Is the National Library of India destroying rare books after they have been digitized?  Is the library roof leaking rainwater on books and newspapers?  The Times of India reported last month that the National Library of India has "turned into a dumping ground."

Newspaper informants revealed that books were being torn apart page by page in digitization efforts and that the pages were dumped after the digitization process was completed.

Another informant discussed the deplorable condition of the building's roof:

"Many portions of the ceiling are broken. During monsoon, water seeps in and falls on the books and newspapers kept on the racks. In some areas it's so bad that we have to cover the books with tarpaulin or else they will all be destroyed."

The National Library of India in Kolkata, Bengal, is the largest library of India and the nation's library of public record.

The Times of India also interviewed the library director, P Y Rajendra Kumar, who denied the claim about the roof. "As far as I know there is no such leakage in the library. There was one leak from an AC duct and drops of water were falling on the books. I have told the person concerned to take care of it and it will be repaired immediately. Apart from that there is no leakage."

Kumar's comments, however, did not appease the Times of India who referred to the national library as a "graveyard for books and newspapers." The newspaper also reported that the one of the library's back doors was unlocked and no security was present.

The Times of India does not seem to have asked Kumar about the destruction of rare books after digitization.

So... what's really going on in Kolkata?

[Image from Wikipedia]

The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, North Carolina, not far from the world famous Pinehurst No. 2 golf course, has an expert stocking its shelves. Bill Maher, a retried history professor, gets people coming back to the shop for one reason: He knows his stuff.


Antiquarian book collectors sometimes forget that there is another class of book collector. These collectors do not collect books for their beauty or rarity but rather attempt to assemble a collection that represents mankind's current state of understanding of a particular topic. Sometimes misidentified as readers, these collectors do not find their treasures in the dusty and dim shops of the antiquarian collector. Their books often come off the "new releases" table at their local lively and hip bookstore.


Although declining in numbers, many bibliophiles say indie bookstores offer the best way to buy new books because indie stores have the best staff. Being able to be recommended books and talk about books with a knowledgeable person makes indie customers feel that their shopping experience is unique and fun.


Maher, 69, is recently retired from a 25-year career teaching history and political science at Montgomery Community College. He now divides his time between his home in Charlotte, North Carolina and The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines. Maher makes recommendations to the owner as to what history books to buy, and he chooses some books to be featured in his "Bill's Picks" section.


Maher is able to refresh his section often because he reads an average of three to five books a week. "I've always liked to read," says Maher. "I don't golf. The only sports I like are baseball and boxing. The great thing about those two sports is you can read and listen at the same time."


Maher chooses books for his section the same way he tried to choose books for the courses he taught. He picks books that "reach out and grab you by the throat." He believes that there are two ways to write history, from the top down or the bottom up. The majority of the books in his section are of the second variety. They are about the almost forgotten gems of history, the small stories of personal heroism and folly that give color to the grander "top" events.


A collector of modern books on the War on Terror, Maher finds that part of the fun of his job is guiding both collectors and readers in their purchases. He does not "push" books onto his customers if he feels the works are not first-class. "I want to be able to put in my customers hands books that I am totally sure arrive at the truth as close as possible," he says.


Maher acknowledges that the independent bookselling trade is hurting. He says that the large retiree population of military, diplomats, and businessmen around his store is a big secret to its success. "Southern Pines is the perfect place for an independent bookstore," says Maher.


When asked about how website and warehouse booksellers compete with his business, Maher says, "Warehouse stores are good for warehousing. The ideas sit on shelves, but the majority of the employees have no idea what the books are."


Maher talks about his store with tremendous enthusiasm. "There isn't an employee in here who doesn't know their sections. They talk about them with customers and among themselves. In here, ideas aren't just stored on a shelf. They float around in the air, like tennis balls bouncing off the walls."


The Country Bookshop is the kind of store where one goes in looking for a book and leaves with five. This is, of course, the plight of the bibliomane, but not every book sells itself. It is up to people like Maher to gently guide the collector and casual reader in making a good purchase. "When you walk into our front door," says Maher, "you're going to have an experience."


Three years have passed since Maher began working in the bookshop. "They treat me very nicely to come down three times a week. They pay me well, and I get a cut rate price on books," Maher says. He seems to have no intention of stopping any time soon.

*All accompanying images are of books recommended by Bill Maher

602px-Downtown_Saratoga_Springs.jpgSaratoga Springs, NY. All spas and horse-racing, right? Not so. Certainly there is racing (the Stakes open Friday), but ballet and literature are giving the horses a run for their money in this historic town. The New York City Ballet holds a mini summer season there, and the Bolshoi will make its debut at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on July 29. There is also the National Museum of Dance. The New York State Summer Writer's Institute, held this year from June 30-July 25 at nearby Skidmore College, brings a decidedly literary element to town.

Where else might the bookies--I mean, bookish--go? I put that question to the proprietors of Saratoga-based Smith&Press, an independent publisher that produces translations and facsimile editions of early printed books (for a Q&A with Smith&Press founder, Selim Nahas, go here). They replied: "When we arrived in Saratoga we discovered the town was home to some unique book businesses. The Lyrical Ballad Bookstore is a rare gem of a bookstore that offers a vast array of out-of-print books where anything can be found. Northshire Bookstore offers a wonderful selection of contemporary works without being a chain store and is known for attracting well-known and respected authors for book signings (Anne Rice recently appeared, Hillary Clinton is scheduled in two weeks, for example). The public library has a special collections room for Saratoga history and given the distinct character and history of Saratoga, we felt that bringing our business here would add to the book culture of Saratoga Springs."  

A recent visit to the Lyrical Ballad Bookstore confirms their opinion. It's a delightful rabbit warren of first editions and vintage paperbacks, where a tidy Modern Library reprint of Christopher Morley's Parnassus on Wheels can be had for $5 (I hope it's as good as his Haunted Bookshop). New York state history, dance/music, and poetry are specialties.

Smith&Press is currently working on its online research and reference tool, TLC and preparing new works, which include translations of Galileo, Cardano, Philippo Finella, Fortunio Liceti, and Leonardo DaVinci's Volo Codice (Flight of Birds), as well as a translation of the complete works of Copernicus (De Revolutionibus). All of these works are being made available in TLC and some select works will be offered in a print-on-demand format. They have also produced adjoining printed facsimiles of the Volo Codice and Leonardo's Leicester Codice.

In addition to the places named above, a literary tourist might also visit the Lucy Scribner Library at Skidmore College. And, if you have transportation, Old Saratoga Books, a used and rare bookshop strong in early American and Revolutionary War material, is about fifteen minutes out of town.

Image: "Downtown Saratoga Springs" by UpstateNYer - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Lord Snowdon, one of Britain's most celebrated photographers, donated 130 portraits of writers, artists, musicians, and celebrities to the National Portrait Gallery in London.  The portraits include iconic images of Agatha Christie, Vita Sackville-West, Kingsley Amis, Graham Greene, and Nell Dunn amongst many others.

(Nell Dunn (L) and Vita Sackville-West (R))

The director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sandy Nairne, said "These are wonderful portrait images of some most creative and engaging contributors to Britain in the second half of the 20th century."

Lord Snowdon's gift is one the largest ever received by the institution. Some of the portraits will be included in the exhibition Snowdon: A Life in View opening in September. The exhibition was already being planned for this fall to showcase portraits donated last year by Snowdon.

Lord Snowdon is equally as well-known in Britain for his eighteen year marriage to Princess Margaret, younger sister to Queen Elizabeth, between 1960 and 1978. He also photographed for Vogue magazine for six decades.

Caxton small.jpgTwo major auction sales provided a bit of serendipity yesterday, dovetailing with our current issue. Firstly, the summer issue revamps our million-dollar auctions feature, in which we recount the 13 books and manuscripts that made $1 million or more at auction in the past year. Today, another volume joined their esteemed company. The first book printed in the English language, The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye, from the press of William Caxton c. 1473-74, sold for £1,082,500 ($1,823,363). Only 18 copies of this book survive, and of those, only six are in private hands. Adding to this particular copy's intriguing history are the former owners' annotations, recipes, and drawings of animals doodled in the margins.

Secondly, at the same sale, a collection of 347 letters and postcards, most signed by "Sam" Beckett, reached £146,500 ($246,765). Beckett--our summer issue's cover guy--found a place on our million-dollar list too, with his "Murphy" manuscript, which sold at Sotheby's last year for $1.4 million. These mostly unpublished letters, covering nearly 400 pages with 215 autograph envelopes, were written between 1947 and 1985 to Beckett's friends, Henri and Josette Hayden. Yesterday's top bid is considerably less than that paid when the packet of letters last changed hands in 2006.

Image: The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye. Courtesy of Sotheby's.
Yesterday the novelist David Mitchell, author of "The Cloud Atlas," began publishing a new 6,000 word short story via Twitter entitled "The Right Sort." (@david_mitchell)  The story, set in 1978, will grow by about 20 tweets each day with postings in the morning and afternoon.  Each segment is limited by Twitter's parameters to 140 characters in length, a limitation that Mitchell described as a "diabolical treble-strapped textual straitjacket."  The story, which will comprise 280 tweets, is about a boy tripping on his mother's Valium pills.

The experience of writing the story for Twitter inspired some interesting commentary on the medium by Mitchell, who said to The Guardian that the structure of the tweets alters how the text is read. 

"Reading off a page is like looking down at a landscape from a balloon - your eye 'sees' the story as well as reads it, its layout, its paragraphs and structure, and 'remembers' what it just read because it's still there, on the page, simultaneously. If you want to, you can reread any line instantly; or linger; or speed up; or optically 'flinch'. Reading a series of tweets is more like looking through a narrow window from a train speeding through a landscape full of tunnels and bands of light and dark. Each tweet erases its predecessor."

"The Right Sort" will tie-in to the novelist's upcoming novel "The Bone Clocks," which will be published in September.  If you don't have a Twitter account, you can keep up with the action at The Guardian's dedicated page for the story, where the tweets are assembling in sequential order.

Mitchell collectors, meanwhile, will have an interesting dilemma in front of them.  What's the best way to include a Twitter story in your Mitchell collection?

[Image from Wikipedia]

A rare painting by children's author/illustrator Maurice Sendak goes to auction this week at Hake's Americana & Collectibles of York, Pennsylvania. Sendak created the 26" x 32" watercolor (seen below) in 1985 for a television adaptation of the Prokofiev opera, "The Love For Three Oranges." The piece has since been in the collection of Hake's founder Ted Hake, a friend of Sendak's who acquired the painting directly from the artist.  

sendak-2.jpgAccording to Hake's, only three other finished watercolors are known, and only one of those in private hands, which sold at auction in March 2009 for $74,000. After having a heart attack in his late thirties, Sendak ensured his legacy by making arrangements to donate all of his future original art to the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia. So very few pieces of Sendak's art appear on the market.

The bidding is open--starting at $25,000--and will close on July 17.

Image: Maurice Sendak (American, 1928-2012), original watercolor art created for 1982 TV adaptation of Prokofiev's opera 'The Love For Three Oranges,' 26in x 31in (framed). Provenance: Ted Hake collection. Image courtesy of Hake's.
Ricc.png"Selfies" aren't so new after all. Self-portraits from early printed books, in the form of an etched frontispiece or a woodcut illustration, have been around for 500 years, and you can see some of them in a new digital catalogue from Bruce McKittrick Rare Books of Narberth, Pennsylvania. The catalogue's very clever design looks like a smart phone interface, in which a friend--from 1579--has sent you a text and a pic of himself. Click for TMI, and you get a full catalogue listing for each book.

How did the booksellers devise such a unique format for a rare book catalogue? Waylaid for eight hours during a recent trip to London, McKittrick and Andrew Gaub batted around ideas for their next list. Gaub suggested a focus on portraits, and "selfies" quickly came to mind. With the help of their assistant, Kiley Samz, and their printer, Scott Vile of Ascensius Press, who designed the final piece, they produced three catalogues with six "selfies" each and released them over a four-week period.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 10.34.30 AM.png
Fournier.png"As we were taking our catalogue descriptions and turning them into 'texts,' these were primarily intended as promotional pieces...a different way to think about our old books and what's in them. The response was very positive. And we even sold a few," Gaub said.

Above: Carlo Luigi Riccardi, in an etched frontispiece from his 1783 Descrizione Del Luogo Di Grugliasco.

Right: Denis Fournier, in a full-page engraved portrait from his [1678] L' Anatomie Pacifique Nouvelle Et Curieuse.

Images: Courtesy of Bruce McKittrick Rare Books. 

She's one of the world's most beloved novelists, but we still don't really know what she looked like.  

The only confirmed portrait of Jane Austen is a dour - and amateur - drawing by her sister.  Other potential portraits have occasionally surfaced, but remain controversial.

So perhaps it was inevitable that someone would eventually call in the forensic team.  The Jane Austen Centre in Bath unveiled on Wednesday this week a new Jane Austen waxwork, the result of three years of work by forensic artist Melissa Dring.

It's an impressive piece, and one that captures something of the joie de vivre of the novelist, which was often commented on by those who knew her.  The waxwork also restores Austen's pretty face - entirely lost in the surviving portrait - but again commented on by her contemporaries.  

"Her figure was rather tall and slender, her step light and firm, and her whole appearance expressive of health and animation. In complexion she was a clear brunette with a rich colour; she had full round cheeks, with mouth and nose small and well-formed, bright hazel eyes, and brown hair forming natural curls close round her face," wrote Austen's nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh.  His sister added, "as to my Aunt's personal appearance, hers was the first face that I can remember thinking pretty..."

Dring, the forensic artist, used accounts like these to build her model of Austen, expanding from the portrait drawn by Austen's sister.  The end result is the closest we've yet come to seeing the author of Pride and Prejudice in person.

[Image from the Jane Austen Centre]

Yesterday I took a little "field trip" to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass. Two school-aged children and I wandered the exhibits, perused the library, and worked in the hands-on art studio, and it was delightful. There are three current exhibits this summer. Below are my favorites from each:

The typescript "manuscript" of Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy, seen in Harriet the Spy Turns Fifty (on view through Nov. 30). Held in the museum's central gallery, the Carle organized this exhibit of Fitzhugh's pen and ink illustrations, and it premiered at NYC's Forbes Galleries earlier this year. 
The pigeon-caterpillar drawn in watercolor and crayon by Mo Willems, seen in The Art of Eric Carle & Friends: What's Your Favorite Animal? (on view through Aug. 31). This exhibit is the result of book project, published by Henry Holt & Co., in which Carle partnered with 14 leading illustrators to celebrate his museum's tenth anniversary in 2012.
The "dummy" books of Simms Taback, seen in Simms Taback: Art by Design (on view through Oct. 26). Celebrating the newly acquired Taback archive, the Carle just opened this exhibit, which surveys Taback's eight major books. In several instances, he crafted little example books, which really show the artist's process. (The 6-year-old budding artist really liked those.)
The thing about the Carle Museum is: whether you are 6, 9, or, ahem, much older, something--maybe everything--will appeal to you. 

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