March 2015 | Rebecca Rego Barry

"Books About Books" Spring Roundup

Around this time each year, a stack accumulates on my desk of post-holiday, pre-beach reads, all of which would be of interest to FB&C readers. Here are five non-fiction titles, in brief, that deserve your attention. 

9781616893668.jpgMore than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art by Liza Kirwin (Princeton Architectural Press, $24.95). Out this month is the paperback edition of this popular compendium of letters written by artists--e.g., Alfred Joseph Frueh sent his fiancee a pop-up gallery of art on the back of a 1913 letter and Andy Warhol drew a smiley face with speech bubble on his 1949 letter to a Harper's editor. From pen-and-ink caricatures to almost fully realized scenic watercolors, each correspondent illuminated his or her note with something other than text. The result is endlessly enticing. And for a bonus track: full transcripts of all the letters.

The Pebble Chance: Feuilletons & Other Prose by Marius Kociejowski (Biblioasis, $18.95). This is a collection of intelligent and charming essays on poetry, art, and books, at least two of which, "A Factotum in the Book Trade" and "The Testament of Charlotte B.," will have direct appeal for antiquarian book-collector types. The author has long worked as a book dealer in London, and he is also a poet and a travel writer. Plus, Michael Dirda raved about the book in the Washington Post. What else could you ask for?

The King Penguin Series: A Survey by Michael Lake (Penguin Collectors Society, £12). This new book from the PCS surveys the original King Penguins, a hardback imprint launched by Allen Lane in 1939. The King Penguins were meant to be both affordable and handsome enough to be collectible. This compact and beautifully illustrated book offers a wonderful history of the series, a gallery of cover art, and a full bibliography.

Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries by Ander Monson (Graywolf Press, $22). Taking inspiration from library left-behinds, Monson writes brief essays and snippets of response with the enthusiasm and wit of a poetry slam winner. Contemplating a signed book at the University of Arizona, he writes, "In the age of disassociation and fragmentation, history-free ebooks torrented on the Internet, burger meat from random cows gathered up in drive-thru fast-food burger patties to be liked, live-tweeted as we eat, there's also this: a thing, an artifact, complete with Hancock and finger trace, which makes it more than other books, we're meant to know." Monson has said that this book got started as a series of actual notes he wrote and tucked into volumes returned to the library, like a living book art project. This volume shares that private project with a larger audience.

The War That Used Up Words: American Writers and the First World War by Hazel Hutchinson (Yale University Press, $45). Henry James, Edith Wharton, Grace Fallow Norton, Mary Borden, Ellen La Motte, E. E. Cummings, and John Dos Passos -- how did these seven writers shape American opinions about WWI? Hutchinson focuses her lens not on the "lost generation," but on the writers who were observing and participating before America even joined the effort.