Lord Polonius: What do
you read, my lord?
Hamlet: Words, words, words.
Hamlet (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.
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.
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."
That 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.
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."
Appointment in Samarra (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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.
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.
Most 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."
Two 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."
Some 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.
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.
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.