Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 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 gladly update the post.

- Bella Jozef, d. January. Brazilian literary scholar. Guardian Obit.

- Dick King-Smith, d. 4 January. British childrens' book author. Guardian Obit.

- Flo Gibson, d. 7 January. Audiobook reader extraordinaire. NYTimes Obit.

- Ruth Cavin, d. 9 January. Editor, publisher. Boston Globe Obit.

- John Gross, d. 10 January. Literary scholar; TLS editor. Guardian Obit.

- Joe Gores, d. 10 January. Mystery writer. NYTimes Obit.

- Sun Axelsson, d. 14 January. Swedish poet, novelist. SvD Obit.

- Romulus Linney, d. 15 January. Playwright. NYTimes Obit.

- Wilfrid Sheed, d. 19 January. Novelist; memoirist. NYTimes Obit.

- Reynolds Price, d. 20 January. Novelist. NYTimes Obit.

- F.A. Nettelbeck, d. 20 January. Poet. Obit.

- R.F. Langley, d. 26 January. Poet; diarist. Guardian Obit.

- Diana Norman (aka Ariana Franklin), d. 27 January. Journalist; novelist. Guardian Obit.

- Brian Jacques, d. 5 February. Childrens' author. NYTimes Obit.

- Margaret K. McElderry, d. 14 February. Childrens' book editor. NYTimes Obit.

- Perry Moore, d. 17 February. Young adult novelist; movie producer. NYTimes Obit.

- Jay Landesman, d. 20 February. Beat writer; editor. NYTimes Obit.

- Manny Fried, d. 25 February. Playwright. Buffalo News Obit.

- Hazel Rowley, d. 1 March. Biographer. NYTimes Obit.

- May Cutler, d. 3 March. Canadian author and publisher. Star Obit.

- Steven Kroll, d. 8 March. Childrens' author. NYTimes Obit.

- Gabriel Laderman, d. 10 March. Artist; bibliophile. NYTimes Obit.

- Raymond Garlick, d. 19 March. Poet; critic. Independent Obit.

- Diana Wynne-Jones, d. 26 March. Children's author. Guardian Obit.

- H.R.F. Keating, d. 27 March. Crime writer. Guardian Obit.

- Peter B. Howard, d. 31 March. Antiquarian bookseller. Berkleyside Obit.

- Craig Thomas, d. 4 April. Welsh Novelist. WalesOnline Obit.

- Arthur Marx, d. 14 April. Writer; playwright. LATimes Obit.

- Gonzalo Rojas, d. 25 April. Chilean poet. Telegraph Obit.

- Joanna Russ, d. 29 April. Science fiction writer. Locus Online Obit.

- Ernesto Sabato, d. 30 April. Argentine novelist/essayist. Independent Obit.

- Kate Swift, d. 7 May. Writer. NYTimes Obit.

- Newton Thornburg, d. 9 May. Novelist. Independent Obit.

- Trevor Howard-Hill, d. 1 June. Bibliographer. Independent Obit.

- Lilian Jackson Braun, d. 4 June. Mystery writer. NYTimes Obit.

- Jorge Semprún, d. 7 June. Spanish novelist/screenwriter. NYTimes Obit.

- Patrick Leigh Fermor, d. 10 June. British travel writer. NYTimes Obit.

- Iain Blair (Emma Blair), d. 3 July. Scottish romance novelist. Telegraph Obit.

- Geraint Bowen, d. 16 July. Welsh post. Independent Obit.

- Hilary Evans, d. 27 July. Author; illustration librarian. Guardian Obit.

- L.A. Banks, d. 2 August. Novelist.

- Price Berkley, d. 21 August. Founder/publisher of Theatrical Index. NYTimes Obit.

- Sue Allen, d. 25 August. Rare Book School faculty member; expert on American publisher's bindings. Ex-Libris announcement.

- Ruth Thomas, d. 25 August. British novelist. Guardian Obit.

- Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, d. 26 August. Novelist. NYTimes Obit.

- William B. Todd, d. 27 August. Bibliophile/bibliographer. Austin American-Statesman Obit.

- Michael Hart, d. 6 September. Project Gutenberg founder. NYTimes Obit.

- Richard Landon, d. 5 October. Director of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto. University of Toronto Obit.

- Milded Savage, d. 7 October. Novelist. NYTimes Obit.

- Stanley Mitchell, d. 16 October. Translator. Independent Obit.

- Morris Philipson, d. 3 November. Director of Chicago University Press. NYTimes Obit.

- Les Daniels, d. 5 November. Comic book historian. NYTimes Obit.

- Barbara Grier, d. 10 November. Publisher. NYTimes Obit.

- Ruth Stone, d. 19 November. Poet. NYTimes Obit.

- Anne McCaffrey, d. 21 November. Science-fiction novelist. NYTimes Obit.

- Christa Wolf, d. 1 December. German writer.

- Christopher Logue, d. 2 December. Poet. Economist Obit.

- Russell Hoban, d. 13 December. Novelist; childrens' book author. Guardian Obit.

- George Whitman, d. 14 December. Founder of Paris bookstore Shakespeare & Co. NYTimes Obit.

- Christopher Hitchens, d. 15 December. Writer; commentator. NYTimes Obit.

- Emmett L. Bennett, Jr., d 15 December. Classicist who deciphered Linear B. NYTimes Obit.

- Vaclav Havel, d. 18 December. Czech playwright. AP Obit.

- Simms Taback, d 25 Decemer. Children's book illustrator. NYTimes Obit.

This Week's Acquisitions

A few Christmas gifts this week, plus a couple other new arrivals:

- On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling by Michael Dirda (Princeton University Press, 2011). Gift.

- Room by Emma Donoghue (Back Bay Books, 2011). Gift.

- The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72 by Molly Peacock (Bloomsbury, 2011). Gift.

- His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik (Del Rey, 2006). Powells.

- Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea by Morgan Callan Rogers (Viking, 2012). Publisher.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Year-End Reading Report 2011

Another year of reading slips away, and on to 2012!

I read 111 books in 2011, for an average of one every 3.3 days. Given that I started a new job, moved house, and wasn't reading maniacally as an awards judge like last year, I rate this year's as a fairly good effort. Of course the books continue to come in faster than I can read them, but there's nothing for that, I'm afraid. Normally I'd wait until tomorrow afternoon to post this, but I've resolved not to start a book book today and use the rest of 2011 to read some of the various piled-up periodicals, so I think I'm safe in putting this out a bit early.

Of this year's reading, just 31 titles were published before 2011 (see my resolution below), with 80 titles published this year (a full 72% of the total). The titles broke down into 66 fiction and 45 non-fiction books (59% fiction, 41% non-fiction).

One of this winter's goals is to finally get all the books in order on the shelves again; they've settled in nicely, but it would certainly be handy to know where to look when I'm on the hunt for something.

And now, my top ten fiction and non-fiction reads for 2011 (in no particular order within the lists):


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

- Pym by Mat Johnson (Spiegel & Grau, 2011). Review.

- The Technologists by Matthew Pearl (Random House, 2012). Review.

- A Study in Sherlock, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger (Bantam, 2011). Review.

- His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik (Del Rey, 2006). Review.

- Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (Quirk, 2011). Review.

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

- The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (Putnam, 2011). Review.

- Scorch City by Toby Ball (St. Martin's, 2011). Review.

- The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011). Review.


- Edward Bancroft: Scientist, Author, Spy by Thomas J. Schaeper (Yale University Press, 2011). Review.

- Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster, 2011). Review.

- Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage by Vincent Carretta (University of Georgia Press, 2011). Review.

- Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie (Random House, 2011). Review.

- Books: A Living History by Martyn Lyons (J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011). Review.

Special mention, since it doesn't really fit into a category as such, goes to A Dodo at Oxford, edited by Philip Atkins and Michael Johnson (Oxgarth Press, 2010). Review.

Simply from the number of their publications in my top-ten lists, Random House is the clear winner of my Publisher of the Year nod, but I'll also give Yale University Press special mention again this year, along with Bloomsbury. Kudos to all three for their fantastic titles.

My reading resolution for 2012, since I spent so much time reading brand-new books in 2011, is to go back and play some serious catch-up.

Happy New Year, and may your 2012 be filled with good health, good fortune, and good books!

Previous year's reports: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006.

Book-shopping on Christmas Eve

During a last-minute, impromptu visit to Carlson & Turner on Christmas Eve I picked up a couple examples of early American printing for the Rare Book School collection. One of them, an edition of Sallust printed at New York in 1817 (it's missing the title page, but a look at WorldCat and Google Books confirms it as the 1817, one of several editions published in NYC (or at Novi-Eboraci, as it is given in the imprint) by James Eastburn.

I bought it for the nice little book label on the front pastedown, for D.C. printers and booksellers Davis & Force (that's William A. Davis, formerly of New York, and Peter Force, who would later edit American Archives.) Only when I looked more closely at it later did I see the very cute use of the "D.C." in the label to make "December 24th 1829" (or possibly 1825). So, it looks a bit like someone else had been doing a little Christmas Eve book-shopping!

Book Review: "His Majesty's Dragon"

Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon (Del Rey, 2006) was one of the most-ordered books for LibraryThing's SantaThing program this year, and when I mentioned that I hadn't heard of it, a chorus of fans urged me to give it a read. I'm glad I did: what fun! Novik's created a fascinating alternative history where dragons thrive and are deployed as massive and effective combat units.

When Captain Will Laurence of the Royal Navy and his crew capture a French frigate, little do they know that stowed beneath the decks is an extremely valuable, and ready-to-hatch dragon egg. Laurence's life changes in an instant when the dragon, Temeraire, emerges from his shell, and the unlikely pair find themselves called upon to serve king and country against Bonaparte's French forces (which utilize a whole host of their own dragons, of course).

Novik's talents at building a richly-textured world, complete with historical and scientific background on dragon-breeding and a complex Aerial Corps culture, are prodigious. And Temeraire - well, if you can make it through this book without wanting to spend an afternoon conversing with this fictional dragon ... what a character.

Sort of like the Aubrey-Maturin books, but with dragons. Certainly good fun, and a wonderful way to lose a few hours. I've already sent for the next two books in the series.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Review: "Republic of Words"

Susan Goodman's Republic of Words: The Atlantic Monthly and Its Writers, 1857-1925 (University Press of New England, 2011) is an unconventional history of a magazine. "From the beginning," Goodman writes, "The Atlantic's authority rested on its contributors: the poets, novelists, essayists, political figures, scientists, geologists, explorers, social scientists, and their fellow writers in multiple fields, new and old" (xi). Most chapters focus on a particular episode of an Atlantic writer's career which was connected in some way to the magazine's story and "speaks in its way about the magazine's self-made responsibilities and the writer's sense of an underlying national consciousness" (xi).

Goodman focuses on the period from 1857 through 1925, from the beginning through the post-WWI era when the magazine found itself facing new rivals and a changing audience. A short final chapter looks beyond the 1920s to the big changes faced by the magazine since then, including the move from its original Boston home to Washington, D.C. in 2005.

The book's chapters may focus on seemingly small episodes in the life of the Atlantic, but Goodman also manages to create an overarching narrative of a publication changing over time, not just with the shifting preferences and tastes of successive editors, but also in response to the political, literary, scientific, and social climate of the day (even if in some cases it did take a while to catch up). It certainly helps to have such an intriguing stable of writers to choose from: among those profiled here are Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Henry James, Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Robert Frost, W.E.B DuBois, and Amy Lowell (just to scratch the surface).

Among the most interesting chapters are those on the contretemps stirred up by Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1869 when she insinuated that Lord Byron had slept with his half-sister, the debates between Louis Agassiz and Asa Gray over scientific theory, and on Mark Twain's unintentional (and poorly-received) "roast" of the magazine's founders at a dinner celebrating John Greenleaf Whittier's 70th birthday.

A few small errors have crept into the text (the author of Wild Animals I Have Known was Ernest Thompson Seton, not Thomas Seton, for example), but they do little to undermine this fascinating look at a publication which has survived through thick and thin, trying as ever to "be the exponent of what its conductors believe to be the American idea" (6).

Monday, December 26, 2011

Links & Reviews

- In yesterday's NYTimes, Jennifer Schuessler covers Matt Kirschenbaum's research on the history of word processing (to be published in 2013 as "Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing").

- From the 14 December New Republic, a profile of accused document thief Barry Landau. Some new details here, including that some 2,000 items seized from Landau's apartment are now believed to have been stolen.

- A number of rare books and manuscripts were destroyed when the Institute of Egypt building was burned during protests. Police have already arrested one man for trying to sell manuscripts stolen from the library.

- There are a couple good pieces relating to print history in the year-end Economist, including a profile of Albrecht Dürer as entrepeneur and "How Luther Went Viral."

- John Overholt reports that a volume of proceedings from the fantastic 2009 conference on Samuel Johnson has now been published as Johnson After Three Centuries: New Light on Texts and Contexts (Harvard University Press). Five papers from the conference are included, as well as a bibliography of research on the Dictionary published between 1955 and 2009 (compiled by Jack Lynch).

- In an 8-part YouTube series, Michael Suarez talks about Oxford Scholarly Editions Online. Part 1 begins here.

- From Echoes from the Vault, a fantastic manicule from the incunabula collection of Archbishop William Schreves.

- In the Guardian, Wayne Gooderham writes about interesting inscriptions he's discovered in secondhand books.

- Writing in the NYTimes, Marilynne Robinson discusses the influence of the Bible on literature.

- New from the Internet Archive, a live status board showing recently-scanned books.

- From The Age newspaper, an interesting story about carbon-dating some elm leaves found in a 1540 Great Bible.

- David Weinberger talked to the CBC about ShelfLife and LibraryCloud, two projects of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab.

- Over at the Collation, a look at "reduce, reuse, recycle" in early modern books. If you're not already reading this great new blog, start immediately.

- Michael Sims talked to NPR about his recently-edited The Dead Witness: A Connoiseuer's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories.

- Randall Stross writes in the NYTimes about the state of the "tug-of-war" between publishers and librarians over e-book purchases.

- The Fine Books Blog's "Bright Young Things" series continues, with Nate Pedersen interviewing David Eilenberger of Eilenberger Rare Books.


- Jonathan Israel's Democratic Enlightenment; review by Darrin M. McMahon in the NYTimes.

- Anthony Horowitz's The House of Silk (and other Holmesian novels and t.v./film adaptations); review by D.J. Taylor in the WSJ.

- Stella Tillyard's Tides of War; review by Charles McGrath in the NYTimes.

- Grolier Club exhibition "Printing for Kingdom, Empire & Republic: Treasures from the Archives of the Imprimerie Nationale"; review by David Dunlap in the NYTimes.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

This Week's Acquisitions

The books of the week:

- Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin (Penguin, 2011). Publisher.

- In the Words of Women: The Revolutionary War and the Birth of the Nation, 1765-1799; edited by Louise V. North, Janet M. Wedge, and Landa M. Freeman (Lexington Books, 2011). Editor.

- Marks in Books, Illustrated and Explained by Roger E. Stoddard (Houghton Library, 1985). Brattle Bookshop [with many thanks to the eagle-eyed Bill Johnston]

- Arcadia by Lauren Groff (Voice, 2012). Publisher.

- The Social Conquest of Earth by Edward O. Wilson (Liveright, 2012). Publisher.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review: "Books: A Living History"

All too often, books like Books: A Living History are bedeviled by bad writing, bad design, bad illustrations, or some combination of the three. I'm extremely pleased to say that this is very much an exception to that trend. Published by the J. Paul Getty Museum in the U.S. (Thames & Hudson in the U.K.), Books: A Living History combines an excellent, lively text by historian of the book Martyn Lyons with spared-no-expense design and illustrations.

Lyons' text is a good, broad overview of book history from the beginning to the present, broken into short chapters and sections for easy browsing. While anyone interested in the topic will want to see more of their particular hobbyhorse (provenance and personal libraries in my case), there's a bit here for all, with essays on the origins of writing and printing, monastic libraries, print in the Islamic world, scientific printing, copyright, romance novels, modern publishing, &c. &c.

The text is greatly enhanced by the presence of a vast number of beautifully-reproduced illustrations, many of which were new to me (these are not, blessedly, the same stock images that have been appearing in every illustrated history of the book for eons). And the designers have done a great job integrating the text and the illustrations into a very nice physical object; I'm sorry, but no e-reader would do this book justice. From the eye-catching jacket design to the accessible prose, this is a book sure to appeal to any bibliophile.

Book Review: "The Odd Clauses"

Boston University law professor Jay Wexler's new book The Odd Clauses: Understanding the Constitution through Ten of its Most Curious Provisions (Beacon Press) is an amusing romp through constitutional provisions that most of us probably don't think about very much (if we've heard of them at all). Wexler opens his book by offering up the analogy of the Constitution as a zoo, noting that if "the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth amendments were a lion, a giraffe, and a panda bear, respectively, then this book is about the Constitution's shrews, wombats, and bat-eared foxes" (ix).

For each of his ten chapters, Wexler examines the "odd clause" in question and draws out the larger constitutional principle at stake (using the titles of nobility clauses to discuss federalism, for example, and the incompatability clause to talk about separation of powers). He also usually discusses any relevant jurisprudence or debates that have sprung around the clause in question, and often spins out some hypothetical scenario in which the clause could one day be front page news (say if Ron Paul were to get his way and the government began issuing letters of marque and reprisal to private companies so that they could hunt pirates off Somalia).

While the zoo analogy does wear a bit over the course of the book, and Wexler's style of humorous asides may not be to every taste, I certainly learned something from this book, and would recommend it to anyone interested in a quirky overview of American constitutionalism.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Links & Reviews

- Don't miss the short YouTube video taken at last month's Boston Book Fair!

- Sotheby's London had planned to include an extensive archive of Naguib Mahfouz material in their Thursday sale, but an outcry from Mahfouz family members and others forced them to pull the lot.

- The Telegraph reports on the sale of that unpublished Charlotte Brontë miniature manuscript, which went to Paris' Musée des Lettres et Manucrits even though the Brontë Parsonage Museum had pulled together a £600,000 bid.

- Rare books and manuscripts were reportedly damaged when the historic Institute of Egypt building near Cairo caught fire during protests yesterday. The culture minister called the fire "a catastrophe for science."

- I'm very much looking forward to listening to the panels and keynotes from the "Humanities in a Digital Age" symposium, held at UVA this fall. The talks are now available as podcasts.

- At The Collation, Heather Wolfe has a great post about "manuscript reunions."

- The Vatican Library has announced that it will be scanning 80,000 of its manuscripts.

- Cambridge University has digitized a notebook written by Isaac Newton while at Trinity College in the 1660s. Also see Cory Doctorow's BoingBoing post about copyright claims.

- Matthew Reisz wrote about digital humanities in the THE this week.

- An important new article from the Electronic British Library Journal, "The Library Catalogues of Sir Hans Sloane: Their Authors, Organization, and Functions" by Amy Blakeway [PDF].


- Kate Chisholm's Wits & Wives: Dr. Johnnson in the Company of Women; review by Ophelia Field in the Telegraph.

- Anthony Horowitz's The House of Silk; review at The Little Professor.

- P.D. James' Death Comes to Pemberley; review by Liesl Schillinger in the NYTimes.

- David O. Stewart's American Emperor; review by Joyce Appleby in the Washington Post.

- Umberto Eco's The Prague Cemetery; review by Nick Owchar in the LATimes.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

This Week's Acquisitions

Another good hodgepodge of a week:

- The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, and A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy by Laurence Sterne (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1906). Green Hand.

- The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett (Corgi Books, 1986). Green Hand.

- Jack Maggs by Peter Carey (Knopf, 1998). Green Hand.

- Treason's Harbour by Patrick O'Brian (W.W. Norton, 1992). Longfellow Books.

- The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian (W.W. Norton, 1992). Longfellow Books.

- This is Not the End of the Book: A Conversation Curated by Jean-Philippe De Tonnac by Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carrière (Harvill Secker, 2011). Amazon (secondhand).

- The Death of King Arthur: The Immortal Legend by Thomas Malory; retold by Peter Ackroyd (Viking, 2011). Publisher.

- Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer by Wesley Stace (Picador, 2011). Amazon.

- Books: A Living History by Martyn Lyons (Getty, 2011). Publisher.

- Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books; edited by Leah Price (Yale University Press, 2011). Publisher.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Auction Report: December Sales

It's been quite a fortnight for Sotheby's book auctions!

- The 6 December Western and Oriental Manuscripts at Sotheby's London brought in a total of £987,900. Lot 45, Walter Hilton's Scala perfectionis, which I pointed out in my preview as having some some wonderfully gruesome penwork illustrations, ended up being the top seller, fetching £181,250. A 12th-century manuscript of Isidore of Seville's Etymologies also did well, selling for £109,250. Several Books of Hours also far surpassed pre-sale estimates. Ludolf of Saxony's Vita Christi, which had rated the top estimate, failed to sell.

- Swann's Maps, Atlases, Natural History and Historical Prints on 8 December saw a 1775 Fry map of Virginia take the top spot, making $28,800.

- Sotheby's New York's Fine Books & Manuscripts sale on 13 December was the whopper of the month, bringing in a total of $7,406,138. The original Apple Computer contract ended up claiming the top price, at $1,594,500, while the George Washington letter from the Bennington Museum's collection sold for $362,500. Hans Bellmer's Les Jeux de la poupée (1949) fetched $302,500 (much more than the $30,000-50,000 estimate). A fragment of a ~1456-58 Gutenberg edition of Donatus' Ars minor reached the same price. Top among the Chandler lots was a copy of The Big Sleep inscribed to his first wife; it sold for $254,500. The notebook of Rabindranath Tagore made $170,500. Watch the winter issue of Fine Books & Collections for my rundown of this sale.

- The first edition of Graham Greene's Rumour at Nightfall was indeed the top seller at Bloomsbury's 14-15 December Books, Manuscripts, Maps, and Works on Paper sale. It made £17,000.

- The English Literature, History, Private Press, Children's Books & Illustrations today at Sotheby's London brought in £1,741,938. The unpublished Charlotte Brontë miniature manuscript did even better than expected, selling for £690,850 (reportedly to a French museum). The first edition set of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey also did well, fetching £157,250. A 1536 "Mole Bible" sold for £91,250. The Second Folio does not appear to have have a buyer.

- The Bonhams Fine Books and Manuscripts and PBA Galleries Americana, Travel, and Cartography sales are currently underway. I'll add highlights should events warrant.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Book Review: "The Ghost Map"

Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic, and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World (2006) examines the infamous 1854 London cholera epidemic and how Dr. John Snow's persistent efforts to prove the disease's water-borne nature led to the creation of his well-known map showing that the Broad Street pump was at the epicenter of the outbreak.

But the book's much more than an account of Snow's efforts and his map. Though those are at the center, Johnson uses them as a lens through which to examine everything from a history of cholera to sewer development to urbanization to the danger of nuclear terrorism. While all of the wide-ranging tangents aren't as interesting or as useful as others, for the most part the book makes for a good read.

The most interesting part to me, though, was the central account of Snow's original analysis of the epidemic (and his earlier work with other outbreaks), and the reception of his hypothesis by the local and scientific communities. Because of the importance of the map to the book, I was very surprised that Johnson doesn't include a good reproduction of it; seems like that would have been a no-brainer. Even without it, though, the argument about the importance of Snow's efforts is a good one.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mapping Subscriber Lists: Examples and Potential

Back in October (in fact two months ago today), Simran Thadani tweeted1 a preliminary Google Map she'd created of some of the subscribers to one of George Bickham's books (Penmanship in its Utmost Beauty and Extent, 1731). I thought it was a brilliant idea, and decided to try one of my own.

I've long been fascinated by the subscriber list in Thomas Prince's 1736 A Chronological History of New-England In the Form of Annals2 (which you can read online, via the Internet Archive). The list, which takes up a full twenty pages in the book, comprises some 736 names, including 28 who had died between the time they subscribed and when the book was published.3 An 1852 New England Historical & Genealogical Register article reprinting the list noted that the subscribers "may be justly regarded as the principal Literati of New England, who flourished about the beginning of the last century."

Starting with the list, off I went; you can see the resulting map here.4 The different pin colors represent the number of copies subscribed for: of those subscribing for more than a single copy, 87 took six copies, 57 took two, 24 took three, 11 took twelve, 3 took four, and 1 subscriber requested a whopping twenty-four copies.5 In most cases the subscriber's town was also listed; in almost all cases where the town wasn't listed the subscriber proved to be from Boston.

I attempted to locate Boston subscribers within the city using newspaper databases and other sources (an overlay of the 1722 Bonner map also proved very useful); for those not yet located to a specific street I've placed the pins on Boston Common for now. When I get a chance, I'll spend some time with the Thwing Index of early Boston residents, and if readers can more precisely locate any of the subscribers I'll be more than happy to update the map.

The map probably would have been quite enough, but as I mapped I began adding short annotations for each subscriber. Beginning in 1852 and for several decades thereafter, the NEHGR printed a sporadic series of "Brief Memoirs and Notices of Prince's Subscribers," and I started using these and another partial set of annotations from 1910. I quickly realized that the NEHGR annotations were too idiosyncratic to be useful, and the 1910 annotations were frequently simply wrong on the identifications or the facts. At that point I probably ought to have just stuck with the map, but in for a penny, in for a pound, right?

For each of the subscribers I could identify, I included what information I could find on their birth and death dates, education, occupation, family connections, &c.6 The Colonial Collegians database (accessed through NEHGS) proved extremely useful, since a significant number of the subscribers were Harvard graduates (a much smaller number graduated from Yale). I also may go through the records of extant copies of the book and see how many I can trace back to original subscribers, so that information can be added as well.

As I worked, I was thinking about the possibilities of all this, and I began to imagine a digital Atlas of Subscription Printing, combining GIS visualizations of a body of subscription lists with a layered database allowing filtering by demographic factors, publication data (location, date, &c.) occupation, education level, subscriptions to other books, relationships between subscribers and between subscribers and authors, &c. Wouldn't that be something?!

Comments, feedback, suggestions, thoughts always appreciated!

1 Alas, I cannot link to the tweet, since it is locked.

2 Full title: "A Chronological History of New-England In the Form of Annals: Being a summary and exact Account of the most material Transactions and Occurrences relating to this country, in the Order of Time wherein they happened, from the Discovery by Capt. Gosnold in 1602, to the Arrival of Governor Belcher, in 1730. With an Introduction, Containing a brief Epitome of the most remarkable Transactions and Events Abroad, from the Creation: Including the connected Line of Time, the Succession of Patriarchs and Sovereigns of the most famous Kingdoms & Empires, the gradual Discoveries of America, and the Progress of the Reformation to the Discovery of New-England."

3 On the final page of the subscription list is the notice "Our Subscription being begun in 1728, and several of the Subscribers being since deceased, who are marked with a [*] This may notify the Relatives of such deceased Persons, that if they incline to take up the Books subscribed for, they may do it, provided they come or send for them in a short time."

4 Google Maps annoyingly doesn't allow maps with more than 200 points to be displayed on a single page, so the regular view of the map (here) shows four pages and won't display all the points at once. If anybody knows a workaround for this, I'd be more than a little glad to know of it.

5 Many of the multi-copy subscriptions were probably for resale. The 24-copy subscriber was Jonathan Whitney of Wrentham, MA. Just one of the subscribers was a woman, Lydia Draper of Boston (for two copies); she was the widow of printer Richard Draper.

6 I'm sure I made mistakes, and there are still a few subscribers I didn't identify conclusively. If you've got information, please do send it along, I'd love to include it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Links & Reviews

- The December Fine Books Notes is up, with lots of good things as usual.

- Paul Collins writes in Slate about what happened to the Mary Celeste even after she was discovered floating around without her crew.

- Knute Young, wanted in a string of book thefts in the Oakland/Berkeley area, was arrested this week.

- The mysterious Copiale Cipher has been cracked; computer analysis earlier this year revealed it to be a "detailed description of a ritual from a secret society that apparently had a fascination with eye surgery and ophthalmology."

- Don't miss Steve Ferguson's great post about an 18th-century librarian's "Collat. & perfect." inscriptions.

- At the Collation, more on Impos[i]tor, the Folger's very cool digital imposition tool, and, more to the point, some excellent advice for developers of digital humanities projects.

- One of the editors alerted me to In the Words of Women, a new blog highlighting American women writing between 1765 and 1799.

- From Jordan Goffin at Notes for Bibliophiles, "What's a special collections library for?"

- At Anchora, Adam Hooks continues his "Faking Shakespeare" series with a look at William Henry Ireland's draft play about Louis XVI.

- I'm not sure whether this is new or not, but the BL's bookbindings database makes for a good browse.

- From the Boston Globe, a report on a BPL-led program to digitize "records and documents of cultural institutions" across Massachusetts.

- Jane Austen biographer Paula Byrne says she's found a new portrait of Austen, the Telegraph reports.


- The New-York Historical Society's exhibit Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn; review by Alan Singer at HNN. [h/t Boston 1775]

- Michael Popek's Forgotten Bookmarks; review by Rebecca Rego Barry in Fine Books Notes.

- Colin Woodard's American Nations; review/discussion by J.L. Bell at Boston 1775.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

This Week's Acquisitions

Bit of a hodgepodge this week: publisher sales mostly, with a review copy or two:

- The Rector and the Rogue by W.A. Swanberg (Collins Library, 2011). Publisher.

- Read Hard: Five Years of Great Writing from The Believer; edited by Ed Park and Heidi Julavits (McSweeney's, 2009). Publisher.

- The Odd Clauses: Understanding the Constitution Through Ten of Its Most Curious Provisions by Jay Wexler (Beacon Press, 2011). Publisher.

- God's Plagiarist: Being an Account of the Fabulous Industry and Irregular Commerce of the Abbé Migne by R. Howard Bloch (University of Chicago Press, 1995). Publisher.

- A General History of Quadrupeds: The Figures Engraved on Wood by Thomas Bewick (University of Chicago Press, 2009). Publisher.

- Image in Print: Book Illustration in Late Medieval England and its Sources by Martha W. Driver (British Library, 2004). Publisher.

- A Continental Shelf: Books across Europe from Ptolemy to Don Quixote (Bodleian Library, 2005). Publisher.

- Terra Incognita: Mapping the Antipodes before 1600 by Alfred Hiatt (University of Chicago Press, 2008). Publisher.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Book Review: "The Murder Room"

Michael Capuzzo's The Murder Room (2010) is one of those books that's at once fascinating and frustrating. Its subject is the Vidocq Society, a real-life conclave of the top forensic scientists and criminal profilers from around the world who meet once a month to discuss (and attempt, usually successfully, to solve) a particularly cold and nasty murder case. The club's founding trio: forensic artist Frank Bender, profiler extraordinaire Richard Walter, and FBI/Customs agent Bill Fleisher, make for excellent subjects. And the crimes they help solve are chilling, horrifying things.

The ingredients are there, and the book is in many ways very satisfying. The look inside the investigative process is captivating, and the stories of how some of the crimes ended up being solved were absolutely remarkable. Capuzzo has structured the book in such a way, though, that it often feels rather repetitive. Each of the major Vidocq Society cases that he profiles is told in several short chapters, but the chapters are non-sequential, with bits of other cases and storylines in between. This keeps any narrative flow from developing, and also means that the author repeats himself frequently, to bring the reader up to speed on ground that he'd already covered in previous chapters. The chapters also bounce around from decade to decade, which certainly didn't help.

I liked the book; I think with some reworking it could be much, much better.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Links & Reviews

So many link-worthy things this week!

- A major forgery case is unfolding in Norway, where collector and film director Geir Ove Kvalheim has been indicted for forging documents in the hands of Knut Hamsun and Henrik Ibsen, among others. Among the pieces Kvalheim is accused of forging are notations by Hansum in a 1943 pocket almanac, and an entirely new play by Ibsen. The investigation has been going on since 2008, when suspicions were first raised about documents sold for Kvalheim by the Oslo bookshop Norlis and purchased by several institutions, including the National Library.

- Umberto Eco talked at the Toronto Public Library about his new novel The Prague Cemetery, and the video's on YouTube: Part One; Part Two. Along with a great discussion of the book, Eco talks about his favorite Disney rides, voicemail, his library, and reading Batman.

- The Charleston Library Society has announced a multi-year cataloging and conservation effort.

- Authorship, a new open-access journal, released its first issue.

- John Palfrey's recent talk "A Future for Libraries," is now available online.

- A major new British Library newspaper database went online this week.

- New (or at least new to me) from the Image Permanance Institute: Graphics Atlas.

- There's a great "Landmarks in Book History: The Future of the Discipline" lecture series on tap in London this winter.

- Scott Sherman's The Nation piece "Upheaval at the New York Public Library" is a must-read.

- UVA book conservator Eliza Gilligan talks about researching and restoring a copy of Hooke's Micrographia.

- The Casanova exhibit at the BNF is reviewed in the NYTimes.

- The December AE Monthly is out; it includes a look at the Library of America along with several pieces on book auctions, &c.

- From The Public Domain Review, a look at the fascinating book The Mysteries of Nature and Art.

- Oscar Wilde's tomb in Paris now has a new glass barrier, to stop people from kissing the stone.

- Yale announced this week that the Voynich Manuscript is now available online.

- Brown University has purchased a rare copy of the first European book on Chinese medicine, Philippe Charvys' 1671 text Les secrets de le medecine des Chinois.

- Adam Gopnik writes in The New Yorker about fantasy writing for young adult readers, taking the old line about Tolkien as "our Ossian" and extending it to other writers (Paolini as Chatterton, for example).

- At Echoes from the Vault, a profile of 17th-century book collector William Guild.

- A new exhibit at Boston College, The Golden Age of Massachusetts Law Publishing. See also the BC newspaper story about the display.

- The National Library of Wales has come under fire for accepting papers and a £300,000 bequest from Louis Feutren, who reportedly collaborated with the Nazis.

- From BibliOdyssey, toucans!

- Over at Fine Books Blog, the "Bright Young Things" series continues as Nate Pedersen interviews Jonathan Smalter of Yesterday's Muse.

- Sam Weller's Bookstore will be moving in January, and opening under a new name: Weller Book Works.

- Julie Bosman writes in the NYTimes about publishers designing books with "special effects" (i.e. nice paper, jackets, &c.) as a pushback against e-books.


- Tim Jeal's Explorers of the Nile; review by Diana Preston in the Washington Post.

- David Gilmour's The Pursuit of Italy; review by Brooke Allen in the NYTimes.

- Rosamond Bartlett's Tolstoy: A Russian Life; review by Thomas L. Jeffers in the Washington Post.

- Peter Ackroyd's The Death of King Arthur; review by Christopher Benfey in the NYTimes.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

What the Future of Libraries Looked Like in 1961

Last month I had the great honor to give a talk marking the fiftieth anniversary of Schaffer Library at Union College, my alma mater.

When I got to campus on the morning of the talk, I asked if there happened to be a copy of the remarks delivered at the original dedication of the library building, in April 1961. Sure enough, in the archives there was a printed copy of the dedicatory speech, delivered by Edward G. Freehafer, then director of the New York Public Library. It was titled "Libraries and the Future," and once I read it (fairly gleefully, I admit) I knew I had some very useful rewriting to do.

Among the "great problems" Freehafer saw confronting the library of the future was "making information accessible," a refrain that will not be unfamiliar to anyone involved with the inner workings of a library. He said:

"The familiar card catalog, which lists the library's holdings by author, title, and subject, is part of that undertaking. There are also the many indexes which make known the contents of journals and periodicals. These are two important – and I sometimes think not properly appreciated – efforts to bring information under control. But as the years go by, each of them adding its contribution to the vast storehouse of information, we have begun to wonder if conventional methods of cataloging and indexing are adequate. In a push-button age, can we not store this knowledge in such a way that information on a given subject becomes available at the twist of a dial? There are those who believe that, with the advent of the computer, this should be possible.

You may have seen a recent newspaper account of a lecture given at MIT* in which a Dartmouth professor, a mathematician, proposed a huge national research library that scholars would consult by a long distance dial system. According to the professor, the basic components of such a system are within reach of present technology and could be put into operation in twenty years at a cost of about a billion dollars. Six hundred and forty-five ordinary book pages would be stored on about one square inch of tape. Library users would not borrow books in the ordinary sense but, after dialing, would receive, by cable, copies of what has been stored on tape. The professor also predicts that this central library would be combined eventually with a computer-based system for searching the literature of a subject so that a doctor, for example, could have, within a matter of minutes, everything that had been written on the side effects of tranquilizers."

My favorite bit was Freehafer's concluding riff about the potential of computers: "We must pursue energetically our efforts to solve the information problem, and the computer gives promise as the most likely answer. It will no doubt be perfectly happy to work twenty-four hours a day, and if properly programmed, may never stop for a coffee break or learn how to ask for a promotion. It will answer our specific questions more rapidly than ever before possible. But I doubt that it will ever be able to browse – or accidentally stumble across something new and exciting."

Freehafer's talk provided a very useful set of bookends for the talk I'd written, in which I discussed several of the projects I've been involved in that were designed to "enhance the bibliosphere" by building meaningful connections between the readers of the past and the readers of the present.

In many ways, I suggested at the conclusion of the discussion, Freehafer's future has come to meet us. But, at the same time, the library world continues to grapple with some of the fundamental questions he posed, and if I had to guess, I'd say that we're likely to do so far into the future.

* The lecture Freehafer mentions was "Library for 2000 AD," a talk at MIT's 100th anniversary celebration earlier in 1961 by Dartmouth mathematician John G. Kemeny, the co-developer of BASIC and later president of Dartmouth. The talk was published in a 1962 book Computers and the World of the Future).

Auction Preview: December Sales

- PBA Galleries sold Fine Books on 1 December; results are here.

- Also on 1 December, Swann sold Americana and Ocean Liner Memorabilia. Sharing the top sale price of $24,000 were a collection of Joseph Dwight papers from King George's War, and a copy of the first newspaper printing of the Bill of Rights.

- At Sotheby's London on 6 December, a strikingly beautiful sale of Western and Oriental Manuscripts, in 56 lots. A 15th-century Spanish manuscript on vellum of Ludolf of Saxony's Vita Christi, in a contemporary binding, rates the top estimate, £80,000-100,000. Also see Lot 45, Walter Hilton's Scala perfectionis, with some gruesome penwork illustrations.

- Bloomsbury has a Bibliophile Sale on 8 December, in 611 lots.

- Swann sells Maps, Atlases, Natural History and Historical Prints on 8 December, in 373 lots (the very first of which is a beautiful Blaeu map of Bermuda).

- On 13 December, Sotheby's New York sells Fine Books & Manuscripts in 352 lots. Most of the attention is going to the collection of Raymond Chandler manuscripts, first editions, and association copies and to the original Apple Computer contract (est. $100,000-150,000), but the sale's certainly got a little something for everyone's tastes (if, perhaps, not everyone's wallet). The top estimate ($300,000-500,000) goes to a George Washington letter, perhaps a retained copy of the note he sent to the House of Representatives thanking its members for their congratulatory message to him upon his inauguration. The letter comes from the collections of the Bennington Museum. A previously unknown notebook of Rabindranath Tagore could fetch $150,000-250,000, and a set of Henry Popple's America septentionalis (1733-34) from the collections of the Ishpeming, MI Carnegie Public Library rates a $100,000-150,000 estimate (as we see the trend of institutions selling off important pieces continue). The sale also includes more documents from the James S. Copley library. Watch the winter issue of Fine Books & Collections for my rundown of this sale.

- At Bloomsbury on 14-15 December, Books, Manuscripts, Maps, and Works on Paper, in 982 lots. A first edition of Graham Greene's Rumour at Nightfall rates the top estimate, £10,000-15,000.

- Bonhams sells Fine Books and Manuscripts on 15 December in New York City, in 290 lots. Fore-edge paintings, original illustrations by Maurice Sendak, and a small collection of documents relating to a Revolutionary War P.O.W. are among the highlights.

- Also on 15 December, PBA Galleries holds a sale of Americana, Travel, and Cartography, in 314 lots. The top estimate, $6,000-9,000, goes to a 32-volume set, Early Western Travels, 1748-1846, edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites and published at Cleveland 1904-07.

- Sotheby's London has English Literature, History, Private Press, Children's Books & Illustrations on 15 December, in 162 lots. The big kahuna here is the unpublished Charlotte Brontë miniature manuscript, estimated at £200,000-300,000 (and coming from the collection of T.J. Wise). A first edition set of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey rates the next-highest estimate, at £70,000-100,000. A Second Folio (missing leaves A1 and A2) is estimated at £45,000-60,000.

This Week's Acquisitions

Here's what arrived this week:

- The Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession, and the Everlasting Dead by Heather Pringle (Theia, 2001). Longfellow Books.

- McSweeney's Issue 7; edited by Dave Eggers (McSweeney's, 2011). Amazon. Just four McSweeney's issues left to find before my set is complete ...

- The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett (Harper, 2001). Amazon.

- Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York by Richard Zacks (Doubleday, 2012). Publisher.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Auction Report: Recent Highlights

For a recap of sales earlier in the month, see this post.

- At the Christie's London sale of Valuable Printed Books and Manuscripts on 23 November 68 of 83 lots sold, for a total of £1,959,825. The first edition Vesalius took the top spot, fetching £265,250. A 14th-century manuscript of English verse texts sold for £205,250. Maria Sibylla Merian's Der rupsen begin (1713-1717) made £193,250, and the New York "second folio" edition of Audubon's Birds of America fetched £121,250. Pedro de Medina's Arte de navegar (1545) failed to sell.

- Results for the 23 November Bonhams London sale of Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs, including the Property of the late Michael Silverman are here. The top lot was an album of 170 photographs by the early amateur photographer Thomas Honywood, which sold for £58,850.

- Just 292 of the 442 lots at Christie's London's 28 November sale of Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts including a selection from the Malcolm S. Forbes Jr. Churchill Collection and Photobooks from the Calle Collection found buyers. Alexander II's copy of Pushkin's works was the highest-selling lot, fetching £126,050. Quite a tremendous leap down to the next lot: a fragmentary leaf from a 10th-century Coptic bible made £21,250. The 17th-century English manuscript of recipes and remedies that I liked sold for £3,000.

- Full results for the Bonhams Oxford sale of Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Photographs are here. Top lot was a first edition of Casino Royale, which fetched £13,500.

- Bloomsbury sold Important Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper on 29 November, in 527 lots. Results are here. The top lot was an Aitken Bible, selling for £105,000.

- At the Christie's Paris Importants livres anciens, livres d'artistes et manuscrits sale on 29 November, 231 of 306 lots sold, for a total of £1,409,875. The 1540 Jean Girard Bible sold for €85,000 but was not the top lot: a Paul Verlaine letter far surpassed estimates, selling for €121,000. The set of Nikolai Koutepov's works on Russian hunting did not sell.

- The month closed with a bang! Sotheby's London sold Music and Continental Books and Manuscripts on 30 November, with 118 of 180 lots selling for a total of £3,317,725. The first edition of Copernicus' De revolutionibus (1543) sold for £825,250, while Schumann's manuscript of Szenen Aus Goethes "Faust" fetched £713,250. Three other lots did better than £100,000.

December preview coming soon.