March 2018 Archives

Sure, we all know Hay-on-Wye, but how many other book towns can you name? How about forty-four more? In his new book, Book Towns: Forty-Five Paradises of the Printed Word, author Alex Johnson outlines the world’s biblio-havens, from Hobart, New York, to Featherston, New Zealand, to Borrby, Sweden. This copiously illustrated guidebook offers travel tips and insightful details about each location -- taken as an itinerary, it could make for one heck of a biblio-tour!  

9780711238930 Book_Towns copy.jpgJohnson, also the author of Bookshelf, Improbable Libraries, and another new book, A Book of Book Lists, chatted with me about Book Towns and some of his favorite literary spots around the globe.    

RRB: How did the idea for this book come about? Are you an avid ‘literary tourist’?

AJ: I’ve written several ‘books about books’ and each time I did the research, I kept coming across more and more book towns around the world that were doing really rather well. But nobody had written anything substantial pulling the various parts of the movement together, other than an occasional article online. So basically I wrote the book about them that I wanted to read, which I realize is a bit selfish.

Yes, I’m afraid my sons would confirm that our holidays tend to be a bit book-dominated. That’s partly my upbringing. My father was an English teacher and librarian, and my mother ran a mobile bookshop, so wherever we went on holiday we spent about half of it in secondhand bookshops and always came home with our titchy car crammed with new purchases. I still make a point today of looking up where the nearest good bookstores are once we’ve booked wherever we’re going (though I do it quietly when nobody is looking to avoid my family’s hurtful scorn). There’s also an element of literary pilgrimage too to our vacations, so, for example, when I dropped my son off at an activity camp near Dorchester recently, I made an immediate beeline for the cottage where Thomas Hardy grew up and then the house in which he lived in later life. I think a lot of people are like this though. Well, I hope so.

RRB: How many of these book towns have you been to? Where to next?

AJ: I’ve been to the ones in the UK and a couple in Spain where my in-laws live. They’re remarkable places, spots in the world which give you a bit of hope for the future of civilization after all the terrible stuff in the news grinds you down. The people who have set them up and kept them going are so impressive - none of them have massive funding and they all rely hugely on volunteers. I’d like to go to a lot more but I’ve still got young children to look after so it’ll have to wait until they’re off the payroll and I can escape. I think the likeliest next one will be Hobart -- we’ve got various friends living in that part of the world that we’re planning to visit in the very near future. Obviously, I’ve not told my kids the real reason for going. I have to say that I’m not short of invitations to visit these book towns -- without exception, everybody I spoke to about what they were doing was extremely friendly and insisted that I come to see them, and indeed stay in their houses. That’s quite something to offer a stranger from a different landmass who’s interrupted their day with some idiotic questions.

RRB: Which is your favorite -- or, if that’s impossible to answer, perhaps your top three?

AJ: I’d really like to visit Fjaerland in Norway. The photos of it look absolutely spectacular and one of my best friends who went recently said it was amazing. It was also the book town which really gave birth to the book as it was the one I used to convince the publishers that it would be a subject worth going into in depth. It’s a bit of a cheat, but it would be very pleasant indeed to do a slow mini-tour of all the French ones and compare how different each one’s take is on the concept. And finally, Paju in South Korea. It’s not the typical book town which is usually very rural and beautiful, but there’s something magnetic about a town which is 100% devoted to the production of books.

RRB: I particularly enjoyed reading about Bellprat, Spain, and its Sant Jordi celebration. Tell our readers about it.

AJ: Sant Jordi is marvellous. My father-in-law lives in Catalonia so I’ve been privileged to see plenty of regional celebrations (I nearly broke my glasses taking part in a human pyramid a few years ago), but this is certainly one of my favourites. Every World Book Day on April 23, couples exchange gifts, or more precisely, books (historically it’s a book for the men and a rose for the women, but now it’s books all round really). It’s like a literary Valentine’s Day with bookstalls everywhere, in tiny villages as well as Barcelona, and a lot of literary events are held. A huge number of books, well over a million, are sold in the days running up to it. Booksellers in other countries would do well to copy it! It doesn’t surprise me that Catalonia is home to perhaps the most up and coming book town organization. Within a few years, I think there will be lots more dotted around the region.

RRB: Another surprise was Wunsdorf, Germany, the former headquarters of the German Armed Forces, now dubbed the ‘book and bunker’ town. It sounds intriguing!  Have you visited?

AJ: Sadly not, but my German mother-in-law was amazed to see it in the book when she was reading it because while it has a remarkable military history, it gets very little coverage. That somewhere which was the centre of the Nazi war machine, and then became a virtual enclave of Russia after the second world war could just disintegrate into near oblivion and then be reborn as a book town feels like a plot for a novel that nobody would believe. My eldest son is very keen on German so perhaps I should suggest we all go there for a holiday...

Image courtesy of Quarto

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with a return to the Lilly Library, featuring Rebecca Baumann, Head of Public Services:

baumann-headshot_02.jpgWhat is your role at your institution?

I am the Head of Public Services at Indiana University’s Lilly Library; as such, I oversee all public functions of the library, including reference, instruction, social media, and outreach. I also assist the Director and Associate Director with publicity, exhibition planning, and development. I supervise a team of the hardest-working, smartest, and wittiest women you will ever meet: Maureen Maryanski, Sarah Mitchell, and Isabel Planton.

Before I was in this position, I was the Education and Outreach Librarian; and before I became a librarian, I taught with the IU Department of English for seven years--so it is natural that I see librarianship as inherently pedagogical. Everything we do in Public Services, including reference and exhibitions, serves our mission to teach people how they can understand the past through handling rare books and archival material. In my six years working full time at the Lilly Library, I have personally taught over 600 individual class sessions on rare books and manuscripts, helping thousands of people have moments of wonder, surprise, and new understanding. Our programs of outreach and active learning serve not only IU students and faculty but also K-12 students, members of the community, and just about anyone else who wanders in and is willing to listen to us. All of this is to say that through my various roles at the Lilly Library, my role has essentially remained “teacher.” At the same time, nothing makes me happier than remaining a student as well. I am extremely fortunate to be able to learn every day from some incredible bookmen and bookwomen, including Joel Silver, Erika Dowell, and Jim Canary. I also learn from the library itself, and you can find me (if you don’t get lost) trawling the stacks for new discoveries on pretty much any given day.

How did you get started in rare books?

I came to IU in 2002 to pursue an advanced degree in English Literature. I got my MA and was floundering around in fits and starts with a dissertation, feeling increasingly disillusioned about my own future in academia. During that time, I worked as a student desk attendant at the Lilly Library and had my mind blown on a daily basis by the beautiful, rare, and interesting material passing through my hands and into the hands of our patrons. I started realizing that books as physical objects mattered. I was seeing texts that I had read and written papers about and coming to understand that their physical properties could tell me something about the people who wrote them, printed them, and read them. At the same time, I was stunned by how nice librarians were--that they actually wanted to share knowledge instead of hoard it. In the middle of the recession, feeling like there was no chance of ever getting a job in academia, I decided to enroll in the MLS program at IU with a specialization in special collections.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to readers of FB&C that the classes taught by Joel Silver changed my life. Just imagine getting three-hour versions of “Beyond the Basics” every week, and feel free to writhe with envy! Joel taught me how to collate a book, how to make use of hundreds of reference sources for rare books, how to navigate this at times mazy profession, and, most importantly, how to make a life for myself doing what I love--thinking about, learning about, and sharing rare books and manuscripts.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

I fall deeply and passionately in love with something new on a weekly basis, but I can say that overall I tend to gravitate toward material that was cheap when issued. As much as I swoon over gorgeous and lavish hand-press-era books, what really revs me up are books and ephemera on cheap paper, crammed with tiny type, that show how much people wanted--needed--to read. I am drawn toward the machine-press era because I am very passionate about “books for everyone.” I’m also obsessed with the formation of various genres of fiction, so I love the 19th century as the sort of cradle period of science fiction, weird tales, and detective fiction (and yes, I know there are much earlier precedents--don’t @ me).

One of my favorite collections at the Lilly Library is “London Low Life,” which includes broadsides, pamphlets, periodicals, and books dealing with the seamy underbelly of late Victorian London. We get to meet Boulton and Park, the men who were put on trial for dressing in women’s clothes; Henry Wainwright, the brushmaker who hacked up his mistress and stored her head in a bag; and all sorts of scoundrels, rogues, and saucy ladies. I also love our deep collection of science fiction pulps, including complete or nearly-complete runs of Amazing Stories, Astounding Science Fiction, and Thrilling Wonder Tales. But I suppose my single favorite piece of the collection at this moment is our 1818 first edition of Frankenstein, around which I have recently been building an exhibition (see below).

What do you personally collect?

I am one of those people who has collecting in her DNA. My grandparents collected everything from cheap books to beer cans to bottles of dirt, and I seem to have inherited that gift/curse. While I believe that one need not collect to be a great librarian, for me the development of taste and technique in my own collections is central to my personal philosophy and practice of rare book librarianship, and so I have a number of active collecting areas. My largest collection is of crime, science fiction, horror, and smut paperbacks from the 1940s-60s. I have over 1,000 of these, but my collecting parameters are eccentric at best--basically, the weirder the better. The gem of that collection is probably Panda Bear Passion by Orrie Hitt (you can Google the slightly NSFW cover). I also collect books and magazines related to horror film, and recently purchased issue #1 of Famous Monsters of Filmland, which is a bit of a grail item for me. I am also a huge fan of Centipede Press, and I collect as many of their loving reissues of weird and horror fiction as I can. I collect Arkham House books when I can find them; this collection contains my favorite book that I own, which is a third printing of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness with the bookplate of Thomas Ligotti, inscribed for me by Ligotti, my favorite living horror writer. Finally the collecting area which I most hope to cultivate in the future is a small cabinet collection of late 19th and early 20th-century volumes of weird tales. My most recent acquisition are a this area is a copy of Bessie Kyffin-Taylor’s scarce and neglected collection of supernatural stories From Out of the Silence (1920), which I purchased from my favorite bookslinger, Jonathan Kearns.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I am one of those misfits whose life is almost entirely shaped by books. My hobbies are basically collecting books, reading, and... hmmm, let’s see... thinking about books. I devour massive quantities of fiction in my free time: weird tales, horror, science fiction, crime, or anything that strikes my fancy. I am currently obsessing over the neglected author Rachel Ingells and considering putting together a collection of all her first editions.

Aside from books, I am a horror film fanatic. I have a collection of upwards of 500 horror, science fiction, and exploitation films--and I tend to forget that that is pretty impressive because I’m so focused on books. But if you want to chat about the lesbian vampire craze of the early 1970s, which kaiju would triumph in a battle royale, the nuanced history of Hammer Studios, or the relative likelihood of surviving fast versus slow zomibes, I am your ghoul.

I also have an incredible family: a wife who is as eccentric as I am (one of her hobbies is lock-picking, and she writes about the history of ectoplasm), two dogs (including a Great Pyrenees puppy), and five delightful and devilish cats.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I am excited to see barriers being smashed. Rare books are for everyone, and my experience has taught me that there are so many people who are interested in learning more about rare books and the stories they have to tell. I am excited about so many new people coming into our field as librarians, booksellers, collectors, and fans. Social media allows us to share our interests and the beautiful and rare material we have with a much wider audience (shameless plug to follow the Lilly Library @IULillyLibrary and to follow me @arkhamlibrarian). Social media has helped me find other people out there in my own special niche of weird fiction: other people who go all gooey for books full of protoplasmic monstrosities, slithery tentacles, and ambulatory fungi. The potential for weirdos to find one another has never been greater, and for book people, that is a wonderful thing indeed!

I love reading about the history of book collecting, and one thing I’ve learned is that every generation of collectors think that the golden age has just passed and that the truly “great” books are now either permanently settled in institutions or prohibitively expensive. But what I see now is that the horizons of collectorship are limitless. We are just barely starting to scratch the surface of different kinds of material that can and should be interesting and possible for both libraries and individuals to collect.

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

I am very fortunate to be in close contact with many future librarians. As adjunct faculty with the Department of Information and Library Science at IU, I teach three courses for aspiring librarians: The Book, 1450 to the Present is a survey of 500+ years of printing history and culture; Rare Book Librarianship is a course focused on professionalization, which introduces students to our field and prepares them for the job market; and Rare Book Curatorship is a course which allows students to explore the history of collectorship and begin to develop their own collecting and curatorial techniques.

In my teaching, I try very hard to balance an enthusiasm for the future, an appreciation of the history of our field, and an open-minded willingness to challenge long-held beliefs and expand the field in exciting new ways. Each year brings a more diverse and interesting batch of students into our profession, and I can tell you resoundingly that there is a fantastic array of “bright young librarians” coming up in the field. The best students--and there are many!--are those driven by an insatiable curiosity to learn and a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.

One of the things that excites me most about the future of our field is the increasing amount of conversation and collaboration between booksellers and librarians, and I hope that my own path will include an increasing amount of such collaboration in teaching, exhibitions, and other areas. Continuing a tradition started by Joel Silver, I invited Andrew Gaub of Bruce McKittrick Rare Books and Henry Wessells of James Cummins Bookseller to speak to my class of aspiring librarians last year. Their advice to aspiring librarians: “be curious and learn languages.” I would add: “be a voracious and inquisitive reader of bookseller catalogues.” We have so much to learn from our colleagues in the book trade, and my gratitude for what I have learned and continue to learn from them is boundless. People like Rebecca Romney and Heather O’Donnell of Honey & Wax Booksellers are doing incredible and inspiring work to help encourage future generations of collectors with their collecting prize, and I see more such scholarships and encouragements on the near horizon.

One of my personal goals is to find additional ways for librarians and booksellers to collaborate. Jonathan Kearns has graciously provided a beautiful introduction for my Frankenstein exhibition catalogue (see below), as well as providing a great deal of intellectual and curatorial support for the exhibition’s conception and execution. I will be attending the London Antiquarian Book Fair (my first major fair!) with Jonathan this summer to start to see behind the scenes of what these booksellers do; they are my bibliographic heroes.

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

All of it! Come visit us, and we will show you wonders. If I have to pick just one, I will select our incredible collection of detective fiction, the core of which comes from the library of John Carter, who pioneered collecting in this genre, especially with his bibliographical study of detective fiction in New Paths in Book Collecting (1934). The following year, Scribner’s issued a catalogue devoted to the genre, largely comprised of books Carter himself had collected. If you want to weep, take a gander at the prices in that catalogue! The collection was immediately sold to a woman named Mrs. Van Gerbig. David Randall (who never let the truth get in the way of a good story, so take this with a grain of salt) describes the encounter in his autobiography: “The very day the catalogue was put into the mail a lady walked in, saw the books and promptly bought the entire group. She was not a collector... she just like to read detective stories, and here was a whole batch of them she had never heard of. Her husband had something to do with the police department, she confided, and after reading these she thought it would be nice to present them to the department’s library.” We’ll never know how this plan went awry, but when Mrs. Van Gerbig died, the entire collection of 388 books was intact, and her lawyers sold them back to Scribner’s for the same price she had paid. Scribner’s immediately contacted Dave Randall, who had admired the collection when he was there and had now moved on to become the first Lilly Librarian. He was voraciously buying on the library’s behalf; the year was 1958, two years before the Lilly opened. Randall took the lot. A handful of high spot items which Mr. Lilly had in his collection were traded for 134 wonderful titles.

I often have “we have that?!” moments regarding this collection: rare Fergus Hume novels, The Red Thumb Mark, Lingo Dan, Dorcas Dene in the original wrappers... I could go on all day.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Yes! Our next major exhibition (which I curated) is Frankenstein 200: The Birth, Life, and Resurrection of Mary Shelley’s Monster, opening April 2 and running through December 15. The centerpiece of the exhibition is our stunning copy of the 1818 first edition of Frankenstein in contemporary boards--an exceptionally fine copy purchased in 1939 by J.K. Lilly, Jr. from A.S.W. Rosenbach (who acquired it from the sale of the library of Frank Brewer Bemis).

The exhibition focuses on the way in which Frankenstein was monstrously and magically stitched together from other books. Mary Shelley, almost from her birth, was a voracious reader, and Frankenstein is a mad experiment of piecing together autobiography, travelogue, ghost stories, folklore, and orts of science, philosophy, and poetry that she had read, discussed with her circle of eccentric friends, digested, and repurposed into her own entirely unique intellectual child. The exhibition also highlights the work of Mary Shelley’s parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, and the circle of friends gathered at the Villa Diodati in the stormy summer of 1816 who all contributed seeds to the gestation of the novel: Percy Shelley, Claire Clairmont, Lord Byron, and John Polidori. Within the novel itself, each character is shaped utterly by his or her reading, and our exhibition displays some of the books that molded the novel’s characters as well as its author. The second half of the exhibition focuses on the way in which Frankenstein has become a nexus, a node, a universe unto itself, spawning and inspiring new texts, new ideas, and new monsters in a dizzying array of configurations that would baffle even the maddest mixer of potions, molder of homunculi, or splicer of genes.

I also had the thrilling (and exhausting) opportunity to write an exhibition catalogue, published by IU Press and due out in mid-April.

(Photo credit Zach Downey)

Mark Dion Library for the Birds of London.JPG

Mark Dion. The Library for the Birds of London (detail) 2018. Mixed media; steel, wood, books, zebra finches, and found objects. Installation view of Mark Dion: Theatre of the Natural World at Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2018. Photo: Jeff Spicer/PA Wire


At Mark Dion’s new exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London (through May 13) visitors can step inside The Library for the Birds of London, a giant birdcage, library of sorts, and aviary -- a temporary home to 22 zebra finches as well as 600 books devoted to ornithology, environmentalism, literature, and the natural sciences. It is a thought-provoking and joyful bombardment of birds and historically important books about birds that challenges viewers to engage with the social finches (their chirps are projected with help of microphones suspended from the cage).


Mark Dion Library for the Birds of London 1.JPG

Mark Dion. Hunting Blind (The Librarian) 2008. Mixed media, 522x180x180cm. Installation view of Mark Dion: Theatre of the Natural World at Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2018. Photo: Jeff Spicer/PA Wire


Although the books aren’t rare themselves, the overall effect is to create a discussion about the role and history of the naturalist, scientist, and explorer as communicator and processor of nature. Dion’s artwork is usually comprised of often large-scale installations that play with our cultural ideas of the natural world and how we attempt to make order of it in personal and institutional collections. In this latest exhibition, a retrospective of installations since 2000, Dion continues to plumb his obsession with cabinets of curiosities, natural specimens, and the books about them and how nature is organized, managed, controlled, and exploited by humans. 


Mark Dion Hunting Blind (The Librarian).JPG

Mark Dion. The Library for the Birds of London (detail) 2018. Mixed media; steel, wood, books, zebra finches, and found objects. Installation view of Mark Dion: Theatre of the Natural World at Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2018. Photo: Jeff Spicer/PA Wire


The majority of the installations are oozing with books; there are books in an installation set up like a naturalist’s study, as well as a hunting blind raised off the floor that serves as a library. Each installation provokes and pokes fun at our attempt to understand and classify our natural world. Dion’s work both brings nature closer to us, and to our attempts to understand what nature is -- the pursuit of knowledge can simultaneously honor and harm our environment, the desire for understanding can be beautiful and enriching, and it can also be disturbing. There are many ways to interpret Dion’s newest work, but for the book-and-bird obsessed, it may approach the ecstatic experience of spotting a rare species in the wild.

Five auctions to watch this week, leading off with a Wednesday, March 21 sale of Fine Books and Manuscripts at Bonhams London. The 408 lots include items from the collections of Charles Benson, Esq. (lots 45-65), Capt. J.D.G. Fortescue (lots 110-154), art dealer Kenneth John Hewett (lots 155-202), and Frieda Hughes (lots 301-408), as well as a private collection of ferns, seaweeds, and mosses (lots 218-249). Sylvia Plath’s own copy of The Bell Jar is estimated at £60,000-80,000, and her Hermes 3000 typewriter could sell for £40,000-60,000. An 1871 Charles Darwin letter to his son George is estimated at £30,000-40,000.


On Thursday, March 22, Swann Galleries sells Autographs, in 260 lots. Leading the way are a 1778 George Washington letter to Gen. James Clinton (estimated at $25,000-35,000), a secretarial manuscript of Walt Whitman’s last poem with the poet’s corrections and signature ($20,000-30,000), and a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Gen. Nathanael Greene written in February 1781 ($15,000-25,000).


Quite a mix at PBA Galleries on March 22, with a sale of Americana - Travel & Exploration - World History - Cartography, in 435 lots. A rare Mormon pamphlet, The Voice of Truth (1844), containing the last sermon delivered by Joseph Smith, is estimated at $30,000-50,000, while two early letters by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. could fetch $20,000-30,000. Lots 377-435 are being sold without reserve, so bargains may well be a possibility.




Also on Thursday, Forum Auctions sells Fine Books and Works on Paper, in 601 lots. Among the projected top sellers are some 125 drawings of Irish lighthouses and islands by lighthouse commissioner Robert Callwell (£6,000-8,000), a collection of the works of Col. Henry Hope Crealock (£5,000-8,000) and a rather worn copy of the first edition, first printing of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (£6,000-8,000).


Finally, on Saturday, March 24, Addison & Sarova sells Rare Books & Paper, in 186 lots. Items to watch include a 1578 Gerard de Jode world map ($10,000-15,000) and a 1502 Milan edition of John Mandeville’s travels ($30,000-40,000). 


Image credit: Forum Auctions

Nobody ever says “men artists.” Females in the creative arts, however, are often described as women painters, women cartoonists, or women illustrators. Why not just call them artists, illustrators, or cartoonists? 


Drawn-to-Purpose-Book-Cover copy.jpgThat question came up at a panel discussion yesterday at the Library of Congress honoring the publication of Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists by Martha H. Kennedy (University Press of Mississippi, 2018). The book complements and expands on an exhibition of the same name currently on view at the library and curated by Kennedy, curator of popular and applied graphic art in the library’s prints and photographs division. 


“When we say ‘women illustrators,’ we create a separate category that’s problematic,” said panelist Whitney Sherman, illustrator and director of the MFA in illustration practice program at the Maryland Institute College of Art. 


The “Drawn to Purpose” exhibition and companion book can be seen as part of a larger push to make the work of female cartoonists and illustrators more visible. In the commercial publishing sector, identity has become more and more marketable--which gives some artists pause.


“It’s a burgeoning industry of recognizing women,” Sherman said. “I don’t want to be a trend. I want to be part of the whole.”


Barbara Brandon-Croft, creator of the strip “Where I’m Coming From,” talked about her experience as a black female cartoonist. “Where I’m Coming From,” a groundbreaking strip that featured a group of African-American female friends talking about their lives, made its first appearance in 1989 in the Detroit Free Press and ran until 2005 in national syndication. When Universal Press Syndicate was trying to sell the strip, Brandon-Croft recalled editors would say “But we already have ‘Cathy,’” as though there was room for only one cartoon about women and their lives--even though it was fine for the same papers to run both “Heathcliff” and “Garfield.” 


Being black and being female, Brandon-Croft said, makes a historically uneven playing field even harder to get traction on. “If you want your point of view heard, you have to make yourself heard, and nobody likes a loud woman, it seems,” she said. 


Jillian Tamaki, illustrator, comic artist, and co-creator of “This One Summer,” graduated from the Alberta College of Art and Design in 2003. Working in the largely female field of YA and ‘kidlit’ illustration, she said, she still sees gender bias play out in who gets book deals, money, awards, and the kind of attention that builds high-profile careers. “It’s a matriarchy in some ways, but inequalities persist, especially when power comes into it,” she said. 


Tamaki said, “There’s a reason the canon is the way it is and looks the way it does. I think you need to aggressively reshape it.” Publishing, she said, needs “to be more intentional and more aware” of existing power structures that promote some artists at the expense of others. “There’s a lot of questioning of those structures” now, she said, especially by up and coming artists and readers who want to see their own experiences valued and reflected by the industry.


Social media has accelerated that process, and boosted careers, by building communities and putting illustrators and cartoonists directly in touch with people who appreciate their work. The Internet has its dangerous corners--stories of online abuse directed at women abound in almost every field--and raises some complicated arts-versus-marketing questions for artists of any gender, who can feel pressure to brand themselves as part of their work. 


“It can be really scary,” Tamaki said. “But I can’t imagine my career without it.”


Many cartoonists and illustrators use Instagram and Tumblr as platforms for sharing their work now, the panelists said. That’s where a lot of the action is--and it’s one of the biggest challenges for curators thinking about how to present and preserve the contemporary work being created by cartoonists and illustrators of all genders.


-Jennifer Howard is a writer based in Washington, D.C. She wrote a feature story on the “Drawn to Purpose” exhibition for FB&C’s spring 2018 issue. Follow her on Twitter: @JenHoward


Image: Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Pausing only to put our snowshoes and extra warm jumpers away, Marcia and I went to the airport to go to the SELAC fair (Salon européen du livre ancien et de la gravure de Colmar). 


Colmar is a very nice little town in Alsace, just inside France. The border is so close that in the airport you choose whether to walk through customs into France, Germany, or Switzerland. 


Once there, we had a lovely time with 40 dealers from France and Germany. Having met up with Kurt from Catawiki, we set off around the fair. Two things particularly stood out for me here. One was the sheer number of excellent limited, illustrated editions by French authors (often in very limited numbers indeed), and the number of exhibitors who displayed beautiful visual pieces. Indeed, for me, this was almost a varied and fascinating art exhibition. 




One of the first stands to catch my eye was Antiquariat Barbian, from Saarbrucken with some marvellous Chagall colour lithographs printed by Mourlot of Paris, such as this editions of Le Monstres de Notre Dame (above).




Another stand with striking images was a local exhibitor librairie le Cadratin of Colmar. They had some wonderful images of the Alps, including this dramatic ascent of Chamonix by Adolphe Braun. 


chatillon.JPGMy final image was from a series of caricatures. Pierre Chatillon was a Swiss national, who had been imprisoned during the first world war for a less than flattering image of Kaiser Willhelm. Whilst incarcerated, he produced a fabulous series of original works, all caricatures of his gaolers and other German officers. This delightful image was my favourite (above). These were offered, along with some original Gustave Dore illustrations (below) by librairie Pierre Calvet.


dore copy.jpg


Naturally I couldn’t let the opportunity pass and brought far too many books. In fact so many that we had book extra baggage on the plane home and dragged Kurt along on a trip to Strasbourg in order to purchase a suitcase. Marcia was most displeased! My favourite purchase kept up with the theme of artistic items -- I picked up a lovely photograph album showing the carnival floats at Nice in 1897.




Money and energy depleted, we set of home once again, to briefly rest before packing up our stock, and preparing for the Maastricht MAPF and TEFAF next weekend. 


--Marc Harrison and his wife Marcia run Harrison-Hiett Rare Books in The Netherlands. Images courtesy of the author. 


Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Isabel Planton, Public Services Librarian at the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington:

Isabel Planton in Slocum Room.jpgWhat is your role at your institution?

I am the Public Services Librarian at the Lilly Library. My role in the library has been described as a “Jill of All Trades.” I rather like that phrase because I think it captures the eclectic nature of my job. My primary responsibilities are reference and instruction. The Public Services Department stays very busy, hosting approximately 250-300 class and tours per year. Every day here is different. I never know what the “tone” of the day will be until the Reading Room opens, but it’s always lively. Sometimes I’m preparing for or giving a class presentation. Sometimes I’m helping my colleagues set up for multi-room sessions or an after-hours event. Other times, I’m strategizing with colleagues about how to answer a reference email or answering patrons’ questions in the Reading Room.

I just recently turned over supervision of the front desk and Reading Room attendants to my wonderful colleague Sarah McElroy Mitchell after seven years of having this as a job duty. I’m having a little trouble relinquishing control of the schedule! As much as I complained about making the student desk schedule each semester, I really enjoyed working closely with graduate students as their supervisor in that position. Luckily, I will continue to help with the supervision of the graduate students who work as Reference Assistants in the Public Services Department.

How did you get started in rare books?

When I started college at Ohio University, I had not even decided on a major. I was really quite adrift. Once I decided to get an English degree, I had to figure out what I would ultimately do for work. I went to one of those sessions for English majors titled something like “What do I do with this English degree?” and one of the options presented was librarianship. Until that moment, I had never considered librarianship as a career. Something clicked that day and it seemed like the right path for me. I talked to my advisor who put me in touch with two librarians at the Ohio University library. I met with both of them and decided to do an internship with Judy Connick who worked in Public Services at the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections at OU. She was my first mentor and I credit her for launching me on this career path. After my internship, I stayed on as a student employee working with Judy for another year. During that time, I processed collections, worked through the backlog, and paged materials in a book vault that would plunge into darkness every fifteen minutes if I didn’t remember to flick the light switch. I couldn’t believe a place so strange and wonderful really existed and that I could one day work somewhere similar. Judy was passionate about working with rare books and special collections and it was infectious. She encouraged me to get my MLS and got me interested in the idea of eventually attending Rare Book School.

I came to Indiana University so that I could take classes at the Lilly Library. Some of my best classes during that time were the ones I took with Joel Silver and Erika Dowell learning about rare book librarianship and book history. However, I was still floundering around a bit about my future, trying to decide if I would be a special collections librarian or a public librarian. I took classes toward both paths. After I graduated, at the height of the recession, I quickly took a job in the Interlibrary Loan Department at the Wells Library (the main library) at IU. A few years later, a job in Public Services at the Lilly Library opened and I jumped at the opportunity. I started at the Lilly Library as a Reference Associate in 2011. I had a job upgrade within the department in 2016 and then was hired as the Public Services Librarian in 2017.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

This is very difficult. My enthusiasms tend to change depending on what I’m working on at the moment. Right now, I’m spending a lot of time with maps and atlases in preparation for some upcoming classes. I love the 1482 Cosmographia which is the first Ptolemaic atlas printed in Germany. It’s one of my favorite books to show in class. I’m also currently a fan of the courtship and dating manuals in our collection. I recently put together a small exhibition of these materials and I had a lot of fun reading the advice, especially advice for women.

What do you personally collect?

I’ve never really had the collecting impulse when it comes to books. I grew up on library books and it never occurred to me to buy books to own until a few years ago. I love books but for some reason I don’t have a personal desire to collect them.

What I do collect is vintage polyester shirts. I started collecting them in the late 1990s when I spent a lot of time shopping at Goodwill stores. Some have come and gone from my collection over the years, but I now have a small, well-curated collection after years of trial and error. I’m also an accidental collector of cat figurines. I have never sought out a single cat figurine in my life. People just keep giving them to me.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I enjoy biking, yoga, dancing, live music, reading, British TV shows, and skeeball. I was the state skeeball champion in 2017 (but the Bloomington league is the only one in Indiana).

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I’m excited by the fact that the Lilly Library seems to become more relevant on campus every year. I’ve worked at the Lilly Library for seven years and I’ve seen a marked increase in class visits and use of our collections during that time. I know I must sound like a broken record at this point, but in my experience, the increase in use of special collections can’t be over-emphasized. It’s our greatest daily challenge and the best thing about the job.

There’s never a dull moment when working with rare books. I love my job because it requires both mental and physical fitness, no two days are the same, there’s always something new to learn or a new (or old) book to see, and I get to help a wide variety of people. I really believe there are more characters in the world of rare books and special collections. I enjoy being around the quirky, unique, intelligent people who are attracted to this work.

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

I get to meet a lot of future Bright Young Librarians through the Department of Information and Library Science here at IU. Many students take classes at the Lilly Library towards the Rare Books and Manuscripts Specialization and work here in various student positions. I have really enjoyed supervising many of these students as desk attendants as they have come through the MLS program. Based on my experience working with the next generation of Rare Book and Special Collections librarians, I believe the future of the profession will be bright if we are able to continue mentoring new, enthusiastic students. We also need to share with them the institutional knowledge of our libraries. I worry that massive shifts in staffing might mean generational and institutional knowledge are lost with the retirements of key figures. There are smart, capable, driven students entering the field right now but I don’t think we should discount the work of our predecessors. I hope to see a balance between institutional knowledge gained through years of experience working with collections and the fresh ideas of new and diverse colleagues in the field.

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

I did an exhibition a few years ago on our Cycling manuscript collection. It’s a small but fascinating collection of trade catalogues, photos, posters, and correspondence about bicycles. I learned a lot about the incredible popularity of bicycles at the turn of the last century. Many American towns (including my hometown) had their own bicycle manufacturing plants! I was also fascinated by the early adoption of cycling among women and the ways women’s fashion changed to allow for safer cycling.

The finding aid for the collection is available here.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

I’m very excited about an exhibition I worked on with my colleagues Maureen Maryanski and Rebecca Baumann. It’s a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the year 1968. We saw such great materials while preparing this exhibition and the end result is visually stunning. As I mentioned (above), I also put together a small exhibition of courtship and dating manuals for Valentine’s Day. It’s been quite well received, which makes me think that I should work on a larger project focused on these manuals in the future. I’m very much looking forward to our upcoming main gallery exhibition on the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein, curated by Rebecca Baumann and opening April 2nd.

[Image courtesy of Isabel Planton; photo credit Maureen Maryanski]

It’s not an easy job, but someone has to do it: I spent Friday and Saturday in New York City browsing the antiquarian book fairs. This was my ninth year at the fairs, and they have never failed to amaze.

IMG_0135 copy.jpgIt’s simple enough to name my personal favorite from Friday at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair: the impossible-to-miss Jules Galet’s El Cuerpo del Hombre...1843-1846, illustrated with 193 striking lithographs, priced at $4,000 in the booth of Deborah Coltham Rare Books. There it was, face out, so to speak, and absolutely stunning.  

Atwood.jpgAnother favorite was a pristine, signed first US edition of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, in Fred Marcellino’s iconic dust jacket, brought by Caliban Book Shop. It was $500, and it looks like it was sold before fair’s end.

Brass copy.jpgUnder the glass at David Brass Rare Books, the gorgeous blue morocco Tina Miura binding of Bernard C. Middleton’s A Catalog of the Thirty-Three Miniature Designer Bindings of You Can Judge a Book By Its Cover (1998), with varicolored onlaid morocco “books,” prompted me to stop and take a closer look. The asking price was $8,500.

Two more that tempted: a copy of famous book hunter and author Vincent Starrett’s Brillig (1949) with a neat bookplate, seen in Jeff Bergman’s booth, and the advance reading copy of the first British edition of Nicholson Baker’s novel, A Box of Matches (2002), complete with a promotional book of matches, admired in Ken Lopez’s booth.

IMG_5172 copy.jpgOn Saturday, the NYC Book and Ephemera Fair at its new Times Square location was hopping (pictured above). Great offerings all around, and dealers seemed happy with the new space. It was biblio-déjà vu for me and my collector husband, who turned up a publisher’s dummy of John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra--one of his favorite books--at Colebrook Book Barn’s booth. (At this fair two years ago, we unearthed another very cool dummy.) We also picked up a few treasures with Adrienne Horowitz Kitts at Austin Abbey Rare Books, one of which is a relatively inexpensive, little illustrated book titled Gutenberg and the Art of Printing (1871), in a beautiful decorated publishers’ binding. The author is one Emily C. Pearson, perhaps a research topic for another day. Prints Charming Soho, Inc. took a novel approach, exhibiting piles of vintage paper suited for framing.

IMG_5173 copy.jpgImages: (Top) courtesy of Rebecca Rego Barry; (Middle, upper) courtesy of Caliban Book Shop; (Middle, lower) courtesy of David Brass Rare Books; (Both at bottom) courtesy of Brett Barry.

A lighter week this time around, with just a trio of auctions to watch:


On Tuesday, March 13, Swann Galleries sells 19th & 20th Century Prints & Drawings, in 570 lots. Edward Hopper’s 1919 etching “House by a River” leads the pre-sale estimates, at $100,000-150,000. A 1949 Picasso lithograph, “La Colombe,” rates a  $50,000-80,000 estimate. A fair number of Dalí, Miró, and Chagall prints could also fare well.


The following day at Sotheby’s London, the Political Cartoon Collection of Jeffrey Archer, in 225 lots. A 1798 anti-Jacobin cartoon by James Gillray, one of just four completed from a series titled “Consequences of a Successful French Invasion,” is estimated at £20,000-30,000. A number of Max Beerbohm designs will go to the block, including the 1929 “Prime Ministers in My Day” (pictured below) and 1943 “Mr. Churchill” (both estimated at £6,000-8,000).


beerbohm.pngHeritage Auctions sells Western Americana and Texana on Saturday, March 17. One of just three documented copies of an 1835 broadside containing a message by Texas Governor Henry Smith has an opening bid of $15,000. Francis Moore, Jr.’s Map and Description of Texas (1840), which includes the first printed illustration of the ruins of the Alamo, opens at $10,000.


Image credit: Sotheby’s

Release The Kraken! A NYABF Preview

Those feeling a bit windswept by the weather these days may do well to head over to the NYABF at the Park Avenue Armory and peek into Abby Schoolman’s exhibit at booth A32, where she’s highlighting some exciting contemporary art books and bindings. In addition to her stable of works by the likes of Mark Cockram and Tim Ely, Schoolman is introducing her latest Instagram find, The Kraken, by thirty-year-old Spanish paper artist Carla Busquets.

Kraken!.JPGThis one-of-a-kind book includes eight original drawings rendered in black ink on four folios mounted on five wooden dowels.The piano hinge structure is based on innovations by book artist Hedi Kyle and the piece is signed by the artist on the back of the last leaf.

“I mostly work with paper,” Busquet explains in Schoolman’s catalogue. “I love the versatility of the material, how easy it is to manipulate and also the skill required to turn it into delicate work.” She also looks to the natural world for inspiration, and in The Kraken, Busquet looked to the massive, fearsome sea creature of the deep that was believed to capsize seagoing vessels since the time of Odysseus. In this rendering, the kraken’s massive tentacles churn the black waves, ominously approaching a doomed schooner.

Formerly a conservator in the UK, Canada, and Spain, Busquets opened her own studio, la Frivé, last year where she hosts workshops for paper artists of all ages in addition to practicing her craft.

Bonus: this kraken won’t swamp your book-buying budget, nicely priced at $500.

If you’ve got time and energy to spare after rummaging through the NYABF’s wares, head down to Pier 36 where the annual Art on Paper show focuses on contemporary art.          


Image courtesy of Abby Schoolman

French author Victor Hugo was, it seems, a militant supporter of American abolitionist John Brown. A rare first edition of a pamphlet written by Hugo and retaining its original photograph of Hugo’s striking line drawing of the 1859 hanging of Brown, is one of the highlights at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, which opens tonight at 5 p.m.


hugo brown 2 copy.jpgPrior to Brown’s execution, Hugo sent a letter to the London Evening News decrying the decision to hang Brown. He wrote:


”...When we reflect on what Brown, the liberator, the champion of Christ, has striven to effect, and when we remember that he is about to die, slaughtered by the American Republic, that crime assumes an importance co-extensive with that of the nation which commits it -- and when we say to ourselves that this nation is one of the glories of the human race; that, like France, like England, like Germany, she is one of the great agents of civilization; that she sometimes even leaves Europe in the rear by the sublime audacity of some of her progressive movements; that she is the Queen of an entire world, and that her brow is irradiated with a glorious halo of freedom, we declare our conviction that John Brown will not die; for we recoil horror-struck from the idea of so great a crime committed by so great a people...

For -- yes, let America know it, and ponder on it well -- there is something more terrible than Cain slaying Abel: It is Washington slaying Spartacus!”

hugo brown copy.jpgThese sentiments and others that followed were widely reprinted and then collected in this 1861 pamphlet, published in Paris. It will be offered at the book fair by Librairie Le Feu Follet for $3,000.


Images courtesy of the NYABF and Librairie Le Feu Follet

It’s Rare Book Week 2018 in NYC. If you’re visiting for the book fair this weekend, there are numerous fascinating exhibitions at a variety of institutions to check out while you’re in town. For a guide to all that’s on offer this week, be sure to bookmark our dedicated Rare Book Week site here.


Below are several exhibition highlights, split into a section for medievalists and a section for 20th century enthusiasts.



For medievalists:


1) The Codex and Crafts in Late Antiquity.

Location: Bard Graduate Center

Examines “the structural, technical, and decorative features of the major types of codices--the wooden tablet codex, the single-gathering codex, and the multigathering codex.” On view through July 8.


2) Talking at the Court, on the Street, in the Bedroom: Vernacular Manuscripts of the Middle Ages

Location: Les Enluminures

Illuminated manuscript exhibition of 36 manuscripts that “provide viewers unique access to the authentic, spontaneous vision of people in medieval France, Italy, Germany, the Low Countries, and Britain.” On view through March 16.


3) Now and Forever: The Art of Medieval Time

Illuminated manuscript exhibition that “explores how people told time in the Middle Ages and what they thought about it. The manuscripts range in date from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries and come from all the major countries of Europe.”

Location: The Morgan Library. On view through April 29.



For 20th century enthusiasts:


1) Tennessee Williams: No Refuge but Writing

Location: The Morgan Library

Exhibition that “reveals the playwright’s creative process through original drafts, private diaries, photographs, and production stills.” On view through May 13.


2) Hotbed

Location: New York Historical Society

“An installation of artifacts and images of bohemian life in Greenwich Village.” On view through March 25.


3) Power in Print

Location: New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

“Explores the art of the Black Power movement poster, showcasing a variety of aesthetics, styles, and messaging strategies.” On view through March 31.


4) The New York World of Willa Cather

Location: New York Society Library

Exhibition highlights include 

  • Charging cards listing the books checked out by Cather and her lifelong companion Edith Lewis during their twenty-year membership;
  • an essay by Truman Capote describing his humorous meeting with Cather at the Library during a 1942 snowstorm

On view through: August 31

Well, it’s officially Rare Book Week in New York! As we’ve done for the past few years now, we’ve put together a handy guide to the book fairs, auctions, exhibitions, and other eating/drinking/browsing opportunities available to those who make the annual biblio-pilgrimage. It’s all here.

Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 7.39.31 PM.pngBut that’s not all. There are two more events worth putting on your literary itinerary.

On Thursday, March 8, at 2:30-3:30 pm, just prior to the NYABF’s preview night, antiquarian bookseller Justin Croft will be delivering the 2018 Grolier Club Rare Book Week lecture: “Published without Publicity,” a personal view of the privately produced manuscript book.

And on Sunday, March 11, at 10:00 a.m., the ABAA Women’s Initiative will host Collections and Women: A Panel Discussion at the Park Avenue Armory. Panelists Elizabeth Denlinger (curator, NYPL), Sarah Gordon (postdoctoral fellow in women’s history, New-York Historical Society), and Molly Schwartzburg (curator, UVA) will address some of the many facets of women and collecting, in a wide-ranging discussion moderated by antiquarian bookseller Nina Musinsky.

A very busy auction schedule this week, with eight sales of note to keep an eye on.


At Dominic Winter Auctioneers on Wednesday, March 7, Printed Books, Maps & Caricatures, in 575 lots. A first edition of Jane Austen’s Emma could lead the bidding, with estimates at £5,000-8,000. A 1715 Oxford Bible once owned by poet Thomas Gray is estimated at £1,000-1,500.


Also on Wednesday, Heritage Auctions hosts a Rare Books Signature Auction in New York, in 639 lots. An inscribed first edition of The Great Gatsby has an opening bid of $50,000, while a Borges essay manuscript has a posted reserve of $20,000.


On Thursday, March 8, Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books at Swann Galleries, in 273 lots. The first illustrated edition of the Poeticon Astronomicon (Venice, 1482) rates a $15,000-20,000 estimate to lead the way, but several other incunable titles will be worth keeping an eye on. These include a copy of the earliest extant chess manual (c. 1496-7, pictured below).



Kestenbaum & Company will sell Fine Judaica on Thursday, in 356 lots. The sale will include paintings, posters, printed books, manuscripts, autographs, and ceremonial objects. Lots 291-307 have been deaccesioned from the Living Torah Museum in Brooklyn.


Rounding out Thursday’s trio of sales is an auction of Fine Literature & Fine Books at PBA Galleries, in 360 lots. Notable lots include a first edition of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath ($3,000-5,000) and a copy of the 1882 author’s signed edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass ($2,500-3,500).


Friday, March 9, sees another pair of auctions: Dominic Winter Auctioneers hosts a sale titled Photography: The First 150 Years, in 491 lots, including the John Hannavy Collection of Victorian Photographs & Cased Images. Julia Margaret Cameron’s portrait of Sir John Frederick William Herschel (one of several Cameron photographs availabel) is estimated at £30,000-50,000. Herbert Ponting, Roger Fenton, and many other key photographers are also well represented.


In New York on Friday, Bonhams sells Extraordinary Books and Manuscripts. There are just thirty-three lots in the sale, but the use of “extraordinary” in this title seems by no means misplaced: nearly all of the lots would be worth a full post in their own right. An unpublished Isaac Newton alchemical manuscript ($200,000-300,000), the Bible on which Ulysses S. Grant took the presidential oath of office ($80,000-120,000), a violin which belonged to Albert Einstein ($100,000-150,000), and a copy of the 1478 Rome Cosmographia ($600,000-800,000) are among the items on offer.


Finally, on March 10, Heritage Auctions sells the second part of the David and Janice Frent Collection of Political & Presidential Americana, in 509 lots. A good range of memorabilia here again, as in the first sale from this collection earlier.


Image credit: Swann Galleries

Need a literary justification to visit the Caribbean this spring? Consider the NGC Bocas Lit Festival, taking place in downtown Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago. Billed as the region’s premier literature festival, the Lit Fest is devoted to developing and promoting Caribbean authors by hosting five lively days of author panels, workshops, film screenings, and performances. Held at the National Library and Old Fire Station, the festival will run from April 25-29 and is free to the public. 

In addition, NGC organizers will be announcing the 2018 prizes for Caribbean literature on April 28. Launched in 2011, these annual awards recognize the previous year’s most notable additions to the Caribbean canon. Last year’s winners included Jamaican poet Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal (University of Nebraska Press), Augustown by Kei Miller (Weidenfeld and Nicolson) took home the top prize for fiction, and Virtual Glimpses into the Past/A Walk Back in Time: Snapshots of the History of Trinidad and Tobago by Angelo Bissessarsingh (Queen Bishop Publishing) won for best non-fiction work.




The overall winner receives an award of $10,000, while category winners each receive a cash prize of $3,000. Eligible submissions must have been first published in English in 2017 and written by a single living author who either holds Caribbean citizenship or was born in the Caribbean. (Though Francophone authors hailing from Haiti, Guadeloupe, and Martinique aren’t necessarily eligible unless they write in English, their work can be considered for the Prix littéraire des Caraϊbes et du Tout-Monde and the other prestigious French awards like the Prix Goncourt.)                                                                                                                                        
The NGC Lit Fest goals are to both celebrate the Caribbean’s literary achievements while also maintaining the region’s literacy rates, which hover around 97 to 99 percent of the overall population. Haiti remains the exception, where the literacy rate is near 60 percent, despite a rich two-hundred-year history of producing talented writers like Toussaint Louverture, Jean Price-Mars, Dany Laferriere, Jacques Roumain, and Marie-Celie Agnant.                                            


Need another reason to book a flight? Check out this interview  with Trinidad and Tobago native Tracey Baptiste, author of The Jumbies YA series. She spoke with my daughter, Abgail, in late January about Caribbean folklore and how it inspires her books. 


Jumbie 1.JPG

Lost books, medieval manuscripts, and secret archives are favorite topics for novelists, and we bibliophiles can’t seem to get enough of them. I’ve read three varieties of bibliofiction recently, all entertaining, and each quite different from the others.  

9780735224322(1) copy.jpgFirst up: Lost Books. I heard about a new novel called The Infinite Future from an essay the author, Tim Wirkus, recently wrote titled “Our Obsession with Lost Books and How They Often Disappoint.” In it, he gives a perfect summary of his novel: “Wondering what it would be like to track down and actually find a legendary manuscript, I started work on a story featuring a reclusive science fiction writer named Edward Salgado-MacKenzie, and three enthusiastic/ obsessive fans of his work who stumble upon his long-lost proposal for a never-published novel called The Infinite Future. The three devotees track rumors of the writer from São Paulo to Orange County to Eastern Idaho, recounting as they do tales from their own lives and summaries of their favorite Salgado-MacKenzie short stories.” Now, sci-fi may not be your thing; it isn’t mine, either. But the novel is stunningly inventive and great fun to read. Comparisons have been made to Ursula Le Guin and Roberto Bolaño, to which I would add Italo Calvino, particularly his If on a winter’s night a traveler.   

Scribe HC.jpgSecond: Medieval Manuscripts. The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer was published last year, and a paperback edition was just released. It was on my ‘TBR’ pile for a few months before I got to it, and once I did, I could hardly put it down. It begins in present day New York City where thirty-something neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato is called to Siena, Italy, to inherit her art historian brother’s cottage. While there, she continues his research on the Tuscan town’s medieval history. She finds fourteenth-century fresco painter Gabriele Accorsi particularly intriguing, especially when she notices a familiar face in one of his works. Before long, Beatrice finds herself transported to Siena in the year 1347, where she is vastly underdressed, but she has a good grasp of Italian and a talent for calligraphy, which lands her in a scriptorium after a kind nun takes her in. Of course, Beatrice will cross paths with Accorsi, and romance will ensue. But there are still mysteries to unearth--the Medici family plays a role--and the author does a tremendous job in plotting and weaving. The result is an enormously satisfying novel. I missed the characters as soon as I turned the final page.   

9781681776415.jpgThird: Secret Archives (plus a Lost Book). You could say The Bookworm by Mitch Silver is ripped from the headlines, or is it buried under a Cold War blanket? Largely set in Russia, the story is fueled by a worthy premise: Hitler positioned his army (and lost the war) based on poetic prophecies inscribed in his Bible. A set of long-forgotten audio tapes stored at the Russian State Military Archives and narrated by British actor Noel Coward pulls Russian scholar Lara Klimt, aka “the bookworm,” into the fray. As she sets out to uncover Coward’s plot, she discovers that current-day politicos are a little too intensely interested in her research. Turns out there’s collusion! And a buffoon of an American president, too. Lara is a strong central character, but the rest of this political ‘thriller’ comes off as a bit boilerplate.     

Images via Penguin Random House; Simon & Schuster; and Pegasus Books

Auction Guide