but without the intellectual twists and turns with which Perez-Reverte's earlier works (The Club Dumas, The Seville Communion) sucked me into his world. I will keep reading the Alatriste series, but I'll also keep hoping for something more.

Squabble over Buck Manuscript

Back in June I noted the rediscovery of the long-lost hand-corrected typescript of Pearl Buck's The Good Earth (which prosecutors said had been, ahem, "inappropriately obtained" from Buck's home by an employee back in the '60s). It's been a little over a month, and the battles for control of the manuscript are now in full swing, as Maryclaire Dale reports for the AP.

Pearl S. Buck International, a nonprofit foundation located at Buck's farmhouse in Pennsylvania, has apparently made an agreement with Buck's estate "to display it [the typescript] for several months later this year while the children retained ownership, according to family lawyer Peter Hearn."

Not so fast, says the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Lawyers for the birthplace claim that Buck's manuscripts were all left to that foundation in a 1970 legal affidavit filed two weeks after Buck's death in 1973. In that document, Buck "lists scores of documents she was giving to the birthplace, including " 'The Good Earth' manuscript, the exact location of which is unknown."

Steve Hunter, a lawyer representing the birthplace, says he approached U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan about the document last month, only to find out that the Attorney's office "no longer had it" (the AP article doesn't say, but presumably it's been handed over to the Buck estate).

If the 1970 affidavit holds up, this case seems fairly cut and dry to me, but of course as we know things are not always what they seem. I'll follow up on this as I can.

[h/t GalleyCat]

Waterstone's Polls MPs on Summer Reading

Brit-bookstore Waterstone's has announced the results of its annual survey of parliamentary summer reading habits (Times, BBC); 180 members of the Commons and House of Lords responded. One paper notes of the results "some MPs are such political junkies, it seems, that even when they are away from Parliament they cannot resist reading about themselves and their predecessors."

The top book pick overall was the recent biography of antislavery reformer William Wilberforce by William Hague (former leader of the Tories). Tom Bower's Gordon Brown, Prime Minister came in as the top pick for Tory members, and biographies of Michael Foot and Sir Robert Peel also made the top ten. Former Lib Dem leader Patty Ashdown comes in as the most popular author, with three of his titles making the list (The Ashdown Diaries, Contemporary Conflict Resolution and Swords and Ploughshares: Building Peace in the 21st Century).

Labourites chose Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Alastair Campbell's The Blair Years as top picks, while Lib Dems said they planned to tuck into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Also making the list: Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, Cervantes' Don Quixote, Pride & Prejudice, and Vanity Fair.

Naturally the choices have prompted a bad pun or two: the BBC's story leads with "
Labour MPs are questioning the existence of God - but the Tories are more worried about the existence of Gord, a survey suggests."

It would be interesting to see a similar survey for U.S. politicians, but I'm afraid the results would probably be too embarrassing to share.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Anybody Have $395,000?

ephemera notes that Jack Hamilton of is looking to sell the entire contents of his Williamsburg, VA shop - furniture, books, reference collection, signs, ephemera, &c. He'd like to sell everything en bloc, so if you've got $395,000 (and a fleet of transport vehicles), it could all be yours!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Book Review: "Mr. Timothy"

Have you ever wondered what becomes of Tiny Tim after his well-known benediction at the end of A Christmas Carol? If so, Louis Bayard provides one possible answer in his Mr. Timothy (2003). Here is Timothy Cratchit in his early twenties, left with a limp, an unwelcome continued dependence on his overly-beneficent and fading "Uncle N." (Ebenezer Scrooge, of course), and strange visitations from his departed father. He earns his keep by providing reading lessons to a brothel-keeper, and assisting in the occasional late-night body-dredging operation. Such is his life, at least, until he is drawn into a frightening web of mystery, intrigue and child-murder.

Bayard assumes Dickens' mantle with creditable ability, bringing the dark, unpleasant corners of Victorian London into sharp focus. Mr. Timothy emerges as a complicated character, troubled still by the melodramatic role he felt forced into by his well-meaning father. Additional characters, from the inimitable street-rat sidekick Colin ("the Melodious") to savage former policeman Willie Rebbeck who serves as the main villain of the tale, to the declining Uncle N., are well-drawn and developed to almost a Dickensian level.

A good, suspenseful, mystery with an unmatched backstory.

NYT Covers Bad Arolsen Archive

In today's NYTimes, Mark Landler writes on the recent public opening of the Holocaust Archive at Bad Arolsen, Germany (first discussed here). The article notes that even beyond the opening of the archive, digital copies of major portions of the records (ten million records!) held there will be transferred to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and to Yad Vashem in Israel.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Saturday Night Miscellany

I had other blog-post plans for tonight, but I've been thesising all afternoon and don't have much more typing in me for today.

- Paul Collins reports that the strange 1886 novel Don Miff (which Collins wrote about here) is now available in digital form. Paul: "Don Miff is… well, first let me state that I am reasonably sure that I am correct when I say that Don Miff is the only nineteenth-century novel that is addressed to a tenth-generation descendant living in the twenty-third century." Need any more be said?

- Over at Bookplate Junkie, Lew's got a teaser about some gorgeous watercolor bookplates (more on which tomorrow, he says), and a mysterious bookseller's label that does indeed cry out for explanation.

- From tomorrow's NYTimes Book Review, Adam Goodheart reviews Adrian Tinniswood's The Verneys, and Ligaya Mishan reviews Nicholas Christopher's The Bestiary.

- The Little Professor comments on "library quirks", always a fun topic.

Book Review: "Ghostwalk"

Rebecca Stott's first novel, Ghostwalk (the debut book from Spiegel & Grau, a new imprint from Random House) is meant to be a 'literary thriller,' theoretically blending some historical mystery with a modern solution. In this case, a series of mysterious murders in seventeenth-century Cambridge appear to be recurring in 2002, just as narrator Lydia Brooke is ghostwriting the last two concluding chapters of a book which claims to solve the earlier killings.

Stott, a fine historian, should have stuck to writing history. As a novel, this book just doesn't work. I did manage to get through it after threatening repeatedly to stop reading after each of the first ten chapters or so, but I think it was almost entirely pure curiousity about how much worse the novel could get that kept me going. The writing improves as the book progresses (the first several chapters are incredibly choppy), but the abrupt, mid-chapters shifts into second person ("you did this," "then you said" &c.) continue throughout.

This book stretched my believability to its breaking point: it didn't take long for me to be sick of the perceived supernatural elements, the 'voices from the grave,' and the intervening, angry ghosts (spirits, whatever) of Cambridge past. The characters are superficial and frankly all a bit too weird for comfort, and Stott's strange literary rip-offs were eye-rollingly silly (Sergeant Cuff, taken directly from Collins' The Moonstone being the example that comes immediately to mind). Finally, Stott's 'twist' manufactured to connect the killings is not only the exact one you'd expect by about page 75, but is also just barely pulled off.

The most interesting portions of this book were the draft sections of the near-finished scholarly manuscript (the one Lydia's ghostwriting) that Stott threw in as background. She ought to have written that book instead.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Loads of Links

I've got a bumper crop of things I've been saving up to pass along, so without further ado:

- Off the Shelf reports on Scholastic's announcement yesterday that 11.5 million copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were sold in the first ten days of release, 8.3 million in the first day alone. And that's just in the U.S.

- Scott Brown notes a piece from the Publisher's Lunch newsletter reporting that Allison Bartlett's book The Man Who Loved Books: The True Story of a Rare Book Thief, a Book Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession, about thief John Charles Gilkey, will be published by Riverhead. Scott's even dredged up a 2006 article by Bartlett about the Gilkey case, which is well worth a read.

- Paper Cuts has some 'stray questions' for author Eric Schlosser, who says he's working on a book about the U.S. prison system.

- From Rare Book Review, news that Shakespeare's Globe and the British Library are teaming up to produce facsimile reprints of individual Shakespeare plays as they appeared in the First Folio; the initial offerings are Othello, The Merchant of Venice and Love's Labour's Lost.

- Travis comments on the Yale Alumni Magazine article I mentioned the other day; he makes a point I'd forgotten, that the article says Smiley will serve five years in prison when in reality he's scheduled to be released in January, 2010.

- Reading Copy announces the ten largest July sales on AbeBooks; at the top was a signed copy of the first American edition of Einstein's Relativity for $12,500.

- From AHA Today, word that the National Archives has made a non-exclusive deal with Amazon subsidiary CustomFlix to produce DVDs of select historic films and newsreels from NARA's holdings. The DVDs, produced on demand from copies stored at CustomFlix, will retail for $19.99. NARA will receive a digital "preservation copy" of each film.

- At Critical Mass, librarian K.G. Schneider writes about the survival of small press journals in a digital environment. It's a good essay, in which she notes "it's one thing to promote access to electronic information as a common good and quite another to insist that a discipline's needs are well-met by replacing a well-known, beloved form with an incomplete, disembodied, fletcherized stream of 'information.'" Quite so.

- Over at Book Patrol, Michael points out some spooky books.

- Joyce points out a YouTube video in which bookbinder Peter Goodwin comments on brittle book syndrome.

- Forrest has the third installment of the Affair of the Diamond Necklace.

- Andrew Ferguson was on NPR recently discussing Land of Lincoln.

- Bookride examines the collectibility of Richard Burton's 1855 book Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Book Review: "Republic of Intellect"

A recent lunchtime discussion with Bryan Waterman, author of Republic of Intellect: The Friendly Club of New York City and the Making of American Literature (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) prompted me to fast-track the book, which I purchased earlier this year but hadn't gotten to yet. A well-crafted mixture of historical scholarship and literary criticism, Republic of Intellect examines "the contours of late-Enlightenment intellectual culture that set the terms by which the earliest U.S. literature came into existence" (pg. 4).

In the Friendly Club - a group of approximately ten young professional men who met regularly for conversation and debate in 1790s New York - Waterman finds a fascinating and useful framework for, as he puts it, "understanding the relationships between literary and intellectual cultures" (pg. 6). The Club's members - including Charles Brockden Brown, Elihu Hubbard Smith, William Dunlap, James Kent and others - found themselves at "the generic, geographical, and professional crossroads of American society and at the primary point of entry and exit for transmissions within a transatlantic intellectual culture" (pg. 13).

Waterman's chapters cover much ground, including the great debate over the perceived "Illuminati conspiracy" in the late 1790s, the American reception of the works of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, the role of mixed-sex society and conversation, and the impact of yellow fever epidemics on the Friendly Club's membership and products. I found the Illuminati and Godwin chapters most compelling, but was quite struck overall by Waterman's readings of Charles Brockden Brown's fiction in light of his associations with his fellow Club members: his novels seem more easily explained when these considerations are taken into account.

The Friendly Club offers us something important as well, I think: moderate in politics and skeptical of religious authority and intrusiveness, the Club's members sought to transcend partisan considerations in favor of positive intellectual conversation and the progressive spread of knowledge - an ideal which remains unreached.

Aside from a bit too much literary criticism jargon in some spots, this book is excellent. The extensive and often illuminating endnotes were very useful, and I gleaned about fifteen titles which I've added to my always-growing list of things to read. Those include the edited diaries of two Friendly Club members, E.H. Smith and William Dunlap, and a few novels of Charles Brockden Brown that I wasn't aware of before.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in early American print culture, the late Enlightenment, or literary networks.

"Hooke's Books" at NLM

From Stephen Greenberg, Coordinator of Public Services for the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine:

"The History of Medicine Division (HMD) of the National Library of Medicine is pleased to announce the opening of a new exhibit, 'Hooke's Books: Books that Influenced or Were Influenced by Robert Hooke's Micrographia.' It is located in display cases in the HMD Reading Room, on the first floor of Building 38, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland. The exhibit is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., through November 1, 2007.

Robert Hooke (1635-1703) was a remarkably versatile man - artist, biologist, physicist, engineer, architect, inventor, and more. However, his crowning glory was Micrographia: or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses, first published 1665. It was a masterpiece - an exquisitely illustrated introduction to the previously unknown microscopic world. This exhibit focuses on Hooke's influences and legacy in print, the pioneering books that stimulated Hooke's research, and the works he left for others - most famously the great Dutch microscopist, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723).

The exhibit features a selection of books from the NLM collection, plus a facsimile of Hooke's own microscope. It is a companion to NLM's latest 'Turning the Pages' production, a digital selection from Micrographia, which can be viewed here."

Micrographia is one of my very favorite books; I have a facsimile reprint, but there's nothing quite like looking at this in the original (the digital version at NLM will give you a good idea of why this book is so exciting). This sounds like a fun and very interesting exhibit, so if you're near Bethesda it might be worth a visit.

Acquisitions News in Brief

Shelf:Life points out a few biblio-news items:

- Through a provision in British law known as the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, the British Library has received "a pair of unique 15th century East Anglian illuminated manuscripts" in place of inheritance tax. "The Kerdeston Hawking Book was made in the 1430s for Sir Thomas Kerdeston of Norfolk and his wife Elizabeth. It was written by an East Anglian scribe using local dialect spellings and includes six texts on hawking, and preserves the only known copy of two of them." Five leaves from the earlier Kerdeston Hunting Book "include two previously unstudied treatises in Middle English and have two half-page miniatures, one depicting St George and the Dragon flanked by portraits of Sir Thomas and his second wife Phillipa."

- The Indian government paid 18,500 pounds for the seven-page handwritten draft of an article written by Gandhi just nineteen days before his death in 1948, according to News Post India. The article argues for the promotion of a "pluralistic culture" in India. This draft had been set to sell at Christie's, but was pulled when the government provided funds for its purchase from a Swiss collector.

- Southeast Missouri State University's Center for Faulkner Studies has acquired a one-page handwritten Faulkner manuscript, the Kansas City Star reports. The 1933 piece, "Sorority," was donated by 86-year old collector Jane Isbell Haynes of Irvine, CA.