Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year-End Reading Report 2013

This was quite a busy year for me: in the winter I worked on getting my books organized in Portland, only to find that I ended up packing them all up in August for the move to Charlottesville, where I then had the pleasure of unpacking and shelving them again (this time putting them in order as I did so). I ended the year by clearing out a whole bunch of boxes of books from my mom's house in New York last week and taking lots of volumes I didn't need anymore to some local libraries so they can find their way into the hands of new readers.

Like last year, I joined the 75 Books Challenge for 2013 group at LibraryThing (see my group thread), and the gentle competition, general stats-geekiness, and whimsy of that whole process proved entertaining as ever. I'll probably do the same next year.

The craziness of the year notwithstanding, I read 161 books in 2013, for an average of one every 2.3 days. Total page count was 50,366 (but of course that doesn't include all the magazines and journals and assorted articles, &c. &c. I'm not quite so mad as to try and tabulate all those too). The titles broke down into 84 fiction and 73 non-fiction books (plus 4 which defy such categorization). I read 67 hardcovers, 54 paperbacks, 37 ARCs, and 3 e-books. For a full breakdown of my 2013 reading stats, see Message 59 here).

This year I continued my resolution to try and read at least slightly fewer books published in the current year, and I managed that once again: 2013 publications made up just 40% of this year's total, but the majority of books read (58%) were still published since 2010, so I'll maintain the same resolution for next year and try to continue reading more not-so-recent titles.

And now, my favorite five fiction and non-fiction reads for 2013 (in no particular order within the lists):


Justice Hall by Laurie R. King (Bantam, 2009). Review.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker (Harper Perennial, 2013). Review.

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (Random House, 2013). Review.

All the Names by José Saramago (Houghton Mifflin, 2000). Review.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin). Reread (for the umpteenth time).


The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey (Penguin, 2013). Review.

The Mortal Sea by W. Jeffrey Bolster (Harvard University Press, 2012). Review.

The Notorious Elizabeth Tuttle by Ava Chamberlain (NYU Press, 2012). Review.

If Kennedy Lived by Jeff Greenfield (Putnam, 2013). Review.

Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man by Walter Stahr (Simon & Schuster, 2012). Review.

Happy New Year to you all!

Previous year's reports: 2012, 20112010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006.

Year-End Links & Reviews

I hope you've all had lovely and restful holidays, filled with good books and good cheer. I'm back in Charlottesville now after a trip home upstate New York, and am spending the last days of 2013 tidying up and trying to close out the year on an organized note. Here are some end-of-year links and reviews for your enjoyment:

- Rachel Donado reported on the political aspects of the Girolamini thefts scandal in the NYTimes on 22 December, focusing on former Italian senator Marcello Dell'Utri.

- An American judge has ruled that Sherlock Holmes (or at least anything featured in any Holmes stories published prior to 1 January 1923) is no longer protected by U.S. copyright law. Read the full opinion.

- New in the "Bright Young Librarians" series, Colleen Theisen of the University of Iowa.

- To mark the centenary of A.N.L. Munby's birth (which occurred on 25 December), the Cambridge Incunabula Project blog noted some of the many donations of incunabula and other rare materials Munby donated to the Cambridge libraries during his lifetime.

- The Center for the Study for the Public Domain at Duke has issued the annual "What Could Have Entered the Public Domain" list for 2014.

- Photographic negatives from the 1914-17 Shackleton Antarctic expedition were recently found by a New Zealand team. See the photos.

- In The Guardian, writers comment on their favorite ghost stories.

- Art historians in China have concluded that a calligraphic scroll sold by Sotheby's as the work of Su Shi (1037-1101) is, rather, a 19th-century fake. The work sold for $8.2 million in September. Sotheby's says it stands by its attribution, but will investigate.

- Over on the Houghton blog, a look at the first book published in Antarctica, Aurora Australis.

- From October, but new to me (via Sarah Werner and John Overholt), from the MSU Provenance blog, "What Counts as Provenance Evidence?"


- William Shakespeare and Others: Collaborative Plays; review by Gary Taylor in the Washington Post.

- Kevin Peraino's Lincoln in the World; review by Stephen Budiansky in the Washington Post.

- William Seale's The Imperial Season; review by Fergus Bordewich in the WSJ.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Review: "The Secret Rooms"

Yet another reason why I don't settle on my top books of the year until the very last minute: I've just finished Catherine Bailey's The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess & a Family Secret (Penguin, 2013), and it will certainly end up making the list of my favorite books for this year.

Bailey was given access to the family archives of the Dukes of Rutland, held at Belvoir Castle, the family seat. The archives had been basically locked up in their rooms from the time of the death of the 9th Duke in 1940 until the early part of this century, and Bailey was one of the first historians permitted access. She'd intended to write quite a different book, one about the experiences of the men of Belvoir and the surrounding estates during World War I, but when she began exploring the archives she found the story she tells here, and determined to recount that instead. We should be very glad she did.

The 9th Duke spent the final years of his life closeted away in the rooms where the archives were kept, and in fact even died there, on a small couch, surrounded by the family papers. When Bailey began her search, she quickly found that the 9th Duke's motives had not been entirely pure of heart: he had created three very precise, but very thorough, gaps in the archival record by removing all the correspondence and papers for those date ranges. Bailey set out to discover just what happened during those periods, and that hunt forms the basic structure for the book. What she finds is a tale of real family drama and somewhat shocking behavior on the part of a good number of people.

I had a terrible time putting this down once I started reading. Bailey's account of her efforts to puzzle out the events of those three mysterious periods makes for riveting reading, and it's really a pleasure to dig into her own research process and methods ... not to mention all the fascinating things she manages to learn. I'm not going to share any of those here: go off and read the book.

This is not, I admit, a perfect book. The title and subtitle are slightly overdrawn (except for the "plotting duchess and a family secret" part), and not only do some questions remain unanswered, but there are also certain points that just prove unsatisfying or anticlimactic. But on the whole, I found this a tremendously interesting book, and recommend it highly.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Links & Reviews

- The Indiana Historical Society will sell its copy of Audubon's Birds of America in April at Sotheby's. Their copy of Audubon's Quadrupeds will also be sold. Waldemar Fries' census reports that this copy of Birds was originally purchased by the York Subscription Library, possibly directly from Audubon himself. By January 1896 it had been purchased by William W. Borden for his wife, Emma, and it later was in the collections of the Borden Institute, a private school in Indiana. The Indiana Historical Society purchased it in 1933 for $4,000. Plate II in this copy contains the incorrect caption "Black Billed Cuckoo - Coccyzus Erythrophthalmus." Indiana Historical Society president John Herbst said that the copies "both had a lot of use before the society purchased them," and said that the Society would use the proceeds to fund purchases of Indiana-related materials.

- The New York Court of Appeals has reversed a lower-court ruling that would have forced auction houses to disclose the identity of consignors.

- In The Economist, an account of Cobden-Sanderson's destruction of the Doves Press type, and about designer Robert Green's attempts to digitally reconstruct it (the results of which you can now download).

- I've added a new blog to the sidebar: David J. Gary's American History Librarian. I expect this will be one most of you will want to follow too.

- "Shelfie"-madness hit Twitter this week, and it was great fun. More from Jacket Copy, or check out the Twitter hashtag.

- Cambridge University plans to raise £1.1 million to purchase the Codex Zacynthius, a ~6th-century palimpsest containing the Gospel of Luke. The manuscript has been on deposit at Cambridge since 1984.

- Eric Kwakkel asks, and then tries to answer, the age-old question "What is the oldest book in the world?"

- Over at the Oak Knoll blog, Bob Fleck writes about the Kelmscott/Goudy press, which sold this month to RIT.

- The BBC Magazine covers the Girolamini thefts; the article doesn't contain much new information, but there are several new photos of the looted library and damaged books.

- Also from the BBC Magazine, a look at the ongoing effort to recover and read the burned scrolls of Herculaneum.

- From Notabilia, a copy of Ben Franklin's Experiments and observations on electricity, inscribed to his sister Jane Mecom.

- At the Incunabula Project blog, Liam Sims covers a truly curious and fascinating list found in an early Belgian incunable in the Cambridge collections.

- Lew Jaffe posted an image of a particularly interesting bookplate this week, that of silversmith James Pérot, who lived for a time in Bermuda.

- Keren Levy highlighted one of my very favorite books, Watership Down, over at the Guardian this week.


- Simon Winchester's The Men Who United the States; review by Sarah Wheeler in the Telegraph.

- James MacGregor Burns' Fire and Light; review by Eric Herschtal at The Junto.

- Bob Brier's Egyptomania; review by Janet Maslin in the NYTimes.

- Beau Riffenbaugh's Pinkerton's Great Detective; review by Ben Macintyre in the NYTimes.

- The Letters of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.; review by George Packer in the NYTimes.

- Jo Baker's Longbourn; review by Diane Johnson in the NYTimes.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Links & Reviews

- Your must-read article of the week (and I mean that) is Nicholas Schmidle's "A Very Rare Book" in the 16 December New Yorker. Schmidle's written an excellent summary of the forged Galileo Sidereus Nuncius (and other titles) and of de Caro's thefts from the Girolamini and other libraries. He also spent three days with de Caro and got him to confess a great deal about how the forgeries were made. The article's behind the New Yorker paywall, so if you don't subscribe you'll have to go find a copy, but trust me, it's worth it.

- Some nasty, nasty news out of Turkey this week, where reports suggest that as much as 140 tons of books and magazines were sold by the National Library of Turkey to wastepaper dealers for extremely low prices. The Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister said "We have detected some criminal and corrupted practices over many works in the National Library," and pledged a crackdown.

- An inquiry into the death of book thief Raymond Scott has concluded that he killed himself, the BBC reports. Further reporting in the Durham Times adds that Scott had been removed from suicide watch two weeks prior. Scott "suffered two wounds to the neck and razor blades were found in his right hand," the Times notes.

- The University of Pennsylvania seeks a CLIR postdoctoral fellow in data curation to work with the Penn Provenance Project and other related projects. Looks like a good gig!

- The Kelmscott/Goudy Albion iron hand press which sold at Christie's last week was purchased by Bromer Booksellers on behalf of RIT's Cary Graphic Arts Collection, with the support of the Brooks Bower family. Curator Steven Galbraith said that the press will be used as a working press at RIT, which is excellent news. See the full RIT press release.

- Alan Jacobs covers the rise of JSTOR (and its ilk) and why educators (and their students) shouldn't fall into the trap of relying on this sort of site.

- The British Library released a million images from scanned books in its collections this week, to the delight of the internet. More from Benjamin Breen at The Appendix.

- The seventeenth part of the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources was published this week, completing a project begun in 1913.

- Random House has acquired the rights to publish what is believed to be the first prison memoir of an African-American, Austin Reed's "The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict, or the Inmate of a Gloomy Prison." Julie Bosman reported on the manuscript earlier this week.

- Mitch Fraas talked with the LC blog The Signal about his use of Viewshare as a tool to visualize library book markings and other useful things.

- Richard S. Newman has been appointed the next director of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Newman will take up the reins at the LCP in June.

- The National Library of Wales has digitized the 13th-century Book of Aneirin, the last of the four Ancient Books of Wales to be presented online.

- James W.P. Campbell and Will Pryce share some photos from their new book The Library: A World History over at The Atlantic.

- In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jen Howard reports on the status of the DPLA seven months after its official launch.


- Diane Setterfield's Bellman and Black; review by Yvonne Zipp in the WaPo.

- Bart van Es' Shakespeare in Company; review by Charles Nicholl in the TLS.

- Richard Holmes' Falling Upwards; review by Daniel Stashower in the WaPo.

- John Ferling's Jefferson and Hamilton; review by Carl Berkin in the WaPo.

- Joyce Appleby's Shores of Knowledge; review by Marcia Bartusiak in the WaPo.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Links & Reviews

- I had the great pleasure of attending the Authenticity of Print Materials symposium at the Library of Congress this week, and I've posted a brief(ish) report on the symposium over at the Fine Books Blog. It was a thoroughly remarkable day, and it was a real delight to be able to catch up with so many friends and to hear an excellent series of talks on the symposium's theme.

- One of the key elements of the LC symposium was a presentation by Nick Wilding and Paul Needham on the Martayan Lan Sidereus Nuncius, now known to be a forgery. There was quite a good NYTimes article on this last week, and a piece by Nicholas Schmidle on the same topic will be in this week's New Yorker.

- Mitch Fraas reports at the Fine Books Blog about the dispersal of the John Gilson Howell collection of printed and manuscript bibles, long owned by the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA.

- Nick Basbanes has an op/ed in this weekend's LATimes, "A paperless society? Not so fast."

- Heather Wolfe has posted on the news that the Folger has received a three-year IMLS grant to fund the creation of EMMO (Early Modern Manuscripts Online), a searchable online database of Folger manuscript transcriptions from 1500-1700.

- From Literary Tourist, an audio interview with Alberto Manguel about his favorite libraries and bookstores.

- As previously reported, the Bay Psalm Book sold at Sotheby's on 26 November for a total of $14.2 million. Some coverage on the sale from NPR, The Telegraph, LATimes, BBC, Boston Globe.

- Over at the ARCA blog, excerpts from WGBH Boston interviews with Gardner Museum Director Anne Hawley and FBI special agent Jeff Kelley. Kelley told reporter Emily Rooney that they essentially know who carried out the theft, and that he believes that the artworks are all still in existence. The FBI and the Gardner have launched a new public effort to recover the art. Hawley told Rooney that immediately following the 1990 theft there were a series of additional threats and extortion attempts against the Museum.

- A major collaborative digitization project between the Bodleian Libraries and the Vatican Library which now live. The project was funded by a $3.2 million grant from the Polonsky Foundation. Coverage from the NYTimes, NPR.

- Travis McDade covers the trend of book and manuscript thieves defending themselves by maintaining that they found the material in the trash.

- Early and un-reprinted works by P.G. Wodehouse have been identified in the archive of Leeds newspaper The Globe and Traveller.

- Seems like we get one of these articles every six months or so, but here's another: author Patricia Cornwell claims to have uncovered new evidence that Jack the Ripper was artist Walter Sickert.

- Over at The Junto this week, a roundtable on the legacy of historian Pauline Maier.

- Booktryst highlighted a copy of the true first edition of Jefferson's Notes which sold for a healthy $269,000 at Christie's this week.

- That Christie's sale brought in a whopping total of $6,743,750, a good chunk of which came from a lavish presentation copy of Newton's Principia to James II, which made $2,517,000 (over estimates of $400,000-600,000). William Morris' Albion Press sold for $233,000. More on the press in the NYTimes.

- Jill Lepore spoke with Joy Horowitz at the LA Review of Books about her new book The Book of Ages.

- The Boston Public Library's Johnson Building will receive a $16 million renovation, the Boston Globe reported this week.

- Former Apple exec Glen Miranker, a fanatic collector of Holmesiana, is profiled in Forbes.

- While in DC this week I also had the tremendous pleasure of enjoying a behind-the-scenes tour at the Folger Shakespeare Library, which is just as exciting as you might think it would be. Among the paintings we saw was "The Infant Shakespeare Attended by Nature and the Passions," or "The Baby Jesus Shakespeare," which Erin Blake blogged about this week at The Collation.

- From Antipodean Footnotes, a profile of a very neat book now in the University of Melbourne Special Collections: a copy of Malcolm Flemyng's An Introduction to Physiology which traveled around the world with Captain Cook on his 1768-71 voyage.

- Jennifer Howard reported for The Chronicle this week that academics who have posted their articles on the social site academia.edu began receiving takedown notices from Elsevir.

- One of the "my year in books" lists that I look most forward to every year is that of Miriam Burstein at The Little Professor. She's posted it here.

- Historian Michael Kammen has died. Read the obituary in the New York Times.

- Rebecca Rego Barry has posted a year-end bookish roundup too, which probably includes a few good additions to your holiday shopping lists.


- Alison Weir's Elizabeth of York; review by Roger Boylan in the NYTimes.

- Umberto Eco's The Book of Legendary Lands; review by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst in The Telegraph.

- Simon Garfield's To the Letter; review by Carmela Ciuraru in the NYTimes.

- Leo Damrosch's Swift; review by Jeffrey Collins in the WSJ.

- Yuval Levin's The Great Debate; review by Jack Rakove in the Washington Post.

- Nick Basbanes' On Paper; review by Philip Marchand in the National Post.

- Graham Robb's The Discovery of Middle Earth; review by Wendy Smith in the LATimes.

- Ronald Frame's Havisham; review by Jane Smiley in the NYTimes.

- David Igler's The Great Ocean and Gregory T. Cushman's Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World; review by David Armitage in the TLS.