Two years ago, I blogged about the start of World Book Night, now an annual tradition on Shakespeare's Birthday (aka April 23 or "yesterday") wherein volunteer book givers around the world offer free books to other people. It's become a spectacular success.  Check out this zip code map of the location of American book givers for the 2014 rendition:

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 10.41.01 PM.jpg
The entire country was blanketed with book givers.

So here's how this works: a panel of librarians and booksellers get together each year and decide on 30-35 titles across a variety of reading levels and interests to issue for free for World Book Night.  The authors waive their royalties and the publishers arrange for specially printed editions.  Then folks apply to become "book givers," filling out applications that are evaluated based on their potential to reach "light and non-readers."  Successful applicants pick up 20 copies of their selected book at a community book drop (typically the local public library or bookshop). Then World Book Night rolls around and the book givers flood the streets evangelizing their books.

Now I'm curious if any of our readers participated in last night's event.  If so, please share your experiences in the comment section below.  If you were a book giver, let us know if it was fun, it people were receptive to your gift, and what the experience was like.  If you were a book receiver, tell us about getting your free book.

And on the collecting front, I'm curious about these "specially printed editions" produced by publishers. That seems like a potentially interesting book collection to me.  Is anyone putting together a World Book Night book collection?

Happy Birthday William Shakespeare



Lord Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.
(2.2 199-200)

The Folio Society has been preparing for William Shakespeare's 450th birthday since 2006, when the renowned British fine books publishing house embarked on an ambitious project to print every tragedy, comedy and history in a large format, limited edition collection. The entire cannon, including poems and sonnets, is now complete and color-coded by genre in individually numbered volumes. Zerkal deckle press paper, Moroccan leather binding and typeset in letterpress on hand-marbled paper, these books are a sumptuous tactile experience.

The series is a feast for the eyes as well; Shakespeare's words stand alone, elegant and unobstructed by small margins and notes because the texts and commentaries are now in separate volumes. This affords readers the  delight of reading Shakespeare unencumbered by visual clutter.

Each page meets the Folio Society's rigorous standards for quality and craftsmanship. These gems are also attractively priced at $545 per volume. Such beauty is fleeting - only three hundred copies of each volume exist.  What better way to celebrate the Bard's birthday than by enjoying his work in such a wonderful manner. 



Celebrations are underway all over the world this year for the centenary of Dylan Thomas' birth. But one of the most unusual - and most intriguing celebrations will occur in the Welsh town of Laugharne. Thomas lived there for the final four years of his life, calling it "the strangest town in Wales." Laugharne, and its residents, were the direct inspirations for Thomas's last great masterpiece, the play "Under Milk Wood." Described as Thomas's attempt at a Welsh Ulysses, the play features an omniscient narrator who describes in minute and poetic detail the lives, dreams, and thoughts of the inhabitants of Llareggub ("bugger all" backwards), a small coastal village in Wales.

To celebrate the centenary of their most famous export, the residents of Laugharne are banding together with the Welsh National Theatre to produce an immersive theatrical adaptation of "Under Milk Wood." Entitled "Raw Material: Llareggub Revisited," the live theatre event invites audience members on a stroll through Laugharne where they will encounter characters in the play acting out their roles in situ. The free-rolling adaptation will be as much about the residents of Laugharne as it will be about the actors performing the parts.

National Theatre Wales describes the play as such:

On foot, we will explore hidden and transformed spaces as we find Thomas's characters re-imagined on screen by some of Wales's most extraordinary and well-loved performers. As we go on our trail through the town, local townsfolk introduce us to the actions, habits and secrets that make today's Laugharne as curious and unique a place as it was when Thomas called it home.

The play takes place between May 3rd and 5th, however tickets are already sold out.  BBC Wales will also be on hand to record the entire performance for broadcast on May 5th.

[Image of Dylan Thomas' boathouse from Wikipedia]
Two New York rare booksellers claim to have purchased--on Ebay, no less--an annotated dictionary that belonged to William Shakespeare. George Koppelman and Daniel Wechsler, both members of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, and the Grolier Club, have astounded the book world today with what might be the literary find of the century, or millennium.  

The book, John Baret's An Alvearie or Quadruple Dictionarie, was published in London in 1580. Koppelman and Wechsler bought in for $4,050 on Ebay in 2008, thus beginning an incredible journey. Though the dictionary is unsigned, it holds thousands of annotations in a sixteenth-century hand, including what the booksellers believe are subtle clues to Shakespeare's writing process. It is, as the booksellers write, "A most obscure book. A humble copy. An extensive network of annotations that, through obscurity and a lack of attention, comes to light only now, never previously studied or speculated upon. These are the basic stepping-stones to providing plausibility to the dream that such a monumental discovery is possible. The rest is in the evidence."

bookpush copy.jpgThat evidence is presented in an illustrated account of their acquisition and subsequent research, titled Shakespeare's Beehive: An Annotated Elizabethan Dictionary Comes to Light. At Shakespeare's Beehive online, copies of the limited edition hardcover are $75 (seen here at left), and an e-book version is available for $15.

Rare bookseller Henry Wessells, who received an early copy of the study, posted a review on his blog, commenting, "The ordinariness of the individual annotations is, to me, precisely what argues for their authenticity: they form not a rough draft of any single text, but a tool kit."

It has been reported that the Folger Shakespeare Library will release an official statement regarding the news later today. (Update: the Folger's response, "Buzz or honey" was posted here.)

Some are already speculating on the seven-figure sale of the discovered dictionary.   

All this comes just in time for Shakespeare's 450th birthday on Wednesday.

Image via Shakespeare's Beehive.

Appointment in Samarra

Appointment in Samarra (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For all the remembered writers of the 20th century, John O'Hara may not be among them.  He was, however, commercial, and in his own words, he said, "I'm not some hairy philosopher. I'm just an ordinary guy who happens to write well."
    O'Hara was one of the 20th century's best-selling authors. His biographer, Matthew J. Bruccoli, claimed O'Hara published more words than any other writer in the century. The public loved O'Hara, and he wrote for them. Critics were less kind.
     Still, O'Hara knew what he was about. "The United States in this century is what I know," he said. "I want to record the way people talked and thought and felt, and do it with complete honesty and variety."
     The Schuylkill County (PA) Historical Society, the birthplace of O'Hara, is now trying to keep O'Hara's memory alive. The Society got an early start on preserving the history of the area, having incorporated in 1903, but only last month decided to build an O'Hara collection. Their collection began simply enough with the recent donation of two letters written by O'Hara, one dated in 1954 and the other dated in 1961, and they serve as a cornerstone for other artifacts to come from the author's life.
     Upon publication of O'Hara's first book, Appointment in Samarra, the New York Herald Tribune wrote that, "The genuine value of Appointment in Samarra is the author's grasp of his dubious hero's character." Hemingway praised the book highly and Edmund Wilson wrote that the book was "a memorable picture of both a provincial snob, a disorganized drinking-man of the twenties, and of the complexities of the social organism in which he flourished and perished."
     Last year, Penguin Classics re-issued Appointment in Samarra, and other O'Hara books have followed.  The author is finally receiving a bit of his critical due, particularly for his later works, which remain some of best portraits of the 20th century.

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Sarah Burke Cahalan, Special Projects and Reference Librarian at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC.

How did you get started in rare books?

My first library job was an apprenticeship in the Weissman Preservation Center when I was an undergraduate at Harvard.  I cleaned awful adhesives off of colonial currency--yes, I was a money launderer--and I made clamshell boxes for daguerreotypes.  At the same time, I worked in an independent bookstore, which is where I started to learn about reference services.  After college (thanks to a grant), I had a vagabond year in which I read poetry and rode trains in Europe and Asia.  I spent time with beekeepers in Malta, Tunisia, Italy, and Slovenia.  The amazing thing is that my interest in apiculture is relevant to my current work with rare garden books, which often have coverage of beekeeping and other types of animal husbandry.  My MA in medieval art focused on the making of art objects; it was supervised by a codicologist at the Courtauld Institute, where I also worked part-time in the archives.  By the time I arrived at Simmons for my MLIS I knew to search out people who could teach me about special collections and rare books librarianship.  I finished the degree in 2010--not an amazing time for library jobs!  So I was very happy to find my way to Dumbarton Oaks.

Please introduce us to Dumbarton Oaks and your role there:

Dumbarton Oaks is a Washington, DC-based research institute of Harvard University.  We support research in Byzantine, Garden & Landscape, and Pre-Columbian Studies.  Dumbarton Oaks offers fellowships throughout the year as well as short-term research stipends and internships.  We also have several hundred authorized Readers who routinely visit the Library.  The institute includes Gardens, a Museum, Archival Collections, and a Publications department.  I divide my time between the Research Library and the Rare Book Collection.  The Rare Book Collection supports scholarship in all three subject areas, but it is strongest in Garden & Landscape because of the collecting interests of Mildred Barnes Bliss, one of the founders of Dumbarton Oaks.

My title, Special Projects & Reference Librarian, encompasses the range of my duties.  I do day-to-day reference work and answer complex questions about rare book holdings.  I try to maintain a social media presence for the Rare Book Collection.  I supervise the Rare Book Reading Room four afternoons a week and handle many of the image orders we receive there.  I developed our online exhibit template and the content type for describing rare books (using a MARC-Dublin Core crosswalk).  I hosted a "miracle fruit" party a couple of years back.  I co-organized a symposium in October 2013 titled "The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century," and am currently working on the symposium volume with my co-editors.  I've supervised two interns and look forward to working with more interns in the future.  One of the really fun parts of my job is working with the Museum's gift shop to develop products that use images from the collection.  "Special projects" can mean any number of things!

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled?

I get really excited about manuscript copies of printed works.  The amount of labor that goes into this sort of project is astounding.  One example I've returned to several times is a late eighteenth-century manuscript copy of Paolo Boccone's 1697 Museo di piante rare, with added Linnaean names and morphological details.  Items that complicate my ideas of what is unique and what is a reproduction always catch my interest.  For example, Dumbarton Oaks holds several albums prepared by workshops of artists in Penang, Malacca, and Singapore for Europeans stationed abroad; the illustrations in these albums were copied and assembled for purchase, meaning that similar paintings are extant in multiple horticultural libraries today.
What do you personally collect?

I prefer to keep my responsibility for cultural heritage materials at work, where there's proper HVAC, emergency preparation, etc.  If I acquire anything these days it is all of the kids' books I loved when I was growing up.  But they quickly get applesauce on them.  My house is not a safe place for books and it won't be for at least a decade, when my children are less inclined to chew on things that should not be chewed upon.  I do have a beautiful wooden card catalog which is mostly used for seed packets, shells, and other little objects.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I love that almost everything I have ever found interesting is relevant to my job.  I worked part-time at the Harvard Botany Libraries while I was attending Simmons.  I remember the day I realized how important my knowledge of Latin was going to be in helping a scholar who was researching the earliest documentation of specific plants.  It was thrilling!  I had been developing obscure skill sets and interests for years, and here was a profession in which they could actually be useful.  Even my guilty pleasures--I have subscribed to Vogue for years, and I love British publications like Tatler--end up being useful when I know the name of a particular country estate or a particular detail about the history of costume.  On a good day, I get to share discoveries from the collection with people in our community and beyond.  Rare book librarianship is really the best job in the world.

Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?

I am interested in the combination of our assets with other datasets.  No matter one's opinion on MOOCs, our digital facsimiles can gain new traction and new audiences as learning moves online.  Interoperability of digital collections (such as that facilitated by IIIF and linked open data) will make it possible to compare disparate collections in the same platform.  The potential uses of GIS for understanding intellectual history are extraordinary.  Of course these big projects require collaboration across departments and institutions, not to mention time and money.

The boundaries among rare book librarianship, visual resources, and the sciences are blurring.  So many of the questions I handle are along the lines of "Can you help me find an image of _____?"--whether it's an archaeological site or a period map or a particular plant.  There are fantastic print resources and databases for some of these queries (natural history in particular), but others are lacking.  Much of it comes down to knowing the collections and knowing the personality of specific library catalogs.  But it's also important to keep up with developing tools and metadata standards in fields other than our own.  I just learned about Audubon Core, a descriptive metadata standard for biodiversity resources, and I've been working with natural history materials for years.

Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you'd like to draw our attention to?

Yes!--in collaboration with Jason W. Dean at the University of Arkansas I am working on S. Fred Prince, an illustrator of natural history who worked primarily in the Ozarks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Much of his work is based on specimens he collected and observed in the field.  He produced work on ferns, wildflowers, caves, and butterflies.  The manuscript materials are now held in a number of collections around the United States.  Some are at Dumbarton Oaks, including a manuscript on ferns that also includes maps and pressed specimens.  We hope to gain more exposure for his work.  We've just started putting materials on Tumblr and I'm sure I'll be Tweeting developments @stampedinblind.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

We have two exhibit spaces and four of us share curatorial responsibilities, so we always have new exhibits going up.  Since some of the exhibit space isn't routinely accessible to the general public, we've been trying to curate at least one online exhibit a year.  My colleague and I are planning an exhibit on Hagia Sophia for next winter.  Several departments at Dumbarton Oaks (notably the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives) have important documents and objects relating to this site, many of which have been or are in the process of being digitized, so in addition to an on-site exhibit we are developing an online portal as a reference tool.  This is the sort of project that will be of use to a broad spectrum of visitors, since Hagia Sophia is the best-known work of Byzantine architecture.

At last, a way to gauge one's level of bibliomania: What would you give to own a copy of A.S. Byatt's Possession inscribed by the author to Nicholas Basbanes? Or, Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, inscribed to the man who brought book collecting into the mainstream? How about Alberto Manguel's A History of Reading inscribed to the author of eight books on reading, writing, and collecting books?

These three association copies, and more than six hundred other modern first editions, all inscribed to Basbanes, are being offered en bloc by Lux Mentis Booksellers in Portland, Maine.  

DSC_5982.jpegMost readers hardly need an introduction to Nick Basbanes. He has been, since the publication of A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books in 1995, the book world's foremost expert on bibliophilia, as well as FB&C's featured columnist. Prior to that, Basbanes was book review editor and literary columnist for the Worcester (Massachusetts) Telegram & Gazette from 1978 to 1991 and a freelance reviewer and writer from 1991 to 2000. It was during these years that Basbanes interviewed scores of authors. In the introduction to the sale catalogue for the collection of association copies, Basbanes writes that asking each author to sign a book for him "was central to my transformation from an impassioned reader who already loved books for their content into a bibliophile who treasured them as material objects."

Simon .jpgTwo of the inscribed books recall a lighthearted rivalry between Annie Dillard and Roy Blount, Jr. Basbanes had met with the two writers on the same day. Blount had inscribed, "It's nice to be able to discuss the concept of raunchiness with you just before you get to Annie Dillard." To which Dillard "replied" in her inscription: "...with all best wishes after a jolly old time at the Ritz-Carleton on the day of his talk with slightly more raunchy Roy Blount Jr."

DSC_6026.JPGSome of the authors he interviewed more than once (and so he collected more than one title), including Margaret Atwood, Harold Bloom, James Lee Burke, Pat Conroy, Michael Crichton, Louise Erdrich, P.D. James, Norman Mailer, David McCullough, and Maurice Sendak. He has a few Updikes too, one of which is inscribed "For Nick, the bibliophia expert," and a few from Joseph Heller, who referred to Basbanes as "an old and welcome friend."

All of the books are in very good to fine condition, and some even include a bit of publishing ephemera--review slips, press releases, publicity photos. It is, as Basbanes describes it, "a snap-shot of the literary scene of the day as it unfolded."

The price for the collection is available upon request from Lux Mentis.

Images courtesy of Nick Basbanes.
On Thursday, April 17th, Swann Galleries will hold the first ever vernacular photography auction presented by a major house. The sale, entitled "The Vernacular Eye: Photographic Albums, Snapshots, and Objects," commences at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, with 294 lots represented.

Swann was inspired to hold an auction dedicated to vernacular photography (described as "anything outside of the fine art realm") after being surprised by the high prices realized by vernacular photography in previous auctions. For example, an album of 27 spiritualist photographs depicting seances in Winnipeg blew through its $4,000 estimate at Swann last December, realizing a startling $93,750. 

Daile Kaplan, Vice President and Director of Photographs & Photobooks at Swann compared the uniqueness of vernacular photographs to snowflakes.  Swann describes the collection offered for sale on Thursday as "pre-curated by a group of serious photo collectors," with a wide variety of subject matters and price points.

In preparation for the sale, Swann hosted a talk by photography collector Peter Cohen on April 8th.  Cohen's talk was recorded by Swann and was combined with snapshots from Cohen's collection into a 30 minute video you can watch here.

The Grapes of Wrath bookcover copy.jpgToday marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. The novel, which traces the Joad family's journey from Oklahoma to California during the Depression, won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. The National Steinbeck Center (NSC) in Salinas, California, plans to celebrate with a three-day festival next month. Events include an "Opening Night Speakeasy" and various talks and tours.

Last fall, the NSC sponsored a migration reenactment in which a team of artists traveled along Route 66, presenting programs and collecting oral histories related to The Grapes of Wrath and its themes. (An article in our spring issue interviews two participants.) A documentary by P.J. Palmer about that experience will premiere at the May festival.

Image: Courtesy of NSC
MAA.jpgToday is the official pub date for The Morbid Anatomy Anthology, a lavish 500-page book of essays edited by Joanna Ebenstein and Colin Dickey. The book was funded through a Kickstarter campaign in which 1,319 backers pledged $46,338 to ensure its publication (disclosure: I was one of them). Curators, writers, and artists contributed articles on a range of eccentric topics, including books bound in human skin, the catacombs of Palermo, and "artist of death" Frederik Ruysch, some of which had been previously presented as lectures at Brooklyn's Morbid Anatomy Library. A book release party will be held on April 26.

You can get a copy of the anthology through the Morbid Anatomy gift shop, or by supporting for $25 or more a new campaign to help build their new museum space. You can also read more about the Morbid Anatomy Library & Museum in our spring issue.

Image: Courtesy of Morbid Anatomy.

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