Book Reviews | March 2024 | Alex Johnson

Book Inclusions, Emily Dickinson's Letters, and Peyton Place: March Books Roundup

Nicholas Royle

Shadow Lines and a selection from the Rev W Awdry's Railway Series

Our regular look at new books that have recently caught the eye of our print and online editors this month.

Shadow Lines by Nicholas Royle 

Royle's idiosyncratic White Lines: Confessions of a Book Collector was one of the highlights of 2021 and this next in the series (presumably a third is in preparation) from Salt Publishing is a worthy follow-up. Royle's seemingly unstoppable wanderings around the secondhand and charity bookshops of Britain continues, this time with an emphasis on 'inclusions', the things he finds in books, as well as his ongoing campaign to reunite copies with previous owners. The first chapter, examining the Rev W Awdry's Railway Series featuring Thomas the Tank Engine et al and its link to surrealist master Magritte is particularly wonderful. Shadow Lines is one of the most eccentric books about books you'll read this year, and it's also very funny.

Natural Designs: Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo and the Invention of New World Nature by Elizabeth Gansen

Published by University of Pennsylvania Press, this focuses on the life and pioneering work of the earliest Spanish historian of the New World, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo (1478–1557). Oviedo was particulaly intrigued by the Caribbean flora and fauna he came across on his arrival in the Caribbean in 1514, from the prickly pear cactus to iguanas.

Deorhord: An Old English Bestiary by Hana Videen

As intriguing and accessible as Videen's previous book, The Wordhord: Daily Life in Old English, this time she turns to the animal kingdom and how real and imaginary animals (such as 'gange-wæfran' or 'walker-weavers', better known to us as 'spiders') were named. Published in the US by Princeton University Press, and by Profile Books in the UK

The Freaks Came Out to Write: The Definitive History of the Village Voice, the Radical Paper That Changed American Culture by Tricia Romano

An oral history of New York’s iconic weekly newspaper using more than 200 interviews with its writers (among them Romano herself), editors, and photographers, including Colson Whitehead, gossip columnist Michael Musto, and feminist writers Vivian Gornick and Susan Brownmiller. Published by PublicAffairs.
Book Anatomy: Body Politics and the Materiality of Indigenous Book History by Amy Gore

Published by University of Massachusetts Press as part of its Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book series, Gore, assistant professor of English at North Dakota State University, argues that "the reprints, editions, and paratextual elements of Indigenous books... embody a frontline of colonization in which Native authors battle the public perception and reception of Indigenous books, negotiate representations of Indigenous bodies, and fight for authority and ownership over their literary work."

Unbuttoning America: A Biography of Peyton Place by Ardis Cameron

The lurid 1956 multimillion-seller by Grace Metalious which became a Hollywood film and television series is explored via interviews, fan letters, and archival materials including contemporary cartoons and cover images from film posters and foreign editions. Cameron suggests it was also significant in anticipating second-wave feminism, as well as giving a voice to concerns about Cold War America.

The Letters of Emily Dickinson, edited by Cristanne Miller and Domhnall Mitchell

The definitive edition of Dickinson’s correspondence, expanded and revised in the first collected edition since 1958. All 1,304 of her extant letters are included plus the small number available from her correspondents. Almost 300 are previously uncollected, including those published after 1958 or recently discovered in manuscript, plus more than 200 'letter-poems' that Emily Dickinson sent without accompanying prose. It also redates many of the letters more precisely. Published by Harvard University Press.

John Baskerville's PREFACE to Milton's Paradise Lost

Published by the UK private fine press publisher Incline Press, this specimen of three Baskerville type designs partly useing a set reissued by Stephenson, Blake in 1909 which had never been used before, features an introduction by Chairman of the Baskerville Society Professor Caroline Archer-Parre, Professor of Typography and co-director of the Centre for Printing History and Culture at Birmingham City University. Next year marks 250 years since Baskerville's death and his PREFACE was written to introduce himself to his readers and encourage sponsors to fund his work, explaining his own approach to workmanship, the importance of the quality of work, and ideas of beauty.  

The Miniature Library of Queen Mary's Dolls' House by Elizabeth Clark Ashby

A new book celebrating the 100th anniversary of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House and its remarkable library, on show in Windsor Castle, featuring a foreword by Her Majesty The Queen, new research and never-before-published extracts from the Dolls’ House Library. Published by the Royal Collection Trust. An interview with the author will appear in the forthcoming issue of Fine Books & Collections and is forthcoming on the Fine Books website.