Friday, December 31, 2010

Year-End Reading Report 2010

Once again the year has passed by much more quickly than I would have ever thought possible, and it's time to compile the annual reading statistics.

I read 136 books this year (for an average of one book every 2.7 days), markedly up from last year but not quite reaching my high (154 books in 2006). The largest chunk of this year's books were read in my capacity as a judge for the Massachusetts Center for the Book's non-fiction award. I also read more than 1,000 issues of the Bermuda Gazette (1784-1804), noting mentions of books, reading, &c.

Here are my top five fiction and non-fiction reads (in no particular order):

- The Complete Ghost Stories of M.R. James: Volume I (review); Volume II (review)
- The Vaults by Toby Ball (review)
- It's a Book by Lane Smith
- My Life with the Lincolns by Gayle Brandeis (review)
- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (review)

Honorable mentions to Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler (review) and Patrick O'Brian's The Surgeon's Mate (review).

- Too Much to Know by Ann Blair (review)
- Ratification by Pauline Maier (review)
- A History of the Book in America, Vol. II; edited by Robert Gross and Mary Kelley (review)
- In the Eye of All Trade by Michael Jarvis (review)
- The Oxford Companion to the Book; edited by Michael F. Suarez, S.J. and H.R. Woudhuysen (review)

Honorable mentions to David Grann's The Devil and Sherlock Holmes (review), McSweeney's Issue 33 (The San Francisco Panorama) (review), and Robert Darnton's The Devil in the Holy Water (review).

My Publisher of the Year for 2010 is the University of North Carolina Press, for their continued commitment to publishing important scholarly works.

Feel free to post your own favorites for 2010 in the comments, and may your 2011 be filled with good books and good cheer!

2010 Farewells

The biblio-universe lost more than a few men and women of great importance this year. I'm sure I've missed some, so please feel free to add them in comments, or email me and I'll update the post.

- P.K. Page, d. 14 January. Canadian poet. Victoria Times-Columnist Obit.

- Erich Segal, d. 17 January. Novelist, screenwriter. NYTimes Obit.

- Robert B. Parker, d 18 January. Mystery writer. NYTimes Obit.

- Louis Auchincloss, d. 26 January. Writer. NYTimes Obit.

- Howard Zinn, d. 27 January. Historian. NYTimes Obit.

- J.D. Salinger, d 27 January. Reclusive novelist. NYTimes Obit.

- Ralph McInerny, d. 29 January. Scholar, mystery writer. NYTimes Obit.

- Kage Baker, d. 31 January. Science-fiction writer. Tor Books Obit.

- David Severn (David Storr Unwin), d. 11 February. British childrens' book author. Sunday Times Obit.

- Lucille Clifton, d. 13 February. Poet. Buffalo News Obit.

- Dick Francis, d. 14 February. Thriller writer. NYTimes Obit.

- Barry Hannah, d. 1 March. Novelist. NYTimes Obit.

- Frank Shuffelton, d. 4 March. Jefferson scholar, editor. Univ. of Rochester Obit.

- John Schoenherr, d. 8 April. Illustrator of childrens' books. NYTimes Obit.

- Nina Bourne, d. 9 April. Poet, publisher. NYTimes Obit.

- Edgard Bellefontaine, d. 24 April. Law librarian. Boston Globe Obit.

- Alan Sillitoe, d. 25 April. British novelist. NYTimes Obit.

- Harold Berliner, d. 26 April. Fine printer. Union Obit.

- Bruce Ferrini, d. 11 May. Rare book dealer. Beacon Journal Obit.

- Ruth Chew, d. 13 May. Childrens' book author. WaPo Obit.

- José Saramago, d. 18 June. Portuguese novelist. NYTimes Obit.

- Beryl Bainbridge, d. 2 July. British novelist. Telegraph Obit.

- Harvey Pekar, d. 12 July. Comic-book writer. Cleveland Plain Dealer Obit.

- Cécile Aubry, d. 19 July. French children's story writer. NYTimes Obit.

- Daniel Schorr, d. 23 July. Reporter, news columnist. NYTimes Obit.

- Toby Holtzman, d. 31 July. Book collector and supporter of libraries. Detroit Media Obit; Nick Basbanes tribute.

- James J. Kopp, d 5 August. Librarian and collector of Looking Backward. Oregon Live Obit.

- Richard Conroy, d. 6 August. Memoirist and mystery writer. Washington Post Obit.

- Tony Judt, d. 6 August. Historian and essayist. NYTimes Obit.

- Ron Offen, d. 9 August. Poet and editor of Free Lunch. Chicago Sun-Times Obit.

- Sir Frank Kermode, d. 17 August. Literary critic, Shakespeare scholar. NYTimes Obit.

- Edwin George Moran, d. 18 August. Poet, national poet of Scotland. Telegraph Obit.

- Vince Bourjaily, d. 31 August. Novelist. NYTimes Obit.

- David Thompson, d. 13 September. Bookseller, publisher. Houston Chronicle Obit.

- Peter Reddick, d. 28 September. Illustrator and wood-engraver. Independent Obit.

- Belva Plain, d. 12 October. Novelist. NYTimes Obit.

- Julian Roberts, d. 20 October. Librarian, bibliographer. Independent Obit.

- Frank Turner, d. 11 November. Yale librarian and historian. Yale Daily Bulletin Obit.

- Michael Samuels, d. 24 November. Philologist. Guardian Obit.

- David Becker, d. 26 November. Print historian/collector, curator. Portland Press-Herald Obit.

- Bella Akhmadulina, d. 29 November. Russian poet. NYTimes Obit.

- Locke Morrisey, d. 14 December. University librarian. Gleeson Library tribute page.

- E. Gene Smith, d. 18 December. Collector of Tibetan books. NYTimes Obit.

- Morris L. Cohen, d. 18 December. Legal bibliographer, librarian. NYTimes Obit.

- Jacqueline de Romilly, d. 18 December. Philologist, classical scholar. LATimes Obit.

- Elisabeth Beresford, d. 24 December. Writer, Wombles creator. Guardian Obit.

- Denis Dutton, d. 28 December. Founder and editor of "Arts & Letters Daily." AP Obit. NYTimes Obit.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book Review: "Swallows and Amazons"

Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons (first published 1930; my edition David R. Godine, 1985) is a wonderful little children's story set in the English Lake Country during the early decades of the 20th century. The four Walker children set off on a grand journey of sailing and exploration, filled with pirates, sharks, talking parrots, plank-walking, buried treasure, and all sorts of fascinating things like that. It's a good adventure story, and for anyone who spent their childhood camping, playing outside, building forts, and leading "expeditions" (even if it wasn't in the English Lakes), I suspect it will ring true.

Ransome's prose reads very nicely, and his own drawings which accompany the text are the perfect illustrations. I enjoyed this very much, and may keep my eyes peeled for the others in the series.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: "The Death Instinct"

Jed Rubenfeld's The Death Instinct (Riverhead, 2011) runs in much the same vein as his 2006 book The Interpretation of Murder. Set in New York (but this time with some stretches of international travel thrown in), with cameo appearances by a whole bunch of real historical characters (from Freud and Marie Curie - hence the international travel - to Bill Flynn and Sen. Albert Fall), this novel is set in 1920 but the style and pacing make the book read like a contemporary thriller.

For some good escapist reading, this book certainly does the trick. It's fast-paced, funny at times, with a few excellent sub-plots. The characters could use a little more fleshing out, and at times their movements seem chronologically implausible, but if you can suspend your disbelief for the few hours it will take you to read it, you probably won't notice.

As for the plot itself, Rubenfeld takes as his jumping-off point the still-unsolved 16 September 1920 Wall Street bombing, and creates a fictional scenario to explain the attack which involves a whole series of conspiracies leading up to the highest levels of finance and government (along with oil money, international terrorism, and warmongering based on forged documents). It comes across as a bit heavy-handed, to be honest - but nonetheless, I enjoyed the book, and recommend it for a nice long winter afternoon's entertainment.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Links & Reviews

A somewhat quiet news week given the holidays:

- In the Economist, a really interesting look at new studies on early Christian manuscript traditions and practices.

- The newly-constituted Harvard Library Board named Helen Shenton the Executive Director of Harvard Library this week. Shenton had previously been deputy director of Harvard University Library, under Robert Darnton (since January 2010).

- UK viewers were treated to a new adaptation of M.R. James' story "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" (with a great cast), which aired on Christmas Eve. Here's hoping it'll reach this side of the pond soon!

- Also from the Economist, a bit more on Google's Ngram viewer, a topic on which Dan Cohen also posted his thoughts this week (a very useful summation, in my view).

- The Society of Early Americanists list of recent and forthcoming books on early America has been updated.

- Among the bills signed by President Obama this week was the official name change for Longfellow National Historic Site; it will now be known as Longfellow House-Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site.

- Mike Widener has a very touching tribute to law librarian and bibliographer Morris L. Cohen, who died on 18 December.


- Malcolm Thick's Sir Hugh Plat; review by Bee Wilson in the TLS.

- New Galileo biographies by David Wootton and J.L. Heilbron; review by Claudio Vita-Finzi in the TLS and Owen Gingerich in the NYTimes.

- Edmund Morris' Colonel Roosevelt; review by Craig Fehrman in the Boston Globe.

- Susan Cheever's Louisa May Alcott; review by Hillary Kelly in TNR (this is precisely the sort of review of this book that I expected to see, to be honest).

- Michael Korda's Hero; review by Ben Macintyre in the NYTimes.

- Pauline Maier's Ratification; reviews by David Sehat at U.S. Intellectual History and Jack Rakove in the Harvard Magazine.

This Week's Acquisitions

A farewell party at MHS was the source of the majority of this week's new arrivals (it's a tradition in the library that departing staff members receive, well, many books):

- McSweeney's, Issue 36; edited by Dave Eggers (McSweeney's, 2010). Publisher.

- One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey (Viking, 1952; later printing). Gift.

- Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (Penguin, 2010). Gift.

- Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (5th. Series, Vol. II-III) - Correspondence Between Jeremy Belknap and Ebenezer Hazard (MHS, 1877). Gift.

- Can You Find Me: A Family History by Christopher Fry (OUP, 1977). Gift.

- Gossip From The Forest by Thomas Keneally (Mariner Books, 1985). Gift.

- Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins (Bantam, 1990). Gift.

- The Women on the Wall by Wallace Stegner (University of Nebraska Press, 1981). Gift.

- Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card (Starscape, 2002). Gift.

- The Great Shame: And the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World by Thomas Keneally (Anchor, 2000). Gift.

- Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (Grosset & Dunlap, 1983). Gift.

- Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome (David R. Godine, 1994). Gift.

- A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby (Lonely Planet, 2008). Gift.

- Pagan Papers by Kenneth Grahame (D.N. Goodchild, 2010). Gift.

- H.L. Mencken: Prejudices (Library of America, 2010). Gift.

- The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service by Erskine Childers (Penguin, 2011). Publisher.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Big News!

Some exciting personal news before I head off for holiday travels (wish us clear roads, please!): as of 3 January I'll be starting work at LibraryThing, working on a whole range of great projects, including the Early Reviewers program, State of the Thing, LibraryThing for Publishers, LibraryThing for Authors, the LT Facebook and Twitter feeds, and everything else involving member projects and outreach, as Tim notes in the announcement. I'll also continue to manage the Legacy Libraries and Libraries of Early America projects, and will be working to coordinate with the rare book/special collections community on new features and other ways we can work together (so if anybody has any thoughts, please don't hesitate to let me know!)

I'm very much looking forward to the new opportunities and challenges, and am excited to get started there in 2011. If you'll be at ALA Midwinter, make sure to stop by the LT booth and say hi!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Some New Details on Jenks' "Memoir of the Northern Kingdom"

I've just finished a post over on the MHS blog with some interesting (to me, anyway) new findings about William Jenks' wonderful 1808 pamphlet Memoir of the Northern Kingdom, which postulates the breakup of the Union into three sections, &c. I started writing about it in the context of an offhand remark he makes in the essay which refers to the MHS ("that valuable library of domestick history, collected by the friends and associates of Belknap and Minot"), but since a large collection of Jenks' papers were handy I started poking around, and ended up finding a really neat letter from Jenks sending the essay to the publisher, then some diary entries describing his feelings about its debut in print, &c.

And then there was the tantalizing footnote I found which suggested that the manuscript of the essay is somewhere among the Jenks papers ... if it is, I can't find it anywhere. Nonetheless, I was surprised to find what I did, and I hope others will enjoy it as well.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Review: "Too Much to Know"

"Is there anywhere on earth exempt from these swarms of new books? Even if, taken out one at a time, they offered something worth knowing, the very mass of them would be a serious impediment to learning from satiety if nothing else, which can do more damage where good things are concerned or simply from the fact that men's minds are easily glutted and hungry for something new, and so these distractions call them away from the reading of ancient authors."

The words of a cantankerous contemporary critic, perhaps? Oh no, that was Erasmus, writing in 1525, blaming the advent of mass printing for a flood of new (mostly bad) books. It's just one of the many examples from Ann Blair's delightful and important new book (I'm sure even Erasmus would agree) Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age (Yale University Press, 2010). Ours is not the first age by a long shot in which scholars and readers have complained of "information overload," Blair argues - and through a careful study of reference books in the 16-17th centuries and their antecedents, she ably illustrates how earlier readers managed to keep their heads above the flood (and how many of the techniques we still use today originated with their efforts).

Blair begins with a historical and comparative overview of "information management" techniques, offering an examination of the Renaissance compulsion to preserve texts as scholars began to recognize the severe losses of ancient texts suffered during the Middle Ages, and then broadening the scope to look at ancient attempts to organize information (the Pinakes, for example) and at how non-European cultures (Byzantium, Islamic societies, and China) dealt with excessive amounts of information. She then surveys the genres of reference books she considers here, including compendia and florilegia (collections of excerpts), dictionaries, concordances, and proto-encyclopedias.

In the first chapter Blair also makes a key argument: that while many organizational methods were developed during the manuscript era, "Printing shaped both the nature of the information explosion, by making more books on more topics available to more readers, and the methods for coping with it, including a wide range of printed reference tools. Printing diffused more broadly than ever before existing techniques for managing information and encouraged experimentation with new ones, including new layouts, finding devices, and methods of composition" (pp. 13-14). The coming of print coincided with "multiple challenges to received opinion that originated from other causes ... and that spawned new habits of critical thinking and new philosophical systems founded on empirical and rational argument. Just as these various movements would have developed differently without the presence of print, so too the impact of the technology would have been different if it had not coincided with these movements. Instead of trying to reduce the complex impact of a technology or of any particular set of ideas, we can examine how contemporaries responded to an increasingly abundant and varied range of sources of information, both in theory and in practice" (p. 47).

Blair's second chapter serves as a history of note-taking, important since many of the key reference books under consideration began as one scholar's collected notes on a topic (and, when published, served as "ready-made reading notes" for other scholars. Through the deft use of case studies on the taking and use of notes (Pliny the Younger and Thomas Aquinas), and by finding some excellent examples of well-known scholars having trouble keeping their notes organized (Leibniz: "After having done something, I forget it almost entirely within a few months, and rather than searching for it amid a chaos of jottings that I do not have the leisure to arrange and mark with headings I am obliged to do the work all over again" - pp. 87-88), Blair leads her reader into a discussion of the various techniques and tools that came into use as for "note management" (headings, cross-references, indexing, mechanical cabinets, &c.). Beyond even this, though, she examines processes of collaborative note-taking, shared and circulated annotations, and the use of family members or hired amanuenses for the taking or organization of notes.

A full survey of the types of finding devices typical of the genres of reference works considered follows in the third chapter. These include lists of authorities, tables of contents, indexes of various types, branching diagrams, and layout techniques (spacing, color, columns, &c.). This section is well populated with useful images, which do much to complement the text. Blair also examines a genre of particular interest to readers of this review: books about books and bibliographies (including library and sale catalogs, book reviews, reading manuals, &c.), surveying their origins, organization methods, and styles.

Blair's fourth chapter delves more deeply into the compilation process as she seeks to get at the varying motivations of those who created reference books and examines their working methods (these works required a pretty serious commitment in time and resources, she argues), and also forced the compilers to utilize effective management techniques (one of which was to use small paper slips which could be organized as necessary, or to cut and paste - terms we all every day and which have their roots in this tradition - from manuscripts or printed books).

Finally, Blair takes a stab at evaluating the impact of these reference books, noting the patterns of distribution and longevity, the kinds of use they received (somewhat difficult to evaluate, she says, since most authors who used reference books in their own works generally didn't cite them), and the complaints that were leveled against them (these included the fear that the original materials would be lost, that the excerpts in reference books were taken out of context and were often full of errors, and that the use of reference works diminished the quality of learning).

Beginning around 1680, Blair suggests, the massive Latin reference works compiling ancient knowledge began to give way to a different type of work: vernacular reference texts, focused less on the distant past and more on recent or current events. Library catalogs and indexes began to come into their own, so that Samuel Johnson could tell Boswell "Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves or we know where we can find information upon it. When we enquire into a subject, the first thing we have to do is to know what books have treated of it. This leads us to look at catalogues and at the backs of books in libraries" (pg. 263). This type of "consultation reading" (which is of course the same thing we do today, in books and online) was helped along by the books Blair considers here.

In as good an epilogue as I've ever read, Blair brings the argument into the present day, offering not only a look at more recent trends in reference, but an optimistic look into the future: "The story of the management of textual information in personal notes and printed reference books, 1500-1700, could be presented as a decline narrative from the heights of great learning to an increasing reliance on shortcuts and substitutes, or alternatively, as a triumphalist account of new methods democratized and made increasingly sophisticated. Similarly, among those reflecting on current and future developments, the doomsayers on the one hand and the info-boosters on the other often seem the loudest voices. ... The decline narrative has been in use for centuries and continues to appeal today, often fueled by general anxieties rather than specific changes. But given the long history of the trope, it seems no more appropriate to our context than it does to the Renaissance of the Middle Ages when it was used so extensively" (p. 267).

Today, Blair maintains (and I agree), "judgment is as central as ever in selecting, assessing, and synthesizing information to create knowledge responsibly" (p. 267). Too much information is nothing new (although the current scale can certainly be fairly compared to the overload experienced by our Renaissance-era predecessors), and we, just as they, will need to work our way through the morass carefully and judiciously.

Too Much to Know is greatly enhanced by the full and very useful notes, as well as the extensive list of works cited (almost sixty pages worth). The whole package is a remarkable accomplishment, a fine read, and certainly one of the most impressive books of 2010.

Book Review: "Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories"

As soon as I finished M.R. James' The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Ghost Stories (review), the second volume of the Penguin omnibus edition of his ghost stories, I ordered a copy of the first, Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories (Penguin, 2005). I've been enjoying one or two of the stories before bedtime every night since (with the exception of one evening when the power was off and I read a few by candlelight before dinner).

I agree with the editors that the tales included here are generally of a higher quality than those in the other volume (but I think it speaks to James' talents that even his "inferior" stories were highly enjoyable). Once again James puts what he knows (antiquarianism, books, libraries, and academic culture) to great use, combining them with supernatural elements (and sometimes with his great fear of spiders) to shock and frighten.

Among my favorites from this collection: "Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book," "The Mezzotint" (probably the one I liked best of all), "Number 13," "Casting the Runes," and "The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral." "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" is certainly among the most creepy ghost stories I've ever read.

I'm sure I'll return to these often, and I recommend them highly. As many of James' stories were originally meant for reading aloud around Christmas-time, now's a good chance to share them!

Book Review: "More Information Than You Require"

John Hodgman continues the project begun with The Areas of My Expertise in More Information Than You Require (Riverhead, 2009) ... and I use "continues" literally, since the pagination here picks up where TAME left off (and will likely continue in the project third installment, That is All).

This volume provides almost 400 pages of Hodgmanian deadpan antics, from "profiles" of the American presidents to 700 names of mole-men, information on how to be a minor television personality and how to deal with common infestation (my favorite is "tides"), some selected folk remedies, owl recipes, answers to readers' questions, and much more.

As with most Hodgman productions, the reader should be careful to pace himself, lest he risk the severe and debilitating Hodgman Overload Syndrome. By only reading a short section or two at a time, this condition can be avoided, and the jokes will continue to amuse.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Links & Reviews

- The 2011 Bibliography Week schedule is up: of particular interest is G. Thomas Tanselle's 25 January talk "A Defense of Association Copies."

- On 8-9 January 2011 the New Bedford Whaling Museum will host the 15th annual marathon reading of Moby Dick. Full info on the reading and associated events here.

- On 28 January 2011 the Eighteenth-Century Worlds Research Centre at the University of Liverpool and the Liverpool Athenaeum will co-host a free one-day conference, "Institutions of Associational Reading: New Perspectives on Library History, c. 1750-1850."

- Much continued discussion this week about the new Google Ngram viewer. I've been adding links to my post over the last few days, so there's more there than before.

- Laura at The Cataloguer's Desk has some lovely pictures of snow around Peter Harrington Rare Books in London.

- ACRL has received a grant to digitize and make available the back issues of RBML and RBM.

- The now-recovered Durham First Folio will be on display at the university after 15 January as part of a "Treasures of Durham University" exhibit.

- A fantastic collection of cover images for booksellers' first catalogs. Speaking of which, Rick Gekoski's Guardian column "Taking stock of rare book catalogues" is this week's must-read.

- Paul Collins has a new essay in Lapham's Quarterly, about child author Barbara Follett, who eventually disappeared without a trace. It's a haunting story, well told as always by Collins.

- Nigel Beale has posted an audio interview with Roderick Cave about the Golden Cockerel Press.

- OCLC asked a judge [PDF] to dismiss the anti-trust lawsuit filed against it by SkyRiver.

- Christie's unveiled an iPad app.

- On the AAS blog, Caroline Sloat writes about why they don't have an Audubon elephant folio Birds of America. Their story is not as sad (or as disappointing) as the MHS' Audubon tale: they did have an elephant folio, but sold it in the early years of the 20th century to a dealer who broke it apart and sold the plates piecemeal. Sigh.

- Some useful (very useful) new resources from CERL: Paul Needham's Index Possessorum Incunabulorum (IPI contains "some 32,000 entries relating to the ownership of incunabula,
including personal names, institutional names, monograms, and arms") and Material Evidence in Incunabula (MEI, "a new database specifically designed to record and search the material
evidence (or copy specific, post-production evidence, provenance information) of 15th-century printed books: ownership, decoration, binding, manuscript annotations, stamps, prices, etc.").

- There was much amusement in bookville this week after a story that new Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford would be opening an antiquarian bookshop in Boston proved a (very well played) hoax. Probably.

- Fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are working to try and save the author's sometime Surrey home, Undershaw, from being turned into apartments.

- The unpublished manuscript of an unfinished Roald Dahl short story sold on eBay this week for £1,200.

- From last weekend's LATimes, Tim Rutten's column "Why Print Survives" is well worth a read.


- Richard Archer's As If in an Enemy's Country; T.H. Breen's American Insurgents, American Patriots; and Ben Carp's Defiance of the Patriots; review by Caleb Crain in the New Yorker. Caleb has also posted a bibliographic essay related to the review.

- Several recent books on higher education are reviewed by Anthony Grafton in The National Interest.

- Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg's Madison and Jefferson; review by Pauline Maier in the WaPo.

- Virginia Scharff's The Women Jefferson Loved; review by Andrea Wulf in the NYTimes.

- Kathleen Kent's The Wolves of Andover; review by Liz Raftery in the Boston Globe.

- Susan Cheever's Louisa May Alcott; review by Elaine Showalter in the WaPo.

- Pauline Maier's Ratification; review by Gordon Wood in the TNR.

- The Autobiography of Mark Twain; review by Garrison Keillor in the NYTimes. Best line: "Think twice about donating your papers to an institution of higher learning, Famous Writer: someday they may be used against you."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

This Week's Acquisitions

- More Information Than You Require by John Hodgman (Riverhead, 2009). Brookline Booksmith.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann (Doubleday, 2009). Brookline Booksmith.

One Hundred Portraits: Artists, Architects, Writers, Composers, and Friends by Barry Moser (David R. Godine, 2010). Gift.

Discerning Characters: The Culture of Appearance in Early America by Christopher J. Lukasik (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010). Publisher.

Essays on Nature and Landscape by Susan Fenimore Cooper (University of Georgia Press, 2002). Book cart.

- Measuring America: How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy by Andro Linklater (Walker & Co., 2002). Book cart.

- The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander; edited by James Romm (Pantheon, 2010). Gift.

Friday, December 17, 2010

New Addictive Google Tool

Yesterday afternoon Google Labs released Books Ngram Viewer, a nifty graphing tool based on a corpus of 500 billion words from 5.2 million books in Chinese, English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish (from among the 15 million books scanned by Google since 2004). The full datasets are also downloadable. This is the first time such an extensive collection of data has been made available to researchers, but still, its limitations must be considered (and are well laid out in a Guardian piece).

The scholarly thrust behind this is an article in Science, "Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books." More coverage from the NYTimes (which also considers some of the drawbacks to this approach), NPR, Boston Globe.

Ngram has proven addictive, with lots of interesting uses cropping up on blogs and Twitter. One of my favorites, from @cliotropic, is here ("American bifurcated-garment nomenclature"). I've also found it fascinating to look at things like diseases, rivalries, more rivalries, farm animals, &c. There's lots to examine here, and much fertile ground for scholars to work with.

[I'm going to add some updates to this as they come out: the Scientific American coverage is important, as is the worry that this tool will result in serious misinterpretations of data. Also, I'm not a huge fan of the term the study's authors are using for this study: Culturnomics (now complete with website). Also added, the first in a series of posts from Ben Schmidt at Sapping Attention, which makes for essential reading. And Mark Davies' call for a comparison of Ngram to COHA (Corpus of Historical American English), which can do some even more interesting things and in many ways is much more useful to scholars. At Thingology, Tim points out one of the huge metadata problems (the Google-OCR's failure to read the long s as an s rather than an f), and Natalie Binder maintains the viewer "isn't ready for prime time."]

[Further update: there's now an important critique by Geoffrey Nunberg in the Chronicle Review.]

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Auction Report: Austen Day at Sotheby's London

Today's English Literature, History, and Children's Books & Illustrations at Sotheby's London made a total of £821,813, with 131 of 247 lots selling. Fittingly, on Jane Austen's 325th birthday, the Maria Edgeworth presentation copy of Emma (1816) was the top seller, at £79,250. The second copy of Emma, with the ownership inscription of Austen's friend Martha Lloyd, made £37,250. The presentation copies to Walter Savage Landor of the first book editions of Dickens' Pickwick Papers
and Nicholas Nickleby each made £67,250.

Most of the other notable lots failed to sell.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Harvard Announces Digital Public Library Initiative

Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society announced yesterday that they will "host a research and planning initiative for a 'Digital Public Library of America.' With funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Berkman will convene a large and diverse group of stakeholders in a planning program to define the scope, architecture, costs and administration for a proposed Digital Public Library of America."

More from the release: "Planning activities will be guided by a Steering Committee of library and foundation leaders, which promises to announce a full slate of activities in early 2011. The Committee plans to bring together representatives from the educational community, public and research libraries, cultural organizations, state and local government, publishers, authors, and private industry in a series of meetings and workshops to examine strategies for improving public access to comprehensive online resources."

Archivist of the United States David Ferriero has offered to host an opening plenary session in early summer 2011.

For the list of steering committee members, see the press release.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book Review: "The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear"

The first in Walter Moers' series about the fictional continent of Zamonia is The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear (Overlook, 2006), which serves as something of a geographical overview of Moers' universe in the form of a travelogue. Narrated by the eponymous Bluebear (a blue bear), the story tracks Bluebear's adventures through the first half of his 26 lives: from his rescue by the hilarious darkness-fearing, peg-legged Minipirates to his time spent in Professor Abdullah Nightingale's Nocturnal Academy to his stay in the middle of a tornado to his time as the champion liar of Atlantis ... and those are just four of the 13 1/2 lives he covers here.

As with the later books in the loosely-connected series, Moers fills the volume with details about the bizarre creatures and situations he's concocted, providing much background about Zamonian history, culture, cuisine, &c. For anyone who enjoys taking a magic carpet ride (with a gelatine prince from the 2364th dimension, in this case) around a very creative author's head, give this book a whirl. Witty, satirical, amusing, and completely nonsensical, Moers' books makes for a terrific diversion.

Links & Reviews

- From Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle, a look at hyper-modern imaging techniques being used to read the 8th-century St. Chad Gospels (see video at the bottom of the story, too).

- A new series from Book Patrol, "In the Stacks," beginning with images from the BPL's Flickr stream (now with about 15,000 images).

- If you read one essay this week, make it Alexander Chee's "I, Reader," which is a delightful look at a longtime reader's take on e-reading.

- In the WSJ, Goran Mijuk writes on high-spot book collecting.

- A Native American knife sheath from the 1850s, stolen from the Wisconsin Historical Society in the 1990s by curator David Wooley, was returned from a New York museum after an artifact dealer recognized it. More than 100 items stolen by Wooley remain missing from the WHS collections.

- I missed it last weekend, but Arthur Krystal's "The Joy of Lists" from the NYTBR is certainly worth a read.

- Reports this week that South Salt Lake bookseller Sherry Black, recently found murdered in her shop, unwittingly purchased stolen early Mormon books from a gang member in early 2009. The man served prison time for the thefts (from his father's library), and was re-arrested this week on a parole violation. Authorities have not said whether he is being investigated in Black's death.

- In the WaPo, a short profile of Dave Eggers.

- J.L. Bell found some interesting things when he went poking around early American newspapers scanned by Google.


- Thomas Allen's Tories; review by David Waldstreicher in the NYTimes.

- Ron Chernow's Washington; review by Brendan Simms in the Telegraph.

- Simon Winchester's Atlantic; reviews by Bruce Barcott in the NYTimes and Scott Martelle in the LATimes.

- Pauline Maier's Ratification; review by Gordon Wood in TNR.

- Thomas Powers' The Killing of Crazy Horse; review by David Treuer in the WaPo.

- Adrian Tinniswood's Pirates of Barbary; review by Ian Toll in the NYTimes.

- Nicholas Phillipson's Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life; review by Michael Dirda in the WaPo.

Auction Preview: Sotheby's London

The last major book auction of 2010: on 16 December, Sotheby's London will sell English Literature, History, and Children's Books & Illustrations, in 246 lots. A presentation copy (to Maria Edgeworth) of the first edition of Jane Austen's Emma (1816) rates the top estimate, at £70,000-100,000 (another copy of Emma, with the ownership inscription of Austen's friend Martha Lloyd, is estimated at £30,000-50,000). A fabulous, 49,000-page manuscript compilation of the Journals of the House of Commons in 75 folio volumes (with one volume covering the House of Lords), covering almost the entire seventeenth century, is estimated at £50,000-70,000; Jane Austen's brother Edward's Wedgwood dinner set rates the same estimate. The Duke of Northumberland's copy of the Fourth Folio is estimated at £40,000-60,000, while a presentation copy of the first book edition of Dickens' Pickwick Papers rates a £30,000-50,000 spread. Other interesting items include a first edition of Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson in the original boards (est. £10,000-15,000) and much militaria.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The New Elephant: Google eBooks

This week's big news (aside from the new auction records set at Sotheby's) was the unveiling on Monday of Google eBooks (formerly to be known as Google Editions), with some 3 million titles now available. Coverage of the launch has been fairly steady all week long, and has included some really fascinating perspectives. For some good general summaries, see Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle, the Washington Post, Jeffrey Trachtenberg and Amir Efrati in the WSJ, and Julie Bosman in the NYTimes (the latter two being the most comprehensive of the major stories). For Google's own overview (with videos), go here.

Linda Holmes takes the eBookstore for a test drive at the NPR blog monkey see, discovering some tricky things involved with getting Google eBooks to play easily with certain devices. At the New Yorker's book blog, Mary Halford is amused by the slightly cloying into video and notes that the often-deficient metadata in Google Books is "exacerbated" in the new eBookstore, adding that "all this really shows is how desperately online book catalogs need professional librarians and archivists to organize the millions upon millions of titles making their way into cyberspace."

In Slate, Farhad Manjoo warned users not to be taken in by Google's rhetoric of an "open" e-bookstore (for a variety of reasons). On the PWxyz blog, Craig Morgan Teicher noted "three cool things" about the new store. Writing at Wynden de Worde, Sarah Werner surveyed prices of Google eBooks in their own bookstore, at Amazon and through their independent bookstore affiliates (make sure to read the updates and comments too). At CSM, Husna Haq asks whether cooperating with Google offers independent bookstores a "fighting chance" (by allowing them a seat at the e-book table). And yesterday's #followreader discussion on Twitter focused on the effects of this on indie shops, so if you have time, do read through that as well.

Matthew Singleton at The Bookshop Blog brings up the question of how Google eBooks will interact with libraries. The Open Content Alliance suggests that Google ought to move the eBookstore from the "Books" tab to the "Shopping" tab.

One of the most useful pieces I read this week was Brian Croxall's ProfHacker piece, which examines "the new, the good, and the ugly" of Google's new outfit. Another must-read is Laura Miller's Salon piece on the rollout, which points out one of the things that struck me immediately about it (in a bad way): no advanced search option and a very strange quasi-integration with Google Books proper (I've been playing around with both this morning, and agree that the coordination between the two definitely needs some work, as does the search function in the eBookstore).

In the meantime, Amazon also announced that a web-based Kindle app is in the works, and will be released within several months (this was widely seen as a catchup move to Google's web-based storage/accessibility feature).

Many of the pieces mention the very useful summary of Google eBooks on the site of one of their indie affiliaties, Tattered Cover Book Store (Denver, CO). And I think the most positive comments I saw on Twitter and the blogs this week about Google eBooks concerned the site's error page.

Time will tell, of course, and I'm sure there are lots of new features/debates/discussions still on the horizon (for example, the still-awaited decision on the proposed Google Books Settlement will have a major impact on the eBookstore). Stay tuned!

This Week's Acquisitions

Here's what appeared on the shelves this week:

- Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World by Maya Jasanoff (Knopf, 2011). Book cart.

- Out of Sorts: On Typography and Print Culture by Joseph A. Dane (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010). Publisher.

- The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld (Riverhead, 2011). Publisher.

- Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran (Crown, 2011). Publisher.

- Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale (Introducing His Forgotten Frontier Friend) by Deborah Hopkinson (Schwartz & Wade, 2008). Gift.

- The Double Elephant Folio: The Story of Audubon's Birds of America by Waldemar H. Fries (Zenaida Publishing, 2006). William Reese Co.

Auction Report: Sotheby's NY

The main Books and Manuscripts sale at Sotheby's New York yesterday made a total of $2,239,188, with 75 of the 115 lots selling. The top lot was Bob Dylan's lyrics for "The Times They Are A-Changin'", which made $422,500. The first edition presentation copy of Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia ([Paris, 1785]) sold for $362,500. An Alberto Giacommetti letter to Marlene Dietrich fetched $266,500 (well over the estimate of $18,000-25,000), while the Second Folio sold for $194,500. The Curtis North American Indian volumes failed to sell, as did the Nuremberg Chronicle, the inscribed copy of A Christmas Carol, and the first edition Book of Mormon.

When it came time for the big single-item sales, however, the bidders were there. "Custer's Last Flag," a guidon from the Little Bighorn battlefield, consigned by the Detroit Institute of Arts, sold for $2,210,500 to an American private collector. Robert F. Kennedy's copy of the Emancipation Proclamation set a new record for a presidential document, fetching $3,778,500. It was purchased by an anonymous telephone bidder.

And then were James Naismith's original typescript rules for the game of basketball, which set a new record for sports memorabilia at auction, making $4,338,500. That lot went to Austin, TX money manager David Booth, a native of Lawrence, KS who hopes to see the rules find a home at the University of Kansas (he says he will challenge the university to "provide a suitable venue"). Proceeds from the sale go to the Naismith International Basketball Foundation, a charity.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Darnton's "Three Jeremiads"

I'm still collecting sources for the soon-to-come post about Google eBooks (formerly to-be-known as Google Editions), but in the meantime I wanted to mention Robert Darnton's NYRB piece "Three Jeremiads," which in which he lays out three major areas for action in today's research library world: skyrocketing journal costs, the need for open-access publications, and the case for a national digital library (some of this piece was in an NYRB blog post that I linked to a couple weeks ago). It's a good essay, touching on a whole range of issues and aspects of these debates that should be of interest to all.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Auction Report: Manuscripts & Hesketh Sales, Sotheby's

Today's sale of Western Manuscripts and Miniatures at Sotheby's London made £2,897,250, with all but two of the 36 lots selling. The Rochefoucauld Grail shined as expected, selling for £2,393,250 to London dealer Sam Fogg. None of the other lots broke £100,000. The Northern Italian Book of Hours (est. £200,000-250,000) failed to sell.

But the big action of the day came in the Hesketh Sale, Magnificent Books, Manuscripts and Drawings from the Collection of Frederick 2nd Lord Hesketh, which brought in a grand total of £14,971,950, with just 9 of 91 lots failing to sell. As I noted earlier, the major items from this sale were the complete Audubon Birds of America (which sold for a record-setting £7,321,250) and the First Folio (sold for £1,497,250).

The ~1508 Plutarch illuminated manuscript on vellum, once in the library of Sir Thomas Phillipps and the 11th-century commentary on Matthew each made £505,250, while the collection of letters written to the jailer of Mary, Queen of Scots (including four by Elizabeth I), fetched £349,250. A 1613 Ben Jonson folio sold for £103,250.

The second edition Catesby made £121,500, as did a collection of natural history watercolors ; and all fifty-two of the original watercolor roses for Pierre-Joseph Redouté's Les Roses (sold in separate lots) found buyers, with prices ranging from £25,000 to £265,250.

New World Record Set by Audubon

I'll have a full report on today's Hesketh sale at Sotheby's London later on, but in the meantime, the big news: the Shakespeare First Folio sold for £1,497,250 ($2,360,947), and the elephant folio of Audubon's Birds of America (drum roll please) made £7,321,250 ($11,544,553). That figure surpasses the $8.8 million benchmark set at Christie's in 2000 (for the last complete Birds of America to come up at auction), and should be a new record price for a printed book.

[Update: Getting word now that the buyer of the Audubon was London dealer Michael Tollemache, who said "I think it's priceless, don't you?". The First Folio was reportedly sold to an "unidentified U.S. dealer."]

Monday, December 06, 2010

Book Review: "Poetry and the Police"

Robert Darnton's latest book is Poetry and the Police: Communication Networks in Eighteenth-Century Paris (Harvard University Press, 2010). It is classic Darnton: having found an intriguing episode in the archives, he follows the trail wherever it may lead. In this case he came upon a series of dossiers in the French police archives pertaining to "l'affaire des Quatorze," ("Affair of the Fourteen") a 1749 dragnet which resulted in the arrests of fourteen men (mostly priests, students, and clerks) for disseminating six salacious poems about Louis XV, his government, and his unpopular mistress, Madame de Pompadour.

Throughout the book, Darnton allows us to peer inside his research methods and puts into writing the questions he asked himself as he carried out his own investigations into the police's dogged pursuit of those circulating the scandalous verses. By attempting to "reconstruct orality," (which he calls the "the most important missing element" in the history of communication - p. 2), Darnton suggests that we can (to the extent possible) "uncover a complex communication network and study the way information circulated in a semiliterate society" (p. 3).

In this slim volume (just 145 pages of text, followed by much end-matter, discussed below) Darnton offers up not only an account of the Affair of the Fourteen (how it proceeded and how it turned out), but also (widening the scope) contextual chapters on the political and social climate in France that led to the poems' production and spread, fascinating capsule-treatments of musical culture in eighteenth-century Paris (most notably the "street-singing") and how new lyrics laid atop old tunes (I love his phrase "aural palimpsest" for this) made the rapid infiltration of the poems and songs possible.

Darnton also admits the difficulties with the type of work he's trying to do with this book, noting that determining the actual public perceptions and impact of these verses in their own time is inherently tricky, since the much the evidence historians would want to be able to make a strong argument about the importance of this affair is simply lost to us. And he points out the dangers in reading proto-Revolutionary sentiments into these verses; while they do poke fun at (or even encourage the assassination of) the royal family, they should be seen "not as a symptom of things to come but rather as one of those rare incidents that, if adequately examined, reveal the underlying determinants of events" (p. 140).

I've heard Darnton speak several times about his desire to see historical works "enhanced" by supporting documentation and other materials, and he has certainly followed his own advice in this work. By supplementing the text with the texts of the poems which led to the Affair of the Fourteen, short contextual essays on various aspects of the book, and by an electronic caberet which features recordings of several of the tunes referred to in the text, Darnton has provided a fine example usefulness of enhanced texts (provided, of course, that the publisher maintains the website, &c.).

As usual, Darnton has found a good story, and told it well. By pulling at the loose threads of this seemingly unimportant episode, Darnton "reveals the way an information society operated when information spread by word of mouth and poetry carried messages among ordinary people, very effectively and long before the Internet" (p. 145).

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Links & Reviews

- Big news out of Harvard this week, where a seismic shift in library operations is underway. Read the announcement in the Crimson, coverage in the CHE (emphasizing the centralization of digital services), an interview with the leaders of the task force charged with implementing the changes from the Harvard Gazette, and provost Steven Hyman's letter to the Harvard community (PDF).

- The second installment of the NYTimes series on digital humanities ran this week: it focuses on Dan Cohen and Fred Gibbs' Google-backed analysis of Victorian literature. I think it takes a very healthy look at the positive aspects and possible pitfalls of such research.

- In the Washington Post, a profile of illustrator Maira Kalman.

- The Bridwell Library offers up audio of Michael Suarez's 28 October talk there "The Codex, the Digital Image, and the Problems of Presence."

- I enjoyed this post on "Biblio-Social Objects," which discusses (among other sites) LT and Mendeley. [h/t @johndalton]

- The Remnant Trust collection will be moving to the former Billy Sunday Museum in Winona Lake, IN, after leaving the former Carnegie Library in Jeffersonville. It will not, for the time being, be open to the public.

- A new museum at Robert Burns' home in Ayrshire has opened, after long delays.

- From EMOB, some suggestions for increasing the already-great usefulness of the English text-bases (EEBO, ECCO, Burney Collection Online).

- Writing at ProfHacker, Lincoln Mullen offers some tips for keeping up with academic journals.

- Utah rare book dealer Sherry Black was found stabbed to death this week at her shop in South Salt Lake. No arrests have been made.

- The long-awaited Google Editions will launch soon, the WSJ reported this week.

- A new exhibit has opened at the Bodleian Library: "Shelley's Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family" includes the manuscript of Frankenstein, being displayed in the UK for the first time. The show will run at Oxford through March 2011, and later will be mounted in New York.

- Mike Widener notes some new Yale Law Library Rare Books Flickr galleries of early illustrated law books.

- Writing for the Hong Kong Book Fair (happening this weekend), Paul Feain asks "Are Rare Book Dealers 'Collectors in Disguise'?" [h/t @LuxMentis]

- Over at The Little Professor, a year in books. My favorite category: "Proof that writing talent is not genetic."

- At Booktryst, ream-wrapper illustrations are the order of the day.


- Ron Chernow's George Washington; reviews by Gordon Wood in the NYRB, Simon Sebag Montefiore in the Telegraph, and Andrew Cayton in the Scotsman.

- Alan Taylor's The Civil War of 1812; review by Michael O'Donnell in

- Barnet Schecter's George Washington's America; review by Virginia DeJohn Anderson in the NYTimes.

- Thomas Powers' The Killing of Crazy Horse; reviews by Robert Utley in the WSJ and Matthew Battles in Salon.

- Bill Bryson's Seeing Further; review by Sara Lippincott in the LATimes.

- Edmund Morris' Colonel Roosevelt; review by Chris Patsilelis in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

New York Society Library Ledger Online

An absolutely fantastic new digital offering from the New York Society Library: their earliest surviving charging ledger, covering the period July 1789 and April 1792. This is a true delight, since you can not only browse or search by borrower (and they've got some good ones, like George Washington, John Jay, Rufus King and Alexander Hamilton), but also find short sketches of each borrower, see who else borrowed each book (here's Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, for example), and see the listing for each book in the library's early catalog (or in the OPAC if it's still in the collections).

Truly delightful!

This Week's Acquisitions

Here's what joined the shelves this week:

- Another copy of Les Avantures de Telemaque, this one published by Jean Christian Wohler at either Ulm or Augsburg in 1751 and printed by Theophile Mæntler at Esslingen, with German commentary by Joseph Anton von Ehrenreich (the first edition with Ehrenreich's commentary was published in 1736, also by Wohler). Twentieth-century ownership inscription by "Henry F. Howe" on the front flyleaf. A curious copy, with a damaged copy of the folding map tipped in at the front, and another (also damaged) copy following Ehrenreich's introduction. eBay.

- Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories by M. R. James (Penguin, 2005). Amazon.

Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers (Harper, 2010). Amazon.

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun by J.R.R. Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009). Amazon.

McSweeney's Issue 4; edited by Dave Eggers (McSweeney's, 2010). Harvard Bookstore.

The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett (W.W. Norton, 2009). Harvard Bookstore.

The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers (Overlook, 2006). Harvard Bookstore.

The Parkman Dexter Howe Library; edited by Sidney Ives (University of Florida, 1983-1994). Parts I and X. Gifts.

The Republic of Letters: The Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; edited by James Morton Smith (W.W. Norton, 1995). Raven.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Auction Report: Tufte Library & Americana @ Christie's

Two important sales at Christie's New York this week:

Yesterday afternoon saw the sale of Beautiful Evidence: The Library of Edward Tufte, in 160 lots. Of those, 127 sold, bringing in a total of $1,817,187. Galileo's Sidereus nuncius (1610) was the highest seller, making $662,500. The rest of the major lots failed to sell; the next-highest seller was Newton's Opticks (1704), which made $60,000.

Today's Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts, Including Americana, in 569 lots, made a grand total of $6,608,688. A good chunk of that was from one lot alone, the New Jersey Historical Society's copy of the famously rare Abel Buell map of the United States (1784). The map was estimated at $500,000-700,000, but that proved way too low: the final price was $2,098,500.

A rare copy of the first printed edition of Key's "The Star-Spangled Banner", estimated at $200,000-300,000, also did much better than expected, fetching $506,500. A copy of Hayden and Moran's 1876 color-plate book The Yellowstone National Park ... sold for $218,500, while an inscribed copy of the first printed edition of the Lincoln-Douglas debates made $182,500. A first edition of Smith's Wealth of Nations made $122,500, and Lewis and Clark's History of the Expedition ... (1814) sold for $116,500.

Among the Declarations of Independence up today, the 1833 reprint of Stone's facsimile made $20,000 and an 1846 anastatic reproduction copy sold for $35,000).

The Abraham Lincoln manuscript letter to the Army of the Potomac following the debacle at Fredericksburg failed to sell, as did the first British printing of the Declaration of Independence.

December Biblio-Newsletters

The December Fine Books Notes is out, and contains pieces by Jonathan Shipley on comic book collecting, Jeffrey Murray on mapping the Northwest Passage, Ian McKay on recent auction results, and Rebecca Rego Barry's review of Audrey Niffenegger's The Night Bookmobile.

And over at Americana Exchange, an interview with Nancy Pearl, a preview of December auctions, a followup to their November piece on Better World Books, a look at the new head of Sotheby's New York's rare books department, Richard Austin (formerly of Bloomsbury) and a glimpse at the e-readers appearing on the European market.