August 2012 Archives

Catalogue Review: Mac Donnell Rare Books, #50

If I didn’t know that Mac Donnell Rare Books is based in Austin, Texas, I might have guessed New England after surveying catalogue #50. The ABAA bookseller specializes in literary first editions, and its recent list is full of Massachusetts Transcendentalists and Romantics -- Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and Herman Melville.

Of the many books offered, two particular titles in this area interested me. First: Autograph Leaves of Our Country’s Authors, 1864, edited John Pendleton Kennedy and Alexander Bliss. Says the catalogue: “The best literary anthology ever published in the nineteenth century ... entirely lithographed, reproducing the original manuscripts of each contribution” ($850). Sounds like a book I’d cherish. Second: an 1839 first edition of Jones Very’s Essays and Poems, containing family inscriptions ($500).

On another note, Mac Donnell has “the rarest American edition of any Bronte sisters’ work, and here it its rarest format”: the first American edition of Anne Bronte’s 1848 double-decker, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, in original brown printed wrappers ($15,000). 

Two other non-book items manifest the nature of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century literary fame and objectified authorship. A signed photograph of William Dean Howells, c. 1920, shows him posed with pen in one hand and glasses in the other, with an inkwell and manuscripts under his gaze ($500). An earlier photograph, c. 1880-1895, measuring 2” x 2”, of John Greenleaf Whittier is mounted under a piece of octagonal beveled glass with faux morocco backing ($75). Mac Donnell calls it “a charming relic and the only one of its kind that we have encountered.”

If these subjects are as appealing to you as they are to me, check out Mac Donnell’s inventory of more than 3,000 volumes online here:

milesromney.jpgHere’s a reason to pay attention to those dusty old books on family genealogy:

Judith Thurman, an author and biographer of Raymond Chandler, just handed Mitt Romney a bill for $25,000.  She wants to settle a debt owed to Thurman’s family from the Romney clan dating back to the 1880s.  It would appear that great-grandfather Flake (Thurman’s relation) bailed great-grandfather Romney out of jail for $1,000.  Romney never repaid the debt.  By Thurman’s calculations, this is worth about $25,000 in today’s money.

The tale gets more sordid:

Thurman described the family heads as “patriarchs of adjoining Mormon communities in the high, cold, hard country of northern Arizona, a region known as Apache County.” Both Flake and Romney were practicing polygamists when US law enforcement began cracking down on the practice.  Flake and Romney were tossed in jail, where Flake, described as a “deeply respectable man,” posted his own bail, then did the same for Romney.  Freshly freed from jail, Romney fled with his three wives to Mexico, reneging on his debts.  Flake, meanwhile, served a six-month prison sentence.

The events led a newspaper editor of the era to describe Romney as having “the character of a louse, the breath of a buzzard and the record of a perjurer and common drunkard.”

Thurman wrote about the incident in the LA Review of Books. “Since it’s never too late to make a situation right, and since Mitt Romney seems to have sufficient funds now to cover his ancestor’s old debt, I’d like to call upon him to do so. I’ve done some calculation, and $1,000 from the 1880s would today be worth about $25,000, not counting interest (and since I’m not a smart enough to figure up the interest, I’m willing to let that part slide). Because William Jordan Flake has about 15,000 descendants living at the moment, I realize I’ll have to divide up the money should Romney do the right thing and write out that check.”

So, will Romney repay the debt, repairing relations between two of the foundational Mormon families?  Well, I don’t think anyone is holding their breath...

(Photo of Miles Park Romney from Wikipedia)

North_American_Indian_fullset2.jpgSwann Galleries will offer a rare, complete set of Edward S. Curtis’ The North American Indian during its Fine Photographs & Photobooks sale on October 4. Considering that the estimate is $1,250,000 - $1,750,000, this has the potential to be big news in the rare book world (a copy from the Kenneth Nebenzahl library made a record $2.9 million at Christie’s earlier this year over a similar estimate).

This set is consigned by Detroit bookseller John King, and, says the auction house, it “appears to be the only complete version in which a treasure trove of photogravures with Curtis’ stylized signature exists.” This unique suite includes 722 large-format photogravures on Japan tissue, with 111 signed plates in Folios I, IV and V. The accompanying 20 text volumes contain an additional 1,505 photogravures, 4 maps and 2 diagrams, and were produced by Lauriat from Curtis’ original copper plates.

We asked John King about his experience with Curtis’ work.

RRB: You’ve been in the book trade for more than forty years -- is this the most beautiful photobook you’ve ever handled?

JK: We’ve handled Brett Weston portfolios, original Ansel Adams, Fox Talbots, Albums of Civil War carte-de-visite views, but this is by far the most important piece.

RRB: Do you collect personally (apart from your business interests)?

JK: I collect some modern American poetry but just reading editions only. Plus, I collect images and other representations of people reading and/or selling books. I try not to compete with our customers, though. I do enjoy handling fine and important items, and while owning them is fleeting it still satisfies my soul.

RRB: How long have you owned this set?

JK: The Curtis set was a multi-year project for me, and I feel fortunate to be its owner.

RRB: Why is now the time to part with it?

JK: Though I was mesmerized with each and every photogravure, and if I could I would have kept this to the end of my life, my job is bookselling and that’s what I’ve done for over 4 decades. I need to pass this one on to someone who can bestow on it the care and love it deserves.

RRB: Will you come to NY to attend the auction in person?

JK: I’d like to go but I can’t commit to it. Being an active bookseller, there might be a library to purchase that might get in the way. There is often a fine line between buying and selling great books.

RRB: Edward Curtis is a fascinating character -- a man obsessed by the multi-year, multi-volume project to document the ‘vanishing’ race of Native Americans. What do you think of the fact that he died virtually unknown and penniless?

JK: Just like a great many accomplished artists of the past, their work preceded their deserved compensation after death. Curtis deserved accolades while he was still alive, but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.

To read more about this auction, or to register to bid go to:
One of our ongoing concerns here at Fine Books is the intersection of books and art.  We recently began an occasional series on this blog profiling small, independent publishers who produce exquisite editions of their books.  (The first entry in our series was Scarlet Imprint).

Today, we feature Three Hands Press, a fine publisher of occult books which began life in 2003 as a side venture of Xoanon Publishing.  The house quickly built a strong reputation of producing beautiful books with many of their limited editions selling out before their publication.

I recently interviewed one of the press’s founders, Daniel Schulke, over e-mail:

NP:  What was the genesis of Three Hands Press?  What’s the significance of its name?

DS: Three Hands Press was initially conceived as a side project of Xoanon Publishing, the official publisher of the witchcraft order Cultus Sabbati. These books are very arcane in content, and assume the format of grimoires or manuals of magic. In 2000, Andrew Chumbley, the order’s Magister, re-oriented Xoanon as a publishing entity strictly run by our initiates, with nearly all phases of production and dissemination controlled by our own people. This allowed for a greater ability for manifestation of our vision: shortly thereafter Xoanon was incorporated as a Limited Company with Chumbley as Director and myself as Secretary. In 2003 he and I began to discuss the necessity of proper stewardship of our initiates’ writings which fell outside the purview of Xoanon - mainly magical essays which had appeared in occult journals, and also academic work. Andrew also wanted to have a means of publishing his PhD thesis on ancient ritual dream incubation outside of a strictly academic context, as it treats many concerns of interest to magical practitioners today.

During this temporal phase where these discussions were taking place, one of our initiates experienced a vision of an Angelic being whose form was comprised of three outstretched hands. Similar emblems appeared during this period. Given the context of the vision, it was clear that this was the presiding spirit of the nascent endeavour, and thus the name and stylized image was adopted. As to its meaning, there are many levels of interpretation. One might consider the emblem as indicative of a trinity of power which animates our work: the Hand of the Author, the Hand of the Publisher, and the ‘Hand’ of the book’s genius or governing spirit. This evokes the Magical Triangle of Evocation -- the minimum configuration of points necessary to enclose space and hallow ground. In a more cryptic and gnostic vein, it also evokes the words of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there
am I in the midst of them.” Others have interpreted the Three Hands as the Trident of the Arte Magical, being the Left-Hand, or sinistral path; the Right-Hand or dextral path; and the ‘Hand of Mediation’ which governs the Crooked or Middle Path between them.


NP: What is the publishing vision of the house?

DS: We have broadened the vision since the initial conception of Three Hands Press, and have a community of diverse authors extending far beyond Xoanon. Our vision as a publisher is to provide the esoteric and occult community with superior magical content, in a manner supportive of our artists and authors, and which also possesses a sense of perpetuity in magical time. Here I feel it is important to clarify that “content” is not only the book’s subject matter, and its actual texts and images. It is also the substance comprising the book, its materials, design, and a peculiar quality I might call numen or radiance. These things speak to a reader with a different voice than text and image, but they convey magical language just the same. With regard to perpetuity, I am specifically referring to a book’s relevance, not only to the present generation of readers, but also future ones.

NP: Could you tell us about the process of producing your fine editions?

DS: The fine editions, being the best-quality bindings of any given title, arise very much from the nexus of the ‘Three Hands’ aforementioned: -- Writer, Publisher, and indwelling Spirit of the Book. This is to say
that we work closely with our writers in the design work to manifest each book as it should be, taking three major bibliomorphic vectors into consideration. When I say ‘Spirit of the Book’, this refers to its animating force, but also the field of aesthetic resonance it generates about itself as it moves from inspiration to manuscript to embodiment. In this process events happen in the magical field, as well as in real-time. A particular colour may come to dominate the sensorium of the author, chance occurrences’ lead to refinement of design parameters, a series of dreams or a cascade of mutual epiphanies may generate a seed-crystal which contains the entirety of a book’s gross and subtle anatomy. Sometimes a design arises because a book accretes a particularly adverse set of circumstances about it, and this resistance to aesthetic imposition liberates the whole from an inappropriate incarnation, giving way to something previously unimaginable. There is a vivifying power for each book which unites force and form as a trajectory from inspiration through manifestation.

In terms of craftsmanship we have been blessed to work with a number of fine artisans in the fields of illustration, bookbinding, engraving, papermaking, printing and tanning, as well as the newer fields of digital sculpting and type design. We have an enormous amount of respect for these time-honored disciplines, but at the same time recognize and incorporate new technologies such as digital typesetting. Years ago, when I was learning letterpress printing, I appreciated digital layout as never before after spending a day hand-setting a single page of metal type.

ORS_2.jpgNP: How do you decide on your limitations for each print run?

DS: Each title is different. For certain texts, numbers may be readily apparent as a numerological arcanum, as with Robert Fitzgerald’s A Gathering of Masks. The deluxe edition, limited to 44, numerically resonated with the enumerated aspects of the “Genii of the Domes”, the book’s chief concern. Where a numerological basis does not arise from the text itself, the limitation number may be commemorative, or may have personal significance to the author. Larger limitations such as with standard hardcover editions, are often governed by economic feasibility: because we refuse to print on demand, or use other inferior technologies, we generate books via offset lithography, and this is the more expensive route; there is a certain production threshold which must be attained.

NP: How do you feel about the idea of “grimoire scalping” -- that is, people purchasing your fine editions solely to sell them at a profit soon after they’ve sold out from the publisher?

DS: Looking at Xoanon, one of the things that sets it apart from other occult publishers is that it seeks to place its books in the hands of those worthy of owning them. This longstanding policy is explained concisely on its web site, and will of course continue. Here, the best editions of the work are offered only to a small group of people of established character, a relationship of trust which has been built up over time. However, this group is not static, it evolves. Similarly, Xoanon refuses to offer certain fine editions to some individuals. With Three Hands Press, a similar situation is in effect, though somewhat more liberal. Both strategies limit the problem, but not entirely. My personal feelings about ‘grimoire scalping’ have less to do with the money aspect of it than the particular streak of character demonstrated by someone who
lists one of our deluxe editions on eBay for five times our selling price, a day after the book is released. While the market certainly allows for this, a great many people find this behaviour distasteful, myself included. However, let us be clear: producers of fine occult editions cannot complain too loudly about speculators, because, like a certain stratum of organisms on the food-chain, they are a small but important
force in the market.

thpom3_std.jpgNP: What events do you have planned for the 20th anniversary of Xoanon? I know you will be exhibiting at the Esoteric Book Conference.  Could you tell us a bit about that?

DS: Xoanon Publishing is the visible surface manifestation of a largely secret magical organisation, the Cultus Sabbati. Its main point of outer engagement is through the magical book. However, the Exhibition may be likened to a magical book that, when opened, becomes self-reflective. Thus, those in attendance will have a larger view of our corpus of work, and how it relates to a historical procession of magical text over time. It will also allow the viewer to look at books on display comprising the rarest editions, which are sometimes limited to only a handful of copies. The magical relationship between these scarce editions to the standard versions, also rare in their own right, will be explicit. As part of the event we have a unique limited edition art print as well as an exhibition catalogue available. Further, we will have several books on display that exist wholly on the inner circle, the so-called ‘Monadic Transmissions’ of which there are only single copies extant. Finally, concurrent with the exhibit will be the release of EIKOSTOS, an official bibliography of Xoanon’s last 20 years, with technical data on all editions, rare images, and historical information. Providing the Daimones of the Book will it, there will be some of these at the Exhibition too.


NP: What’s next on the slate for Three Hands?

DS: September 3rd will see release of Andrew Chumbley’s “The Leaper Between”, his now-classic research on the Toad Bone Amulet for used for gaining witchcraft power. Although a small book at only 66 pages, its design was a labour of love by many different hands, and is a manifestation I am particularly pleased with. We also will be releasing Arcanum Bestiarum, a modern bestiary by Robert Fitzgerald, by September’s end. This autumn we will be publishing Michael Howard’s book on Witchcraft in Scotland, followed by Opuscula Magica 3 by Andrew D. Chumbley, which contains a selection of his previously-unpublished academic essays. We also have a number of titles in progress for 2013 and 2014, including my own “Granary of the Fauns,” a 600-page work which has been in process for 25 years.

The Woman Reader
Reviewed by Edith Vandervoort

One could confidently say that all women in Western societies are permitted to enjoy the pleasures of reading. We are able to chose what we would like to read and how often we want to read. This is, even today, not the case in countries with restrictive rights for women, nor was this the case throughout much of history. In her engaging book, The Woman Reader (Yale UP, 2012), Belinda Jack traces the history of reading and education for women--notably linked to the accomplishments of the women’s movement--and, with the inclusion of drawing and photographs, highlights important female readers, writers, and literary critics.

woman reader.jpgReading for women (and men) was based on whether or not one was wealthy and had the books and the time to read. In the twelfth century, book ownership was limited to members of the nobility, but convents, which had been established as early as the fifth century when they served to offer protection from the scourges of war, provided a more egalitarian system of education in French, English, and Latin for women of various socioeconomic classes. They varied greatly by the number of book bequests and the literacy of the community, but provided women with the opportunity to achieve a high level of scholarship. In the early middle ages, men and women collaborated in writing the scripture for the purpose of serving God in the conversion of non believers. With the invention of the printing press in the sixteenth century, women largely read religious works, but also secular materials on “acceptable” topics. Romances were not included in this category and were, for many centuries, considered morally damaging and conducive to frivolity and the release of inhibited sexual desires. The Reformation provoked contentious, often dangerous religious ideas. At this time, women began to write to express their religious and political views. With improved technology came the increased availability of secular reading materials and, with it, the degradation of women through inexpensively produced pamphlets and booklets, leading to hotly-debated rebuttals written by women. 

The commercialization of books thrived and women were encouraged to read advice manuals, how-to books on household activities, books on etiquette, but also pulp fiction. The debate of whether or not women should be educated abated and women became more assertive. Various salons in the seventeenth century and the Bluestockings in the eighteenth century were intellectual societies where women could freely exchange ideas. Rousseau’s theories proclaiming that women should be educated to promote men’s happiness was discarded and in the eighteenth century women’s magazines, printed for the sole purpose of pleasure in reading what other women wrote, increased in number. The idea of reading for personal edification eventually became largely accepted for all people.

Jack’s well-researched and fascinating book makes us appreciate the gift of reading and equally conscientious of how slaves, women, and disenfranchised populations are manipulated through illiteracy and the lack of quality education.

--Edith Vandervoort is a freelance writer based in California.

Catalogue Review: Seth Kaller

GW_Cat_Cover.pngThis week I had the pleasure of reading Seth Kaller’s new catalogue, Washington, The Revolution, and the Founding. I say reading because this is very much a reading catalogue--full of histories, long excerpts from correspondence, and provenance details. This catalogue of highlights contains documents, newspapers, maps, books, and artwork that manifest the vibrancy of American history. Of course this is all par for the course for the NY-based Seth Kaller, who has acquired, appraised, and sold some of the most important historic documents.

The Declaration of Independence, for example. There are a couple listed here. A rare July 1776 broadside printed in Salem, MA (price on request) and two Stone-Force facsimile editions from 1833 (one unfolded, $45,000; one folded $38,000).

Some amazing letters are offered as well. One is signed by Washington imparting his plans to “execute an enterprise against Staten Island” ($27,500). Another letter, entirely in his hand, from 1780, seeks “an entire new plan” for the nascent nation ($300,000). His famous ‘Throne of Grace’ letter from early in his presidency ($315,000) is now back on the market, after its exhibition at the National Museum of American Jewish History.

The famous ‘Tombstone Edition’ of the Pennsylvania Journal for Oct. 31, 1765 complete with skull and crossbones at the top is an incredible sight ($75,000). It is one of many historic newspapers seen in the catalogue.

A letter from Martha Washington as first lady to her niece ($47,500) and a hand-painted ivory miniature of her by Louis Andre Fabre ($9,500) bring us beyond politics and the war.

And in books, John Hancock’s Psalm book, signed by him with an autograph inscription warning against stealing (this book, presumably) is shiver-inducing ($68,000). Richard Rush, son of Signer Benjamin Rush, extra-illustrated his copy of Washington in Domestic Life, filling it with autograph signed letters between Rush and Tobias Lear, Washington’s private secretary ($7,500).

And, forgive me, I could not help but love the July 3, 1776 receipt for Saltpeter ($2,750). The image of Mr. and Mrs. Adams singing about it in the movie-musical 1776 is too strong!
bulwerlytton.jpgIt was a dark and stormy night.

That famous sentence originated with the Victorian author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the undisputed King of Purple Prose.  “It was a dark and stormy night” opened his otherwise completely forgotten novel Paul Clifford.  In Bulwer-Lytton’s honor, the San Jose State University English Department hosts an annual contest for writers to submit their absolute worst opening lines.

This year’s winners were just announced:

In first place, Cathy Bryant of Manchester England with this stunner, “As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.”

The Bulwer-Lytton offers awards in a variety of genres as well, such as Romance, Fantasy, and Crime.  But my favorite category is Purple Prose, which seems the closest in spirit to Bulwer-Lytton’s famously wordy writing.  This year’s winner is a gem, hitting all the worst possible notes:

William, his senses roused by a warm fetid breeze, hoped it was an early spring’s equinoxal thaw causing rivers to swell like the blood-engorged gumlines of gingivitis, loosening winter’s plaque, exposing decay, and allowing the seasonal pot-pouris of Mother Nature’s morning breath to permeate the surrounding ether, but then he awoke to the unrelenting waves of his wife’s halitosis.”  (Guy Foisy, Orleans, Ontario).

Check out the website for the contest to read more winning entries.

Yesterday, issued its annual report on books that are “out-of-print and in demand,” i.e. the top one hundred old books that remain popular among book buyers.

Unsurprisingly, Madonna’s 1992 book, Sex, topped the charts once again. Stephen King (as himself and as Richard Bachman) and Nora Roberts are the other leaders. Thereafter follows quite an eclectic group of authors/books who are apparently “sought after:” Lynne Cheney’s 1981 novel, Sisters, which the author refuses to reprint (she also denies that it contains lesbian content) is #15; Marie Simmons’ Pancakes A to Z, a 1997 cookbook, is #71; and Edward Matunas’ Practical Gunsmithing is #59. (Strangely the latter is not the only gunsmithing title on the list; James Virgil Howe’s The Modern Gunsmith is #78.)

One of the questions this list evokes is why some of these titles are out-of-print. Cameron Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High (#11) would be awesome re-issued. Surely a reprint of Cecil Beaton’s The Glass of Fashion (#52) would be heartily embraced by a certain milieu. Johnny Cash’s Man in Black (#7) was in Bookfinder’s top ten last year, too. The 1983 Zondervan edition of Man in Black shown on’s page says “More Than 700,000 Copies in Print.” Where the heck are they all?! Bookfinder’s report makes it clear that the market wants more.

Bookfinder has issued this annual report for ten years. See the whole list here:
Today, we begin an occasional series at Fine Books where we conduct brief interviews with bibliomystery authors.  Lovers of antiquarian books and lovers of mystery novels find few reading pleasures greater than the bibliomystery.  A bibliomystery, for the uninitiated, is a mystery centered around books.  (More info here). 

I recently spoke with Carolyn Hart, author of the “Death on Demand” series, which just reached its 22nd entry this summer with the publication of “Death Comes Silently.”  Hart has won multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards.  Her series features a bookshop owner, Annie Laurance, who operates a mystery bookshop called “Death on Demand” on a South Carolina island. Laurance also, of course, moonlights as an amateur detective.

cgh2011.jpgNP: Could you tell us a bit about the Death on Demand series?

CH: In 1985, I had written seven books in seven years and at that point not sold any of them.  I decided I would try one more time. I set out to write the kind of book I love to read, a traditional mystery with appealing characters and (I hoped) a good puzzle.

I had written a few pages when I attended a meeting of the Houston chapter of MWA. Bill Crider, whose first book was coming out, asked if I’d ever been to Murder by the Book. I said no and asked what it was. His reply excited me: a mystery bookstore. I’d never heard of a mystery bookstore.
I took a cab to MBTB. From the moment I walked in, I was enchanted, mysteries, mysteries everywhere. When I came home, I decided to set my new book in a mystery bookstore. That gave me the chance through my protagonist to talk about wonderful mysteries of the present and the past. That book was Death on Demand, the first in the series. The 22nd in the series - DEATH COMES SILENTLY - was published this week by Berkley Prime Crime.
NP: What sort of research do you do for the Death on Demand series?

CH: I have a bookshelf filled with books about South Carolina, but the flavor and background are drawn from Hilton Head island as it was in the 1970s when my family first began visiting there. Of course, each book will require other reseaech. For SOUTHERN GHOST, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about South Carolina’s famous ghosts. THE CHRISTIE CAPER was an exercise in pleasure as I revisted Agatha Christie’s life and work.

147800197.JPGNP: What do you think makes bibliomysteries so appealing to readers?

CH: Readers love books so mysteries about books are an extra pleasure for them.

NP: What do you enjoy about writing them?

CH: Mysteries are socially important, intellectually challenging, and a bulwark of morality. I agree with Christie that mysteries are parables and thus they serve to reinforce moral teachings. Every time a reader chooses to read a mystery, they are reaffirming a commitment to goodness.

12515148.jpgNP: Are you personally a book collector? (And if so, what do you collect?)

CH: Not in the sense of first editions. I collect reading copies of mysteries of the past, including titles by Constance and Gwyneth Little, Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Mary Collins, and Juanita Sheridan.

You can find out more about Carolyn on her website.  Her latest entry in the “Death on Demand” series, entitled “Death Comes Silently,” is available now

Next month Sotheby’s New York will sell property from the Estate of Brooke Astor. Nine hundred items from her Park Avenue duplex and her Westchester country home, Holly Hill, will go under the hammer during the two-day auction.

Astor was a legendary figure in New York society until her death in 2007. She was primarily a collector of decorative arts, furniture, and jewelry, a piece of which is a jewel-encrusted lion brooch (estimate $20,000-30,000) that evokes the iconography of the NYPL, an institution the Astors have supported for more than a century.

Astor Lib small.jpgBut was she a book collector? Holly Hill boasts this lovely library (above), and yet there appears to be only one lot (#67) consisting of “A Very Good Reading Library of Standard Authors Mostly 19th Century.” There are approximately 711 volumes in the lot, and the asking price is $3,500-5,000. Not bad. A pre-fab library of classics mostly bound in morocco or calf with a charming provenance. Later in the auction, fifteen lots of miscellaneous books sorted by subject (Reference, Cooking, Dogs, New York, etc.) turn up, with low estimates of $100-500 for lots of one hundred-plus books each.

BookVase.pngThere are some book objects of interest. A French earthenware vase in the form of a stack of books (seen here at left; estimate $1,000-1,500) and a painted book box (estimate $100-200) and a few historical documents crop up too, but the evidence suggests that Brooke was not much of a book collector even if she had a beautiful library. Still, for the right antiquarian bookseller or book collector, her books might yield surprising opportunities -- association copies from society artists, or tucked-in treasures related to this Old New York family... 
Catalogue Review: Bay Leaf Used & Rare Books, No. 3

I received last week a bookseller’s catalogue that made me stop and look. It’s a brown file folder, into which is tucked several different sheets and cards, of varying colors and sizes, advertising a collection of 194 items on radical politics, modern poetry, and punk rock. It’s more like a press kit than a catalogue, and it’s pretty cool.

Who produced this package with so much visual punch? Bay Leaf Used & Rare Books of Sand Lake, MI, a brick-and-mortar shop that stocks a large selection of books, posters, prints, and ephemera. They have produced two previous catalogues on different subjects. This one is titled Poets, Punks & Revolutionaries.

One 5 x 7 full-color postcard shows an original screen-print movie poster, c. 1980-82, from El Salvador. The catalogue copy on the recto tells us that the film is full of images from Revolutionary El Salvador ($300). Another smaller postcard with a picture of staple-bound typed manuscript turns out to hold, on its flip side, the catalogue copy for an original Grand Jury report detailing the Dec. 4, 1969 Chicago Police raid on a Black Panther home ($800).

A two-sided color sheet lists several items on anarchism, from Remembering American Anarchism: A Mural by Susan Greene, an oversized postcard featuring the image of Greene’s mural ($15) to a collection of twenty-nine scattered issues of Why? A Bulletin of Free Inquiry (later An Anarchist Bulletin) from 1942-1947 ($975).

In a stapled section titled Punks & Poets, you can find some really cool stuff, such as books and MusiCards signed by The Clash, a flyer from The Western Front Punk Festival in 1979, and an original wire photo of New York’s Hotel Chelsea in 1978.

I applaud Bay Leaf on their revolutionary design sense and high production value in creating this catalogue. It’s a slap of modernity to traditional catalogues and exceedingly appropriate to the content. It won’t provide the same experience to download the PDF (here), but you can peruse more of their offerings and enjoy the photography.

America in Shape

Atlas Shrugged

Ayn Rand, Dr. Seuss, and Noah Webster have little in common except for the possibility of having shaped American thought.  Their books and others are on display as part of “Books that Shaped America,” the Library of Congress’s kick-off exhibition to the twelfth annual National Book Festival, September 22-23, 2012.  This exhibition features some of America’s most influential works dating from Benjamin Franklin’s 1751  Experiments and Observations on Electricity to the 2002 book, The Words of Cesar Chavez.

Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) half-length portrait, s...

Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) half-length portrait, seated at desk covered with his books / World Telegram & Sun photo by Al Ravenna. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LOC staff members carefully selected the books highlighted in this exhibit.  Librarian of Congress James H. Billington explained recently, “It is not a register of the ‘best’ American books--although many of them fit that description. Rather, the list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not.”


To encourage this discussion, the library has developed a questionnaire on its website, asking individuals to vote for the books from the library’s selection of titles.  Also, individuals have an opportunity to nominate books they think the library missed.

“Books that Shaped America” will be on exhibit until the 29th of September, perfect timing to enjoy both this exhibit and the National Book Festival. 

Atlas Shrugged (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wes Anderson’s love of inserting fake books in his films is well-documented (and arguably unparalleled).  We recently wrote about the books in Anderson’s latest film, Moonrise Kingdom.  But that wasn’t the first Anderson piece featuring made-up books.  Quite a few also appeared in the 2001 hit The Royal Tenenbaums, about a dysfunctional family of depressed early geniuses, languishing in Manhattan.  The film was released on DVD by the Criterion Collection (who, like Anderson, are much loved for their careful attention to detail).  Criterion has now released a gallery of images depicting the covers for the various fake books seen throughout The Royal Tenebaums.

What I find so striking about Anderson’s fake books is the way that they perfectly encapsulate that particular breed of mid to late 20th c. paperbacks found so often in secondhand bookshops. The fonts, color schemes, and graphic design of the covers are all spot-on.  Furthermore, the books display just the right amount of wear for mass printed paperbacks from that era.

Here are a few of the books from The Royal Tenenbaums, borrowed here from the Criterion gallery. (Check out their gallery for more of these great images):


Guest blog by Brandon Kennedy

A few hours before dusk last Thursday in Archer City’s town square, the parking spaces lining the courthouse and the perimeter of shops were at near capacity, yet there was no one in sight. I made a beeline for Building Four of Booked Up--the site of Friday’s auction--and inquired about registration and the meet-and-greet. I introduced myself to the auctioneer, and he suggested I head over to the screening of The Last Picture Show that was already well underway; registration would have to wait until the following morning. After fumbling my way into the darkened theater, I grabbed a plate of picked-over BBQ, assorted fixins, a beer, and proceeded to prop up the back wall of the Royal Theater.

Photo-poster.jpgAs the familiar images flickered past, thoughts of the screening as a bookend for a celebratory yet difficult weekend for Larry McMurtry and his guests entered my mind. I imagined three of the four buildings empty, the perplexed townspeople and their relationship with the author, and all the complexities within his own work and its perception out in the world.

Not that I hadn’t come without my own baggage as well. I had been a seasonal regular at Booked Up for well over ten years, and I was disheartened to see the entirety of the stock broken up, though I could certainly understand McMurtry’s reasons for doing so. I had simply grown accustomed to my habits and thoughts about and within the shop, looking forward to future trips and reflecting back on good finds, and frankly, I was a little torn-up about the whole darn thing.

photo-auction.jpgThe next morning, Building Two trumped a cup of coffee in order to get registered for bidding. Outside the auction venue, a line of about twenty-five people had begun to curl outside the door with about fifteen minutes to go. Soon the appointed time came, and McMurtry appeared to make a short opening statement. In a matter of quick sentences, he managed to express the tenacity of the attendees with regards to the Texas heat, comparing them to the fish population in southern rivers adjusting to the current rise of temperatures. He then thanked his staff, the local businesses, and the residents of this small town, and we were soon underway.

The sixty or seventy chairs filling the main space were full, with additional onlookers standing in the aisles or sitting on the low shelves at the front of the store. The crowd’s enthusiasm boosted the start of the 1,400 shelf lots to be sold over the next two days, with many opening in the low hundreds and selling thereabouts. But soon enough they dipped down to a hundred or just below. Most lots had between 200-250 books each, some comprising parts of sections, with others being a hodgepodge of titles.

Photo-Autographed.jpgI began to pace about the building as shelves were steadily emptied and eventually wandered down the street to Building One, the main store that was--and will still be--open for business. McMurtry had returned and was seated at his usual outpost at the front table, holding court with a small group of devotees and journalists. It was difficult not to notice that there was a new assortment of swag positioned about: t-shirts with quotes from Lonesome Dove or Terms of Endearment, bumper stickers, and bags with the Booked Up pig, and a whole shelf of signed McMurtry books for sale; the likes of which hadn’t been welcome in these parts for years.   

I headed into the garage beyond and combed through the monolithic stacks that flank the sorting tables, realizing that it had been an area I had neglected in past visits. Not being an air-conditioned space, it can take some stamina to effectively work the room. After a good hour or more, I resurfaced with three quality finds and headed to the register.

When I returned to the auction, they were heading into the hand-picked single book lots of “The McMurtry 100,” and a renewed sense of purpose and excitement filled the room. Every few lots, the bidding would ratchet up into the mid-hundreds and then settle down again. I waited for the last-minute additional added lot to come up: a 1,139-page ledger full of original manuscript erotic stories commissioned by a wealthy Oklahoma oilman with an apparent daily appetite for the sordid. Rather quickly, the bidding surpassed my self-imposed limit, and I didn’t raise my hand once, watching the lot go to bookseller Tom Congalton of Between the Covers.

After lunch, the walk-through for the upcoming lots in Building Three was the next order of business. I had spent many hours alone in these aisles, mostly poring over translated literature and fiction. Now, I really had no interest in ineffective browsing or bringing several shelves home whose individual volumes I had previously left behind. I left the building and headed to my car, retrieving three McMurtry books I had brought along should I find the courage to ask the daunting question with pen in hand. I prefaced my asking with an apology of sorts, using the notable day’s events as an excuse. He signed them all while I thanked him heartily and then beat a somewhat hasty retreat.

Photo-van.jpgThe Abracadabra Books van 

Returning to the auction for a spell, I decided I was about done. Successful bidders were packing up their winnings, filling boxes, and overloading their cars. Some bought a few hundred books as a keepsake, while a few hatched future bookstore plans with what they had acquired. The most successful bidders of the day were either those who had the logistics in place to deal with sheer quantity or the space to store thousands of books.

The heat had defeated my enthusiasm and the repetition my curiosity. I headed to the American Legion with some friends to escape for the remainder of the afternoon. After signing in as guests, we ordered some beers and played a few rounds of pool in the back room. Soon enough, other writers started to filter into the cool, dark space, wanting to share stories and opinions of the day’s events. Everyone offered their take, and toasts went around the table.

The bookstore and community within this small town had brought this group together years ago, kick-starting their writing lives with local stories, self-imposed isolation, and a knowing guide. I couldn’t help but think that McMurtry himself had started much the same long before with the backdrop of Archer City as his subject and muse. Where there once had been a notable absence of books but plenty of space, the sudden release of hundreds of thousands of volumes that had taken years to assemble has created rivulets of books, ideas, and people. We can now only hope for tide pools to gather elsewhere.

Photos and essay by Brandon Kennedy, an occasional artist, former bookseller, and currently works in the modern and contemporary art department at Heritage Auctions. Kennedy wrote our spring issue’s cover feature on Larry McMurtry. He lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife and son.

MRJames1900.jpgGhost stories live and die by their endings.  Now your child has an opportunity to finish a ghost story by a master of the form: M. R. James.

An unfinished story by James, which has languished for years in the King’s College archive of the author’s material, has been dusted off and presented for the world to see.

The story, entitled “The Game of the Bear,” has been published online by Suffolk Coast.  It contains typical Jamesian elements: a secluded country manor, winter winds, embittered relatives, and a disputed inheritance.  British children (up to age 16) have the opportunity to finish the story as part of a competition to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the author’s birth.  The competition will be judged by Susan Hill, an adept ghost story writer herself, whose ghostly novel, The Woman in Black, was recently turned into a film:

I’m entertained by the idea of a child finishing a ghost story by one of the art form’s true masters.  I would love to read the winning entry.  And as a publicity move, it’s also a laudable effort, bringing together creative composition, classic literature, and the value of archives.

And, of course, ghosts.

Ninety antiquarian booksellers will be in attendance at the Baltimore Summer Antiques Show on Aug. 23-26 at the Baltimore Convention Center. We asked a few of them to share highlights of what they’re bringing.

Dali.jpgKen Mallory, an ABAA bookseller in Decatur, GA, is showcasing two Dali items. One is the numbered first edition of Babaouo (pictured here at left), published in Paris in 1932, in its publisher’s printed apple green wraps with onionskin jacket. This copy is signed and inscribed on the half title by Dali to a French ambassador to Russia ($3500). Another is a signed first American edition of Diary of a Genius, signed by Dali in black marker ($2,500).

Mosher Books of Ephrata, PA, sent a short-list ofMosher.jpg treasures that included a signed Memoirs of Napoleon in a superb binding ($9,500); Merian’s Topographia Bavariae, c. 1664 ($7,500); and a beautiful floriated binding by Kelliegram of Tennyson’s Poems, 1862 ($1,500). I was intrigued by this 1912 Mosher Press edition of Walt Whitman’s Memories of President Lincoln (pictured here at right), number 5 of only 10 printed on roman vellum and bound in classic vellum ($8,500).  

And for a Baltimore tie-in, Kelmscott Bookshop of Baltimore, will have this exquisite unique artists’ book. It is a hand-lettered manuscript of Edgar Annabel.jpgAllan Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” designed, written, gilded, and decorated by artist Maryanne Grebenstein (at left; $4,500). They’ll also bring O is for Opera, an abecedarian of famous operas and opera terminology, #31 of 45 copies, from Bay Park Press/False Bay Editions ($2,500).

Two related lectures may be of interest to book collectors at the show. On Thursday, Aug. 23 Lee Temares will speak about Juvenile Series Books, and on Saturday, Aug. 25, Gerald Barkham & Steve Epstein will discuss Posters & Broadsides: From Advertising to Art Forms.
Two Postcards from Maeve Binchy
Guest blog by Catherine Batac Walder

I haven’t composed a handwritten fan letter in a while. I wrote two to author Maeve Binchy, and she replied to both. I was much younger when I wrote my first letter, and I must have commented that she wrote mainly about women and whined that I was disillusioned with her portrayal of men. One of her postcards is in an album back home in the Philippines. I don’t remember her exact words, but it was something along the lines of “this is real life.”

Walder_Binchy Postcard.JPGThe second time I wrote to her was a few months after I first came to Europe in 2005. I wanted to visit Ireland. I wrote to Binchy about my trip, and I was bold enough to ask if I could visit her. It was a long shot (she didn’t know me, it was before Christmas, and I was visiting only for a few days), so I didn’t expect that it would happen. That she replied at all in the new year was something to be grateful for. She wrote, in part, “I am not able to meet all the people who come through Dublin. But I do send you warm wishes for 2006.”

I’ve always had trouble classifying her works. They’re not quite romance novels. In Circle of Friends, for example, good-looking Jack falls for the plain girl but still gets seduced by the beautiful woman in the end. The professor in The Evening Class has a troubled marriage. His wife is unbearable, and it should be rather romantic for him to find Sigñora, who is very understanding. But there is something about Binchy’s writing that makes you question the happy ending and instead mull over issues of morality and guilt, even as you turn the last page. Sometimes you fall in love (Light a Penny Candle) with her characters or hate (Firefly Summer) them with a passion. Binchy’s humor and study of the human character are a constant in her novels, as are universal themes. Even though I lived in a different country, it was as if she had written about my next-door neighbor.

At a time when I shifted from classics to contemporary authors, I found myself collecting Binchy. I was selective about reading female authors at that time but anything about my beloved Ireland was an exception. Binchy was a guilty pleasure to an extent but one I would readily share with others. I had introduced her to a few female friends who still read her up to now. She wrote of what she knew, so her stories were real and for someone who wanted to go beyond the thick forests, glass lakes, and lush countryside of Ireland; she was my free ticket. I’m one of her millions of readers who are saddened to see the last of these books. Maeve Binchy died after a short illness on July 30. She was 72.

--Catherine Batac Walder is a UK-based freelance writer. She has previously written about Ex-Libris copies, the Oxford Literary Festival, and Sherlock Holmes for FB&C.
Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Elizabeth Svendsen, proprietor of Walkabout Books, in Xenia, Ohio.

eks5.jpgNP: How did you get started in rare books?

ES: Like a number of other booksellers of my generation, I got started in rare books largely as a result of attending the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar. I had been running a general-interest brick and mortar bookstore for three years before I went to CABS in 2009. The more I handled older and scarcer books, the more interested I had become in the antiquarian end of the trade, but I didn’t know a whole lot about it. Within two months of returning from CABS, I had produced my first print catalog, and a few months after that I did my first book fair. I haven’t looked back.

NP: When did you open Walkabout Books and what do you specialize in?

ES: I sold my brick-and-mortar business (which I am happy to report remains alive and well under new ownership) last fall. I loved the shop, but I was finding it impossible run the everyday business and still make time to seek out and catalog the books I really wanted to work with.  I’m still re-building my inventory, but Walkabout Books has formally been open for business since October 2011. I now specialize in mountaineering, travel, Alaska, polar and other nineteenth century exploration, national parks, and some western Americana--pretty much anything outdoorsy and adventurous. I also carry a fair amount of modern literature just because I like it and always have customers for it.

NP: You formerly owned a brick-and-mortar store, but now only sell online.  Could you tell us a bit about that?  Do you miss having a brick-and-mortar store?  What are your thoughts on brick-and-mortar vs online?

ES: Actually, that’s not quite accurate. I operate Walkabout Books from second floor downtown office space, where I have books on display in two rooms that are open to the public whenever I’m here--which is most of the time. I don’t get a lot of walk-in traffic, but I do get some, and it provides a place for people to come sell books to me. I also do book fairs (six this year), so it’s not all online. I think the ability to interact with and meet new customers--as well as other dealers--is critical to developing a successful antiquarian book business. That said, I am the kind of bookish person who’s happy to work quietly and not talk to anyone all day, so I don’t miss having a full-fledged brick and mortar store.
NP: Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) that you’ve handled?

ES: That’s tough. I’m going to cheat and give you two--one book and one non-book. The book was a signed association copy of John Muir’s Our National Parks. I loved it for many reasons--it was visually lovely, it had subject matter that appeals to me, and most of all, researching the association--which turned out to be between Muir and the Merrill family of Bobbs-Merrill fame--was fascinating. The non-book item was an ipod filled with hundreds of audio files of Warren Jeffs (disgraced leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) teaching classes to his followers. That was a whole different kind of fascinating.

NP: What do you personally collect?

ES: Actually, I don’t--at least not in the traditional sense. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this---especially in this venue--but I’m one of those people who just wants the content and isn’t much concerned with edition or condition. Of course, in my business I cater to people who do care about those things and I respect those concerns, but what you’ll find on my personal shelves are literary fiction, mysteries, and a whole lot of mountaineering and solo sailing books narratives. I can never seem to get enough of tales of people toughing it out against the elements in remote places. I have a lot of books about Mt. Everest.

NP: If you could live inside the pages of any rare book, which would it be?

ES: Theodore Roosevelt’s Through the Brazilian Wilderness. That would give me the chance to meet TR and explore the Amazon jungle at the same time!

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

ES: The opportunity to learn new things and explore new worlds every day. There’s nothing better.
NP: Thoughts on the future of the book trade?

ES: I think it’s in good hands. You just have to look at the archives of this blog to see that. The way we do business continues to evolve and adapt to new technology, but that’s okay. There are smart, creative, and energetic young dealers seeking out new material and cultivating new collectors, and I really believe--and see evidence--that people will continue to love and value physical books even in the electronic age.

Elvis.jpgElvis Presley’s signed high school library check-out card is coming to auction next week at Heritage Auctions’ August 14 Elvis memorabilia sale. Among some other of the King’s artifacts--concert posters, jewelry, autographs, photographs--the library card from 1948 holds Elvis’ early autograph; he was only thirteen when he signed it. His family had recently moved from Memphis, Tennessee, to Tupelo, Mississippi, where Elvis attended Humes High School and checked out The Courageous Heart: A Life of Andrew Jackson For Young Readers from the school’s library.

The card with the surprising signature was discovered by a Humes HS librarian while weeding the collection years later. Heritage is offering the card along with a copy of the book. The current bid is $2,400, but the auction house believes it will reach $4,000 at least.

Elvis-book.jpgThis item reminded me of the library slip signed by J.D. Salinger that realized $1,314 at Heritage last year. A fun find in both cases, and the kind of evidence of readership and reading habits (of the rich & famous, or otherwise) that won’t exist for future scholars or collectors. 
dickens manuscript.jpgIn news more exciting to scholars than to authors, new technology pioneered by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London allows researchers to see beneath a writer’s blacked-out sections and corrections in their original manuscripts.  The digital technology, invented by Ian Christie-Miller, was taken for a test-drive with the Charles Dickens story “The Chimes.”  By comparing two digital images of text, one front-lit, the other back-lit, the technology separates layers of text, revealing the author’s original word choice.

For example, in the original version of “The Chimes,” Dickens wrote “Years... are like men in one respect.”  The published version reads “Years... are like Christians in that respect.”  The reason for the change gives Dickens scholars something new to ponder.

Researchers are heralding the technology’s potential to see how an author thinks, how they shape and re-shape their prose.  Florian Schweizer, director of the Charles Dickens Museum in London, was quoted in The Independent: “We’re talking of tens of thousands of manuscript pages that could potentially be unlocked.”

Now here’s hoping a similar technology isn’t invented for Microsoft Office documents.  This writer is happy that all of his deletions appear to be permanently excised.  For the moment. 

earp.jpgOn August 17-18, Holabird-Kagin, the Nevada auction house that specializes in Western Americana, will offer this unique photograph of Wyatt Earp and his family, taken in Dodge City in 1875. Shown here are the legendary lawman with his father, Nicholas, and brothers Morgan, Virgil, James, Warren, and a half brother, Newton. It is, according to the auctioneers, “the only [photographic] record of the male portion of the Earp clan known to exist.” The auction estimate is $200,000-300,000.

renobrewing.jpgHolabird-Kagin’s 2-day, 1700-lot auction--dubbed the “Hot August Auction”--will be held at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno, Nevada. It will be heavy on Nevada history, Old West items, saloon and brothel-related material, railroadiana, mineral and gold samples, coins, and a selection of printed broadsides. One of the particularly handsome broadsides is a full-color sign advertising Reno Brewing Company’s Sierra Lager. The lithographic broadside, seen above, depicts the Reno brewery that remained open until 1948. It is estimated to sell for $15,000-25,000.

Earlier this week Michael Moynihan ran an article in Tablet Magazine that exposed several glaring problems in a new book by Johan Leher: Imagine: How Creativity Works.

The author had completely made up six quotes and attributed them to Bob Dylan, for example, regarding his song lyrics:
Bob-Dylan-jpg(The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan indeed, via Buzzfeed)

The media-driven outrage that erupted shortly after the article was published, whether or not commensurate with the crime, resulted in Lehrer’s resignation from his post at The New Yorker and a letter of apology: “When Mr. Moynihan followed up, I continued to lie, and say things I should not have said”.

What happened next is something which I think has a long history in the making of rare books: Lehrer’s publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, began posting ads telling booksellers to stop selling copies of Imagine and to return them to the publisher, full shipping costs covered. Today they updated the message to include individual readers who own the book. Imagine is the latest among books whose errors have lead to scandal, recall, or destruction: for the most extreme cases, just look at the history of errata in the Bible. On the one hand Lehrer is going to have trouble moving forward in his career, but on the other hand surviving copies of his book will only gain rarity with age now that they’ve joined the ranks of recalled books like A Million Little Pieces and How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life.

It’s true that putting your money on preserving these books, each of which were bestsellers, is a long-term game with many hits and misses, the certainty of which may not even be confirmed in our lifetime. How Opal Mehta Got Kissed... is on both available for around a dollar on, but also safely preserved in at least one special collections library. The coin is in the air and will probably be suspended there for at least a few decades.

The added benefit of this final frontier of collecting, which I’ll call biblio-prognosticating to add a little pomp to what is otherwise the bookish equivalent of ambulance chasing, is that it’s cheap. Unlike tried-and-true incunabula, Kelmscott Press, or even to an increasing extent punk fanzines, you can start a collection of books inflated by hype and scandal on a relatively small budget.

I would be surprised if the instincts of the book collector didn’t lead him or her to do just that every now and then. According to twitter, I’m not half-wrong. As lovers of books our instincts are sharpened, primed even, for opportunities like this:
twitter-1.jpgIt’s not a bad choice: especially given what a landmark the Harry Potter Series is in the history of publishing, both in the sheer numbers of production, but also the uniquely high level of security surrounding the publication and sale of each installment (you can find an excellent chapter about the amazing lengths Bloomsbury went to, including GPS tracking devices and on-call militia to take down stolen vans of Book 7 of Harry Potter before his official release in Ted Striphas’ Late of Print).

twitter-2.jpgAgain, a smart move given the author’s legacy and the general greatness of the work.

All of this begs the question: Which contemporary books do you buy in hopes that they’ll obtain value later? Post your answers in the contents!

Phantoms.jpgAre you bibliophile or a reader? Some people will say yes to both, like Jacques Bonnet, author of the Phantoms on the Bookshelves, published in France in 2008 and now available in English (Overlook Press, hardcover, 133 pages, $17.95). Bonnet makes a distinction between the bibliophile--an obsessive collector hunting for rare and beautiful objects--versus the compulsive reader who wants to keep what he has read. Though Bonnet has a library of 40,000 volumes, he tells us, “I do not count myself a real bibliophile.”

Of course he is. Bonnet discourses on buying books, reading books, organizing books, annotating books, and lending books (never!). When discussing the future of personal libraries, Bonnet believes that the combination of specialization and digitization will hasten the end of large general collections. He writes, “Bibliophiles will still keep their collections, and libraries devoted to precise topics will survive, but we may be pretty sure that vast and unwieldy personal collections of a few tens of thousands of books are likely to disappear, taking their phantoms with them.”

This slim volume is a treat to read, and its Continental flair seemed to this reviewer to bring something fresh to topics already covered brilliantly by Alberto Manguel and others. The introduction by novelist James Salter is a paean to the book and the personal library--you can read part of it at the New Yorker’s book blog.
GoreVidalVanVechten1.jpgOne of the last “men of letters” of the 20th century passed away yesterday.  Gore Vidal (1925 - 2012) died from pneumonia complications at his home in Hollywood Hills, California.  He was 86 years old.

Vidal was perhaps the last member of a dying 20th century literary tradition: the writer as the man about town.  The versatile intellectual composing essays, novels, and plays, guesting on radio and talk shows, and offering witty asides at prominent social functions.  You’d want to include one of these fellows on your dinner invites.  (Or you would if you lived in a townhouse in Manhattan and were the sort of person to host such things.)  There’s something distinctly last century about it all.

Who can take Vidal’s place?  We’d need someone with an outdated conception of class -- Vidal was very much a proud part of the “American aristocracy.”  We’d need someone urbane and witty, someone willing to make bold, politically incorrect comments in public.  Actually, we’d need someone happy to engage in all out feuds.  Vidal frequently took on other writers (“Capote I truly loathed.  The way you might loathe an animal.”)  And he was equally comfortable brawling with presidential candidates (RFK and Gore, for example).  I’m not sure he can be readily replaced.

For collectors, Vidal leaves behind a lengthy and scattered legacy.  You’ll need to pick up his novels (of which there were 25), his many essays contributed to a variety of publications (particularly the Nation), his five Broadway plays, and his mysteries written under the pseudonym Edgar Box.  Considering the number of plays and dinner parties and socialite events Vidal attended, you’ll also want to keep an eye open for ticket stubs and other ephemera.  I’m not sure a Vidal collection could be complete without a witticism scrawled in pencil across a cocktail napkin.

The Guardian put together a nice retrospective of Vidal’s life in pictures here.

And for budding collectors, you can purchase a bibliography of his work from Oak Knoll.
ShakespareFF.jpgThe Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford has just announced its intention to digitize its first collected edition of the works of William Shakespeare, “to publish our First Folio online for the benefit of everyone.” (Since most of us can’t afford the $5 million price tag for our very own FF.) The Sprint for Shakespeare Campaign--Olympic language pun surely intended--hopes to go for the gold, i.e., hopes to raise £20,000 ($31,000) for this project. For more information, or to make a donation, check out the Sprint for Shakespeare site
Auction Guide