Gregory Maguire's Misunderstood Witches

Today's theatergoers and readers like their witches misunderstood and maligned, with an underlying desire to do good. Look no further than the latest offerings from Hollywood - from Angelina Jolie as the wronged Maleficent in the eponymous film, to Disney's reincarnation of the Ice Queen in the animated blockbuster Frozen. Two of Gregory Maguire's books, the bestselling Wicked, and his latest publication, Egg & Spoon (Candlewick Press, $17.99) also deal with powerful women on the fringes of society, whose magical gifts may actually be their community's salvation.

GregoryMaguire.jpgMaguire was a misunderstood witch once as well, without heels and wig. During a conversation this summer, he recalled a Halloween during his childhood when he was casting about the family home for a costume.  "There were seven of us, and so we had to cobble together costumes with what we had. One of my brothers was an altar boy, and I found his black cassock. It is the only time in my life I indulged in cross dressing." That amusing memory helped Maguire to recall why he wanted to be a witch in the first place. "I could tell from my childhood reading that the identity of a witch was porous and permissible. Everybody could partake of that character's possible sense of shape-shifting and of performing mysterious acts. And so could I, even as a young boy." Those commutative properties informed the author's version of Baba Yaga, the fearsome witch of Russian lore who figures prominently in this latest book.

Egg & Spoon is Maguire's masterful tale set in a mystical Tsarist Russia on the eve of the Revolution, where the mythical Firebird maintains the environmental equilibrium and, despite the existence of magic, there is still no food for the poor. Baba Yaga's first appearance is fearsome; she is a skeletal, foul mouthed blaze of energy. She travels around the country in Dumb Doma, her hen-like house bestowed with maternal instincts of its own.  Behind the veneer of sneer and snark, Baba Yaga is in fact quite protective of her charges, two young girls from vastly different social circumstances whose lives become inextricably intertwined during their adventures. "How many cranky old women do we know who are really dear at heart?" said Maguire. "They very often put on a cloak of crankiness to hide just how deeply attached they are to their children and their grandchildren. They are the maternal goddesses of the street, the old grandmothers, and they poke their fingers out the window and say 'Get off my lawn!' But they're really watching very carefully to make sure no child runs into the street."

468px-Bilibin._Baba_Yaga.jpgAs with many of Maguire's books, the world of Egg & Spoon is firmly rooted in the complications of reality. He writes about places that are purposefully full of trouble and complexities, and credits his mentor, the late Maurice Sendak, with showing him the way. "I write books that are understandably dense and full of detail, and full of different kinds of tones - comical, tragic, meditative, suspenseful.  because how can art be believable if it doesn't chime with life in some way? One of my aesthetic gambits with life is to make the worlds in my stories as complicated, and befuddling and lovable as the world in which we find ourselves." Sendak showed him how to do that, and Maguire reanimates his mentor through the character Peter Petrovich. On his deathbed Petrovich implores the living to enjoy life fully, and in a lasting tribute, Maguire used Sendak's own words, pulled from an interview with NPR's Terry Gross and which would turn out to be one of his last: 'Live your life, live your life, live your life.'

Baba Yaga (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

gbs spade.jpg

A garden spade owned by both George Bernard Shaw and Ray Bradbury is currently up for auction from Nate D. Sanders. The online auction, which includes many other lots from Ray Bradbury's personal art and book collections, concludes today at 5 p.m. PST. At the time of this writing, bidding on the spade is at $5,000.

Shaw used the spade to plant a mulberry tree in Great Malvern, Worcestershire, on his 80th birthday in July of 1936. Shaw then gave the spade to his friend and gardener Harry Higgs. From there, the spade eventually made its way into the hands of Ray Bradbury, who received it as a Christmas present. 

Bradbury, who died in 2012, was an avid fan of George Bernard Shaw, considering him "the greatest playwright of our century." Bradbury, like many collectors, was inspired by owning an object that was used by one of his literary idols.  Bradbury even wrote an unpublished poem about the spade, entitled "G. B. S. & the Spade," which is included in the same lot at auction.  An excerpt of the lengthy poem follows:

I hold the dear spade in my hands,
Its vibrant lightnings strike and move along my arms, 
The ghost of Shaw climbs up through me
I feel a fiery brambling of chin 
I feel my spine 
Stand straight as if a lightning bolt had struck 
His old voice whispers in my ear, dear boy 
Find Troy, go on, dig deep, find Troy, find Troy!

From one of the greatest playwrights to one of the greatest science fiction writers, this simple garden tool has a stunning literary provenance. The next owner of the spade will have a lot to live up to.

[Image from Nate D. Sanders]
Art and Ownership: An Exhibit of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts opens today at Sam Fogg's London gallery. Fogg, one of the world's leading dealers in medieval art, chronicles the development of readership and book ownership in the Middle Ages and beyond. Until the 12th century, manuscripts were primarily owned by monks and royals, but the dawn of the 13th century brought increased literacy, making book ownership more widespread. Commoners and laymen had greater opportunities to buy a personal prayerbook, or book of hours.

Screen Shot 2014-09-23 at 8.29.20 PM.pngFogg showcases examples from the 12th-16th centuries, a number of them with fantastic provenance, e.g., this 13th-century illuminated Bible looted from the library of King Charles IV of Spain by Napoleon's brother, Joseph Bonaparte, and then seized from him by the Duke of Wellington (above). Another highlight is a c. 1495 manuscript compendium of astrological texts, still in its original binding, produced under the supervision of its author, Lewis of Caerleon, who wrote part of it while imprisoned in the Tower of London in the 1480s.

The exhibit is on view through October 24 at 15D Clifford St., London.

Image: The Bonaparte - Duke of Wellington Bible France, Paris and Lyon, c. 1250 and c. 1300. Courtesy of Sam Fogg.

kerouac letter.jpeg
After leaving Lowell, Massachusetts, on a football scholarship to Horace Mann, a prep school in New York City, Jack Kerouac maintained a friendly and candid correspondence with his childhood friend George Apostolos. Seventeen of those letters, along with two postcards, and seven writing fragments were discovered by Apostolos's daughter after his death and will be auctioned this fall in Boston by Skinner.

Like so many teenage boys before and after him, Kerouac spends much of his letters writing about girls: 

"There is no doubt in my mind that you or I have never laid our eyes on such an exquisite creature as Jacqueline Sheresky. Her neck has that stamp of blueblood; it curves up delicately and like ivory to a perfectly moulded almond chin, and thence to quivering scarlet lips, covering a row of alabaster teeth. Her eyes are dark as ebony, with a flash of fire in them. Her hair topples down in rippling cascades of black sleekness, over a pair of resilient, lush shoulders. She is slim, blooming and graceful; I have never seen anything like it."

Kerouac's densely typed letters - in a precursor of his later style - run in unbroken, single-spaced lines across multiple pages. In addition to various love affairs, Kerouac discusses playing football, adjusting to life in New York City, reading, writing, and developing his personal philosophies. The letters continue through Kerouac's freshman year at Columbia University in 1940 and 1941.

Estimates for the letters, which will be sold as separate lots at Skinner's November 16th auction of fine books, run between $2,000 and $5,000 each.
In 1931, the Michigan Tuberculosis Association issued four lithograph posters meant to encourage in children the healthful effects of the outdoors. Tuberculosis--a.k.a. consumption in the nineteenth century--is an airborne disease caused by bacteria that attacks the lungs and transmitted by coughing, sneezing, even laughing, i.e., close living. Thus it had long been held that fresh air was, if not an antidote for the contagion, then at least a form of prevention. (A semi-efficacious vaccine has been available since the 1920s, but it is rarely used in the U.S., which relies instead on antibiotic treatment.)

The vibrant posters, which feature wild animals eating, playing, and resting in nature, were designed by the foremost animal illustrator of the time, Charles Livingston Bull (1874-1932). Bull's illustrations regularly appeared in publications including the Saturday Evening Post and McClure's and in books alongside the writing of Jack London. Lowry-James Rare Prints & Books offers three of these color lithographs in a new catalogue devoted to the work of Bull, also containing several of his decorated bindings and original charcoal and pen works on paper.

Cougars: Play Out of Doors The Year Round. Based on his original watercolor, Mother Cougar and Three Young, 1931.

Deer: Eat for Strength Grace - Vigor. Based on his original watercolor, Doe and Fawns browsing on Lily Pads, 1931.

6665.jpg Rams: Sleep Long Hours in the Cool, Clean Air. Based on Bull's watercolor, pen and ink of Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheet, in the collection of Oradell Free Public Library in Oradell, NJ.

On Thursday, in dramatic fashion, Scots turned out in record numbers to vote on a referendum to decide whether or not Scotland should remain part of the UK or become an independent country, an historic occasion that carries not just political and economic repercussions, but social ones as well. Perhaps battered bonds might begin to mend over a few tumblers of Scotch whiskey and a rousing rendition of 'Auld Lang Syne,' penned in 1788 by Scotland's own Robert Burns as a testament to brotherhood and long-lasting friendship.

English: Robert Burns Source: Image:Robert bur...

English: Robert Burns Source: Image:Robert burns.jpg Replacement of existing commons image with higher res version (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in the village of Alloway claims that 'Auld Lang Syne' is  the world's most popular tune, and to further its point, invites visitors to record themselves singing, then uploading their video to the museum's Facebook page. Submissions come from across the globe, a testament to the universal reach of Burns' work.

The poem was not set to music during Burns' short yet prolific lifetime, though the rhythm suggests he was influenced by traditional Scottish folk songs sung in the Lowlands where he lived, wrote, and ultimately died at the age of thirty-seven. (Contrary to popular belief, Burns did not die of venereal disease or alcoholism, but rather succumbed to endocarditis, caused by a particularly harsh case of rheumatism he caught during childhood.)

Usually warbled by new year's revelers clutching a champagne glass in one hand, 'Auld Lang Syne' is often mistaken for a song of loss and parting. While Burns touches on those melancholic elements, it is in fact about reunion. While Scots language is difficult to decipher, and many singers have little idea what exactly they're saying, it reminds singers that old friends are the ones that last. Here's the verse, sung in large groups with participants interlocking arms in a long, daisy-chain of uninterrupted embrace:

And there's a hand, my trusty fere!

And gie's a hand o' thine!

And we'll tak a right gude-willie waught,   

For auld lang syne

The last two lines implore old pals to take a hearty drink in the name of good will and the good old days, So, here's to another lively chapter in the long history of Scotland and England. If that fails, maybe reading Burns' 'Oh My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose' would soothe raw wounds too.   
Cambridge University Library has purchased the Codex Zacynthius for £1.1m after a fundraising appeal was supplemented by a £500,000 grant from the National Heritage Fund. A critically important manuscript in the development of the New Testament, the 7th century Codex Zacynthius has been on loan to the Cambridge University Library since 1984.  The library was able to purchase the codex from its lenders, the British and Foreign Bible Society, who wished to raise funds to establish a new visitor center in Wales

The Codex Zacynthius is a palimpsest, meaning that it is a recycled manuscript with a hidden layer of "undertext." That undertext - part of Luke's gospel in Greek - was written in the seventh century. The undertext was eventually scrapped off sometime in the 13th century, when it was replaced with the text of an Evangeliarium comprised of text from all four gospels.  The known existence of the Codex's undertext - and the clues it offers into the early development of Christianity - make the manuscript particularly valuable to religious scholars.

The Head of the National Heritage Fund, Fiona Talbott, said: "The Codex Zacynthius has been part of the UK's heritage for over 200 years and is a truly fascinating and unique object. Our trustees felt it was incredibly important that it should be safeguarded so future generations can explore its undiscovered secrets."

Cambridge University Library will now conduct multi-spectral imaging and XRF spectroscopy on the Codex Zacynthius in the hopes of revealing more of its secrets.

[Image from Cambridge University Library]
As biblio-fiction goes, reaching back to the birth of printing in medieval Germany is pretty ambitious, but so little is known about the "real" Gutenberg that Alix Christie landed a perfect topic for her fiction debut, Gutenberg's Apprentice (Harper, $27.99). She was able to explore his vibrant and changing world by focusing the narrative on the printer's young apprentice, Peter Schoeffer, a former scribe whose world is upturned by the advent of moveable type.   

GutenbergsApprentice hc c copy.jpgAs a former printing apprentice herself--under her grandfather, Les Lloyd, at San Francisco's Mackenzie & Harris type foundry--Christie certainly clearly followed the old adage to 'write what you know.' She also happens to have a way with words that is steady, delicate, and beautiful. Take, for example: "He pictured them, the hundred eighty copies of their Bible, stowed in casks attached to boats--to convoys, caravans--spreading far beyond Rhineland. It seemed to him they moved out ponderously, yet with great purpose, into the world. Like oliphants, he thought: great hidebound beats out of the East, spreading across the land, bearing their thick and transcendental cargo."

In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called the novel "enthralling ... a meticulous account of quattrocento innovation, technology, politics, art and commerce." I couldn't agree more, and so I'm glad to share with you a recent interview with Christie about her work as a novelist and as a printer.

FB&C: I think many of us have viewed Gutenberg as a solo act--the man behind the first printed book--and what I like about your narrative is that it disrupts that idea and makes him human. It also brings his apprentice, Peter Schoeffer, into focus. Why did you decide to write about the apprentice rather than the master?

AC: As an amateur letterpress printer, I became intrigued with Gutenberg's technique in 2001, when Princeton researchers first suggested that his types had been made in a more rudimentary fashion than generally thought. By chance or fate I stumbled a few years later across Helmut Lehmann-Haupt's 1950 monograph on Peter Schoeffer at the Strand bookstore, and knew I'd found a voice that no one had yet heard. Most people know about Gutenberg, but few know of the significant roles played by Schoeffer, a great printer in his own right, and Gutenberg's financier Johann Fust. The more I dug, the more I realized that the 'great man' theory was woefully inadequate to explain the massive undertaking required to produce this 1,282-page book. Today we understand better than early German incunabulists how technology startups work--as collaborations between innovators, financiers and skilled technicians. And this was the world's first tech startup, really. My aim was to give Schoeffer and Fust their due, and bring them out of Gutenberg's long shadow.

FB&C: It's clear that so much research went into this historical novel. How long did it take from idea to complete manuscript? Did you travel to Mainz for research?

AC: It took me seven years of active research and writing to complete the book-- the length, I like to think, of a medieval guild apprenticeship. I was lucky to speak German and be living in Berlin at the time, and made several trips to Mainz, Eltville and Frankfurt. There I met city archivists and librarians who assisted me enormously; I also became close to the two greatest Gutenberg and Schoeffer scholars, Paul Needham and Lotte Hellinga, who advised and helped me in innumerable ways.

FB&C: Although you have been a writer and a journalist for decades, this is your first novel. Were you surprised by the writing process or by how much story there was to tell?

AC: I never imagined I would write historical fiction or this book, particularly. I had been writing contemporary stories after receiving an MFA in fiction. But from the moment I discovered the existence of Peter Schoeffer, the passion to unearth his story grabbed me and wouldn't let me go. There was both so much material, and--crucially for fiction--a huge gap in the key years between 1450 and 1454. I saw my task as inventing a human narrative that could make sense of the available scraps of evidence, mainly the surviving books and ephemera themselves. The writing process was fascinating: I felt it was a spiral, from draft to draft. Each new draft (and there were 8) raised questions about the characters' motivations and difficulties, pushing me to understand the world of medieval Mainz more deeply.
FB&C: I read that you trained as a letterpress printer and that you own a 1910 Chandler & Price letterpress--is it a still a hobby? What do you print?

AC: I bought my C&P in the 1980s and dubbed my shop "The Itinerant Press." Initially I printed mainly broadsides, poetry chapbooks, invitations--the usual ephemera. Since I have in fact been much more itinerant than this ton of cast-iron, I have lent it over the past decade to a series of young printers in San Francisco. It resides in their shops and does good work while I visit from Europe to pat it from time to time. Eventually I'll come home to California and put it back to work.

FB&C: Tell me about your grandfather and his work in California printing.

AC: My grandfather, Les Lloyd, was for many years foreman of the Mackenzie & Harris type foundry, the last major hot type operation on the West Coast, which survives now as the historic foundry M&H Type under the conservancy of the Arion Press. He was active in the Roxburghe and Craftsman's clubs and beloved by all west coast printers for his composing and design skills and unfailing modesty. He worked with the greats: the Grabhorns, Ansel Adams, Fred Goudy, Bruce Rogers, Lawton Kennedy; he oversaw a menu for Khrushchev and San Francisco's printed bid to host the United Nations. I was his apprentice, starting at the age of 16, when he retired; we printed a lot of little books together at his Red Squirrel Press.
GutenbergsApprentice_KEEPSAKE_SEPT (2).JPGFB&C: What is the collaboration with Foolscap Press you mention in the book's acknowledgements? Are there private press editions of the novel, or special printed ephemera?

AC: I would love to see a fine limited edition of Gutenberg's Apprentice, but it would require an underwriter! My association with Foolscap goes back decades; bookbinder Peggy Gotthold and I were both apprentices at the Yolla Bolly Press. We previously collaborated on a fine edition of stories based on the Hemingway story, "For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn." She and Larry Van Velzer very graciously printed a gorgeous keepsake announcement for the novel [seen above], featuring a 16th-century woodcut of a printing house, which I'll be giving away at
FB&C: Are you a book collector, and if so, what do you collect? If you won the lottery, would you buy a Gutenberg bible (or leaf) if it came to auction?

AC: I am not a collector so much as an accumulator of books. That said, I have most of Foolscap's inventive, lovely books, and several gorgeous Yolla Bolly Press editions. If I won the lottery I probably would buy a replica Bible leaf from the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz.

p.s. For anyone in the Bay Area, Christie will be discussing her roots in letterpress and reading from Gutenberg's Apprentice on September 25; reception at 6 p.m., program at 7 p.m. at The Arion Press, 1802 Hays Street, The Presidio, San Francisco. RSVP to Booksmith or Arion Press.


Jane Austen fans gathered in Bath, England, this past weekend to break the world record for the largest gathering of people dressed in Regency costume. (Apparently not counting the people who were actually alive in the Regency era). With 550 men, women, and children regaled in Regency apparel in front of the novelist's former home, the fans were pleased to learn that they broke the previous world record of 491 people. That record--in a disappointing, albeit temporary setback to British Jane Austen fans--was set in America. 

After the announcement was made, light cheers arose from the stately tea rooms inside the Assembly Rooms. The town crier (Bath still employs a town crier) then loudly proclaimed the new world record in the streets.

The event was only one of many to celebrate the novelist during the annual Jane Austen Festival, which runs for 10 days every year in the city most closely connected to her name.

Beate Muller, an Austen fan from Paris, told The Telegraph, "It is not just about Jane Austen, it is about a way of life which was much more elegant, much more refined." Muller continued, "It is a much better way of living, there was so much more style and deportment, and people lived a wonderful lifestyle."

Muller, like the beloved novelist herself, is assumed to be commenting exclusively on the lives of the wealthy during the Regency era.

[Image from Jane Austen Festival website]

In a stunning announcement this weekend, Derick Dreher, director of the Rosenbach of the Free Library in Philadelphia, stated that the institution's Maurice Sendak collection, which had been "on loan" for decades, will be transferred to Connecticut, where Sendak estate trustees are planning to build a museum dedicated to the artist.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sendak never formally gifted the thousands of original drawings and manuscripts he deposited at the Rosenbach beginning in the 1960s. The artist died in 2012, and his will indicates that the collection belongs to his eponymous foundation, the trustees of which are tasked with founding a Sendak museum near his former home in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The collection formerly on deposit at the Rosenbach will populate the new museum's vault.

Kimerly Rorschach, who was a curator at the Rosenbach in the 1980s and is now director of the Seattle Art Museum, told the Philadelphia Inquirer: "It's a huge loss. I am sorry about it for Philadelphia and the Rosenbach. I can see the charm of having it at his house. I've visited, and it's an enchanting place. But it won't be so easily accessible."

On the bright side, writes Dreher, "The Rosenbach does own certain work made by Sendak, and this will remain a valued part of the collection. In addition, the so-called 'Chertoff Mural,' Sendak's only work in that medium, will continue to be owned by the Rosenbach and displayed with its interpretive materials for public enjoyment."

Plus, Sendak did leave his collection of rare books and manuscripts to the Rosenbach, including an extensive Melville collection. 

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