S&S.jpgCould it be that Simon & Schuster co-founder Richard "Dick" Simon failed to find a publisher for his own book trade memoir? Simon and partner Max Schuster launched the book publishing house of Simon & Schuster in New York City in 1924. An 84-page typescript document of Simon's reminiscences, titled Fools Give You Reasons, dating to the late 1950s, is currently being offered in a rare book dealer's catalog for $5,000. The fragmentary memoir discusses how he got into publishing, his thoughts on promotion and advertising, and his feelings about television: "From here television seems like a manifold blessing."

Several of Simon's contemporaries published memoirs of their lives in books, e.g. The Memoirs of a Publisher by F.N. Doubleday (1972), At Random by Bennett Cerf (1977), and at S&S, Turning the Pages by editor Peter Schwed (1984). Alas, Simon's manuscript went unpublished, and had been kept in the family until now. For anyone out there collecting publishers' memoirs, unknown pieces like this are rare.

Listed in the bookseller James Cummins' catalog alongside the typescript was a copy of S&S's first book, The Cross Word Puzzle Book (1924). Under the Plaza Publishing imprint, S&S printed it in a first edition of 3,600 copies, each with an attached pencil. The simple collection of puzzles, bound in blue cloth, had been the idea of Simon's aunt Wixie--and this particular copy in the Cummins catalog was hers, presented and inscribed by the publishers. It has already been sold for $10,000.

Prior to the Puzzle Book's publication, neither Simon nor Schuster had been in the book biz; Simon was selling pianos when he met Schuster, who was editing an automotive trade magazine. But that little collection of crosswords and the ones that quickly followed were huge successes, bringing in $600,000 by year's end. Ninety years later, the company remains among America's "big five" publishing houses.

(Disclosure: I worked at S&S in the late nineties and co-wrote its 75th anniversary book.)

Image: Courtesy of James Cummins Bookseller. 

A fit of despair over her troubled marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes led Sylvia Plath to commit suicide in 1963. In the years that followed, Plath's work would achieve acclaim and accolades, assuring her a place in the pantheon of American poets. Plath's sharp, spare verses are the result of many drafts and revisions. Her journals, on the other hand, were an opportunity for Plath to write freely and unencumbered by critical eyes. 

In the summer of 1950, just before matriculating at Smith College, Plath began recording the events of her life in almost obsessive detail, and would ultimately cover topics from her never ending quest for poetic perfection to Hughes' spousal infidelity.  Since she died without a will, Plath's literary estate was left in the hands of her estranged husband. Hughes published her journals in 1982, however acknowledged that he had excised unsavory and unflattering entries from the last two notebooks spanning 1959 through 1962.  

plath.jpgIn 1981, Smith College president Jill Ker Conway facilitated the purchase of the Plath collection, which includes letters, poems, as well as the poet's personal journals.  The college's associate curator of special collections, Karen V. Kukil, transcribed twenty-three original manuscripts and published them in 2000, (Anchor Books) unabridged and including more than four hundred previously unpublished pages. (A full review and examination of these journals, written by none other than Joyce Carol Oates, can be found here.) 

While there aren't many events or celebrations planned on the eve of what would be Plath's 82nd birthday, her influence continues to reverberate throughout the literary community. Author Meg Wolitzer (The Interestings; Sleepwalking) references Plath frequently in her work. Belzhar (September 2014; Dutton Juvenile) - the title evoking Plath's The Bell Jar, - examines how a young girl grapples with grief by studying Plath's oeuvre and then writing her own journal.  Two other recently published young adult books reference Plath as well - see Bookriot's reviews from earlier this month.  These novels target the 13-17 female demographic, a group who may in turn be inspired to pick up a volume of the genuine article and see for themselves the introspective, cathartic power of Plath's poetry. 

Ted Hughes & Sylvia Plath, Concord, MA, December 1959. Photograph by Marcia Brown Stern

Credit: Sylvia Plath Collection, Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College, © Marcia B. Stern

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Today on the blog we feature an interview with author Christine Jackson about her new book John James LaForest Audubon: An English Perspective. Of the book, Jackson said, "It records the background - places, people, politics - against which Audubon's book The Birds of America was printed and sold in England in the 1830s... This book throws an interesting perspective on some of the most influential Englishmen of the 1830s and Audubon's relationship with them." Jackson is a former librarian and a fellow of the Linnean Society of London who has written a variety of books and articles on natural history subjects. Copies of Jackson's book can be purchased via e-mail on her website.


What surprised you most while researching the book?

1. The bravery of Audubon. After years travelling across wild, uninhabited America, collecting birds and drawing them, he had a heavy portfolio that he carried on his shoulder containing 400 paintings of birds. He then sailed from America in a steam packet bound for Liverpool to search for an unknown engraver in an unknown country equipped only with a few letters of introduction. The only people whom he knew in England were his wife's sister and her husband and they were hostile to him.

2. Little has been included in earlier books about Lucy and her English family. This has been rectified, with family trees. Portraits of Lucy and her family are included, as well as many other portraits of the men and women mentioned throughout the book.

3. The extent to which Audubon was entertained, wined and dined, staying in the homes of his subscribers and admirers, was remarkable. He possessed charisma and was so outstandingly talented, that he made, and kept, many friends in England. Without this hospitality, Audubon's finances would have been stretched to breaking point.

4. The fact that the aquatinter Robert Havell was prepared to devote 12 years to engraving 435 of Audubon's  huge prints (39 ½ x 29 1/2 inches) and overseeing the printing of them is extraordinary. Havell also had to organize some 50 hand-colourists to paint the prints which then had to be distributed to the subscribers. Havell was the most skilled aquatinter then alive. When he had completed his task, aquatinting became superseded by lithography and Havell emigrated to America to paint its wonderful landscapes. The chance meeting with Havell in London had led to his wonderful skill being put to Audubon's purpose of printing his birds life-size. They are still the largest and most skillful bird plates ever produced, yet little fame or praise is accorded to Havell today.

What makes Audubon such a perennially fascinating figure?

In his early career, Audubon was an abject failure, with one failed business enterprise following another. Once he knew exactly what he wanted to do he became a different person, totally concentrated on his project to record and paint all the birds of America. Apart from the art work involved, he had to organize the selling of the prints - a business enterprise that he carried out efficiently. 

Audubon's outstanding talent was a factor in his eventual success, combined with his own charismatic personality that engaged the trust of leading Englishmen in all walks of life.  The scale of his ambition was breath-taking, taking great stamina to sustain the project through to the end. He travelled thousands of miles by horse and boat in America, crossed the Atlantic  several times, criss-crossed England by stage coach and then the new railways, taking to each form of transport with gusto and resilience. 

Because of the prices now paid at auction for his book, on the rare occasions when a copy comes onto the market, it attracts huge interest. Complete copies with the 435 plates now sell in excess of  £6 million GBP, (approximately 9 million USD), no other bird book coming anywhere near those figures.


To whom will your book particularly appeal?

There are collectors of Auduboniana - any books or articles to do with Audubon. This one is unique in being about the time he spent in England at a particularly interesting period, written from an English perspective with background historical details. 

People interested in the social and political background of the 1830s with which Audubon had to contend as a foreigner.

Anyone interested in the mechanics of producing such a monumental work as The Birds of America - the obtaining of subscribers, aquatinting, printing, colouring, distribution and the amount of effort required to finance and sell his own book.

Collectors of rare books - only some 200 copies of the full complement of 435 plates were issued, many of them now having been broken up and few remain in private hands. Even if a collector cannot afford to purchase a copy, the amazing saga surrounding the book still fascinates. Originally The Birds of America was bought by book collectors, a few by naturalists, several as investments and objects to display to dinner guests as a show of wealth and culture. This highly prestigious item has a glamour all its own for its beauty, rarity and value as a unique record of America's bird population. My book covers all aspects of the story of the book's compilation and publication.

What do you personally collect?

Reference books to assist with my publications and Chinese porcelain of the Kang Hsi period.

Any other publications in prospect?

Publication in progress: Menageries in Britain 1100-2000, Ray Society, c/o The Natural History Museum, Dept of Zoology, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD. Due later this year. Hoping to find a publisher for  Bird Art in the 19th Century.

The Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods, a research facility that holds the most comprehensive collection of Henry David Thoreau-related material in one place, has acquired what its curator of collections Jeffrey S. Cramer calls "a dream collection, the last truly great Thoreau collection in private hands." The collection was amassed over 45 years by bookseller Kevin Mac Donnell of Mac Donnell Rare Books in Austin, Texas.

The highlights are thrilling: A Walden first edition--"the cleanest copy in existence," says Cramer--plus Thoreau's Aunt Maria's annotated copy of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack, two manuscript leaves from his "Walking" essay, unbound sheets of "Civil Disobedience," two books from Thoreau's personal library, Thoreau family pencils, and unrecorded variant editions. Topping all of those is an extremely rare manuscript leaf from Walden that references Baker Farm (seen below). "That sold it for us," says Cramer. Baker Farm is where the Thoreau Institute is located, so it feels very much "like it's coming back home," he adds.  

Walden ms001 detail.jpgWhen Cramer received a notice from Mac Donnell offering the collection, he was immediately very interested. He flew down to Texas to meet the bookseller and survey the collection. Mac Donnell, Cramer says, hoped it would end up in an institution. "It's a wonderful thing for both of us." Mac Donnell agreed, saying that it is "easier to let it go" back to Massachusetts.

Mac Donnell recently decided to sell the collection, much of which was detailed in a 1999 issue of Firsts magazine, in order to concentrate on other projects. He told us, "I'm focusing on Twain, writing scholarly articles for journals, under contract editing a collection of essays on Twain, etc. My Twain collection numbers over 8,000 items but I still find things. I had not added any exciting Thoreau to that collection in years. My wife has moved her antique glass into the bookcases that housed my Thoreau books so she's pleased!"

The Thoreau Institute Library (a.k.a. The Henley Library, named for its founder, singer and songwriter Don Henley) collects, preserves, and provides access to 60,000 Thoreau-related manuscripts, books, maps, correspondence, art, and the Thoreau Society archives. Its location so near Walden Pond and other literary attractions and archives is a boon for both researchers and tourists. Cramer says the collection will be open in about a month. He is still sorting through the boxes and working on a catalog, a webpage, and some limited photography.

Image: A draft manuscript leaf of Thoreau's Walden, in which he writes, "Oh Baker Farm!" Courtesy of the Walden Woods Project.
Today marks the start of a new occasional series on the FB&C blog called Bright Young Collectors, where we will profile the next generation of book collectors.  The series accompanies our Bright Young Booksellers and Bright Young Librarians series, which remain ongoing. We begin today with Robert Thake in Mosta, Malta:


Where do you live?

Mosta, Malta.

What did you study at University?

During my years at university I first read for a bachelor of laws degree and subsequently read for a doctor of laws degree, both at the University of Malta.

Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in? 

My collection is composed of antiquarian books on Malta and as a consequence, rather than by intention, on the Order of St John, who occupied the island between the years 1530-1798.  Though the two subjects are often considered to be synonymous I keep them as far apart from one another as they were in reality.  My collection is primarily intended to celebrate the literary achievements of numerous unsung Maltese authors whose unwavering desire for both intellectual and actual freedom from oppression gave Malta an identity when the rest of the world believed it to have none.  

How many books are in your collection?

In all I have around a hundred antiquarian volumes.  This does not include contemporary publications of which I have a separate collection of a few hundred volumes.  

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

Leggi e Costituzioni Prammaticali (1724) affectionately known as the Codice de Vilhena, after Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena, who commissioned the publication.  This is the first printed codification of laws to govern the island.  Although the book's imprint states that the book was printed in Malta in 1724 this is in fact false.  The book could not have been printed in Malta since, following a spat with the local diocese and the inquisitor in the 17th century, the only press the island had was closed down and Malta was, as a consequence, plunged into darkness for a century.  The book was in fact published in Naples with a print run of a mere 230 copies.  It contains a beautiful engraving of Grand Master Vilhena executed by Pietro Paulo Troisi, a renowned Maltese silversmith and engraver.  This particular copy belonged to Fra Giuseppe Zammit, the surgeon general during Vilhena's magistracy.

How about the most recent book?

Il Vangelo di nostro Signore Gesù Cristo secondo San Giovanni, the first translation of a biblical text into Maltese, translated by Giuseppe Cannolo and printed in London in 1822.

How about The One that Got Away?

So far I can genuinely say that no book I set my heart on has gotten away.  This may have something to do with the overzealous manner in which I pursue books I want.  On one particular occasion I flew to Paris just a few hours after having found out that a very special book had just surfaced there.   In truth there was no reason why the book couldn't be shipped overnight to me but I felt I needed to chauffeur it home.  It takes all sorts.

What would you consider the Holy Grail for your collection?

Statuta Ordinis Domus Hospitalis Hierusalem (Rome, 1556).  Although this work is one of the few books in my collection not written by a Maltese and which holds a greater affinity to the Order of St John than to Malta, this book is one of the jewels in my collection.  This book contains the first set of statutes belonging to the Order of St John following their expulsion from Rhodes in 1522 and their resettlement on Malta in 1530.  These statutes pre-date the Ottoman siege of Malta by nine years and were compiled ten years before the foundation stone of the Maltese capital city, Valletta, was laid. The work was printed by Antonio Blado (1490-1567) who was also printer of the first edition of the 'Index Librorum Prohibitorum' as well as of Machiavelli's 'Il Principe' and 'Discorsi'.  This exquisite work, still bound in 16th century vellum, contains an engraved title page depicting the cross of the Order in red ink applied in stencil at the time of printing and also contains large historiated capitals throughout. 

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

I have bought books from all over the world and have had the pleasure of visiting countless bookshops and of having met many booksellers so it is difficult to say.  The bookseller who immediately comes to mind is Bégonia Le Bail.  My favourite bookshop would have to be Librairie Bertran in Rouen.  Though I never actually bought anything from this shop, its internal and external décor, coupled with the fact that it is strategically positioned behind the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen make it, in my opinion, the ideal bookshop.

What about your favorite book-related experience?

In 2010 I was alerted to the appearance of an especially important publication, the highly seditious Mustafà Bassà di Rodi schiavo in Malta (Naples, 1751).  I had been interested in this book since I had first heard of it and was eager to acquire it.  The bookseller who brought it to my attention, a French-Algerian gentleman, told me that I could collect it at the 2010 edition of the Salon du livre ancien de Paris.  Though initially deterred by the fact that I'd be sitting for my law finals just 10 days or so later, this apprehension only lasted a few seconds and I proceeded to book my tickets to Paris.

I was the fourth person to enter the fair - the three before me being members of the press.  I rushed to the stand, bought the book, did a couple of rounds, and ran back to my hotel room as if I had stolen it.  That night I was meant to be flying back to Malta but little did I know that Mother Nature had other plans.  While browsing through the BBC website I came across a rather inconvenient article, the headline of which read 'Airspace over Charles de Gaulle airport closed'. After almost breaking the F5 key on my keyboard the headline refused to go away and instead now read 'Airspace over Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports closed'.  Ordinarily I wouldn't mind being trapped in Paris, however, with finals now mere days away, an indefinite holiday was not quite on.  A friend of mine at the airline told me that the cause was an ash cloud caused by an uncooperative volcano in Iceland and that there was no telling how long Parisian airspace would be closed for.  He suggested that I make a dash to Marseille as the ash cloud had apparently not reached there yet.  I left for Marseille first thing the next morning only to discover that the ash cloud had beaten me to it.  I'd have seen the funny side had I not been carrying a valuable, fragile book in my backpack.  Subsequent advice suggested that I go further south still - to Rome.  My thirst for adventure (read: crippling fear of failing exams) was overwhelming, and before long I had in my hand a train ticket to Rome.  After a picturesque train-ride through the Alps, a night in Nice, a brief stay in Monte Carlo, and an eight hour trip along the western coast of Italy, I finally arrived in Rome and then Malta, with the book still intact.  I've never been happier while placing a book on the shelf for the first time.

And your favorite book in your collection?

For a number of reasons, my favourite book is the one I bought in Paris, Mustafà Bassà di Rodi schiavo in Malta.  Apart from taking it on a weird sort of honeymoon just a day or so after having bought it, I also wrote a history about its publication, circulation and prohibition.  This wonderful publication was composed in the months following the bloody massacre of the slaves in Malta in July 1749.  Since it saw the light in Naples in 1751, the book was the source of much speculation and controversy.  The book was printed under the name 'Michele Acciard' but had been widely attributed to the Maltese priest, Francesco Agius de Soldanis, on the strength of various contemporary documents suggesting his authorship. When the book was first conceived it was intended to recount the failed uprising of the slaves, however, following alleged manipulation of the manuscript, the book was printed not as a mere history book, but rather as a work of significant political importance, due to the numerous subversive statements which had been added.  The author challenged the legitimacy of the Order's occupation of the Maltese islands and instigated the Maltese to rise up in arms against their rulers.  As a result, the book was mercilessly scoured from the Maltese islands and beyond by the Grand Master, causing the book to almost disappear entirely.

Have you ever published anything yourself?

Yes.  I have written a number of papers of the history of various prohibited and anonymous books in my collection and last year I wrote my first monograph on the history of Mustafà Bassà di Rodi schiavo mentioned above.  I am currently composing my second monograph. 

What would you collect if you didn't collect books?

I'd probably collect Maltese ephemera or eighteenth century French political caricatures. 

JaneAusten_final_300dpi.jpgTo be an Austen completist would be quite a diabolical endeavor! I spent the weekend paging through a new book called Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Covers (Quirk Books, $24.95), a well designed book about book jacket design. From the first edition of Sense and Sensibility in 1811, in what appears to be bland, half-bound calf, to the 2009 Penguin PBS/BBC tie-in edition of Emma with actress Romola Garai gracing the cover, this book presents full-color illustrations of Austen cover art. The point is to see how Austen--both her work and her personal image--gets interpreted and re-interpreted, and how book packaging gets better (or worse) over time. It's heavy on the post-1980s flurry of Austen reprints, with every 'classics' publisher out there trying to cash in on Austen's popularity (thank you, Colin Firth).

Some of my favorite examples in the book: the 1894 "Peacock Edition" of Pride and Prejudice, with its lovely gilded cover design by Hugh Thomson; the 1930 World's Classics edition from OUP may be "shocking red," but is quite perfect in its compactness and simplicity; and a 2007 Daily Telegraph edition of Mansfield Park dons an "Edward Gorey-esque cast of black-clad characters, a butterfly with groovy sixties brightness, and snaking roses" by Brett Ryder. The book's author, Margaret C. Sullivan, who has also written The Jane Austen Handbook and edits Austenblog.com, comments on her favorite reprint: a 1960s Gothic Revival design of Northanger Abbey that presents the novel as a Gothic novel, full of terror and menace. She writes, "It's hilariously wrong and I think Jane Austen would have loved it!"

Jane Austen Cover to Cover is obviously a must for Janeites, and it will also be of interest to those interested in book design and popular book history. Although persnickety types might have preferred more in the way of bibliographical descriptions of size, binding material, etc. for each edition in addition the artistic details she offers, beginning and intermediate collectors will value Sullivan's book as a guide to an author so perennially in vogue that tracking her many editions would seem an impossible task.

Dylan Thomas at 100

Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) is being fêted in his homeland and abroad on the eve of what would be his 100th birthday. Thomas' works include 'Do not go gentle into that good night' and 'The hunchback in the park.'  The subject of much literary criticism and commentary over the years, he has also been compared to giants like T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden.

Most events will take place at Swansea's Dylan Thomas National Literature Centre. The Centre is housed in the Guildhall, a Victorian-era building extensively refurbished and opened to the public in 1995 by former president Jimmy Carter. The building itself is worth a visit to Swansea and as the city's cultural and literary epicenter, it epitomizes the Welsh phrase Tŷ Llên, "A House of Literature."

Welsh poet and playwright Dylan Thomas, with h...

Welsh poet and playwright Dylan Thomas, with his wife Caitlin (nee Macnamara) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Activities such as hikes along Thomas' favorite trails, music festivals and exhibitions commence on October 27, the poet's birthday, and run through the date of his death on November 9th. 

A two day "Do Not Go Gentle" music and literary festival will take place at the Centre from October 24 through the 26th. The program includes local musical and artistic performances that the promoters believe would have pleased Thomas, who often found inspiration among the people of his beloved city. Thomas loved a good Welsh ale too, and so there will be plenty of local libations available.

The Centre recently opened an exhibit showcasing manuscripts of poems, lists of rhyming words and photographs of Thomas. These items are on loan from SUNY Buffalo Special Collections Library, which is also commemorating Thomas' centennial. The university's Thomas holdings are in good company at SUNY's Poetry Collection, one of world's the largest collections of English language poetry, broadsides and anthologies from the 20th and 21st centuries. 

For Thomas fans unable to attend the festivities in Wales, plenty of activities abound in New York City, where the poet conducted reading tours over the last four years of his life. Thomas' last public engagement was on October 29th, when, after conducting a lunchtime reading at City College, New York, he visited the literary hotspot, The White Horse Tavern.  Thomas mysteriously collapsed in the Chelsea Hotel a few days later, and died at St. Vincent's Hospital on November 9th. Tourists can visit these and other places associated with the poet by following the self-guided walking tour promoted by The Greenwich Village Walking Tour.  A BBC made for TV movie about the poet's life in New York will premiere in America on October 29th.  At one hundred, it certainly appears that Thomas' legacy continues to 'rage, rage against the dying of the light.' 

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The Carnegie Free Library staff in Connellsville, Pennsylvania made a startling discovery when they removed a large bush from library grounds and revealed a stone hiding a time capsule.  Library officials knew that a time capsule had been placed when the library was built in 1901, but records did not reveal its exact location. After discovering the time capsule, the library hosted a public reception for its opening.  

Inside the time capsule, library members found a very well-preserved cache including newspapers and meeting minutes from the town council relating to the construction of the library. They also found business cards, photographs, medallions from military service, a phone directory, and an Indian head penny, amongst a variety of other objects that offered a detailed snapshot of early 20th century life in Connellsville.

Connellsville was at that point peaking as a coke manufacturer and could brag that more millionaires per capita resided there than anywhere else in the world.

Karen Heckler, president of the Connellsville Area Historical Society, said, "It's very exciting to be present when this time capsule from the early 20th century will be opened and see what people from that time felt best represented their era.''

After examination by scholars, the materials discovered in the time capsule will be put on display in the library.

[Image from Wikipedia]
Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 9.40.36 PM.pngChris Loker, a San Francisco bookseller specializing in antiquarian children's books from 1750-1950, has published an essay in a new Scholastic anthology called Open a World of Possible: Real Stories about the Joy and Power of Reading (free ebook available). Alongside authors, illustrators, and educators, Loker writes about a book that made a big difference in her life. In her essay, "Picture Books Across the Ages," she writes, "there is always a shimmer of pure joy in a fine picture book."

Loker is a member of the Book Club of California and the Grolier Club, where she is also the curator of the One Hundred Books Famous in Children's Literature exhibit, which opens on December 9. More on that in our winter issue. Loker is a member (and past board member) of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America, and serves on the board of the children's literacy organization Bring Me A Book. She is married to bookseller John Windle.
1024px-Magna_Carta_(British_Library_Cotton_MS_Augustus_II.106).jpgNext year commemorates the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta and events are already being planned, including an exhibit at the British Library that we previously profiled on this blog. Of course, most commemorative events require the attendee to live near a major institution hosting an exhibition.  To help spread the celebrations further afield, the academics at Royal Holloway - a college of the University of London - are hosting a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) about the Magna Carta that anyone around the world can enroll in.

"We are home to some of the world's experts on Magna Carta in its thirteenth century context and on its reinterpretation and reinvigoration in the seventeenth century, so we're invested in making the commemorations of the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta as successful as possible," wrote Emm Barnes Johnstone, a historian of medicine at Royal Holloway.

"A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) seemed an obvious choice to help us connect with people interested in Magna Carta wherever they live."

The free six week course will examine why the Magna Carta was radical in its day, why it has been the subject of numerous debates, and why it remains important and relevant today.  Interested people can find out more and sign up for the course entitled "The Magna Carta and Its Legacy" online at Coursera.

[Image of British Library's 1215 text, from Wikipedia]

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