What used to be a biannual accounting of newly published books about books has become quarterly, it seems, which is good news for bibliophiles. So what are the freshest books in our favorite genre?
If you had the opportunity to see The Magic of Handwriting: The Pedro Corrêa do Lago Collection at the Morgan Library last year, or you read Nick Basbanes' profile of the collector in our fall 2018 issue, you'd know that Corrêa do Lago has amassed an astounding collection of autographs. From Michelangelo to Stephen Hawking, his nearly 100,000 items cover art, science, literature, you name it. The Morgan's selection of 140 showpieces has been turned into a handsome book by Taschen, printed on thick paper and bound in textured cloth. There are introductory essays, transcriptions of manuscripts, and copious illustrations. All in all, an incredible bargain for $35. My favorite: an Adam Smith letter c. 1767 in which he writes, "I shall not know how to employ myself till I get my library."
It's the time of year for planning a summer vacation, and here's just the volume to steer you: Inspired Traveller's Guide: Literary Places (White Lion, $19.99) by Sarah Baxter. It's not a travel guide in the typical sense of the term, it's more inspirational (which is why it will work just as well for armchair travelers and staycationers). The book explores 25 places -- e.g., Paris, Davos, Cairo, Cartagena -- through a literary lens, focusing on one book that illuminates something about that destination. In Dublin, it's Ulysses, and we visit some of Leopold Bloom's haunts; in New York, it's The Catcher in the Rye, and we pause to consider the iconic status of Penn Station and Central Park. Each charming essay is enhanced by bright, bold illustrations by Amy Grimes.
The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World's Greatest Library (Scribner, $30) by Edward Wilson-Lee is superbly researched and remarkably well-written. At its core, the book is a biography of Columbus's illegitimate son, Hernando Colón, who was an archivist at heart. He sought to collect not just "the largest private library of the day," but ephemeral prints, pamphlets, and music as well. He then created lists and catalogues of his collected works and even designed his own secret alphabet to describe them; he could be obsessive in his collecting and collating, a kindred spirit no doubt to many Fine Books readers. Colón was obviously a man ahead of his time; his story is expansive, and in Wilson-Lee's hands, absolutely compelling.
If you enjoyed, as we did, Christopher de Hamel's recent book, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, you will find his latest, Making Medieval Manuscripts (Bodleian Library/University of Chicago Press, $25), an ideal companion piece. In this slim, square paperback filled with glossy illustrations, de Hamel walks the reader through the art and craft of medieval manuscript creation--from descriptions of paper and parchment to types of ink to illumination and binding techniques. It is the perfect introduction to this area of study.
If Samuel Johnson is your man, Prize-winning biographer Leo Damrosch's atmospheric new book, The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age (Yale University Press, $30) should be on your radar. In clear, engaging prose, Damrosch ushers us into "the club," i.e., the Turk's Head Tavern in London, where members like Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Edward Gibbon, and James Boswell joined Johnson for food, drink, and, perhaps more than anything else, intelligent talk.
But wait, there's more!
-Books of the Weird: Figments from Libraries, Bookshops & Other Imaginary Worlds (Books of the Weird Press, $20) by John D. Riley. Written by a longtime antiquarian bookseller for fellow bibliomaniacs, it is a pleasure to dip into.
-Prince of the Press: How One Collector Built History's Most Enduring and Remarkable Jewish Library (Yale University Press, $35) by Joshua Teplitsky chronicles the life of David Oppenheim (1664-1736), a rabbi who built an extensive library of some 4,500 books and 1,000 manuscripts.
-Murder by the Book: The Crime that Shocked Dickens's London (Knopf, $25.95) by Claire Harman is a quick and entertaining read about how the literary culture of Victorian England may have influenced a young valet to kill his boss, Lord William Russell.
Still adding to your TBR pile? Check out our Fall 2018 Books about Books roundup, or our holiday edition.
Images courtesy of individual publishers
What used to be a biannual accounting of newly published books about books has become quarterly, it seems, which is good news for bibliophiles. So what are the freshest books in our favorite genre?
Of how he lived and died.
If you're still in need
Of something to read,
Here's the story of 'Bonnie and Clyde.'
So begins the famous poem written by Bonnie Parker, of the notorious crime duo Bonnie and Clyde. The original manuscript of that poem, along with a number of others purportedly written by the pair in a 1933 Year Book are being offered for auction at Heritage in April.
The young lovers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow blazed their way through the Depression-era American South in a string of crime, including theft, kidnapping, and murder, before being gunned down in a Louisiana ambush in 1934.
At some point in their travels, they appear to have acquired a 1933 Year Book (essentially a daily planner), which had been abandoned or tossed out by its former owner. As a matter of interest to print culture enthusiasts of the way books and manuscripts are adapted over time, the original owner of the year book seems to have been a serious golfer. The duo, having acquired the planner, then began writing poetry of their life of the run in the blank pages, including "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde," written by Bonnie, which is their most well-known literary output. That poem was ripped out of the planner and set in an envelope, which is being included in the auction.
Clyde seems to have written an occasionally playful, occasionally melancholic response to Bonnie's poem in September of 1933:
Bonnie's Just Written a poem
the Story of Bonnie & Clyde. So
I will try my hand at Poetry
With her riding by my side.
The poem continues:
We donte want to hurt anney one / but we have to Steal to eat. / and if it's a shoot out to / to live that's the way it / will have to bee.We have kidnapped some / people. And tied them to a tree / but not so tight that after we / were gone tha could not get / themselves free. / We are going home tomorrow / to look in on the folks. We will / meet then out near Grape Vine / if the Laws donte get there / first. / Now that's not as good as / Bonnies. So I guess I / Will call it a flop- / But please God Just one / moore visit before we are / Put on the spot.
Heritage has declined to definitively authenticate the handwriting as that of Bonnie and Clyde as little has survived, however they noted similiarities between the handwriting in the book and the few examples of their handwriting that exist elsewhere. The notebook has also been owned for decades by Barrow's family. It was consigned to Heritage by Clyde Barrow's nephew.
[Image from Wikipedia]
Part II of the sale of world traveler, adventurer, and book collector Steve Fossett's library gets underway in Chicago on March 15. A peruse through the catalogue makes clear just how many volumes in the "Adventure & Exploration" genre sport dazzling decorative cloth bindings. Let's take a look at ten that truly stand out.
First edition of Lecornu's La Navigation Aérienne (Paris, 1903) in publisher's decorated green cloth. Estimated at $250-350.
First edition of Burton's Two Trips to Gorilla Land and the Cataracts of the Congo (London, 1876) in original publisher's green gilt cloth. Estimated at $1,500-2,000.
First edition, presentation copy, of From Cape to Cairo. The First Traverse of Africa from South to North (London, 1900) in original publisher's pictorial mustard cloth. Estimated at $600-800.
First edition of Frank Oates' Matabele Land and the Victoria Falls (London, 1881) in publisher's pictorial olive green cloth. Estimated at $600-800.
First edition of Twixt Sirdar & Menelik. An Account of a Year's Expedition from Zeila to Cairo through Unknown Abyssinia (London & New York, 1901) in publisher's decorated tan gilt cloth. Estimated at $300-400.
First edition of John James Wild's At Anchor (London 1878). Intriguingly, the original publisher's pictorial green gilt cloth has been retained through rebacking and recornering in matching morocco. Estimated at $400-600.
First edition of Under the Northern Lights (London, 1876) in publisher's pictorial green gilt cloth. Estimated at $800-1,200.
Reprint edition of Nansen's famous "Farthest North." Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration of the Ship "Fram"... (London, 1898) in original publisher's decorated green cloth. Estimated at $100-200.
First edition, presentation copy, of The Voyage of the 'Scotia.' Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration in the Antarctic Seas (Edinburgh, 1906) in original publisher's pictorial gray cloth. I especially like how the art on some of these covers carries over onto the spine. Estimated at $1,000-1,500.
First trade edition of Across East African Glaciers. An Account of the First Ascent of Kilimanjaro (London, 1891) in original publisher's decorated green gilt cloth. Estimated at $1,000-1,500.
Images courtesy of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers
A trio of sale to watch this week:
Chiswick Auctions holds an Ornithology, Zoology & Voyages sale on Wednesday, February 27, in 345 lots. This auction includes a number of original paintings, sculptures, &c., but among the books are manuscripts are the expanded second edition of the great sea atlas Le Neptune Oriental (£10,000-15,000); a 1756 edition of the English Pilot (£4,000-6,000); Shelley's Monograph of the Nectariniidae, or Family of Sun-birds (£4,000-6,000); and an 1838 whaling log from the brig William, out of Fall River, MA (£3,000-4,000; pictured below).
Also on Wednesday, University Archives will sell Autographed Documents, Manuscripts, Books & Relics, in 266 lots. Headlining this auction is a complete set of autographs of the signers of the U.S. Constitution ($60,000-70,000). Other highlights are expected to include a collection of nearly fifty playbills, nine of which feature John Wilkes Booth ($30,000-35,000); a 1781 George Washington-signed letter about prisoner exchanges ($35,000-40,000); a 1779 Benjamin Franklin letter about outfitting Lafayette's troops ($30,000-35,000); and an apparently unpublished Alexander Hamilton letter alluding to the compromise which led to the formation of Washington, D.C. (also $30,000-35,000). The latter two items are both noted as being from an extra-illustrated copy of a history of New York City.
Back at Chiswick Auctions on Thursday, Autographs & Memorabilia, in 289 lots. Among the lots on Thursday are a large collection of letters by English, French, and Italian composers and musicians (£3,000-5,000); the training notebook of cosmonaut Vladimir Shatalov (£2,000-3,000); and a Vicksburg newspaper printed on wallpaper (£800-1,200). A great variety of lots in this one, making the catalogue well worth a browse, whatever your collecting interests.
Image courtesy of Chiswick Auctions
Since the beginning of recorded time, humans have tried to communicate with each other, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes ideas get contorted or just plain lost in translation, but that doesn't mean we stop trying. Opened last week at the University of Oxford's Weston Library is an exhibition that examines just how stories in all genres are transmitted across cultures through words. Babel: Adventures in Translation uses spectacular specimens culled from the university's massive collection of books, manuscripts, printed materials, and ephemera to make the case for breaking the language barrier.
"Babel explores the tension between the age-old quest for a universal language, like Latin, Esperanto, or global English today, and the face that communities continue to nurture an dretan their own languages and dialects as part of their cultural identity," explains exhibition co-curator and German literature professor Katrin Kohl. Further, she says that the exhibition "illuminates how translation builds bridges between languages and how the borderlands between languages can be fertile ground for resistance, comedy, and creativity."
Among the items on display include a 3,500- year-old bowl discovered by archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos on the island of Crete. The piece is covered in what's referred to as Linear A, a language used by the Minoans, as of yet, remains undeciphered. Linear B, a later form of the Minoan language, was deciphered in the 1950s, and though the languages bear some resemblance to each other, not enough examples of the older language exist to fully understand it.
Also part of the show is the Codex Mendoza, a manuscript compiled in 1541 and considered one of the Bodleian Library system's most prized possessions. Using a combination of Mexica picture writing and the Mexica language, Nahuatl, and Spanish, the codex is meant as a roadmap to the newly acquired territories for Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain.
An unpublished notebook (pictured above) complied by a teenaged Tolkien is also part of the show and reveals the Lord of the Rings author's lifelong obsession with invented languages. Dubbed "The Book of Foxrook," the notebook reveals Tolkien's early attempt at inventing an alphabet. Here he uses a mix of Esperanto and his own language he called the "Privata Kodo Skauta."
As we hurtle full steam ahead into the 21st century when translation services are at the tips of our smartphones, is the act of translation obsolete? The show makes the case that it is not--that employing Google Translate to ask where the bathroom is in Swedish is a far cry from the creative, laborious task of rendering and interpreting an entire document into another language.
What about the future? How can contemporary societies warn future humans of potentially dangerous sites, like nuclear waste dumps, when it's not clear that any of our current languages will exist? The question is explored here, as well as Brexit and the importance of language within a culture's identity. Ultimately, Babel aims to both explore how translation transferred information in the past and how translation continues to mold our lives today.
Babel: Adventures in Translation is on view now through June 2.
Image: Tolkien's Book of Foxrook. © The Tolkien Trust 1992, 2019.
Seeing not one but two copies of the magnificent 1913 artist's book, La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France by Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay, surface at auction two weeks apart is surprising enough to warrant comment. Though Cendrars intended to publish 150 copies of this long, illustrated poem about his journey through Russia on the Trans-Siberian Express, only about sixty were ever completed, of which only a few are now held outside of an institution. Years can go by without a sighting.
But at Christie's in Paris yesterday, a copy in "exceptional condition with extraordinary colors" and in the original hand-painted leather cover by Delaunay, once belonging to bibliophile and former banker Marc Litzler, sold for ??237,500 ($270,000) against a pre-sale estimate of ??150,000-200,000.
If you missed out on that one, another chance to own an original La Prose is coming up at Swann Galleries in New York on March 5. It is estimated rather conservatively at $70,000-100,000. Said the auctioneer, "...[I]t is widely considered one of the first and among the most important artist's books of the 20th century."
The auctions called to mind the 2017 article Nate Pedersen wrote for us about California book artist Kitty Maryatt and her quest to reproduce a limited edition of La Prose using the same letterpress and pochoir techniques employed in the original. Collaborating with Atelier Coloris, Maryatt completed the first batch in fall 2017; as October 28, 2018, she had "74 more copies to make." You can follow her progress here, and she has also posted a census of the original edition.
In 2017, Maryatt told us, "The most rewarding aspect of this project is actually doing the pochoir studies myself, analyzing the unusual strokes that surely Sonia [Delaunay] asked the pocheurs to do. I had not learned the original techniques used in 1913 but ones modified over the years, so it has been an eye-opener to learn them."
Image courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries
Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Gabrielle Dudley, Instruction Archivist at the Rose Library at Emory University in Atlanta.
I am the Instruction Archivist at the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. In this role I partner with faculty to incorporate Rose Library's collections into their courses and also help them to develop semester-long projects that make use of the collections. In addition to my work as a faculty coach, I am a student research advocate and coordinate a program that train undergraduate and graduate students on archives research methods.
How did you get started in special collections?
In high school I thought that I would be a history teacher and attended college on a teaching scholarship. However, I soon realized that I disliked the state and federal mandates on history education and begin to look for alternative career options. After college I took a year of "soul searching" and then entered a dual MLIS/MA graduate school program where I became a research assistant for Dr. Bobby Donaldson and the African American Documentary History Initiative at the University of South Carolina. The project was based in the History department, but worked closely with the University Libraries to engage the city of Columbia's African American community. The two years that I assisted Professor Donaldson was a crash course in community organizing as I co-lead community workshops, conducted archival research, and attended collection development meetings in the library. The experience helped me to realize the unique position of special collection libraries to be a bridge between history educators and the community. Now, I very much see myself as an educator and also a bridge builder.
Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled?
The answer to this question probably changes each day so I will talk about a book that is really fun for teaching.
At Rose Library, we have the library of an Anglo-Indian writer and collector of Harlem Renaissance era works named Cedric Dover. He heavily annotated mostly all of the books in the library including a volume of poetry titled, Bronze by Georgia Douglas Johnson. Dover's copy has a lengthy annotation and he also pasted in an unpublished poem and photograph of Johnson. Through correspondence in Dover's papers he appears very supportive and encouraging of Johnson's work and she even connects him with key writers and artists for his book American Negro Art. However Dover's annotation in Bronze is a private annotation and review of Johnson and her work that is very critical and unlike his praise in the correspondence. This examples helps to underscore for undergraduate students, especially, the reason why scholars would travel across the world to do research in a special collections library. For many students, this is a great example of what they call "old-school shade." I love showing this book.
What do you personally collect?
I collect debut novels by Black women writers. I have about 150 titles in the collection and for many of them I have several editions of the same title. I think I have about 4 editions of The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison though my favorite in the collection is the first edition of The Women of Brewster's Place by Gloria Naylor complete with it's dust jacket. Unfortunately, I do not have the budget to purchase only first editions, but I would love to get my hands on a first edition of The Street by Ann Petry or Jonah's Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I love to do volunteer work! Most of my service is done with the Tau Epsilon Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated and for several years I led it's mentoring program for middle school girls. Now I am working on its Global Impact Committee to plan a community impact day focused on aiding immigrant and refugee families in the metro-Atlanta area.
What excites you about special collections librarianship?
I am really excited about the opportunities to document and illuminate the stories of communities of color. I am a founding member of the Atlanta Black Archives Alliance (ABAA) which is an organization of Atlanta-based archivists focused on documenting and educating the city's Black communities about archives and preservation. It is so wonderful to see similar organizations popping up across the country to ensure that the voices of marginalized groups are documented and represented in archives and special collections libraries.
Thoughts on the future of special collections librarianship?
Perhaps I have too many thoughts on the future of special collections librarianship, but accessible and inclusive spaces are always on my mind. It is one thing for libraries and archives to talk about being accessible and inclusive and it is another thing entirely to actually be those things. The concept of space is often seen as something that must be made for external audiences like researchers, students, faculty, etc. but I think the key is first making our "spaces" like our institutions or collections or library schools or break rooms or leadership meetings accessible and inclusive.
Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you'd like to draw our attention to?
The Rose Library has a wonderful and interesting collection of personal papers from Black women writers like Lucille Clifton, Pearl Cleage, Mari Evans, J.J. Philips, Natasha Trethewey, Alice Walker, and more. For so long institutions have ignored the perspectives of Black women though with these collections being together we can begin to see the connections between these writers. The collecting area has been cultivated over the last 15 years and continues to grow.
Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?
"Building Emory's African American Collections: Highlights from the Curatorial Career of Randall K. Burkett" is on view until July.
Randall K. Burkett was hired in 1997 as Emory's first curator for African American collections. Over the past 21 years, he has led the university's effort to build collections of rare books, manuscripts, serials, photographs, and print ephemera in this field. He and his Rose Library colleagues have sought to ensure the African American voice is represented and have given priority to African American-authored and African American-published material. The exhibition highlights treasures in the collections and Burkett's stories of their discovery and acquisition.
Read the press release for more details.
[Photo provided by Gabrielle Dudley]
We heard today the sad news that world-renowned fashion designer (and bibliophile) Karl Lagerfeld has died. It reminded me that back in 2011, I desperately wanted to profile the German-born Lagerfeld in our magazine, having been enticed by images of his 300,000-volume library like the one below, taken by Piotr Stoklosa. So I got in touch with a journalist friend, a bilingual American who had lived in Berlin for a while, which I thought might help in communicating with Lagerfeld's assistants or handlers. Getting to him, however, turned out to be impossible. Images of his library are widely shared online, and they turn up year after year; it's clear people really want to know more about this incredible collection, and how and why he filled his life with books. I suppose now it will be dismantled, sold at auction or through a bookseller--perhaps even his own bookshop, Librairie 7L, in Paris--which may be when it finally gets its close-up.
In 2015, he said, "If you go to my house, I'll have you walk around the books." Indeed. A few more photos of Lagerfeld's library -- yes, with books stacked sideways!-- can be viewed at My Modern Met.
After a fairly quiet week, we're very much back to business on the auction front. Here are a few things I'll be watching this week:
Alexander Historical Auctions holds its Winter Auction on Monday, February 18, in a whopping 1,120 lots. Among the manuscripts expected to sell well are a June 29, 1861 letter from Stonewall Jackson ($15,000-25,000); the signature of Declaration of Independence Signer Thomas Lynch, Jr., clipped from a volume of Swift ($10,000-15,000); and an Ernest Hemingway letter to an aspiring writer ($8,000-10,000).
Pierre Bergé & Associés sells the Bibliothèque d'un Amateur on Tuesday, in 129 lots. A 1523 Ovid in French (Paris: Philippe le Noir) with more than thirty woodcut illustrations rates the top estimate, at ??35,000-45,000. A seventeenth-century manuscript prayer book made for Andrée de Vivonne, Duchesse de La Rochefoucauld could sell for ??30,000-40,000 (pictured).
On Wednesday, Bibliothèque Marc Litzler at Christie's Paris. The 248 lots include Matisse's Jazz (Paris, 1947), estimated at ??200,000-300,000; illustrations from the 1498 Nuremberg edition of Dürer's Apocalypsis (??150,000-200,000); a manuscript book of hours from around 1480 (??60,000-80,000); and a second edition Vesalius (??50,000-70,000).
PBA Galleries holds a 431-lot sale of Rare Americana, Travel & Exploration, Hawaii, World History, and Cartography on Thursday, February 21. Rating the top estimate is a full set of the first two volumes of Alexander Campbell's Millennial Harbinger (1830-1831), at $10,000-15,000. The third issue of William Stith's history of Virginia (Williamsburg, ), with the bookplate of British politician George Grenville, could fetch $6,000-9,000. A massive 1761 map of Europe with vignettes is estimated at $5,000-8,000. Finally, two Mexican Inquisitorial broadsides about forbidden books, one from 1781 and another from 1803, each are estimated at $3,000-5,000.
Last but not least, Aguttes in Paris sells Livres Anciens & Modernes, Manuscrits & Autographes on Friday, February 22, in 314 lots. A collection of forty-eight letters from artist Francis Picabia to Suzanne Roman is expected to sell for ??30,000-40,000, while a bifolium from a seventeenth-century Italian manuscript maritime atlas of the Mediterranean could fetch ??20,000-25,000. A Debussy music manuscript rates the same estimate.
Image credit: Pierre Bergé & Associés
Yale University is moving forward with a plan to renovate Bass Library after commencement this spring, but the renovation has irked members of the community because part of the project involves removing 84,000 of the library's 145,000 volumes--a full 58%--and permanently housing them in nearby Sterling Memorial Library.
University librarian Susan Gibbons has said in various interviews that the books are being moved to make more studying space available as the student body grows. "I don't think that, as a result of this project, students are going to have less access to the books -- they're all still here on-campus," she said in an interview with NPR's Frankie Graziano. "But, what they will have access to is more places to actually sit down amongst the books and do that studying." Gibbons also said that the way students use Bass has changed with the times, citing a decrease in students checking out books for the sciences and math programs, but usage among Humanities majors has stayed the same. According to a recent Yale press release, borrowing among undergraduates has dropped from 40% of total circulation in 2008 to just 13% in 2018. Coupled with a growing student body, university administrators feel repurposing the stacks into seating would be a better use of the space.
Gibbons acknowledged the enduring importance of books, especially in a library. Yale's plan for the library going forward includes, as Gibbons said in the press release, "maintaining a more dynamic, up-to-date collection in Bass that will evolve with the addition of new courses and encourage students' engagement with print books." That engagement includes what she called a "renewed focus" on books by Yale faculty. "The collection will be smaller, but more vital and relevant."
Opened in 1971, the Bass Library last underwent a $50 million interior renovation in 2007.
Some Yale students aren't having it. Humanities and philosophy major Leland Strange is leading what he's dubbed a "browse-in," a mass check-out of books from Bass to protest the move. Fellow students worry that a denuded Bass will resemble an airport terminal rather than a library. Other students fretted that the whole point of a library is to have access to materials, whether they're on regular rotation or have never been checked out.
Despite students' efforts, Yale appears poised to move ahead with the renovation, which is expected to be completed by October 1, with a "soft roll-out" planned for late August.