February 2009 Archives

[Greetings all! Jeremy Dibbell here. Many of you may know me from my own blog, PhiloBiblos, or from my “Crimes Against Humanities” column here at the new FB&C. I look forward to posting here and engaging with you all and with the great group of fellow contributors Ian has collected.]

On 28 January 2009, Dr. James Hutson, Chief of the Manuscripts Division at the Library of Congress, sent a letter to manuscript and special collections librarians concerning certain Walt Whitman notebooks which went missing from the Library in 1942. Enclosed with the letter was a 1954 brochure, “Ten Notebooks and a Cardboard Butterfly Missing from the Walt Whitman Papers,” which describes the missing items.
This is the scene inside a warehouse in Bristol, UK. The warehouse used to be the home of Bookbarn, Amazon.UK’s largest supplier of secondhand books. Now it’s a biblio-wasteland.

After their lease was up Bookbarn moved out leaving millions of books behind. The landlord then decided to invite the public in to take whatever they wanted. Ashley Nicholson, the director of the property, said ‘We thought it was a sensible idea to give people the opportunity to come along and choose themselves a book or two and help us clear the warehouse.” The thought of free books had people coming from far and wide. Nicholson added ‘The response has been unbelievable since we opened it to the public. It’s like a swarm of locusts.”

Is such a tragic scene a direct result of the race to the bottom pricing mentality of the penny sellers that infect many of the online marketplaces? Where value is sucked out of many perfectly good books until they are rendered ‘worthless’. What a shame.

Do you think they’ll get their security deposit back?

More at the Daily Mail online

Note the Bookbarn is not to be confused with Bookbarn International
COLUMBIA, SC--Forgive me, please, for using a dateline, but I’m an old newspaperman, and since I’m in the field, as it were, at the South Carolina Book Festival, using one in this instance seems perfectly appropriate.

matthew_bruccoli.jpg This posting will be fairly brief, because it’s not quite noon on Saturday morning, and I have a presentation to make in a couple hours, offering a tribute to the late Matthew J. Bruccoli, who died last year at 76. I wrote about Matt on a number of occasions--first in Fine Books & Collections, later as a featured profile in my 2005 book, “Every Book Its Reader” (p. 193-208). Matt was a lot of things--scholar, writer, teacher, editor, publisher, consummate collector of F. Scott Fitzgerald and other twentieth-century authors--but most of all, he was, in his own words, “a bookman.” (Charles McGrath once described him in the New York Times as the “senior packrat of American letters.”) In the course of our many conversations, Matt and I became good friends, so I was more than happy to accept an invitation from the good people here in South Carolina to talk about him at a festival he helped establish thirteen years ago.

Those who enjoy a Lazy-Boy recliner as their favorite reading chair yet wish it were more mobile, stylish, and even more thrilling than usual, will be pleased to learn that Russian industrial designer Irina Zhdanova has dreamed up a solution so that comfy reading on the move, with zero fuel costs, avant-garde looks, AND built-in thrills and bookshelf is now a reality.

6a00d8341c630a53ef01116896b077970c-800wi.jpgClearly the photographer who imagined the reader seated in the photo didn’t capture the essence of the Rolling Reader, which is essentially an amusement park ride as envisioned for the thrill-seeking text-junkie unwilling to engage motor neurons in pursuit of sensation. As depicted, however, the reader is seated in a very uncomfortable position: Slouched, with no back support, this person is headed for Sciatica City.

No, the optimal way to use the Rolling Reader is to drape one’s length along the cushioned inside rim in lazy, languorous, louche, decadent bum mode (I may be projecting personal behavior here, but you get the idea). While all the big, heavy books are shelved at the bottom for low center of gravity and ballast, a little body English will be all that is necessary to get you moving.

How many times has this happened to you: You’re reading on the couch and so comfortable that you dare not move a muscle lest the spell be broken but if you don’t have a handful of popcorn Right Now! you may spontaneously combust? Yes, it’s only twenty steps to the kitchen but for the seriously sedentary ambulation is overrated.

Problem now solved: Just roll yourself from the living room to the kitchen and back again (don’t forget to bring the bag of popcorn back with you).

A few basic necessities are conspicuously absent: Brakes, and for those who wish to read al fresco on city streets, seat belts. It’d probably be a good idea to stuff the bookshelf tight with tomes before putting the rolling reader into gear; flying first editions are not a pretty sight. Use the bike/reading lane. Don’t forget to use hand signals when turning, a quick thrust of the glutes to one side or another all that’s necessary for left-right maneuvers.

And while it should go without saying, please have reader’s insurance should you be involved in an accident.

I have a secret. 

Can I trust you?  I’ve pulled a fast one on the folks at Fine Books & Collections.  I am not a mysterious special collections librarian.  I’m a mysterious museum curator (huge difference) who has his fingers in a lot of pies.  I like a lot of pie.  I am also involved in several bibliophilic ventures, projects and yes, even revolutions that I talk about on my blog, The Exile Bibliophile, because it’s basically my imaginary friend. 

I’ll outline some of these ideas and projects in the weeks to come and thought I’d introduce myself.  I’m so excited about this new project for Fine Books & Collections, all my dust jackets are getting fresh Brodarts in case anyone drops by.  Seriously, drop by.  After all, I’m that other guy.  I don’t reek of globe-trotting ozone, I don’t have multiple book fairs within spittin’ distance or coffee dates with Pulitzer Prize winners.  I’m like you.  A bibliophile quietly collecting, praying my wife doesn’t use her superpowers to destroy me.  See, just like you. 

I knew I could trust you.
The new Crawley library opened in West Sussex relatively recently. It contains some striking architectural/artistic elements...notably remarkable textual trees.  
‘The striking, cracked trees, 14 in all, are situated throughout the library building and are installed vertically, flush to the floor and ceiling to resemble supporting, structural pillars. Each tree is, in fact, a real oak trunk and displays carved passages of text from literature within the library, the typeface of each passage chosen carefully to suit the nature of the text - which is where Why Not Associates comes in.
“We worked with the selected passages of text, choosing typefaces and designing the layout,” says Why Not’s Andy Altmann of the studio’s role in the making of the Crawley Trees. “Because there were 14 trees to do, all of us in the studio got to do one.” 
The text to adorn the trees was chosen by the users of Crawley library, thanks to research done by Anna Sandberg. “She was another key collaborator and did all the workshops with the people [of Crawley] to point us in the right direction in terms of sourcing textual content,” says Young. “She also put hundreds of questionnaire postcards in books all over the library and we got hundreds of replies naming favourite books and passages and thoughts about what was good literature”’

Thanks to boingboing for the headsup.
There is a fun little interview with William Smith, owner of Hang Fire Books over at BoingBoing. William specializes in “vintage paperbacks and lurid pulp fiction from the 1940s-60s” while also carrying general stock. His blog is great as he posts wonderfully lurid pulp covers with pleasing regularity. [Also, you should not miss his current post on the annotated sleaze that arrived recently. Thesis research?!?].
You read that correctly.

If you’re a gamer, a regular player of video games, then you may already have heard . . .

Video game company Electronic Arts announced a couple of months ago that it plans to make a video game version of Dante’s Inferno.    

Those of us bibliophiles who prefer books to all other forms of entertainment may be stunned at this news. A major player in the video game industry plans to make a cutting edge game out of a 14th century epic written entirely in verse? Could there be a more ridiculous idea than re-interpreting this masterpiece as a visually-oriented game in which the player, and not the author, determines the final outcome of the story?
Philip Jose Farmer (1/26/1918-2/25/2009) passed away in his sleep this morning. As posted on his website, [h]e will be missed greatly by his wife Bette, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends and countless fans around the world. 

He won his first Hugo Award in 1953 and his last in 1972 [“To Your Shattered Bodies Go”]. In the first few years of 2000, he one the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award [lifetime achievement, awarded at the Nebula Awards Ceremony], the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement and the Forry Award for Lifetime Achievement.

He will be missed by many...
I am very pleased to introduce our newest voice, Deborah Coltham of Deborah Coltham Rare Books. Deborah is a specialist dealer in Antiquarian Medicine and Science based in the High Weald of Kent, UK. While this is her first foray into the blogosphere, she brings a wealth of knowledge and a quick wit and I am very excited that she has agreed to join our motley crew.

As stolen from her site: 
After graduating from St Andrews University in 1994 with an MA Honours degree in English Literature and Medieval History, I joined the leading London firm of Pickering & Chatto Ltd as an apprentice to the Head of the Science and Medicine Department. After succeeding the role in 1998 and enjoying many years of successful trading, I set up Deborah Coltham Rare Books in July 2006.

Having agreed to post here, she is now on a short holiday, time no doubt to be spent pondering her first post. With that, we shall let the suspense build... 
Richard Brathwaite. Ar’t asleepe husband? London, 1640. ©Folger Shakespeare Library

Whatever your relationship to sleep is the latest exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library, To Sleep, Perchance to Dream, is worth staying awake for.

The “exhibition explores the ethereal realm of sleeping and dreaming in Renaissance England, from the beliefs, rituals, and habits of sleepers to the role of dream interpreters and interpretations in public and private life.”

In addition to a sampling of Shakespeare and Milton and books like
Thomas Tryon’s A treatise of cleanness in meats and drinks, of the preparation of food, the excellency of good airs, and the benefits of clean sweet beds the exhibit also includes other tangibles like nightclothes, gemstones, recipes and ingredients for curing nightmares and inducing sleep.

Sleep disorders are nothing new but who knew what lengths people went to keep nightmares at bay. Carole Levine, co-curator of the exhibit, shares a few strategies of the day, like “rubbing the blood of a lapwing on your temples, putting an ape’s heart under your pillow, or even worse to find -- a dragon’s tongue soaked in wine.” Yikes.

One can only imagine what Sigmund Freud, who read some of the books displayed, would have thought of this homage to the Renaissance

The exhibition is both comprehensive and enlightening and has a strong online component as well which includes The Dream Machine which provides
Renaissance-era dream interpretation.

There is an audio tour available online but without the corresponding visuals it seems the weakest link of the online offering.

Exhibit Details:
February 19-May 30, 2009
Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm

Co-Curated by Carole Levin of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Garrett Sullivan of Pennsylvania State University.

Marsha Dubrow has a good review of the exhibit at Examiner.com
The standard brick and mortar general rare bookshop is, for the most part, alas, a thing of the past. The Internet is now the world’s general rare book shop; that and rising rents have driven many book shop owners to close their retail spaces.

The reality is that it is increasingly difficult to find affordable retail space for a book shop in a lively location where there is actual foot traffic.  Finding a space that won’t break your budget and that is not so far off the beaten path that you require Google Earth to locate it is a major challenge.

All of us in the trade have book interests that we specialize in but these books have traditionally been part of a more general stock that appeals to the explorer and helped with cash flow. Now, the trade has, by and large, become Balkanized. The specialist’s general inventory has been shed in favor of a more niche-marketing approach: If you can’t have a little something for everyone, have a lot of something for a smaller client base.

Bookshelf File Card LK 21 -The Large Bookshelf, 2009
Illustrator Drawing on Paper, 3” x 5”

At times Cliff Eyland thinks of himself as a “librarian painter.” A longtime bibliophile, Eyland has been painting on 3” x 5” index cards for 30 years.

In his latest exhibition Bookshelf File Cards, at the Leo Kamen Gallery in Toronto, Cliff Eyland “reengages his lifelong obsession with books and art by painting abstract images of books on shelves.”

“Since his art school days Eyland has not only remained consistent in the size of his work but he has also come to believe that the library is the most important of all art institutions.”

In 1981, while at a student at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, Eyland created N.S.C.A.D Library File Card Intervention. Eyland cut up a copy of H.H. Arneson’s History of Modern Art into 3” x 5” pieces and inserted them into the card catalog at the library. It took him a month and a half to finish. Picasso was well represented, his images turned into 55 file cards that were filed behind ‘Guernica’.

Another one of his biblio works, “File Card Hidden in Books”, is still alive at the Raymond Fogelman Library at the New School in New York City. Since 1997 Eyland has been inserting original file card size drawings into books at the library.

The current exhibit is the first in which Eyland has actually painted books. That alone, given his bookish history, is a good reason to go.

Bookshelf File Card LK 17, 2009
Illustrator Drawing on Paper, 3” x 5”

Gallery of the Bookshelf File Cards

Piece on the Bookshelf File Cards by Katherine Laidlaw, in Things of Desire Canada’s Alternative Art Weekly
Are you wondering what’s happening on the frontlines and how technology, chains and the slumping economy are taking their toll on the bookselling community?

Three podcasts of note hit the airwaves in the last few weeks giving us a inside look on the current state of the trade.

Nigel Beale, host of the radio show The Biblio File, recently passed through the Twin Cities and interviewed booksellers Rob Rulon-Miller and Kathy Stransky co-owner of Midway Used and Rare Books
Terry Pratchett joined the likes of Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Sir Salman Rushdie as a modern Knight. Per the BBC:

Sir Terry, 60, was named in the New Year Honours list.
Best known for his hugely popular Discworld series of comic fantasy novels, he has sold more than 55 million books worldwide.
In 2007 Sir Terry was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and has since campaigned to raise awareness of the condition.

Calling All Blog Readers

Fine Books & Collections, in an attempt to make the Fine Books Blog as useful and enjoyable as possible, wants to know what other book blogs and websites you’re following. We want this to be a community for book lovers, so please take a minute to post a comment and let us know what sites you love and why. We appreciate your thoughts.
We’ve all gotten pretty used to looking for books electronically--and nobody is a more appreciative user of abebooks.com than yours truly--with the result that most dealers, for one reason or another, but usually because of the considerable production costs involved, have moved away from the printed catalogs, which is a shame, because there is still nothing like getting a lively new list of offerings in the mail, and going through it with the kind of leisured approach such an exercise demands.

I was reminded of this by the arrival a few days ago of not one, but two, impressive catalogs,  each one a splendidly assembled list of collectible material, with every item scrupulously researched, authoritatively described, and beautifully illustrated.

Especially noteworthy is “The Bruce Kahn Collection,”
issuedimage0-5.jpg jointly by Ken Lopez Books of Hadley,
Mass., and Tom Congalton, owner of Between the Covers Rare Books, of Gloucester City, NJ, a one-collector catalog that in itself is something of a rarity. The 154 items listed represent the creme de la creme of a 15,000-volume collection of modern first editions gathered over many years by Bruce Kahn, a Michigan lawyer specializing in mergers and acquisitions; other books in the collection will be offered in later catalogs.

In a prefatory note, Lopez explains that Kahn collected in the “style of the old-time book collectors,” meaning he sought out authors “in depth, pursuing all their published titles, variant editions, such as proofs, advance copies and broadsides.” In a note of his own, Congalton quips that he agreed to have Lopez, his partner in this collaboration of two prominent booksellers,  be general editor of the catalog, and write the descriptions, for the paradoxical reason that he knows the collection too well, having sold many of these same books to Kahn in the first place. “I got sick of writing ‘Very fine in dustwrapper. Signed by the author.’ Where’s the fun in that, anyway?”

image0-6.jpgAnd impressive, as always, is the latest catalog from William Reese Co., of New Haven, Conn.--his 266th --this one featuring 205 choice selections of Western Americana. In addition to being one of the outstanding booksellers of his generation--I was pleased to have a profile of Bill in the chapter I called “Hunters and Gatherers” in Patience & Fortitude--he is also one of the leading scholars in his field. Numerous entries in this new catalog bear that out, with comprehensive, detailed descriptions that are little essays in their own right.

The item on the cover--pictured herewith at right--is a detail from an 1893 oil painting titled “Buffalo Bill and the Frenchman’s Bottle Gag,” a comic tableau from the Wild West Show, by the French artist Alfred Agoust.

According to the catalog entry, almost all images of the Wild West Show are to be found in lithographic posters and photographs. “Period oil paintings of the Buffalo Bill act are very rare indeed.” The price for this rarity: $47,000.  Happily, I have the catalog in hand to enjoy. 
bookfairsign.JPGAll book fairs have tales to tell and the 42nd Annual California International Antiquarian Book Fair is no different.  The choppy, grey waters of the San Francisco Bay were cold and ominous, and rain and wind pounded the Concourse Exhibition Center mercilessly. Despite the ravages of the winter weather, the yearly gathering of bibliophiles was all the more inviting, because on the inside of the large building the world’s largest book fair was about to begin.
For our first California ABAA fair, this was quite the adventure. Our books made an inexplicable side trip to Portland, OR. While undoubtedly exciting for our cases, it made the otherwise fun lead-up to the fair very tense. We spent the day at Serendipity Books, enjoying Peter B’s hospitality (and great food). I know we were not the only ones more than paid for our food and drink with books. It was great fun. 

Our books arrived the day the show opened. As I am (pathetically) one who takes upwards of 10 hours to set up a booth, this could have been a very bad thing. Luckily, we had used the prior day to at least have all the booth infrastructure in place, so it was really just an issue of getting the books on shelves and more or less grouped as I wanted. Not only were we able to be done in time for the opening, but I was even able to go back to our (close) hotel and get changed in relative comfort.

After three days at CODEX, I attended my first ABAA book fair. I had dragged my suitcase, to which now were added several bags stuffed with CODEX treasure, onto the tour bus that took us into San Francisco. I figured it would be easy enough to get from our last stop, the San Francisco Center for the Book, to the hotels reserved for visitors to the 42nd California International Antiquarian book fair. This sensible-sounding plan proved somewhat harder to execute, as the hotels were nowhere near the Center for the Book, and cabs were not easy to come by at rush hour. Welcome to the big city.

With wind chills well below freezing, it is still off-season on Cape Cod, but you’d never have known it by the splendid turnout at the Sandwich Public Library Sunday afternoon for the latest in a series of author appearances and events centered around a comprehensive celebration of the book.

Inspired by the Big Read program introduced a couple years ago by Dana Gioia, the director of the National Endowment for the Arts (and a subject of a recent column I wrote for Fine Books & Collections), the initiative in Sandwich has improvised by focusing on more than one book for community reading, and organized a continuing program centered around one basic theme, in this instance books that have touched people’s lives.
Regardless of how stressed the economy may be at any given time, truly great books and manuscripts will always find a new home, and rarely will they be at fire-sale prices. That is an axiom I learned when I began my research for “A Gentle Madness” back in the 1980s, and it holds true to this day. The quote that lingers in my mind is from Stephen Massey, at the time of our first interview in 1991 head of the rare books division of Christie’s in New York, these days an independent appraiser who appears often on the Antiques Road Show.

The context of our discussion  was the mysterious collector Haven O’More (see chapter 6 of AGM, “To Have and to Have No More”), and the sale in 1978 of a Gutenberg Bible. O’More had come by the auction gallery one day unannounced before the auction to look at the book, and there were some heated words exchanged between the two, with Massey saying, finally, that if O’More wanted to see it, he’d have to make an appointment. “I wasn’t worried about losing him,” Massey told me with great candor--and he was speaking at this point about bibliophiles and bibliomanes in general--“because if the book’s good enough, they will always call back--they will crawl--if they really want the book.”
The last day of Codex began with a memorable talk by the legendary British book artist Ron King. Ron showed slides of his work dating back to the 1950s. He got a long standing ovation; his wife, Willow, a sculptor, later said she was afraid he might start crying. He didn’t, but it was a very moving experience to be in that audience and to contemplate this man’s artistic genius. Like Picasso’s, his mind is constantly moving forward to the point where now he is no longer making books per se, but carving seven-foot-high, book-like forms out of wood.

There was a different feeling the last day of the fair, a sense of urgency and seriousness of purpose. Though many librarians and collectors said they felt restrained by incipient budget cuts, they looked intently, and made wish lists. Those who could buy, bought. I heard that Stanford’s special collections curator, Roberto Trujillo, spent $30,000, but I think he was the exception. Still, everyone agreed that the overall level of artistry was even greater this year than in 2007.

I have been overwhelmed by the impact of my first CODEX experience, the fine press event in California this week. Walking around this fair is like having Beethoven and Picasso and Proust sitting behind tables of their work, all willing to show you how they do it. There are some California artists who work for Booklyn who are so brilliantly, darkly, and insanely funny that I started crying from laughing so hard. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, there are some artists whose work is so highly serious, so deeply civilized, so cultured, so refined, one can hardly bear to talk to them. 

Fine Books & Collections is pleased to welcome readers to what will be known simply as the “Fine Books Blog.” Ian Kahn, owner of Lux Mentis, Booksellers, came to us with this idea a couple of months back. Ian is one of the enthusiastic young booksellers involved in the trade, and he’s not only book-savvy, he’s Internet-savvy as well (wait until you see the Facebook page he’s created for us, but that’s another story).

His notion was to have many voices participating in this blog. We liked that idea, since collecting and bookselling can often seem a very solitary activity. Our efforts online are very simply to build a community, and the Fine Books Blog, we hope, will contribute greatly to that effort. So, welcome, to the Fine Books Blog.

And now, Ian Kahn...

As you may have noticed, great things are afoot at Fine Books and Collections. I am very pleased to introduce the cadre of bloggers who will now be posting here. The intent is that all FB& C bloggers will post one or two times each week, which should result in a steady flow of interesting bits from many different areas of the book world. Those helping launch this newly transitioned group blog will be:

This great collection of bloggers is very excited to be involved in this project. Several of us are in San Francisco for the ABAA Book Fair this weekend...so I can safely predict some postings from the front lines of the first major fair of this economically complex season. This sort of group blog is a new thing for most of us, and we appreciate your support and feedback while the project evolves. Change makes for interesting times. Personally, I side with G.B. Shaw, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” I think we have a great cadre of unreasonable men and women here...this should be great fun.

At yesterday’s ceremony in New York to honor the heroic acts of Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III and the crew of U. S. Airways Flight 1549, Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented each member of the team with a key to the city, and in a light footnote to the festivities, gave “Sully” a copy of the book he had lost in the crash landing of his A320 Airbus on the Hudson River on Jan. 15.

just_culture.jpgFor those of us who care about these things--the library in California that had loaned the waterlogged book to Sullenberger had declined, for privacy reasons, to identify the title--the book turns out, in a delightful twist of aptness, to be “Just Culture: Balancing Safety and Accountability”  (Ashgate Publishing, paperback, $29.95, hardcover, $39). According to the dustjacket blurb, the author, Sidney Dekker, is a Professor of Human Factors and System Safety, and Director of Research at Lund University School of Aviation in Sweden.

I hope you all take a few minutes to read my tribute to Abe Lincoln in the February issue of Fine Books & Collections, just issued in time to observe the bicentennial of the sixteenth president’s birth, which has occasioned the release of numerous new books, many of them for children. But I would be remiss if I failed to point out that Feb. 12 is also the two hundredth birthday of Charles Darwin, and that he, too, is the subject of numerous new books and biographies being published to recognize his manifold accomplishments.

Two I heartily recommend:

The community of bibliophiles lost a wonderful friend over the weekend with the passing in Columbus, Ohio, of Ronald L. “Ron” Ravneberg, 60, one of the founders in 2000 of the Aldus Society, and a past president of the group. (See his obituary in the Columbus Dispatch.)

Ron was a great champion of books and of promoting contact and communication among book people everywhere. Members of FABS (Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies) will recall with pleasure Ron’s dedication to the group and to its principle of solidarity among book people. I first met Ron in 2004 when he invited the book artist and bookmaker Barry Moser and myself out to Columbus to participate in the Celebration of the Book, organized by Aldus and held in July of that year at Ohio State University. It was a most memorable event.
Auction Guide