Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"

One of the short animated films nominated for an Oscar this year is "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," which I think all biblio-humans are likely to enjoy greatly. I know I did!

Book Recommendation: "Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbeaking Life"

Natalie Dykstra's Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) is another of those books I've had the privilege to anticipate for a long time. The author did much of her research for the book in collections held at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and I certainly delivered more than a few boxes to her table in the reading room during my time there. So I know just how long and how diligently she's been working on this book, and I am really just incredibly pleased at the result. I had a difficult time reading the last few pages (on the train home from New York the other day) because of the tears in my eyes.

Gilded and heartbreaking. No two adjectives could better describe the life of Clover Adams than these. Stung from a much-too-young age by a series of horrific family tragedies, partner in a complicated marriage, and too often remembered, if at all, only as a famous woman who committed suicide.

Dykstra has gone to great lengths to bring Clover's life into full view, providing much-needed family context and background, highlighting her deep and meaningful relationships with her father and others that sustained her through many years, and, above all, examining Clover's use of photography during the last few years of her life and how that art allowed her to express herself in a way that she couldn't otherwise.

Drawing on a wide range of archival materials, some previously published and others published here for the first time, Dykstra is able to tell Clover's own story, and she does it very elegantly indeed. A beautiful, sad, delight the whole way through.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Links & Reviews

Good morning from the train back to Boston after a very successful Bibliography Week.

- From Res Obscura, images from Heinrich Khunrath's alchemical work Ampitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae, with some very useful background.

- The Fine Books Blog "Bright Young Things" series continues with a profile of Brian Cassidy (whose blog you should be reading, if you're not already).

- Mark O'Connell posted "The Marginal Obsession with Marginalia" this week on the New Yorker book blog.

- A new web magazine, American Circus, has recently come to my attention; the articles so far are promising, and by subscribing you'll get email notification of new issues. Worth a read, certainly.

- Over on The Collation, Sarah Werner posts about how two students looked at the same book and saw very different things.

- Konrad Lawson highlights some crowdsourced transcription projects in the Chronicle, and a new one launched this week from NARA.

- Writing for Slate, Caleb Crain offers to eat Matt Ygelisas' lunch.

- Adam Hooks, at Anchora, defends the mangling of Shakespeare.

- From Houghton's new "You've Got Mail" series, Franklin on electricity.

- Washington University has joined HathiTrust.


- Susan Orlean's Rin Tin Tin; review by Nicholas Shakespeare in the Telegraph.

- Cullen Murphy's God's Jury; review by Samuel Freedman in the NYTimes.

- Frederick Turner's Renegade; review by Jeanette Winterson in the NYTimes.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Bibliography Week in NYC

For the first time, I've actually managed to make it down to New York for (part of) Bibliography Week ("Bib Week") an annual lineup of great bibliophilic meetings and events.

My train was late getting in on Wednesday so I missed that afternoon's festivities, unfortunately (but I heard very good things about them). On Thursday morning I had a good, very fruitful meeting with catalogers at the New-York Historical Society about some forthcoming Libraries of Early America projects, and then visited the Bib Week booksellers' showcase (or "mini-fair"), sponsored by the ABAA and featuring a good selection of dealers and titles.

Friday afternoon was the annual meeting of the Bibliographical Society of America, held at the Grolier Club. Prior to the business meeting three featured new scholars talked about their work: Steven Carl Smith on the New York book trade in the early national period, Juliette Atkinson on the circulation of Dumas' work in England, and Barbara Heritage on "Authors vs. bookmakers: Jane Eyre in the marketplace." All three talks were excellent, and served well to highlight how much good book history work is being done these days. Later, outgoing BSA president John Neal Hoover delivered a lecture on his research into the use of books in American cinema from 1900-1970, showing some representative clips of how books are used in both scene and plot (a database of scenes he's built will be available on BibSite later this year, he reported).

This afternoon the American Printing History Assocation holds its annual meeting, and in the evening a memorial gathering will be held to honor the life and work of Sue Allen, longtime RBS faculty member and expert on 19th-century American publishers' cloth bindings.

Bringing together bibliophiles and other great biblio-humans (it's sort of like a Rare Book School "old home week"), Bib Week is an excellent opportunity to catch up with old friends, make new connections, and certainly to learn more about the field and take in some of the many things New York has to offer. The Grolier Club's current exhibit "Printing for Kingdom, Empire, & Republic: Treasures from the Archives of the Imprimerie Nationale," is well worth a visit, just by way of a single example (but hurry, it's only up through 4 February!).

And now, off to the day's events (and a visit to Argosy Book Store). Watch the Grolier Club's website later this year for announcements about Bib Week 2013, and, if you can, do come.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Links & Reviews

- Released this week, a tremendous new resource on the history of paper, based on research by Tim Barrett and others: Paper Through Time. The background essay and other materials make for fascinating reading.

- Also new, the Cranach Digital Archive.

- Ann Trubek went inside Cleveland's bibliophilic society The Rowfant Club (one of the few remaining all-male biblio-organizations), and tells the tale.

- From bookseller Ken Karmiole, an essay on "Collecting the Physical Book in the Digital Age."

- A new exhibition at Cambridge University, Shelf Lives: Four Centuries of Collectors and Their Books. [h/t Mike Widener]

- Sarah Werner has posted her syllabus for her class "Books and Early Modern Culture."

- The Harvard Gazette reported this week on the launch of WorldMap, a new open-source mapping platform.

- In the Harvard Magazine, a look at Brontë juvenilia in the Houghton Library collections.

- Rebecca Rego Barry's essay "A Rare Book Collector's Guide to the College Library Book Sale" is now online at The Millions.

- Over at Past is Present, Tracey Kry highlights the Cardiff Giant, quite a good hoax from 1869 (which happened near where I grew up, and now resides at the wonderful Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown).

- The Poe Toaster failed to make an appearance in Baltimore for the third year in a row; observers now believe that the tradition has probably come to an end.

- A National Churchill Library and Center will be founded at The George Washington University, as part of an $8 million gift to the university from Chicago's Churchill Centre.

- From Ed Pettit at Ed and Edgar, a literacy quiz that he gave this week to a college class.

- The Collation has begun a series of guest posts by Folger interns: the first, by Ashley Behringer, examines the origins of a particular manuscript collection.

- Given the events of this week, if you read one review today, make it Caleb Crain's The Nation piece on William Patry's How to Fix Copyright and Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi's Reclaiming Fair Use. Joseph Adelman's Publick Occurrences blog post is also a must-read.


- Michael Dirda's On Conan Doyle; review by David Mikics in TNR.

- Ian Donaldson's Ben Jonson: A Life; review by Charles Isherwood in the NYTimes.

- John M. Barry's Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul; review by Scott Martelle in the LATimes.

- John Matteson's The Lives of Margaret Fuller; review by Mary Beth Norton in the NYTimes.

- Julia Flinn Siler's Lost Kingdom; review by Sara Kehaulani Goo in the WaPo.

- Richard Bailey's Speaking American; review by John McWhorter in the NYTimes.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Book Review: "The Rector and the Rogue"

The latest installment of the Collins Library, a McSweeney's imprint edited by the inimitable Paul Collins, is The Rector and the Rogue by W.A. Swanberg, first published in 1968 and re-issued in 2011. Collins' instinct for underappreciated gems certainly hasn't failed him here: what a book!

Swanberg's book is the story of what must be one of the most elaborate practical jokes ever undertaken. The unsuspecting rector of New York's Trinity Church was the main victim; over a period of several weeks his home is inundated by a procession of tradesmen and visitors, summoned there by postcards signed by the rector, Morgan Dix. One morning it's more than 25 used-clothing dealers, come to buy Mrs. Dix's wardrobe; another it's fourteen of Dix's fellow clergymen, invited to lunch with a not-actually-visiting English bishop. Eventually Dix goes to the postal authorities and the police, and an investigation reveals that Dix is not the only victim. But the victims seem totally unconnected, and the investigators are absolutely flummoxed as to the prankster's motive (it's presumed to be extortion, but that angle proves nothing but a red herring).

A lucky break leads to the eventual discovery of the mastermind behind the scheme/performance, a curious character who seems at first glance an unlikely conspirator, but whose past record, when explored more carefully, proves anything but spotless. I'll leave it to Swanberg to explain the rest of the story, as he does it very well indeed. Suffice it to say, it wasn't the first time, or even the most serious crime.

The hoakster, E. Fairfax Williamson, had been inspired by a previous practical joker, Theodore Edward Hook, who had carried out a similar scheme against Mrs. Octavia Tottenham in 1809, sending hordes of people thronging to her Berners Street home in London on a single morning. Swanberg explores Hook's work as the precursor to Williamson's even more elaborate persecution of Dix, a most enjoyable tangent to the main story.

Swanberg's writing is lively and humorous, and Collins' afterword, which offers up a fantastic corollary to the Williamson hoax by suggesting that perhaps the joke still hasn't yielded up its last punchline, is brilliant. Highly, highly recommended.

Book Review: "Why Read Moby-Dick?"

Nathaniel Philbrick's Why Read Moby-Dick? (Viking, 2010), at just 130 generously-spaced pages, makes for a very quick, but very enjoyable introduction to Melville's great novel. As Philbrick notes, the Moby-Dick can be a bit intimidating to start or to persevere with; with this little book he encourages a fresh look.

I've read Moby-Dick several times, but most recently about nine years ago, and Philbrick's book made me want to dive right back in again. I found myself nodding emphatically on page 8, when he calls the book "too long and too digressive to be properly appreciated by a sleep-deprived adolescent, particularly in this age of digital distractions." Moby-Dick is a book which makes great demands of its readers, both in time and attention. And that's not a bad thing. I certainly wish I had more time to hunker down with books like that, and I've been making a conscious effort to do so.

Philbrick's short chapters examine various aspects of the book itself, but also the context of Melville's life as he was writing, and his own personal reading and experiences which shaped the novel (he argues, for example, that without reading the letters Melville was sending as he was working on the book, it's difficult to understand the final product). He explores Melville's use of language, and his unconventional, even unique experiments with genre, style and plot. And he's pulled out some of the best quotes from the novel, highlighting Melville's sense of humor, his ability to set a scene, and to build up a head of literary tension.

Even if you don't agree with all of Philbrick's particular interpretations of the novels events and themes, this little book will at least make you think about Melville's novel in a new light, and maybe, just maybe, you'll reach over and pluck that copy off your bookshelf and read a chapter or two. It's going to snow this afternoon ... I think I may do just that.

This Week's Acquisition

Just one new arrival this week:

- The Conan Doyle Stories (Blitz Editions, 1990). A compilation volume of Conan Doyle short stories that I haven't yet read.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Audubon Sells at Christie's

The Duke of Portland's copy of Audubons' Birds of America sold just now at Christie's New York for $7,922,500 (including premiums), not meeting the previous record price. Information on the buyer when it becomes available.

[Update: The buyer is now being identified as "an American collector," who bid by phone. If I find out more, I'll add it. If you bought the Birds, let me know!]

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Supreme Court Rules on Public Domain

While most eyes were on the anti-SOPA and PIPA protests yesterday, the Supreme Court issued an important ruling in a key copyright case, Golan v. Holder. The 6-justice majority (Ginsburg, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, Sotomayor, and Kennedy) held that Congress has the power to remove works from the public domain and return them to copyright protection, which they did in a 1994 law (and thus, could do again if they felt like it). In dissent, Justices Breyer and Alito strongly disagreed, and their opinion merits a close read.

SCOTUSblog's Golan v. Holder page has links to all the relevant documents, including the opinions, a transcript of the oral argument, and all the amicus briefs, including one jointly filed by the ALA, ARL, Internet Archive, University of Michigan, and the Wikimedia Foundation which lays out in stark detail just how important this case is for the future of our understanding of copyright law in general and public domain works in particular. They've also got a very useful summary of the decision.

Coverage from the New York Times, Washington Post, Chronicle of Higher Ed, Associated Press, Techdirt. The latter is a particularly good synopsis, and I agree with their conclusion that the majority opinion simply doesn't seem to take into account how copyright law operates today.

[Update: Another important piece on this, from Kevin Smith at Duke, "Losing Our Focus"]

Book Review: "Prophets of the Fourth Estate"

In their Prophets of the Fourth Estate: Broadsides by Press Critics of the Progressive Era (Litwin Books, 2012), Amy Reynolds and Gary Hicks provide a close look at what progressive-era critics of the press wrote about the dangers of corporatization, consolidation, and the rise of a propaganda/public relations regime to American journalism.

The book reprints a number of editorials and essays, including journalist Charles Edward Russell's "The Keeping of a Kept Press," about the trend of advertisers calling the shots in newsrooms, and "How Business Controls News," which examines corporate "sponsorship" of the lecture circuit. An anonymous The Public editorial bemoans the loss of multiple daily newspapers in cities across the country, and NAACP head Moorfield Storey's "The Daily Press" (1922) calls out newspapers for their lurid sensationalism of unimportant stories:

"Instead of filling pages with incessant harping on some worn-out joke; ... instead of page after page devoted to sports, adorned by portraits of boys and men who are members of some team, why not educate readers to something better than sport? The facts which underlie labor unrest could be studied carefully and published, greatly to the benefit of us all. The real incidence of taxation, and how the burden can best be distributed, would interest a suffering public. What portion of our expense is waste, and where we practice undue economy, is a fertile subject, where careful study would lead to constructive suggestion. The truth on matters of real public interest, well-weighted advice, - the news that is fit to print, - are what we have a right to expect from our newspapers; and if our expectation, our reasonable demands, were met, the press would be a great power for good, and would lead the public up. To-day it is abandoning its high place, and, so far from educating the people, is too often corrupting and debasing them."

Some things never change, at least not for the better. Then as now, of course, there are journalistic outfits doing great and good work, but for every one of them, there's another whose goal seems to run in the opposite direction. The trends of corporate ownership and media consolidation have only continued, making the arguments reprinted in this volume seem just as relevant today as when they were originally published.

Reynolds and Hicks provide short contextual essays on the period covered by their book, and capsule biographies of the major players: Russell, Storey, and Oswald Garrison Villard. The essays, which provide some background on the progressive era, muckraking journalisam, and the other goings-on of the time, might have benefited from another round at the editor's desk, and a few chronological mistakes crept in (most notably on p. 117-118, where the timing of McKinley's inauguration is misstated, which leads to a cascading run of errors about the timing of the runup to the Spanish-American War).

The reprinted pieces alone would make this book well worth a read. They serve as a useful reminder that the trends we see today are nothing new (though I hasten to add that I don't believe that the journalism of earlier eras was any less sensationalistic or profit-driven than that of the Progressive era ... the corporatization and consolidation has simply allowed it to get increasingly more concentrated over time).

Monday, January 16, 2012

Book Review: "Books as History"

David Pearson's Books as History (first published 2008; revised edition published by the British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2011) ought to be read by, well, everyone, frankly, but at the very least anyone with even the slightest interest in books. Most especially, perhaps, it should be required reading for those who pen breathless screeds about "the death of the book," or who simply don't understand the fact that books can be important historical artifacts, imparting lessons far more important than the text contained within them. "Books may cease to be read," Pearson writes, "but let us recognise that we may have other reasons to value them" (p. 5).

Pearson, director of the City of London's Library, Archives, and Guildhall Art Gallery, is one of the best-qualified people in the world to write a book about the importance of books as history. An expert on both bookbindings and provenance research (among other aspects of book history), he puts that knowledge to good use here, pointing out in several chapters the various ways in which a book can become, as he puts it, "a preservable object with an individual history" (p. 22), a "unique artefact in the fabric of cultural heritage, with a wealth of meaning worth preserving and interpreting" (p. 25).

Through different typographic choices, design styles, illustration techniques, &c., Pearson first examines how a single text can be changed and altered, and he shows how, do to the production processes during the hand-press period, no two books even from the same edition are likely to be identical, strictly speaking. And then he digs deeper, noting that even in cases where the text and design may be identical, all of the individual copies of a particular edition become unique objects in their own right. He uses the example of 1,000 unbound copies of an 18th-century book, all of which go to different owners, each to be bound to the purchaser's own preferences, and later to be marked up, used, and passed on to subsequent owners. Each of those copies is a unique historical object, different, however slightly, from all of its edition-mates. A case study at the end of the book examines in detail five copies of a single book, to prove the point.

In his penultimate chapter, Pearson examines the role of libraries as historical artifacts themselves: "Knowing the contents of private and institutional libraries of the past allows us to compare them with other collections of the time, and to build up wider pictures of book ownership over the centuries, looking at average sizes, changing trends in language or subject, and in the place of origin of the books. We can see which books were popular and which were not; books have survived today in very uneven ways, and ones which are very rare today may once have been much more widely read than ones which have survived in relatively large quanitities. ... Looking carefully at [historical peoples'] collections, and the physical evidence of the ways in which they treated them, helps us to better understand these various roles which books have played in history" (p. 166-7).

Looking forward, Pearson makes the very important point that "If [books'] rationale is solely textual, their obsolescence seems guaranteed; the key point is that it is not, and that we are collectively in danger of making bad decisions about what should and should not be preserved for posterity if we overlook this" (p. 21).

Books as History as a book-object also happens to be very well designed, and is thoroughly illustrated with example images that nicely complement Pearson's text. A good list of sources for further reading is included for those who find something intriguing and want to read more. It's an excellent introduction to the book history field, and a book which should, as I said at the outset, be read by anyone with even a remote interest in the subject.

Mapping Audubon's Subscribers

Since I enjoyed my first foray into mapping subscriber lists, I decided I'd have another go ... and since a copy of Audubon's Birds of America is coming up for sale later this week, that was a natural choice.

Check out the map here.

I opted to use the "final list of subscribers" - that is, the list Audubon included in the last volume of his Ornithological Biography (Edinburgh, 1839). Some others had subscribed for earlier parts of the work and are not included here; nor are those subscribers who purchased full sets following publication. The final list is separated by American subscribers (82) and European subscribers (78, since one is listed twice), for a total of 160.

For my previous map, I used different color pins to indicate the number of copies subscribed for; that wouldn't have worked in this case since most subscribers took only a single copy*, so I used the pin-colors instead to indicate the subscriber category: government body, college or university, library, learned society or museum, individual, or a royal family.

Using Waldemar Fries' The Double Elephant Folio (originally published in 1973, and reissued by Zenaida Publishing in 2006 with updates by Susanne M. Low), I was also able to track the current whereabouts of the copies where that information is known.

Notably, just twelve copies of the Birds of America appear to remain with their original owner-subscribers (others, as I mentioned above, remain with their original purchasers who were not subscribers). They are:

- Library of Congress
- State Library of Massachusetts (2010 article)
- Boston Athenaeum
- Harvard University
- American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia
- Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia
- Columbia University
- Cambridge University Library
- Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
- Christ Church Library, Oxford
- Radcliffe Science Library, Oxford
- Institute de France, Paris

As with the previous map, in many cases I didn't have precise addresses for the subscribers, so the pin-locations are approximate. If anyone has more specific information on the addresses, or other corrections, &c., I'll be more than happy to update the map. [Update: using digitized city directories, I have found reasonably good address information for most of the subscribers now] And for the full stories of these subscribers and the copies' journeys over time, do consult Fries' wonderful book.

* The French Interior Ministry did request six copies, but they only appear to have received six copies of the first volume.

Auction Report: January Sales So Far

As we wait for the Audubon sale on 20 January, here's what's happened so far this month:

- Prices for the 5 January PBA Galleries Fine Books in All Fields sale are here; 336 of 460 lots sold. The first edition Leaves of Grass was the top lot, but only made $12,000 against estimates of $20,000-30,000.

- At Lyon & Turnbull's Rare Books, Maps, and Manuscripts sale, held 11 January, the top lot was a collection of 58 silver print photographs of Tibet from the 1903-4 Younghusband expedition. It made £16,000. You can get full sale results here.

- Bloomsbury held a Bibliophile sale on 12 January. Full results.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Links & Reviews

- Stuart Kelly blogged for the Guardian about reading by candlelight.

- Over on the SHARP blog, Leslie Howsam asks for the "most innovative monographs in the field of book history published in the past 20 years"? It's prompted some good discussion (don't forget to read the comments).

- Lisa Jardine comments on the history of information overload in "Why didn't Harry Potter just use Google?"

- A new Biblio-tumblr from Brooke Palmieri, BIBLIOGUERILLA. I've also added a link on the sidebar.

- In a followup blog post to her recent piece on Matt Kirschenbaum's project on the history of word processing, Jennifer Schuessler reports that authors have been coming out of the woodwork to stake their claims.

- Paul Collins points out the 1850s Philadelphia magazine "Bizarre" (sample contents here).

- The BBC reports on the annual cleaning of the chained library at Hereford Cathedral.

- From The Collation, a wonderful idea of allowing readers who've taken reference images of Folger materials to pool them in a Flickr group. Other institutions where reference photography is allowed: this is a step worth exploring at the very least!

- Over at Echoes from the Vault, some very nice inky fingerprints in a 1473 book.

- Some nifty resources on the English book trade, tweeted by @mercpol recently: The English Provincial Book Trade Before 1850 and The London Booktrades: A Biographical and Documentary Resource.

- The Poe Foundation of Boston has released three finalists for a Poe-related public art installation in Boston, and have set up a website soliciting comments on the designs.

- In the Washington Post, Raymond M. Lane looks at the connections between Poe and Dickens.

- A fascinating discussion sprang up on ExLibris this week, about whether ebook collections should be allowed as entries into book collecting contests. Nate Pedersen summarized the issues in a Fine Books Blog post.

- Seven wonderful booksellers have collaborated on a collective catalog of items available at the upcoming San Francisco and Pasadena fairs.

- Over at Notes for Bibliophiles, Jordan Goffin highlights some recent work on whaleship reading.

- In the Telegraph, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst writes about the new BBC adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood (airing in the US in April). And, for more on Dickens, Christopher Hitchens' posthumous Vanity Fair piece, "Charles Dickens's Inner Child," is a must-read.


- Elizabeth Dowling Taylor's A Slave in the White House; review by Jonathan Yardley in theWashington Post.

- Cullen Murphy's God's Jury; review by Edward Peters in the Washington Post.

- P.D. James' Death Comes to Pemberley; review by Kenneth Turan in the LATimes.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

This Week's Acquisitions

A crop of remainders from Edward R. Hamilton arrived this week, plus some interesting review copies and Clarissa, of which some of us are doing a group-read this year on LT.

- Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life by Natalie Dykstra (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). Publisher.

- Redcoats and Rebels: The American Revolution Through British Eyes by Christopher Hibbert (W.W. Norton, 2002). Edward R. Hamilton.

- Lost Land of the Dodo: The Ecological History of Mauritius, Reunion, and Rodrigues by Anthony Cheke and Julian Hume (Yale University Press, 2008). Edward R. Hamilton.

- Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-Old Computer--and the Century-Long Search to Discover Its Secrets by Jo Marchant (Da Capo Press, 2009). Edward R. Hamilton.

- Victorians and the Prehistoric: Tracks to a Lost World by Michael Freeman (Yale University Press, 2004). Edward R. Hamilton.

- The Lost Ark of the Covenant: Solving the 2,500-Year-Old Mystery of the Fabled Biblical Ark by Tudor Parfitt (HarperOne, 2009). Edward R. Hamilton.

- The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels by Janet Soskice (Knopf, 2009). Edward R. Hamilton.

- The Philosophers' Quarrel: Rousseau, Hume, and the Limits of Human Understanding by Robert Zaretsky and John T. Scott (Yale University Press, 2009). Edward R. Hamilton.

- Prophets of the Fourth Estate: Broadsides by Press Critics of the Progressive Era by Amy Reynolds and Gary Hicks (Litwin Books, 2012). Publisher.

- Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson (Penguin, 1986). Amazon.

- Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik (Del Rey, 2007). Amazon.

- That Is All by John Hodgman (Dutton, 2011). Amazon.

- The Solitary House by Lynn Shepherd (Delacorte, 2012). Publisher.

- A Printing History of Everyman's Library 1906-1982 by Terry Seymour (Author House, 2011). Publisher.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Audubon at Christie's on 20 January

On January 20 at Christie's New York, a complete (and quite lovely) set of Audubon's Birds of America is up for sale, with an estimate of $7-10 million. The set has a decent chance of surpassing the $11.5 million record price paid for the last complete Birds at auction, sold at Sotheby's sale of Lord Hesketh's library in December 2010.

The Birds is the Duke of Portland's copy; Waldemar Fries suggests that the set was bound for the 5th Duke of Portland, William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentick (after being acquired by either the 5th Duke himself or his father). The Christie's catalog description reads "Presumably purchased sometime after 1838 as a bound complete set" by the 4th Duke (with a qualifying note later in the description). Whichever duke first acquired it, the set has been in the family's library at Welbeck Abbey in North Nottinghamshire since the middle part of the 19th century.

Tom Lecky from Christie's appeared on a Bloomberg radio program to discuss the sale; you can listen here (mp3 file).

Just 13 copies of the Birds remain in private hands; when the hammer comes down on this sale, will this copy still be among them? Stay tuned.

Book Review: "Pfitz"

Andrew Crumey's Pfitz (Picador, 1997) may run to just 164 pages, but if you're not paying close enough attention as you read even one, beware. A postmodernist meta-romp, featuring stories within stories within stories, a whole series of narrators, and a very playful conception of "time," the novel is by fits (no pun intended) and starts delightful, bizarre, and frustrating (not necessarily in that order).

The best part is the very first chapter, outlining Crumey's framing device: an 18th-century European principality, vaguely Germanic, where the prince has opted to spend all his (and his people's) time, wealth, and energy in the creation of a fictional city. Maps will be drawn showing every aspect of the city from the streets to the buildings to the locations of its citizens; those citizens will be given minutely-detailed biographies, and if the are found to have written books, those books will be written, and placed within the exquistely-engineered Library, a Borgesian wonder-place paired with an even-more-wonderful Museum (see p. 15-16 for some absolutely wonderful descriptions of how these two great edifices would be designed).

A massive bureaucracy is, naturally, required for the undertaking of such a project, and our main protagonist, Schenck, is a minor functionary in the Cartography Division, responsible for the creation of some of the many maps of the fictional city (his project, when we meet him, is to chart the functioning of the fictional city's storm drains during downpours). But Schenck is distracted by an alluring redhead up in Biography, and in trying to please her, he quickly finds that with each layer of meta-fiction, the set lines of chronology, authorship and narrative begin to get very fluid indeed.

While I was frustrated at times over just what the book was trying to be, I very much enjoyed Crumey's descriptions in certain parts of the book: the opening chapter alone makes the book worth a read.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Review: "Charles Dickens: A Life"

Claire Tomalin's Charles Dickens: A Life (Penguin, 2011) was certainly well timed, appearing just a few months before the bicentennial of Dickens' birth on 7 February. It's a doorstop of a book (at 488 pages including the notes), but thankfully it's also a very good read; Tomalin tells the author's story without sparing any of the gory details (and there are plenty of them to be told).

From her opening chapters on Dickens' family background, Tomalin makes clear just how hard Dickens pushed himself to be successful, working almost maniacally at times on his various writing projects, with other endeavours (public readings, philanthropic efforts, &c.) never far from the front burner.

Tomalin focuses on Dickens' working habits, his travels, his personal relationships and his finances; but there's also room here to discuss the writings, from what inspired them to their public reception. The book is positively packed with details: a double-edged sword, since they're fascinating but also a bit much at times. Still, I was surprised that there wasn't more here about Dickens' relationships with his publishers and his illustrators, and I would have enjoyed more details of his 1868 American trip.

A major theme of Tomalin's biography is Dickens' complicated family dynamic, and the author minces no words about his shabby treatment of his wife Catherine, from whom he ended up separating rather messily. Tomalin, whose previous books include a biography of Nelly Ternan, Dickens' late-life paramour, explores that relationship thorougly, suggesting that the couple had a son and that Dickens might have suffered his final, fatal attack not at his Gad's Hill home, but at Nelly Ternan's residence. And she plumbs the depths of Dickens' dealings with his children, which in a great many instances seem nothing but, well, cruel.

As any good biography should do, this made me want to read more of Dickens' own works, particularly his American Notes (about his 1842 visit to the United States). I think I'll make that the book I read in February to mark his birthday. And if you're looking for a good rundown of the man's life and works, I certainly recommend Tomalin's volume for your consideration.

Links & Reviews

- Over at "Cardiff Book History," Rhys Tranter interviews Robert Darnton about the future of books.

- New feature at the Houghton Library blog, "You've Got Mail," kicks off with a letter from Samuel Johnson to Hester Thrale.

- The Guardian covers that strange case of forged Ibsen works that I've mentioned here before.

- Don't miss "The Public Practice of History in and for a Digital Age," new AHA president William Cronon's first Perspectives on History column.

- The University of Georgia's new special collections building is now open for business.

- Vin Carretta's recent talk at the Mass Historical Society about his new Phillis Wheatley bio is now online. And this week, I added a Phillis Wheatley Legacy Library to LibraryThing.

- A must-read post at Typefoundry, "Type held in the hand."

- Johann Froben's publications are highlighted at The Private Library.

- Ian Maxted writes on the Baring-Gould library, with images of bookplates and inscriptions.

- Jennifer Howard expertly covers recently scholarship on the King James Bible.

- In the NYTimes, Anne Trubek explores "Why Authors Tweet."


- Umberto Eco's The Prague Cemetery; review by Sinclair McKay in the Telegraph.

- Dava Sobel's A More Perfect Heaven; review by San Kean in the NYTimes.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

This Week's Acquisitions

- The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O'Brian (W.W. Norton, 1992). Green Hand.

- Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill (W.W. Norton, 2008). Book Depository (via LT's SantaThing)

- The Narrative of John Smith by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (British Library, 2011). Book Depository (via LT's SantaThing)

- From Colonials to Provincials: American Thought and Culture, 1680-1760 by Ned C. Landsman (Cornell University Press, 2000). Amazon.

- Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik (Del Rey, 2006). Amazon.

- Black Powder War by Naomi Novik (Del Rey, 2006). Amazon.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Book Review: "The Narrative of John Smith"

Arthur Conan Doyle's first novel, written in 1883 and lost in the mail on its way to the publisher (the uncompleted text we have was rewritten from memory), The Narrative of John Smith was first published in 2010 by the British Library, which acquired the manuscript in 2004. The edition was edited and introduced by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower, and Rachel Foss, who provide a very good background essay and a series of explanatory annotations to show how ideas, concepts and even specific turns of phrase first deployed here find their way into Conan Doyle's later, better-known writings.

The narrative itself is less than exciting; a middle-aged man, confined to his room for a week by gout, engages in a series of ruminations and descriptions: he provides a minute tour of his room and its furnishings, muses on the neighbors across the street and those who share his building, and discourses (mostly with himself, but occasionally with his visiting doctor) on all manner of topics. Not a whole lot happens, and the fragmentary nature of the rewritten text prevents much narrative flow from getting underway. Not to mention, of course, the fact that the novel remains unfinished.

But, there are diamonds in this rough: the style that those of us who enjoy Conan Doyle's stories know and love shines through in more than a few places. Some of those I noted particularly:

- describing the lot of a young writer: "The articles which I sent forth came back to me at times with a rapidity and accuracy which spoke well for our postal arrangements. If they had been paper boomerangs they could not have returned more infallibly to their unhappy dispatcher" (p. 29)

- on books: "There should be a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Books. I hate to see the poor patient things knocked about and disfigured. A book is a mummifed soul embalmed in morocco leather and printer's ink instead of cerecloths and unguents. It is the concentrated essence of a man. Poor Horatius Flaccus has turned to an impalpable power by this time, but there is his very sprit stuck like a fly in amber, in that brown-backed volume in the corner. A line of books should make a man subdued and reverent. If he cannot learn to treat them with becoming decency he should be forced" (p. 19)

- a tour round his flat: "And then the knick-knacks! Those are the things which give the individuality to a room - the flotsam and jetsam which a man picks up carelessly at first, but which soon drift into his heart. If it conduces to comfort to have these little keepsakes of the past before one's eyes, then what matter how inelegant they may chance to be!" (p. 17)

Certainly worth reading for the insight it offers into the author's early style. But make sure to read the notes as you go along; they're a key part of the work, and the editors have done a fine job with them.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Auction Preview: January Sales

January's a fairly quiet auction month overall, but there's certainly the potential for a really big sale price, at Christie's New York on 20 January.

- PBA Galleries sells Fine Books in All Fields on 5 January, in 460 lots. A first edition Leaves of Grass rates the top estimate, at $20,000-30,000.

- Edinburgh's Lyon & Turnbull will sell Rare Books, Maps, and Manuscripts on 11 January, in 456 lots.

- Bloomsbury hosts a Bibliophile sale on 12 January, in 398 lots.

- On 19 January, PBA Galleries sells Americana & Californiana, Cartography, and Clipper Ship Cards. No preview yet available.

- Christie's has just one book sale this month, on 20 January ... but it's a doozy: the Duke of Portland's copy of Audubon's Birds of America (est. $7-10 million). I'll have a complete preview of the sale in a few days.

- There will be at least a few books and manuscripts in the 22 January Bonhams sale.

- Swann Galleries holds a "Shelf Sale" on 26 January.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Book Review: "On Conan Doyle"

Michael Dirda's On Conan Doyle: or, the The Whole Art of Storytelling (Princeton University Press, 2011) is a lovely little collection of musings on Conan Doyle's life and works, and also a look at the author's own experiences reading Conan Doyle as well as taking part in the activities of the famous Baker Street Irregulars.

While there's plenty here for the Sherlock Holmes fan, Dirda also discusses Conan Doyle's other works, including the wonderful Professor Challenger stories, the stories of the macabre, and the non-fiction, including Through the Magic Door and some of the writings on spiritualism.

It's always interesting to read about another person's first memories and experiences with Conan Doyle. Dirda vividly recalls his first ventures into the Sherlock Holmes canon, which I don't, but I definitely remember the first time I read The Lost World (my original copy, which is still around somewhere, though much-read now, was a terrible Wal-Mart paperback edition with a lurid orange "99¢" blob printed right on the cover). And I'm pretty sure I wore out my local library's copy of Round the Fire Stories. While the Holmes stories are great, I enjoy some of the other short stories even more, and Dirda's book, as an introduction to the whole range of Conan Doyle's works, is most welcome.

Links & Reviews

- Perhaps my favorite piece of the week, John Crace's great takedown of year-end booklists.

- The January AE Monthly includes the Top 500 Book Auction Prices for 2011, a prediction for 2012's top price, and more.

- Woody Guthrie's archives have been purchased by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which plans to open a Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa by the end of 2012.

- Over at Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie, Lew Jaffe examines a silver bookplate.

- Rebecca Rego Barry has posted her very tempting winter reading list on the Fine Books Blog.

- While I take great issue with the phrase "cult of the physical book," Trevor Butterworth's Forbes article is still worth a read.

- The traveling panel show about John Adams' library, now in Long Island, gets a writeup in the NYTimes.

- In New Scientist, Paul Collins writes on the delightful trend of Victorian poet-scientists.


- John M. Barry's Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul; review by Joyce Chaplin in the NYTimes.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Literary Anniversaries 2012

Like last year, I'll highlight a few of the notable anniversaries coming up in 2012:

50 years ago (1962):
- David Foster Wallace born, 21 February
- Chuck Palahniuk born, 21 February.
- Tracy Chevalier born, 19 October.
- Vita Sackville-West dies, 2 June.
- William Faulkner dies, 6 July.
- Hermann Hesse dies, 9 August.
- E.E. Cummings dies, 3 September.
- Karen Blixen dies, 7 September.
- Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes published.
- Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange published.
- Ian Fleming's The Spy Who Loved Me published.
- Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time published.
- Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest published.
- Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire published.
- Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools published.
- Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy published.
- Rachel Carson's Silent Spring published.
- Ad-man Martin Speckter invents the interrobang ‽

100 years ago (1912):
- Barbara Tuchman born, 30 January.
- Lawrence Durrell born, 27 February.
- John Cheever born, 27 May.
- Jorge Amado born, 10 August.
- Bram Stoker dies, 20 April.
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World published.
- Thomas Mann's Death in Venice published.

150 years ago (1862):
- Edith Wharton born, 24 January.
- M.R. James born, 1 August.
- Henry David Thoreau dies, 6 May.
- Victor Hugo's Les Misérables published.

200 years ago (1812):
- Charles Dickens born, 7 February.
- Robert Browning born, 7 May.
- Edward Lear born, 12 May.
- Initial volume of Grimms' Fairy Tales published.
- Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage published.
- Johann David Wyss' The Swiss Family Robinson published.

250 years ago (1762):
- Lady Mary Wortley Montagu dies, 21 August.
- Oliver Goldsmith's The Citizen of the World published.
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Émile and Du Contrat Social published.
- "Ossian's" Fingal published.
- Lords Kames' Elements of Criticism published.

300 years ago (1712):
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau born, 28 June.
- Andrew Foulis born.
- Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock published.

350 years ago (1662):
- Richard Bentley born, 27 January.
- Matthew Henry born, 18 October.
- Blaise Pascal dies, 19 August.
- Michael Wigglesworth's The Day of Doom published.

400 years ago (1612):
- Samuel Butler born, December 4.
- Anne Bradstreet born (~1612).
- Ben Jonson's Love Restored published.
- Cervantes' Don Quixote translated into English by Thomas Shelton.

450 years ago (1562):
- Lope de Vega born, 25 November.

500 years ago (1512):
- Gerardus Mercator born, 5 March.
- Amerigo Vespucci dies, 22 February.

550 years ago (1462):
- Johannes Trithemius born, 1 February.
- Jodocus Badius, Flemish printer, born.

What'd I miss? Let me know!