Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Book Review: "The Vaults"

Toby Ball's novel The Vaults (St. Martin's Press, 2010) is a truly impressive debut work, one that will almost certainly find its way onto my "Best of 2010" list. Set in an alternate 1930s, in an American metropolis simply called "the City," Ball's story offers a sharp new take on the "bring down the system" thriller.

The jacket design was one of the things that first attracted me to this book (not surprisingly, I'm a sucker for a hallway lined with books, even if it is dark and vaguely creepy-looking). The image is of the eponymous Vaults, which as it turns out are the City's police archives. The keeper of those archives, one Arthur Puskis, is Ball's very unlikely protagonist. When he discovers a strange anomaly among the files, Puskis does something very uncharacteristic of himself: he starts to investigate. Naturally, tugging at that first little thread leads in directions Puskis never anticipated.

While Puskis methodically searches for the source of the oddity in his files, two other men (private detective Ethan Poole and newspaper reporter Francis Frings) find themselves getting drawn into the same swirling vortex, from entirely different directions and for completely separate reasons. Ball's narrative shifts perspective between the three men, slowly revealing to the reader the inevitable convergence as each begins to comprehend the breadth and depth of what they're facing.

Ball's created a deeply memorable dystopian world, filled with a cast of equally unforgettable characters (it would neither surprise nor disappoint me to see coming down the pike a prequel or two). I will look forward to his next work with much anticipation.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Links & Reviews

- Ellen Gamerman wrote in yesterday's WSJ about the upcoming (7 December) sale of the Hesketh Birds of America, profiling some of the potential bidders.

- Don't miss the lovely and oh-so-true "Confessions of a Book Fiend" comic by Grant Snider.

- From BibliOdyssey, a selection of marbled paper designs.

- Robert Darnton calls on Google to contribute books they've scanned as the foundation of a Digital Public Library of America.

- A stolen book is recovered when the thief tries to sell it to a watchful bookseller.

- In today's Globe, a short piece on the importance of independent bookstores to local authors.

- Also in the Globe, word that a new book (to be published next year) seeks to flesh out the biography of Lizzie Borden and "get beyond" the famous crime for which she's best known.

- Writing in the Guardian, Rick Gekoski has an essay on the use of the word "wicked" and on being offered a copy of the famous "Wicked Bible."

- Passed along this week via Twitter, a good list of Latin words commonly found in book imprints.

- Ann Blair writes on early information overload in this weekend's Globe, drawing from her new book Too Much to Know.

- Canadian archaeologists say they're getting closer to finding the wreckage of the HMS Terror.

- The JFK Library has nearly completed the first phase of a $1o million project to digitize Kennedy materials: hundreds of thousands of digitized documents are to be released in January.

- In The Daily Beast, Andrew Roberts mythbusts the new movie "The King's Speech."


- Jay Parini's The Passages of H.M.; review by Megan Marshall in the NYTimes.

- Eric Foner's The Fiery Trial; review by Fred Kaplan in the WaPo.

- Edmund Morris' Colonel Roosevelt; review by Geoffrey C. Ward in the NYTimes.

- David Ulin's The Last Art of Reading; review by Christopher Beha in the NYTimes.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Review: "The Haunted Dolls' House ..."

Way back when I read Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends (review) I noted that I'd have to hunt up some of the stories of M.R. James, which Chabon discusses in one of his essays. At least one reader emailed to encourage me in that, and when I saw a copy of James' The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Ghost Stories (the second volume of Penguin's "Complete Ghost Stories of M.R. James") sometime later, I snatched it up. It finally made its slow way to the top of the pile, and I thought a nice long weekend would be the perfect time to dip into the stories. I was not disappointed.

While the editor calls the stories included here "generally inferior" to those in the other volume, which includes James' earlier stories (and which I've now ordered up), I quite enjoyed those between these covers. James captures supernatural visitations and unexplained events very well, and has a way of lending very creepy powers to seemingly benign, inanimate objects (among them are binoculars, fabric, and, as might be expected from the title, even a dollhouse).

All of the stories here are well worth reading, but if I had to pick just a few, I'd highlight "The Residence at Whitminster", "The Diary of Mr. Poynter", "Two Doctors," "The Haunted Dolls' House", "A View from a Hill," and "The Uncommon Prayer-Book" (which takes as its supernatural element a bibliographically-mysterious Commonwealth-period Book of Common Prayer). One of the things I really like (and I'm sure you'll be shocked, shocked at this) about James' stories is the inclusion of books, libraries, book auctions and antiquarianism in the plots (he was a medievalist and manuscript cataloger).

Some of my favorite Conan Doyle stories are his supernatural tales, and these reminded me (in a good way) of those. Creepy, but highly enjoyable, and very much recommended.

This Week's Acquisitions

Here's what arrived this week:

- Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age by Ann M. Blair (Yale University Press, 2010). Publisher.

- A Wicked Company: The Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment by Philipp Blom (Basic Books, 2010). Borders.

- Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution by Charles Rappleye (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Publisher.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Book Review: "Removable Type"

Phillip H. Round's Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663-1880 (UNC Press, 2010) offers a look at what Round terms the "heretofore-unrecorded history of almost two centuries of American Indian life among books" (pg. 4). From the translations of John Eliot to the ledger art of the Great Plains, Round examines how "print provided Native authors and their communities with a much-needed weapon in their battles against relocation, allotment, & cultural erasure" (pg. 5). Using D.F. McKenzie's idea of a "sociology of texts," Round sets out to show both that "print mattered in Indian country" and that "Native people self-consciously manipulated print and were integral members of the composite body that is American print culture" (pg. 18).

Both these arguments are well borne out in Round's eight chapters, which treat in roughly chronological order the spread and trends in printing for and by American Indian cultures (from John Eliot's translations, through the shift to English-only literacy efforts, to the 19th-century moves toward cultural preservation/revitalization, and also encompassing short studies on Indian authorship, reprinting of Indian texts, and illustration trends and techniques). Round's examples generally serve to bolster his argument that print became an important component of Native life and culture over time (at the same time as, he notes only very briefly in passing, it also grew more universally important throughout the United States, not just among Indian cultures): his sketches of David Cusick (whose 1828 Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations was "the first Native-authored, Native-printed, Native-copyrighted text"), James Printer (who was instrumental in John Eliot's productions) and William Appess, among others, are well chosen.

There are, however, some problematic aspects to Round's book. I'm more familiar with the early period than some of the others, so errors there tended to catch my eye: Eliot's Indian Bible was not printed in folio (pg. 26), but in quarto, and Round makes too much of King Philip's War as an end-point for 17th-century translations into Indian languages (pg. 44). While that conflict certainly changed perceptions (and may well have hastened the end of the practice), Eliot's translations and productions continued, with multiple productions during the 1680s (including translations of Lewis Bayley's Practice of Piety and Thomas Shepard's Sincere Convert). The most notable of these is the 1680/1685 second edition of Eliot's Bible, which Round neglects to mention entirely (and which is important since most of the few surviving copies of the Bible which contain Indian annotations and marginalia are examples of the second edition, not the first). This error extends to the caption of an image (pg. 31) from the Congregational Library's copy of the second edition, which Round refers to as a copy of the first edition.

These are hardly fatal flaws (easily corrected in the next printing, I hope) and they do little to undermine Round's main point. Overall, this is a readable and enlightening study of how books, reading, and print culture overspread and became important in American Indian societies, and how the members of those societies came to understand and make use of print in its varied forms.

Auction Report: Sotheby's Paris

The results for yesterday's Books and Manuscripts sale at Sotheby's Paris are here. Of the 256 lots, 69 failed to sell; the sale brought in 1,574,650 EUR. The top lot was a presentation copy of Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), which made 55,920 EUR (well above the 8,000-12,000 EUR estimate).

And with that, a Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Christie's Update

Some news on the after-auction action from yesterday's sale at Christie's. An Associate Director there writes to say that the Nabokov manuscript for The Original of Laura sold after the sale for £80,000, and the auction house is currently in negotiations to sell the Turing papers.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Auction Report: Christie's

Today's Valuable Printed Books and Manuscripts sale at Christie's London had much promise, many of the top-shelf items failed to sell. The sale brought in £2,280,125, but 31 of the 91 lots failed to sell (including the collection of Alan Turing offprints (for which Google pledged $100,000 this morning on behalf of Bletchley Park - bidding reportedly reached £240,000, but the reserve was not met; a private sale is now possible). Also not finding a buyer were the original index cards of Nabokov's The Original of Laura, est. £100,000-150,000.

The top seller was a (mostly) 10th-century French manuscript of Isidore of Seville's Etymologiae, previously owned by Sir Thomas Phillipps. It made £421,250, while a copy of Claudius Ptolemy's Cosmographia (Ulm: 1482) fetched £217,250. A 15th-century German literary sammelband made £205,250. The Apple 1, the first Apple computer (1976), with the original packaging, a letter from Steve Jobs, &c. sold for £133,250, and the Enigma Machine made £67,250. A first edition of Smith's Wealth of Nations fetched £157,250.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Washington Killed in Duel!

One of the most interesting (and distracting!) things I've found as I work my way through the early years of the Bermuda Gazette is the way rumors are reported. My favorite so far is this one, from the 18 January 1794 issue:

"There is a report here [i.e. in Bermuda], but from what authority we do not learn, that Citizen Genet lately sent a challenge to General Washington, which being treated with contempt by the latter, Genet took an opportunity to meet him, and shot him on the spot. -- We should not wonder at such an event's taking place, when we consider the enthusiastic rage that at present governs all the actions of Frenchmen. When life is so little valued, what lengths will not men go to?"

I've not found a "correction" for this (or for any other of the rumors that are reported but turn out to be unfounded) ... the printer simply carries on, and both Washington and Genet are mentioned later in the course of events.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Book Review: "The Lady's Slipper"

Deborah Swift's debut novel is The Lady's Slipper (St. Martin's Press, forthcoming), and it is an impressive first book indeed. Set in rural England during the first months of the Restoration, Swift's story begins with the theft of a rare orchid by Alice Ibbetson, a botanist's daughter who seeks to study and propagate the plant. Her crime is the first in a far-reaching sequence of events that will change Alice's life (and those of all those around her) in profound ways.

Swift has done well in creating a richly-textured universe for her story, populating it with characters who are all too human, from the erstwhile Alice to the upstanding Quaker Richard Wheeler (whose land she stole the plant from), the grasping Sir Geoffrey Fisk, and the troublesome maid Ella Appleby. As things take their course, Alice finds herself caught up in events far beyond her control, accused of a brutal murder she did not commit and worried that her seemingly harmless action could mean not only the end of her own life, but also the destruction of the rare plant she'd worked carefully to save.

The Lady's Slipper held my interest well, but it seemed as though Swift hurried through the last third of the book or so: the wrapping up of each little plotline in the last hundred pages or so was a bit too rushed and just a bit too unlikely. Nonetheless, it was a good read, and I'll look forward to Swift's next project (a book devoted to the troublemaking maid, Swift reports).

Auction Preview: December 1-10

The first few days of December will see some really amazing auction sales: a Birds of America, a Shakespeare First Folio, Edward Tufte's fascinating research library, Robert Kennedy's copy of the Emancipation Proclamation ... all previewed below. Reports on the sales will follow as they're held.

- Sotheby's London will sell Music, Continental and Russian Books and Manuscripts on 1 December, in 243 lots. Music rates the top estimates, with an early draft of Beethoven's Opferlied Op. 121B rating the top spot at £80,000-100,000. The top book is Flavius Josephus' De Antiquitate Judaica (1475-6), at £40,000-60,000.

- Bonhams New York will sell Bruce McKinney's collection, The American Experience, 1630-1890, on 2 December, in 314 lots. As with his De Orbe Novo sale at Bloomsbury last December, McKinney has included in the auction catalog information on when and from whom he purchased each lot, as well as the purchase price. The chronological organization of the catalog is also very useful and adds a sense of coherence to the collection. Among the many top-notch lots in this sale are John Smith's Advertisements for the unexperienced planters of New-England (1631), est. $40,000-60,000; Thomas James' Strange and Dangerous Voyage (1633), est. $50,000-80,000; Wood's New England's Prospect with a lovely copy of the map (1635), est. $30,000-50,000; Lederer's Discoveries (1672), est. $40,000-60,000; a third edition of Catesby (1771, with plates and map watermarked 1815-16), est. $80,000-120,000; a copy of the Treaty of Paris (1783), est. $40,000-60,000; Collot's Voyage (1827), est. $80,000-120,000; the first definitive account of Lewis and Clark's travels (1814), est. $70,000-90,000; and early issues of McKenney and Hall's History of the Indian Tribes of North America (1838-1844), est. $60,000-80,000.

- Christie's New York has a fascinating sale coming up on 2 December: Beautiful Evidence: The Library of Edward Tufte, in 160 lots. Tufte writes (here) about the sale of his research library, and what the books have meant to him and his research. This catalog makes for a really interesting browse, and the lot descriptions often include the links between the specific works and their use in Tufte's own research and writings. Top-estimated lots include Galileo's Sidereus nuncius (1610), estimated at $600,000-800,000, and a first edition of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499), which rates an estimate of $400,000-600,000. But those are just two of the really interesting lots. Tufte will also be doing some talks about the collection prior to the sale (schedule here).

- Also at Christie's New York, on 3 December, Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts, Including Americana, in 570 lots. Some really major things here, including the famously rare Abel Buell map of the United States (1784), estimated at $500,000-700,000 (this copy, the New Jersey Historical Society's, is the best known). An Abraham Lincoln manuscript letter to the Army of the Potomac following the debacle at Fredericksburg rates an estimate of $400,000-600,000, while a rare copy of the first printed edition of Key's "The Star-Spangled Banner" is estimated at $200,000-300,000. Also for sale will be a good selection of Adams Family letters, Lincoln documents and artifacts, and Winston Churchill manuscripts/memorabilia, and several important Declarations of Independence (including the first British printing, the 1833 reprint of Stone's facsimile, and an 1846 anastatic reproduction copy). Interesting bindings, miniature books, and fore-edge paintings round out the auction.

- At Sotheby's London on 7 December, Western Manuscripts and Miniatures, in 36 lots. The major highlight of this sale is expected to be the Rochefoucauld Grail, a three-volume illuminated manuscript in French, c. 1315-1323. Once in the collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps, this is the foundational Holy Grail text of the medieval period, and it's estimated at £1.5-2 million. A Northern Italian Book of Hours (c. 1470-80) also rates a high estimate, at £200,000-250,000.

- The Hesketh Sale, Magnificent Books, Manuscripts and Drawings from the Collection of Frederick 2nd Lord Hesketh, will be held at Sotheby's London on 7 December, in 91 lots. The major items from this sale are the complete Audubon Birds of America (est. £4-6 million) and the First Folio (est. £1-1.5 million), both of which I've already written about in some detail here. Also on the block will be a fantastic ~1508 Plutarch illuminated manuscript on vellum, once in the library of Sir Thomas Phillipps (est. £400,000-600,000); a collection of letters written to the jailer of Mary, Queen of Scots (including four by Elizabeth I), estimated at £150,000-200,000; a second edition Catesby (est. £80,000-120,000); and fifty-two of the original watercolor roses for Pierre-Joseph Redouté's Les Roses (to be sold separately, so estimates range widely).

- Bonhams New York will sell Fine Books and Manuscripts Including English and Continental Books from a San Francisco Estate on 9 December, in 277 lots. Highlights include the first illustrated edition of Dante (Florence, 1481), est. $25,000-35,000; Pacioli's Divina proportione, with illustrations by da Vinci (Venice, 1509), est. $120,000-180,000; a first edition of Purchas his Pilgrimes with a fourth edition of the Pilgrimage (1625-26), est. $60,000-80,000; a first printed edition of Euclid's Elementa geometriae (Venice, 1482), est. $80,000-120,000. There's also a large selection of Kennedy family memorabilia.

- Sotheby's New York will sell Books and Manuscripts on 10 December, in 115 lots. The top estimate goes to the 20-volume set of Edward Curtis' The North American Indian (1907-1930), which rates $250,000-350,000. And how's this for a pairing: the two lots rating $200,000-300,000 estimates are Bob Dylan's lyrics for "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and a German copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), with the illustrations colored. A first edition of Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia ([Paris, 1785]), inscribed by Jefferson to Henry Hew Dalrymple is estimated at $125,000-175,000. Other highlights include a Second Folio (also est. $125,000-175,000); an inscribed copy of A Christmas Carol ($80,000-100,000); a first edition Book of Mormon ($60,000-90,000); and a collection of Constitution-Signer autographs (est. $30,000-50,000).

- Some major single-lot sales will also be held at Sotheby's New York on 10 December, including "Custer's Last Flag," a guidon from the Little Bighorn battlefield, being sold by the Detroit Institute of Arts (and estimated at $2-5 million); Robert F. Kennedy's copy of the Emancipation Proclamation (estimated at $1-1.5 million); and James Naismith's original typescript rules for the game of basketball (estimated only at "$2 million+").

A few sales will be held later in the month; I'll add previews here as information becomes available.

Links & Reviews

- The AAS seeks applicants for its summer seminar, "Encountering Revolution: Print Culture, Politics, and the British American Loyalists," to be held 13-17 June 2011.

- A new timeline of Thomas Jefferson's libraries - very useful indeed.

- Now on LibraryThing, Edward Tufte's library. I'll have a preview of the upcoming sale of Tufte's collection at Christie's later today, as well.

- Some more coverage of the "Why Books?" conference, by Eugenia Williamson in the Herald.

- From the NYPost, word of the theft of two Gone with the Wind first editions and other rare books worth about $25,000 from Complete Traveller Antiquarian Bookstore in Manhattan.

- HathiTrust Digital Library announced new members this week, including the Library of Congress, Stanford, Arizona State, MIT, and the University of Madrid.

- In the Telegraph, a profile of Nick Hornby.

- From Amy Stewart of Eureka Books, an amusing tale of a surprise delivery to the bookstore.

- Chris at Book Hunter's Holiday has a dispatch from "Mr. Z," who was at the Boston Book Fair as a buyer and offers a keen perspective on the fair.

- Also from Chris, the first two parts of a look at antiquarian book auctions: Part 1, Part 2.

- From Laura at The Cataloguer's Desk, "Is My Harry Potter Book Valuable?" And in other Harry Potter news, a 36-year-old woman has been arrested in the theft of a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone from an Oxfordshire display. The book was recovered after a passerby saw it in a plastic bag outside a Boots store in Abingdon.

- Linda Hedrick at Booktryst digs into Audubon's works, with lots of images and a bit of text.

- An interesting call for papers for a symposium at Historic Deerfield in March 2011, "The Art of the Book."

- R.M. Healey has a guest post at Bookride on book thievery.

- Some more great EEBO-investigations from Nick at Mercurius Politicus, this time examining the works of a printer with a cracked "T".

- Tycho Brahe's remains were exhumed (again) this week, for more tests in the ongoing attempt to prove what killed him.

- From CultureLab, Kay Austen on "augmented reality books."

- Google has reached agreement with French publisher Hachette Livre over scanning and selling the publisher's out-of-print books, but Hachette will retain the right to determine what books can be scanned and sold.


- Carolyn Eastman's A Nation of Speechifiers; review by Sarah J. Purcell in Common-place.

- The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. ; reviews by Jonathan Yardley in the WaPo, Laura Skandera Trombley in the LATimes, and Jonathan Bate in the Telegraph.

- Joseph Ellis' First Family; reviews by Jack Rakove in The New Republic and Ted Widmer in the Boston Globe.

- Bill Bryson's At Home; review by Emily Green in the LATimes.

- Jill Lepore's The Whites of Their Eyes; review by Stephan Salisbury in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

- Edmund Morris' Colonel Roosevelt; review by Nick Basbanes in the LATimes.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Book Review: "The Fountainhead"

I've finished reading Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. And when I turned the last page, and closed the book, I thought well how on earth am I going to review this? Is this one of those books, like The Outsiders, or Of Mice and Men, or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, that 15-year-olds read and are profoundly affected by, but which when read at a later age don't have the same power? If I'd read Rand ten years ago would I be sitting down to write how it would "change my life"? I don't know, and couldn't possibly know whether that's the case ... nor do I know now, having just read the book, entirely how I feel about it.

I found the characters too narrowly-drawn, each firmly ensconced within his or her own little personality niche, which they never quite deviated from: not one person in this book ever does anything remotely surprising. But perhaps Rand meant them as stereotypes; if so, they function in that role perfectly well.

The dialogue between Rand's cookie-cutter-characters too often comes in the form of essays - I know very few people who speak in paragraphs, but most of the people who populate Rand's pages do. There were moments, when a character's speech entered its second or third page-long paragraph, that I was very tempted to just pretend I'd skipped a page and just keep reading. At times the overpowering black-and-whiteness of the whole book made me want to shut it up and put it back on the shelf. But no, I wanted to know how it all came out. I wanted the second-handers to get what was coming to them.

An odd book, in many ways, and I'm sure every person who reads (or rereads) it gets something very different. As for me, on this reading at least, I'm glad I read it - but I'm also glad it's over.

This Week's Acquisitions

A few things to report this week: I visited the Brattle on Monday and walked in just as they were putting a new stock of Oak Knoll books on the shelves (the extra publications from the book fair). One of the staff, seeing me come through the door, asked laughingly "Did you see the Oak Knoll bat signal?" Of course they also had some review copies and other fascinating things I couldn't resist (I hadn't been there for a while):

- Books about Books: A History and Bibliography of Oak Knoll Press, 1978-2008 by Robert D. Fleck (Oak Knoll, 2008). Brattle.

- The Paradox of Prosperity: The Leiden Booksellers' Guild and the Distribution of Books in Early Modern Europe by Laura Cruz (Oak Knoll, 2009). Brattle.

- Periodicals and Publishers: The Newspaper and Journal Trade, 1750-1914; edited by John Hinks, Catherine Armstrong, and Matthew Day (Oak Knoll, 2009). Brattle.

- Books for Sale: The Advertising and Promotion of Print Since the Fifteenth Century; edited by Robin Myers, Michael Harris, and Giles Mandelbrote (Oak Knoll, 2009). Brattle.

- Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn: Paul Revere and the Growth of American Enterprise by Robert Martello (JHU Press, 2010). Brattle.

- William Byrd's Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina by William Byrd (Peter Smith, 1984). Brattle.

- Salem Imprints 1768-1825: A History of the First Fifty Years of Printing in Salem, Massachusetts. With Some Account of the Bookshops, Booksellers, Bookbinders and the Private Libraries by Harriet Silvester Tapley (Essex Institute, 1927). Brattle. With the bookplate of Russell W. Knight.

- Hypnerotomachia Poliphili: The Strife of Love in a Dream by Francesco Colonna (Thames & Hudson, 1999). Brattle. I had the small-size facsimile, but now have the full-size folio version.

- At the Library Table by Adrian Hoffman Joline (R.G. Badger, 1910). Brattle.

- The Historicism of Charles Brockden Brown: Radical History and the Early Republic by Mark Kamrath (Kent State University Press, 2010). Brattle.

- The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America's Unburied Dead by Ann Fabian (University of Chicago Press, 2010). Brattle.

- King's Ransom: The Life of Charles Thveneau de Morande, Blackmailer, Scandalmonger & Master-Spy by Simon Burrows (Continuum, 2010). Brattle.

- The Vaults by Toby Ball (St. Martin's Press, 2010). Brattle.

- The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent (Reagan Arthur Books, 2010). Brattle.

- Book History (Volume 13); edited by Ezra Greenspan and Jonathan Rose (JHU Press, 2010). Publisher (for SHARP)

Serial Forger in the News

Several media outlets reported this week on a serial forger who has donated works of art and other materials to museums and libraries around the country for at least two decades. The man sometimes poses as a Jesuit priest, "Father Arthur Scott," but also is known by various other names (Mark Landis, Steven Gardiner) and identities.

Matthew Leininger, director of museum services at the Cincinnati Museum of Art, has pulled together an extensive dossier on the forger, including the names of more than 30 institutions targeted. Interestingly, because Landis/Scott/Gardiner does not request payment and never returns tax deduction forms, it does not appear (at least as things stand at the moment) that any laws have been broken.

It's a pretty fascinating story, and one that actually hits close to home, as I've actually held one of this fellow's productions in my hands (not a painting, but a letter, which was immediately obvious as "not kosher"). More about that someday, I hope ...

In any event, it'll be very interesting to see what happens here, but in the meantime, if you're at a museum or research library and encounter this guy (or have donations from him in your collections), you may want to check them out pretty carefully.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ticknor Society's Chris Morgan on the Physical Book

I wasn't able to attend Ticknor Society president Chris Morgan's talk at the joint Ticknor Society/Grolier Club dinner this weekend, but thankfully he's put the text of the talk online here. Chris' talk, "Is the Physical Book in Danger?" discusses the coming of the e-book and draws much on the discussions begun at the "Why Books?" conference (my recap here). I think it offers some very good analogies and quotes, and hits the right notes (of course I happen to agree with Chris that there's no particular danger of physical books "disappearing" - with certain exceptions - but that they'll coexist alongside e-books for the forseeable future).

Chris also offers lists of pros and cons for both physical books and e-books, and I do have to note that there are at least a few more cons for each (the most notable example I think think of is that physical books take up a lot of space, as I know all too well ... although from a positive standpoint, they are comforting to have around).

In any event, check out the talk, and stay tuned - I think there may be a move afoot to have him reprise the talk for a Ticknor get-together soon.

William Godwin's Diary Online

Some exciting news from Oxford, where a nifty new digital resource has just launched. William Godwin's Diary, covering the period 1788-1836, includes both hi-res images of the manuscript diary as well as searchable encoded transcriptions.

The editorial team has pulled together some very handy collections of entry by topic, including Reading (intro), where you can track the (massive number of) books Godwin mentions having read or discussed, Meals, Writing, &c. One aspect of the project I quite like is the biographical database of people mentioned in the diary, which is tremendously useful.

For example, as I've noted in the past I like to check British diaries for this period to see what the writer thought of the Ireland Shakespeare forgeries. This tool makes doing that with Godwin pretty simple: a quick search pulled up Godwin's entry for 15 February 1796 (transcription; page image), where he writes "... Irelands w. Merry ...". Clicking on Merry reveals that Godwin's companion (almost certainly to see the "Shakespeare" documents at Samuel Ireland's) was Robert Merry (1755-1798), a poet/dramatist friend of Godwin's.

Another interesting entry for 2 April 1796 (transcription; page image), the date of the first (and only) performance of William-Henry Ireland's "Shakespeare" play, "Vortigern and Rowena." Godwin writes: "... Theatre, Vortigern; see Ht, Inchbald, A A, Barry, Perry, Kentish & Stoddarte: meet R Johnson, Reveley & ...". The biographical codes link to each of the people mentioned (Thomas Holcroft, Elizabeth Inchbald, Amelia (Opie) Alderson, &c.), giving us a coherent picture of the people Godwin encountered (though his wording is just vague enough to leave some question about just where it was that he saw them).

Additional entries from 1796 and 1797 reveal that Godwin was reading some of the Shakespeare Forgery literature: see 7 July 1796, 29 December 1796, and 24 January 1797, where he notes his specific readings of the Irelands' defense, and 16 January and 20 January 1797, where he mentions reading the works of George Chalmers, another defender of the Ireland documents (notably, he doesn't mention reading any of the major works by detractors, including Edmund Malone's Inquiry). And there are some tantalizing other entries, like 15 January and 29 February 1796, where Godwin notes simply "talk of Shakespear."

Not to get too far off track, though (and before I undertake a much more detailed search for Godwin-Ireland material than I intended to) - check out the Godwin diary online; it seems like a terrific resource.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Auction Report: Skinner

The annual Skinner Fine Books & Manuscripts sale was held yesterday morning; results can be found here. As expected, the top seller was the 1776 Exeter, NH broadside printing of the Declaration of Independence, which sold for $380,000 (including premiums). The buyer was Bill Reese. The Thomas Jefferson letter sending a copy of his plan for UVa to a new college made $59,250; a collection of John Miers artwork depicting life in Chile (1820-24) made $47,400 (much more than the $3,000-4,000 estimate); Robert Fulton's copy of The Federalist sold for $10,073; and Audubon's White Pelican fetched $44,438.

The Declaration for Taking up Arms (est. $40,000-60,000) failed to sell.

Boston Book Fair: Sunday & Wrap-Up

The 34th Boston book fair finished up yesterday afternoon at 5, and by all accounts it seemed to be a good success for dealers and buyers alike. I was thrilled to see a pretty decent crowd of people still on the floor during the last hour of the fair (sometimes that can be a pretty dismal period) and I know of at least one dealer who actually ran out of receipts!

Michael Suarez's talk, "The Ecosystems of Book History: Acting Locally, Thinking Globally" was excellent, and ABAA officials promise that the video will be online shortly; I'll be sure to pass along the link. The talk and following discussion were very interesting, and the audience seemed to enjoy it. Asked how to encourage the next generation of collectors and biblio-humans, Michael encouraged attendance at RBS (which I heartily agree with), and noted that they're beginning a program next year to train high school teachers and librarians in developing print-centric curricula (a wonderful idea).

During the afternoon I staffed the MHS table, and got to chat with some readers of this blog (great to meet you all!), as well as several folks who've been in to use the MHS reading room in the past (or will be coming in the future).

As always, the fair offered some excellent opportunities to talk with the good folks who inhabit the biblio-universe - I hope all had fun, and we'll see you next year!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Boston Book Fair: Reports from the Floor (Fri-Sat)

Here's a quick update on the first two days of this year's Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair (also see my notes on Thursday night's pre-fair events). Friday night was the preview night, and when we got to Hynes just before the doors opened there was a healthy line of eager bibliophiles (I'd say at least a couple hundred) chomping at the bit to begin their browsing. After a very long, very busy day at work I wasn't in top form for book-shopping, so decided to make a shorter go of it than I usually do, just surfing the booths briefly and chatting with dealers and some of the other biblio-folk in the crowd. Everyone seemed pleased with the turnout, and were optimistic about the weekend.

Yesterday morning, Saturday, after a very restful sleep, I was ready to go again, and headed over to be there for the opening bell. I had two hours then to really browse the shelves and did so - saw some excellent things as always (including a Frederick Douglass memoir inscribed by one of his traveling companions, some very cool 17th-century charts attempting a classification system for the entire world, &c. &c.). I stopped at Bill Reese's booth to thank him in person for his support of fellowships at various research institutions (one of which funded my time at Rare Book School this summer), and made sure to touch base with the several dealers from whom I've bought things at this fair before.

At 2 it was on to the Ticknor Society table for my two-hour shift there, which is always great fun; we signed up some new members, chatted with current Ticknorites, and passed out quite a bit of candy. Then I hopped down two tables to the RBMS booth, which as usual had a selection of literature for a whole range of worthy groups - RBMS itself, plus APHA, SHARP, the Ephemera Society, BSA, RBS, &c. Much more good chatting with passersby there until 7, when the fair finished up for the day. That table was very nicely situated across from the very spacious booth shared by Lux Mentis, Kelmscott Bookshop, and Brian Cassidy (Ian's posted pictures and video).

We walked over to the Ticknor Society - Grolier Club joint reception with Ian (after a minor geographical miscue in which we ended up in the wrong hotel), and mingled there for a while. It was a good event, and a nice chance for the groups to meet and discuss shared interests and enthusiasms. Chris Morgan, Ticknor's president, spoke later at the Grolier Club dinner, and I'll have a link to his talk shortly (he'll be posting it on the Ticknor site). That made a very nice cap to the book fair evening!

I'll be back at the Fair today, for Michael Suarez's talk and then my shift at the MHS table (I'm trying to set a record for the number of Cultural Row booths worked) to close out another good fair. I was very pleased with the number of attendees yesterday, and many dealers seemed quite happy with how people were buying this year. I'm sure the weather helped, it's been quite a lovely weekend for a book fair!

Another update tonight or tomorrow, on Michael's talk, &c.

Links & Reviews

- On Tuesday, 16 November at 7:30 p.m., the AAS' annual Wiggins Lecture will be delivered by John Hench, retired VP for Collections and Programs. Hench's lecture is "Random Recollections of a Book History Bureaucrat."

- A fascinating "Tell Me More" interview featuring several Jefferson descendants, some of whom have just been given an award by Search for Common Ground for working to "bridge the divide" between family members.

- How's this for a labor of love? I'm impressed. [h/t @LuxMentis]

- The Rhode Island Historical Society is going to be having a booksale!

- The French and South Korean presidents have made a deal over a large Korean royal archive seized by the French in the 1860s; France will return the documents to Korea on a five-year renewable loan basis, AFP reports.

- P.N. Furbank writes in the TLS about a common misreading (as he sees it) of Gulliver's Travels.

- There's a new online exhibit from the JCB, "Jews and the Americas." [h/t @historianess]

- From the November Humanities magazine, Craig Lambert on a new app (and video, &c.) relating to Boston's infamous Parkman-Webster murder, Anne Trubek on Charles Brockden Brown, and Tom Christopher on Emily Dickinson's gardens. [h/t The Bunburyist]

- The Medical Heritage Library has launched, and already contains nearly 7,000 items available via the Internet Archive.

- Don't miss J.L. Bell's post at Boston1775 about politics, history, and blogging. Hear, hear!

- On the "Surprisingly Free" podcast, Adrian Johns on (literary) piracy (not new, but new to me, thanks to a Twitter mention this week).

- The Harry Ransom Center has acquired the archive of actor/author Spalding Gray.


- Alan Taylor's The Civil War of 1812; review by Michael Kenney in the Boston Globe.

- Thomas Powers' The Killing of Crazy Horse; review by Evan Thomas in the NYTimes.

- A.J. Langguth's Driven West; review by Jon Meacham in the NYTimes.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

This Week's Acquisitions

Just one new arrival so far (since I was good at the book fair last night):

- Gallatin: America's Swiss Founding Father by Nicholas Dungan (NYU Press, 2010). Publisher.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pre-Book Fair Biblio-Fun

My full preview of this weekend's Boston Book Fair is here; I still have a pass or two, so if you need one, drop me an email and I'll connect you with it.

While the booksellers get set up for tonight's opening (5 p.m. at the Hynes), I wanted to note last evening's events at the Boston Athenaeum:

Bonhams hosted a preview of interesting Massachusetts books from their upcoming "The American Experience" sale on 2 December, which promises to be a fascinating auction (I'll have a full preview after this weekend). Specialist Matthew Haley discussed four important books pertaining to the early colonial period in MA: John Smith's Advertisements For the unexperienced Planters of New-England (1631), William Wood's New England Prospect (1635), and John Josselyn's New England's Rarities Discovered (1672) and Account of Two Voyages to New-England (1674). Matthew's talk was amusing and covered the books' significance quite well; many thanks to Bonhams (and most particularly to their New England Regional Representative, Sarah Valelly) for coordinating the preview.

As it happened the ABAA booksellers were coming to the Athenaeum for their pre-sale reception, so we were invited to stick around and join them for refreshments and continued biblio-discussions. So that made for a very nice end to the evening, as we got to meet and greet old and new dealer friends (Ian's take on the reception is here, with photos) and get a sense of the neat things they'll have in their booths this weekend.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Auction Report: Sotheby's London and Christie's Paris

- The 4 November Sotheby's London Travels, Atlases, Maps and Natural History sale brought in £1,098,500, with 133 of 214 lots selling. The four-volume composite atlas (c. 1740) and Henry Cook's Recollections of a Tour in the Ionian Islands ... (1853) shared top honors, each fetching £97,250 (with the latter greatly surpassing estimates of £25,000-35,000). A 1708 Janssonius atlas sold for £73,250. The Hortus Eystettensis (1613), which garned a top estimate, did not sell.

- Christie's Paris Importants Livres Anciens, Livres d'Artistes et Manuscrits on 9 November made €1,137,750, with 141 of 193 lots selling. A first edition of Goya's Los Caprichos (1799) was the top seller, bringing in €145,000. Another Goya work, Treinta y tres stampas ... (1816) made €115,000. The first edition of Descartes' Discours de la Méthode made €55,000. The fragment of Saint-Exupéry's manuscript of Pilote de guerre, the top-estimated lot in this sale, failed to sell.

There are some really great sales coming up through the rest of the month (my preview here), and I'll report on those as they happen; after this weekend I'll also start previewing the really great range of sales coming up during the first week in December, including the American Experience sale at Bonhams, Edward Tufte's research library at Christie's, and the Hesketh sale at Sotheby's.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

"The Art of Printing"

Today's perambulations through some more Bermuda Gazette issues resulted in an interesting find that I thought I'd share: a poem from the 28 January 1792 issue. It's not attributed in the paper, but was written by Constantia Grierson (~1705-1732/3), quite an interesting character.

The Art of Printing

HAIL mistic art! which men like angels taught,
To speak to eyes, and paint unbody'd thought!
Though deaf and dumb; blest skill, reliev'd by thee,
We make one sense perform the task of three.
We see, hear, we touch the head and heart,
And take, or give what each but yields in part.
With the hard laws of distance we dispense,
And without sound, apart commune in sense:
View, though confin'd, may rule this earthly ball,
And travel o'er the wide expanded All.
Dead letters thus with living notions fraught,
Prove to the soul the telescopes of thought;
To mortal life a deathless witness give,
And bid all deeds and titles last, and live.
In scanty life enternity we taste;
View the first ages, and inform the last.
Arts, hist'ry, laws, we purchase with a look,
And keep, like fate, all nature in a book.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Book Review: "Ratification"

Pauline Maier begins her new book Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 (Simon & Schuster, 2010) with an idea she remembered being promoted by the historian Barbara Tuchman: "A writer can build suspense in telling a story, she said, even if the reader knows how the story turned out, so long as the writer never mentions the outcome until it happens at the proper place in the story" (p. xvi). Maier adds that this book is an effort to test that theory, and at least to the thinking of this reader, that effort worked like a charm.

You could fill a shelf with books written about the Constitutional Convention (actually several shelves, as my living room will testify), but as Maier notes in her introduction, books on the ratification process are few and far between, and there has never been a narrative history that treats the entire sequence of ratifying convention (Maier writes that she sympathizes with those past historians who have shied away from tackling the subject: "It's no easy thing to tell the story of an even that happened in thirteen different places, sometimes simultaneously", p. x).

Drawing on the wonderful resource that is the Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution (and lavishing much well-deserved praise on that project), Maier has done what no one else has ever managed to do. Ratification is a tour de force display of a historian's skills: she has written a history of the ratification debates that is not only readable, but is also as captivating as any political thriller I've ever read. How'd she do it?

First, she includes a useful framing device: George Washington. In a prologue, Maier focuses on Washington's careful deliberations over whether or not he should participate in the Philadelphia Convention, and throughout the book, as the Constitution is debated from New Hampshire to Georgia, she returns to Mount Vernon to monitor Washington's efforts to encourage and support ratification of the Constitution (and to obtain information about the process as it happened).

Second, Maier brings in new characters. While the familiar participants in the debates (James Wilson, James Madison, Patrick Henry, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, &c.) take their rightful place here, a whole cast of new and intriguing characters are also brought to the front of the stage. From Amos Singletary, Dummer Sewall, Jonathan Smith, and Phanuel Bishop in Massachusetts to Zachariah Johnston in Virginia to Melancton Smith and Gilbert Livingston in New York, Maier plucks from the DHRC's vast archive new voices, some of whom had extremely interesting things to say about the Constitution and its potential impact on America's future.

Third, the narrative structure of the book brings the sense of contingency into the picture, and offers Maier an opportunity to present the ratification process in each state as it was: a totally different situation from those that had come before, with important consequences for those that would come after. The debacle in Pennsylvania, in which supporters of ratification basically tried to rush debate and shove through the Constitution over the objections of a very vocal minority, led future conventions to move much more carefully and deliberately (and, as in Massachusetts, caused the majority's delegates to take much more care to ensure that their opponents felt like their arguments were being considered). As more states ratified, the situation continued to shift, so that by the time later conventions met the question became not whether the Constitution would take effect, but whether the state would join the new government or stay outside it (this argument ended up playing a major role in several of the final conventions). Each state's convention was markedly different in terms of style, rules, tone, and method of debate (not to mention the reporting of its proceedings); that Maier has managed to bring together this vast amount of data into a coherent form is a true testament to her skill as a storyteller.

Beyond the conventions themselves, Maier turns her sharp eye to the press coverage of the ratification process, both in terms of how the press in different states handled the debates over the Constitution (some refusing to print anti-ratification essays, others refusing to print unsigned or anonymous submissions), and how the newspaper coverage was received by the population at large and how the essays did (and, perhaps more importantly, did not) shape the convention debates.

I think the most fascinating aspect of the story to me was the level of attention which convention delegates in various states (and non-delegates too, for that matter) brought to the discussions of the proposed Constitution. These people knew the document, they understood what its provisions meant, and they brought keen eyes and sharp minds to the table. How many of us (or of our current crop of legislators) could decipher the objections leveled against the proposed Constitution by the town meeting of Belchertown, Massachusetts: "1st. there is no bill of Right[s]. For other Reasons See artical 1 Section 2-3-4 and 8[,] artical 2d Section 1 & 2[,] artical 3d Section 1 and [Article] 6. With many other obvious Reasons" (p. xvi). Now, to be fair, if we were in their shoes we (well, some of us, anyway) might pay a similar level of attention, but Maier offers a glimpse of just how involved and devoted "we the people" were to making sure their rights and liberties were guarded by the new framework of government they were charged with approving or rejecting.

It seems to me that the ratification process is one of those historical moments where we think we know the story, but we really only know that it all worked out in the end. I was shocked to learn that Rhode Island first submitted the Constitution to the people for a public referendum, instead of calling a convention to decide its fate: the vote, held in March 1788, failed 237-2708. It was not until May 1790, after Congress had passed a bill prohibiting all trade with Rhode Island and demanding repayment of a $25,000 debt (prompting Providence to open discussions about seceding from the rest of the state), that a convention voted in a squeaker (34-32) to ratify the Constitution. I'd known RI was the last to ratify, but the specifics really bring home just how powerful the opposition there was (the same could be said, I must note, for most of the other states, where ratification was anything but a sure-run thing).

A final chapter ties up the loose ends, covering the organization of the federal government (bringing Washington back into the picture), and the actions of the first Congress in proposing and submitting to the states the first round of amendments (recommended by a number of the state conventions). In a postscript she revisits the characters from the conventions, examining their future careers and, generally, their conversion to support for the Constitution as it took effect.

Sure to stand the test of time, this is a must-read book for the political junkie, or for anyone interested in the Constitution's origins and the debates which eventually - but not inevitably, as every page makes clear - led to its adoption by the people of these United States.

Book Review: "The Englishman Who Mailed Himself and Other Curious Objects"

John Tingey's The Englishman Who Mailed Himself and Other Curious Objects (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010) may well be the best designed book of the year. Tingey's fascinating subject, combined with Deb Wood's excellent design, make this book not only a great read, but a treat for the eye and a wonderful example of how imagery, typography, and text can work together to create a beautiful, coherent physical book.

Unless you're a very committed philatelist or postal historian (or a relative), you've probably never heard of W. Reginald Bray. I hadn't. But his story is well worth the telling, and John Tingey's certainly done that. In the late 1890s Bray discovered that Britain's postal regulations not only allowed for some creative methods of addressing mail (among the ways he tested were writing addresses in rhyme, or backwards, or by using rebuses), but also for sending through the post certain non-standard materials, so long as the correct postage was included. He decided to test the regulations (and the ingenuity of postal carriers) over the next few decades, sending such things as a turnip (with the address carved into the vegetable with a penknife), a frying pen, his bicycle pump, an old coin, &c.

Living things too did not escape being sent through the post: Bray discovered that postal regulations allowed for the sending of animals (he argued in an article that it would be terribly convenient to mail home your dog: "Now, should you one day take a stroll through the Park with a smart little terrier at your heels, and should you suddenly wish to send him home, what are you to do? The answer is simple. Why, take him to the Post Office, of course! After handing in the address and paying a small fee, you leave him and make your call. And when you return there you will find him waiting on the mat to greet you as lively as a cricket after his passing through the post" (p. 72). And naturally this little tidbit in the Postal Regulations did not escape Bray's notice: "a person may be conducted by Express Messenger to any address on payment of the mileage charge." Bray is known to have mailed himself several times, and once extolled the benefits of the service in a television interview: "Once on a very foggy night I could not find a friend's house so instead of wandering about for hours I posted myself and was delivered in five minutes" (p. 80).

Bray also invested much time and energy in obtaining foreign and interesting postal stamps and postmarks: he tried to send a postcard to the president of the Transvaal during the Boer War, apparently just to get the rare "Mail Service Suspended" stamp, and he later sent out more than 32,000 requests through the mail for autographs from all manner of celebrities major and minor (many of whom seem to have obliged).

While much of Bray's collection of postal curiosities and autographs was sold off by his family after his death, and appears to have been scattered to the winds, Tingey and others have accumulated large collections of them, and a wide range of the known examples are included here, reproduced very nicely. I'm sure the book and Tingey's website will bring some more of Bray's creations out of the woodwork.

For anyone interested in quirky history, postal art, or simply well designed books, I can't recommend this book more highly.

Links & Reviews

- "Fine Books Notes" for November includes a list of 50 Books About Books published over the last year or so (generally those geared toward the general reader), which I helped compile; the issue also includes Nick Basbanes' 2010 biblio-picks, and other goodies.

- Steve Ferguson notes a new find from the general stacks at Princeton's Firestone library: one of few books remaining from Bell's Circulating Library in Philadelphia.

- The V&A Museum is launching a campaign to fund the conservation of three Dickens manuscripts, including A Tale of Two Cities.

- Two copies of the Aberdeen Breviary (the first book printed in Scotland, 1509-10) are going on display at the National Library of Scotland

- Via the ABAA blog, check out the "ILAB Booksellers on Video" page, featuring interviews with a wide range of booksellers (with many more to come).

- At Mercurius Politicus, Nick uncovers some more recycled woodcuts in 17th-century English books.

- The College of Charleston has received a collection of more than 2,000 sporting and angling books, accumulated by Dr. Greville Haslam.

- David Gutowski has launched his Online "Best of 2010" Book Lists - the place to go for an aggregation of the spate of "best of" lists.

- In the November "AE Monthly" Susan Halas goes inside Better World Books, and Bruce McKinney offers another look at his upcoming "American Experience" sale.

- An exchange in the NYRB "Letters" this week between Tony Simpson of the New Zealand Society and Authors and Robert Darnton over the idea of a national digital library. And in the Atlantic, David Rothman also argues for the creation of a national digital library.

- Matthew Battles is collecting images for "The Wonderful Gallery of Scientific Imagery." Tweet them to him at @MatthewBattles with the hashtag #wondersci. This is going to be a great, and beautiful, project.

- If you know anything about British bookseller/thief John Edward Tinkler (active in the early 1900s), John Lancaster wants to hear from you.

- The Rhode Island Historical Society has launched The Atlas of the Rhode Island Book Trade in the Eighteenth Century. Jordan Goffin notes "We've attempted to document the location of as many printers, booksellers, and more in space and time. Best viewed in full-screen, users can also search and browse the accompanying database." I advise browsing the guide first, too.


- John Tingey's The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects; review by Ellen F. Brown in "Fine Books Notes".

- Joseph Ellis' First Family; reviews by Caroline Weber in the NYTimes and Kirk Davis Swinehart in the Chicago Tribune.

- Ron Chernow's Washington; review by Erik Spanberg in the CSM.

- Ben Carp's Defiance of the Patriots; review by Maya Jasanoff in the Guardian.

- Simon Winchester's Atlantic; review by Matthew Price in the Globe.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Book Review: "Our Kind of Traitor"

John le Carré's latest is Our Kind of Traitor, (Viking, 2010), in which a young English couple find themselves unwittingly drawn into a high-stakes international spy game. While on a relaxing vacation in Antigua the pair meet a Russian family, whose patriarch, Dima, gloms onto them quickly and secretly admits to being a major money launderer who wants to be protected by the British intelligence community in exchange for information on a major financial deal that's about to go down (at the conclusion of which, he fears, he's in for a not-very-pleasant end if he can't get out of the way).

Perry and Gail manage to contact the right people back at home, and after some tense weeks of "familiarization" are sent to Paris with a team of "Service" agents to try and pluck Dima and his family out harm's way just in the nick of time.

The characters didn't do much for me, and the plot seemed much too contrived to have actually gone off the way it does. That said, if you need a break from whatever else you've been reading and want a fairly light spy potboiler, pick this one up. It won't keep you up late reading, but I was certainly curious enough about what was going to go wrong that I finished it. And in the expectation that something was going to go wrong, I was not disappointed in the least.

This Week's Acquisitions

Here's what arrived this week:

- Seafaring in Colonial Massachusetts: A Conference held by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, November 21 and 22, 1975; edited by Frederick S. Allis, Jr. (Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1980). Book cart.

- Portrait of a Patriot: The Major Political and Legal Papers of Josiah Quincy Junior; edited by Daniel R. Coquillette and Neil Longley York (University of Virginia Press, 2008-2010. Volumes II (The Law Commonplace Book), IV and V (The Law Reports). Finishes out my run of this set. MHS.

- The Englishman who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects by John Tingey (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010). Publisher.

- Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in Eighteenth-Century Paris by Robert Darnton (Harvard University Press, 2010). Publisher.

- Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation by Harlow Giles Unger (Da Capo Press, 2010). Publisher.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Book Fair Time in Boston!

Boston's great Biblio-Weekend is drawing ever closer!

The 34th Annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair will be held Friday-Sunday 12-14 November at the Hynes Convention Center (hours are 5-9 Friday, 12-7 Saturday, 12-5 Sunday).

Browse the exhibitor list (or see selected highlights from among their offerings), check out the cultural partners, and plan to spend your weekend at the fair. As usual there's a wide range of talks as well: on Saturday at 1 p.m. conservators from NEDCC will talk about "How to Cure Smelly Books...", and at 3 p.m. the Ticknor Society roundtable will kick off, this year featuring Alan Tannenbaum on his collection of works by Lewis Carroll; Todd Pattison on his collection of books bound by Benjamin Bradley; and Dan Johnson speaking about his collection of Frank Brinkley's books about Japan.

On Sunday at 1, Michael F. Suarez, S.J., Director of Rare Book School, will speak on "The Ecosystems of Book History: Acting Locally, Thinking Globally." Michael's great, and his talk is not to be missed. Also on Sunday afternoon (1-3), appraisers will be on hand to evaluate your books, &c.

And then there's all the other great things going on over the weekend:

- The Boston Book, Print & Ephemera Show at the Radisson (Saturday, 10-4).

- Skinner's Books & Manuscripts auction (my preview here); auction starts on Sunday at 11 a.m.; previews 12-5 on Friday and Saturday.

- All the goodies in the rare book room at the Brattle Book Shop will be half price from 8-16 November, so be sure to visit the shop if you're in town (go Friday or Saturday, since they're closed on Sundays).

So, rest up and prepare for a tiring but amazing weekend of good books. I'll be around the fair most of the weekend, either browsing the aisles or manning one table or another (RBMS, Ticknor Society, MHS), so do come and say hi.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

RBMS 2010 Materials Online

Selected presentations and documents from the 2010 RBMS preconference in Philadelphia are now online. These include audio files of the opening and closing plenary sessions and the keynote address, as well as audio and video of many of the seminars.

Good stuff; I'm looking forward to digging in.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Book Review: "The Third Bear"

The Third Bear (Tachyon, 2010) is a collection of Jeff VanderMeer's recent short fictions, most of which (like his novels) take the reader in very unexpected (and generally very dark) directions. I found myself entirely creeped out by a few of those included here (including the initial story from which the volume takes its title), confused by others, and all the time in awe of VanderMeer's talent for creating an dark, brooding, bizarre atmosphere that is downright weird and at the same time completely absorbing.

It takes a certain kind of author to come up with stories as odd as "The Quickening" (one character in which is a very enigmatic talking rabbit), "The Situation" (office politics where the manager literally self-ignites when angry) and "Errata" (a reporter, trapped in a flooded Lake Baikal hotel with seals and - for reasons unknown - a penguin called Juliette).

"The Goat Variations," imagining the events of 9/11 through a series of alternate realities, kept me up at night; I was really disturbed by it, but found it compelling in a sort of strange way. I guess that's how I feel about most of VanderMeer's writing: it's wonderful, and bizarre, and it keeps me coming back for more.