Sunday, October 31, 2010

Links & Reviews

- In today's Globe, Jill Lepore talks about her new book In the Whites of Their Eyes, and about the Tea Party's use of what she terms "antihistory" in their political rhetoric. There's also an interview with Lepore by Lin Fisher on the Religion in America blog.

- Bouncing off a link in last week's L&R, Mike Widener has compiled a great guide to "research opportunities" based on the Joseph White murder case.

- The NYPL's Schomburg Center has acquired a large collection of Maya Angelou's personal papers (some 343 boxes' worth).

- Powell's Books will be selling some 7,000 books from the personal library of author Anne Rice.

- If you read one of the many "wow, Jane Austen had an editor?!" articles, make it Jen Howard's in the Chronicle. And be sure to check out the underlying project, the new Jane Austen's Fiction Manuscripts Digital Edition.

- Raymond Scott, serving an 8-year prison term for handling the stolen Durham First Folio, has reportedly landed a job in the prison library.

- No word yet on what was removed from former NARA department head Leslie Waffen's home this week under the conditions of a sealed search warrant.

- Some thoughts on "Sherlock" by Miriam at The Little Professor (I've now watched the first episode twice, and look forward to the second tonight).

- Some really interesting discoveries by Ben at Res Obscura, including a fascinatingly detailed index.

- Michael Kenney notes a few recent books on Boston's literary and political history.

- The ABAA blog uncovers a very rare early Mormon text for sale on eBay.

- Of great use to me and hopefully to many others as well, the Bermuda National Library has mounted a digital collection of the island's early newspapers.

- Paul Collins finds a very unfortunate millinery mishap.

- You think this year's political campaign is nasty? Someone's made some "attack ads" from the 1800 election.


- Several recent books on ghosts and ghost stories, including Peter Ackroyd's The English Ghost; review by Jonathan Barnes in the TLS.

- Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra; review by Buzzy Jackson in the Boston Globe.

- Lewis Hyde's Common as Air; review by Michael Hitzik in the LATimes.

- Geoffrey Wolff's The Hard Way Round; review by Nathaniel Philbrick in the NYTimes.

- Pauline Maier's Ratification; review by Rick Brookhiser in the NYTimes.

- Susan Fletcher's Corrag; review by Ron Charles in the WaPo.

- Peter Ackroyd's The Death of King Arthur; review by David Robson in the Telegraph.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

November Auction Preview

- On 4 November, Sotheby's London will sell Travels, Atlases, Maps and Natural History books, in 214 lots. Top estimates (£60,000-80,000 apiece) go to Basilius Besler's Hortus Eystettensis (1613), called the "earliest pictorial record of flowers from a single garden", and an interesting composite atlas in four volumes from around 1740.

- Christie's Paris will sell Importants Livres Anciens, Livres d'Artistes et Manuscrits on 9 November, in 193 lots. The lot rating the top estimate is a fragment of Saint-Exupéry's manuscript of Pilote de guerre, which could fetch €120,000-180,000 (there's also much more Saint-Exupéry material in the sale). A first edition of Descartes' Discours de la Méthode is estimated at €50,000-70,000.

- The annual Skinner Fine Books & Manuscripts sale will be held on 14 November, in 686 lots. A 1776 Exeter, NH broadside printing of the Declaration of Independence is expected to be the top lot, estimated at $300,000-500,000. This is an interesting piece, having descended through a single family. Another interesting Revolutionary broadside is a copy of the Declaration for Taking up Arms (est. $40,000-60,000). There's a very interesting Thomas Jefferson letter sending a copy of his plan for UVa to a new college, a collection of Edward Curtis's works on American Indians (being sold separately), and Audubon's White Pelican (est. $50,000-75,000).

- Bloomsbury London will sell the second round of books from the Richard Harris collection of Natural History and Colourplate Books on 19 November, in 353 lots.

- On 23 November at Christie's London, Valuable Printed Books and Manuscripts, in 91 lots. A collection of Alan Turing offprints rates the top estimate, at £300,000-500,000, but perhaps the lot that will attract the most attention is the original index cards of Nabokov's The Original of Laura, est. £100,000-150,000. Rating the same estimate is an example of the Apple 1, the first Apple computer (1976), with the original packaging, a letter from Steve Jobs, &c. There's also an Enigma Machine, which is pretty neat (est. £30,000-50,000).

- Sotheby's Paris will have a Books and Manuscripts sale on 24 November. I'll add a preview here when information is available. [Added: the catalog is now available here].

- Christie's London will sell Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts on 30 November, in 389 lots. The top lot is expected to be a J.K. Rowling manuscript poem about the (almost)-beheading of Nearly Headless Nick (cut from the manuscript of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), which could fetch £25,000-35,000.

"Why Books?" Conference Day 2 Recap

[Note: for my recap of Day 1, go here]

Yesterday was the main event for Radcliffe's "Why Books?" conference, a full day of conversations and panel discussions on the history and future of books. I took some notes and offer this as a brief recap of the day, but (thankfully for you), the entire conference was taped and will be posted on the Radcliffe website within a couple of weeks, so stayed tuned for that. Radcliffe also had assigned bloggers for each site visit and panel discussion, and those will be posted shortly on their website. Additionally, there was a very active Twitterstream at #whybooks, where the conversation is ongoing (one of the best moments of the day came very early, when the Twitterati managed to get "Adrian Johns" as a trending topic in Boston).

The morning began with remarks by the conference organizers, who had done a fantastic job of planning the day's events. They had an unexpectedly tremendous response for the conference, which led to several overflow rooms where spectators watched a simulcast of the panels. I think the energy and interest stems from a real enthusiasm for and engagement with the question the conference's title posed, and speaks to the fact that scholars, readers and others are taking an active role in understanding the future of the book and print culture. This is important, and very good.

Following the opening remarks Nancy Cott moderated a conversation between Robert Darnton and Stuart Shieber, "Future Formats of Texts: E-books and Old Books." Darnton led off, saying (as he's been saying for years) that old books and e-books aren't opposites, but are more complementary than contradictory - by making them work together, we can offer new ways of scholarly research and presentation that are richer and more complete. He also noted that plans for a "national digital library," featuring digital books from the country's major research collections, are in fact not only feasible, but moving slowly forward (this is good to hear, since I've previously been critical of too much talk on this front and not enough action from the people who could actually make some headway in this area).

Shieber showed the trailer for Lane Smith's It's a Book, and flipped the conference question around to "Why Not E-books?" His presentation contrasted various capabilities and functionalities of e-books and e-readers as compared to printed books, and ended by suggesting that in the future, e-readers might well be preferable to printed books (weight, capacity, &c.) but that books would remain preferable to e-books (tactility, design, &c.).

During the question period Shieber responded to a question about e-book lending by noting that the real issue with e-books is that in some sense it remains the case that you'd really only renting the e-book, not buying it - and that e-books require (and will always require) some intermediary device to read them, whereas books need no such thing (with the necessary caveats for people with accessibility concerns).

The second morning panel, moderated by John Palfrey, featured Adrian Johns and Matthew Kirschenbaum, and was titled "Storage and Retrieval" (though there was much more to it than the title suggests). In his talk, "The Use and Abuse of the Universal Library" Johns posed a series of questions that have long plagued the would-be creators of universal libraries: what are they for? what are their purposes? He offered a fascinating look back at various schemes for creating universal libraries, including the British scheme for a "deposit library," and then argued that today's universal libraries (in which he includes Google Books), are organized in no small part for what he calls "non-display uses" - that is, data-mining and other types of research that don't involve traditional "reading" as we think of it. He concluded that books in the physical sense might end up providing a "space of retreat, in which public debate may survive."

Kirschenbaum began his talk by posing a little thought experiment about what literary studies in the future would look like. If a future scholar were to study the composition, publication and reception of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, he posited, where would the scholar begin? Surely he'd want to consider the extra features found only on the Kindle version ... and all the reviews and rankings and interviews on Amazon ... and all the versions of the manuscript stored on Franzen's laptop, and on his editor's computers ... and all the emails Franzen wrote about the book - you see the trouble. Born-digital materials pose tremendous challenges for archives, Kirschenbaum said, but in the end, the technical hurdles aren't the biggest issue: it will be the legal and societal issues that pose the greatest challenges. As an example of technical hurdles being hurdled he noted that one of Salman Rushdie's computers is available as an emulator on a terminal at Emory (more on that here). However, he concluded by noting that the new "Web 2.0" apps, "cloud storage" and that sort of thing may prove much more difficult to deal with than the relatively "easy" problem of PCs.

The panel after lunch, "Circulation and Transmission," was moderated by David Hall and featured papers by Isabel Hofmeyr and Meredith McGill. Hofmeyr discussed the Indian Ocean as a transoceanic network of print, focusing on Gandhi's printing in South Africa. McGill discussed "print outside the book" and the potential for study of non-canonical authors that digitization offers (i.e. poetry published in newspapers, &c.). McGill particularly noted the serious problem that a new generation of bibliographers is failing to get training they need in English departments.

In the last panel, "Reception and Use," Paul Duguid offered a look at the competing narratives we often find ourselves considering, most particularly "information wants to be free" and the reverse, that there is so much information out there that it needs mediation and constraint. He offered up a wonderfully snarky and very funny critique of Google Book Search, noting their continued inability to deal with metadata, manage multivolume works ("because they didn't seem to know they existed") and the way GBS has "sucked out of oblivion some of the very worst editions" of classic books and put them at the top or near the top of their search results.

Elizabeth Long presented the final paper, presenting some anecdotal evidence from interviews with book groups, acquaintances, and SHARPists about adoption of e-readers and e-books. She reported that many of the people she talked to spoke about the permanence and sensuousness of print books, along with the difficulty of lending e-texts and the inability of having authors sign their e-books; on the other hand, people liked the immediacy, accessibility and capacity of e-readers. She said that readers seem to be mostly pragmatic about the future of books and reading; few of those she spoke to felt that books would "disappear," and that some felt that they felt supporting independent bookstores was one major reason they would continue to buy print books even as they also read books electronically.

The inimitable Peter Stallybrass closed out the conference with a vibrant sum-up, looking both far into the past and well into the future. He reiterated the finding that historically, new technologies have not entirely displaced old technologies, but that the forms have worked together. He also made the very important point, as Johns had also begun to at the beginning of the day, that we have to remember that "print" doesn't mean just books. Over the centuries, he said, only 13% of printed sheets have been destined for books - most of print is other ephemeral matter, and libraries are going to have to spend much time considering new ways to store, conserve and study these important things (along with the new things that are appearing and will continue to appear).

Finally, Stallybrass noted the ongoing Penn in Hand digitization project at Penn (by way of saying that digitization and hi-res images can be incredibly useful, but that at the same time they can also lead to new questions that require going back to the originals to learn more), and called on libraries to continue moving toward open-access and resist commercializing digitization efforts as a dead end that will not achieve the objective of making the materials widely available.

Overall this was a fascinating (and brain-filling) day. There were certain elements of the conversation that didn't make their way into the conference at all (what of the Espresso Book Machine and other print-on-demand tools?), and many were bothered by the use of "Kindle" as short-hand for all e-readers. I hope the conversation will continue on Twitter and elsewhere, and that the Radcliffe folks might consider follow-on discussions and meetings in the future. This was a good beginning, and it was extremely heartening to see so many biblio-folk there and have a chance to chat with them.

When the videos go online I'll be sure to pass the link along, because my poor summaries of these panels don't at all do them justice.

This Week's Acquisitions

Here's what arrived this week:

- McSweeney's Issues 31 and 32, edited by Dave Eggers (2009). Publisher (sale).

- The Ionian Mission by Patrick O'Brian (Norton, 1981). Harvard Bookstore.

- It's a Book by Lane Smith (Roaring Book Press, 2010). Gift. If you haven't seen this one yet, do yourself a favor and get to it. I laughed so hard I nearly fell off the couch.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Auction Report: Arcana & English Bibliophile

- The second round of Arcana sales was held yesterday at Christie's London. The sale realized £2,281,225, with 54 of 65 lots selling. The first edition of Mark Catesby's Natural History of the Carolinas &c. was the top seller, making £241,250; Theodor de Bry's Florilegium renovatum et auctum (1641) with contemporary hand coloring sold for £181,250. Seven other lots made more than £100,000, including the very lovely uncut, unrestored copy of Johnson's Dictionary (1755), which made £157,250 (well over estimates). The copy of Brant's edition of Aesop (1501) with a great provenance also did better than expected, making £139,250.

- Today Sotheby's London hosted the The Library of an English Bibliophile, in 149 lots. Full results are here; the sale realized £3,160,275, with 120 of the lots selling. The presentation copy of Dickens' A Christmas Carol to his close friend W.C. Macready was, as expected, the top seller, at £181,250. A first edition of Wuthering Heights surpassed estimates, selling for £163,250. The Hogan-Doheny copy of Austen's Pride and Prejudice fetched £139,250 (better than expected), and the first edition of Shakespeare's collected poems (1640) made £133,250.

An inscribed copy in original wraps of Joyce's Ulysses made £121,1250, while a first edition of Darwin's Origin sold for £127,250, a first edition Frankenstein made £115,250, and a Kelmscott Chaucer made £97,250. Galileo's Dialogo (1632) better than doubled its estimate at £91,250.

The set of all five editions of The Compleat Angler published during Walton's lifetime did not find a buyer.

"Why Books?" Conference Day 1 Recap

Today was the first of two days of the "Why Books?" conference, hosted by Harvard's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. This afternoon consisted of a series of site visits, small workshops and seminars on a variety of topics.

The first site visit I attended was "Challenges and Opportunities in the Emerging E-book Age," featuring Alexander Parker (Director of Research Computing in the Humanities at Harvard), Liza Daly (President of Threepress Consulting) and Emily Arkin (Editor for Digital Publications Development at Harvard University Press).

Parker led off, offering a capsule history of e-book technologies (and noting, as others have very astutely done, that reading technologies have pretty much always been in a state of flux and technological change). He added that it's misguided to think that e-books will "supplant" printed books, but that they may well throw the publishing and reading worlds into a period of uncertainty until things settle (he suggested that the media of printed books may find themselves becoming a more "refined delivery method" in years to come, but won't go away).

Parker added that he thinks that e-books are in their incunabular period (he's coined the term "e-incunabular" to describe this), and that we're still in the middle of the deluge of devices and formats that still have to shake themselves out and realize their full potential, &c.

Daly and Arkin discussed the various formats, accessibility and other components of today's e-books, specifically as they pertain to scholarly publishing. Arkin concluded by going through a variety of challenges and opportunities of e-books for a wide range of constituencies: readers, booksellers, publishers, authors, &c. Overall, she concluded, continuing to experiment and work with a wide range of formats, styles, techniques and business models is probably going to offer the best way forward for all concerned.

This was a good discussion, and very useful. I hope the panel will be posted to the web, because it certainly deserves a wide(r) audience.

The second panel I attended today was at the Harvard Law Library's special collections: "Interesting Characteristics." Librarian David Warrington displayed and explained some materials from the law school archives pertaining to early teaching methods and pedagogy at the Law School (teaching notes, student lectures, and annotated casebooks). Cataloger Mary Person had pulled out a selection of sixteenth-century English law books with interesting provenance notes: interleavings, manuscript indexes, marginalia, manicules and various other ownership markings and evidence of readership. My favorite was a work in which the owner had stitched little vellum tabs in the outer margins and written "subjects" on them - the tabs looked for all the world like the little colored Post-It notes that current readers stick into their books. Great stuff!

Tomorrow, the main event; I'll have a recap in the evening.

Federal Agents Raid Retired NARA Employee's Home

I've got lots to catch up on tonight and will have a recap of "Why Books?" Day 1 shortly, but before I get to that, big news out of Maryland today: NARA investigative agents and U.S. Marshals on Tuesday raided the Rockville home of retired National Archives department head Leslie Waffen, according to local media reports.

"A law enforcement official familiar with the details of the search said agents arrived with a moving truck and an extensive list of items they were seeking. Archives investigators located boxes of materials and 'identified [the items] right away as theirs' in a basement room and, after securing the contents, removed the boxes from the house and loaded them onto the truck." Reports suggest that as many as "10 to 20 boxes" were removed from the house. reports that prior to his retirement this past June, Waffen had been in charge of the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video unit at NARA. He was not arrested during the search, and no charges have been filed as of this evening.

More to come, I'm sure ...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bookplates & Forgeries

Lew Jaffe's post at Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie this week is a guest post by collector Douglas Adams on bookplates in his collection of books on literary forgeries (a subject which is quite close to my heart, as you know). It makes for fascinating reading!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Links & Reviews

- KSPR reported that there seems to be some movement in the Rolland Comstock murder case: detectives have recently examined media coverage of the case "to see if a person of interest knew details about the killing that were not previously released to the public," and a grand jury called to deliberate on unsolved cases may be considering the Comstock case. The civil case brought against Comstock's ex-wife by his adopted daughter is also proceedings; a hearing is set for 3 November.

- From CNBC this week, John Moore writes on books as financial investments.

- The Caxton Club will host a symposium on association copies in March 2011, to coincide with the opening of their new exhibit "Other People's Books: Association Copies and the Stories They Tell."

- Here's a blast from the past: in a story first noted here way back in 2006, book thieves Peter Mason King and Nora Ann Thompson are now accused of stealing more than $500,000 of goods in Canada by pilfering items from homes they entered by posing as potential buyers. The duo are still wanted by Westport, CT police for stealing some $60,000 worth of art and rare books from a store there.

- From the Book Bench this week, a look at a steampunkish early typewriter.

- The Dr. Seuss manuscript at auction this week ended up selling for $40,800 (including premiums).

- A James Madison University professor has donated a 7,000-book collection, including some rarities, to the university's library.

- Israel will be cooperating with Google to mount a digital exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, with the first images set to go up within months.

- In the November Smithsonian, E.J. Wagner has a fascinating essay on an 1830 Salem murder that may have influenced the writings of Hawthorne and Poe.


- Joseph Ellis' First Family; review by Jay Strafford in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

- Ron Chernow's Washington; review by T.J. Stiles in the WaPo.

- Simon Winchester's Atlantic; review by Ben Wilson in the Telegraph.

- Pauline Maier's Ratification; review by Michael McConnell in the WSJ.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Book Review: "Watermark"

Vanitha Sankaran's debut novel is Watermark (Avon, 2010), set in fourteenth-century Narbonne (France) and featuring as its unlikely heroine the mute, albino daughter of a papermaker/scribe. Young Auda finds herself unwittingly caught up in the nets of the Inquisition as its agents seek out heretical elements in the city, and the story revolves around her attempts to keep herself and her family safe from the Inquisitor's clutches.

While the characters here might have used some more development (Auda herself is well-drawn, but her family members and others who play important roles are somewhat flat), Sankaran's created a well-structured novel which carries itself along quite nicely.

The best part for me (perhaps obviously) is the discussion of early papermaking, the technique of which is well handled here (as is the question of paper use vs. parchment use for various things). Sankaran's interest in such things is clear, and her research shows. Her next book is reportedly on printmaking in Renaissance Venice, so we can expect more from this promising author.

Clements Library Acquires Strachey Archive

I had word this week that William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan was the top bidder for the Henry Strachey papers sold as part of the second round of the James S. Copley library auction at Sotheby's on 15 October (my auction roundup is here).

This acquisition is well done: the first director of the Clements, Randolph Adams, sought the Strachey collection in the 1920s, and the library purchased half of the papers in 1982; now the archive is together once more, and will soon be available for scholarly research. The purchase (for $602,500) was made possible by what the library is calling a "remarkable collaborative effort" between donors willing to underwrite the library's successful bid.

These papers could not have found a better home, and I'm delighted they'll be at the Clements where many generations of scholars will be able to put them to good use.

This Week's Acquisitions

Just a couple arrivals this week:

- A Chronological History of New-England in the Form of Annals by Thomas Prince (Boston, N.E.: S. Gerrish, 1736). See this post for more. Amazon (used).

- Bermuda Settlers of the 17th Century: Genealogical Notes from Bermuda by Julia E. Mercer (Genealogical Pub. Co., 1982). George S. MacManus Books (via Biblio).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

McTague Back in Business

The following note appeared on several listservs today (and separately in my email several more times), so I pass it along:

"I thought the listserv should be alerted that convicted archives thief Denning McTague has resumed his old "legitimate" business of selling rare books and manuscripts, under his former business name of "Denning House Antiquarian Books & Manuscripts" based in Philadelphia (email

Given his recent history, any archivist or librarian who might be so consider purchasing from his catalogs should perhaps think twice and demand ironclad proof of provenance for anything on offer.

Here's a link to a news story about his misdeeds in the past:"

For more on McTague, see my past posts about him.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Newly Arrived

In the mail today was an exciting acquisition: a copy of Thomas Prince's 1736 Chronological History (or, more accurately, as its title page reads: A Chronological History of New-England in the Form of Annals: Being a Summary and Exact Account of the Most Material Transactions and Occurrences Relating to this Country, in the Order of Time Wherein they Happened, From the Discovery by Capt. Gosnold in 1602, to the Arrival of Governor Belcher, in 1730. With an Introduction, Containing a Brief Epitome of the Most Remarkable Transactions and Events Abroad, from the Creation: Including the Connected Line of Time, the Succession of Patriarchs and Sovereigns of the most Famous Kingdoms & Empires, the Gradual Discoveries of America, and the Progress of the Reformation to the Discovery of New-England. By Thomas Prince, M.A. Vol. I. Boston, N.E. : Printed by Kneeland & Green for S. Gerrish, MDCCXXXVI).

I wouldn't have expected to be able to acquire this title anytime soon, but thanks to an Amazon seller thinking he had a broken set (the second volume of Prince's work wasn't published until 1755), I ended up with a deal I couldn't let slip by. This copy, as with most copies of Prince's work still in their typical binding (the binding on my copy is almost identical to Thomas Gillan's copy, pictured here) isn't in the absolute best of shape, but I rather like books that seem to have been read and used, and most copies of Prince seem to have that feel about them.

The subscriber list for Prince's book was massive (it takes up nearly twenty pages in the text, with many subscribers ordering more than one copy) so it's not surprising that this book (and in fact many copies still extant) appears to have belonged to a subscriber. The inscription on the verso of the front flyleaf of my copy is quite faded (enhanced image here) but may be that of one Samuel Hendly, merchant of Charlestown, who subscribed for two copies (it looks more like "Heaney" to me, so I've got to see if I can track down a Hendly signature and compare the two).

On the rear flyleaf is another interesting notation (images here and here) which is also very faded and difficult to make out, but appears to say "June 24, 1775 Doct Call," followed by two lines of text that say I'm-not-sure-what (but are followed by prices or costs). If anybody wants to take a whack, let me know and I'll send the images. Finally on the rear pastedown is the inscription "Thos. Fosdick Book" (image); there appear to be several gentlemen by that name, so another one to try and track down.

There's definitely a project out there for somebody to check out the surviving copies of Prince's work and look at evidence of early readership, or do a study of the subscribers - it's quite a fascinating work, and I'm happy to have a copy on my shelves.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bermuda Recon Report

Last week I took advantage of the Columbus Day holiday and a couple spare vacation days for a quick trip to Bermuda for some (not nearly enough) time in the Bermuda Archives in pursuit of some more data for the Great Bermuda Project (GBP). That included a perusal of the inventories in three volumes of colonial probate records (I skipped around a little, and ended up covering the years 1640-1703 and 1744-1791). That resulted in notes on 179 personal libraries, the vast majority of which were very small (less than five books) but a few medium-sized and a handful of what I'd consider large collections.

As is the way of things, I found a really fascinating personal letterbook just at the end of my last afternoon in the archives, which I look forward digging into more on my next trip.

One morning my wonderful girlfriend spent some time down the street at the National Library running through microfilm of the 1784 issues of the Bermuda Gazette for an intensive examination of those early Bermuda newspapers. They include significant advertisements for books being sold in the island, auction notices, and literary essays (including one very fascinating piece on the possible dangers of a press in the island that seems to be a set piece written by the printer himself, but is still very interesting). The National Library is preparing to mount a new digital database of the early issues next month, which (needless to say) will be a tremendous help.

Among the various anecdotes and curiosities in the early issues of the paper is this little gem; not entirely german to book history, but it made me chuckle: "A Vicar long ill, who had treasur'd up wealth, / Told his Curate each Sunday to pray for his health. / Which oft having done, a parishioner said, / That the Curate ought rather to wish he were dead. / "For my truth," says the Curate, "let credit be given, / I ne'er pray'd for his death - but I have for the Living." (27 March 1784).

Since returning from this little recon mission I've been busily writing up a few fellowship applications in order to (hopefully) obtain some funding for future trips to the island. There's a wealth of information there, and hopefully I'll be able to make the case that it's worthy of significant further study. In the meantime, I've got lots more notes and images to go through, and I'm sure I'll have further items to share in the near future.

Book Review: "Earth (The Book)"

After the success of their 2004 hit America: The Book, Jon Stewart and his "Daily Show" writers are back with Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race (Grand Central, 2010). Written as a guide for visiting aliens to a planet Earth bereft of human beings, it's a look back at what our society might resemble to outsiders, and also a vivid depiction of what might have caused the human race to meet an untimely demise.

Not surprisingly, the humor is unsparing (as one would expect, nothing's sacred here), and in true "Daily Show" fashion, it's sometimes a bit over the top. Like America: The Book, the text is accompanied by frequent illustrations, sidebars, and featurettes (including FAQs, here glossed as "Future Alien Questions").

Fans of the Jon Stewart brand of humor will likely enjoy this book a great deal. I did.

Links & Reviews

- In the NYTimes, Anne Trubek has an essay on writers' homes, "Read my Book? Tour my House."

- The finalists for the 2010 National Book Awards were announced this week.

- Over at Exile Bibliophile, bibliomysteries!

- The five-year trial of former Getty curator Marion True ended this week when the Italian judge ruled that the statute of limitations on the charges had expired. Dealer Robert Hecht is also on trial; the statute of limitations for him runs out next July (and there is little prospect the trial will be completed by then).

- An unpublished, long-lost Dr. Seuss draft is currently up for auction; the current bid is $1,611. The auction ends on Thursday.

- Yesterday's Globe had an article on the Paul Revere House and its challenges in the 21st century.

- Johns Hopkins University has acquired some 280 books relating to the history of scientific discovery collected by Dr. Elliott Hinkes. See some highlights here.

- A first edition of 1984 was found in an Australian charity bin.

- Jill Lepore writes about sex-ed books for children in the New Yorker.


- Peter Meyer and Jeffrey Owen Jones' The Pledge: A History of the Pledge of Allegiance; review by Beverly Gage in the NYTimes.

- Bill Bryson's At Home; review by Louis Bayard in the WaPo. My favorite line: "Sweetly, sweetly flows the trivia."

- The new edition of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's letters, edited by Steven Weisman; review by David Brooks in the NYTimes.

- The Classical Tradition (ed. Anthony Grafton, Glenn W. Most, Salvatore Settis); review by Michael Dirda in the WaPo.

- Helen Castor's She Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth; review by Anna Whitelock in the Telegraph.

- Several recent books on food history; review by Elizabeth Scott-Baumann in the TLS.

- David Wootton's Galileo: Watcher of the Skies and J.L. Heilbron's Galileo; review by Andrew Crumey in the Scotsman.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Book Review: "The Bird"

Colin Tudge's The Bird: A Natural History of Who Birds Are, Where They Came From, and How They Live (Crown, 2008) has to be one of the oddest books I've read in a while. It reminded me a bit some of Richard Fortey's stuff, with its mix of scientific jargon and witty, anecdotal banter. There were parts of it that got a bit dry, but on the whole it was an amusing survey of bird evolution, lifestyles, and taxonomy.

Mostly I enjoyed this book, although the sharp transitions from dry scientific exposition to breezy asides sort of threw me for a loop. This is, I suppose, one of the dangers in trying to write popular science books: you want the reader to feel like he's learning something, but not like he's reading a textbook. It's a delicate balance.

I found Tudge's final chapter, which serves as a sort of call to arms on conservation funding and efforts, the most compelling section of the book, and I'm sure for people who are looking for a (mostly) accessible introduction to ornithology this would probably serve quite nicely.

Auction Report: Recent Highlights

Some highlights from the first two weeks' worth of October auctions:

- The 7 October Christie's New York sale: A Historic Photographic Grand Tour: Important Daguerreotypes by Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey (74 lots) resulted in 58 lots sold, for a total of $2,873,875. The top lot was a signed 1841 daguerrotype of plants, which made $242,500.

- Bloomsbury London's 7 October Maps, Atlases, Travel and Topographical Books, Prints & Photographs (610 lots) resulted in 435 lots sold. The top lot was Peter Simon Pallas' Sammlungen Historischer Nachrichten uber die Mongolischen Volkerschaften (1776-1801), which sold for £14,000 (over estimates of just £750-1,000).

- At Sotheby's Paris' Bibliothèque d'un érudit bibliophile: Rome et l'Italie sale on 12-13 October the total take was 3,587,994 EUR. The unexpected top seller was a 1546 edition of Rabelais, which made 348,750 EUR over estimates of just 18,000-23,000 EUR. Another surprise was Hancarville's Antiquities Etrusques, Grecques et Romaines (1766-1776), which made 204,750 EUR. A first edition of the Hypernotomachia poliphili fetched 132,750 EUR.

- Bloomsbury New York's sale of the first part of the Richard Harris Collection of Natural History and Colourplate Books on 13 October in New York resulted in 155 of 172 lots sold. Six lots did better than $100,000, with the first edition of Audubon's Quadrupeds coming out on top, at $420,000 (but several other top-estimated lots failing to sell).

- The "second selection" from the James S. Copley library sold at Sotheby's New York yesterday. The Henry Strachey archive made $602,500 (well below estimates), and the rest of the lots sold for $2,714,507. The manuscript list of California missions written by Junipero Serra did not sell; the top seller was Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, which made $254,500. Washington's copy of The Beauties of Swift(1782), which was estimated at $30,000-50,000, made $104,500, as did a copy of Washington's 1754 Journal covering the period at the start of the French & Indian War. The Tobias Lear letter on the death of Washington made $50,000.

This Week's Acquisitions

Mostly books I picked up in Bermuda, because volumes published there are ridiculously hard to obtain remotely without paying obscene amounts for shipping, plus a review copy and new books by Jill Lepore and Ben Carp:

- The Rich Papers: Letters from Bermuda, 1615-1646: Eyewitness Accounts Sent by the Early Colonists to Sir Nathaniel Rich; edited by Vernon A. Ives (Bermuda National Trust, 1984). Bermuda Book Store.

- Four Centuries of Friendship: America-Bermuda Relations 1609-2009; edited by Marina I. Slayton (Bermuda Maritime Museum Press, 2009). Bermuda Book Store.

- Butler's History of the Bermudas; edited by C.F.E. Hollis Hallett (Bermuda Maritime Museum Press, 2007). Bermuda Book Store.

- The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History by Jill Lepore (Princeton University Press, 2010). Amazon.

- Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America by Benjamin L. Carp (Yale University Press, 2010). Amazon.

- Books and the British Army in the Age of the American Revolution by Ira D. Gruber (UNC Press, 2010). Publisher.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Book Review: "The Surgeon's Mate"

Quite possibly my favorite of the Aubrey-Maturin novels so far, The Surgeon's Mate (the seventh in the series, if you're keeping track) is another winner for Patrick O'Brian. A Fog-shrouded chase through the Grand Banks, a secretive mission into the Baltic, a prison-break, and lots of the usual nautical patter and witty asides that make O'Brian's characters so likeable and his books so much fun to read.

Galileo Program at LC

As you've probably noticed I'm way behind on updates here (lots of auction news to catch up on, plus a report on my Bermuda trip), but in the meantime, there's a really great program coming up on 5 November at the Library of Congress: a day-long symposium to mark the 400th anniversary of the publication of Galileo's Sidereus Nuncius (and the LC's request acquisition of a copy of the work).

Mark Dimunation writes: "The conference will approach the book from a variety of disciplinary standpoints and present new research on the book itself. Speakers include: Paul Needham and Eileen Reeves of Princeton University; David Marshall Miller of Duke University; John Hessler of the Library of Congress; Owen Gingerich of Harvard University; and Peter Machamer of the University of Pittsburgh. They will cover themes found in the work, and address the following questions:

What is it about the printing and construction of the book which "allows us to sketch a dynamic picture of how this revolutionary publication came into existence?" (Needham)

Why was there a "tendency to associate the earliest telescope with organ pipes and trumpets for both functional and aesthetic reasons" in Tuscan circles of the period? (Reeves)

How did the information in Galileo's Sidereus Nuncius" change the grounds upon which natural philosophical argument and debate was carried out?" (Miller)

How were Galileo's "early demonstrative methods" made manifest "not only in these texts, but also, and more clearly, in his illustrations and in his discourse about the moons of Jupiter?" (Hessler)

Why Galileo "remained a timid Copernican until his newly devised telescope revealed novelties in the heavens?" (Gingerich)

What was the "the reception and influence of Galileo's Sidereus Nuncius" and how did it contribute to his fate twenty-three years after its publication? (Machamer)

For speaker biographies and abstracts of the authors' presentations, please refer to the following link:

The conference is free and is open to the public, but an RSVP would be greatly appreciated. Please contact the Rare Book & Special Collections Division at (202) 707-6253."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Links & Reviews

- Rob LoPresti, the librarian-hero of the James Brubaker case, talks about his role in the investigation with the Western Front.

- Amherst College president Anthony Marx has been named the new president of the New York Public Library.

- In the WSJ, Allison Hoover Bartlett offers up her choices for the five best books about book collecting.

- An audio interview with Michael Winship about collecting books published by Ticknor and Fields.

- Robert Darnton has a short essay up at NYRB, "A Library Without Walls" (about the creation of a National Digital Library). It's a good piece, as Darnton's tend to be - I hope it actually starts something!

- Via John Overholt, excellent news that the sale catalog of (part of) Boswell's library has been digitized.

- From Sarah at Wynken de Worde, more thoughts on reading e-books.

- Over at Lux Mentis, Ian's got a video tour of his booth at the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair for those of us not lucky enough to be in attendance.

- A look at a huge (~24,000 items) collection of bookseller labels. Very neat.

- Michael Russem passes along a fascinating video that made the rounds last week: "How Ink is Made."


- David Wootton's Galileo; review by Manjit Kumar in the Telegraph.

- Simon Winchester's Atlantic; review by Philip Hoare in the Telegraph.

- Bill Bryson's At Home; review by Dominique Browning in the NYTimes.

- Several new books on the Tea Party, including those by Kate Zernike and Jill Lepore; review by Alan Brinkley in the NYTimes.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

This Week's Acquisitions

As we head to Bermuda for a few days of relaxation followed by some work in the archives, here's what arrived this week:

- First Family: Abigail and John Adams by Joseph J. Ellis (Knopf, 2010). Publisher.

- A Letter Concerning Toleration and Other Writings by John Locke; edited by Mark Goldie (Liberty Fund, 2010. Publisher.

- The Lady's Slipper by Deborah Swift (St. Martin's Griffin, 2010). Publisher.

- A French edition of Les Aventures de Telemaque, this a 1777 Leyden edition in orange paper boards with the label of the "Cabinet Litteraire de Francois Luquiens Cadet" on the front cover. eBay.

Will chime in during the trip as the Interwebs allow.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Book Review: "Banned in Boston"

Neil Miller's Banned in Boston: The Watch and Ward Society's Crusade against Books, Burlesque, and the Social Evil (Beacon Press, 2010) tells the story of the New England Watch and Ward Society (begun 1878 as the New England Society for the Suppression of Vice, an offshoot of Anthony Comstock's New York organization; renamed 1891).

The book doesn't get off to a very auspicious start, noting as it does on p. 3 that Boston's Park Street Church (built 1809/10) was "designed by Christopher Wren" (died 1723) ... the church's architect, Peter Banner, may have been inspired by Wren's design for St. Bride's Church in London, but unless Wren was as talented at communicating from beyond the grave as he was at architecture, he can hardly be called the church's designer. Aside from this howler, though, I very much enjoyed this volume.

By way of introduction, Miller tracks the many changes wrought in Boston during the second half of the 19th century (decline in the traditional Boston industries, expansion into new neighborhoods, population growth as immigration reshaped the city's demographics, and political shifts). To combat "indecency in books, pictures, and performances," as well as gambling, prostitution and drug use, men of the major traditional Boston families populated the membership rolls and filled the coffers of the Ward and Ward Society. One early advocate, Harvard professor George Peabody, compared the group's activities to the city's storm and sewer drains, "quietly, unobtrusively working underground, guarding us from the pestiferous evil which at any time may come up into our faces, into our homes, into our children's lives" (p. 9). It was, as Cleveland Amory put it, "the old guard on guard" (p. 11).

By fighting for restrictive laws banning printed matter which contained "obscene, indecent, or impure language, or manifestly tending to the corruption of youth," and then (quietly, for the most part) going after publications which they felt met those criteria (an 1881 edition of Whitman's Leaves of Grass, for example, or a whole variety of French publications and plays), the Society helped make "Banned in Boston" a well-known phrase (and even a lucrative one, as Miller notes, for booksellers in other cities).

Miller recounts Watch and Ward-inspired bookstore raids (in which owners were arrested for selling the likes of Rabelais' works and The Decameron), and the understanding eventually reached between the Society and the city's booksellers, which involved the creation of the Boston Booksellers Commitee (three booksellers, three Society directors), who met and decided on the "acceptability" of new books before they could be sold. From 1915 through the late 1920s this quiet agreement held, and books deemed "actionable" (among them works by John Dos Passos and Aldous Huxley) simply didn't appear on the shelves of Boston's stores or receive notice in its newspapers.

But it wasn't just books the Ward and Ward sought to control - Miller writes of their (mostly successful) efforts to combat various other vices as well, from prostitution to political corruption.

And then the regime began to crumble; with the death of longtime agent J. Frank Chase came the end of the "gentlemen's agreement" on book censorship, as Boston law enforcement authorities (with the backing of the Catholic Church) began taking a more active role in book-banning (with seventy books banned in the year leading up to January 1928, including works by Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner). Authors, publishers, and even some Watch and Ward members thought things might be getting a little out of hand, although the authors tended to find it to their advantage, as Upton Sinclair pointed out ("I would rather be banned in Boston than read anywhere else because when you are banned in Boston, you are read everywhere else").

One of the final straws proved to be a major overreach by the Watch and Ward, as its agents entrapped a Cambridge bookseller into selling a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover. The bookseller was convicted, but the Society's methods were decried by defense and prosecution attorneys, plus the judge. The heavily negative press coverage of the case led to a severe drop in financial support for the Watch and Ward, and the departure of several leading members. Between the bad press and the Depression, the society was in deep trouble. But its leaders carried on, continuing the quiet suppression of books and working with magazine distributors to keep objectionable periodicals off the racks (in 1930 54 of 122 magazine issues submitted to the Watch and Ward were withdrawn from sale).

Beginning in the 1930s the Watch and Ward began to focus on burlesque shows, to varying degrees of success, and then began a renewed campaign against a wider range of vices under the leadership of Louis Croteau in the early 1940s. With Croteau's death in 1948 the torch of censorship burned itself out, and Miller's final chapter tracks the Society through its last decades, as it continued its campaigns against gambling and official corruption but left the censorship to others (including the official city censor, the last of whom was the very-appropriately-named Richard Sinnott).

Miller concludes his book with the important caveat that while not all censorship in Boston originated with Watch and Ward, "it is extremely difficult to defend an organization that spent its early years trying to ban Whitman, Balzac, Boccaccio, and Rabelais ..." (p. 178). The group, he concludes, made "banned in Boston" into a "national joke," "created a stultifying intellectual climate in Boston," and by its own sometimes overzealous tactics did much to diminish its claims to moral authority. Much of what they sought to eradicate was, Miller maintains, "a rearguard action against historical forces ... inevitably a quixotic venture" (p. 182).

A fast-paced, highly readable account of a forgotten (and not-much-lamented) chapter in Boston's history.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Some New Goodies

- The October Fine Books Notes is out, complete with a bookish gift guide, book recommendations by Nick Basbanes, and more.

- And there's a new issue of Common-place, which includes a really fascinating piece comparing early American almanacs to iPhones, a review of Walter Woodward's Prospero's America, and various other interesting essays.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Oak Knoll Fest in Pictures

The Fine Press Book Association blog has a great selection of images from this weekend's Oak Knoll Fest - take a browse!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Book Review: "The Chess Machine"

[Yesterday morning I was partway through three books. By the time I went to bed I had finished each of them, and since I'm sidelined today with a nasty sore throat, here's the final review before I go off to make the tough decisions about what to read next (and to make a cup of tea)]

Robert Löhr's The Chess Machine (translated from the German by Andrea Bell and published by Penguin in 2007) is a fictionalized version of the story of the Mechanical Turk, a historical hoax produced by Wolfgang von Kempelen and exhibited around Europe in the final decades of the 18th century (and extant until 1854, when it was destroyed in a Philadelphia fire). While we don't know too much at all about the original operator of the Turk, Löhr has given us a character in the person of Tibor, an Italian dwarf plucked from jail by Kempelen and effectively held hostage as the Turk's inner workings.

Tibor, von Kempelen, and the erstwhile assistant Jakob soon discover that their secret is going to be a tough one to keep hidden, and that the steps they have to take to keep the Turk in operation might be troubling ones.

I enjoyed this book; the story held my interest, the writing was excellent, and the way Löhr manages to turn the narrative itself into a very complicated chess match was very well done.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Book Review: "Obama's Wars"

Bob Woodward's books are something of a staple for me; as soon as a new one appears, I read it (in the meantime trying to avoid the breathless coverage of its revelations in the press before the publication date). Obama's Wars (just out from Simon & Schuster) is no different. I think of these books as little more than extra-long newspaper articles; without the benefit of hindsight that later historians will have, Woodward's journalism offers a fly-on-the-wall view of decision-making processes in all their messy, mind-numbing tedium and turf-guarding bluster.

This book effectively chronicles the year from Obama's election through early December 2009, when he announced the 30,000-troop "surge" into Afghanistan that will - hopefully - culminate in the beginnings of a drawdown there in July 2011. It recreates through in-depth interviews with many of those involved the deliberations, deals and strategy sessions that ultimately led to that announcement, and then briefly recounts what's happened since (the sacking of DNI Dennis Blair and Afghanistan commander Stanley McChrystal, and the failed Times Square bombing attempt by Faisal Shahzad, for example).

What comes through loud and clear is the impression of a president deeply engaged with the decision-making process, who understands the consequences of his actions, and who treats his responsibilities as commander in chief with all the seriousness they deserve. Obama comes across as a leader who permits significant, even rancorous debate among his team, but who can grow impatient - and justifiably so - when he's not being given the full story or being presented with a complete set of options from his advisors.

I think the most frightening aspect of the book for me was the level to which the military commanders advising Obama seemed to be always pushing for more troops and a broadening of the mission in Afghanistan, and that they seemed impervious at times to the directives Obama passed along to them for ways to focus their efforts and offer him realistic alternative approaches. The level of personal animosity and tension between various members of the national security apparatus is more than a little worrying, but in the end it seems like the president has a good team and knows how to manage them well. The vice president comes off particularly well - he may get on everybody's nerves once in a while, but he's engaged, serious, and relentlessly realistic. Some others (most notably the national security advisor) don't emerge in such a flattering light.

The major question that this book raises, and that the players never seem to manage a clear answer to is how we can achieve our goals in Afghanistan without a stronger partner there (Karzai does not appear at this point to be the serious leader the country needs in order to get back on its feet), and how can we work with Pakistan to ensure that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are rooted out of their safe havens and thoroughly beaten back? These questions, which are certainly being handled every day by the administration and will be the subject of a thorough review at the end of the year, remain to be resolved - Woodward's got another book to write.

Book Review: "An Extensive Republic" (HBA, Volume 2)

The second of five monumental volumes comprising the History of the Book in America (HBA) series published in association with the American Antiquarian Society by the University of North Carolina Press was the last to be released, just this summer. But An Extensive Republic: Print, Culture, and Society in the New Nation, 1790-1840, edited by Robert A. Gross and Mary Kelley, is certainly not the least of the quintet, neither in terms of quality nor in the importance of the period under consideration.

In introductory and concluding chapters, Gross offers the framework for this volume, noting the wide variety of media, technologies, human actors, and other factors that contributed to American literary culture in the early republic. It is far too simplistic to conclude that the evidence shows a progressive rise toward a national culture of print over the first decades of the 19th century; the real story is much more complex, and much more interesting. I think he puts this well toward the end of the volume, noting that just as the book "challenges the excesses of literary nationalism by highlighting the persistence of Old World practices and influences in the print culture of the new nation, so this volume undercuts inflated claims about an 'Age of Print' by documenting the perpetuation of older modes of expression and communication in the small-scale, face-to-face settings of everyday life and the alteration in tandem with print by the gathering forces of social and economic change. Even as printed words and images increased, diversified, and extended their reach, they commingled with other forms equally important to the construction of community and identity and to the organization of politics and society" (pp. 517-518).

An Extensive Republic is divided into six topical sections, each populated with essays by undisputed experts in the field. Section I, "A Republic in Print: Ideologies and Institutions" begins with Richard Brown writing on the Revolution's impact on book history; he argues that the conflict and its attendant focus on republican ideology led to a much more decentralized, polycentric print culture than was the case in Great Britain or in the American colonies, while also bringing more demographic groups into the "reading classes." James Green offers a masterful examination of the publishing trades in the nascent republic, tracing the slow shift from a "reprint culture" to a nationalistic industry. He examines a whole range of competitive and cooperative strategies followed by publishers, and chronicles the changes in technology, materials and business models that shaped the trade during these decades.

Scott Casper and Karen Nipps offer instructive publishing case studies, of the Harpers' various series of "library" volumes marketed as sets and of the Philadelphia job-printer Lydia Bailey respectively. Jack Larkin paints a vivid picture of rural printing during the period, characterized by high mobility and a high failure rate, but also by a surprising ubiquity. William Pretzer profiles journeyman printers as they came to grips not only with technological changes in their field but also to the "intrusion" of different work forces (woman, free blacks) and joined together in typographical societies and even early forms of labor unions.

In Section II, "Spreading the Word in Print," John Brooke begins by reevaluating the role newspapers played in the early republic, concluding that the assumption of universal access doesn't actually bear scrutiny, and noting important regional differences in the role of the newspaper press. Jeffrey Pasley profiles political journalist and office-seeker John Norvell, and Meredith McGill ably summarizes the development of and debates over copyright law and jurisprudence in America. Richard John underscores the importance of the 1792 Post Office Act, noting that "no single piece of legislation did more to expand the geographic horizons of American public life" (p. 214). By providing set routes for communication and dependable stagecoach services, and by granting preferential rates to newspapers, the postal service provided vital infrastructure for the transmission of print culture around the country, he argues.

Section III, "Educating the Citizenry" features Ken Carpenter's examination of the origins, difficulties, and characteristics of social (or membership) libraries, which he finds were "easier to establish than to sustain" (p. 273) due to their general lack of a dedicated building, limited hours, and inevitable decline as both the founders and original stock aged and tended not to be replenished. Their success, he maintains, depended on the availability of the latest products of the press, and many simply could not meet that demand. Essays by Gerald Moran and Maris Vinoskis and by Charles and E. Jennifer Monaghan treat the rise of schools and the variety and increase in schoolbook publishing (the first of these is particularly good for its discussion of the ongoing debate over historical literacy rates and how they can be measured).

Dean Grodzins and Leon Jackson take on a subject near and dear to my heart in their essay on print culture at colleges in the early Republic. They conclude, and I think justly, that the institutions played only a "modest role in the expansion of print culture," (p. 319), but they acknowledge the shifting collecting strategies that began to spring up during this period (away from haphazard collection by donation and toward acquisition by design, such as is seen both at Union College and in Jefferson's book orders for the University of Virginia). Grodzins and Jackson also point out the continuing role of orality in college life, and in the role of the student literary societies in provided extracurricular reading for their students. Mary Kelley treats the female academies in the same fashion, noting the surprising fact that the hundreds of academies were educating just about the same number of young women as the colleges were educating young men, and with very similar curricula (with the exception that the women were not expected to be instructed in Latin and Greek rather earlier than the shift occurred in the colleges).

The fourth section, "Gendering Authorship and Audiences," features twin essays on male and female writers in the early republic, authored by David Leverenz and Joanne Dobson/Sandra Zagarell. The salient conclusions here are similar to those in many of the other essays - it's difficult to generalize, adaptability was key, and few made much money.

In the fifth section, "Genres of Print," various sub-categories of print culture are considered, including newspapers and periodicals, evangelical magazines, literary reviews, novels, travel books, and biographies. Georgia Barnhill's essay on illustration techniques and strategies is also included here. Similarly the final section treats three distinct sub-groups among the American reading public: German-Americans (a community engaged with print, but as a means to facilitate adjustment into general society, not to stand apart from it), African-Americans (for whom participation with print culture proved both proactive and reactive), and Cherokee Indians (a group that consciously chose mass literacy in the 1820s "toward the end of maintaining their independence as an Indian people", p. 514).

This volume, clearly a labor of love on the part of its contributors and editors, is beautifully-designed with frequent illustrations, a very well-chosen font, and rich source notes (my notes on articles and books to examine run onto several pages). All involved should be justly proud of their creation. This is a wide-ranging book that may not be comprehensive in its treatment of print culture in the early republic, but is probably as close as we can ever hope to come. I would have liked to have seen more in the way of examination into personal reading habits and private libraries, but there's room for that in another volume. As it stands, this and its companion volumes are an indispensable resource, and one to which I'm sure I'll return often and with great pleasure.

Links & Reviews

- Whitney Trettien has a great post, "The Erasers & the Annotators: A Remixed Twitter Convo on Library Marginalia (and more)". I love the way she did this.

- Bookseller Brian Cassidy (@briancassidy) is the subject of today's Washington Post "First Person Singular" column.

- Over at the Book Bench, Macy Halford writes on Benjamin Franklin and the early foundations of American libraries.

- A Virginia collector has donated nearly 700 Civil War photographs to the Library of Congress, the WaPo reports. A major exhibition of the photographs is planned for April 2011, and many of the images are available online.

- Author Doug Stewart talks about his The Boy Who Would be Shakespeare in the Lexington Patch.

- Via Reading Copy this week, author-scented candles (quite amusing).

- From The Millions, word that Jack Black will play the title character in a film adaptation of Gulliver's Travels. Watch the preview.

- In Slate, Paul Collins writes on the history of chain letters.


- Ron Chernow's Washington: A Life; reviews by Andrew Cayton in the NYTimes and Andrew Roberts in the WSJ.

- Eric Foner's The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery; review by David Reynolds in the NYTimes.

- James Swanson's Bloody Crimes; reviews by John Waugh in the WaPo and John J. Miller in the WSJ.

- Stephen Breyer's Making Democracy Work; review by David Fontana in the WaPo.

- Daisy Hay's Young Romantics and Richard Marggraf Turley's Bright Star; review by Oliver Herford in the TLS.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

This Week's Acquisitions

- The Specter of Salem: Remembering the Witch Trials in Nineteenth-Century America by Gretchen A. Adams (University of Chicago Press, 2010). Book cart.

- Phillis Wheatley and the Romantics by John C. Shields (University of Tennessee Press, 2010). Book cart.

- Portrait of a Patriot: The Major Political and legal Papers of Josiah Quincy Junior. The Southern Journal; edited by Daniel R. Coquillette and Neil Longley York (University of Virginia Press, 2007). Cellar Stories, Providence.

- Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Borders.

- Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America by Kate Zernike (Times Books, 2010). Publisher.

- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race (Grand Central, 2010). Borders.

- Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 by Pauline Maier (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Publisher.

October Auction Preview

October's book auction schedule is packed with interesting sales:

- Also on 7 October, Bloomsbury London will sell Maps, Atlases, Travel and Topographical Books, Prints & Photographs, in 610 lots.

- Sotheby's Paris will sell the Bibliothèque d'un érudit bibliophile: Rome et l'Italie on 12-13 October. Sotheby's notes "The sale features a panorama of Italian book production from the 16th to the 19th centuries, with works by Dante Alighieri, Alberti, Falda, Fontana, Strada and Machiavelli. Amongst the many masterpieces offered are: a desirable set of Lafreri engravings, Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae; no less than six different editions of Colonna's Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, including the rare 1499 first edition; and twelve editions of the works of Piranesi." There are 396 lots, and the first edition Hypernotomachia rates the highest estimate, at 70,000-90,000 Euros.

- I've already previewed Bloomsbury New York's 13 October sale of natural history and color-plate books.

- Heritage Galleries will sell Rare Books and Historical Manuscripts on 14-16 October. Some very interesting things in each sale, with a 1767 Ben Franklin letter to Henry Home, Lord Kames estimated as the top lot, at $300,000-500,000.

- Swann New York will sell Literature, Art, Press and Illustrated Books on 14 October, in 328 lots.

- A "second selection" from the James S. Copley library will be sold at Sotheby's New York on 15 October. Another really excellent selection of American manuscripts and documents here, in 253 lots. The top estimate goes to a manuscript list of California missions written by Junipero Serra in 1777 (est. $150,000-250,000). A first edition of Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia rates an estimate of $100,000-150,000. Washington's copy of The Beauties of Swift (1782) could sell for $30,000-50,000. I find the Tobias Lear letter on the final illness and death of Washington quite compelling (est. $30,000-50,000). I'll probably have more to say about this as it comes up.

- The single-item companion sale to the Copley selection is the Henry Strachey papers, which consists of about 80 items pertaining to the peace negotiations between Britain and the United States at the end of the Revolution. The estimate is $700,000-1,200,000.

- The second round of Arcana sales will be held on 27 October at Christie's London. Like the first round (preview, report) there are some truly amazing items among the 65 lots in this sale which make the catalog an absolute must-browse. A first edition of Mark Catesby's Natural History of the Carolinas &c. (est. £200,000-300,000); a copy of Theodor de Bry's Florilegium renovatum et auctum (1641) with contemporary hand coloring (est. £150,000-250,000); a first edition of Brant's edition of Aesop (1501) with a great provenance (est. £60,000-80,000); the Garden, Ltd. copy of Johnson's Dictionary (1755), uncut and unrestored (est. £60,000-80,000) - just a few of the great things that will be on the block at the end of the month.

- On 28 October Sotheby's London will sell the first part of The Library of an English Bibliophile, in 149 lots. A presentation copy of Dickens' A Christmas Carol to his close friend W.C. Macready is expected to be the top seller, at £150,000-200,000. The Hogan-Doheny copy of Austen's Pride and Prejudice is expected to fetch £75,000-100,000, and a copy of the first edition of Shakespeare's collected poems (1640) is estimated at £80,000-100,000. A set of all five editions of The Compleat Angler published during Walton's lifetime rates a £70,000-100,000 estimate.

If I've missed any, my apologies!