Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Controversy over Barred Harvard House Library

The Boston Globe reports today on what seems to be a minor hubbub in Harvard's Dunster Hall. The more than 10,000 books in the house library are currently inaccessible to students, brass bars having been temporarily been installed across the shelves. Hall and university officials say this is a measure taken so that the books can be inventoried, after some valuable editions were stolen from the shelves.

It sounds like steps are being taken to quickly allow students access to the books they use regularly, so I'm sure this will blow over fairly soon. In the meantime, this seems a perfectly reasonable action in light of the thefts. Hopefully the rare editions can be moved to a safer location and the other books made available once more.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Harvard Bookstore to Debut Espresso Book Machine

Harvard Bookstore will christen its new Espresso Book Machine at 4 p.m. this afternoon, Jacket Copy reports, with help from author E.L. Doctorow. Appropriately, the first book printed on the on-demand machine will be a facsimile of the Bay Psalm Book (possibly this one, offered through Google Books).

Also today, the bookstore will announce the winner of its "name the machine" contest, so stay tuned for that.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Collecting Bibliomysteries

Over at The Private Library, two good posts on collecting bibliomysteries: Part I, Part II. I didn't know of a few of the early ones mentioned, and many of the others there are great reads indeed.

The author notes: "A reasonably up-to-date checklist of articles and books about bibliomysteries (including some tentative bibliographies of this sub-genre) has been compiled by the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston. The school's checklist of its own collection, as well as its wishlist, make for a handy set of online bibliographies for this sub-genre...."

Indeed - the Simmons list provided constant fodder if I needed a bibliomystery fix while I was supposed to be doing class-work.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bill Safire Dies

The New York Times reports that William Safire died today at a hospice in Maryland. Safire was the best and most accessible writer on language - especially political language - out there, and I have long been a fan of his Sunday "On Language" columns. While I didn't always agree with his punditry - in politics or in language - he was always a pleasure to read or to watch on the Sunday news shows or other outlets. The Times calls him today "a Pickwickian quibbler who gleefully pounced on gaffes, inexactitudes, neologisms, misnomers, solecisms and perversely peccant puns."

Links & Reviews

- As expected, the Google Books Settlement hearing has been indefinitely postponed. Judge Denny Chin wrote in part "Under all the circumstances, it makes no sense to conduct a hearing on the fairness and reasonableness of the current settlement agreement, as it does not appear the the current settlement will be the operative one." A status conference will be held on 7 October.

- Inside Higher Ed reports on a meeting this week at Baruch College, where University of California administrator Daniel Greenstein spoke about the future of university libraries. Many of his comments seemed to go over like a lead balloon (see the response in the comments section for more).

- An update on the John Sisto story: more than 1,140 Italian artifacts from his collection, including books and manuscripts, are being returned to Italy. Authorities there have determined that the items were "stolen from town archives, libraries and churches in the southern regions of Puglia, Sicily and Molise, and exported illegally."

- Some movement in the Rolland Comstock case: word that a Missouri judge has scheduled the wrongful death civil suit to begin on 7 June 2010. The criminal case is still pending.

- William Noel and Reviel Netz's The Archimedes Codex (my review here) has won the first Neumann Prize of the British Society for the History of Mathematics. The award, to be given every two years, is for the best book in the history of mathematics which is aimed at a broad audience.

- Timothy Barrett, book artist, RBS faculty member and director of the papermaking center at the University of Iowa's Center for the Book, has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (aka "Genius Grant"). Excellent news!

- In the WSJ, Alexandra Alter writes on the trend of releasing posthumous works: "Works by Vladimir Nabokov, William Styron, Graham Greene, Carl Jung and Kurt Vonnegut will hit bookstores this fall. Ralph Ellison and the late thriller writer Donald E. Westlake have posthumous novels due out in 2010."


- Adam Gopnik reviews Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol in The New Yorker.

- In the San Francisco Chronicle, Jonathan Lopez reviews Allison Hoover Bartlett's The Man Who Loved Books Too Much. Dennis Drabelle offers a short review in the WaPo.

- Jenny Uglow's A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration is reviewed by Frances Wilson in the Sunday Times.

- Wes Davis reviews A New Literary History of America (ed. Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors) in the WSJ.

- In the NYTimes, Susann Cokal reviews Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry.

- Christoph Irmscher reviews Douglas Brinkley's The Wilderness Warrior in the LATimes.

- In the WaPo, Jonathan Yardley reviews Robert Edsel's The Monuments Men.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Book Review: "Coraline"

Neil Gaiman's Coraline has won just about all the awards there are to win, and deservedly so. It's a creepy little book, full of just the right amount of suspense and spookiness to keep a young child up late at night. Gaiman's sparse writing style works well for this sort of tale, and the way he sets up Coraline's quest (the easy route vs. the correct one) is very nice.

It's hard to really like any of the characters here; even though it's impossible not to root for Coraline once she starts on her way (trying to escape from a bizarre alternate world), she's not exactly the most charismatic of heroines. I think I enjoyed the talking cat most of all; he's classic Gaiman.

This Week's Acquisitions

Some visits this week: to Brookline Booksmith last Sunday, then to the Strand on Monday afternoon:

- Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things That Aren't as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures From the Sky, Parents Who Disappear in Peru, A Man Named Lars Farf, and One Other Story We Couldn't Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out; edited by Ted Thompson with Eli Horowitz (McSweeney's, 2005). Booksmith.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman (HarperFestival, 2008). Booksmith.

Bonk by Mary Roach (W.W. Norton, 2008). Booksmith.

McSweeney's Issue 13; edited by Chris Ware (McSweeney's, 2004). Booksmith.

McSweeney's Issue 26; edited by Dave Eggers (McSweeney's, 2008). Booksmith.

Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World by Sharon Waxman (Times Books, 2008). Booksmith.

Summer World: A Season of Bounty by Bernd Heinrich (Ecco, 2009). Booksmith.

The Making of Mr. Gray's Anatomy by Ruth Richardson (OUP, 2008). Strand.

Shakespeare Goes to Paris: How the Bard Conquered France by John Pemble (Hambleon & London, 2005). Strand.

Aubrey's Brief Lives; edited from the original manuscript and with a life of John Aubrey by Oliver Lawson Dick (David R. Godine, 2005). Strand.

Frankenstein, or, The modern Prometheus: The Original Two-Volume novel of 1816-1817 from the Bodleian Library Manuscripts by Mary Shelley (with Percy Bysshe Shelley); edited by Charles E. Robinson (Vintage, 2009). Strand.

Alexander the Corrector: The Tormented Genius Whose Cruden's Concordance Unwrote the Bible by Julia Keay (Overlook, 2005). Strand.

Selected Writings of Samuel Johnson; edited by Peter Martin (Harvard University Press, 2009). Strand.

America's Library: The Story of the Library of Congress, 1800-2000 by James Conaway (Yale University Press, 2000). Strand.

The Library of William Byrd of Westover by Kevin J. Hayes (Madison House, 1997). Strand.

New Ways of Looking at Old Texts, IV: Papers of The Renaissance English Text Society, 2002-2006; edited by Michael Denbo (ACMRS, 2008). Book cart.

Friday, September 25, 2009

"Books in Hard Times" Conference Recap

On Tuesday, I joined about 140 other biblio-people at the Grolier Club in New York City for a one day conference, "Books in Hard Times." I typed twelve pages of notes over the course of the day, most of which were intended for use in my formal report on the conference (which will appear elsewhere). I'll summarize them here now, though, and will link to the full report when it's available. The Grolier Club is also planning to publish proceedings of the conference, which I will certainly encourage all to read.

Grolier Club director Eric Holzenberg welcomed the group and offered some perspective on the "hard times" of today through the lens of the Grolier Club's own 125-year history. Robert H. Jackson delivered the keynote address, discussing the hard times faced by the book not only because of the economic turmoil but because of the rise of rival information technologies which promise to change the privileged status of print media. Today, he said, books face the "four horsemen of the print media apocalypse: computer, video, the internet, and the iPhone. History is changing books, and it’s something for us to worry about." Jackson urged special collections repositories to turn their focus to accessibility, saying "As special collections become more valuable, they need to be more accessible. As the materials become rarer, the audience must become less rarefied."

Jackson concluded his keynote address with a memorable and instructive line: "I have a hard time parting with books, and I suspect that our culture will have a hard time parting with the book as we know it. The book is a depository of time, good times and hard times, and time is the one thing that cannot be digitized."

Three panels followed Jackson: one of booksellers, one of librarians, and one of collectors. The booksellers (William Reese, Priscilla Juvelis, Tom Congalton) reported on the state of the trade: both Reese and Congalton said they have thus far seen not as much impact from the economic downtown as expected, while Juvelis said she's working "twice as hard to sell half as many books." All three admitted, however, that the impact on lower-tier rare and antiquarian / used booksellers has been much more significant, and negative. Reese noted that with mass-scale digitization projects, run-of-the-mill out-of-print books will become much more difficult to sell, while rarities will continue to command healthy prices.

All three of the booksellers expressed concern at the state of institutional acquisitions budgets, noting that a contraction in purchases by libraries will have a strongly negative impact. Reese also commented on the notion that small and medium-sized institutions and public libraries may lean toward "getting out of the rare book business," because their priorities may not include maintaining collections of rare and valuable books in perpetuity.

The question of a future market and younger collectors came up after the panel, and much attention was given to the idea that the internet can provide a key socialization space (Ian Kahn noted his use of Facebook, Twitter, a blog and other new media tools, and reported that many other booksellers and collectors are finding these outlets useful as well). Other suggestions for outreach included exhibits, public events, and book fairs.

LC's Mark Dimunation moderated the second panel, which featured Lilly Library Director Breon Mitchell, Cornell’s Katherine Reagan, and Nadina Gardner from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Mitchell and Reagan talked about the impact of the economic mess on their acquisition budgets and strategies; at the Lilly, Mitchell said, any new purchases will be made based on what "best fits, what's unlikely to come up again, and what's at the best price." Reagan added that special collections are likely to be the place where academic institutions differentiate themselves from each other, and urged cooperative, coordinated efforts among libraries to respond to the current technological and access changes.

Nadina Gardner expressed unease that preservation work may fall through the cracks in hard times, noting that preservation and access must go hand-in-hand. She mentioned some new NEH grant programs intended to promote both preservation and access, and applauded recent increases in NEH funding which allow for additional grants to be provided.

The final panel of the day included collectors Mark Samuels Lasner, David Alan Richards, and William Buice. Lasner summed up at the state of things in a single sentence (which drew a big laugh): "I have half the money, books cost twice as much, and there are four times as many of them on the market." He said that while he's still collecting, he has changed his tactics somewhat, beginning to buy items in slightly different areas than he might have before, and spending less per item. Materials with high exhibit potential or research value are key, he said. Lasner called on the dealers for a large-scale inventory sale, saying "There are books that simply cannot be sold at the prices being asked, not at this particular moment, and perhaps not for years. Why not lower the price?" Several dealers responded by saying that they don't really want to sell everything they've got, because they don't know at this point where the next batch of inventory is coming from.

Terry Belanger closed the day with a humorous recap of the meeting (tying each speaker and panel to the performance of the Dow during their talks). Terry called the meeting "the best one-day conference I've ever attended," a sentiment shared by me and probably many others in the hall.

It truly was a really spectacular day. It's not often that the top tier of American booksellers, librarians and collectors are all in the same room at the same time, and watching them all in action was truly a sight not to be missed. While the panelists tended to skew toward the elite end of the spectrum, it was very nice to add perspective from the floor during the discussion periods and in conversations during the breaks. Overall, I think the tone was one of cautious optimism: the book lives, even in hard times.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Book Review: "Edward Trencom's Nose"

I've read some of Giles Milton's non-fiction books, and always found myself wishing he'd written a novel instead, since he seemed to like to embellish things. When I saw he had written a novel, naturally I had to pick it up. Edward Trencom's Nose: A Novel of History, Dark Intrigue, and Cheese (Thomas Dunne, 2007) is the story of a not-so-humble cheesemonger (the eponymous Edward Trencom), one of a long string of cheesemongering Trencoms with a distinctively-shaped and unbeatable nose.

The discovery of a small trove of family papers, plus the realization that some dark somebody seems to be following him, leads Edward Trencom down the rabbit-hole of genealogical mystery, in which he discovers that his male forebears all seem to meet mysterious and somewhat violent ends. Naturally, he's got to get to the bottom of things. Milton alternates Edward's tale with vignettes from the lives of his ancestors, which adds something of a sideshow flair to the narrative.

Slightly absurd, often very funny, and utterly predictable at the end, I'd call this book a useful palette-cleanser, halfway between the brain candy of Dan Brown and something more serious. I did, I admit, enjoy it much more than I usually do Milton's historical writings, and hope he'll offer more in the way of humorous fiction in the future.

The Strand, and Other NYC Bookshops

I took the train down to New York City on Monday in order to do a little book-tourism before the Tuesday conference at the Grolier Club (a recap of which is still coming, I promise!). The first stop was the Strand, which advertises "18 miles of books." I believe it, but because of the tight spacing between the aisles and the number of people in them, browsing was a pretty tricky proposition indeed.

The rare book room(s) on the third floor were much easier to browse through, although the very tall shelves made viewing the books more difficult than I'd have liked. They did have quite a good selection of books about books (illustrated at right), which I was pleased with. The review copy section and bargain books in the basement also yielded a few good finds.

After the Strand, my colleague and I visited Three Lives & Company, a very cute little shop in Greenwich Village, as well as Biography Bookshop on Bleecker Street. Both were much better for browsing, I found, but of course the tremendous selection at the Strand is a sight to behold.

Auction Report: Recent and Upcoming

Sorry for the delay in these notices.

At the Swann sale of Printed and Manuscript Americana, held on 17 September (noted here), most of the lots sold, with many coming in at or near the estimates. The McKenney and Hall made $14,400; the Massachusetts psalter fragment sold for $1,020; the Aitken Bible fetched $43,200 and the c. 1682 Bay Psalm Book sold for $57,600. Perhaps the surprise of the sale was Lot 107, a 1762 Boston imprint of Thomas Chapman's The Cyder-Makers Instructor. It was estimated at $500-750, and sold for a whopping $26,400! I bet the JCB was pleased as punch with that result!

The Howard Hughes archive did not sell.

Also on 17 September, PBA sold Fine Books & Manuscripts (noted here). Full results are here. They had a rather lower sell-through rate, and none of the expected highlights sold. The high spot, at $6,000 was a 15th-century manuscript breviary.

Bloomsbury London's 17-18 September sale of Travel, Natural History, Polar Maps & Atlases (also noted here) saw about 525 of 800 lots sell, with Lot 628 (an Edward Lear plate-book) as the high seller at 10,000 GBP.

On 8 October, PBA Galleries will sell 350 lots from the library of the late Donald R. Fleming of Orinda, California, proprietor of the Press of the Golden Key. Much fine printing here, if that's your game.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Postponement Sought in Google Books Hearing

The parties to the Google Books Settlement have requested that the hearing scheduled for 7 October be postponed, according to multiple media reports. Authors, publishers and Google have agreed to work with the Justice Department to retool the settlement in a way that would alleviate concerns about the legality of the settlement's provisions. The motion filed by the parties requests that a conference be scheduled for early November where the progress of negotiations will be discussed, but there is currently no timetable for when the settlement revisions will be completed.

So Much Time, So Little To Do ...

Strike that, reverse it ...

Forthcoming posts (I figure if I announce them, I will be more likely to actually get them written and posted reasonably soon):

- My trip to New York, including a rundown of the various bookshops visited and a recap of the excellent "Books in Hard Times" conference at the Grolier Club

- A look at the results of several recent and very interesting auctions

- An update on what's happening with the Google Books Settlement

- Musings on podcasts

Monday, September 21, 2009

Book Review: "The Lost Symbol"

I probably don't even need to review Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol: you're either going to read it anyway, or you're not. If you're expecting something radically different from Brown's other novels, you may be disappointed, but if you want another installment of the Robert-Langdon-breathlessly-manages-to-solve-another-creepy-symbolism-based-mystery-over-the-course-of-a-few-short-hours show, this is your book. It clocks in at just over 500 pages, but as with all of Brown's books, it's a very fast read.

Brown's writing has improved but little since The Da Vinci Code, and unfortunately this book seems to have escaped much attention from whatever editors were assigned to it (as the later J.K. Rowling books appeared to as well). Some careful proofing could have cleaned up the prose fairly significantly and removed at least some of the eye-rolling moments (which included the spot where Brown mentions one character's “tiny black eyes” at least three times in three pages).

I found it necessary to have an Internet connection handy while I was reading this book, since while Brown is constantly describing artworks and architecture and other such things, his books don't include illustrations. I first read The Da Vinci Code in the illustrated edition, and found the added images incredibly useful; presumably one of those for this book will be forthcoming, but in the meantime prepare to keep Google at the ready (or trust Brown's descriptions, which I found were not always entirely accurate; he has George Washington dressed in white robes in “The Apotheosis of Washington” - the painting across the inner dome of the Capitol's Rotunda - while the painting clearly shows him wearing purple, for example).

Quibbles aside, this is a fun read, with some surprising twists and turns and a reasonably interesting premise (even if it is utterly improbable) and a fast pace. And I have to credit Brown for what seems to be a very even-handed and fair treatment of the Freemasons, the group at the center of the book's plot.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Links & Reviews

- In Humanities, there is a conversation with Jill Lepore, which I enjoyed reading. She talks about her books, her teaching, her writing process, &c., and about the field of history in general.

- Another interview (sort of), this one with ITV's Melvyn Bragg in The Scotsman.

- In the Boston Globe, Joshua Kendall writes on Samuel Johnson as anti-American.

- Nick Basbanes offers up his picks from the fall's major book releases.

- On Friday, the Justice Department weighed in on the Google Books Settlement, admitting concerns but suggesting that the agreement could be modified. The Open Content Alliance responds.

- Over at Reading Copy, they take a look at what books were selling like hotcakes in 1909 ... fascinating list.

- On one of the NYT blogs, an essay on the chilling effect of British libel law.

- The National Heritage Museum offers to answer any of questions about Freemasonry and associated subjects that crop up as you're reading the new Dan Brown book (as I am at the moment). The museum, founded and supported by the Masons, holds one of the greatest collections of Masonic materials in the U.S.

- Neely Tucker reported for the WaPo on this week's Swann sale of Bibles from the collection of Mel and Julie Meadows. A full report on that sale and this week's others to follow.

Book Reviews

- In the WaPo, Diane Ackerman's Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day is reviewed by Wendy Smith.

- Lacy Ford's Deliver Us From Evil: The Slavery Question in the Old South is reviewed by Ira Berlin in the NYTimes.

- Philip Kopper reviews Alison Hoover Bartlett's The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, in the Washington Times.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

This Week's Acquisitions (and Last)

It's been a while again, I think this covers the last two weeks or so:

- Histoire de la Bibliothèque du Comte de Fortsas by Vincent Puente (Paris: Cendres, 2005). Via AbeBooks. One of the few Fortsas Hoax books I didn't have.

The Library: An Illustrated History by Stuart A. P. Murray (Skyhorse Publishing, 2009). Publisher.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown (Doubleday, 2009). Borders.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, and Related Tales by Edgar Allan Poe (Oxford University Press, 1998). Brattle.

The Lost Chalice: The Epic Hunt for a Priceless Masterpiece by Vernon Silver (William Morrow, 2009). Brattle.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (Scribner, 2009). Brattle.

Marcus Aurelius: A Life by Frank McLynn (Da Capo Press, 2009). Brattle.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dr. Johnson!

It's the 300th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Johnson. Some links to mark the occasion, and I highly encourage anyone in the Boston area to take advantage of the wonderful exhibit currently on display at Harvard's Houghton Library of highlights from the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson (if you're not around Boston, you can at least check out the really excellent online exhibit).

- Britannica Blog has some additional links to various recent articles on Johnson and his life's works.

- In the NYRB, Andrew O'Hagan reviews some of the recent Johnson biographies and anthologies.

I'm sure more of these will come in over the course of the day; I'll add them if so.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Review: "Outside of a Dog"

I loved Rick Gekoski's Nabokov's Butterfly (review), so when I read that he'd a new book coming out, I immediately ordered a copy (from the UK, no less, since there's not yet an American edition). Outside of a Dog: A Bibliomemoir (Constable, 2009) is Gekoski's attempt to know "how my books have made me. To recall, to reread, and to re-encounter the books that filled my mahogany bookcase, and continue to fill my present self" (p. 9). In nineteen chapters and an epilogue, Gekoski takes his reader through his life, using books as jumping-off points to discuss other aspects of his life, loves, longings, and careers.

Perhaps it is the inherent self-indulgence of the memoir genre that threw me here, or perhaps it's Gekoski's willingness to share so much (I certainly did not need to know some of the things about the teenaged Gekoski that I unwittingly learned in the second chapter), but I didn't enjoy this book as well as I did the last. It is at its best in the final chapters, where Gekoski writes about his rare book business. These anecdotes I enjoyed. But much of the book, taken up as it is with the intimacies of thought processes (some of which seem entirely too well-recollected to me, but maybe that's just because I can barely remember what I had for lunch), the trials and tribulations of family life, career angst, &c., just didn't do much for me.

The humorous moments managed to at least partially compensate for the slog down memory lane; I laughed at Gekoski's story of holing himself up in the bathroom on Christmas morning, refusing to relinquish Roald Dahl's Matilda to his children until he'd finished reading it himself. And his writing remains as pleasing and well-formed as it was in his previous book. I'm sure others more attuned to the genre will find this book fascinating and delightful; I suppose I just wanted more of the books and less of the man (probably not very fair of me, that, but it's true).

More Dispatches from the Google Books Front

- Peter Brantley at the Open Content Alliance lays out some suggested principles for mass-digitization projects.

- Google CEO Eric Schmidt says to critics of the Settlement: what's your solution?

- Publishers Weekly notes that the judge in charge of overseeing the settlement has said that the 7 October hearing will proceed as scheduled, and that more than 400 filings relating to the Settlement have been received. The Justice Department has until tomorrow (18 September) to file its findings with the court.

- Bloomberg News reports that the parties to the settlement are currently in talks with the Justice Department about possible changes to the Settlement.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Darnton on the Future of Books

Robert Darnton has a new book coming out: The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future will be released on 27 October by Public Affairs. In a short piece for Publisher's Weekly, Darnton examines the rationale for the book, and writes: "In many societies, despite enormous inequalities, ordinary people not only read but have access to a huge quantity of reading matter through the Internet. I would not minimize the digital divide, which separates the computerized world from the rest, nor would I underestimate the importance of traditional books. But the future is digital. And I believe that if we can resolve the current challenges facing books in ways that favor ordinary citizens, we can create a digital republic of letters. Much of my book is devoted to this premise and can be summarized in two words: digitize and democratize."

There's much more here including some of Darnton's major conclusions, and I encourage all to read it (and for goodness sake read the book too!).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Links & Reviews

Sorry for the slightly delayed post this week:

- Julia Keller writes on book theft in the Chicago Tribune.

- The Rhode Island Historical Society has been awarded a $99,400 IMLS grant to complete the cataloging of its audiovisual materials. Very cool!

- Laura's found and provided some nifty images of vade mecum, thanks to a sharp-eyed reader.

- All branches of the Philadelphia Free Library will be closing on 2 October 2009 due to budget shortfalls. More here.

- Some essays on Samuel Johnson in The Telegraph: by (London mayor) Boris Johnson, Christopher Howse. And John notes that BBC4 is running some Johnson-related programming, which I invite folks to check out.

- McSweeney's has a timely feature on libraries. This cracked me up.


- In the New Yorker, Caleb Crain reviews Morris Dickstein's Dancing in the Dark, a history of American culture in the 1930s. A good piece as always!

- Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer's The State of Jones is reviewed in the WaPo by Stephen Budiansky. It's been a long time since I've seen a book from a big press like Doubleday get so universally panned.

- Boyd Tonkin reviews David Nokes' new biography of Samuel Johnson in The Independent.

- Several recent books on "medical monsters" are reviewed by Bettina Bildhauer in the TLS.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Smiley Release Date Set

Convicted map thief E. Forbes Smiley is scheduled for release in early 2010, Everett Wilkie reports on Ex-Libris:

"According to the U.S. Prison at Devens, MA, E. Forbes Smiley is to be released from that prison and sent to a half-way house, the Barnstable County Work Release Center, in Bourne, MA, on September 22. He is scheduled to be released completely from custody on January 17, 2010."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Auction Report: Upcoming

Along with the Swann sale of Printed & Manuscript Americana on 17 September, PBA Galleries will sell Fine Books & Manuscripts, and on 17-18 September, Bloomsbury London will hold a Travel, Natural History, Polar, Maps & Atlases sale.

Expected highlights from PBA include a first edition (second issue) in English of Galileo's Dialogues (in Salusbury's Mathematical Collections and Translations, 1667), which is estimated at $30,000-40,000. A second edition of Newton's Principia (1713) could fetch between $18,000 and 25,000.

The Bloomsbury sale contains 801 lots, and I haven't time to browse through them all, so I've no idea what's in there.

Book Review: "Thinking About Almost Everything"

Thinking About Almost Everything: New Ideas to Light up Minds (Profile Books, 2009) is a compilation of short "think pieces" written by faculty members at Durham University. The essays, which deal with everything from global warming to plant genetics to racism to the roots of secularism to music theory (and far beyond) are each just 1-2 pages long, but taken together they make for some fascinating reading and offer a glimpse into the sorts of in-depth research being done by the faculty at Durham and other institutions around the world.

While some of the essays are perhaps a bit jargony for the average non-physicist/theologian/master critic, most are fairly accessible and all are interesting and thought provoking. I would have been very keen to see some more cross-disciplinary/interdisciplinary approaches, since I'm a firm believer in the idea of consilience, but what's here is worth reading even though each piece remains rather insular.

A good idea by Durham's administrators, and one which other colleges and universities might consider adopting in some form or fashion.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Google Staff Respond to Metadata Criticisms

- Google Books metadata team manager Jon Orwant has responded to Geoff Nunberg's Chronicle article (discussed here) and to his illustrated blog post on the same subject. It's a really fascinating comment, and I encourage all those interested in Google Books and digitization in general to read it in full. I don't want to cherry-pick quotes from it, because that wouldn't be fair - but I will say that it is very much a step in the right direction. I don't envy Orwant his job at all, and I certainly think he's got a very, very full plate. I admire him for coming out and talking this through, and I hope he'll continue to do so.

- Speaking from personal experience now, I can say that the Google Books team is responsive at the very least. I emailed them asking for help with this record, which (apparently) contains a phrase I'm most interested in, but the GB page for which does not provide any information which will allow me to actually access the book (my thinking is, if you're going to allow things to be searched, you ought to at least give people sufficient bibliographic information to actually locate the book somewhere, even if you can't provide the full text). An engineer wrote back and said "At this time, we are not able to provide you with additional information about this volume. I will shortly pass this information along to the rest of our team for review." I'm hoping to hear back eventually from someone. But at least I got a response. And hopefully it will prove productive in the end. Orwant and those he works with have really got a wolf by the ear, and more power to them to try and figure out what to do with it now.

- Meacnwhile, back at the ranch, the Open Book Alliance filed its brief yesterday in the Settlement case; you can read a snippet here or the whole thing here [PDF].

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Book Review: The King's Gold

The fourth installment in Arturo Perez-Reverte's Captain Alatriste series is The King's Gold, in which our intrepid narrator and his erstwhile master are assigned the grim task of preserving an illicit shipment of gold from the Indies for the king, lest it fall into the hands of his enemies.

This series gets better with each book, I think. I enjoyed the third more than the second, and this one more than its predecessor (there's a new one out already, which I'm sure I'll read sooner or later). As Perez-Reverte's narrator matures, the books gain depth, and this one kept me intrigued from start to finish (even though the general outcome was never in any doubt).

Aside from Inigo and Diego Alatriste, however, I have to say that the characters in these books remain somewhat sketchily drawn; I don't feel like I know much about them. Even Alatriste's alter ego, the nefarious Italian Gualterio Malatesta, isn't described in any great detail (again, perhaps this is simply a product of having the narrator be the young sidekick).

Overall, another satisfactory effort from Perez-Reverte.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Farewell, Gramp

The world lost one of its best yesterday; my grandfather, Jerry Brooks, went to be with the angels. I hope that some personal lines will not be taken amiss here in honor of his life and memory.

This greatest of grandfathers is shown here at Christmas a couple years ago, sitting in his favorite chair, wearing a new warm hat, beaming and knowing he was surrounded by those he loved. He enjoyed family time more than anything, and could always be counted on to drop whatever it was he was working on in favor of an impromptu walk, picnic, pizza party, trip to the ice cream place, or a rousing game of hide-and-seek in the hayfields. Some of my earliest memories are of him taking me for rides in the truck, tromping through the woods with the beagles, or letting me help him with the barn chores. He knew the plants and animals of his farm and the woods like the back of his hand, and he helped spark the interest in natural history that I've enjoyed so much. He and I spent many a wonderful hour organizing and talking about the treasure trove of family diaries, photographs, and letters that had come down to him through various ancestors, and he was always delighted to know of any new genealogical research or a new family connection.

Gramp had a great, puckish sense of humor, and always loved a good joke (and boy did he know how to push my Gram's buttons!). You never knew when he might just break out into song (among his favorites were "Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay," "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain," "The Hatfields & McCoys", and "Red Wing", the latter of which he loved hearing my Gram play on the piano). Once when I had him read a middle-school story for me and fill out an evaluation form for it, he wrote under the suggested improvements, "Needs more dancing." When I asked what he meant, he said "Well, I just think every story should have some dancing." The night before I left for college, he gave me a piece of advice I've since passed along to many others: "Be good. But if you can't be good, be careful."

Among Gramp's favorites were fresh apple pie with cheese (or any other pie, really), potatoes or sweet corn fresh from the field. If he really liked the pie, his response was invariably "Needs practice" (which really meant "I'd like another pie at the earliest opportunity, please").

He was never happier than when spending time with his family and friends, and he so loved holidays and parties and other times when we could all be together. His care for those he loved, and for his farm and its stability, was depthless. He's been the rock of our family for my entire life, and we'll miss him dreadfully.

I got to spend a very pleasant week with Gramp in early August; we had great weather, and spent much of the time sitting in the front yard under the pine trees, with Gramp swinging in his beloved hammock and loving the breeze. On our last afternoon together, he, my aunt Becky and I walked out to the corner of the yard and picked a pint or two of blueberries from his patch of bushes; I brought some of them (those that didn't go into that evening's pie) back to Boston with me, and none ever tasted sweeter. I will treasure the memories of that week forever.

Gramp's journey ended yesterday afternoon at home, very peacefully. We're all relieved that his pain is now gone, and I'm sure he's enjoying the biggest and most scrumptious slice of apple pie (with cheese) ever, while sitting in a comfortable hammock and enjoying a beautiful fall day.

His toast of choice was always "Mud in your eye," (goes best with root beer) so as you're enjoying your Labor Day festivities today and wish to raise a glass to the memory of a great and good man, he would undoubtedly approve.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Links & Reviews

- John Overholt notes the success of the Johnson at 300 symposium last week (my thoughts here) and points out a great article in the Harvard Gazette about the meeting.

- The Ransom Center has launched a massive (c. 4,000-item!) digital Edgar Allan Poe collection. Super cool.

- In the NYT, Sam Roberts writes on New York's "oldest murder," committed 400 years ago today.

- Paul Collins notes the death of would-be spelling reformer Ed Rondthaler. And on NPR, Paul discusses the use of invisible ink in childens' activity books.

- I missed the beginning of the series, but McSweeney's is running "Dispatches from a Hangdog Bankrupt," written by rare-book dealer Bill Cotter. I'm catching up on these now. [h/t The Millions]

- Biblio's hosting a Biblio Book Hunt on Twitter - fun!


- In the NYRB, James McPherson reviews several new Lincoln biographies.

- Douglas Brinkley's Wilderness Warrior is reviewed by Kathleen Dalton in the Boston Globe.

- Caleb Crain is in this week's New Yorker with "Bootylicious," a review of several recent works on pirates and piracy. On his blog he provides some background and further reading (always fascinating), and has added a coda on buried treasure now, too.

- In the WSJ, Thomas Lipscomb reviews In Defense of Thomas Jefferson by William Hyland.

- David Crystal's memoir, Just a Phrase I'm Going Through, is reviewed by Henry Hitchings in the TLS.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

This Week's Acquisitions (and Last)

I'm awfully behind on listing new arrivals, so I've got quite a backlog. This is from at least the last two weeks or so, including stops at Commonwealth and Raven, plus a bunch of review copies:

- The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton; edited by William Kerrigan, John Rumrich, and Stephen M. Fallon (Modern Library, 2007). Commonwealth Books.

Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752 by Jonathan I. Israel (OUP, 2006). Commonwealth.

Memory's Library: Medieval Books in Early Modern England by Jennifer Summit (University of Chicago Press, 2008). Commonwealth.

New England Literary Culture: From Revolution through Renaissance by Lawrence Buell (Cambridge University Press, 1989). Commonwealth.

A Monument More Durable Than Brass: The Donald & Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson; edited by Thomas A. Horrocks, curated by John Overholt (Harvard University Press, 2009). Johnson Symposium.

A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe (OUP, 1999). Raven.

The Last Man by Mary Shelley (OUP, 1998). Raven.

- The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe (OUP, 1999). Raven.

- Letters Concerning the English Nation by Voltaire (OUP, 1994). Raven.

The Shawnees and the War for America by Colin G. Calloway (Viking, 2007). Raven.

Cicero: On the Commonwealth and On the Laws (Cambridge University Press, 1999). Raven.

Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity by Darrin M. McMahon (OUP, 2002). Raven.

The Writing Life of Hugh Kelly: Politics, Journalism, and Theatre in Late-Eighteenth-Century London by Robert R. Bataille (Southern Illinois University Press, 2000). Raven.

A Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Baker by Frans Korsten (Cambridge University Press, 1990).

Thinking About Almost Everything: New Ideas to Light up Minds; edited by Ash Amin and Michael O'Neill (Profile Books, 2009). Publisher.

The Alchemy of Paint: Art, Science and Secrets from the Middle Ages by Spike Bucklow (Marion Boyars, 2009). Publisher.

The Peasant Prince: and the Age of Revolution by Alex Storozynski (Thomas Dunne Books, 2009). Amazon.

A History of the Book in America, Volume IV: Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940; edited by Carl F. Kaestle and Janice A. Radway (UNC Press, 2009). Amazon.

Friday, September 04, 2009

More Google Books News

- The judge overseeing the Google Books Settlement has extended the deadline for input until 10 a.m. on Tuesday, AP reports. Judge Denny Chin's office computers which handle electronic filing are down for maintenance through the weekend. A hearing on the settlement is scheduled for 7 October.

- The Open Book Alliance website is now live, so you can follow along as they provide links and analysis pertaining to the Google Books Settlement.

- Google posted a privacy policy for the Google Books program last night. To which the Open Book Alliance asks "Is 'trust us' good enough?"

- In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Geoffrey Nunberg calls Google Books "a disaster for scholars," taking great issue with the metadata: "it's so disappointing that the book search's metadata are a train wreck: a mishmash wrapped in a muddle wrapped in a mess." Nunberg's created a great litany of these mishmashes, and it's true - the data are often incorrect (this is one of the things I've been harping about Google Books for since the very beginning), and this is clearly not (as Google claims) the fault of the libraries from which they're getting the books. Nunberg urges scholars to speak up about these deficiencies, which is absolutely a good idea; just yesterday in fact I emailed Google's engineers asking them to provide title page information for a book which comes up in a search, but without any bibliographic information (garh!).

- Amazon strongly criticized the proposed settlement, and the Authors Guild in turn slammed the book-retailer for trying to corner the e-book market.

A Library Without Books? Sigh.

Warning: This Boston Globe story (or this post) may cause severe and acute depression.

The Globe reports today that Cushing Academy, a 144-year old prep school in Ashburnham, has discarded its 20,000-book library [giving the books to local schools and other libraries, thankfully] and will replace it by "spending $42,000 on three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Internet and $20,000 on special laptop-friendly study carrels. Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine." To "replace" (hem hem) the books, they'll spend $10,000 on Sony and Amazon e-readers.

Headmaster and "chief promoter of the bookless campus" James Tracy told the Globe "When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books ... This isn’t Fahrenheit 451 [the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel in which books are banned] [NB: those are the Globe's brackets ... the fact that they felt the title required them is disturbing in its own right]. We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology."

Not surprisingly, Cushing's librarian of 17 years, Liz Vezina, said "It makes me sad. I’m going to miss them. I love books. I’ve grown up with them, and there’s something lost when they’re virtual. There’s a sensual side to them - the smell, the feel, the physicality of a book is something really special." History department chair Alexander Coyle said "A lot us are wondering how this changes the dignity of the library, and why we can’t move to increase digital resources while keeping the books."

American Library Association executive director Keith Michael Fiels said that this decision raises several concerns, not the least of which are how the students will have access to the e-books (most of those offered by Sony and Amazon aren't free, after all) and that the loss of the ability to browse the stacks may [WILL] hamper students doing research.

Administrators say that the students weren't using the books in the library, and it's entirely possible that the collection was such that that's the case - but the answer to that isn't ditching books entirely, it's making sure you have the right books on the shelves. Such an outrageous move as the Cushing administrators are making is simply the wrong way to usher in change. Digital tools and resources complement print collections, they don't replace them. And as for that $12,000 coffee machine in the $50,000 coffee shop? ... well, that would have bought a whole heck of a lot of books!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Auction Report: Upcoming

Swann will sell Printed and Manuscript Americana on 17 September. Some of the lots are duplicates from the John Carter Brown Library, being sold to fund new acquisitions.

Among the lots are a rather extensive selection of American Revolution books and documents, Early American Imprints, and Latin Americana; a first octavo edition of McKenney and Hall's History of the Indian Tribes of North America (1848-50), estimated at $10,000-15,000; a fragment of a 1709 English-Massachusett psalter with early ownership notations ($800-$1,200); a number of American Bibles from the library of Mel and Julie Meadows, including one of just a few dozen copies of the 1781 Aitken Bible, the first complete Bible in English printed in America; $40,000-60,000); the very rare c. 1682 edition of the Bay Psalm Book (also $40,000-60,000); John Cotton's The Bloudy Tenent ... of 1647 ($1,000-1,500); an extensive archive of Howard Hughes plane-crash related material ($40,000-60,000).

I have to say some of the JCB deaccessions are a little surprising: I would not have expected them to be selling a copy of Exquemelin's History of the Bucaniers (1684) with John Carter Brown's stamp ($500-750), or the 1653 Cambridge Platform with his bookplate ($3,000-4,000), or Hernando Cortes' 1524 Praeclara ... de Nova Maris Oceani Hyspania Narratio with Brown's inked stamp and bookplate ($2,000-3,000), or what Sabin called "a volume of extreme rarity," the 1574 Mexican imprint of Lagunas' Arte y Dictionario ($2,000-3,000), of which just four library copies were located by Swann.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Biblio-Newsletters for September

The September issues of Americana Exchange and Fine Books Notes are out. Both contain good pieces this month, but I should highlight "A Cautionary Tale" from AE, which notes that "The IFPDA, the International Fine Print Dealers Association, a New York based international association of print dealers, issued a letter requesting its 165 members be vigilant about inconsistencies between descriptions and copies of prints offered at Swann Galleries, the leading auction house in the prints field."

Author Bruce McKinney includes the IFPDA's letter to its members, and he contacted Swann and provides their response as well, which reads in part "Not only is Swann a reputable place to buy prints but it is ludicrous to suggest that our expansive and successful business efforts have a negative effect on the marketplace as a whole. We are saddened and perturbed that a few outspoken members of the IFPDA Board disagree with the way we have conducted our business over the past years. And while we welcome all criticism, it must be very carefully understood that Swann continues to stand behind every item we sell."

In Fine Books Notes, Nick Basbanes writes about a recent meeting with Folger librarian Stephen Enniss, among other interesting pieces.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

More on JQA's Shipboard Reading

Over at the Beehive I've added a post to track JQA's September reading list as he continues on his way to Russia (follow on Twitter here). I also went through and expanded the August list, adding comments JQA made in his long diary entries about his reading. My favorite might be that from 11 August: "I employed much of [the day] in reading Mrs. Grant's letters, which I find more interesting than Plutarch. I return to them of choice, but Plutarch is a task, and a heavy one. I never could read him through. I find it especially hard to read him after a sleepless night; after two harder still."

Behold, the Perils of the Internet

Sometimes the Internet weirds me out: like today, when in my Google News feed is the headline "A million-dollar flea market find" from the Philadelphia Inquirer. It's about the sale of what's now known as the Lear copy of the Dunlap Declaration of Independence broadside ... and the story is from May or June 1991 (sometime prior to the 4 June sale of the Declaration for $2.42 million, since the results of the sale are not mentioned). Norman Lear and others purchased the copy in 2000 for $8.14 million.

So no, there's been no new discovery of a Dunlap Declaration behind a $4 flea market frame. The story's just getting recycled, years later. And it's causing trouble already: Artinfo notes in a piece on the story that Sotheby's "plans to sell the document for the owner next June" - noooo, that happened ... eighteen years ago!