December 2015 Archives

The Theodore Roethke Musuem in Saginaw, Michigan is planning a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Open House, Roethke’s first book of poetry, in March 2016. The Museum wants to hear from any and all owners of the 1,000 hand-numbered copies of Open House, which was first published in 1941. The nonprofit group is launching an ownership census of Open House and combining it with a storytelling effort to hear about the journeys each of the books have made in the past 75 years.

“Our goal is to ignite conversation about Roethke’s poetry,” said the group’s vice president, Mike Kolleth. “The fact that each copy of Open House is hand numbered gives each copy a unique personality. We’d like to hear about the books from their owners and what Roethke poem most resonates with them.”

The Museum will feature at least one story about the Pulitzer Prize winning poet’s first book each week on its Facebook page and website throughout 2016.

So, if you’ve got a first edition of Open House floating around your library - institutional or private - contact the Museum at Participants whose work is featured online will receive a limited edition 5 x 7 edition Roethke art print.

Don’t own a copy yet and want to get in on the fun? You can find a copy of the first edition online for about $40 and up.

[For more on Roethke, see our post from two years ago about a successful community effort to renovate his childhood home in Michigan into the museum it is today].

[Images provided by the Roethke Museum]
34571474_1_l.jpgToday LiveAuctioneers, the online auction site, issued its 2015 sale highlights. Of particular interest to FB&C readers might be the top-selling political memorabilia lots, which included this Lyndon B. Johnson typed, signed letter of condolence to Coretta Scott King the day after the assassination of her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It sold for $60,000. The runners-up in this category were: a document signed by President William Henry Harrison, which sold for $22,500, and a manuscript survey document signed by George Washington, which sold for $29,500.

Image via LiveAuctioneers.

alciati001 copy.jpgFor those of you with an interest in emblem-books--a special type of illustrated book popular in the sixteenth and seventieth centuries that paired an image with a pithy moral lesson--you would do well to take note of both Professor Peter M. Daly’s 2014 book, The Emblem in Early Modern Europe, and Dr. Maureen E. Mulvihill’s handsomely illustrated review essay published in Appositions 8 (2015). Mulvihill discusses the lively, short-lived vogue of emblem-books in early-modern Europe, writing, “The emblem was a particularly robust genre, and entire books of these enigmatic designs (early anthologies, really) soon established themselves as reliable guides, competing favorably with such specialized texts as bibles, missals, breviaries, hagiographies, and the perfunctory conduct manual.” Moreover, her review brings fresh attention to a little-known cache of rare emblem-books at the Ringling Art Library in Sarasota, Florida, some with distinguished provenances in such respected collectors as John Ringling, founder of the Ringling Museum of Art, and Robert Hoe, first president of the Grolier Club. As Mulvihill emphasizes, emblem-books matter to book historians and specialists in the Book Arts for the genre’s ingenious conflation of didactic text and engaging image; and, of course, for their impressive printing and page designs, by Plantin in Antwerp, among others.

Image: Title-page of a famous emblem-book: the Emblemata of Andrea Alciati (Antwerp: Plantin, 1531; over 100 issues). Courtesy of the University of Illinois-Urbana’s Emblematica Online.

Gifts of Books for the Holidays

During this season of giving, some charities and organizations provide much-needed food and clothing, while others nourish the soul through gifts of books. Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt (HMH) donated nearly 100,000 volumes throughout the country during the holidays. These contributions are part of a sustained, yearlong program during which the publisher provided 3.6 million books to adults and children worldwide.

In its Boston hometown, the publisher worked with the Department of Children and the Globe Santa program to distribute holiday-themed books to charities such as the Boys and Girls Club of Boston, while nearly 3,000 homeless children received 15,000 brand-new books at the annual Christmas in the City banquet held on December 20 at the Boston Convention Center. Titles included longtime favorites like Martha Speaks, Curious George, Merry Christmas, Strega Nona, and The Polar Express.

“At HMH, we are committed to changing people’s lives by fostering passionate, curious learners,” said HMH’s Chief Content Officer, Mary Cullinane. “Every page a child turns provides them with the opportunity to explore new worlds and engage their imaginations in ways they never knew possible. Our donation program strives to get more books into the hands of young readers and helps to close the literacy gap.”

Contact your local libraries and school systems if you’re interested in bringing holiday tidings of hope and happiness for children in need through the power of great books. 
Yesterday, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin launched a major new exhibit, Shakespeare in Print and Performance. Drawing on the Ransom Center’s immense collection of Shakespeariana--performance materials, set designs, and printed books--the exhibit will mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death by examining his legacy as the most venerated English playwright. Highlights include three copies of the First Folio, John Wilkes Booth’s promptbook for his staging of Richard III, and Robert Greene’s Groats-worth of Wit (1592), the first contemporary reference to Shakespeare in print.

Look for an exclusive essay about the exhibit by curator Gerald W. Cloud in our forthcoming Winter 2016 issue, which will be landing in mailboxes in early January. As Cloud commented in a recent press release, “We think we know so little about Shakespeare, when in fact there’s quite a lot that’s known just from these rare printed books. With this exhibition we bring visitors closer to Shakespeare.”

The exhibit will be up through May 29.
A collection of iconic photographs from Robert Frank’s seminal photobook, The Americans (1959), realized a total of $3,739,375 at Sotheby’s New York last week.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 10.57.44 AM.pngThe collection of 77 images (out of 83 reproduced in the book) had been assembled by California art collectors Ruth and Jake Bloom. It was the first time such a large collection of photographs from The Americans has ever appeared on the market, according to Sotheby’s. Leading the auction was the photo seen above, ‘Hoboken’ (Parade), taken in 1955, and ‘New Orleans’ (Trolley); each sold for $237,500. Frank’s ‘Charleston, S.C.’ was another top lot, coming in at $162,500.

Christopher Mahoney, head of Sotheby’s photographs department, commented via press release: “The strong results of tonight’s sale illustrated the market’s enduring enthusiasm for Robert Frank’s pivotal works. The Americans remains one of the most influential books of photography ever published, and its nuanced subject matter is as relevant today as when it was created half a century ago. We saw bidders competing intensely throughout the sale, driving many lots to prices well above their estimates.”

Image Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

A Holiday Tale for the Gently Mad

On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal’s opinion page included a piece by St. John’s College president Christopher B. Nelson, urging us to reread beloved books over the holidays, rather than stampede through the latest bestseller. The last book I reread for pleasure was was Patrick Besson’s Crusades caper, Saint-Sépulcre! (2006). It was 2009, and I wanted something enjoyable that required scant brainpower when I wasn’t attending to the needs of my then-newborn daughter. Unexpectedly, nuances and dark humor overlooked on the first pass gave the book greater depth and dimension, and without the pressure of preparing a lengthy explication de texte afterwards, I reveled in the story for what it was.
Reminded of this little indulgence, I took up Nelson’s request Wednesday night and consulted a shelf laden with longtime favorites. Tucked away and practically bent under the weight of the books above it, I retrieved a slim paperback edition of Mademoiselle de Malpeire, a novel written in 1855 by Fanny Reybaud, an author considered one of George Sand’s great literary rivals during her lifetime, but whose works have now fallen into obscurity. This book hadn’t been opened since graduate school, and the manic, hot-pink highlighting and illegible marginalia are indelible reminders of that moment in my life. But now, without a looming deadline, the story of a proud aristocratic woman who humiliates her family by marrying a peasant (and then murdering him) on the eve of the French Revolution beckoned to be revisited. I dispatched with the introduction (skipped so long ago) and the first chapter before turning in for the night.
The next morning, however, I awoke in a panic, heart in my throat and tears misting. I had dreamed about being back in college. Recently returned from some great adventure, I head to my dorm room, expecting to find the place undisturbed. Instead, the shelves are stripped bare of their contents--not a book in sight. Racing to fellow students’ rooms, I discover my books dispersed among them like booty seized in a raid. I grab a dog-eared copy off a shelf and shake it in the face of a sheepish-looking student, demanding why my precious books were cast away. The poor girl answers, “You were gone, and we needed them.” In a kind of subconscious shock, I willed myself from that fitful slumber.
Age and good books warp the mind a little.

Will you take up Nelson’s challenge to ring in 2016 by reading a long-lost favorite?
Today’s entry in our Bright Young Librarians series features Laura Aydelotte of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania.

How did you get started in rare books?

I have a very clear memory of a visit to the Huntington Library when I was a child and seeing the Ellesmere Chaucer and the First Folio they have on display in the exhibit room there.  I was young enough that I had to look up a little to see the books clearly in the vitrines, but old enough to have a newly minted appreciation for how many centuries those books had based through.  I remember thinking that having a job that involved learning about and taking care of books like that would be an incredible thing to be when I grew up.  Years later, I had the opportunity to learn a great deal more about early books in my doctoral work, and I got my professional start as one of the people who takes care of books in the wonderful collections of the Newberry Library, Chicago.  

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I received my MLIS from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and my PhD from the University of Chicago.  

What is your role at your institution?

I am a CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow at Penn Libraries, where I have the opportunity to do work across the boundaries of bibliography, book history, and digital work.  I direct the Provenance Online Project, or POP, which addresses some very old questions: Whose hands did these books pass through before they came to us?  How do we know what owner is associated with a particular bookplate or inscription or stamp?  The project takes a new approach to finding answers to these questions by posting images of ownership marks online, with a growing collection of over 12,000 images.  We invite a user community of librarians, scholars, and others interested in book history from all around the world to contribute identifications and other information about these marks.  We’re starting to get images contributed from partner libraries across the country, so we’ll start to be able to see patterns of past ownership across current collections. It’s the kind of project that means I may spend my morning talking to our programmer about the data model or wireframing potential designs for an online upload form we’re developing, while my afternoons may be spent with a pile of 16th century books doing careful research into the details of their history.  

My other major role at the Kislak Center is as Curatorial Assistant for the Furness Shakespeare Library, a collection dedicated to Shakespeare and early modern literary and theatrical history begun by the editor of the New Variorum editions of Shakespeare at the end of the 19th century.  I recommend acquisitions for Furness and other early modern materials, do show and tells, answer reference questions, and right now I’m working on a small exhibit marking the 400th anniversary of the deaths of both Shakespeare and Cervantes.  The exhibit will focus on the topic of exploration and early maps in relation to the plays of the two great dramatists of Renaissance England and Spain, and will tie in with my own developing digital project, Shakespeare on the Map.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

So many favorites!  I think this really is constantly changing.  There are some new favorites.  When I moved to Philadelphia a year ago, I was entranced by Penn’s collection of Benjamin Franklin Letters, and I’m currently writing an article on the inscription of an 18th century slave in a pamphlet at the Library Company of Philadelphia.  Both are awe inspiring historical documents to handle on their own, but the fact that I can traverse the experience of a founding father and a former slave through the traces of the handwriting they left never fails to amaze me.   

There are also some certain established favorites that never fail to delight.   I think one of the more thrilling book experiences I had this year was photographing provenance marks in over 10 of the Folger’s First Folios for POP and comparing those with Penn’s copy.  It’s wonderful, the copious variations one finds in multiple copies of a single book.   I’ve also been thinking this week of what an incredible experience it was some years ago when I opened Ortelius’ 1587 Theatrum Orbis Terarrum at the Newberry Library, something I was reminded of while fashioning an animated GIF of the copy at the Boston Public Library (which I have yet to handle, but have admired in its digital incarnation).

What do you personally collect?

My own collecting habits are eclectic, and I have yet to find a clear, obsessive focus.  I have a smattering of different kinds of material useful for both education and delight: an 18th century indenture, interesting examples of typography, a bawdy pseudo-Elizabethan pamphlet by Mark Twain, some feminist ephemera like the recently acquired early 20th century broadside featuring a photograph of the first woman to go deep sea diving. I was blessed with an eccentric bibliophilic grandfather, a lawyer who occasionally bartered legal work in exchange for books, manuscripts and, on one occasion, a three-foot tall bronze reproduction of the Augustus of Prima Porta that had formerly stood in front of Moody’s Drug Store in Long Beach, CA.  The stand-out item in my personal collection is a first edition of the Wizard of Oz this grandfather gave me as a child, so I sometimes pick up affordable bits of Oziana to complement that.  

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love music, and have been making a point of making the time to play the piano with greater regularity lately.   In the last few weeks I’ve resumed my amateur attempts at ukulele strumming with a book of Hawaiian songs my aunt in Honolulu sent me a year or two ago.  There’s something cheering about a ukulele when winter is coming.  I’m also an avid knitter, currently in the process of finishing up a scarf with an image of Smaug and the misty mountains from the cover of Tolkein’s the Hobbit, and I like to do many other things involving dining with friends, theater, afternoons biking and swimming in fine weather or wandering a museum looking at paintings of people enjoying fine weather when the real world is cold.  

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

The books, which never stale in their infinite variety. 

Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?

I think it’s a tremendously vital and exciting time to be in this profession.  Being alive in our current digital age is like having the opportunity to be around at the time of Gutenberg when printing was just taking off.  Incunabula can be some of the most fascinating books because they are especially clear material evidence of the way old technologies and new ones are constantly interacting and fusing with one another: typefaces designed based on scribal hands, the printed center of a page lying distinct in a sea of manuscript annotation written in margins built wide for the purpose, illumination and rubrication adding one kind of beauty to the emerging beauties of a printed layout.  It is always important to preserve and study the history of ideas and the forms we’ve used to communicate those ideas, but I think in times of great innovation like the one we’re in now, the people with the knowledge and skills to help others learn about, understand and use primary source materials from across the centuries have a special role.  Special collections librarians help us all to be aware of and explore what is useful, what is beautiful, and what is important from the past that we can incorporate into the things and ideas we are currently creating and weaving into the long tradition of human production and knowledge.

Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?

We have many interesting collections at Penn Libraries.  I think many people aren’t aware that we have a really excellent collection of Spanish Golden Age material, including such gems as two holograph manuscripts by the playwright Lope de Vega.  We also have a large collection of Jonathan Swift material, including a really fascinating array of versions of Gulliver’s Travels, from editions in foreign languages, to a pop-up version featuring a plastic magnifying glass for viewing Liliputions.  

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

My colleague, Lynne Farrington, is curating a fascinating exhibit exploring the use of hand coloring and printed color in American fine and private press books.  It is called “Across the Spectrum: Color in American Fine and Private Press Books, 1890-2015”, and it opens on February 15th with a two-day symposium Feb. 26-27.  
A golden typewriter? Yes, when Ian Fleming finished writing Casino Royale in 1952 (published in 1953), he rewarded himself by purchasing a gold-plated typewriter. The novel was such a success that thirteen more James Bond books followed, as well as two works of non-fiction and the famous children’s story, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang.

9781408865477.jpgThe Man with the Golden Typewriter is the name of a new book edited by Fleming’s nephew, Fergus Fleming, which contains the author’s “James Bond” letters, that is, the correspondence he sent--to editors, fans, friends, his wife, his publisher, etc.--related to his most celebrated creation, 007. Sourced from collections around the world, Fergus Fleming brings together the letters that offer insight into the author and his craft, from quibbles over print runs and royalty rates to alternate endings and how he named particular characters. For example, the book includes a letter to Mrs. James Bond in Pasadena, California, in which Fleming apologizes for using her husband’s name in his novels. “At that time one of my bibles was, and still is, ‘Birds of the West Indies’ by James Bond, and it struck me that this name, brief, unromantic and yet very masculine, was just what I needed....”

For Bond fans, this is a volume not to be missed.

Image via Bloomsbury Publishing. 
528L15408_8N3FT.jpgComing to auction tomorrow is a remarkable photo--a black and white profile portrait of Mohandas Gandhi, signed in black ink, and given to John Smith Clarke (1885-1959), a British adventurer, lion tamer, and Member of Parliament for Glasgow Maryhill from 1929 to 1931.

Clarke belonged to the Independent Labour Party, which hosted a birthday lunch for Gandhi at Westminster on October 2, 1931, when this autographed photo likely exchanged hands, according to Sotheby’s. At that very occasion, Gandhi said, “It is no answer to be told that there are some in India who are afraid of the words ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’ ... I assure you that the starving millions and those who have become politically conscious entertain no such fear and they are ready to pay the price for the sake of freedom...” Gandhi had been visiting Britain for the Second Round Table Conference from September 7 to December 1, 1931, a series of meetings on the future of India’s government.

Signed photographs of Gandhi are uncommon, and this one in particular brings a momentous historical period to the surface. It is estimated to sell for £3,000-5,000 ($4,591-7,651).

Image via Sotheby’s.
Emily Dickinson would have been 185 on December 10, and institutions across America have been marking the occasion with various public programs and, of course, poetry readings. But the Emily Dickinson Museum, located in the poet’s Amherst, Massachusetts home, takes the cake.

Emily Dickinson. Daguerreotype. ca. 1847 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. (Amherst College Archives & Special Collections)

This year, the museum is holding off on the festivities until December 12 (tomorrow), when the general public is invited to fête the “Belle of Amherst” and tour the recently completed renovation of Dickinson’s bedroom. Restoration began in 2013 of the second floor retreat where the poet often found solace and creative inspiration. Cheery, rose-patterned wallpaper that now graces the room is based on original paper fragments found on the property. “Before the restoration, the room was rather stark--white walls, spare furnishings,” said Brooke Steinhauser, the museum’s program director. “Now, visitors are surprised at the loveliness of the space. I think it changes people’s perspective.” Boston’s North Bennet Street School, a private vocational institution with one of the top woodworking programs in America, sent students Caleb Schultz and Boyd Allen to create exact replicas of Dickinson’s writing stand and bureau. The originals are housed in the Emily Dickinson collection at Harvard’s Houghton Library. (The Houghton Library blog ran a fascinating story on getting the reproductions just right, which you can read here.)

The Homestead. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Birthday guests are welcome to tour the entire Homestead (as the museum is also known), listen to contemporary poets read their own work composed in Dickinson’s bedroom, and even contribute to a “crowd-sourced poem” in honor of the day. No celebration would be complete without cake, and the museum will serve a coconut confection baked according to Dickinson’s own handwritten recipe and provided by Amherst’s Henion Bakery.

Emily Dickinson’s 185th birthday celebration takes place tomorrow, December 12, at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, from 1 to 4pm. The event is free and open to the general public. For further information, including directions and a list of poets participating the ceremony, visit

Today’s entry in our Bright Young Librarians series features Gabrielle Dean, Curator of Literary Rare Books & Manuscripts at The Sheridan Libraries, John Hopkins University, Baltimore.

gdean george peabody library.JPG
How did you get started in rare books?

When I was in high school, I bought a book called America Illustrated for my father for his birthday. It was about five bucks at a thrift store. It was published in 1879, and I was amazed that something so old (it seemed to me then very old) could be so sturdy and fresh... and affordable! I loved the wood engravings.

Of course, after my dad’s birthday, I forgot about America Illustrated. I finished high school and went to college. After graduation, I worked for a non-profit arts organization and was active in queer politics. But then I decided to go back to school, and one of my first serious research projects as a grad student focused on the published diaries of the Yellowstone survey team of 1871.  I didn’t even remember America Illustrated until my dad gave it back to me recently... 

Where did you earn your advanced degree?

I have a PhD in English and Textual Studies from the University of Washington. My research focuses on nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American visual and literary cultures. The textual studies program taught me to think not only about the history of the book and the evolution of specific texts, but also about the future of forms like “book” and “text.”

After I finished my degree, I worked for several years as an adjunct. Then I heard about these interesting post-doctoral fellowships from CLIR, the Council on Library and Information Resources. I applied for the CLIR position at Johns Hopkins, and my main project was to make an exhibition from one of our H. L. Mencken collections. That was an incredible experience. The post-doc also taught me how a special collections library operates on the inside, another fascinating education. So when I had the opportunity to take a position at Hopkins that was very similar to my post-doc role, I jumped at the chance.

What is your role at your institution?

I am the Curator of Literary Rare Books and Manuscripts. I am also the librarian for the Writing Seminars, and a lecturer in the Program for Museums and Society. So, I wear a lot of hats, but I like to think they are color-coordinated. 

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

That’s a cruel question! But okay, with apologies to all the other beloved objects...

Right now I am very interested in early photography. So I find myself drawn to our set of Edweard Muybridge gigantic folios of time-lapse photos. I am captivated by the Rube Goldberg-esque nature of the tripwire system that Muybridge invented to take sequential photos, I am intrigued by his choice of subjects--and I love how all this is both expressed and hidden in the books. The books turn Muybridge’s ephemeral and weird Victorian experiments into monumental archival objects that are also, with their black and white gridded arrangements of nearly identical images, proto-modernist texts.

What do you personally collect?

Occasionally, I acquire a book or piece of ephemera that is meaningful to me; some are related to my research interests and some come from my family. But they are more like place-holders for collections I refrain from building. I am already obsessive about books and ephemera, and there are so many interesting ways to think about various materials, that I think it would be hard for me to stick to an appropriate scope and size as a serious collector. Plus, I don’t have the space!

What do you like to do outside of work?

What is this “outside of work” of which you speak? 

Seriously, I do spend a lot of non-library time on my own research projects and various tasks for the Society for Textual Scholarship, the Dickinson Electronic Archives, and Archive Journal. Out of necessity, my partner and I work on our 90-year-old Baltimore rowhouse; last summer, I became a temporary expert on historic lime mortars and repaired our basement walls. We garden, hike, seek out good coffee. I cook, often with foodstuffs from the wonderful Baltimore Farmers’ Markets, and when I can, I take photos, write, and make things out of clay. 

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I am unabashedly partisan here, but I believe that special collections librarianship is the genius loci of the humanities. And right now, it is more important than ever, because if we are wise with our materials and tools, and generous with our communities, I really think we can pull the humanities out of the cultural margins they have been pushed into over the last half century.

Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?

I am a relative newcomer to the profession, but it seems to me it is changing and will continue to change--we are becoming, increasingly, the authors of our own projects rather than always the silent helpmates. This is a crucial shift, I think. I would love to see special collections librarians take the lead more often--in the classroom, in our institutions, in our public discourse--with intellectual confidence, creativity, and know-how. 

Libraries are one of the smartest technologies we humans have ever invented--a beautiful system for the creation and spread and preservation of knowledge. But, of course, the digital environment now offers to a global population the information and knowledge-creation resources that used to be the exclusive domain of libraries. The internet does a lot of things better than libraries. Libraries can do a lot of things better than the internet. What are they? How should libraries evolve to become what we need them to be? Librarians, curators, and archivists are going to have to evolve too. I fear that if we fail to do this, out of old-fashioned and frankly sexist notions about our place in the academy and in democracy, libraries will suffer and may die. 

I noticed a call you put out recently for papers dealing with “radical archives.” Could you introduce us to this topic and how it applies to special collections librarianship?

The call for papers was issued by Lisa Darms of the New York Public Library and Kate Eichhorn at the New School, guest editors of an issue of Archive Journal on this topic--I am on the editorial team of the journal so I was circulating the CFP. Lisa and Kate are interested in the question of what a “radical archive” is or might be, so collectively, the various contributions to the issue do a great job of answering your question. And it has just been published so please check it out!

Any unusual or interesting collections at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?

What I am most proud of at Hopkins are our two historic libraries, the John Work Garrett Library at Evergreen and the George Peabody Library. I love how they express two different but complementary sides of nineteenth-century bibliophilia and knowledge-building: one is the collection of a family, a very refined private library; the other is an early public library, with a delightfully eclectic collection. The collections are housed in their native environments--magnificent historic buildings--so working with them feels like the closest I will ever get to time-travel.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

We recently opened Lost & Found in the Funhouse: The John Barth Collection, which I put together with two recent MFA graduates of the Writing Seminars at Hopkins. The Barth Collection came to Hopkins just a few years ago, and it was an enormous privilege to get to unpack it and figure out how to display it for the public. We tried to create a funhouse experience in the gallery--and I think we succeeded. You can see our “trailers” for the exhibition here.

Coming up: Poe!

Coming to auction next week is a two-page letter written in December 1836 by a young Abraham Lincoln to Mary S. Owens, the woman some call his first fiancée. It is estimated to sell for $500,000-700,000.

Soth-Lincoln.jpgRumors have long circulated that Lincoln’s marriage to Mary Todd was unhappy at best, and none of his courtship correspondence to her survives. Nor do letters to Ann Rutledge, another inamorata suggested by Lincoln’s biographers. His feelings for Mary Owens, however, are well documented, if not always clear. He met her in New Salem, Illinois, in 1833 when she was visiting her sister. Three years later, during another visit, their relationship was rekindled (strongly encouraged by Owens’ sister). Like Lincoln, Owens was a Kentucky native and, by all accounts, quite the intellectual. Soon there was talk of marriage (some historians believe it was all a misunderstanding), and when Lincoln left for the opening session of the new state legislature, he wrote to Owens:

“I have been sick ever since my arrival here, or I should have written sooner. It is but little difference, however, as I have very little even yet to write. And more, the longer I can avoid the mortification of looking in the Post Office for your letter and not finding it, the better. You see I am mad about that old letter yet. I dont like very well to risk you again. I’ll try you once more any how.”
Then, after discussing politics (in detail), Lincoln concluded:

“Write back as soon as you get this, and if possible say something that will please me for really I have not [been] pleased since I left you. This letter is so dry and [stupid] that I am ashamed to send it, but with my present feelings I can not do any better.”
It is not only the earliest of Lincoln’s three known letters to Owens, but the only one remaining in private hands, according to Sotheby’s. It has remained in the family since Owens died in 1877. The second letter was sold at auction to collector Malcolm Forbes in 1987 and then, in 2002, it was auctioned once again for $779,500 to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History at the New-York Historical Society. The third was given to the Library of Congress.

Image via Sotheby’s.

_DSC5902 copy 2.jpgWe’re happy to share some good news: the Cushing Memorial Library at Texas A&M University has acquired the archives of author, literary critic, and longtime FB&C columnist Nicholas Basbanes, as well as a significant portion of his personal library. In a statement released yesterday, Dr. Francesca Marini, director of Cushing Memorial Library & Archives, said, “We are extremely honored to become the repository for Mr. Basbanes’ collection. Throughout the years, his passion for book culture and his advocacy have been very important to institutions that house rare books and special collections.” Pictured above are Kevin O’Sullivan, curator of rare books at the Cushing Library, and Nick Basbanes as they cleared the shelves and filled 345 boxes just before Thanksgiving. 

In addition to the research materials related to the writing of his own nine books, the acquisition also counts approximately 800 books inscribed to Basbanes over the course of his career--by the likes of Annie Dillard, John Updike, Joseph Heller, Margaret Atwood, etc. Before focusing on book writing, Basbanes was the book review editor for the Worcester Sunday Telegram and a nationally syndicated literary columnist. There are also a number of literary “firsts” collections, including that of Tennessee Williams, James Agee, William Styron, Toni Morrison, and E. L. Doctorow.

Basbanes has had a longstanding relationship with Texas A&M University Libraries, most recently serving as the guest lecturer for the opening of the Cushing’s Hand to Hand exhibition in February. He wrote about A&M as a “major new player in the world of special collections” in FB&C back in 2009, and he plans to devote his spring 2016 column to the experience of documenting and packing his collections.

Image Courtesy of Nick Basbanes. 

Papa.jpgThe Ernest Hemingway biopic, Papa, which premiered in Boston in November, debuted at the Havana Film Festival this past weekend. Based on an autobiographical script written by Denne Bart Petitclerc, Papa stars Giovanni Ribisi as a journalist who travels to Cuba in the 1950s to meet the writer he idolizes, who is played by Adrian Sparks. Their budding friendship is set against the revolution that is beginning to unsettle the country.   

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Papa is the first Hollywood feature to film on location in Cuba since the 1959 coup. Scenes were shot in Hemingway’s home Finca Vigia and other Hemingway hangouts including La Floridita restaurant and Ambos Mundos Hotel. “It was an absolute passion to actually make it in Cuba where everything that is in the script happened, where the finca (farm) is where (Hemingway) lived, where his boat was, all the spots from the Morro castle to Cojimar where he fished,” director Bob Yari said.

If those places sound familiar to FB&C readers, it’s because we too traveled to “Hemingway’s Havana,” back in our winter 2015 issue.

Image via IMDb.

Soup fosters a good story, and was an integral narrative element for Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Willa Cather (1873-1947). In Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927), two French missionaries arrive in New Mexico to work with the locals. On Christmas Eve, Father Latour enjoys a soup prepared by his friend Father Vaillant, exclaiming: “A soup like this is not the work of one man. It is the result of a constantly refined tradition.There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup.” The soup recalls his homeland,  a hearty symbol of French civilization. In The Song of the Lark (1915), a piano teacher measures the success of a meal on the reception of the broth: “[Harsanyi] had a theory that if the soup went well, the dinner would go well; but if the soup was poor, all was lost. To-night he tasted the soup and smiled . . .”

Willa Cather ca. 1912 wearing necklace from Sarah Orne Jewett. Photographer: Aime Dupont Studio, New York - Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial and Educational Foundation. Public Domain

Like many women writers, Cather’s contribution and reputation has shifted with the tides of prevailing ideas of feminism and cultural relevance, but now her 12 novels, 6 collections of short fiction and 9 volumes of nonfiction are firmly established as part of the American literary canon. Born in Back Creek, Virginia, her family headed to Nebraska in the 1880s, where the gritty, harsh, and violent frontier and farm life would ultimately inform her stories depicting the Great Plains and those Scottish and Irish immigrants searching for the American Dream.

On the eve before what would have been the author’s 142nd birthday, The Willa Cather Foundation, located in Red Cloud, Nebraska, is hosting its second annual December Night Soup Showdown. The free event will take place this Sunday, December 6 inside the Red Cloud Historic Opera House, part of the Willa Cather Foundation. (The Opera House closed in 1916, and remained shuttered until it was lovingly restored in 2003. Now the space welcomes traveling exhibits, musicals, and soup showdowns.)
Foundation development director Marianne Reynolds explained that the Showdown was created to simultaneously celebrate Cather’s birthday and to provide a sense of community. “It’s cold in Nebraska, and the Showdown is a wonderful way to bring people together in the wintertime, to remember Willa Cather, and to have some soup.” While local Roger Bohrer took home the inaugural trophy last year for his seafood chowder, this year’s competition looks fierce: 11 entrants (no professionals), including a five-alarm team of chili-cooking firemen, schoolteachers, and a group called “Santa’s Little Helpers” will bring large roasters of potage to the Opera House, where voting is calculated by how much money each contestant collects in their respective jars. All proceeds from the event go to the Willa Cather Foundation and to fund educational programs at the nearby Auld Public Library. “We hope this will also encourage people to come back and visit us in October 2016,” when the National Willa Cather Center will open its doors as a vibrant arts and educational center. Groundbreaking for the new facility took place in July, and the capital campaign raised nearly 6.5 million dollars for the space. “The community came together for us,” said Reynolds. And next fall they will have a new space to warm up together while enjoying Cather’s enduring legacy.

The Second Annual December Night Soup Showdown takes place from 5-8pm on Sunday, December 6 at the Red Cloud Opera House. More information is available here.

In 2016, “the world’s most dangerous book,” Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, will be released into the public domain. The book has not been reprinted in German since the conclusion of World War II. The Institute of Contemporary History in Munich, however, will publish an extensively annotated edition of Mein Kampf in January. It will be the first German printing of the book in seventy years.

The Institute has been working on a critical edition of Mein Kampf since 2009 and will publish the work in two volumes with 3,500 annotations. The annotations will expose the “lies, half-truths, and vicious tirades” of the book, said a representative of the Institute.

The first run will be limited to 3,500 to 4,000 copies, priced at about $60.

Plans to reprint Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto have met with resistance from Jewish groups who have argued that the book should never be printed again. 

The south German state of Bavaria was granted the copyright to Mein Kampf by Allied powers after the conclusion of WWII. They refused to allow the book to be reprinted again in German out of respect for the victims of the Nazi regime and to prevent the spread of hatred.  

The book’s copyright, however, officially enters the public domain on January 1, 2016, seventy years after Hitler’s death.

Image via Wikipedia. 
As anyone who has read or seen Les Misérables will know, a country’s poor are roughly treated and greatly in need of the charity of fellow citizens. Jean Valjean, the protagonist of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, served a long prison sentence for stealing bread to feed his hungry family. He is changed not by serving time but by the kindness of a bishop who overlooks another theft, which gives Valjean both hope and enough money to amend his life.  

Like Dickens, Hugo was a defender of the destitute. In his last will and testament, he wrote, “I leave 50,000 francs to the poor. I want to be buried in their hearse. I refuse [funeral] orations of all churches. I beg a prayer to all souls.”

Hugo.jpgElsewhere, on little slips of paper, he petitioned others to be charitable too, writing, “Kindly give 100 francs to the poor of your country,” and signing his name. One of these mini-messages, seen here at left, is now being offered for sale by the Raab Collection in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. Deaccessioned from a US institution, this autographed manuscript has never before exchanged hands, according to Raab. And, “Although Hugo must have written this sentiment other times, our research discloses just one other ever having reached the market.” The price is $3,000.

Image Courtesy of the Raab Collection. 
It’s catnip for many bibliophiles: two novels set in a bookstore and featuring cute kitties. Jenny Kalahar is a bookseller and the author of Shelve Under C: A Tale of Used Books and Cats and its sequel, The Find of a Lifetime, from her Turning Pages series. We asked her about her inspiration, her pets, and what she’s working on next. 

ShelveUnderCOct2015Front copy.jpgRRB: I imagine you get a lot of inspiration from your everyday bookselling experiences. How long have you and your husband been booksellers? Do you have a specialty?

JK: Our used bookshops, the customers, and the cats we’ve fostered have certainly been inspirations for my novels, stories, and poetry. Even though we’ve never had our own young apprentice--as Kris is in my novels--I based that character’s mentoring on the guidance my husband has given me over the years. Patrick opened his first used bookstore at age eighteen, and I met him when he was setting up The Story Shop following his military career. We owned a used & rare bookshop in Michigan and one in Ohio before moving to Indiana where we now sell online from our old schoolhouse home. I’ve been buying, selling and collecting with him since 1989. Patrick does skillful book restorations, and I handle the online orders and listing. We have a broad selection for sale, with children’s fiction, modern literature, music, and theology taking up a large portion of our bookshelves.  

RRB: I guess it goes without saying that you have resident ‘bookshop cats’?!

JK: When we had our shop in Ohio, we fostered a few cats at a time from our local shelter and found great homes for more than fifty over the years. Here in Indiana we have seven wonderful cats and a terrific terrier, Weegee.

RRB: How and when did you decide to write a story about them?

JK: Shelve Under C: A Tale of Used Books and Cats began life as a story for very young readers about seventeen years ago. I put it aside and forgot about it, but then uncovered it again a few years ago. It was only about six pages long, but I liked it enough it to write more and more, adding a foster child, Kris, who loves old books and wants to learn from the shop’s owners. I first published it in 2012, but then revised and expanded it the next year. My main motivation for writing the novel is the fact that when we fostered cats, and when other businesses in Athens, Ohio, fostered cats and dogs, the local shelter was able to remain nearly kill-free. The business that took over our building still fosters cats. I want to promote the idea of small, un-busy shops as fostering sites, and I want to encourage kids to have a love of reading, book collecting and selling, and book restoration. My novels take a close look at the real daily life of a shop, all told with humor and heart, cat antics and the doings of customers and neighbors as seen from inside a used and rare bookshop.

RRB: Your reviews on Amazon are terrific. Is that what encouraged you to write a second in the series?

JK: Yes, of course! And the reviews are the reason I didn’t publish the first sequel I had written. I had veered away from the bookshop and from the core characters, and away from the cats. When I re-read the reviews, I knew that the book I had written as a sequel wasn’t what readers would enjoy. Now that The Find of a Lifetime is published, I’m glad that I went back to the bookshop. Bookselling, book-hunting, flea markets, the cats, and even a very rare book find add to the story of the fostered cats and small college town drama and humor. The characters from the first book are fleshed out, and Kris, the apprentice, has an even larger role, learning more about collecting and restoration.

RRB: As an author (and a bookseller) with an obvious interest and love of the book as a physical object, how do you feel about the fact that your books are e-books?
FindofaLifetimeKindleCoverSept92015 copy.jpg
JK: All three of my books are available in softcover and e-book editions. I feel very much that nearly any reading is good reading. Comic books, song lyrics, cereal boxes, and now e-books can all be pathways toward an appreciation of books printed on paper. Or vellum. At first, Shelve Under C was only available as an e-book. If the reviews were awful, I knew I could click my mouse and make it disappear. There’s such a timelessness to physical books that it can intimidate an author. The first edition of the first book contains real errors that make me cringe (even the subtitle was wrong!). I don’t know if the era of the electronic book will continue to dominate the world of the reader or if hardcovers and softcovers will find more love again, especially with younger readers. But I do believe that collectors will always treasure books that can be held by hand while reading, hugged when finished, and admired on a shelf for a lifetime.

RRB: What are you working on now? Will you continue the series?

JK: I’m writing my fourth book now, a young adult fantasy novel of a peculiar sort that is set in Indiana. And I have a good start on the third in the Turning Pages series, which picks up just a few days after the end of The Find of a Lifetime. I’ve also started writing a fourth in that series set in the 1980s as a prequel. I would like to find a traditional publisher for the fantasy. A second collection of my nostalgic, fun and unusual poetry--A follow-up to One Mile North of Normal--may be ready next year. An audiobook of Shelve Under C is in production, narrated by actress Beth Bostic. It will be available in January.

Images Courtesy of Jenny Kalahar.

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