Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Review: "13, rue Thérèse"

Elena Mauli Shapiro's 13, rue Thérèse (Reagan Arthur, 2011) is a beautifully-designed meta-narrative about an American academic in Paris who "discovers" in his office file cabinet a box containing a small archive of family photos, letters, and personal artifacts from the early decades of the 20th century. As he works his way through the box he finds himself becoming more and more intertwined with the original owners of the items within, and also developing a strange connection with his secretary (whom, we learn very quickly, had in fact planted the box for him to find).

While the threads of the story itself just weren't that interesting to me, I found Stratton's process of delving into the box and discovering its various component pieces very intriguing, and the way Shapiro has integrated illustrations and typographical decorations into the text is nicely done indeed.

Worth a read just for the design, honestly.

Buell Map to be Displayed at LOC

The rare 1784 copy of Abel Buell's map of the United States from the collections of the New Jersey Historical Society (purchased for $2,098,500 at Christie's in December) will be going on display at the Library of Congress, according to a press release from the library.

David M. Rubenstein, the map's owner, has agreed to exhibit the map at the Library for five years, beginning this spring. This map - the first copyrighted by the United States government - is the "single most important American cartographic document missing from the collection of the Library of Congress, according to John Hébert, chief of the Library’s Geography and Map Division."

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Links & Reviews

- The Hyperallergenic blog is keeping a running update of damages at the National Museum in Cairo, and boingboing has some images of Egyptians forming human chains to protect the museum.

- Registration for the New England Archivists spring meeting is now open - the conference, "The Future of Archives," will be held at Brown University on 1-2 April.

- You have until 4 February to get the early bird registration prices for the Society of Early Americanists conference in Philadelphia on 3-5 March. This is shaping up to be a really excellent meeting, and I many to see many of this blog's readers there!

- In the NYTimes today, Geoff Nicolson writes on the "perils of literary profiling" (i.e. drawing conclusions about a person from the books listed on their Facebook page, or even what's on their shelves).

- Alex Beam writes in the Boston Globe about possible hangups in the Library of Congress acquisition of the Twitter archive.

- Mark Twain impersonators are having a good time of it these days!

- More from the NYTimes on the speculation that Mark Salter is the author of O.

- Launched this week: the Journal of Universal Rejection. More here.

- On the Princeton Rare Books blog, Stephen Ferguson has some great images of a c. 1605 writing table (called a "Renaissance iPad" by Edward Rothstein in his review of the Morgan's current diaries exhibition).

- A rather odd story from the Guardian about some Jonathan Swift letters which appear to contain examples of Swift writing in "baby talk."

- From the AAS blog, a fun inside look at their reading room "paper rituals".

- A Chilean writer who pantomimed urinating on Jorge Luis Borges' grave for the cover of his latest book says it was a "legitimate artistic act."

- Lew Jaffe reports that sometimes the line between "English" and "American" bookplates can be a little hard to determine.

- Rebecca Rego Barry notes a new, redesigned edition of Tristram Shandy, which I've ordered.

- Bonham's London will sell a love letter from John Keats to Fanny Brawne at a March auction. The note is expected to fetch as much as £120,000.

- Techcrunch notes a new interactive publishing project, SocialBooks, which in effect makes a book into an iPad app, through which readers can share highlighted text, comments, &c. The first book released this way? The Bible.

- From Booktryst, a look at Goodspeed's 1933 advertisement in Fortune.


- Ben Tarnoff's Moneymakers; review by Michael Washburn in the NYTimes.

- Charles Cumming's The Trinity Six; review by Allen Massie in the Scotsman.

- Edward Lengel's Inventing George Washington; review by Michael Kenney in the Boston Globe.

- John Thompson's Merchants of Culture; review by Jason Epstein in the NYRB.

- O: A Presidential Novel; review by Timothy Rutten in the LATimes.

Book Review: "The Trinity Six"

Charles Cumming's The Trinity Six (St. Martin's, 2011) is a fast-moving spy thriller focusing on the possibility that the Cambridge Five (a well-known group of Soviet spies) were joined by a sixth man. The five-decade coverup of that agent's existence, coupled with additional revelations with the potential to rock the political world, form the basis for Cumming's tale.

Dr. Sam Gaddis finds himself caught up in the mystery when he gets a tip about the possible sixth man, and then as he begins to investigate, discovers that those "in the know" are suddenly ending up dead. With the assistance of a very efficient MI6 officer and her foreign network, he manages not to get himself killed as he first tries to dig more deeply into the mystery, and then extricate himself when things get a little too hairy.

Quick, captivating, and highly enjoyable.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

This Week's Acquisitions

I was up in Portland this week at LibraryThing HQ, so I got to come home to a whole week's worth of book-arrivals last night:

- The Map of Time by Félix J. Palma (Atria, 2011). Publisher.

- The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips (Random House, 2011). Publisher.

- A c. 1875 King James Bible, passed down through several generations of my paternal grandmother's family, and now to me.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Researcher Gone Wild: Scholar Admits Doctoring Document

The National Archives announced on Monday afternoon that amateur historian Thomas Lowry had confessed to altering an Abraham Lincoln document in NARA's collections, changing the date on a pardon from April 14, 1864 to April 14, 1865 (the day Lincoln was assassinated). Lowry "discovered" the pardon in the late 1990s, and published a book about it in 1999 (Don't Shoot That Boy: Abraham Lincoln and Military Justice).

Kudos to archivist Trevor Plante, who grew suspicious of the date as written and brought it to the attention of the NARA inspector general, and to the investigative archivists who followed up on the hunch and interviewed Lowry. During the course of that conversation, Lowry admitted having brought a pen into the archives and altering the date.

In an interview with the NYTimes, Lowry denied making the alteration.

Unfortunately the statute of limitations on this crime has expired, so Lowry can't be prosecuted, but he's been banned from NARA facilities, and I certainly hope other research institutions will follow suit. There's a special place in hell for people who do things like this.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Flood Closes Boston Athenaeum

In an email last night to members and friends of the Boston Athenaeum, director Paula Matthews reported the very sad news that a serious flood occurred at the Athenaeum yesterday afternoon, resulting in damage to several thousand books from the circulating collection, as well as several pieces of artwork and furniture. Thankfully the leak happened during the day, so the response was immediate and well-coordinated. The books have been sent offsite to be dried.

I know I join all who love the Athenaeum in expressing my thanks to the staff for their hard work in dealing with this - having been through the aftermath of a flood like this (unfortunately one that happened in the middle of the night over the Christmas holiday), I know it's a pain to deal with, but I have no doubt that 10 1/2 Beacon Street will be its usual self before very long at all.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book Review: "O: A Presidential Novel"

What self-respecting political junkie can resist the much-hyped release this week of O: A Presidential Novel (Simon & Schuster, 2011)? The anonymity of its author (with its associated frantic speculation), coupled with the timeliness of its subject matter, make it a must-read for those of us who enjoy following the ins and outs of campaign politics just as closely as others do football (is there a game today?).

The novel is set during the 2012 campaign, which finds President O up against squeaky-clean Republican Tom Morrison, otherwise known as "Terrific Tom." Most of the book is focused on what casual readers will probably see as political inside baseball: ad buys; debate prep; internal campaign dynamics; relations between campaign staff, journalists, and donors - if we can plausibly guess one thing about the author, it's that he (or perhaps she, though after reading the book I doubt it) has been involved or associated with a national campaign in a serious way.

While O the book at times tries to get inside O the man's head, there are no meaningful insights here; in fact, the quasi-psychoanalysis of O seems more like a sort of caricature by a political rival than a serious look into the president's character and mindset. While some of the other characters are much better written and certainly add more to the story, the daily doings of O's campaign manager Cal Regan, young reporter Maddy Cohan (shades of House of Cards?), even Republican candidate Morrison and the somewhat mild villain of the piece--a big donor with a leak to peddle--simply can't carry forward a book that doesn't have a particularly exciting story to tell.

There's certainly some potential, but unfortunately the entire Republican nominating process is condensed into a few paragraphs (with a brief but unsatisfactory cameo by "The Barracuda"), and the main plot-line is far too inside-the-Beltway (not to mention just plain uninteresting) to appeal to a general audience (personally, I happened to enjoy it, but hey, I look forward to Mike Allen's "Playbook" every morning). The writing seemed just a bit strained to me, as if the author weren't used to composing dialogue and pacing a story.

I suspect we'll probably know soon enough who wrote it, if folks are inspired enough to track the author down and get him to confess. For now, if you're looking for a fast read with lots of political details, or if you're out to solve this season's major authorship mystery, O's the book for you.

Links & Reviews

- More (in fact, much more) on forger Mark Landis from the Financial Times, which again points out that the guy probably can't be prosecuted since it seems no actual crime has been committed. And the author, John Gapper, actually went and visited with Landis, who had some very interesting things to say about what he's been doing and why.

- Not surprisingly, the New Jersey Historical Society has been criticized for selling items from its collections to fill budget holes. The Abel Buell map was the big one, but a total of 25 items have been sold at Christie's since last September, with at least one more item set to go on the block in February. Some more from Rebecca at FB&C Blog.

- A manuscript map of Canada drawn in 1699 by English cartographer John Thornton sold at auction this week for $318,000.

- The NYTimes Travel section focuses on Norwich, England, today, calling it "a getaway for book lovers."

- Dr. Edward Kinzer's large collection of Walter Scott books have been donated to the University of South Carolina Aiken.

- The January Common-place is now live; it includes essays on New England cemetery preservation, trompe l'oeil art in the early republic, Anne Hutchinson's "monstrous birth," and more.

- Toronto Reference Library's large Arthur Conan Doyle collection is profiled (with lots of images) at blogTO.

- Galleycat highlighted some of the many gift books presented to President Obama during his time in office.

- The 2010 finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award have been announced.

- At Sapping Attention, Benjamin Schmidt outlines some very interesting things he's found with the Google Ngrams viewer.

- Ian Kahn was on the Discovery Channel's "Oddities" this week to investigate a book purportedly bound in human skin. Clip here.

- The Harry Ransom Center has received a $137,015 CLIR grant to catalog more than 14,000 "comedias sueltas," plays printed as pamphlets in Spain from the late 17th through the 19th centuries. The project will be completed by February 2014.

- In a NYTBR essay, James Ryerson asks "Can a novelist write philosophically?"


- Nigel Smith's Andrew Marvell: The Chameleon; review by Michael Dirda in the WaPo.

- Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters; review by Janet Maslin in the NYTimes.

- O: A Presidential Novel; review by Michiko Kakutani in the NYTimes.

- Nora Titone's My Thoughts be Bloody; review by Edward Colimore in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

- Robert Darnton's Poetry and the Police; review by Emily Parker in TNR.

- Noah Charney's Stealing the Mystic Lamb; review by Mark Lamster in the LATimes.

- Wim Klooster's Revolutions in the Atlantic World; review by Thomas Truxes in Common-place.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Book Review: "The Journal of Richard Norwood"

Richard Norwood's definitely not a household name, but he was an important figure in the history of early Bermuda, and his several works on mathematics and navigation were widely reprinted into the eighteenth century. He traveled widely in his early years, visiting Brussels, Naples and Rome all before his 25th birthday. By the end of 1613 he was in Bermuda, having gone there to engage in a pearl diving scheme (using a primitive diving bell of his own devising). That came to nothing, but Norwood was engaged to survey Bermuda and divide its land into parcels.

After twenty years in England, Norwood returned to Bermuda in 1637 as schoolmaster, and he lived out the remainder of his days on the island. In 1639 he composed an autobiographical journal of his life to that time, edited and published as The Journal of Richard Norwood (Scholars Facsimiles and Reprints, 1945). Much of the journal is spiritual in nature, recounting Norwood's struggles with religious belief and doctrine throughout his early life, but he also provides much information about his time in Bermuda and how his surveys were carried out there. He also (and most importantly for my purposes) offers some clues as to the types of things he and others in Bermuda at the time were reading and studying.

Norwood's writing style is forthright, and his honesty when describing his internal spiritual battles makes his journal somewhat more endearing than many examples of this sort of work. I laughed out loud at one passage, when he describes taking a walk after a particularly powerful religious visitation: "... my heart was so abundantly replenished with heavenly joys in consideration and sure apprehension of the love and mercy of God towards me and of the continuance thereof forever, that I did not so much walk but rather went leaping all the way, though I did as it were something check and restrain myself from that action of leaping" (p. 84).

The journal is accompanied by contextual essays on Norwood's life and writings, as well as a bibliography of his works and a transcription of his estate inventory.

Book Review: "The Riddle of the Sands"

Erskine Childers' The Riddle of the Sands (Penguin Classics, 2011) may not be the fastest-moving spy thriller you'll ever read, nor will its villains stick in your memory as particularly nasty sorts. By the same token, its protagonists aren't the James Bond-esque espionage super-heroes that we've come to expect from modern spy dramas, and there's very little in the way of action-packed moments (not once is anyone's life in any particular danger, for example).

But this 1903 novel is a fascinating early example of the thriller genre, and all the foundation-stones are there: a secret politico-military plot with nefarious traitors at its root, some good guys out to foil it, a red herring or two, a pretty girl, &c.

With its minute descriptions of yachting and obscure German coastal geography (most of the story takes place in the small islands and sandbanks near Emden), this book may not be for everyone, but I think most readers will agree that its two main characters (the curious and idiosyncratic Davies and his companion Carruthers, the narrator) are well-drawn and charming. And I'm sure that while modern readers find the danger Childers warns of here (a German invasion of England) unlikely, the original audience for this book certainly wouldn't have dismissed it casually.

A throwback to a bygone age? Perhaps, but only in the best possible way.

A Strange Tale, Now Told

Many of this blog's readers were probably familiar with the Frognall Dibdin's Shelves book blog, which purported to be the musings of a well-heeled Beacon Hill bibliophile about his reading life, his lavish lifestyle and his extensive family's deep-seated Brahmin traditions. Many of you might not have noticed that the blog simply (and totally) disappeared a few months ago (although yesterday morning it abruptly returned in a rather odd way and form).

The blog always seemed a little bit odd to me (though if I'd been asked at the time I probably wouldn't have been able to put my finger on just why it did), and eventually I came to learn that my inclinations were not entirely without foundation. Now, at last, the story has hit the newswires: Alex Beam broke the story publicly with a 7 January story in the Boston Globe, headlined "Another Phony Rockefeller," and he posted a followup piece on 21 January, "Living a Double Lie." Over at the Downeast Dilettante blog there's a long piece by Brad Emerson, a direct participant in the story, and I expect and hope we'll be seeing some more of these as events continue to unfold. For now, read this lot and you'll understand the level of deception this guy was involved with, and how it finally caught up with him.

In short, the blog's several writers were all the same person, who'd created a faux lifestyle for himself and used his blog (and the accompanying web of Facebook accounts, which I didn't see but was apparently were quite something) to wheedle his way into bibliophilic and antiquing circles in Maine and Boston. When his story began to unravel and an indictment was handed down, he went to ground, and his whereabouts are currently unknown.

It's a sad, crazy story, and there's much more still to come. Stay tuned.

This Week's Acquisitions

This week's new books:

- The Secret Soldier by Alex Berenson (Putnam, 2011). Publisher.

- The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming (St. Martin's Press, 2011). Publisher.

- A Dodo at Oxford: The Unreliable Account of a Student and His Pet Dodo; edited by Philip Atkins and Michael Johnson (Oxgarth Press, 2010). Amazon (used).

- O: A Presidential Novel by Anonymous (Simon & Schuster, 2011). Publisher.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Goblin Market" Census Query

Posted on behalf of Elaine Gilboy, since I love book censuses and try to assist in them however I can. She stresses that she is looking only for first editions that are not listed in WorldCat. Please contact her directly (though if you email me or put comments on this post I'll make sure they get to her).

" I am conducting a survey of the first edition (1862) of Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market.

I have already surveyed copies held by every Library and Institution on worldcat or with an online catalogue finding 104 of the 750 copies published so far, and I am now trying to trace privately held copies.

I have placed a request in The Book Collector magazine but would appreciate any help or ideas about how to track down other copies.

I would like to know if the copies contain any ownership information, (inscription, bookplate, library stamp, etc.) found inside the volume, a brief description of the binding and whether the copy contains adverts. My email address is

Many thanks, Elaine Gilboy"

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book Review: "The Informationist"

The Informationist (forthcoming from Crown) is, simply put, one of the best fiction debuts I've read in a very long time. Taylor Stevens has crafted a thriller that will keep you guessing until the last page, populated with a cast of unforgettable characters. The major one (and the one I'm guessing we'll see again soon) is Vanessa Michael Munroe, known for her take-no-prisoners style and her ability to get the job done, whatever it happens to be.

Stevens' book offers a well-crafted plot, in which Munroe is sent off into the wilds of equatorial West Africa to find out what happened to a Texas oilman's missing daughter, only to find herself the hunted rather than the hunter. Betrayed by those closest to her, but determined to find out the truth behind the girl's disappearance, Munroe (joined by her former drug- and gun-smuggling mentor Francisco Beyard and Houston security consultant Miles Bradford) dives back into the mystery. The rest, you'll have to read for yourself.

Good stuff - I suspect we'll be hearing quite a bit about The Informationist, and I'll be watching closely for the next Vanessa Munroe tale.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review: "The School of Night"

Louis Bayard's new novel The School of Night (forthcoming from Henry Holt) is in some ways the stereotypical "academic thriller": untimely death of a collector + somewhat bumbling friend left to figure out what's going on + infusion of cash from dead collector's rival + surprise arrival of a mysterious woman as sidekick/love interest + inscrutable encrypted manuscript which might or might not lead to buried treasure + parallel storyline set several centuries earlier featuring real historical personages which slowly converges with the contemporary plot.

Thankfully in Bayard's hands this formula actually results in a good book. He's added a few surprising twists at each stage, and created some interesting characters (some of whom I suspect we may see more of at some point). And for his historical character he's taken somehow a bit less overdone, choosing Thomas Harriot (astronomer, explorer, artist, mathematician, &c.), rather than Christopher Marlowe, the Earl of Northumberland, or Walter Ralegh. This gives him a little bit more leeway (since there's so little we know about Harriot), which he uses to his advantage.

I had a tough time putting this one down once I'd gotten started. If you're a Bayard fan, don't miss it.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Links & Reviews

- The audio of the "To Catch a Thief" panel discussion from RBMS 2010 (starring, among others, Travis McDade and Mark Dimunation) is now available here.

- Among the books selected by the ALA's Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) as2011 Outstanding Reference Sources was the wonderful Oxford Companion to the Book. Well deserved indeed!

- After a rocky week, Borders appeared close to securing refinancing for its debt, although some publishers reacted skeptically to the plan. More from Jacket Copy.

- In the Chronicle, a profile of Timothy J. Johnson, new curator of the University of Minnesota's Sherlock Holmes collection.

- The British Library has launched an app (iPhone, iPad, Android), "Treasures," which includes more than 100 collection highlights, plus interviews. It'll be updated with information on rotating exhibits.

- There's much concern in the rare book community in Utah about a potential law change that could treat used and rare book sales like pawnshop transactions, requiring all sellers to be fingerprinted and included in a state database.

- The Boston Globe ran an update this week on the National Jewish Book Center, made famous in its found Aaron Lansky's book Outwitting History.

- An interesting new tool will show you the NYTimes bestseller lists for the week you were born: just plug in your birthday here.

- E.C. Schroeder has been named Librarian of Yale's Beinecke Library, for a five-year term.

- J.L. Bell of Boston 1775 takes Google's Ngram Viewer for a spin.

- Libraries of the rich and famous: view (and drool).

- In the New Yorker, Jill Lepore writes on "The Constitution and its worshippers."

- New digital presentations from the BL include the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Old English Hexateuch, two of the major Anglo-Saxon treasures in the Library.

- A great protest in Stony Stratford, England, where a library's users have checked out all the books to show their opposition to council plans to close the library.

- Stacy Schiff writes on Nancy Mitford's 1957 book Voltaire in Love, and why it makes for good reading.

- The very cool New Bedford Moby Dick marathon got some coverage on NPR, which is excellent to see.

- Via Jim Watts at Iconic Books, Reina del Cid's song "Library Girl" (YouTube).

- Joanne Freeman, who's working on a book about violence in Congress has a piece in the NYTimes, "When Congress was Armed and Dangerous."

- LA's Mystery Bookstore will be closing at the end of the month.

- CCSU has compiled its statistics for America's Most Literate Cities, 2010.

- A cipher sent to Thomas Jefferson in December 1801 has been cracked, apparently for the first time. A fitting message, too!

- Robert McCrum writes in the Guardian on the potential impact of ebooks on copyright.

- The NYTimes' Randy Kennedy has more on mystery-forger Mark Landis.

- A report to the European Union urges national governments to take a greater role in digitization projects, rather than leaving it up to private companies.

- From The Week, some speculation on the authorship of the forthcoming anonymous O: A Presidential Novel (my own guess: Ana-Marie Cox, although I confess I have little evidence for it).

- Some fascinating new finds: in the Library of Congress, an unpublished manuscript version of Federico García Lorca's poem "Oficina y denuncia," and in the John Carter Brown Library, a manuscript map found within the binding of a volume of the proceedings of a Massachusetts/Rhode Island boundary commission.

- The JFK Library's Digital Archive is now open.

- In the NYTimes, Penelope Green writes on new trends in the use of books in interior design, and various ways "books" are being marketed for such uses including Restoration Hardware's "book bundle" and the new Pottery Barn version.


- Jill Lepore's The Whites of Their Eyes; review by Gordon Wood in the NYRB. Lots of discussions going on about this review, including here, here, and here

- Nigel Smith's Andrew Marvell; review by Nick Laird in the Telegraph.

- Sherry Turkle's Alone Together; review by David Weinberger in the Boston Globe.

- Ann Blair's Too Much to Know; review by Michael Dirda in the WaPo.

- Rachel Hewitt's Map of a Nation; review by Alan McNee in the TLS.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

This Week's Acquisitions

Just about all of this week's new books are from the ARC extravaganza that is ALA Midwinter:

- The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Little, Brown, 2011). Publisher.

The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht (Random House, 2011). Publisher.

- History of the Book in Canada (3 v.) (University of Toronto Press, 2004-2007). SHARP (for review).

What the World is Reading: Excerpts from a Selection of Bestselling Paperback Titles from Penguin Group (USA) (Penguin, 2010). Publisher.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, 2011). Publisher.

Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Discover the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton by Richard Horan (Harper Perennial, 2011). Publisher.

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure (Riverhead, 2011). Publisher.

Twenty-five Books That Shaped America: How White Whales, Green Lights, and Restless Spirits Forged Our National Identity by Thomas C. Foster (Harper Paperbacks, 2011). Publisher.

The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia's Convict Women by Deborah J. Swiss (Berkley Hardcover, 2011). Publisher.

Every Day by the Sun: A Memoir of the Faulkners of Mississippi by Dean Faulkner Wells (Crown, 2011). Publisher.

Winged Obsession: The Pursuit of the World's Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler by Jessica Speart (William Morrow, 2011). Publisher.

American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked a Revolution by Harlow Giles Unger (Da Capo Press, 2011). Publisher.

13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro (Reagan Arthur Books, 2011). Publisher.

The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker (Algonquin Books, 2011). Publisher.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (Viking Adult, 2011). Publisher.

The Informationist: A Thriller by Taylor Stevens (Crown, 2011). Publisher.

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin (Delacorte Press, 2011). Publisher.

The School of Night by Louis Bayard (Henry Holt, 2011). Publisher.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Review: "The Sherlockian"

Graham Moore's debut novel is The Sherlockian (Twelve, 2010), which features alternating storylines set in the present (with the mysterious death of a prominent Holmes scholar) and in the fall of 1900 (starring Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker as amateur detectives).

At first I was a little worried: some of the writing in the opening chapters is a bit clunky ("Alex's bushy light brown hair squatted on his head like a chicken laying an egg"), and Moore's main character in the modern plot, scholar Harold White, is one of those characters who is at once intelligent and also stupendously stupid. The plot as it unfolds is somewhat improbable (and the ending even more so), and just about all the modern characters were quite unlikeable.

The Conan Doyle storyline was much more entertaining, sort of in the vein of Julian Barnes' Arthur & George, although once again there were a few elements (including a very unlikely episode of transvestism) that strained credulity.

Overall, if you're a fan of Holmes pastiches this is another to add to your shelf, and it does make a fast, entertaining read (great for a plane ride, I found), even with the eye-rolling moments. In all likelihood I'll read whatever Mr. Moore comes out with next; I think he's certainly a writer to keep an eye on.

Book Review: "The Midnight Palace"

Carlos Ruiz Zafón's latest novel to be published in the US is The Midnight Palace (forthcoming from Little, Brown), now translated by Lucia Graves. Another dark, somewhat-supernatural story from Zafón, this one set in 1930s Calcutta and starring a group of young children out to solve a mystery and quiet a restless spirit before it does them harm.

While I would have liked some further character development, the texture and style of Zafón's writing makes it compulsively readable, and the tension he's able to build up through the telling certainly kept me turning the pages. He's very good at bringing cities and buildings to live, a skill which is certainly on display in The Midnight Palace.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Links & Reviews

Happy Sunday from San Diego, where ALA Midwinter continues apace! Apologies for the abbreviated L&R this weekend; I'll catch up more next Sunday.

- In the NYTimes, Paul Collins identifies the writer of the first detective novel.

- Over at the Princeton Rare Books blog, Steve Ferguson writes on the dispersal of the book collection(s) of Sylvia Beach.

- Raymond Scott has now said he will launch an appeal against his conviction and sentence.

- The OED is offering a month's free trial to their online version, good through 5 February only.

- J.L. Bell notes the major mistake made this week during the symbolic reading of the Constitution by the new House of Representatives (hint: they skipped a page).

- Zotero welcomed Debbie Maron as their new Community Lead.

- In the Boston Globe, Katherine Powers takes a look at some books on the King James Bible, published 400 years ago. There's more on the KJV from Peter Ross in The Scotsman.

- Also in the Globe, Erica Noonan writes on Rob Martello's new book Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn, which looks at Paul Revere as an industrial pioneer.

- The Little Professor reviews the new movie "The King's Speech."


- James Shapiro's Contested Will; review by David Evans in the Independent.

- A Dodo at Oxford; review by Nick at Mercurius Politicus.

- Graham Moore's The Sherlockian; review by Diane White in the Boston Globe.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

This Week's Acquisitions (and Last Week's)

I realized that I forgot to post acquisitions last week, so this covers the period from Christmas on:

- The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War by James Bradley (Back Bay Books, 2010). Gift.

- Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by Roger Tory Peterson (Houghton Mifflin, 2010). Amazon.

- The Axe and the Oath: Ordinary Life in the Middle Ages by Robert Fossier (Princeton University Press, 2010). Brattle Bookshop.

- Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society; edited by Bill Bryson (William Morrow, 2010). Brattle.

- Voltaire's Calligrapher by Pablo De Santis (Harper Perennial, 2010). Brattle.

- The English Lakes: A History by Ian Thompson (Bloomsbury, 2010). Brattle.

- The Sherlockian by Graham Moore (Twelve, 2010). Barnes & Noble.

- Another edition of Telemaque, this a French/German edition published at Ulm, 1811. Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Off to Midwinter!

At a very early hour tomorrow morning I'll be off to San Diego for ALA Midwinter, so posts here may be a bit sluggish over the weekend (or at least on West Coast time). LibraryThing will be exhibiting at Booth 2823, so be sure to stop by!

As for reading material, I have Graham Moore's new novel The Sherlockian, the winter issue of Journal of the Early Republic, most of last week's New Yorker, and a few assorted articles, &c. I'm also bringing along a field guide to West Coast birds, in case I have a few moments before exhibit-times in the morning to get out and walk a bit.

Hope to see you in San Diego!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Student Pleads Guilty to Theft from Drew Archives

I was just thinking last week how odd it was that we'd heard nothing about the William John Scott case, in which (now-former) Drew University freshman and part-time archives employee was accused of stealing more than 30 letters from the university archives.

Word tonight that Scott has entered a guilty plea, and that all but one of the stolen items have now been returned to the archives. The only item still missing is half of a 1755 John Wesley letter.

The plea agreement reportedly does not include a recommended sentence. A preliminary sentencing date of 15 April has been set.

More as I get it.

Borders, Bloomsbury, Bowdlerizing Twain - Bad News All Around

Yesterday brought not-so-good biblio-world news in a very alliterative way:

- Borders is in talks with publishers to request that the company's payments be restructured so that it can refinance its debt. Meanwhile, shares fell 12.5% on Tuesday, to $.84.

- Bloomsbury auction house is conducting a "strategic review" of its New York branch, which opened three years ago but has seen limited success. A sale lined up for this month has been cancelled, and no sales are currently scheduled.

- A bowdlerized edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will be released in February.

Book Review: "The Wolves of Andover"

Kathleen Kent's latest novel, The Wolves of Andover (Reagan Arthur, 2010) serves as a prequel to her previous novel, The Heretic's Daughter (2008; my review), treating the early 1670s rather than the period of the witchcraft crisis twenty years later. Here we find a younger Martha Allen as she meets and gradually falls in love with Thomas Carrier, whose backstory plays a major part in the plot development of this novel.

Kent intersperses the story of Martha and Thomas with a mini-thriller subplot, in which hired assassins are sent to New England under the orders of Charles II to find and capture or kill the regicides (those personally responsible for the death of Charles I, many of whom had crossed to the colonies). Unfortunately the assassin characters never quite get developed enough, so while this portion of the book had great potential, it ended up falling somewhat flat for me.

In general, as with Kent's last book, I quite liked the obvious research she'd put into the composition of the text (she moved some things around and fleshed out backstories, as you'd have to, but there's definitely some historical foundation here). If reading this book makes anyone more interested in the fascinating episode of the regicides in New England, it's done its job, as far as I'm concerned.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Book Review: "Unlikely Allies"

Joel Richard Paul's Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution (Riverhead, 2009) highlights the activities of American diplomat Silas Deane, Pierre-Augustine Caron de Beaumarchais (author of "The Barber of Seville" and "The Marriage of Figaro") and the Chevalier d'Eon (a transvestite soldier-spy). First things first: while Deane and Beaumarchais did work together in arranging the Franco-American alliance, and while d'Eon and Beaumarchais were connected in early 1770s London (when Beaumarchais negotiated on behalf of the French government to recover secret documents d'Eon had in his possession), there is no suggestion that this trio working together "saved the American Revolution." In fact, the sections on d'Eon fit very oddly with the rest of the book, and seem to have been included simply for the fact that d'Eon makes for a curious character.

So, having gotten that out of the way, let's set the subtitle aside and turn to the meat of the story, which covers Deane's involvement with Beaumarchais in order to provide much-needed funding and supplies to the American war effort. As an account of the fascinating diplomatic tangles the American commissioners (Deane, Arthur Lee, and Franklin) worked themselves into as they sought to ally the rebellious American colonies with France while fighting amongst themselves and attempting (entirely unsuccessfully) to avoid British spying, Unlikely Allies works. Paul ably recounts the rivalries between the commissioners (which ultimately led to Deane's recall by Congress) and the British infiltration of their mission (several of the secretaries were spies, including Dr. Edward Bancroft), bringing a good sense of drama to the complicated diplomatic and political wranglings which ultimately resulted in the alliance.

A few minor typographical and other errors mar the text, which otherwise (setting aside the awkward inclusion of the d'Eon sections) is very readable and captivating. The notes are not indicated in the text (and certain statements I wanted citations for didn't have them), but at least the bibliography is extensive.

Generally, an interesting look at an important and convoluted episode of Revolutionary history.

Links & Reviews

- The panels from this fall's "Why Books?" conference (my report) are now available in iTunes, so if you missed it, you can catch up on the excellent talks.

- One of the Transylvania Four thieves has self-published a book about the heist, Mr. Pink (available from several Kentucky bookstores, not that I'm recommending purchasing it). Travis McDade recaps the thefts and comments on Allen's book in an NPR segment (mp3).

- In the Telegraph, a look ahead to the new books that will hit (UK) shelves in 2011.

- AE Monthly reports that Sir Evelyn de Rothschild and the auction house Dominic Winter have settled their lawsuit, which stems from the David Slade thefts.

- The NYTimes "Windows on the World" series features Jorge Luis Borges' library window.

- Also in AE Monthly, Bruce McKinney reflects on the "American Experience" sale at Bonhams in December (my report), noting that overall the sale brought a 20% premium over the original purchase prices, and that the "high spots" continued to sell well while "less rare" items fell behind.

- In the NYTimes this week, some excellent coverage for the Bentham Project's crowdsourced transcription efforts.

- From BibliOdyssey, some early natural history watercolors from a South Carolina artist.

- "Arts & Letters Daily" editor Denis Dutton has died. The Chronicle of Higher Education has signaled that it will continue the site.

- Alberto Manguel has posted a list [PDF] of his hundred favorite books.

- The Top 500 Auction sales for 2010, as tracked by Michael Stillman. Number 500 sold for $47,806, an 8.5% rise over last year.

- Durham University has revealed its plans for restoration work on its recovered First Folio, including paper repairs and a new binding. Meanwhile, Raymond Scott speaks to the Sunday Sun about his time in prison, noting a visit to the prison library where he jokingly tried to make off with a copy of Shakespeare's works. This interview seems to contradict the last Scott rumor we had, that he was working in the prison library).

- Daniel Mendelsohn's piece in this week's New Yorker on the Vatican Library and its staff is absolutely a must-read (it's not all online, so go buy the magazine or subscribe online). Also check out the slideshow of Vatican manuscripts.


- Robert Morrison's The English Opium-Eater; review by Michael Dirda in the WaPo.

- The Autobiography of Mark Twain; review by James Campbell in the Telegraph.

- Pauline Maier's Ratification; review by Rosemary Zagarri in the WaPo.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Literary Anniversaries 2011

Like last year, I'll highlight a few of the notable anniversaries coming up in 2011:

50 years ago (1961):
- Jasper Fforde born, 11 January.
- Dashiell Hammett dies, 10 January.
- Ernest Hemingway dies, 2 July.
- James Thurber dies, 2 November.
- Sheila Burnford's The Incredible Journey published.
- Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach published.
- Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land published.
- Joseph Heller's Catch-22 published.
- Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins wins the Newbery Medal.
- Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird wins the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

100 years ago (1911):
- Elizabeth Bishop born, 8 February.
- L. Ron Hubbard born, 13 March.
- Tennessee Williams born, 26 March.
- Mervyn Peake born, 9 July.
- Marshall McLuhan born, 21 July.
- William Golding born, 19 September.
- Naguib Mahfouz born, 11 December.
- Howard Pyle dies, 9 November.
- Eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica published.
- Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden published.
- Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome published.
- Count Maeterlinck wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.

150 years ago (1861):
- Charles Dickens' Great Expectations published.
- George Eliot's Silas Marner published.

200 years ago (1811):
- Arthur Hallam born, 1 February.
- Horace Greeley born, 3 February.
- Harriet Beecher Stowe born, 14 June.
- Théophile Gautier born, 31 August.
- Heinrich von Kleist dies, 21 November.
- Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility published.

250 years ago (1761):
- August von Kotzebue born, 3 May.
- Samuel Richardson dies, 4 July.

300 years ago (1711):
- David Hume born, 26 April.
- Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism published.
- Shaftesbury's Characteristicks published.
- The Spectator founded.

350 years ago (1661):
- Charles Rollin born, 30 January.
- Paul de Rapin born, 25 March.
- Robert Boyle's The Sceptical Chymist published.

400 years ago (1611):
- King James Bible published, 2 May.
- Shakespeare's The Tempest first performed, 1 November.

450 years ago (1561):
- Sir Francis Bacon born, 22 January.
- John Harington born, 4 August.

500 years ago (1511):
- Erasmus' Moriae encomium seu laus stultitiae (The Praise of Folly) printed.

550 years ago (1461):
- Zanobi Acciaoli (librarian of the Vatican) born, 25 May.