January 2010 Archives

J.D. Salinger (1948-1965)

How do you mourn a writer who died this week, but, for all intents and purposes, died 45 years ago?

She was a girl who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing. She looked as if her phone had been ringing continually ever since she had reached puberty.

          - A Perfect Day for Bananafish
This second paragraph, from J.D. Salinger’s first and finest published story, may be the most succinct statement he ever made on his own career. He was a writer who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing. To him, the enormous fame he achieved was an irritating by-product of his work and he resented it.

Although he lived to be 91, his exposed life, was quite brief: 17 years, from 1948 (with the publication of the short story quoted above in The New Yorker,) to 1965, when The New Yorker devoted almost its entire issue to a 25,000 word short story, “Hapworth 16, 1924.”

It is difficult for those of us who enjoy books and literature to understand why an author would be repulsed by the attention his work receives. Salinger went so far as to insist his agent burn his fan mail.

There is a presumed contract between people who create art and the public that consumes it that there is some sort of quid pro quo going on. There is an expectation that the creator of the art owes us something more than their art; that there’s a wink-wink which we think entitles us to a certain amount of voyeurism. Voyeurs, alas, are people who have neatly worked it out for themselves that somehow such contracts only require their own signature.

Salinger’s decision to retreat behind a cloak of almost total privacy seems quite prescient. We now live in a world that is filled with people who cannot agree to sign that other half of the contract fast enough, a world of celebrities who seem to be famous merely for their public lives. (Three words: Kate Gosselin’s hairdo. One word: Brangelina.)

In “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” the central character of the story, Seymour Glass, is ascending a hotel elevator dressed in a robe and sandals, having just returned from the pool. A woman gets on the elevator.

“I see you’re looking at my feet,” he said to her when the car was in motion.

“I beg your pardon?” said the woman.

“I said I see you’re looking at my feet.”

“I beg your pardon. I happened to be looking at the floor.”

“If you want to look at my feet, say so,” said the young man. “But don’t be a God-damned sneak about it.”

“Let me out here, please,” the woman said quickly to the girl operating the car.

The car doors opened and the woman got out without looking back.

“I have two normal feet and I can’t see the slightest God damned reason why anybody should stare at them,” said the young man.
And thus, a posthumous lesson in privacy. J.D. Salinger’s life was about his words and his work. It was never about his feet. And let’s quit being such God-damned sneaks about it.

Read ‘em if you got ‘em

tankbooks.gifFor reasons one should probably file under “It Sounded Like a Good Idea at the Time,” a British company called Tank Books is publishing books in the same type of packaging reserved previously for cigarettes.  Flip top box, cellophane wrapper, ‘n everything.

The works represented include Joseph Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness,” Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilych” and “Father Sergius,” as well as Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”

For collectors who want them all, there’s even a metal carton.

“Try one and you’ll be hooked,” says the website.

It should be noted that there are no scientific studies on the dangers of second-hand reading.

library studies.jpg
From 1926 to 2008, the Yale University Library published the biannual Yale University Library Gazette, which featured a nice but variable assortment of articles on Yale collections and libraries. In 2009, the Gazette was superceded by a new journal series published annually by the Library, Yale Library Studies. Each volume in the series will focus on a particular aspect of the Yale libraries; the first, just released, collects eight essays on Yale library architecture, edited by Geoffrey Little and with an introduction by University Librarian Alice Prochaska.

Since the press releases cannot radiate immodest praise, I will step in and radiate some myself. Wow! The book is a triumph. The Gazette’s weak points were a lack of cohesion and fairly modest production quality; it had a limited appeal to anyone without serious devotion to the Yale Library. This certainly cannot be said for the new series, judging by this volume. Robert A.M. Stern, Dean of the Yale School of Architecture, contributes the main essay, a superb overall history of the Yale Library’s buildings. Other essays focus on particular libraries or renovation projects, all thoroughly researched, extensively color-illustrated, and footnoted. They seem less like a collection of journal articles than a unified history, and the finished product comes as close to being a page-turner as any collection of academic essays I’ve read.

The Yale Library is fortunate to serve both as a world-class research library and as a series of welcoming, bookish spaces that continue to encourage students. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who has ever enjoyed the YUL in either capacity, or to anyone interested in the history of library architecture writ large. Having read this all too quickly in one sitting, I will be eagerly awaiting the 2010 volume of Yale Library Studies, as I imagine many will. Unlike the Gazette, this is a series people will want to collect.

J.D. Salinger Has Died

The New York Times has his obituary (with original reviews of his work, an appraisal of his work, and a walking tour as you follow in the footsteps of Holden Caulfield) and MSNBC has a report. The New Yorker has an archive of all the stories he published in the magazine and a piece about what The Catcher in the Rye meant and means. The Paris Review points to an old interview with Robert Giroux who had a chance to be the first to publish J.D. Salinger. NPR remembers the author and Time Magazine has a story about his passing. Included in the piece is the magazine’s original review of The Catcher in the Rye and the cover image of September 15, 1961. Jesse Kornbluth, for The Huffington Post, remembers the man, as does David Levithan in The Wall Street Journal. USA Today got quotes from T.C. Boyle and Garrison Keillor about Salinger, The Guardian gets quotes from Joyce Carol Oates, Dave Eggers and others, and The Daily Beast excerpts Joyce Maynard’s memoir, in which she describes her affair with Salinger. Maynard has also posted a brief statement on her website. Joshua Ferris remembers Salinger and so does Wes Anderson for The New Yorker and Sam Anderson for New York Magazine. Publisher Roger Lathbury remembers a book deal with Salinger gone sour for The Washington Post. The newspaper in Concord, New Hampshire, the Concord Monitor, now has a special section devoted to Salinger and the New York Public Library says goodbye. So does the Austin Statesman. The piece highlights the Salinger papers held at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas - Austin. Tom Leonard recalls visiting Salinger in New Hampshire last year and hearing what are likely Salinger’s last words to the mediaThese men were in hopes of catching Salinger, interviewing old Salinger schoolmates and the like. They might have listened to, on their travels, Salinger-related rock-n-roll. Last year, Kevin Flynn was “Desperately Seeking Salinger” for NHMagazine.com and very well could have met him. In the 1960s, Jim Sadwith did. You can learn of his story on The Story.

A brief aside: Don’t forget Will Smith’s monologue about The Catcher in the Rye in the movie Six Degrees of Separation. Don’t forget that Salinger’s son was Captain America. Don’t forget to take notes on a lecture done at Yale University by
Professor Hungerford about Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. Don’t forget the ongoing thoughts of bringing his novel to the silver screen and don’t forget Jim Lehrer’s wishes in regards to interviewing the author.

For more on the life and work of Salinger, Dead Caulfields would be a good place to start, along with this site. To read some of his uncollected work, go here and go here to read letters people wrote to J.D. Salinger. They won’t get a reply, but they may be able to read his unpublished work if there is, in fact, something in his safe. Either way, the residents of Cornish, New Hampshire, will undoubtedly respect the man’s privacy, even in death. 

Hide not your tears but don’t be a phony mourning his death.


Leif leaves leaves

These are, given the boundaries of second-hand journalism, the facts about Irving Leif , 62, of Jersey City, New Jersey.  

On January 17th, 2010, Mr. Leif had $14 to his name.  He lived in an apartment in Jersey City, New Jersey, which cost him $1,892.00 per month. Therefore, the possibility of eviction for Mr. Leif had become somewhat of a given.

What is also certain is that he owned a fairly impressive collection of books.  3,000 volumes. It took him 40 years to collect, and among its treasures was the most complete set of the Mother Earth pamphlets published by the early 20th-century anarchist, Emma Goldman.

Mr. Leif had been living off a family trust fund, but Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme had consumed all that, except for, it is assumed, the $14.00.

Among Ms. Goldman’s many observations about the human condition, her most precise, and one which Mr. Leif may have assumed as his own personal rationale in amassing a book collection beyond his means, was, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”

Don’t be a bauble-head

bauble copy.jpg
The world of consumer electronics was rocked today by the announcement of Apple’s iPad. 

Steve Jobs, in whose frail body resides the robust soul of P.T. Barnum, was full of superlatives at today’s announcement.  And the video on Apple’s website speaks about the product in terms usually reserved before passing out Kool-Aid in equatorial climes.

Phil Schiller, director of Worldwide Marketing for Apple describes the iPad as “The best web-surfing experience, the best email experience, the best photo and motion picture experience ...”

Hold it, Phil.  Rewind. There’s a word you left out: “book.” 

There is no doubt that the new iPad will have a book reader, and Apple has been striking deals with publishers and is making Amazon and its Kindle nervous, as in that sort of “Oh God, my diapers seems to be leaking” sort of way.

But here’s the real story behind today’s announcement that all readers of Fine Books Magazine and this blog need to think about. 

Beware the shiny new bauble.

As if receiving direct communications from the Ghost of Electronics Baubles past, I opened my desk drawer last night and there was a Newton MessagePad.  I bought one the day it went on sale.  I powered it up and scribbled a note on it with my stylus.  (The Newton was famous for misreading handwriting.)  I wrote: “Should I buy a new Apple tablet-thingy when it comes out tomorrow?”  The Newton converted my scrawl into oracular handwriting, “What, are you nuts?”

I have a general rule of thumb when it comes to consumer electronics or computer software: never buy the first release of anything.

Many of you are sitting there trying to decide what sort of book-reader you’re going to buy.  Kindle?  Barnes & Noble’s nook?  Apple’s iPad?

Here’s a suggestion: calm yourself and don’t make a decision until at least the end of the year when all of the e-dust has settled.  The answer will be revealed to all of us once at least one “rev” (revision) of the iPad has been released. 
(My friend Bruce wonders what the name will be for the version with more memory: MaxiPad?) 

Until then, I must tell you that I discovered the absolute greatest reading experience of all time the other day!  In fact, I already own hundreds of them and I hear they are readily available in stores.

It’s called a book.

Klencke-Atlas-001.jpg...Then you could heave upon it the largest book in the world. You’d need more than yourself, however, to lift it. You’d need your family, extended even. At the British Library it takes six people to hoist up the largest book in the world, the Klencke Atlas, a tome that was presented to King Charles II. It’s now 350 years old and the public has never seen it with its pages open. That’s about to change, however, as the British Library will display it in a map exhibition opening soon.

The Guardian has more, here.
BRBCover.jpgEver see the effects of rubber cement on an old book? Scotch tape? Spilled coffee? It’s not pretty. For some basic advice on how to handle such problems, try Joyce Godsey’s Book Repair for Booksellers (April, 2009). Godsey, a bookseller herself, describes it as “A handy guide for booksellers and book collectors offering practical advice on how to improve the quality and look of your books and ephemera ... Clear, easy to follow directions for repairing books at home or in the shop. Includes torn pages, shaken spines, library pockets, bookplates, stickers, crayon, writing, insects, leather care and much more. 88 pages.” It’s one for the reference shelf. 
underwood typewriter.jpgIt may be that everyone has a Blackberry or an iPhone these days, but the classic typewriter is still the epitome of cool for many writers. In this month’s auction report, Ian McKay reports on the six-figure sale of Cormac McCarthy’s antique Olivetti. Last year, English writer Frederick Forsyth told the BBC why he prefers his steel-cased portable. And now, flipping through my latest Levenger catalog, I spy David McCullough’s Typewriter Bookend, a miniature reproduction of the “second-hand, 1940s Royal” that the Pulitzer prize-winning historian uses every day. It comes with a “short but original work of David McCullough’s titled “A Bit of History about my Typewriter.”

As for me, I’m not indifferent to the literary mystique of the old-fashioned typewriter. I have a standard Underwood (which looks a lot like the one pictured here), circa 1930, on which I have banged out (and I mean Banged) little notes and labels. For all else, the Macbook must do.
001-M945_001v-002r_2.jpgToday the eagerly-awaited Catherine of Cleves exhibit opened at the Morgan Library in New York City. A lavishly illustrated Dutch manuscript, it is thought to be one of the most beautiful in the Morgan’s collection. Commissioned around 1440, this illustrated prayer book contained Catherine’s daily devotions. The original two volumes have been disbound for this exhibit (and preservation treatment). The New York Times ran an intriguing short piece on the manuscript last week.

For those of you readers not in NYC between now and May 2, when the exhibition closes, an online exhibit is available. It is the digital facsimile of the exhibit catalogue, showing all 157 illuminated miniatures and including textual notes for each page.

Amazing stuff!

Who killed the famous painter Caravaggio? Or what killed him? These questions have plagued art scholars for decades. Scientists want to finally put the nail in the coffin about Caravaggio’s demise. Big Think discusses the new project, spurred on by the discovery of a slip of paper left in a book four centuries ago.

From the piece...

Assuming that that paper is true, the experts expect that Caravaggio’s body was laid to rest in a nearby cemetery. The thirty bodies in that cemetery were moved in 1956 to another cite. All the team of anthropologists need to do is examine those thirty skulls, create computer models for each one to determine what the original owner may have looked like, and then compare those models against the self-portraits that Caravaggio painted...

Read more about what seems to be CSI: Renaissance Italy, here.

Image above: Caravaggio, painted by Ottavio Leoni, 1621.

shakespeare.jpgThis summer, as part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Lilly Library of Indiana University, Bloomington, the Library will present a short course on “Reference Sources for Rare Books.”  This class, which will meet in the Ellison Room of the Library from Monday, July 12, through Friday, July 16, will be taught by Joel Silver, Associate Director and Curator of Books. The course will present a systematic introduction to approximately 350 printed and electronic reference sources for rare books, with emphasis on sources in the fields of early printed books; British and American literature; historical Americana; voyages and travels; maps and atlases; science and medicine; and the book arts.
BobParker.jpgThe Dean of American Crime writers, the prolific Massachusetts novelist Robert B. Parker, died unexpectedly at his home in Cambridge today, reportedly at his desk, presumably working on another Spenser novel; he was 77, and one of the really great ones.

Bob Parker was about as squared-away an author as I have ever had the privilege to interview. I will have to check my files, but I am guessing we got together no fewer that eight times over a twenty year period to talk about his latest release, which more often than not was a Spenser novel, but on one occasion, I remember, we met to discuss the Jesse Stone series he had just introduced, another time to talk about his female detective, Sunny Randall, and yet another get-together to talk about Poodle Spring, an unfinished Raymond Chandler novel he had completed.
King,MartinLuther001.jpgSome years ago, when I was working as an archivist at Drew University in Madison, NJ, I had the honor of tracking down something really wonderful. Of course, archivists, librarians, and book dealers are always locating wonderful things, but this was truly special. It was the original audio of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “American Dream” speech, which he gave at Drew on Feb. 5, 1964.

A history professor had called the University Archives to ask about the audio; rumors had circulated for years that such a recording existed. There was an unofficial audio archivist -- a nonagenarian who had been on campus for 40+ years recording every lecture or event he could get to. But our Archives, like many Archives, was an accumulation of 150 years worth of stuff without one fully funded archivist. By whatever stroke of luck, after determining the date of the historic event using the student newspaper, that audio archivist and I unearthed the reel-to-reel. He transferred it to audio tape. The story was written up in the local paper, and the university celebrated a proud moment in its history.

Coincidentally, a graduate student who worked with me in the Drew Archives is now an archivist working on a very important civil rights collection. Archives from Atlanta, the Cradle of the Civil Rights Movement is a Council on Library and Information Resources funded collaboration between Emory University and the Auburn Avenue Research Library to process and make available the records of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Atlanta Chapter of the NAACP, and the personal papers of Andrew J. Young.

The Auburn Avenue Research Library is hosting a number of events that will be of interest to collectors of African Americana, specifically the program on Feb. 6: Save Our African American Treasures: A National Collections Initiative of Discovery and Preservation.
BroadwayUnderSnow.jpgOnly in New York is something so totally bookish like Bibliography Week possible, certainly on the scale of this event, which is mounted each year during the last week of January when the major national organizations devoted to book history have their annual meetings in the Big Apple, and get together at a number of related events, many of which are free and open to the public. (Image at right: Broadway Under Snow, by Rudolph Ruzicka, The Grolier Club, 1915.)

The week kicks off on Tuesday, January 26, with the Sixteenth Annual Bibliography Week Lecture, to be given this year by Michael Suarez, SJ, noted book historian and recently appointed director of Rare Book School, at Columbia University. His talk, scheduled for 6 p.m. in the Faculty Room of Low Library (116th St. at Broadway), is titled “Learned Virtuosity, Virtuously Displayed: Cultural Elits and Deep Purses in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Illustrated Books.”

A talk at the Grolier Club (47 East 60th St.) on Wednesday, January 27 by Milton McC. Gatch titled “Bibliotheca Parisina 1791: A Tale of Two Cities, or An Auction in Revolutionary Times,” 2 p.m., is free, and public. A reception later that evening to mark the opening of an exhibition at the Grolier, “Mary Webb: Neglected Genius,” featuring materials from the collection of Mary Crawford, is for members, but the show is open the public from January 12 to March 12.

Thursday, January 28: In Brooklyn, the latest works of book artists will be on display at the Open Salon, 37 Greenpoint Avenue, 4th floor, hours 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The shop, founded in 1999, describes itself as an “artist-run, non-profit, consensus-governed, artist and bookmakers organization located in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Geenpoint.” Sounds like fun, and very definitely worth checking out.

On Friday, January 29, again at the Grolier Club, the Bibliographical Society of America holds its annual meeting, with papers being presented by new scholars. Eric Holzenberg, director of the Grolier Club, will speak on “The Bibliophile as Bibliographer.” The event is open to the public.

Saturday, January 30: The annual meeting of the American Printing History Association, to be held at the New York Public Library (Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street), 2 p.m. For those who have never visited the Center for the Book Arts (28 West 27th St., 3rd floor), a Winter Open House is on from 2 to 5 p.m. Demonstrations, tours, exhibits are on tap. All in all, a great week for bibliophiles, and a nice warm-up for those planning to attend the 43rd annual California International Book Fair in Los Angeles, Feb. 12-14.
Everett Wilkie confirms that convicted map thief E. Forbes Smiley was released from prison on 15 January, 2010.

TLS Books of the Year

TLS.gifThe Times Literary Supplement, published monthly in the UK, comes out in late November with its Books of the Year edition.  I don’t subscribe to the publication because I enjoy eating so much and the U.S. subscription price of $189 would mean several meals per year would probably have to be exchanged for some form of protein originally intended for cats.

But a friend of mine was kind enough to share his copy with me. (Thank you, Gary!)

In it, 57 authors of world-renown are asked to write about some of their favorite reading experiences of the preceding year.  Among the 57 writers this year were Julian Barnes, A.S. Byatt, Margaret Drabble, Nadine Gordimer, Seamus Heaney, etc.  Opening this annual issue is akin to a circus car arriving in your mailbox that opens up and, instead of clowns, deposits some of the greatest writers into your living room all in a tumble where they proceed to hold a grand salon.

A consistent theme runs through many of the entries: everyone seems a bit pea-green with envy over Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.  They complain about its intelligence, the hype, about the Man Booker Prize - but everyone eventually manages to get over themselves and it seems to have been cited most often by this august group of 57, who have the good manners to refrain from wishing they’d written it themselves.

Another favorite seems to be The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1929-1940.  (There are three more volumes to come.)

Julian Barnes devotes his two paragraphs to a gracious salute to John Updike, who died in 2009.  Barnes feels that Updike’s final works, My Father’s Tears and Endpoint were grotesquely misunderstood. “Death afforded him no courtesy, and the stories received several reviews of impudent stupidity.”  He reminds us all of Updike’s Herculean contribution to letters by noting that Everyman has published Updike’s final reworking of the Rabbit quartet as Rabbit Angstrom and calls it “the greatest American novel of the second half of the twentieth century.

Reading the TLS Books of the Year edition is not for the faint of heart, because whatever books you’ve read this year suddenly seem like Miss Piggly Wiggly.

Marjorie Perloff would like you to try out a 700-page bilingual edition of The Poetry of Rilke, translated by Edward Snow. David Wooten urges you to pick up the 13 lb. (yes, 13 lb.) The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. Also be prepared to thank Michael Hofman for suggesting a novel from 1970 (Metropole), which has just been translated into English from the Finnish.

The TLS year-end summary may be the most satisfying and the most challenging of the “Best Books of the Year” genre.  It will inspire you to stretch your reading habits; to read harder. It’s the literary equivalent of feeling compelled to go to the gym. I am perfectly willing to have these 57 writers serve as my personal coaches. I look so much better sitting on a sofa than I do on the treadmill.
Last Saturday, an earthquake hit Eureka, California, home to two independent booksellers. Eureka Books, co-owned by Scott Brown, former editor of Fine Books & Collections, is faring well after the 6.5 magnitude quake. On Sunday, they updated their Facebook status with the following report: “Everything is back to normal at Eureka Books, and we even have an earthquake display in our window, as an offering to the earthquake gods. Booklegger down the street was closed today for cleanup but will be back in business tomorrow.”


Pictured above is the interior of Eureka Books after last week’s quake, photo by Amy Stewart. This picture was tweeted with the following caption: “The bookcases that were not bolted to the wall came down at the store--fortunately not many.” More photos by Stewart are posted on Mashable.

Social media (as you call tell from all the links) played a significant role in disseminating images of the quake quickly. Scott Brown also points out, “It’s funny in this digital age that bookstores are the iconic images of this quake.” The LA Times and the San Francisco Chronicle both featured bookshops in their coverage of the earthquake, and the local TV station ran a piece focusing on Booklegger.

Why the focus on books? A bibliophile’s answer: books are the pillars of civilization, when they fall down, we take notice.
The University of Texas at Austin’s famed Harry Ransom Center (surprisingly?) has an excellent YouTube channel I just stumbled across. They’ve been posting a few short videos a month for about a year, and the results are - for bibliophiles at least - eminently watchable. As expected, many of the videos highlight important or interesting collections, such as the Robert DeNiro or Harry Houdini Collections, or focus on the history of the Center itself. But my favorite clips are the brief interviews with scholars who have actually used the collections at the Ransom. From academics studying 80’s blockbuster script doctors to others working with Samuel Beckett’s manuscripts, these shorts are a testament to the enduring importance of the book as object.

Here’s one of my favorites, Christine Ferguson enthusiastically discussing the Spiritualism movement and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

1) What year was Zane Grey’s The Man of the Forest a bestseller?
2) In 1957, the Book of the Month Club featured this title by Winston Churchill...
3) Who wrote 1976’s #1 fiction bestseller and what was it?

Why the pop quiz on this Tuesday morning? Because Daniel Immerwahr, a grad student at the University of California, Berkeley collated all this information about twentieth-century books on his new website, Books of the Century. You can search by year or by decade for bestsellers (as recorded by Publishers Weekly), BOMC selections, and other historically significant titles.

Immerwahr wrote about this cool new resource: “I hope that it will be useful to those interested in the history of publishing as well as those interested in the intellectual and cultural history of the United States.”

And thanks for playing!
1) 1920; 2) The Age of Revolution; 3) Leon Uris, Trinity
image6079145g.jpgThis morning on CBS’ “Sunday Morning,” an interesting segment about “How E-Books Are Changing the Printed Word.” Of course, this discussion (and argument) has been around for a decade or more now, and this piece plies the same material--Kindle, Google, the decline of the small bookstore--but this is succinct and interesting nonetheless, including an interview with Ken Auletta.
Though a month old now, this interesting news story popped up in the Times last December.  Harold Pinter, the Nobel Prize winning playwright, “borrowed” a first edition of a rare Samuel Beckett title from Bermondsey’s Central Library... in 1950.  Sixty years later, the same book was discovered by the antiquarian firm Maggs Brothers, in London, while preparing a catalogue of Pinter’s extensive book collection.  In a pleasing display of bookseller honesty, Ed Maggs arranged to pay the Southwark Council (which succeeded the Bermondsey Council) ¬£2000 in order to keep the book with the collection.  Appropriately,the money went toward funding creative writing classes.  As for the book, a very rare first edition of Murphy, published in 1938, it was sold to a private collector along with the rest of Pinter’s collection.

Read the whole article here.


Beware of Science Fiction

Do not read Kurt Vonnegut. Do not read Isaac Asimov. Do not read Carl Sagan or Robert Heinlein. Do not read science fiction. This, from Way of Life Literature.

From their post...

Science fiction is intimately associated with Darwinian evolution. Sagan and Asimov, for example, were prominent evolutionary scientists. Sci-fi arose in the late 19th and early 20th century as a product of an evolutionary worldview that denies the Almighty Creator. In fact, evolution IS the pre-eminent science fiction. Beware!

You’ve been warned.

SummersSothebys.jpgMissing manuscripts, vampires, and gothic churchyards make for fun reading, no doubt. But this isn’t about Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, at least not directly. It’s about Montague Summers (1880-1948), a renegade reverend who was also an expert on the gothic and supernatural and may have inspired Meyer’s work. Summers was “internationally known for his erudite if sometimes idiosyncratic editions and histories of Restoration dramas, studies of the gothic novel, and often sensational writings on witchcraft, demonology and the occult,” writes Dr. Gerard O’Sullivan in an article from the Autumn issue of The Antigonish Review.

Summers’ literary papers went missing about 60 years ago, only one of the mysteries surrounding this odd author, who was refused a requiem mass at his burial and was rumored to have haunted his personal assistant. The papers--letters and holograph manuscripts--were apparently loaded into tea chests and sold by an angry landlady after Summers’ death. In 1970, Father Brocard Sewell published an essay about the missing papers titled “The Manuscripts of Montague Summers,” also in The Antigonish Review.

Summers’ literary archive took quite a journey, which O’Sullivan skillfully recounts in his article, “The Manuscripts of Montague Summers, Revisited.” He details the discovery and cataloguing of this important literary archive and notes where some wayward manuscript items have turned up along the way (at the Beinecke Library, for example, and with various dealers and private collectors.)

What is the fate of the reverend’s papers now that they have been recovered?

“We are currently in conversation with university libraries in the hope of finding a permanent home for the papers.  The family of Summers’s personal assistant, Hector Stuart-Forbes, hope to have the materials remain together as a contiguous collection and be made available to scholars and researchers,” wrote O’Sullivan in a recent email. 
EverymanEco.jpgToday is Italian writer/professor Umberto Eco’s birthday. He was born in 1932. I’m not sure you can call yourself a bibliophile if you haven’t read Eco’s 1980 novel, The Name of the Rose. It is a mystery set in a monastery, with William of Baskerville as the main character. Need I say more?

If you haven’t had the pleasure, I urge you to read it (millions of others have!); a lovely jacketed hardcover edition is published by Everyman’s Library.

p.s. Do not see the movie adaptation starring Sean Connery and Christian Slater -- it is awful. 

Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City has published its catalogue no. 34, available in print and also downloadable here. The catalogue includes more than 300 items, with particular emphasis on Western Americana and Utah/Mormons.

In the latter category is a typographical curiosity: an 1869 Book of Mormon printed in the Deseret alphabet, a 38-letter writing system created in the 1850s at the behest of Brigham Young. The alphabet represented the English language phonetically. Intended to make English easier to learn for converts who weren’t native speakers, the alphabet also enhanced a separate cultural identity for Mormon Utah, aka Deseret.¬†

IMG_5998a Deseret.jpg
Just a handful of publications were printed using the alphabet, however--including the primer pictured at left, also available from Ken Sanders Rare Books. The Deseret alphabet fell out of use after Brigham Young’s death in 1877.

Following the Drum cover copy.jpgSometimes a book comes along, smacks readers in the head, alleviates our ignorance, and leaves us with a new perspective on something we thought we already knew. 

That’s what happened when I read Following the Drum: Women at the Valley Forge Encampment (Potomac Books, 2009) by former historic interpreter Nancy Loane. The title is too modest in conveying the scope and power of the book. It doesn’t fully capture the idea that the work adds colorful, riveting details to the basic portrait of the American Revolution that hangs in our minds ... elements that help give us a more complete, accurate picture. The title doesn’t deliver the punch of the easy-to-digest 164 pages: We owe an enormous debt of gratitude not just to the men who fought in the Revolutionary War but to the women whose sweat and sacrifice also forged our freedoms.

Much of the book is focused on the wide range of roles women played in what happened at Valley Forge. As a quick refresher, Valley Forge is where a rag-tag and seemingly hopeless band of men staggered into Pennsylvania farmland in December of 1777, endured a bone-chilling winter, trained, and exited as a disciplined army that went on to win its next battle and ultimately the war. 

That, of course, is what we all learn in school. We don’t often study the full range of people who made contributions to the Revolution, including the role that more than 5,000 African-Americans played. (Robert Ewell Greene’s 1984 book, Black Courage 1775-1783, is a great place to start.) 

Nor do we often learn that women were there, too. 

Women of high social class like Martha Washington provided great comfort to her commander-in-chief husband George Washington while women of the “common sort” performed countless thankless chores that helped the army survive. They ran household headquarters for officers so that they could remain focused on developing strategies to win the war. They cooked for exhausted soldiers, made clothing to help protect them from the elements, cleaned the camp to help slay the biggest enemy at Valley Forge -- the range of ailments caused by unsanitary conditions. More bravely, they risked their own lives by nursing diseased soldiers.

Following the Drum would be worth reading even if it stopped right there. The book, however, is full of surprises -- some sweet, others sorrowful.

llluminating the larger contributions women made throughout the Revolutionary War, author Loane introduces us to women such as Lucy Knox, one of my favorite ladies of the era. When her British parents forced her to choose between them and the love of her life, Boston bookseller and artillery man Henry Knox, she chose the latter. The love letters Loane quotes make it clear that she made the right choice but she never saw her parents again. 

We become acquainted with the tragic story of Catharine Greene, wife of General Nathaniel Greene. Though blessed by beauty and charm, she spent much of her life in depression. And for good reason. One of her children developed whooping cough and died in her arms. Another baby died after she took a nasty fall in the kitchen that brought on premature labor. Those were only two of the tragedies she faced. (Lucy Knox could relate: Only three of her 13 children made it to adulthood.)

Following the Drum takes us to battlefields to meet women who shed their blood for the American cause. Margaret Corbin “took up her husband’s artillery position when he went down” Loane writes. “She was seriously wounded for her efforts (an arm was almost torn off
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 and a breast mangled)”. She later became “the first camp woman with the Continental Army to be acknowledged by a pension.”

By Loane’s own account, too little is known about the women who served at Valley Forge.

“Most of the hundreds of women with the Valley Forge encampment,” she writes, “remain only as shadowy, anonymous figures of a bygone war. We will never know their names. We will never know their stories, or how they individually contributed to America’s freedom.”

Still, her book offers a treasure trove, even if a small one, that highlights what women did to give us the country we have today. While we tend to only think of such topics during Women’s History Month or Independence Day, the snow and ice gripping much of the country this winter mark an especially poignant time to express our thanks to the women of Valley Forge.
Here’s an online version of an amazing exhibit that ran last year at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, curated by Dr. Teresa Vann and Jill Dubbeldee Kuhn.

...The books in this exhibit all bear the marks left by previous generations of readers, who wrote in them, marked them, damaged the covers, or warped the bindings. Some people might think these books have been damaged by previous owners. Book Marks invites you to consider these books as archeological objects, providing us with a window to the lives and thoughts of past users and the sometimes surprising way they used books...

Ever find an interesting bookmark or book mark (marginalia) in an old book? I once found a press pass that belonged to William Shirer tucked into a first edition of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. I spent a pre-Google year chasing the details of the press pass and concluding that Shirer and Miller were probably friends.
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