Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Book Review: "Digging up the Dead"

Michael Kammen's latest book is Digging Up the Dead: A History of Notable American Reburials (University of Chicago Press, 2010). Sort of a macabre subject, but Kammen offers up a wide selection of reburial case studies loosely organized around several major themes, all centering around some form or another of pride: national, sectional, regional, ethnic/racial, reputational, &c. As Kammen writes in the introduction, "Although I will touch upon different cultures, different eras, even different countries, most of the episodes that I explore clearly involve the desire to enhance respect for someone deceased, the variability of reputations, and the complexity of restitution or repatriation. Intensely felt sentiments of pride emerge on multiple levels. And they reveal that the symbolic significance of possessing 'sacred relics,' even in secular settings, has incalculable potency - yet often provides pleasure as well" (p. 10).

Kammen's first chapter touches on the history of reburial through history (but particularly in America), and lays out some points of comparison between American and European trends (which he revisits in the final chapter, noting that American moments of reburial tend to be less ideological than many in Europe have been).

The second chapter highlights reburials of important Revolutionary figures, which (I was somewhat surprised to learn) continued well into the 20th century. Kammen profiles the various scenarios that resulted in reinterments of such folks as Joseph Warren (moved three times by 1856), Charles Thomson (plucked secretly from his grave in 1838 and moved to Philadelphia's Laurel Hill), Richard Montgomery (returned from Canada in 1818), John Trumbull, Nathaniel Greene, Button Gwinnett, &c.

Kammen's third chapter focuses on sectional and national pride, with its case studies beginning with James Monroe's removal from New York to Virginia in 1858 but mostly centered around Civil War reburials (including the mass repatriation of Confederate dead from northern cemeteries, the many efforts to get and keep Lincoln in the ground, and Jefferson Davis' post-mortem journey from New Orleans to Richmond). Next he tackles non-political/military leaders in a chapter called "Problematic Graves, Tourism, and the Wishes of Survivors," recounting the posthumous peregrinations of Daniel Boone, Edgar Allan Poe, Jesse James, D.H. Lawrence, Frank Lloyd Wright and F. Scott Fitzgerald (these last were just plain strange, I found).

Before his final, comparative chapter, Kammen also touches on religious reburials, including the long trend of burials of American Indians remains from the collections of museums. Case studies here include George Whitefield, Roger Williams, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, Matthew Henson, and Sitting Bull.

Exploring the various reasons for these historical reburials made for very interesting reading, and Kammen's comparison of American trends with those in Europe (which he notes have been colored by an "ongoing ideological edge and intensity") was well drawn. I enjoyed the book, and recommend it to anyone with an interest in death customs (and/or the slightly bizarre).

Another Signer's Library

This afternoon (thanks to a fortuitously-timed book arrival) I've been working on the library of Caesar Rodney (1728-1784), one of Delaware's three Signers of the Declaration of Independence (in fact the deciding vote, since Thomas McKean and George Read were split on the question). His small library (as documented in the inventory of his estate) brings to eleven the number of Signers' libraries now in LibraryThing's Libraries of Early America project.

I was very intrigued to see that five of the thirteen books listed in Rodney's inventory were military titles, but this is not particularly surprising given that Rodney commanded the Delaware militia during the Revolution. The other titles are usual suspects: law texts, a Bible, a dictionary, &c.

Only forty-five Signers left to create libraries for (though as I noted last week, Sam Adams looks like a no-go, and I've recently had word that there may not be booklists for Virginia Signers Thomas Nelson and Benjamin Harrison).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Links & Reviews

- Andrew Pettegree talks to Tom Scocca for the Globe Ideas section, about The Book in the Renaissance and his findings concerning early print culture. Great to see him getting such good coverage for the book and the topic!

- At Wynken de Worde, Sarah discusses how she went about revising a reading list for a course in book history.

- Digitized books from the Bavarian State Library? There's an app for that.

- In the Atlantic, Tim Carmody writes on "10 Reading Revolutions Before E-Books," which is definitely a good read.

- From Booktryst, some helpful hints on how to shop (or how not to shop) at used bookstores.

- In Slate, Jack Shafer examines some early methods for allowing readers to comment on newspaper contents.

- In his latest Dispatch from a Public Librarian, Scott Douglas takes a look at some of the oddest library rules from around the country.

- Open-source games for archival metadata? Explore here. [h/t @dancohen]

- More on the continuing problems of print-on-demand books at ABE. I couldn't agree more with this; it's completely obnoxious to have your want-list emails filled with PODs.

- Speaking of PODs, when I want one I go to Harvard Bookstore and use their Espresso Book Machine, which is the subject of a writeup in the WSJ.

- There's a neat story behind one of Houghton Library's newest acquisitions.

- Lewis & Clark did well at a recent Leslie Hindman auction, with a copy of the first edition of their report fetching $46,360. A 1636 first edition in English of Mercator's atlas made $35,380.


- Craig Child's Finders Keepers; review by George Johnson in the NYTimes.

- Eric Jaffe's The King's Best Highway; review by Joseph Berger in the NYTimes.

- Simon Schama's Scribble, Scribble, Scribble; review by Nicholas Lezard in the Scotsman.

- Nicholas Carr's The Shallows; review by Robert Colville in the Telegraph.

- Tim Banning's The Romantic Revolution; review by Peter Swaab in the Telegraph.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

This Week's Acquisitions

Just one new book this week:

- Watermark: A Novel of the Middle Ages by Vanitha Sankaran (Avon, 2010). House of Books (Kent, CT).

We made the bookstore rounds yesterday, visiting House of Books in Kent (a very nice little independent shop selling new books, stationery, art supplies, &c.) Darren Winston Bookseller in Sharon (gorgeous shop), and Johnnycake Books in Salisbury (great sale going on, but nothing that tickled my fancy, although there's much there to be had!).

The pastry shop across the street (Sweet William's), however, had plenty of tempting goodies (the peanut butter cookies are highly recommended).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Quick Vacation

A very brief excursion to Connecticut for the weekend, so I've brought along Michael Kammen's Digging up the Dead (which I'm nearly finished reading) and Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier in America (plus a couple academic journals to catch up on). We're going to spend some time this weekend bookshop-hopping around here, so I'm sure I'll have some stories to report on visits and finds.

Book Review: "The Reavers"

Maybe The Reavers (Knopf, 2008) just isn't the best introductory book to George MacDonald Fraser's works. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood. Or maybe I just really didn't know what to make of this very strange book. In any event, I struggled to finish it, and don't think I'll try to give it another go. It seems to be (from what he says at the beginning) a sort of light entertainment for Fraser in the writing, and that's certainly how it came across to me.

The book is an odd mish-mash; set in the late Elizabethan period on the English/Scottish border, the characters speak in modern dialects and are constantly spouting anachronisms and modern pop culture references, which was just totally off-putting for some reason (on the other hand, I feel like if it had been done with a little more care, it might have been completely hilarious).

Not a book I connected with, aside from the occasional chuckle or eye-roll.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book Review: "Priceless"

Retired FBI agent Robert Wittman's new memoir Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures (Crown, 2010), written with journalist John Shiffman, begins and ends, appropriately, with the biggest case Wittman ever worked on: the greatest unsolved art heist in history, by which I mean the blockbuster 1990 thefts from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Wittman suggests in the book that he (through underworld contacts) was probably within days or weeks of recovering the paintings several years ago, but that bureaucratic infighting and turf battles between various FBI offices and foreign law enforcement agencies blew the deal.

Reading the chapters in which Wittman recounts how this happened was incredibly frustrating, because if Wittman's version is accurate (and frankly he seems to have established some pretty serious credibility over the years), the Gardner art might be back where it belongs (about a half mile from where I sit as I type) and not languishing in some European gangster's storage unit (Wittman has said he believes the paintings are - or at least were fairly recently - probably in Spain or southern France).

While Wittman's account of his role in the unfortunately-fruitless search for the Gardner art comprises a fair chunk of Priceless, there's much more here. As the FBI's only full-time undercover art detective for many years (since his retirement in 2008, another has not been assigned), Wittman played a role in a whole slew of fascinating sting operations to recover stolen art, artifacts and documents from around the world. He recounts international operations to reclaim a Rembrandt self-portrait stolen from the Swedish National Museum, and the successful retrieval of an ancient piece of Peruvian body armor (robbed from a grave). We follow along as he tracks down a janitor who systematically stole more than $2 million worth of artifacts from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and discovers a stolen crystal ball on the dresser of a self-proclaimed "witch."

Among the other cases Wittman writes about are the seizure of North Carolina's copy of the Bill of Rights (see my recent review of Lost Rights for more on this), and the takedown of several sleazy Civil War memorabilia dealers. Each chapter is filled with fascinating details about Wittman's methods and techniques, his thoughts about the criminals he was dealing with and his efforts to keep art and cultural crimes on the priorities list of his superiors within the FBI.

Well written and absolutely impossible to put down if you're interested in this sort of thing. Wittman's stinging indictment of American law enforcement policy relating to art theft should be read by every prosecutor and judge (and his critiques should be taken seriously by those within the law enforcement community).

Monday, August 23, 2010

Book Review: "McSweeney's, Vol. 35"

The newest installment in the McSweeney's canon (Issue 35) is a mostly-delightful hodgepodge. Robert Barnes' lunch-bag art is amusing, and the collection of Norwegian short stories and poems which make up about a third of the volume made for fascinating reading (prepare for snow, drugs, and mosquitoes). I quite enjoyed John Erik Riley and Mikkel Bugge's introduction to the Norwegian stories, in which the authors point out the strong government support writers receive for practicing their craft (allowing them to experiment "in ways that would otherwise be quite difficult in such a small market").

Roddy Doyle's opening story, "Local," about an unlikely candidate standing for political office in Ireland, was very nice; I skipped much of Hilton Als' "His Sister, Her Monologue" because it definitely wasn't up my alley. But the standout piece for me in this volume (by far) was Steven Millhauser's "Phantoms," which was scary and imaginative and completely unnerving (I should not have been reading it late at night). It alone is worth the price for the issue.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Links & Reviews

- In the Atlantic, Timothy Carmody pens "A Bookfuturist Manifesto" - well worth a read [h/t @wynkenhimself]. On similar topics, Booktryst's Stephen Gertz finds some holes in e-publisher Mike Shatzkin's post "The Printed Book's Path to Oblivion." In this post, Shatzkin embodies what Carmody terms "technofuturism," while Gertz takes a much more "bookfuturist" tack.

- Also on the future of the book, NPR ran a long story on the topic this week that is highly recommended (and is as good a synopsis of the field as any I've read in a while).

- At the Atlantic Wire, Heather Horn talks to Andrew Pettegree about The Book in the Renaissance, the trends he's discovered in the early days of printed books, and how those historical trends may be relevant for contemporary readers. I think his answer to the last question is particularly noteworthy (and spot-on).

- Don't miss J.L. Bell's "The Archives Just Aren't the Same," in which he discusses some recent great leaps in technology at the NARA branch in Waltham, MA (and mentions the new microfilm scanners at MHS, which are absolutely amazing). Having spent much of my yesterday quite literally "hunched over in the dark" reading microfilm on a machine of the old style, my back is definitely ready for those days to pass.

- Anis Shivani highlights "The 17 Most Innovative University Presses."

- The President made some biblio-news this week when he received an ARC of Jonathan Franzen's new novel Freedom from the staff at a Martha's Vineyard bookstore.

- Forbes released its annual list of the top-paid authors for the year ending 1 June.

- And speaking of technological leaps, Sam Allis writes in Saturday's Globe on Boston-area archives and their digitization efforts (with a cameo appearance by @JQAdams_MHS).


- Steven Moore's The Novel; review by Alberto Manguel in the WaPo.

- Simon Schama's Scribble, Scribble, Scribble; review by James Grant in the Independent.

- Philip Baruth's The Brothers Boswell; review by Mary Crockett in the Scotsman.

- Lucy Worsley's The Courtiers; review by Jonathan Yardley in the WaPo.

- Craig Childs' Finders Keepers; review by Susan Salter Reynolds in the LATimes.

- Anthony Arthur's General Jo Selby's March; review by Stuart Ferguson in the WSJ.

- Nicholas Philipson's Adam Smith; review by Diana Coyle in the New Statesman.

- Lewis Hyde's Common as Air; review by Robert Darnton in the NYTimes. If you read just one review this week, let it be this one.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Review: "Lost Rights"

David Howard's Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010) chronicles the sordid story of North Carolina's original copy of the Bill of Rights, stolen from the state capital by a Union soldier in 1865 and later in the possession of an Indianapolis family for decades (most of which time it spent hanging on a living room wall).

Howard's story concentrates on the most recent chapters of the document's history (with occasional "flashback" segments highlighting its earlier travels). During the late 1990s, the Shotwell family began pursuing options to sell the Bill of Rights, including offering it for sale by a major auction house. Because of the serious provenance questions (no known copies of the document other than those sent to the states exist), Christie's and Sotheby's wanted nothing to do with the sale, so the family turned to others.

In 2000, the Bill of Rights was acquired by Connecticut antiques dealer Wayne Pratt and real estate broker Bob Matthews; Pratt and associates began negotiating the sale of the parchment to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. In the end, an FBI sting led to the Bill of Rights being returned to North Carolina, after which a five-year legal battle over ownership of the document ensued.

This is a complicated story, and Howard has done well in his recounting of it. He brings in many of the players, from documentary editors at the First Federal Congress project who authenticated the document, to rare book dealer Bill Reese and manuscript dealer Seth Kaller (who were involved at various stages of the negotiations) to Pratt (Howard was the only reporter Pratt gave interviews to about this subject) to FBI agent Bob Wittman (arranger of the sting) and numerous others. He tracks down some interesting historical context about the copy of the Bill of Rights (including previous attempts in the 1890s and 1920s that might have seen it return home sooner), and delves into the murky and turbulent waters of replevin cases and the different ways in which archives and repositories deal with such thorny issues.

Howard unravels some of the most intriguing threads of this case, including Pratt's own background (much embellished in his own telling), the not-always-quite-above-board career of his co-purchaser Bob Matthews, and the motives of those involved throughout the back-and-forth over the document. I particularly liked his treatment of the same event (meetings, &c.) from differing perspectives - a nice touch.

For the most part, Lost Rights reads like a good thriller. Howard paces out the narrative well, making many of his chapters end on the cliff's edge (and then following them with a background chapter before getting the reader back to the action; this was frustrating a few times when the background seemed a bit like filler, but generally I wasn't too bothered by the tactic). He "gets" the case quite well, and captures the complex nature of the replevin process, and how draining it can be for all concerned.

There were, particularly in the first section of the book, some places where I thought another pass by the copy-editor would have been helpful (I cringed at the sentence "The year was June 1789"). And there are a few minor errors in the text: the book collector Sir Thomas Phillipps' name is misspelled, for example, and I think J. Franklin Jameson would be surprised to hear himself described as "one of the nation's first historians" (I think Howard meant professionally-trained historians). Beyond these, I took issue with the author's characterization of the Bill of Rights and other historical documents as "sacred relics" - maybe I'm jaded, but I just don't find this a useful way of thinking about such things. Important, yes, but not in a religious sense.

Lost Rights is certainly a book that collectors, dealers, and librarians/archivists should read and pay attention to, and it also has much to offer for the reader with a casual interest in the field. I enjoyed it very much.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

ABAA Launches Stolen Books Blog

The Security Committee of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of American (ABAA) has launched Missing and Stolen Books Blog, to document, well, missing and stolen books. Committee chair John Waite writes: "The Security Committee invites all interested parties - booksellers, librarians, collectors, & others - to make use of this service, both as posters and to keep current about stolen and missing materials that are reported to us from around the nation."

I've added a link to the sidebar.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Some Early Connecticut Libraries

I've started working my way through some Connecticut probate records, and have made it through the Hartford district up to the year 1700 (two more published volumes to go). In the entire bunch I found just three libraries that contained books listed by identifiable title (other than the Bible, which was common):

- Elizabeth Gardner (~1604-1681), quite a wealthy woman and the widow of both Rev. Samuel Stone (d. 1663) and George Gardner (d. 1679), both early settlers of Hartford. Only one book is mentioned in her will (a volume of William Greenhill's Exposition of the Prophet Ezekiel, which she gives to her son Samuel Stone) but there were almost certainly others included among her household goods.

- Robert Morrice (d. 1684), the most interesting of the trio. His library was the largest of the bunch (at 7 titles). Morrice (or Morris) clearly had some health issues; he and his wife (Anne, the widow of John Lattimer) were granted a divorce in 1635 after Morrice admitted that he was unable to "perform the Act of Generation" because his "Bowels came Down." At his death, much of his estate went to pay fees for a doctor and "15 days Nursing," and a court awarded £4 to the family of Lt. Caleb Standly for their services to Morrice, which included "having baked his bread for a number of years." Morrice meticulously outlines his books, which are given to Standly's wife and daughters, plus several other children.

- Joseph Easton (~1602-1688), one of the original proprietors of Hartford and held many local offices there: chimney viewer (1649); surveyor of highways (1652, 1656, 1666); constable (1658), &c. His will mentions a Bible and the works of theologian Thomas Goodwin.

Aside from these three, there were many wills and inventories which mentioned libraries but did not mention specific titles (again, excepting the Bible). I've outlined those here; usually the books are simply listed generically, but occasionally an author's name or a type (martyr books, sermons and prayer books are the most common) is given.

I think my favorite among the unitemized bunch is Joseph Hooker's will, dated 7 July 1647. In it he stipulates: "I doe also give unto my sonne Jno by Library of printed books and manuscripts, under the limittations and provisoes hereafter expressed. It is my will that my sonne Jno. deliver to my sonne Samuel Soe many of my books as shall be valued by the overseers of this my will to be worth fifty pounds sterling, or that he pay him the summe of fifty pounds Sterling to buy such books as may be useful to him in thee way of his studdyes, att such tyme as the overseers of this my will shall Judge meett. But if my sonne Jno. doe not goe on to the prfecting of his Studdyyes, or shall not give up himselfe to the service of the Lord in the worke of the ministry, my will is that my Sonne Samuel enjoy and possesse the whole Library and manuscripts to his proper use forever; onely, it is my will that whatever manuscripts shall be Judged meett to be printed, the disposall thereof and advantage that may come thereby I leave wholy to my executrix; and in case she depart this life before the same be Judged of and Settled, then to my overseers to be improved by them in their best discretion, for the good of myne, according to the trust reposed in them. And however I doe not forbid my sonne Jno from seeking and takeing a wife in England, yett I doe forbid him from marrying and tarrying there. I doe give unto my sonne Samuel, in case the whole Library come not to him, as is before expressed, the summe of Seventy pounds, to be payd unto him by my Executrix att such tyme and in such manner as shall be judged meetest by the overseers of my will."

Complicated much?

Also noteworthy (and there may be some study on this somewhere, which I still have to look for) is the connection between brass kettles and Bibles (clearly important possessions): several times we see a mother giving to her daughter (or granddaughter) these two specific things:

- Dorothy Lord, of Hartford (will dated 8 February 1669): "I give unto my daughter [Anne] Stanton my Great Brass Pann & my greaet Bible."

- Margaret Heart, of Farmington (will dated 18 February 1691/2): "I giue to my daughter Elizabeth Thomson my great bras cattle [kettle] and my bible."

- Susannah Shepherd, of Hartford (will dated 7 March 1698/9): "I give unto my daughter [Anne] Stanton my Great Brass Pann & my greaet Bible."

More to come as I make my way through the next volumes. As always, probate records come with the important caveats that they probably do not reflect libraries (or other possessions) accurately or entirely.

Book Review: "Shakespeare: The World as Stage"

Bill Bryson's Shakespeare: The World as Stage (Atlas Books, 2007), an installment in the "Eminent Lives" series, is a succinct biography of the Bard, offering "just the facts," (of which, as you either already know or will learn quickly from Bryson, there aren't very many at all) along with a survey of the various biographical speculations that have sprung up over the years.

While not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as some other Bryson books, this does have its amusing moments, and is quite readable. I liked that he avoided the speculative flights of fancy that have afflicted other recent Shakespeare biographies; as a good introduction to the playwright, it's seems to me quite a good choice.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Links & Reviews

- The manuscript of Capt. Robert Scott's speech to his crew before their trek to the South Pole has been found and acquired by the Canterbury Museum.

- New York City has filed a lawsuit against Christie's and Sam Buckley, the current owner of architectural drawings by Jacob Wrey Mould, planner of several major NYC buildings and parks. The drawings were discovered by Buckley's father in the 1950s, and his son approached Christie's to sell them, but the city maintains that they remain the property of the Parks Department (of which Mould was an employee). Lawyers say both sides anticipate an amicable settlement.

- A group of Philadelphia-area libraries has launched a cross-repository finding aids search tool.

- LibraryThing's launched "Operation (LibraryThing) Paperback," an effort to send 750 paperbacks to troops serving overseas.

- At Inside Higher Ed, Barbara Fister comments on how Google and libraries are alike ... and how they're not.

- The tweets of @drsamueljohnson are to be collected into a book.

- Sam Jordison asks what will become of marginalia in the age of the ebook?

- Shakespeare biographer Katherine Duncan-Jones has an essay on Shakespearean actor Will Kemp in the TLS.

- Following the 2009 ruling in the case of the Wiscasset Declaration of Independence, Maine legislators have passed a law greatly expanding the definition of "public record" to encompass "records of historic and archival value to the State, regardless of the date of their generation." The new law also guarantees that any record "created by or belonging to the State, to a local or county government in the State or to any agency of the State remains the property of the State until ownership and possession are formally relinquished in accordance with statute and rules."

- Scholars now believe that horse bones found in China with cuneiform inscriptions from the "Cyrus Tablet" may be genuine.

- The LA Times profiles the NARA team searching for stolen documents.

- A guest post on the AAS blog highlights Henry David Thoreau's visit 1855 to AAS and his musings on Cotton Mather's library.

- Roy Greenslade highlights a revised edition of Bob Clarke's book on English newspapers, From Grub Street to Fleet Street.

- Cambridge University and Kings College, London have collaborated to release PASE Domesday, an online database of the Domesday Book.


- Mary Roach's Packing for Mars; review by Peter Carlson in the Washington Post.

- Tim Blanning's The Romantic Revolution; review by Jonathan Bate in the Telegraph.

- Andrew Pettegree's The Book in the Renaissance; review by Robert Pinsky in the NYTimes.

- Jack Rakove's Revolutionaries; review by Nathan Perl-Rosenthal in TNR.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

This Week's Acquisitions

What's new this week?

- When London Was Capital of America by Julie Flavell (Yale University Press, 2010). Brattle.

- So Great a Proffit: How the East Indies Trade Transformed American Capitalism by James R. Fichter (Harvard University Press, 2010).

- McSweeney's Issue 35; edited by Dave Eggers (McSweeney's, 2010). Publisher.

- The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet by Arturo Perez-Reverte (Plume, 2010). Publisher.

Two new editions of Telemachus:

- An 1841 London edition (Willoughby) of the Hawkesworth translation, with an inscription by a Union College student (my alma mater) and with the embossed stamps of the Philomathean Society, one of the major early literary societies there. Mohawk Books (via ABE).

- An 1815 Philadelphia edition (Kimber, Johnson, Carey et. al), also Hawkesworth, two volumes 12mo. Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

New Resource: Graphics Atlas

Ian's already plugged this today, but I'm going to do the same, because I think it's really a delightfully useful site. Graphics Atlas, produced by the Image Permanence Institute, offers a survey of illustration techniques and identification procedures (including magnified images; example), and allows you to visually compare the different methods (including images of the paper edges!).

I've added a link to the sidebar, and a bookmark. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Happy Fortsas Day!

Today marks the 170th anniversary of the Fortsas Hoax, still the greatest biblio-hoax ever carried off. For background on the hoax, and links to the Comte's library catalog, see my post from the 168th anniversary.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Book Review: "The Adventures of Roderick Random"

As I've worked on the Libraries of Early America (and the Legacy Libraries in general), a few works of literature tend to appear again and again: Don Quixote, Shakespeare, Homer, Milton, &c.). One of these is Tobias Smollett's first novel, The Adventures of Roderick Random (first published in 1748; I read the 2008 Oxford World's Classics edition). I thought this summer would offer a good chance to dig into this picaresque tale and see if I found it as interesting and/or entertaining as previous generations of readers.

Published when its author was just 27 years old, and drawing inspiration at least partly from Don Quixote and Gil Blas (as well as on Smollett's own youthful experiences to a degree), this is the engaging and often hilarious story of a young man's roller-coaster ride through childhood and adolescence. Cast out by his father's family and forced to make his own way in the world, the narrator sets off from his native Scotland to try his luck in London. But no sooner does Roderick (or Rory, as he is affectionately known by some) catch a break or find a job he likes than the fates intervene and toss him to the bottom of the heap again (in all sorts of comical ways).

Assisted by his erstwhile and ever-trusting friend Strap, and his worthy uncle Tom Bowling, Random tries his best to make his way in the world, but it's a rare ten-page stretch in which his fortunes are not entirely reversed, usually but not always as a result of Random's own ingenuousness and trusting nature. His adventures take him halfway around the world, as a surgeon's assistant abroad the British fleet against Cartagena in 1741, and again abroad a slave ship bound for Jamaica. From the back alleys of London to the salons of Paris and Bath, Random sees it all as he tries to get ahead (and, for once, actually manage to stay there).

Smollett's incisive wit comes through not only in the telling and amusing names he assigns to his bit players, but also in the satirical treatment of British society, of which few elements escape his pen: among the areas most thoroughly treated are naval customs and culture, political knavery and preferment, and the linkages of monetary worth with marriage potential.

Well worth a read if you've not had the chance, and I'd advise taking your time with it; it'll bear a good close read, and you'll find more reasons to chuckle that way.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Some Extra Links

I forgot to go through the "Favorites" section on Twitter this morning when I was putting together Links & Reviews, so here's what I'd saved in there this week:

- From The American Scholar, Brenda Wineapple on 19th-century American writers finding their voice. [h/t @TheAmScho]

- The Auckland Museum's interim director has decided to focus on acquisitions, collection maintenance and scholarly research and drop a recent push toward "entertainment." [h/t @museummedia]

- Digital Americanists launched recently, and is worth a look. [h/t @ryancordell]

- Nearly 40 rare books have been stolen from Tbilisi State University in Georgia. Not much more available than that, I'm afraid. [h/t @bookpatrol]

- In today's Times, a review of the Kindle vs. the iPad (what they're calling the specialist vs. the multitasker) [h/t @PublishersWkly]

- You can read papers from the "Decoding the Digital" conference (held at the British Library on 27 July) here. [h/t @RBSInfo]

- A Getty exhibit opening this fall, "Imagining the Past in France, 1250 to 1550" will highlight the heyday of French manuscript illumination in historical texts. [h/t @MedievalArchive]

- And in NetworkWorld, a long interview with Susan Orlean about her use of the iPad (and other techie goodies). [h/t @PublishersWkly]

Links & Reviews

- More on the closing of Cambridge's Lame Duck Books in today's Globe.

- Ken Sanders Rare Books is offering the family Bible of Joseph Smith, containing a genealogical record of Smith's family with his first wife Emma Hale Smith (including a seventh son who died before receiving a name). The book, an 1831 Philadelphia edition of the Bible, remained in Smith's family until 1979, and has been in private hands since then. A Bible of the same edition, containing the genealogy of Smith's brother Hyrum, is held at Brigham Young University. Sanders' asking price: $1.5 million.

- The Library Company of Philadelphia's Philadelphia Gothic exhibition website is still up and running, and the website now includes some podcasts of events, including Ed Pettit's April 2009 talk "Edgar Allan Poe and the Philadelphia Gothic Tradition."

- For the Tolkien fan, the Festival in the Shire may be for you: it starts next Friday in Pontrhydfendigaid, Wales.

- A new digital collection from the New-York Historical Society showcasing their materials documenting American slavery and the slave trade.

- There's an app for that! Check out the new Library of Congress iPhone app, which is lovely. [h/t Ian]

- In the Guardian's book blog, James Forrester muses on historical accuracy in fiction. I don't necessarily agree with his thesis, but it's an interesting essay nonetheless.

- The AAS hosted an event at the Library of Congress in April to celebrate the completion of their five-volume History of the Book in America project (the second volume was published this summer, and is impatiently calling to me from my desk every minute). You can watch the event here.

- Prague artist Matej Kren has created a room of books.

- From the Guardian, some literary last words.

- Following on the latest Bellesiles flap, two articles this week (Chronicle, NYTimes) track his attempt to return to the good graces of the academic world with his forthcoming book about the year 1877 in American history.

- Two posts about Belle da Costa Greene this week: from Princeton's Rare Book Collections blog, a look at Greene's pre-Morgan career, (and a 1934 letter describing Greene), and from Booktryst, an overview of Greene's life and works.


- David Nokes' Samuel Johnson: An Independent Life; review by Christopher Hirst in the Independent.

- T.H. Breen's American Insurgents, American Patriots and Jack Rakove's Revolutionaries; joint review by Jan Ellen Lewis in the WaPo.

- Mary Roach's Packing for Mars; review by M.G. Lord in the NYTimes.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Early Suffolk County Libraries

I went on a mission this morning to the New England Historic Genealogical Society, to prowl through their probate records for a while. I had several files I wanted to check:

- Andrew LeMercier, minister of the Huguenot church in Boston (d. 1764). He apparently gave some of his books and manuscripts to Richard Cranch, and given the number of French sermons and theological texts in Cranch's library, I wanted to see if there was an inventory of books in LeMercier's estate (or a mention in his will of the materials going to Cranch). Alas, there was neither (it's possible that the books were divested before his death, as none are mentioned in the estate inventory).

- Samuel Adams, (d. 1803). I was hoping to round out the Massachusetts Signers of the Declaration of Independence by finding an inventory of Sam Adams' books (I've documented the other four: John Adams, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine, and Elbridge Gerry), but his inventory, alas, includes simply "1 lot books", valued at $30 (the same as "2 cows" and "1 Bed bedstead & curtains"). Clearly quite a few books, then, but just what they were isn't clear. There are a few scattered books with Adams' signature around, but definitely not a critical mass of them. In his will, Adams also gives to his wife "such Books as she was the owner of previous to my intermarriage with her."

- Simon Bradstreet (d. 1697). Husband of the poet Anne Bradstreet, who lost his major library in a 1666 fire. I hoped perhaps his will or inventory would mention the additional library he built up after that time, but no dice.

Once I'd tracked these down I started a longer term project, which will be to go through the early probate records systematically and look for references to books or libraries in wills and inventories. Today I got through the first hundred pages of the first volume of Suffolk County's probate records (about the 1650s), and found no inventories but a few references. I've noted them here. Hopefully I'll be able to get back there once a week or so for a while, and continue to pluck out book references (this is sort of a practice run for the Bermuda project, since I'll be doing the same thing down there at the first opportunity).

This Week's Acquisitions

Here's what came this week:

- Thomas Jefferson's Academical Village: The Creation of an Architectural Masterpiece by Richard Guy Wilson (University of Virginia Press, 2009). Amazon.

- Digging Up the Dead: A History of Notable American Reburials by Michael Kammen (University of Chicago Press, 2010). Amazon.

- Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America by Jack Rakove (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). Amazon.

- The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (Anchor, 2001). Gift.

- Encyclopaedic Visions: Scientific Dictionaries and Enlightenment Culture by Richard Yeo (Cambridge University Press, 2001). Oak Knoll.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Book Review: "Packing for Mars"

With her trademark mix of humor, history, reporting and curiosity, Mary Roach asks all the questions about space travel you've always been afraid to ask in Packing for Mars (W.W. Norton, 2010). No topic is off limits to Roach (as you'll know if you're at all familiar with her previous books) as she digs into the dark corners of astronautical history for the gritty details of space travel past and present (and envisions the new indignities that might face future interplanetary astronauts).

Through interviews with astronauts and those who help get them where they're going, close reading of past mission transcripts (mainly, it seems, to pick out the occasional hilarious bit), and by putting herself in the astronauts' shoes (or at least on their toilets) Roach provides a hilarious and informative survey of humanity's efforts to get and keep people in space without permanently damaging their bodies, their minds, or both.

Among the various topics Roach touches on here are the remarkable astronaut selection and training processes, food science, physiological impact studies, hygiene, and the aforementioned waste management. And she muses on questions that will have to be answered before any true long-distance space travel can be contemplated (how to handle things like reproduction, death, or disease, for example).

Don't miss the footnotes, which tend to be filled with laugh-out-loud-worthy asides that may have little to do with the topic at hand, but are certainly worth reading. Overall, a fun read, so if you like Roach's style, don't miss this one.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

A Watchmaker-Polymath's Books

This morning I've finished adding books to the LibraryThing catalog of the books of Richard Cranch (1726-1811), the brother-in-law of John Adams (he was married to Abigail's sister Mary) and longtime friend of Robert Treat Paine (whose library I wrote about a couple weeks ago).

Cranch, born in Kingsbridge, Devonshire, moved to Massachusetts in 1746. He took up business as a card-maker, and later became one of the best-known watch repairmen in the Boston area. Cranch's interests varied widely (as you can see from the tag cloud for his books), extending far beyond horology and watch-making to encompass religious prophecy, the nature of the Antichrist, geography and navigation, history, languages (at least seven languages are represented in his collection) and classical literature

The library also reflects Cranch's interests in politics and government, in which he played an active role, serving two terms in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1779-1783) and a term in the State Senate (1785-1787). He held the office of Justice of the Court of Common Pleas for Suffolk County from 1779 through 1793, along with several local offices at various times. Cranch was also a delegate to the Massachusetts convention to ratify the federal constitution, where he supported ratification.

Cranch was a supporter of the Harvard library, and the college granted him an honorary M.A. degree in 1780, placing him with the class of 1744. He was a founding member of the Massachusetts Charitable Society, and the Massachusetts Society for Propogating the Gospel in North America (in its 1787 iteration). He sat as a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, but declined membership in the Massachusetts Historical Society (he did donate a book to the Society's library, where it remains).

Thanks to the recent discovery* of a detailed inventory of Cranch's library taken by his grandson Richard Cranch Norton in January 1812 (in the Jacob Norton Papers at MHS), we can nearly reconstruct how the books were housed by Cranch: in two seven-shelf bookcases, with folio and quarto volumes on the lower shelves and books of smaller formats above (but not in much discernible order otherwise). Richard Cranch Norton also noted in his list which books he wished to purchase, and which books his father, Rev. Jacob Norton, had in his possession.

Another body of books from Cranch's library (including many legal titles) was given to his son William in 1797 after William's books had been seized by creditors. And there are various titles scattered here and there (as usual). But I fully expect to be adding more, as they appear in correspondence or in institutional holdings.

Interestingly, when I first glanced through the inventory of Cranch's books, I got an immediate impression of similarity between it and Robert Treat Paine's. So I wasn't all that surprised to find that the two collections are, both in terms of weighted and raw entries, extremely similar (see the "Members With Your Books" box on the left sidebar).

And now, on to the next!

*By Robert Mussey, who is working on a biography of Cranch and his family. I owe him huge thanks for collaborating with me on this project, and for his continued discoveries of books mentioned in family correspondence and notes.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

August "Fine Books Notes"

This month's "Fine Books Notes" is out: It includes a piece by Jason Dickson on young collectors, which plays up some bookseller methods for attracting younger buyers and features some extremely apt comments from Cynthy Davis Buffington (PRB&M). I think she's exactly right when she says "The joy to be derived from book collecting is directly related to the amount of time that’s put into it." And Dickson plays up the wonderful undergraduate collecting contests (capped by the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest) that are a great way to get young collectors thinking about their methods and targeting their efforts.

The newsletter also features Ian McKay's great Sold @ Auction compendium, Stephen Maugan's take on the state of the British book world in "Down and Out in London," and a review of David Howard's Lost Rights, about North Carolina's copy of the original Bill of Rights (I just got this book, and am looking forward to it).

Monday, August 02, 2010

Scott Sentenced to Eight Years

Raymond Scott was sentenced today to eight years in prison: six for handling stolen goods and two for removing stolen property from Britain, to run consecutively.

Judge Richard Lowden told Scott "You are to some extent a fantasist and have to some degree a personality disorder and you have been an alcoholic. It is clear that from the (psychiatric) report you are not suffering from any mental disorder."

Of the First Folio, Lowden said "It would be regarded by many as priceless but to you it was definitely at a very big price and you went to very great lengths for that price. Your motivation was for financial gain. You wanted to fund an extremely ludicrous playboy lifestyle in order to impress a woman you met in Cuba. Your Cuban friends were brought in to provide support for your elaborate scheme. Of the theft itself, for which Scott was acquitted, Lowden remarked "You either did it or you embraced the obvious fact that someone had already done it."

Of Scott's efforts to fool Folger experts and have the book authenticated, "This was an attempt by you to take on the world's experts at their own expertise. You were confident that that balance had been achieved. You were, however, over-confident."

At court today Scott also admitted stealing two paintings from a Newcastle department store in 2008 - he received six-month sentences for each of those, to run concurrently with the longer terms.

I'm surprised (and gratified) at the length of this sentence.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Links & Reviews

- Raymond Scott is to be sentenced tomorrow. BBC1 ran a documentary about his case last night, which apparently we're not allowed to view on this side of the pond.

- Word this week that John James Audubon's first published engraving of a bird has been discovered - it's a heath hen, drawn for a New Jersey bank note in 1824.

- Nick Basbanes started quite a discussion on Ex-Libris with his fascinating post on single-title book collections - folks emailed in with lots of other such collections they've known (and my own collection of Fenelon's Telemachus, which I own in some forty-odd different editions, very much paled in comparison ... I've got much work to do!).

- The National Library of Wales has purchased Dylan Thomas' last, unfinished poem.

- I enjoyed Anne Trubek's history of the Interrobang, a 1960s typographical symbol combining a question mark and an exclamation point (image here). Why this didn't catch on is totally beyond me.

- From Laura at The Cataloguer's Desk, a very cool Poe first edition plus part of a literary review manuscript.

- At Wynken de Worde, Sarah Werner writes about reading on the iPad and how it's profoundly different from reading a codex (and more like reading a scroll).

- OCLC was sued for antitrust violations this week by SkyRiver, a competitor. Read the lawsuit here. I also recommend K.G. Schneider's take. This will certainly be fascinating to watch, whatever happens.

- Dublin was named a UNESCO "City of Literature" this week, joining Edinburgh, Iowa City and Melbourne.

- Another famous library, this one of the author David Markson, has been sold off piecemeal before proper documentation could be made of its contents. Sigh. A Facebook group is trying to re-document the books, and I've offered to set up a Legacy Library for the contents.

- Check out London Lives, a new digital collection highlighting archival documents from various collections. Much background and context at AHA Today.

- From The Little Professor, a very funny blow-by-blow look at her research process.

- The National Library of Medicine has received a $360,000 grant to digitize selected titles from its collection of early medical books. All told, the $1.5 million grant will fund the digitization of 30,000 titles from five institutions (the others are the medical libraries at Yale, Harvard and Columbia, as well as the NYPL).

- Susan Orlean posted her findings after she put out a call on Twitter for #booksthatchangekidsworlds. It's a very good list indeed.

- Simon Schama is profiled in the Telegraph. I like what he says about popular history writing: "Anyone can write an academic piece directed at other academics. To write something that delivers an argument and a gripping storyline to someone’s granny or eight-year-old takes the highest quality of your powers. I am completely unrepentant. One should not feel shifty." And his comment on aging: "The older I get, the more I want to do. It beats death, decay or golf in unfortunate trousers. Peace and quiet depress me."

- The August Americana Exchange is up, here. It includes the first installment of a Bonhams video to highlight the December sale of Bruce McKinney's American Experience colllection.

- From Res Obscura, some cool early signatures ... and a dolphin.

- For some very lovely images, visit the Flickr site for the Yale Law Library's Rare Books Collection -

- A 2,500-box archive of Winston Churchill's papers will be digitized by the summer of 2012 by the Churchill Archives Centre; it will be available on a "pay-as-you-go" model.

- The White House released President Obama's vacation reading list.

- Penguin Books turned 75 this week.

- Historian Mark Valeri talks to the Globe about his new book Heavenly Merchandize, and Puritan economics.


- Nicholas Phillipson's Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life; review by Noel Malcolm in the Telegraph.

- Julie Flavell's When London was Capital of America; review by Andrea Wulf in the NYTimes.

- Beverly Jensen's The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay; review by Richard Russo in the NYTimes.

- Richard Holmes' The Age of Wonder; review by Algis Valiunas in The New Atlantis.

- Joel Mokyr's The Enlightened Economy; review by Trevor Butterworth in the WSJ.