Former antiquarian bookseller and book collector--we profiled his Lewis Carroll collection in our spring 2014 issue--Charlie Lovett launched his fiction writing career with his 2013 debut, The Bookman’s Tale, which became a New York Times bestseller. He followed up with the Austen-inspired First Impressions (2014), and more recently with The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge (2016). Now Lovett has a new book to offer, The Lost Book of the Grail, to be published by Viking tomorrow, and it is his best work yet.
Set in Trollope’s fictional cathedral/university town of Barchester, this bibliomystery immediately enchants those with a weakness for old books and church bells. Arthur Prescott is a 40-year-old literature teacher with serious luddite tendencies and a borderline obsession with King Arthur and Holy Grail mythology. He is most suited to days spent in the rare book room of Barchester Cathedral Library, punctuated by drinks with fellow book collectors and cathedral services (morning prayers, Evensong, compline). His favorite volume is a 1634 William Stansby edition of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, though its “leather binding was badly worn at the joints and corners, and nearly two inches of the lower spine was lacking.”
Enter Bethany Davis, a loquacious American fourteen years his junior, sent to Barchester to digitize pre-Reformation Christian manuscripts, courtesy of some Midwestern billionaire. Obviously these opposites attract, although suspicions abound. While university officials contemplate the sale of the manuscripts once the scanning is completed, Arthur sets off to uncover a secret he believes can save the books.
Lovett layers his narrative with quick dips into Barchester’s history, as Arthur and his clever conspirators unravel a mystery spanning more than a millennium. These characters are lively and relatable, and the novel’s pace is spot-on. The Lost Book of the Grail is truly a page-turner for bibliophiles.
And though we’re told to ‘never judge a book by its cover,’ this one is pretty terrific, with its cut-paper, antique map, and manuscript detailing.
Image courtesy of Viking.
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Former antiquarian bookseller and book collector--we profiled his Lewis Carroll collection in our spring 2014 issue--Charlie Lovett launched his fiction writing career with his 2013 debut, The Bookman’s Tale, which became a New York Times bestseller. He followed up with the Austen-inspired First Impressions (2014), and more recently with The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge (2016). Now Lovett has a new book to offer, The Lost Book of the Grail, to be published by Viking tomorrow, and it is his best work yet.
It would be difficult to contrive a more felicitous title for the Fine Books readership than N. John Hall’s recently published Bibliophilia: An Epistolary Novel of One Man’s Obsession with Book Collecting (David R. Godine, softcover with flaps, $18.95). The novel follows the daily exploits of New Yorker Larry Dickerson, who takes up book collecting late in life. Readers of Hall’s 2011 novel, Correspondence, will recall Larry as the retired bank clerk who bumbled into the world of rare books and manuscripts after inheriting a trove of letters from his ancestor to various important Victorian authors. In Bibliophilia, the same likable if unpolished character again faces a steep learning curve.
We jump right into the action on the very first page when Larry emails a friend at Christie’s auction house to announce, “I am going to become a rare book collector.” He begins by making all the rookie mistakes, like buying American first editions of Trollope instead of English first editions, all of which will tickle readers who have even a little collecting experience. As another Christie’s contact warns Larry, “...just because a book is old doesn’t mean it’s worth anything.”
Larry puzzles over bibliographies and inscribed editions, keeping meticulous track of purchases made and prices paid and conveying the information via email to a coterie of correspondents, all fellow bibliophiles--some fictional, some real-life book folk, including NYPL curator Isaac Gewirtz and collector Mark Samuels Lasner. Larry sets out to collect Victorians and then dabbles in authors associated with the New Yorker magazine. Being a newbie, some of his missteps will come back to haunt him.
Bibliophilia is zippy, a consequence of its epistolary form, and amusing. It’s clear that the author is among the ‘gently mad’ himself, as his prose clearly demonstrates his knowledge of the subject. (And, on that note, we’ll be profiling Hall in an upcoming issue’s “How I Got Started.”)
Image via David R. Godine, Publisher.
Perhaps it is too obvious to say, but handwriting tugs at the heartstrings of book collectors. We look for and place value on signatures, inscriptions, and marginalia. So the idea that handwriting might someday be obsolete is unsettling. Put in context, however, bibliophiles will note some fascinating parallels between this divide and the one that Gutenberg faced five hundred years ago. Anne Trubek, editor in chief of Belt magazine, publisher of Belt Publishing, and sometime contributor to Fine Books, deftly provides that background in her new book, The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting (Bloomsbury, September).
From a visit to the Morgan Library to behold (and hold) cuneiform at the book’s beginning to a visit to the Ransom Center to examine digital handwriting and contemporary authors’ archives near the book’s end, Trubek makes manageable what could be an unwieldy topic. She even explains how a goose quill pen is made! And who knew that Platt Rogers Spencer, developer of Amerca’s ornate 19th-century penmanship, took his inspiration from nature, fashioning his “a’s, b’s and c’s from the shapes for rocks, branches, and lakes that he looked at every day”?
Trubek is well-acquainted with the question that some historians and history-minded enthusiasts ask, “How can you read cursive if you cannot write it?” To which she responds, “The truth is, most of us already cannot read 99 percent of the historical record.” A compelling statement that is supported by her (too brief) interview with Heather Wolfe, curator of manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library and an expert in indecipherable historic scripts. Her point is that the shift away from handwriting is part of a long-term process, and it dredges up cultural and social anxieties that deserve to be considered in this debate.
That said, those who believe that teaching handwriting--a hot-button issue in American education--remains important will still find the book enjoyable to read because Trubek’s approach is even-handed; she seems less interested in converting readers than in offering up a thoughtful survey of a fraught subject.
Image via Bloomsbury Publishing.
Readers may recall a story that appeared here earlier this year heralding the rediscovery of a long-forgotten manuscript by Beatrix Potter. Penguin editor Jo Hanks unearthed the material while conducting research for a new addition to Emma Thompson’s revival of the series. “I found a reference to a letter from Beatrix to her publisher that referred to a story ‘about a well-behaved prime black Kitty cat, who leads rather a double life,’” Hanks recalled in an online discussion in January. Intrigued, Hanks searched among the author’s papers in the V&A Archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Tucked away were three handwritten manuscripts for The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots.
The manuscript had remained untouched for over a century, and in her notes Potter acknowledged that the text was incomplete. Hanks lightly edited the material, and the story was published by Frederick Warne (a subsidiary of Penguin) on September 6 to coincide with the sesquicentennial of Potter’s birth. Kitty-in-Boots is accompanied by a CD of the tale, read by actress Helen Mirren.
Written in 1914, on the eve of the First World War, the story is about a mischievous, gun-toting, boot-wearing black cat named Miss Catherine St. Quintin, better known as Kitty to the kind old woman who keeps her. Kitty has a split personality; by day, she’s a content, well-fed houscat. At night, her doppelganger Winkiepeeps trades places so that she may go hunting fully decked in a gentleman’s jacket and fur-lined boots--a British Puss-in-Boots, but with a bad attitude and an air-gun. One night Winkiepeeps tells Kitty about ferrets chasing rabbits, and the bloodthirsty creature can’t resist the temptation. This particular outing is doomed from the start: the air-gun misfires repeatedly, Kitty misses just about all her targets, and a trap ensnares the ferocious feline.
By night one way, by day another. © 2016 Quentin Blake
Since Kitty is chasing hares, it’s only fitting that Peter Rabbit is part of the spectacle as well, but in this story he’s old and fat, brandishing an umbrella that he weaponizes better than Miss Kitty does her gun. Peter’s also more clever than Kitty, outsmarting her at every turn. Finally, after losing her toe in a trap set by fellow hunter Mr. Tod the fox, Kitty renounces her hunting ways and turns to more civilized pursuits. In addition to the aforementioned Peter and Mr. Tod, characters from other Potter stories make brief appearances as well.
How does a 100-year-old tale about a murderous cat sit with modern readers? It may be tempting to quickly denounce a book that so enthusiastically describes feline bloodlust, but, it’s quite tame when compared to all that contemporary media has to offer, and Kitty learns a valuable lesson about hunting innocent creatures for sport while she awaits rescue.
The manuscript was discovered with only one illustration--a rough sketch of Kitty and Mr. Tod. Award-winning illustrator Quentin Blake was tapped to bring Potter’s story to life. Beloved for his work illustrating books by Roald Dahl and Russell Hoban (among many others), Blake’s scratchy pen-and-ink artwork bustles with activity, conveying the impish Miss Kitty and her riotous animal coterie. Certainly, Blake’s illustrations will never be mistaken for Potter’s, but they are marvelous, modern adaptations to what is sure to become a new classic.
If there’s any one book about books that I always keep within reach, it’s John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors. For about twenty years, my go-to reference has been the seventh edition (1995), edited and revised by Nicolas Barker. But now the time has come--not for deaccessioning, mind you, but for shelf rearrangement--because Oak Knoll Press has just released the ninth edition of this classic, with a completely revised text and a sleek design.
Informative and wry, Carter’s definitions have helped readers demystify bookseller and auction catalogues since the book’s original publication in 1952. (And, it should be noted, ABC hasn’t been out of print since.) Words I have looked up over the years include doublure, fly-leaf, half bound, roan, and vellum, among others. This is the “jargon,” of the antiquarian book trade, as Carter calls it, and in order to collect intelligently, a guidebook of this kind is required reading.
Where the new edition, edited by Barker and Simran Thadani, sets itself apart from its antecedents, apart from the brighter, glossier paper, is in the addition of dozens of new terms and the incorporation of illustrations. An increase in graphic arts and printing terminology is most apparent, though my personal favorites among the added terminology (at least from the 7th to the 9th edition) are: bisquing, book-worms, Dibdin, red rot, and sammelband. I wished I had been able to look up binder’s dummy when I wrote this blog post last month, as I might have better described this book fair find as a salesman’s sample. In this context, blad (book layout and design) might be a useful inclusion at some point.
The line drawings and color photographs are a terrific complement to the text. After all, we may review the definition of dentelle--“A binder’s term (from the French = lace) meaning a border with a lacy pattern on the inner edge, usually gilt”--but seeing a fine example up-close is clearly beneficial.
In petty grievances, I take exception to how the term blurb is assigned to what (in my book publishing experience) I have always called flap copy, i.e., a summary of the book’s merits, often written by an editorial assistant, that appears on the dust jacket flaps; and blurbs are the laudatory quotes on a book’s front or back cover, which is distinct from blurb as Carter defines it for collectors. But debating these finer points is part of the fun of delving into a book filled with bibliographical terminology “unintelligible to the layman.”
In short, this new edition is an essential upgrade for those already familiar with their ABC, and an utter necessity for newbies.
Image: Courtesy of Oak Knoll Press.
A long-lost short story by Edgar Allan Poe nests like a matryoshka doll within Norman Lock’s clever new novel, The Port-Wine Stain (Bellevue Literary Press, $16.95). In the novel, Dr. Edward Fenzil recounts his early years as an assistant to Thomas Dent Mütter, the maverick Philadelphia surgeon who collected medical curiosities (now the Mütter Museum), and reveals the twisted series of events that led to his theft of Poe’s manuscript in 1844. He tells his captive audience, “You want to hear about Edgar Poe, how I came to know him and how he initiated me into the occult.”
But first Fenzil begins his tale by describing Thomas Eakins’ famous painting of a surgical theatre in which he has been depicted. (That painting sans the fictional Fenzil does indeed exist and resides at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.) It is in this macabre world that both stories--the narrator’s and Poe’s--play out. Seeking a follow-up to his “Tell-Tale Heart,” Poe snoops around Mütter’s laboratory and befriends Fenzil, whose malleable mind bends to the writer’s will. Poe uses the young man as a kind of muse, or crash-test dummy--during Fenzil’s initiation into Poe’s Thanatopsis Club, he is drugged and then bolted into a coffin so that when he wakes he will believe he has been buried alive. Poe then peppers him with questions, the answers to which he will utilize in his fiction. Poe pushes too far when he dedicates a story to Fenzil about a man who comes upon his dopplegänger in the form of a wax figure of a notorious murderer in a “chamber of horrors.”
Lock deftly evokes time and place in The Port-Wine Stain, avoiding the pitfalls of historical fiction as a genre. His novel is steeped in the art, science, and culture of mid-nineteenth-century Philadelphia but truly captivates in the storytelling.
Bibliophiles will get a kick out the “morocco-bound” presentation copy of Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque that Poe gives to Mütter, as well as the reciprocal gift of Mütter’s Cases of Deformities from Burns, Successfully Treated by Plastic Operations (1843) presented to Poe.
N.B. Coincidentally, today is Thomas Eakins’ birthday. He was born on July 25, 1844.
Image via Bellevue Literary Press.
MANHATTAN, May 24--The Bonnie J. Sacerdote Lecture Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was the setting for a daylong symposium dedicated to exploring the history, design, and manufacture of late 19th to early 20th century American publishers’ book covers, as well as bookbinders’ influence on decorative bookbinding and other artistic movements. Over 125 collectors, curators, librarians, binders, and preservationists also gathered to celebrate the recent acquisition of American decorated publishers’ bindings by the Met’s Watson Library.
Book cover design by Alice Cordelia Morse. Written by Paul Leicester Ford - http://matrix.scranton.edu/resources/re_art_gallery_exhibition.shtml#, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29981504
After an introduction by the Met’s head preservation librarian Mindell Dubansky, Richard Minsky took the podium. The Center for Book Arts founder offered compelling evidence for how American book designers such as Alice Cordelia Morse and Amy Richards formed the vanguard of major artistic movements like Art Deco and Surrealism. Senior book conservator at the Northeast Document Conservation Center Todd Pattison explored the role of women in book production and the industrialization of 19th Century American publishers’ bindings. Met curators, including Dubansky and Holly Phillips, spoke about the museum’s vast collections dedicated to decorative bookbindings. Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen discussed the influence of stained glass window design on decorative book cover creators.
Women played a huge, if often overlooked role, in the creation of books, and the symposium’s speakers highlighted women’s achievements in nearly every presentation. During the late 1800s, many women were employed in binderies; folding, sewing, trimming, and stitching books in factories in Philadelphia, Hartford, and New York City. A smaller group of women, such as Alice C. Morse, Sarah Wyman Whitman, and Margaret Armstrong, were primarily responsible for producing beautiful decorative bindings, and maintained successful careers in an ever-evolving industry. Their selection of color palettes, design, and style contributed to the growing field of decorative arts and led the way for future generations of artists.
A closing reception in the Watson library, where original botany watercolors by Margaret Armstrong were on display, put the finishing touches on an illuminating event.
I’m not a cat person--if my parents’ calico could talk, she’d readily testify to all the ways me and my basset hounds have made her miserable over the past decade. Still, I’d be foolish to ignore that books and cats are a winning combination. Librarian Jan Louch (with Lisa Rogak) explores that special bond in her new book The True Tails of Baker and Taylor: The Library Cats Who Left Their Pawprints on a Small Town...and the World.
Baker & Taylor want you to use the library. © Baker & Taylor LLC. Reproduced with permission from St. Martin’s Press
In an era before the morass of social media made Grumpy Cat and other creatures international celebrities, there were Baker and Taylor. Bags, posters, and other freebies from the eponymous library distributor became cult items at library conferences (like the BEA taking place in Chicago this week), and remain fan favorites today, as their namesake company continues to use their likeness on promotional items.
Louch’s memoir explains how she and fellow librarians at her sleepy public library in Minden, Nevada, initially adopted a cat to tackle a mouse infestation. When a representative from Baker & Taylor learned the cat was named for their company, a companion was shrewdly purchased for the library. In return, the creatures posed for company advertising, resulting in a wildly successful marketing campaign that remains a cultural touchstone for librarians across the country. Posters and other items routinely pop up on eBay and other auction sites for around $30.
The inaugural members of Douglas County Public Library’s Feline Literati section in their first poster for Baker & Taylor. ©Baker & Taylor LLC. reproduced with permission from St. Martin’s Press.
The True Tails of Baker and Taylor: The Library Cats Who Left Their Pawprints on a Small Town...and the World, by Jan Louch with Lisa Rogak; St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, hardcover, 274 pages. May 2016.
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts (Simon & Schuster, $26) by former Newsweek foreign correspondent Joshua Hammer is the engrossing story of Abdel Kader Haidara, an archivist and historian who helped recreate Timbuktu’s historic manuscript libraries in the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s, and then risked everything to rescue them from Islamic militants bent on destruction.
By 2012, 45 libraries existed in the city, holding 377,000 manuscripts, all of which needed to be saved from the looting that Haidara was sure would ensue after al Qaeda seized the city that spring. Volunteers met under cover of darkness to pack the volumes in footlockers. “One prize was a tiny, irregularly shaped folio that glittered with illuminated blue Arabic letters and droplets of gold--a single page from the twelfth-century Koran written on the parchment of a fish...,” writes Hammer. For two hours each night, they packed books into chests with padlocks, “wrapped them in blankets and loaded them onto mule carts,” after which they would be transported to dozens of safe houses. From there, trusted couriers smuggled the manuscripts out of Timbuktu to Bamako, Mali’s capital--through dangerous jihadist checkpoints every day for months. To call this book a page-turner is to diminish it; the suspense that Hammer creates is vital, but it’s his shrewd reporting on cultural terrorism--and those who fought against it--that makes The Bad-Ass Librarians so important. No book lover should miss it.
Further reading: The Wall Street Journal published a mini-excerpt from the book and American Libraries posted an interview with the author.
Image via Simon & Schuster.
Devil’s Claw ©2016 Paul Mirocha. Reproduced with permission from University of Arizona Press.
This year the National Park Service turns 100, and while plenty of new books on the topic clamor for attention, one standout will surely interest readers of this blog. The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide, published by the University of Arizona Press takes an innovative approach to natural history by combining words and image in a most striking way. A delightful hybrid of scientific exploration and creative writing, the book is a unique match for the desert topography, which is itself a study in paradoxes: Encompassing over 120,000 miles between Arizona and Mexico, North America’s hottest region is also the world’s “lushest” desert, and claims five distinct seasons, allowing for a surprising array of life.
To capture the biodiversity of the desert, editors Eric Magrane and Christopher Cokinos included material from fifty writers and poets based in the American West. The writers and their styles are just as varied as the plants and animals discussed: Alison Hawthorne Deming’s odes to the Saguaro cactus, “What the Desert is Thinking” and “Questions for a Saguaro,” mimic the long arms of the desert’s keystone flora, while Wendy Burk’s spare, methodical composition matches its subject, the desert tortoise. These, and other entries represent a sampling of what the editors charmingly coined a “literary biomimicry.” Plenty of creatures are included whose names alone demand further inspection, such as the desert globemallow, the fairy duster, and the Arizona walkingstick. Sketches by award-winning illustrator Paul Mirocha are crisp, bright, and lively. (Readers may recognize Mirocha’s handiwork; he has illustrated over 20 children’s books and pop-ups, including Barbara Kingsolver’s Small Wonder.)
Each creative contribution is accompanied by the subject’s physical description and habitat, and these scientific entries are entertaining as well: the desert tortoise is called “the Oreo of the desert” for their prevalence on predator menus, and inebriated young men are frequent victims of rattlesnake bites. The diversity of the text and the species of the Sonoran offer up a rich resource that celebrates the beauty of this extraordinary biome.
Cactus Wren ©2016 Paul Mirocha, reproduced with permission from University of Arizona Press
The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide, edited by Eric Magrane and Christopher Cokinos with illustrations by Paul Mirocha; University of Arizona Press, $19.95, 216 pages, 2016.
It can be no easy task to re-hash Brontë lore--whether in fiction or non-fiction--and yet, occasionally a reader finds reason to rejoice. Catherine Lowell’s debut novel, The Madwoman Upstairs (Touchstone, $25.99), is utterly absorbing, a lighthearted read that appeals to those of us who unwind with TV adaptations of Victorian novels (almost any will do) and who might be still be sobbing this morning over the demise of Downton Abbey.
Twenty-year-old American Samantha Whipple is the last of the Brontë line and thus the center of much unwanted public scrutiny. The world seems to believe that Samantha’s family is hiding a hoard of Brontë treasures. Samantha’s enigmatic father--who home-schooled her, primarily in literature--died young, but not before planting clues to Samantha’s “inheritance.” She sets off to attend Oxford University, where she feels quite lonely, until her father’s annotated copies of Brontë novels (believed to have burned in a house fire years before) begin appearing in her room.
Lowell’s plot moves along at a brisk pace, introducing characters who upstage Whipple, the men in particular. Her father, Tristan, is either a genius or a loon; her professor, James Orville, is a taskmaster we warm to; and her adversary, Sir John, has a dark side that borrows a bit from A.S. Byatt’s unscrupulous collector Mortimer Cropper in Possession. Sir John is on the hunt for the Brontë relics--a brooch, a quill, a manuscript, items that will give him a “deeper understand of their novels, of course.” (He surely would have enjoyed The Brontë Cabinet--having written a similar book about Brontë objects.)
There’s loads of literary banter and a smidge of romance--a lark that can keep one awake well past her bedtime, and The Madwoman Upstairs does just that.
Image: Courtesy of Touchstone Books.
While exploring the Folger Shakespeare Library’s latest online endeavor in a blog last month, I cited the Bard’s will where he bequeaths his ‘second best bed’ to his wife, Anne. Though that passage was not considered a slight on Shakespeare’s part, I admit I didn’t understand why. After reading Ruth Goodman’s How to Be a Tudor (Liveright Publishing, $29.95, 336 pages), the reason is clear: Beds in the 16th century were precious commodities, and often the first items mentioned in wills. Shakespeare was simply ensuring that his wife would have a warm place to lay her head when he was gone. This, and other details fill Goodman’s follow-up to her 2014 volume, How to Be a Victorian.
Fans of the BBC’s Wolf Hall will be happy to learn that Goodman, who was the historical advisor for the series, wanted the producers to portray the times accurately. In doing so, she wholeheartedly embodies the phrase “living history.” She slept in a one-room, timber framed house on an earthen floor covered by six inches of rushes, did not bathe for three months, only changing her Tudor-style undergarments daily (and surprisingly passed a modern smell test of her peers), fashioned her own writing quill, and washed her teeth with linen rags and soot.
Portrait of Sir Thomas Knyvett, de jure 4th Baron Berners, later Lord High
Sheriff of Norfolk. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Taking the reader from dawn (or in some cases, pre-dawn) to dusk for Tudor aristocrats, farmers, and women, Goodman draws on fascinating firsthand accounts such as wills, contracts, pamphlets and even coroner’s reports to flesh out a detailed portrait of life in England 400 years ago, and her clear explanations of these texts bring fresh meaning to the paper legacy the Tudors left behind. Whether sleeping on a floor, distilling essential oils, or dancing the volta, Goodman’s enthusiasm and enjoyment are a revelation and pour from every page. The Tudor era was a time of great change, and the author makes no claim that hers is the definitive guide to the period, though the book is thoroughly researched. It is, as she puts it, “a broad gallop through a typical day...a taste of the ordinary that seems to us so extraordinary.”
How to Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Tudor Life, by Ruth Goodman; Liveright Publishing Corporation, $29.95, 336 pages. Pub Date: February 15, 2016
If ever there were a headline--or a book title--to entice bibliophiles, surely this is it. And Sasha Abramsky’s new book, The House of Twenty Thousand Books (NYRB, $27.95), a combination of memoir, history, and biography, more than delivers on that lure.
Abramsky, a journalist and senior fellow at Demos think tank, writes lovingly of his grandparents’ house at 5 Hillway, in Highgate, London. Chimen, the Russian-born atheist son of a famous rabbi, and his wife, Mimi, gathered not only thousands of rare books there but hundreds of scholars, friends, and family members, turning their home into “one of left-wing London’s great salons.” Each chapter invites readers into one room of the house to survey its bookish contents and to hear fascinating accounts of prominent visitors, bitter arguments, and delicious meals.
Chimen, introduced at a 1969 Jewish Book Week lecture as “possibly the greatest Jewish bibliophile in the world,” collected both Socialist material and Judaica. Abramsky writes, “...every single room in the house, except the bathroom and kitchen, was lined from floor to ceiling with shelves double-stacked with books.” There were rarities like The Communist Manifesto with both Marx’s and Engels’ personal annotations, and William Morris’ complete collection of the Socialist League’s journal, The Commonweal, stored in a box built by Morris. There were sets of egalitarian Everyman’s classics too. The incredibly well-read Chimen, perhaps best suited for academic life, ran a bookshop called Shapiro, Valentine & Co. in London’s East End in the sixties. His encyclopedia memory for bibliography served him well as he became the leading consultant on manuscripts at Sotheby’s; he catalogued the collection of David Sassoon in the seventies, a sale that “essentially jump-started the modern global market in rare Hebrew materials.” In his later years, Chimen joined the faculty of University College London and lectured widely on Jewish books and history.
In 2010, Chimen died at the age of 93, and his library--an estimated 15,000-20,000 volumes--was sold. The author kept a shelf-full of his grandfather’s books as a legacy. More significantly, though, he documented his grandfather’s life. It is an important story, and Abramsky confronts harsh truths with warmth and wisdom. He also understands (and celebrates) the bibliomania behind the floor-to-ceiling, double-stacked shelves. In discussing Chimen’s friendship with Italian expatriate economist Piero Sraffa, he writes, “Over the decades, they swapped rare books and shared with each other the joy of the hunt, the unspeakable pleasure--that only a fellow connoisseur could understand--of finding a particular edition of a particular book or pamphlet, and of procuring it for a lower-than-anticipated price.” It’s a feeling that all of us can relate to.
Image via NYRB.
For twenty-seven years, a specialty bookshop devoted exclusively to military history thrived on New York City’s Upper East Side. The Military Bookman, owned and operated by husband-and-wife team, Harris Colt and Margaretta Barton Colt, was established in July 1976, after Harris lost his Wall Street job and decided to follow his dream. Margaretta joined him in this endeavor, even though it meant wrangling with a predominately male customer base, including “Soldier of Fortune” types and even some with “SS tendencies.” Her new memoir, Martial Bliss: The Story of The Military Bookman ($19.95), affectionately chronicles the life and times of that bookshop.
Unique characters abound. One mail-order collector interested in Frederick the Great playfully regarded himself, in his correspondence with the shop, as “part-time Marshal of France” and dated his letters 1757 from his “Winter quarters on the Rhine.” The Colts responded in kind because, the author makes clear, the Military Bookman was that kind of bookshop--one where personal relationships with customers mattered. One regular called it “Cheers without the booze.” Even a few celebrities, e.g. Paul Newman, James Gandolfini, and Bette Midler, found their way to this remarkable place over the years.
We all have favorite bookshops and even bookshop memoirs. In this bibliophilic sub-genre, numerous stories are relayed about hunting for rare books and buying trips abroad; Martial Bliss ably covers this ground. But unlike other booksellers’ memoirs, it’s not nostalgia that fuels the telling. She shares her memories in a pleasant, matter-of-fact way, as if setting straight the record for posterity--or for her former customers, who will, no doubt, adore reading her account. As will those with an interest in antiquarian books, bookselling, or military history.
“The fine line between passion and obsession was probably crossed many times in the stacks of the Military Bookman,” she writes. Sadly, those stacks were dismantled in 2003. The rise of online bookselling as well as the increased production of cheap reprints of out-of-print military titles combined to make such a specialty shop obsolete in the twenty-first century. For those who missed out on this New York City institution, Martial Bliss invites us in.
Image: Courtesy of Margaretta Barton Colt.
Across an ocean and more than 500 years, America remains gripped by Shakespeare. That is perhaps no where more apparent than the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., which houses the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare, including 82 First Folios (of the 233 surviving copies). And in the past two years, two books have been published about its founders and their “foliomania.” Last spring, it was Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry And Emily Folger by Stephen H. Grant (Johns Hopkins University Press, $29.95). This month, Andrea Mays offers her take in The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio (Simon & Schuster, $27). There was also Paul Collins’ The Book of William: How Shakespeare’s First Folio Conquered the World, published back in 2009, which begs the question: what’s new?
All of these titles are pleasing reads and each will provide insight into Shakespeare’s spare biography, but what’s fresh is the concentration on Henry Folger and how this shy, self-made oil tycoon amassed such a collection. Slightly less formal than Grant’s biography, Mays’ account is lively without sacrificing detail. We hear how Shakespeare’s contemporaries sourced the first collection of plays, seven years after the playwright’s death; why actor David Garrick’s 1769 ‘Jubilee’ Shakespeare festival in Stratford was a disaster; and what were the sticking points in Folger’s intense negotiations for the Folio presented by its printer William Jaggard to Augustine Vincent. Mays excels in the accounting, too: purchase prices and circumstances of each and every First Folio Folger bought.
Framing the Folgers as romantic figures is problematic no matter where one looks. If theirs is a love story, it’s the adoration of acquisition. Moreover, it is difficult (for the reader, and the writers, it seems) to reconcile the fact that while the Folgers’ intentions were wonderful and they did inevitably create an unprecedented resource for Shakespearean and Elizabethan scholars, they also locked away their books for decades, secretively, even selfishly.
Fellow collectors will enjoy tagging along on Henry’s great chase, as he secures one treasure after another. His collection can never, of course, be replicated. But the passion and the determination can be contagious.
A title like this is bound to be picked up by any fiction-friendly bibliophile. But what exactly is a bookaneer? Matthew Pearl, author of a slew of literary mysteries beginning with The Dante Club back in 2003, has dreamed up this figure, a literary pirate and “mischief maker” who uses the 1790 copyright loophole that left works of foreign authors unprotected, to make his living. Men like Pen Davenport and his long-time rival, who goes by the cryptonym Belial, steal manuscripts and proof sheets and deliver them into the hands of greedy publishers. (Women, too; one named Kitten is said to the best bookaneer there ever was until she unearthed Mary Shelley’s long lost short story and promptly went mad.) But now its 1891, and that loophole is about to close. Three bounty hunters embark on their final adventure--to Samoa, where an ailing Robert Louis Stevenson is finishing his final work. The tropical island, however, proves more than a challenge to this trio of literary bandits, all trying to out-sleuth one another. It’s an enjoyable read, and Pearl certainly deserves points for tackling antiquated copyright law in commercial fiction!
The Last Bookaneer (Penguin Press, $27.95) is in stores now, and Pearl is currently on book tour, if you want to catch a reading/signing.
Medieval poet John Gower reprises his unlikely yet likable role as narrator and detective in Bruce Holsinger’s new novel, The Invention of Fire (William Morrow, $26.99). A follow up to last year’s A Burnable Book, this tale begins when sixteen corpses are found clogging a London privy channel. Gross! Holsinger, a medieval scholar at the University of Virginia, revels in this kind of pungent, atmospheric detail. We quickly learn how these poor souls met their gruesome end: “Handgonnes. A word new to me in that moment, though one that would shape and fill the weeks to come. I looked out over the graves pocking the St. Bart’s churchyard, their inhabitants victims of pestilence, accident, hunger, and crime, yet despite their numberless fates it seemed that man was ever inventing new ways to die.”
Gower’s sleuthing sidekick, Geoffrey Chaucer, reappears too, as do the city’s many maudlyns (prostitutes) and crooked officials. As in A Burnable Book, Holsinger succeeds where many historical novelists fail, in the creation of unique characters--e.g., Cripplegate hermit Piers Goodman, boy cutpurse Jack Norris, and steely widow Hawisia Stone--and sharp, approachable dialogue. Holsinger risks flaming (no pun intended) in taking up the history of guns and its attendant violence, even within the framework of a mystery set more than six hundred years ago, and yet his agenda, if he has one, is obscured.
The Invention of Fire is substantial and smart. Those who enjoy historical fiction will delight in its layered, well-researched narrative.
P.S. Should any reader be interested in the “real” Gower, I spied a 1532 edition of his De Confessione Amantis in Justin Croft’s booth at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair earlier this month.
Blame Johnny Depp. Or maybe Arturo Perez-Reverte, author of the 1993 novel The Club Dumas, which was then adapted into the 1999 film The Ninth Gate, starring Depp as a shady rare book dealer. Either way, we seem to have accepted this idea that the rare book trade is a dark underworld, peopled with deceptive booksellers, maniacal collectors, and greedy forgers. Two new novels pull on this thread in different and engaging ways.
The Forgers by Bradford Morrow (Mysterious Press, $24) stuns from its first line, “They never found his hands.” A reclusive Long Island collector named Adam Diehl has been murdered. His sister is justly horrified, and her boyfriend, Will, a bibliophile with a talent for literary forgery, avoids telling her some secrets he knew about Adam. But as they begin to move on with their lives, Will receives a series of threatening letters, written in the script of dead authors.
Morrow, formerly a rare book dealer and currently a collector of first editions and the author of seven previous novels, clearly knows his way around the subject and parlays that expertise into lovely lines about putting his pen nib to “antique leaf, its wire-and-chain lines singing like lyre strings beneath the flowing words.” Roundly praised by all the pre-pub review magazines and a list of literary luminaries (Joyce Carol Oates, Karen Russell, Peter Straub...), Morrow offers a suspenseful plot that coexists with gritty characters and ominous imagery.
First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett (Viking, $27.95) has a pretty neat premise: someone has stumbled upon the fact that Jane Austen may have stolen the idea for Pride & Prejudice from a tale shared with her by an elderly clergyman. Getting to the bottom of that mystery will involve murder, theft, deceit, assault, and desire. The dual narrative moves back and forth between a Hampshire village at the end of the 18th century, where Austen finds a literary mentor, and present-day London, where recent Oxford graduate Sophie Collingwood is trying to rebuild the library of her recently deceased and beloved uncle and choose between two romantic partners. That is, until she is strong-armed into locating a rare, possibly unique, volume that will discredit Austen.
Lovett is also a book collector and a former antiquarian bookseller (he was featured in our spring issue’s ‘How I Got Started’ column), and this is his second novel, following his 2013 bestseller, The Bookman’s Tale. First Impressions is nimble and entertaining. Austen fans will surely flock to it, as will bibliophilic and publishing history geeks who can’t pass up a novel with characters that include an unknown 18th-century printer and a man who keeps his fabulous family library locked at all times.
Damien Hirst ABC (c) Other Criteria, 2013.
Describe the achievements of contemporary artist Damien Hirst, and children’s book author is likely not the first thing that comes to mind. Controversial and divisive, the unofficial leader of the Young British Artists group has scaled his art to board book dimensions.
Let’s be clear: ABC is not for children, despite the back copy saying it’s “Fun for all the family.” Children should not be given this book. It is for collectors who enjoy or appreciate Hirst’s fascination with death, religion and medicine.
Other Criteria (c) Damien Hirst & Science, 2013
This alphabet book is a retrospective of sorts - each letter of the alphabet is accompanied by a piece of Hirst’s art. If an ignorant parent offers this book to a child, it won’t help young readers learn the alphabet because the images don’t always correspond to the letters they represent. For example, opposite the letter J is a close-up photograph of the artist’s 1991 installation of a dead tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde called The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. Here the J refers to “Jaws.” Other creepy images of dead animals, as well as Hirst’s infamous diamond encrusted skull, show up throughout the book.
That being said, the images are fascinating, and that the artist even produced a book nominally geared towards child-age readers will no doubt provoke discussion among readers. This is an excellent book to consider giving as a holiday gift to anyone who adores modern and contentious artists and would appreciate Hirst’s latest attempt to provoke the viewing public.
Codex Seraphinianus is an art book in the most direct sense--there are big, beautiful drawings accompanied by indecipherable letterforms--and it is impossible to “read” it in a literal way. Form prevails, and that form is an elegant large quarto bound in cream canvas with gold lettering and laminated decoration, containing thick, textured paper. When paired with the cryptic script, Serafini’s surreal illustrations recall centuries-old manuscripts of natural history--and yet the overall effect is not old-fashioned; it is Salvador Dali and Italo Calvino with a dash of Dr. Who.
Rizzoli’s newest edition, Codex Seraphinianus XXXIII, is published to coincide with the book’s thirty-third anniversary. It is available as a deluxe limited edition signed by Serafini for $400 or the trade edition for $125.
The text has remained a mystery all these years, and perhaps that’s part of its draw as an art object. And if you think the Decodex pamphlet provided in the book’s back pocket will give you even a sliver of understanding, think again. In it, Serafini tells us that the true author of the Codex was a stray white cat found on the streets of Rome.
Courtesy of Penguin Young Readers Group
Courtesy of Penguin Young Readers Group
“Flo & Wendell,” by William Wegman; Dial Books for Young Readers, $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3-5.
After a decade-long hiatus, William Wegman and his loveable, huggable Weimeraners are back in print. In this story, we meet little Flo and her brother Wendell, and aside from their adorable faces, these puppies have very little in common. Flo likes dressing up and baking delicious cupcakes, while her younger brother is more interested in playing sports and causing mischief. Their hopeful parents encourage them to try and find something to do together, but with each page it seems less and less likely. Wegman playfully dissects the intricacies of sibling rivalry through simple text and engaging images. In previous Wegman books, the dogs are pictured in actual clothing; here the author departs from tradition and mixes photographs of the dogs with painted costumes and backgrounds. This book is so cute parents may find themselves suddenly besieged with requests to bring home actual puppies. (Full disclosure: our family recently brought home a pair of pups after reading this book.) Cave canem amabilem.
“The Snatchabook,” by Helen Docherty, illustrated by Thomas Docherty; Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99, ages 3-6.
“In every house,
in every bed,
a bedtime book
was being read.”
The story starts innocently enough; all the critters in the arboreal hamlet of Burrow Down complete their days with a delightful bedtime tale. All is well until an unwelcome stranger flies into town one night and steals the books quicker than a bolt of lightening. Who is the book thief? (Readers can rule out Stephen Blumberg.) After all the books disappear, a brave bunny named Eliza Brown is determined to catch the crook. Once collared, the aptly-named Snatchabook confesses his crimes, and Eliza decides to help the creature find redemption in a most appropriate and caring manner. Helen Docherty’s jaunty rhymes keep pace with husband Thomas Docherty’s loveable renditions of badgers, bunnies and porcupines. Children will love acting this book out - sometimes as the sneaky Snatchabook, other times as the wise Eliza Brown. While fun to read, The Snatchabook also teaches an important lesson about the power of reading to stir young minds.
© 2013 Thomas Docherty. Published in The Snatchabook by Sourcebooks. All Rights Reserved.
Compiled by Laura Heyenga, with a preface by Brian Dettmer and an introduction by Alyson Kuhn, it is, by coffee table book standards, rather slim and handy. It is an anthology of artists who use books as their primary material in making art -- this could mean “treating” a book with any number of tools and instruments, from scissors, X-Acto knives, and needles to ink, paint, and glue.
The first thing one notices about this book is the creative binding -- the front and back boards seem to float in place while the sewn (and glued) signatures are fully visible along the spine, where a strip of chartreuse binding tape holds it together. Inside is a beautifully illustrated look at working book artists. Some of them will be familiar to readers of this magazine--in the past we have featured the work of Brian Dettmer, Guy Laramee, and Jeremy May--while others no doubt have a following among artists, collectors, and dealers. Su Blackwell’s book tableaux invite viewers into her captivating storybook world, while the intricacy of Julia Strand’s three-dimensional collages are astounding. I have long enjoyed the bookish photography of Cara Barer, and it’s nice to see large, color reproductions of some here. There are also great photos of the book sculptures left around Edinburgh by an anonymous artist in 2011. Her sculpture marking the publication of Ian Rankin’s The Impossible Dead, showing a couple of paper skeletons drinking, smoking, and listening to records, is particularly striking.
If I had one gripe with the selection of artists presented here, it’s that the focus seems to be on younger artists, shunning the artists who, in many ways, created the field. For example, Doug Beube is one of the most experienced book artists in this book. He started altering books in 1979. (Beube is the subject of our winter issue’s Book Art column.) On the other hand, reading up on the newer artists is ideal for collectors.
THE SELFISH GIANT Copyright © 2013 by Grahame Baker-Smith. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, The Folio Society, London.
Perhaps best known as a playwright and novelist, Oscar Wilde also wrote several fairy tales. The Folio Society has published a new edition that would make an excellent gift to fairy tale fans as well as to those who love a beautiful, well-crafted book.
As with everything published by the Folio Society, the production standards for The Selfish Giant are first-rate. A sturdy metallic silver box keeps everything safe, and beautiful end papers covered in snowflakes set a magical mood. The book is printed on Abbey Wove paper and is three-quarter bound in buckram. (Buckram is a 100% cotton cloth used to cover the boards of the book.) On the cover is an exquisite illustration of the title character looking over a little boy who sits in an ethereal white-blossomed tree.
Grahame Baker-Smith illustrated The Selfish Giant. (Smith was also recently commissioned to illustrate the Folio Society’s 2012 edition of Pinocchio.) During a conversation with the illustrator I asked if he incorporated Wilde’s likeness into any of the images. He did; try to find which one it is in the accompanying image post. The mixed-media illustrations capture Wilde’s wit, yet recall a certain melancholy, suggesting - rightly - that these stories are not for the faint of heart.
British fiction author Jeanette Winterson writes an engaging introduction, giving readers a quick primer on Wilde’s life while intertwining major life milestones with his work. She reminds us that these are not bedtime stories for babies; rather, Winterson declares that these tales ‘tell us what science and philosophy cannot and need not’. As a result these stories deal with themes that young children may not understand. Still, this is a glorious book, and as Wilde himself said, “With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?”
Read more and see images from the book here --
As fate would have it, the author is Adam Langer, a magazine editor with whom I worked a dozen years ago at a start-up called Book Magazine. He and I haven’t been in touch since, so this felt like a great opportunity to seek him out and tell him how much I enjoyed his novel--and also to ask him a few questions about the story.
RRB: I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that the antagonist is a collector who insists on hoarding manuscripts that will never be published, indeed will never be read by anyone else. In fiction, collectors are often depicted as sinister and compulsive, but you give it a bigger twist. Do you think collectors get a bad rap?! (And do you collect anything?)
AL: Well, I would hate to think of my collector character representing collectors as a whole group of people. For myself, I can’t say that I’m much of a collector except in the case of stories, which my collector character also collects in his own sinister way. When I was younger, I collected baseball cards and stamps and my father gave me his stamp collection, which I still have and cherish. And somewhere safely locked away, I do have some Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente baseball cards, which aren’t worth anywhere near what one would think because I never thought to keep them in mint condition. But, like the stamps, they’re more valuable for their role in history--both mine and history in general--than whatever negligible resale value they might have.
RRB: It’s impossible to ignore the fact that the novel’s main character shares your name -- why did you do that? After all, you’re not a house husband/aspiring writer in Bloomington, Indiana.
AL: Well, I was living in Bloomington for a while so that’s actually true. The real reason for using my name is because I thought it was as good a method as any to get the reader to trust me, which, of course, is almost always a silly thing for a reader to do. I wanted to start out with some basic realities, then totally warp them into a funhouse reflection of reality, and the easiest way to do that was to use a lot of elements of my own biography. There are also some very specific reasons why I thought that using my own name and that of my father would work well for the plot, but I probably shouldn’t get into that.
RRB: One of the blurbs on the back of the book describes the plot as a series of “nesting boxes,” (I was thinking Russian dolls), but your novel has that Calvino-esque quality. Was it hard to plot out? How long did it take you to conceive and write it?
AL: I love Calvino. When my Italian professor Doris Ingrosso introduced me to The Baron in the Trees I was totally taken with it. I had a similar reaction, perhaps an even more profound one to If On a Winter’s Night A Traveler. Both taught me how much you could play with form in a novel and still tell an engaging story. As for The Salinger Contract, I didn’t really plot it out. I’m not a writer who outlines. I follow the plot where it takes me. I let it surprise me and then I spend a lot of time backtracking and making sure it all makes sense. It might not be the most logical method for writing a novel, but it’s fairly organic and it’s the one that I find most satisfying.
RRB: Your book takes literally the adage that a book can “save your life.” What book--metaphorically speaking--saved your life?
AL: I don’t think any one book saved my life, but there are certainly plenty that helped to form who I am, and if they didn’t save me, they did change me. Probably for each phase of my life, there’s a different book or series of books. When I was a kid, it was Beverly Cleary’s Beezus and Ramona books, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and Donald Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown books and Secret Agents Four. When I was in high school, it was Kerouac, particularly On the Road and The Subterraneans and also a play by Simon Gray called Quartermaine’s Terms. In college, it was Calvino and Borges. When I was studying literature in grad school, it was Jane Eyre and The Aeneid. There has been a Graham Greene phase and a G.K. Chesterton phase and an Edna O’Brien phase and a Joseph Conrad phase. And about ten years ago, I got into a Virginia Woolf phase that I still haven’t gotten out of. Even now, when I’m stuck or I don’t know what to write about, I pick up The Waves or To The Lighthouse. Most recently, the book that blew me away was one I was surprised I’d never read before--Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now.
RRB: As a reader, do you enjoy “biblio-fiction” -- meaning novels about rare books and manuscripts -- and if so, what are some of your favorites?
AL: The first character that comes to mind is Arthur Geiger in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. And then there’s James Atlas’s The Great Pretender. I really liked the first fifty pages of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind, but then I misplaced the novel and never actually finished it.
RRB: And with a title like The Salinger Contract, I have to ask, will you see the new Salinger documentary?
AL: I did. I didn’t hate it as much as some people did, but it’s not a very good movie. And now that all the spoilers have been spoiled--more Salinger books are on their way; Salinger was pretty much a creep; Salinger was deeply affected by the time he spent in the war--there’s no real artistic reason to see the movie. But then again, I’ve never been all that interested in author’s biographies. That’s why I decided to make some up, including my own.
In Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune, Dedman and co-writer Paul Clark Newell, Jr., Huguette’s second cousin, have written the definitive account of her eccentric life. As the last child born to 67-year-old copper king and (briefly) Senator William A. Clark and his 28-year-old wife, Anna LaChapelle, Huguette was perhaps bound from the beginning to be odd. The death of her older, teenaged sister, with whom she was close, surely didn’t help. Nor did the immense amounts of money and attention. Still, hers was a charmed life, full of travel and music and lengthy correspondence with friends. It wasn’t until 1991, when a doctor made a house call to her Fifth Avenue apartment and discovered a skeletal woman with various cancers, that it seemed her life was coming to its natural close. But, in many ways, that was just the beginning of this strange tale, because the patient recovered, and yet ended up staying in the hospital for the next 7,364 nights. And she began giving away her money -- by the millions -- which didn’t go unnoticed by long-lost relatives or, once Dedman was on the trail, the media. This is a story that very much needed to be told.
How much money did Huguette have? Something in the range of $300 million. (Among other things, her father had founded Las Vegas.) Like her parents, Huguette was a collector. Mainly she collected dolls and doll houses, but she also had Stradivarius violins and major paintings, including Manet, Monet, and Renoir. (Nate Pedersen wrote about Clark’s collections on our blog last year.) Christie’s auctioned a collection of rare jewels from her estate, which realized $18 million. She seemed fond of books, as well. Of all the rooms in her father’s dismantled 121-room New York City mansion, Dedman writes, “the library was the one Huguette described with the most fondness, the one she missed most of all.” (According to the footnotes, Senator Clark’s library is detailed in an auction catalogue for a sale on January 29, 1926 by the American Art Association. I’d love to see that.)
Empty Mansions is full of rich details and solid research--we’d expect nothing less of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dedman--and yet I did not come away as convinced as the authors seem to be about Huguette’s decision-making skills as she aged, or indeed that her mental capabilities had ever progressed past childhood. It’s difficult and sad to imagine that a person of reasonable adult faculties would choose to remain hidden away in a small, sterile room watching The Smurfs on television when she could have had the world at her fingertips, or that she didn’t feel trapped by those around her--nurses, hospital administrators, lawyers, accountants--who claimed to be (or truly thought they were) helping.
The book’s publication this week coincides with a trial set to begin tomorrow that pits nineteen of Clark’s (mostly estranged) relatives against the beneficiaries of her last will (a charitable foundation, a hospital, a nurse, a goddaughter, an attorney, an accountant, and several employees). The relatives believe that Huguette was mentally incompetent when the last will was signed and that she may have been the victim of fraud.
It’s an incredible tale, and not yet complete.
Summer isn’t over yet, so here are a few books that capture the whimsical spirit of these final days of the season.
Now Open the Box, by Dorothy Kunhardt; The New York Review of Children’s Books, $16.95, 72 pages, ages 4-7.
Before Clifford the Big Red Dog, there was little Peewee the circus dog. Originally published in 1934, Dorothy Kunhardt’s Now Open the Box tells the story of a beloved red canine and his opening act at the circus.
Now Open the Box by Dorothy Kunhardt. Reproduced with permission from the New York Review of Children’s Books © Dorothy Kunhardt.
To beckon spectators, the ringmaster stands in front of a large red tent while holding a yellow box that fits in the palm of his hand. Inside is Peewee. Although the tiny pooch can’t perform a single trick, everybody loves the cute canine, from circus-goers to fellow performers. Unfortunately the dog begins to grow, and this threatens his place under the big top.
The New York Review of Children’s Books has just reissued this book by the author of Pat the Bunny. A torrent of words, coupled with bright illustrations and simple sentences lend a childlike, innocent quality to the storytelling. Kunhardt’s iconic line-drawn illustrations employ a basic color scheme of fire engine red, canary yellow, black and white.
At times, the story may seem lengthy and very young children might lose patience, but most readers will enjoy following Peewee on his adventure extravaganza. Kunhardt aficionados will surely want to add this edition to their collection.
By way of plot, we open with antiquarian book and manuscript dealer Joseph Barkeley (“low volume and high margins,” he tells us), who is called to authenticate the original draft manuscript for Stoker’s Dracula. (Such a manuscript does indeed exist, having surfaced in a Pennsylvania barn in the 1980s. It is owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.) An anonymous Romanian buyer then employs Barkeley to purchase and deliver the document to the legendary Castle Bran. Once there, Barkeley realizes he is dealing with the devil. To avoid impalement, he must decode messages hidden in the text and locate the secret burial site of Dracula’s bride.
Prouty’s style is more storyteller than trained novelist, so while he excels at plot and tone, his sentences could have had more finesse. His descriptions of Romanian history, geography, and lore add much to the tale. Those who have enjoyed Elizabeth Kostova’s novel, The Historian, or even, say, Matthew Pearl’s The Dante Club, will find themselves on common (unhallowed) ground -- a thriller with enough literary references to keep both the bookish and the bloodthirsty amused.
When Amanda is called to appraise some clothing in the apartment of 98-year-old Jane Kelly, she makes an important discovery among the mod A-lines and mid-century cocktail dresses. An old trunk with Edwardian-era garb hides the century-old diary of a 20-year-old woman named Olive. Against her better judgement, Amanda makes a deal on the dresses and pockets the diary. Unmarried and childless at 39, Amanda is beginning to search for something more in life than a married boyfriend, a struggling business, and rampant insomnia. To that end, she visits a hypnotist and starts reading Olive’s diary. Some odd things begin to happen; she isn’t exactly haunted by Manhattan’s past, but her life begins to mirror Olive’s in disquieting ways.
Olive began writing in September of 1907, having just moved to Manhattan with her father, a manager at the Woolworth’s on 34th Street. The upwardly mobile Olive enjoys many luxuries and yet has a burgeoning feminist streak. (She even buys herself a book on the female body since no one has bothered to provide her with the basics.) She eschews marriage and instead hopes to pursue a career as a department store buyer. When tragedy strikes, Olive relies on willpower and ambition to succeed in a city full of binding corsets, foul tenements, and, for many ladies of her station, a woeful lack of sex education.
Lehmann deserves much credit for bringing history alive in Astor Place Vintage (Touchstone/S&S; original trade paperback, $16), allowing Amanda the opportunity to stumble upon the buildings where Olive lived, shopped, and ate, in their modern context. The two narratives effortlessly braid together, each with its own tensions and well-developed characters, and each a welcome sight when I removed the bookmark and read well beyond my bedtime.
Souvenir Nation: Relics, Keepsakes, and Curios shows off items preserved in the Smithsonian but often gathered or collected by laymen. Bird, curator at the NMAH, prompts us to think about the idea of souvenirs, not so much in the way of plastic knick-knacks we pick up at landmarks these days, but the ones chipped from monuments and clipped from heads in years past. Here are a few of the neat items you’ll find here: a piece of George Washington’s mahogany coffin, railroad conductors’ punch cards, and actress Laura Keene’s bloodstained cuff worn at Ford’s Theater. As always, I enjoy the format of Princeton Architectural Press books. This trim red, white, and blue hardcover resembles a history textbook, if textbooks were a bit groovier. The endpapers are decorated with patriotic stars, and the book even contains two ribbons (red and blue) for placeholders.
The Civil War in 50 Objects has a narrower focus and yet is a heftier read. Holzer, a Fellow at the N-YHS, offers a more narrative approach, allotting each artifact--iron slave shackles, a draft wheel for drawing names, a Confederate cipher key--a mini-chapter instead of a page. The bookish among us will be glad to note the number of items that fall under the rubric of ‘print culture’ represented by broadsides, prints, letters, newspapers, watercolor drawings by prisoners, a pocket diary of a private from NY, a bible used at a “colored orphan asylum,” c. 1863, the First Dixie reader, and lastly, a manuscript of the thirteenth amendment. Illustrated with fine color reproductions, this book is a collection of treasures for anyone interested in Civil War history.
Charlie Lovett’s debut novel, The Bookman’s Tale (Viking, June, $27.95), entices the general reader in me. It opens in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye where antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly finds what he believes to be a watercolor portrait of his recently deceased wife, Amanda, tucked into a copy of An Inquiry into the Authenticity of Certain Miscellaneous Papers by Edmond Malone. Oddly, the portrait appears Victorian, so it sends Peter’s mind reeling. An intriguing premise, but here we are on page 4, and already I’m doubting Lovett, a book collector and former antiquarian bookseller, because Peter removes the watercolor from the book and slips it into a cheaper book before checking out. What?! A find like that and he doesn’t pause to consider whether the book contained more evidence, or the sagacity (not to mention ethics) of separating the book from its extra-illustration? Bad bookseller. And yet, as the story continues, we are meant to think of him as a something of a hapless genius.
Peter’s pursuit to find the artist of this little watercolor turns into quite the quest--spanning numerous sets of characters and several centuries. William Shakespeare is one such character; Lovett imagines him annotating a copy of Robert Greene’s Pandosto and then handing it off to a bookseller. That becomes the holy grail at the heart of the novel, surrounded by forgery, murder, and sex (the latter recounted from Peter’s memories of his college days would have been better left unsaid). And while there were too many set changes for a novel under five hundred pages, what I liked about this story is how Lovett invents such a book’s origin and follows it through the centuries from writer to bookseller to collector (Robert Cotton) so on and so forth. I would have preferred more in those chapters and less on Peter’s personal history.
As my colleague Jeremy Dibbell pointed out last week, this may be the only novel to feature a Hinman Collator, which is pretty neat. Peter uses it to compare two copies of Pandosto while trying to prove that one is a genuine first edition. The final quarter focuses on forgery, through which Lovett develops narrative tension and delivers an interesting ending.
The Bookman’s Tale is a breeze to read, and if you are not yet as jaded a reader as I am vis-a-vis biblio-fiction, it makes fine poolside reading.
Now those sea monsters are getting some deserved scholarly attention, thanks to Chet Van Duzer, an invited research scholar at the John Carter Brown Library and soon-to-be research curator in the geography & maps division at the Library of Congress. His new book, Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps (British Library/U. of Chicago Press, $35), is illustrated with 147 color images. Van Duzer analyzes the most important examples of this decorative cartography from the tenth century to the end of the sixteenth, examining each mapmaker’s sources and influences.
Van Duzer is also the co-author of last year’s Seeing the World Anew: The Radical Vision of Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 & 1516 World Maps.
The hand-bound, double-elephant folio of flower photography was created in an edition of ten in 2008-2009 (we profiled Singer in our July/August 2008 issue). Last month, Abbeville Press published an unabridged, palm-sized “Tiny Folio” edition of Singer’s masterwork. In 376 pages, there are 250 full-color photographs, with text describing each specimen’s botany, geography, history, and conservation.
Singer was a New Jersey podiatrist with a great eye before his botanical photography became so popular. Using his Hasselblad camera, he began photographing rare and exotic plants. When a curator of botany at the Smithsonian saw some of Singer’s images, he invited Singer to have a look at the museum’s greenhouse. Singer ended up snapping 750 pictures there; he selected 250 to print and publish as Botanica Magnifica. Singer also recently published Fine Bonsai: Art & Nature.
Incidentally, Abbeville Press has an impressive list of Tiny Folio editions of art/museum collections (e.g., Audubon’s Birds of America, Morgan Library’s Illuminated Manuscripts). Take a peek.
Images courtesy of Abbeville Press.
MATCHBOX DIARY. Text copyright © 2013 by Paul Fleischman. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Bagram Ibatoulline. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
MATCHBOX DIARY. Text copyright © 2013 by Paul Fleischman. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Bagram Ibatoulline. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Using acrylic gouache, Ibatoulline creates an impeccable portrait of a collector’s controlled chaos, with old books, artwork, antique clocks and other bric-a-brac filling every shelf, corner and wall. The images of the past are skillfully rendered in black and white.
Told entirely through dialogue, The Matchbox Diary is an ode to collectors and diarists of all ages, and certainly stokes the flame of bibliomania. As the story concludes, the worldly grandfather offers this reflection, one that will no doubt resonate with the readers of this blog: “Books are like newspapers. They show you where you’ve been.”
Interview at the Waldorf Astoria NYC
Introduction to “Pinocchio” by Umberto Eco, ”...it’s not even a fairy tale, since it lacks the fairy tale’s indifference to everyday reality and doesn’t limit itself to one simple basic moral, but rather deals with many.”
On Veteran’s Day, the internationally acclaimed children’s book illustrator Fulvio Testa sat down with me over tea in the Peacock Bar at the Waldorf Astoria to talk about his ground-breaking work for Geoffrey Bock’s new translation of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio. The wide-ranging conversation inevitably led to a discussion of his artistic philosophy regarding children’s book illustration in general, and how he can’t get New York out of his mind.
Focus and Rhythm
For this project, Testa told me how he created a special storyboard that allowed him to keep constant track of the visual and literary levels he was trying to maintain. During the process, he constantly asked himself, “How can I get readers to understand the story simply by creating an image? There are two ways that I might create an image, either one image with two stories, or one large edited image.” To choose the right scenes for Pinocchio, Testa outlined places where he felt the images would best compliment the text, and read the book repeatedly in order to completely grasp the flow of action. Perhaps equally important to the actual artwork itself, he added, is the pacing and the precise location of where an image is placed in a printed book. “There are fifty-two images in this book, and they are relatively close together. I try to create a rhythm to the illustrations,” meaning that each picture represents a pivotal moment in the story, and in Pinocchio most chapters either end or begin with an illustration. The flowing imagery allows the reader to maintain a steady pace, while creating pauses in the storyline and breaking the text into manageable parts.
Action and movement
At first glance the art for Pinocchio appears lighthearted and buoyant, however Testa’s work is in reality quite dynamic. To show where the action lies in what appears to be a passive image, Testa pointed to an illustration in the book. In it, Pinocchio stands at Geppetto’s worktable and argues with the Cricket. “Some images are deceptive. They look approachable and friendly, but an older reader will see some of the darker aspects at work here. Look at the table. Pinocchio’s hand is very close to the mallet, which he will pick up shortly and throw at the Cricket, killing him. This is a triangle of violence here.” This is not simply a picture of a quarrel, but a violent avant scène, and yet is still an image that is appropriate for children. “Children need action to convey a story of experience through repetition,” which may be why, in Pinocchio,Testa has filled the pages with the scurrilous puppet in all manner of situations, from skipping school to facing a fearsome serpent. Testa also believes that in order to be successful at his craft, a part of him must retain a childlike understanding and appreciation for the world. “To illustrate, an illustrator needs to have a part of himself that hasn’t grown up yet,” Testa explained. “I have to be willing to re-experience pain, rejection, joy, and other emotions, as if for the first time.”
Just as parents once used Pinocchio as a way to teach social and moral values, fables are equally important today in constructing a moral compass for children. Testa illustrated an edition of Aesop’s Fables, and finds their universal qualities a captivating way to educate young minds. “Through these stories there is a possibility to acquire a social sensibility.” He views his illustrations as an educational tool because they show how to deal with society from a children’s point of view, which is often more effective than an adult telling a child what is right and what is wrong. There is historical precedent to this approach going back to the nineteenth century, when Pinocchio was first published. Before there was mandatory schooling, children’s books were crucial teaching tools. Carlo Collodi originally published Pinocchio in installments and he initially intended to end the book with the death of the unfortunate puppet. Indeed, the illustration that closes chapter fifteen shows Pinocchio strung up and hanging from a large oak tree. The puppet survives the hanging, and continues on his adventures.
(Available April 9, 2013)
Draw Your Own Alphabets: Thirty Fonts to Scribble, Sketch, & Make your Own Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, NY.
This book takes the art of custom-drawn fonts, - lively, hand-drawn letters often perfected by middle school adepts - to an extraordinary level of sophistication. British graphic designer Tony Seddon opens the manual with a primer on the history of hand-lettering, including tips for perfecting one’s craft, the pros and cons of tracing, and understanding the basic structure of letterforms. Seddon teaches the proper techniques to create funky, personalized fonts in this very hands-on workbook.
The thirty alphabet fonts all are custom drawn by a team of young designers and illustrators who each reveal a little about themselves and the inspiration for their fonts. For example, artist Michelle Tilly discovered the origins for her “Spotty Fairground” font by observing antique signs on a Bristol pier.
Draw Your Own Alphabets: Thirty Fonts to Scribble, Sketch, & Make your Own Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, NY.
There is a style here to suit any mood and personality, ranging from the Pacman-inspired “Butterman,” to “Topiary” where the letters resemble leafy bushes. My favorite font is the “Octobet.” This intricately detailed font is influenced by the Norse legend of the fearsome sea-monster, the Kraken.
Seddon concludes with a useful section on how to use one’s fonts by digitizing them. A glossary of terms as well as an anatomy of principal font features rounds out the book. This isn’t necessarily a book geared towards children, but placed in the right hands it would no doubt be lovingly received and perhaps nurture grains of artistic creativity. A perceptive child might also enjoy reading the included designers’ biographies.
Draw Your Own Alphabets: Thirty Fonts to Scribble, Sketch, & Make your Own Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, NY.
Written by Paula Bryne, author of the acclaimed Evelyn Waugh biography, Mad World, this new bio of Austen takes an innovative approach: Byrne collects a set of objects from Austen’s world and uses each as a jumping off point to talk about one aspect of the author’s life. For example, an East Indian shawl calls forth some family history, and a card of lace purchased in London conjures a time when Austen was perhaps preparing for the “marriage market” in Bath. Red velvet cushions are wonderfully evocative, and it turns out they can tell us a lot about the fine houses Austen visited and wrote about (Humphry Repton, known for his “Red Books” quite fittingly has a cameo in this chapter.)
It’s a rare biographer who can write a serious book that is immensely readable. For me, the description and study of the objects and the emphasis on material culture makes Byrne’s achievement all the greater. It tugs at my antiquarian side, and as someone who has studied book history, I found her insight into this subject using Austen’s childhood notebooks, a subscription list, a royalty cheque, and Austen’s lap desk encouraging for the discipline.
I would love to ask Byrne about the Austen ring sold last year at auction for $236,557. What does that humble gold and gemstone ring tell us about what was important to the author, or what relationship did it inform? Those are the kinds of questions Byrne takes up when she discusses Austen’s topaz cross in chapter 14 or a painted ivory miniature in chapter 11. By rummaging through her “things,” we see Austen at a personal level, and she’s as amazing as ever.
“The Olive Fairy Book,” by Andrew Lang, illustrated by Kate Baylay; The Folio Society, $84.95, 296 pages.
In late January, author Jane Yolen - considered by many to be the ‘Hans Christian Andersen’ of her generation - spoke with me about the introduction she wrote to theFolio Society’s The Olive Fairy Book, a new edition of fairy tales originally published in 1907 by Scottish author Andrew Lang. We also talked about heroes, magic, and discovering hope through storytelling.
THE OLIVE FAIRY BOOK Reproduced by permission of the publisher, The Folio Society, London.
The Folio Society & Andrew Lang
There are twelve Fairy books, and the Olive Fairy is the eleventh in the series. As a child Yolen read many, if not all, of the Rainbow Fairy series. In the introduction to the Folio Society’s edition she highlights three of her favorite stories- ‘Jackal or Tiger,’ ‘Samba the Coward,’ and ‘Kupti and Imani.’
“I’m pretty sure I read them all as a child. I was one of those childhood readers who, once I found something that I loved, I would seek out everything that was related to it.” The Olive Fairy Book includes all the elements necessary for riveting reading - heroic princes, wise fairies, talking animals, evil trolls, and witches. While being a prolific writer of children’s novels and poetry, Lang was recognized as a leading authority on world folklore and mythology.
Bound elegantly in olive green cloth, this edition of The Olive Fairy is itself a work of art, featuring an Art Deco frontispiece and bright gold illustrations by British artist Kate Baylay. Inside, readers will find more visual feasts- twelve full-color illustrations and thirteen black and white drawings.
Yolen discussed the era that inspired the artwork, and why it is wholly appropriate for this edition. “This book was published originally in 1907, which is when arts and crafts, art nouveau and art deco all come together.”
Yet as beautiful as these pictures are, this edition is perhaps most appropriate for older readers. “I think the pictures in this book are exquisite. But they’re also not for children. They’re very sexy, very dark; some are quite violent. It’s exquisite bookmaking and of course the Folio Society is known for that. And the price reflects that; it’s for collectors. You can get the edition in paperback for very little money, but the point of this kind of book is that it’s an art object.” If a collector wishes to acquire the entireRainbow Fairy series, The Folio Society is issuing all twelve of the books, each similarly designed and illustrated by a contemporary artist. The Olive Fairy Book is the tenth to be published.
THE OLIVE FAIRY BOOK Copyright © 2013 by Kate Baylay. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, The Folio Society, London.
At least once a summer for the past twenty years Yolen has visited the gravesite of Andrew Lang in St. Andrews, Scotland, partly because his work played a significant role in her development as a writer. “He was one of the most important ones [to me.] And I happen to have a house there. When writers visit, I’ll take them to the grave. Or if I’m on my own I’ll go. It isn’t that I’m genuflecting at his grave, it just happens to be a lovely grave with a beautiful Celtic cross on it.”
In a classic example of serendipity, Yolen was unaware of the writer’s presence in the town before settling there with her late husband, David Stemple. “I didn’t even know about the connection when I first moved there. My husband was a professor of computer science, and took his second sabbatical at St. Andrews.” (Now she spends her summers there, and returns to her home in western Massachusetts each winter.) After some poking around, Yolen found a chapel with a plaque dedicated to Andrew Lang. “I discovered that Lang was buried on the cathedral grounds. It was a hunt.”
In November 2012, Yolen was the 22nd person and the first woman to deliver the annual Andrew Lang Lecture at the university, which was also celebrating the centennial of Lang’s death. “Every academic in Cambridge has lectured here. The month after I was born, in March 1939, an Oxford professor named J.R.R Tolkien gave the lecture, which became the iconic essay on fairy stories - and really changed my life as a writer. So St. Andrews asked me, and I said, ‘How can I follow in these footsteps?’ As I said to the audience, ‘Here I am, walking in Tolkien’s shoes, who walked in Lang’s shoes -- why not give me a ring and point me towards Modor?’”
To continue reading about The Olive Fairy Book, read my full review at Literary Features Syndicate!
Well that’s a headline to entice many readers and collectors -- it’s also the title of a new novel by Syrie James, author of The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen.
In The Missing Manuscript, James uses a twenty-first-century story to frame the nineteenth-century narrative, i.e. Austen’s missing first novel. While on vacation in England, Samantha McDonough, an American special collections librarian who failed to finish her dissertation on Austen at Oxford, pops into an antiquarian book shop and picks up an old poetry book. Much to her surprise, a letter is found tucked into the uncut pages, and that letter turns out to be an unknown and unsigned letter from Jane Austen to her sister. Better still, the letter mentions a missing manuscript.
While that frame proved hackneyed at best, Samantha does uncover a manuscript, stowed away in a secret cupboard in an English country manor house. (She also finds its handsome, young, divorced owner, Anthony Whitaker.) They begin to read the manuscript, written in 1802. It involves a clerical country family named the Stanhopes, who endure financial and social ruin and an embarrassing trip to Bath. The characters of Rebecca Stanhope and the friends and suitors she encounters have more life to them than their modern counterparts in this novel. Thankfully, their well-plotted story constitutes the bulk of the book, which will delight Austen fans. It may even gain a few new ones.
Meanwhile, back in the present, Anthony Whitaker is counting his chickens, ticking off prices of book and manuscript sales at auction found via his cell phone browser. He feels that his manuscript will break the current record--that of $30.8 million paid by Bill Gates for Leonardo Da Vinci’s Codex Leicester. With the proceeds, he can restore his family’s ancestral home. But will he sell?
After several hours amiably passed, you, dear Reader, will know the answer to that.
A handsomely illustrated book for map lovers, this book is not a history of cartography per se, but a look at the graphic elements and beautiful imagery of maps from the sixteenth through the nineteenth century. As John Noble Wilford notes in the foreword, “When it came to orienting the map, the inner artist felt free to embellish the necessary with symbolic blossoms--compass roses--spreading in the cardinal directions. In other flights of whimsy, cherubs with chubby cheeks blow in the directions of the prevailing winds. These features drive up old-map prices at auction.”
In this volume, one sees the evolution of the compass rose and watches how images of humans were used by mapmakers through the centuries. Flora and fauna are common ornamental elements too. One of my favorites is Islandia, a map of Iceland, from the 1587 edition of Theatrum. It shows all manner of fantastic beasts off the coast, including man-eating monster fish.
Animal-shaped maps form their own section, and I was glad to see the “Peaceful Lion,” of Leo Belgicus, coincidentally featured in our soon-to-be-mailed winter issue. The Pegasus-shaped map of Asia, 1581, is also pretty neat.
For anyone who studies or collects maps, The Art of the Map will be a welcome addition to your library.
Casting a wide net out to novelists, artists, designers, chefs, filmmakers, and journalists, the duo asked contributors to create a shelf of books that they could not live without, that had changed their lives as readers. Jane Mount then illustrated the list of books in her charming, colorful way.
I am often tempted to flip through coffeetable books without quite reading them, which would have been a shame in this case. Stopping not only to read the brief essays by people like Chuck Klosterman, Drew Gilpin Faust, and Tony Hawk, but to ‘shelf-read,’ their collections offers flares of insight into modern reading and book owning. Did anyone else know that Johnny Cash loved old books? Rosanne Cash remembers one treasure: “My dad would get so anxious if anybody held it, if anybody touched it. He loved books more than anything.” Her shelf was heavy on literature. I loved finding Steinberg’s Five Hundred Years of Printing on the shelf of Penguin Books cover designer Coralie Bickford-Smith. Look closely and you’ll spy Graham Greene, Tobias Wolff, Nabokov on many a shelf; Edith Wharton, too. I was surprised to see her so often.
Needless to say, it is a perfect gift for the book lover in your life. The very last page of the book is a blank ideal bookshelf, beckoning readers to fill it in for themselves. I, for one, could not resist, and so here it is: H.D. Thoreau’s Walden; J.M. Coetzee’s The Life and Times of Michael K; Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind; Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence; Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried; John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors; Mark Helprin’s A Winter’s Tale; Nicholson Baker’s Double Fold; The Portable Dorothy Parker; A.S. Byatt’s Possession; John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman; David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green.
In this immensely readable and enjoyable book, Dr. Ross culls each author’s symptoms from contemporary source material and attempts to diagnose his or her likely ailment. This book grew out of an article on syphilis he originally published in Clinical Infectious Diseases. Because Ross is a real M.D.--a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School--the urge to scoff at his multiple diagnoses of Asperger Syndrome is (mostly) quelled.
There are chapters on Milton, Melville, and Swift, all of which will cause readers to gasp and chuckle in turn, as Dr. Ross provides a light history of the medicines and treatments they endured. I guarantee that the opening paragraphs of the chapter on James Joyce and his “irrigation” treatments for gonorrhea will make readers squirm in their seat.
Tuberculosis picked off the five Bronte children one by one, a sad story with many dimensions deftly explained by Dr. Ross. Unfortunately the Bronte sisters are the only women under examination here -- what does Dr. Ross make of Jane Austen’s death? Last year, a British crime novelist claimed that Austen was poisoned, although she is commonly thought to have had Addison’s disease. Ross does discuss arsenic in a chapter on William Butler Yeats, saying that arsenic therapy was long used for many disorders, but that the “effective dose is very close to the amount needed to cause harm.” Arsenic treatments were also used on Jack London for his many maladies, but that wasn’t what killed him in the end.
Intrigued? Read an excerpt.
The novel’s main character, Clay Jannon, takes a job at a San Francisco bookshop where, he discovers, the real business is a lending library of leather-bound books for a crew of odd readers. Once he begins snooping around a bit and applying his techie skills--hacking, data visualization--to the mystery, he discovers that his boss, Mr. Penumbra, is a disenchanted leader in a “bibliophile cult” called the Unbroken Spine.
Following Penumbra to New York City, Jannon finds the object of the Unbroken Spine’s desire: a codex vitae printed by Aldus Manutius (founder of the cult) in a typeface called Gerritszoon at the end of the fifteenth century. The problem is, the book is in code; Jannon and his Silicon Valley friends aim to break it open and free the text, as it were.
At 288 pages, it is difficult to escape the feeling--especially when the flap copy compares it to “young Umberto Eco”--that the novel lacks depth, and the main plot feels formulaic at times. After all, we do find ourselves in a subterranean library vault pouring over an antiquarian book said to contain the key to immortality. But Sloan is very bright, and that shines through -- even to his glow-in-the-dark dust jacket. Plus, if he entices even a handful of younger readers to the coolness of rare books, well then, all is forgiven.
Incidentally, Sloan was pictured in the New York Times last month hiding away in the Grolier Club stacks, where he poured over Aldines, printed by the real Aldus Manutius.
Read an excerpt here.
Peter Geye’s charming essay about Micawber’s in St. Paul, Minnesota, pinpoints the beginning of his bibliomania to the purchase of a couple of Signet Classics in high school. “In the years between then and now, I’ve become a proper bibliophile ... There are many reasons I love books: for the worlds they show me, for the things they teach me, for the way they feel in my hand or in my satchel...” Francine Prose and Pete Hamill take turns reveling in the Strand’s 18 miles of books; Prose offers the intriguing tidbit that she often sells her used books and review copies to them.
With an introduction by Richard Russo and whimsical line illustrations by Leif Parsons, My Bookstore offers some perspective on contemporary bookselling, and it is as much about writing as it is about bookselling. A common theme in the essays is the support a young writer finds in a community bookstore -- these are the stores that zealously promote author events, hand-sell first novels, even slip manuscripts to publishing insiders. Without these stores, where do readers go? And also, where do writers go?
This endearing collection of essays provides a literary roadmap of the last great bricks-and-mortar bookstores in America -- now go!
Apparently a closeted vegetarian was reading 365 Ways to Cook Hamburger (Doubleday, 1960) because she left a recipe for zucchini bread inside. Was a Betty Draper-type housewife reading Frank Edwards’ Strange People whilst she whipped up macaroni loaf and apricot bavarian cream? Sour cream coffee cake with Less Than Zero is an odd combination, but two different kinds of pickle in The Spy Who Loved Me (NAL reprint, 1963) seems understandable.
Because some of the recipes are untested--let’s call them vernacular--Popek goes the extra step and brings in experts for some of the more interesting dishes. Blogger Shannon Weber of A Periodic Table, for example, provides professional measurements and advice for a pineapple chiffon cake recipe that seems thoroughly worth trying out.
Many of these “found recipes” turned up in cookbooks, for obvious reasons. So for cookbook lovers, there’s the added bonus of finding interesting new titles. Slenderella Cook Book by Myra Waldo (Putnam’s, 1957) contained a recipe for Boston Prune Cake and Salads, Sandwiches and Chafing Dish Dainties by Janet M. Hill (Little, Brown, 1914) offered okra gumbo.
Popek, who runs Popek’s Used and Rare Books in Oneonta, New York, seems to have a found a recipe for success in scrapbooking the paper ephemera he finds between the pages and among the stacks in his daily business. His first book, Forgotten Bookmarks (reviewed here last year), focused on letters, postcards, photographs, and other bookmarks he has uncovered. The handwritten recipes here were culled from the nearly 5,000 he has found in the past few years and are now published in color alongside the book (with a basic bibliographical entry) that each was in found in. For daring home cooks, food historians, lovers of paper and ephemera, this book is altogether satisfying. Bring one to your Thanksgiving host.
What I particularly liked is that is a terrific introduction to the terminology and processes that can seem complicated to those who were raised in a primarily digital design environment. Know the difference between a personal monogram and a cipher? Or, what the size of a calling card signifies? Or, how to tell the difference between wood engraving and steel engraving? You will. Collins’ book is abundantly illustrated and her timeline of engraving, from Gutenberg (who dabbled in copperplate engraving) to today’s specialty engravers is clear and useful.
The Complete Engraver is both a history and a how-to. This is one for the home library reference shelf.
To read an interview with the author over on the Crane & Co. blog, go here.
Reviewed by Edith Vandervoort
One could confidently say that all women in Western societies are permitted to enjoy the pleasures of reading. We are able to chose what we would like to read and how often we want to read. This is, even today, not the case in countries with restrictive rights for women, nor was this the case throughout much of history. In her engaging book, The Woman Reader (Yale UP, 2012), Belinda Jack traces the history of reading and education for women--notably linked to the accomplishments of the women’s movement--and, with the inclusion of drawing and photographs, highlights important female readers, writers, and literary critics.
Reading for women (and men) was based on whether or not one was wealthy and had the books and the time to read. In the twelfth century, book ownership was limited to members of the nobility, but convents, which had been established as early as the fifth century when they served to offer protection from the scourges of war, provided a more egalitarian system of education in French, English, and Latin for women of various socioeconomic classes. They varied greatly by the number of book bequests and the literacy of the community, but provided women with the opportunity to achieve a high level of scholarship. In the early middle ages, men and women collaborated in writing the scripture for the purpose of serving God in the conversion of non believers. With the invention of the printing press in the sixteenth century, women largely read religious works, but also secular materials on “acceptable” topics. Romances were not included in this category and were, for many centuries, considered morally damaging and conducive to frivolity and the release of inhibited sexual desires. The Reformation provoked contentious, often dangerous religious ideas. At this time, women began to write to express their religious and political views. With improved technology came the increased availability of secular reading materials and, with it, the degradation of women through inexpensively produced pamphlets and booklets, leading to hotly-debated rebuttals written by women.
The commercialization of books thrived and women were encouraged to read advice manuals, how-to books on household activities, books on etiquette, but also pulp fiction. The debate of whether or not women should be educated abated and women became more assertive. Various salons in the seventeenth century and the Bluestockings in the eighteenth century were intellectual societies where women could freely exchange ideas. Rousseau’s theories proclaiming that women should be educated to promote men’s happiness was discarded and in the eighteenth century women’s magazines, printed for the sole purpose of pleasure in reading what other women wrote, increased in number. The idea of reading for personal edification eventually became largely accepted for all people.
Jack’s well-researched and fascinating book makes us appreciate the gift of reading and equally conscientious of how slaves, women, and disenfranchised populations are manipulated through illiteracy and the lack of quality education.
--Edith Vandervoort is a freelance writer based in California.
Of course he is. Bonnet discourses on buying books, reading books, organizing books, annotating books, and lending books (never!). When discussing the future of personal libraries, Bonnet believes that the combination of specialization and digitization will hasten the end of large general collections. He writes, “Bibliophiles will still keep their collections, and libraries devoted to precise topics will survive, but we may be pretty sure that vast and unwieldy personal collections of a few tens of thousands of books are likely to disappear, taking their phantoms with them.”
This slim volume is a treat to read, and its Continental flair seemed to this reviewer to bring something fresh to topics already covered brilliantly by Alberto Manguel and others. The introduction by novelist James Salter is a paean to the book and the personal library--you can read part of it at the New Yorker’s book blog.
Poet’s Pub is the charming story of the Pelican Pub in Downish, England, run by middling poet Saturday Keith. His guests are an interesting group of English and American travelers: a professor and his daughter, a retired colonel and his wife, a businessman, and a “harmless” book collector who turns out to have a sinister side (“a folio-sized wolf in calf’s clothing”). The author provides comic relief at the expense of bibliophiles (but I laughed anyway), particularly in this passage:
Wesson sat a little distance away, still behind his enormous folio. Wesson had talked old books to Sir Philip Betts, who hated reading; to Jean Forbes, who disliked Wesson; to Sigismund Telfer, who believed only in new books; to Jacquetta Telfer, who preferred maps; to Colonel Waterhouse, who wasn’t interested; and to Lady Porlet, who thought it a sin and a shame to pay hundreds of pounds for dusty volumes that nobody read...
The novel evolves into a caper that might well be described as a wittier, less deadly Gosford Park.
The new edition features a foreword by librarian and author Nancy Pearl, who felt compelled to revive Eric Linklater’s novel for modern readers. Pearl deserves many thanks for that. For years Poet’s Pub was out of print, even though it was one of the first ten titles used by Allen Lane to successfully launch the Penguin Books line in 1935. Linklater was shelved alongside an eclectic group, including Andre Maurois, Ernest Hemingway, Susan Ertz, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Beverly Nichols, E.H. Young, Mary Webb, and Compton Mackenzie.
Last week Tom Phillips celebrated his 75th birthday and the release of the 5th edition of The Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel, a watershed in the latter-day history of artists’ books inspired by Surrealist methods in cutting, pasting, and heavy duty reassembly and collage. The work takes the text of A Human Document, by W. H. Mallock and effaces the pages in every which way: scraping, painting, pasting images, and obscuring huge swathes of text. As Phillips ‘writes’ on the title page: “I have to hide to reveal”.
Unlike the Surrealists, and unlike anyone else working in 1966 when Phillips began the book, The Humument was not a one-off but something he wanted “to spend the rest of [his] life working on”, “sometimes mining, sometimes undermining” and constantly remaking. So the work is not one story but many, with 80 new pages in and a few alterations of the original 367 treated pages, Phillips explained to a packed basement at the Review, an independent bookshop in Peckham, southeast London.
It was a fitting location, close to the spot where the great-grandaddy of DIY bookmaking, William Blake, hallucinated a tree full of angels, and more recently close to the (now-defunct) antique shop where Phillips first came across the book he would transform into The Humument. The shop was Austin’s Furniture Repository, the price was a thruppence, another far cry from the present day, as Phillips pointed out that in 46 years using 15 copies of The Human Document in his art, Mallock’s original has “seriously appreciated in value” to around £100-£200.
If the celebratory launch of the 5th edition was a chance for Phillips to reflect in good company about what has changed in his life since 1966 (for instance, The Humument’s archive is now established at the Bodleian Library, Oxford), his selected readings from the new edition spoke to what has changed about life in general. For starters, the artist admitted that he has improved over time in cutting out words and sentences, shapes and shadows, from the book, a temperamental medium. The visual style has also evolved to include other interests on Phillip’s part, for instance his extensive postcard collections. Among the additions to the story, Bill Toge, the “forced” protagonist of the novel, “condemned to appear, to be apart of the story whenever the word ‘together’ or ‘altogether’ occurs”, experiences the horror of 9/11 (“nine eleven, the time singular, which broke down illusion”) and the rise of social media. This is the first edition of the book where it is possible for a character to check her facebook profile on an app to find pictures of Bill Toge. And never merely a source for commentary, Phillips has already adapted the late 19th century work to the times in big way: as of 2010, it was translated into an app for iPad - with an added feature allowing readers to use the book as an oracle, combining bibliomancy with social networks (you can post your results on Facebook and Twitter).
As an oracle for the future of artists’ books Phillip’s Humument brings tidings from a world where digital apps complement rather than replace the works they represent, and where repetition is always an enriching experience (“your weaknesses become your strengths,” Phillips noted when asked by a member of the audience why he was so repetitive). As Daniel Traister writes: “collage, a shaky assertion of stability, orders materials with no obvious or stable basis for their relationship into a framed composition”. What was true for Dadaists and Surrealists, and each edition of The Humument, is now one way of thinking about the relationship between books and their digital counterparts: they are the new components of collage, of making meaning, and of creating stable links between otherwise unstable media.
Reviewed by Bill Butts
The greatest fear of novice collectors is not being able to correctly identify a book’s edition. This can lead to costly mistakes or can cause you to pass up an underpriced bargain. The vast majority of noncollectors are under the impression that a first edition is identified by those two words on the copyright page. Sometimes this is indeed the case, often not. Pitfalls abound. Not only are there many methods of indicating edition, many of them cryptic, but publishers often switch from one method to another, apply them inconsistently or otherwise complicate matters to confound collectors.
Bill McBride’s A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions - the seventh, revised edition of a booklet first published in 1979 - is the remedy. This handy “cheat sheet” has been a mainstay of booksellers for three decades now. I’ve recommended the Pocket Guide to countless bibliophiles or wannabe bibliophiles. A hideous specimen held together with packing tape and good will has been within arm’s reach for more than twenty years, and I keep a copy in every car’s glove compartment.
McBride’s Pocket Guide is an A to Z listing of 5,835 English-language publishers current and former, from A & B Publishing through Zone Books. (According to McBride, that’s 2,193 more publishers listed than the 3,642 that appeared in the sixth edition - up 38% -- plus an additional 2,342 pieces of data.) A clever abbreviation system then shows each publisher’s method of noting edition. The abbreviation that follow every publisher’s name is explained in the key. Baylor University Press, for instance, uses “NAP,” meaning “no additional printings are indicated in the book.” Ross & Haines employ a straightforward “FE,” meaning “words FIRST EDITION must appear on back of title page with no additional printings indicated.” Rand, Avery & Co. favor “SD” - “same date must appear on title page and back of title page with no additional printings indicated.” A dozen other abbreviations are used, including the popular “N” (“a sequence of numbers... must appear on the back of the title page with the ‘1’ present”) and “L” (“a sequence of letters... must appear on the back of the title page with the ‘a’ present”) and the unfortunate “No designation” - yes, there are publishers for whom “no consistent way to determine one printing from another exists.” But despite these general rules, exceptions do abound, and the Pocket Guide spells out many of them. For instance, a new collector might know the number sequence system noted above, but not be aware that Random House employed it incorrectly. Their first editions always begin with the number “2,” which would usually indicate a second printing - so anyone not knowing this will misidentify a true Random House first edition as a second printing. Amateur Hour mistake.
This listing is prefaced by an eight-page introduction that crams in lots of condensed bookseller gems. Neophyte collectors overlook this at their own peril. There are thumbnail discussions on the distinction between edition, printing and impression, another on the often-misunderstood distinction between issue, state and point, a must-read section on identifying book club editions, and other tidbits of wisdom to shorten the learning curve. Read, study, and repeat.
As Bill McBride notes in his introduction, “The most useful tool in determining a first edition is an acute mind. This guide can take you only so far.” Oh so true, but without books such as the Pocket Guide providing concrete data that acute mind can really be stymied. And dealers need it just as much as collectors - more so, since they need to access this information far more frequently. Sure, any good dealer can normally identify most first editions without it, but this is a massive number of publishers, many of them obscure mom-and-pop presses rarely encountered. No one can memorize this mountain of minutiae.
A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions is certain to be the smallest reference book on your reference shelf and probably the one you’ll use the most. Any reference work that helps make better collectors gets a big thumbs up in my book!
--Bill Butts runs Main Street Fine Books & Manuscripts in Galena, IL.
McBride, Bill. A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions. Hartford: McBride/Publisher, 2012. 16mo. Softbound. 142pp. $18.95.
Briscoe’s fiction debut plays with the contemporary themes of the decline of reading, the death of the book, and increasing digitization in lieu of acquisition at research libraries. It is a breezy read for a summer afternoon, and for those of us in the trade -- librarians, booksellers, collectors -- you may well recognize yourself here, and smile.
The Ready Made from Amsterdam-based Next Architects is so called because it features a facade (leather, with gold tooling, no less) of one hundred classic books that one can gently press in and replace with real books. A cool idea, but perhaps best left to the couture crowd.
I couldn’t quite get on board with the Library Bath from Malin Lundmark--it’s an idea that is both so wrong and so right--but I did like the Book Case from Makeshift. Essentially it’s a suitcase with three shelves inside. Heavier than your e-reader, but a much more civilized way to travel with your library.
As for me, I received a new bookshelf for my birthday this past weekend. I had been interested in something small that would fit next to my desk and hold all of the books I’m currently working on for several different projects. I imagined a library book truck with style. What I got was this Eiffel revolving bookstand, which is quite perfectly suited to the task and handsome, too.
For collectors, there is an incredible sub-narrative to savor in this book -- around the mid-point of his life, I.N. Phelps Stokes became a manic collector of prints and maps of New York City. Trying to preserve the bucolic past of his youth, he bought everything he could get his hands on and spent his entire fortune doing so. Zimmerman writes of Stokes’ goal: “Collect every map, every view, every fact, every detail about Old New York. Research the city’s beginnings. Bind it all together in a book of exquisite quality.”
Which is what he did. Titled The Iconography of Manhattan Island, the massive, six-volume set was his life’s passion. In it are reproductions of everything Stokes could get his hands on, plus histories, chronologies; it took a team of researchers and more than a dozen years to complete. The edition was 402 copies, and those, Zimmerman tells us, are scarce (and expensive) today. (Christie’s sold an inscribed one last year for $5,625, a steal! They tend to go for double that retail, and even the reprint editions aren’t cheap.) She adds, “None of the classic or contemporary histories of New York could have been written without the Iconography as a source.”
Love, Fiercely is an engaging and erudite biography of this incredible couple and their passions. I heartily recommend it.
Malcolm’s Wine is a noir crime caper featuring “vintage wine, rare books, and sneaky people” from Philadelphia-based author-bookseller, Hugh Gilmore. I took this novel on vacation with me a few weeks ago and finished it in three days, leaving me bookless for the rest of the week. In the novel we meet Brian Berrew, a divorced bookseller living in Ann Arbor, and a bit of ladies man who is still grieving over the loss of his sixteen-year-old son. When his apartment is burgled on a night during which a local woman is murdered with a baseball bat, things get interesting. A host of quirky characters play a part in a zany drama involving a collection of stolen rare Americana. If you enjoy bibliomysteries, place your bet on Malcolm’s Wine.
Glaciers is slim debut novel by Portland, Oregon author Alexis M. Smith. It was the book’s cover that first sold me -- a dress made of cut-up text against a bright blue background -- and then I found that the main character works in a library doing book conservation and generally feeling a little out of place in her historical moment (Incidentally, this would have been a perfect description of yours truly about ten years ago). But there is so much more to story, layer upon layer that peels back like an onion, in language aptly described by Publishers Weekly as “lyrical and luminous.” Though Smith may choose less bookish characters or settings in her next novel, she’ll still be on my radar as one to read.
Girl Reading by English debut novelist Katie Ward is creative and clever -- the author bases each of the seven chapters on seven portraits of women reading, from a painting of an orphan reading a prayer book in medieval Siena to a modern woman photographed reading at a bar, her photo uploaded to Flickr. All are inventive stories, well-written, and surprising in their depth. One reviewer called Girl Reading “demanding,” and I would not disagree. With seven strong narratives to keep in mind--spanning the fourteenth century to the twenty-first--as well as their various subplots and tropes, a reader could feel overwhelmed. Then again, an abundance of intelligent literary fiction is nothing to complain about. (Read an excerpt here.)
Most people believe the book jacket to be a modern creation. Even the great Matthew Bruccoli got it wrong when he declared Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage (1895), to be the first American novel in a jacket. Tanselle believes that printed jackets were common as far back as the 1870s, but they were routinely discarded. Over the past forty years, he has located 1,888 examples of book jackets, stretching as far back as the proto-jackets/coverings of the 1820s. A color insert shows off a few of them, and a list of pre-1901 printed book jackets is printed in the second half of the book.
Jacket restoration? Nay! Tanselle writes, “A few prominent dealers have forgotten that the product they are selling is historical evidence, and they have violated collectors’ trust by supporting the alteration of that evidence (even when they have disclosed it).” And, “To condone the alteration of artifacts for cosmetic reasons is to rob collecting of meaning as a serious intellectual pursuit.”
Tanselle’s collection of nineteenth-century book jackets--the basis for much of the research presented in this book--will soon be placed at Yale’s Beinecke Library, where Tanselle’s collection of American imprints also resides.
To view the table of contents, an excerpt, or a slideshow, or to order the book, click here.
In the postscript, Bennett, formerly with Christie’s rare books department and more recently past president of the ABAA, writes that the working title of this book was “A Bibliographical Romance” -- less creative than the final title, taken from Austen’s Emma, but more descriptive. He goes on to say, “If I have tinkered a little with history, I have done my best not to tinker with bibliography...Every reference to books, authorship, texts, publisher’s imprints, and prices is, as far as I know, accurate.” It brings to mind the PBS slogan, “entertainment without the guilt.”
This year, I asked for ten titles, and ten I did receive. As you’ll see, books about books and literary fiction are my main genres. Some were recommended by others, some I learned about through reviews, and some are part of “collections” within my library.
It’s such a fresh idea, and each page is vivid and welcoming. You dive right into Frankie’s story, told in typewritten snippets, and page through reading both the text and the images. The tone is smart and sassy. It’s like reading an entire book of Anne Taintor.
The setting and the premise are interesting. It’s England in 1812, and young Lucy Derrick is almost without a friend in the world, and she’s being forced into marriage. That is until she learns how to cast magic spells from a neighbor who is--not to spoil the story--an otherworldly being. The Luddites are just beginning their uprising against industrialization, and Lucy gets swept up into an implausible good versus evil narrative in which she must save England from Luddites and the Undead by finding a magical book--“There is no book on earth so dangerous as the Mutus Liber. It secrets are devastating.” All the while Lucy, a strong heroine, must preserve her heart and her virtue from the rakish Lord Byron. He plays a major role in the novel, which at first seems promising, but rather quickly dissolves into thin fantasy. William Blake also pops into the narrative a few times.
The dealer Stanton shadows, Curt Avery (a pseudonym) is a brash character, extraordinarily impressive, if a little rough around the edges. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of antiques, learned in the trenches. Stanton picked well; Avery is great fun to listen to, and viewing the business through his eyes keeps the pace of the book brisk.
This slim catalogue was just published in an edition of five hundred to honor the gift of William J. McGill, who donated his collection of books and ephemera related to the British artist John Piper to the Watkinson Library at Trinity College. McGill’s essay about Piper and the collection explains why he--“I am not an art collector, but a book collector”--should be so interested in a British artist. By way of example, he discusses Brighton Aquatints, a folio of twelve etchings and aquatints, as well as Piper’s collaborations with poet John Betjeman. An annotated checklist of some two hundred items follows.
This production is an example of the continuing good work of Richard Ring, head curator and librarian of the Watkinson Library at Trinity College and author of The Bibliophile’s Lair blog (also a former FB&C book review editor!). In his introduction, Ring says he hopes the publication rallies students, that McGill’s collection and donation might be an “inspiring model.”
The twenty-four-page paperbound book can be purchased directly from Oak Knoll.
I found this bit of news wonderfully coincidental, as I have just finished reading The Art Detective: Adventures of an Antiques Roadshow Appraiser by Philip Mould (the paperback came out this past spring). Mould has a thoroughly enjoyable voice, and he wins over his readers time and again with tales of a forged Norman Rockwell, a Rembrandt in disguise, and a long-lost Gainsborough that he found misidentified at a Los Angeles auction. The zeal of collector Earle Newton--who hoarded an immense collection of masters in a Vermont church that Mould was called in to catalogue--is something we all recognize.
I learned much from this book about the process of “overpainting”--in which a later artist actually paints over the piece at hand to hide wear and tear, to remove offensive items, or merely to freshen it up--and how important and effective conservation treatments can be in finding the masterpiece underneath. Not to mention superb research skills, such as those employed by Mould and his colleague Bendor Grosvenor as they pieced together the amazing provenance of a Queen Elizabeth I portrait.
After all--as I myself have learned with my own minor (but thrilling) art “discovery” last year--art collectors aren’t so different from book collectors. We’re all in it for the chase, and we all love making a discovery.
The catalogue accompanies the Folger’s new exhibit, Fame, Fortune, and Theft: The Shakespeare First Folio (open though Sept. 3 of this year). As Folger Shakespeare Librarian Stephen Enniss writes in the foreword, the exhibit takes up where the 1991 folio exhibit left off and reminds us, “what this iconic book has meant to readers over the years.” Eighty-three First Folios are on exhibit (82 owned by the Folger, plus one private copy), “the most ever assembled in one place since their original dispersal from Jaggards’ print shop.”
Anthony James West, curator of the exhibit, provides a wonderful overview of the exhibit and the catalogue. He explains briefly what each essay covers -- one on the paper by Carter Hailey, one on bindings by Frank Mowery (with great images), one on type by Paul Werstine, one of the Droeshout Portrait of Shakespeare by Erin C. Blake and Kathleen Lynch. Steven Galbraith gives a brief history of the First Folio and the Folger Library -- one of the images that accompanies his essay shows the Folger’s First Folio vault, practical and yet amazing to behold. West offers an essay on Constantine Huygens’ copy of the FF, Steven Escar Smith covers the Shakespeare collections of William Evans Burton and Edwin Forrest, and Don Weingust looks at the FF as an actors’ text. If I had to choose a favorite essay, though, it would be Georgianna Ziegler’s essay on “Gentleman, Ladies, and Folios: The Lure of the Chase.” It details the relationships between Folio collectors, particularly between Mr. and Mrs. Folger, the Halliwell-Phillipps family, and the Burdett-Coutts family. The catalogue ends with an excellent glossary of early printing and Shakespearean terms (e.g., collation, King’s Men, vatman).
All together, this seems less like an exhibition catalogue than a 72-page, well-illustrated book of essays about the First Folio by the foremost experts in the field. The price is $24.95 at the Folger shop; I say take money out of thy purse for this one.
This new book is an account of a grisly New York murder at the tail end of the nineteenth century. A human torso is found floating in the East River, severed limbs in Harlem, and a mysterious bloody pool in Long Island -- and who’s piecing it all together but the newspapermen employed by Joseph Pulitzer (for the World) and William Randolph Hearst (for the Journal). The vile details of this murder mystery created the perfect storm for tabloid journalists, who, in many cases, worked harder and better at locating evidence and suspects than the police. Of course, they also plotted against each other, fighting for higher circulation.
Though a different case, Collins’ true crime tale is reminiscent of Patricia Cline Cohen’s The Murder of Helen Jewett. His publisher also makes an apt comparison to Larson’s Devil in the White City. Which is to say that this is a book that has been thoroughly researched and has solid history within, and yet it is far from a dry, scholarly tome. The rich cast of characters -- a married midwife murderess among them -- is better than one finds in fiction. Collins is a skillful writer, and his narrative zips the reader from beginning to end.
Murder of the Century will keep you up at night, borrowing time from tomorrow to read ten more pages. Look no further for a summer read that will entertain and educate in the way that only the best books can.
The decoupage “biographical bracelet” would be a great project for girls, and the “kindle keeper” (complete with library pocket) perfect for the bibliophile who enjoys his e-reader as well as old books. The illuminated switch plate looks simple enough for anyone to attempt and would make a neat accent to bookish decor.
Occhipinti is responsible about discussing the types of books she uses--bookstore remainders and unwanted ex-library books--and gives a brief overview of collectible books and how to avoid using a valuable book for an art project in chapter one, “Books, Tools & Techniques.” She acknowledges that “spotting rare and collectible books is an art form in and of itself, replete with loopholes and expert-only savvy,” and she offers some basic instruction. I have one minor criticism here. She suggests that, when in doubt, you consult your local librarian. No offense to any local librarian, but that’s a terrible idea; with very few exceptions, local public librarians have absolutely no training in rare books (and are far too busy with summer reading programs and reference queries). If you don’t have a knowledgeable bookseller nearby, a few good searches on Abebooks or Biblio might be preferable.
Occhipinti’s “repurposed” books are truly beautiful art objects, and whether or not you’re crafty enough to give them a try yourself, her book is thoroughly enjoyable.
To read more about Occhipinti, take a look at this Q&A from the New York Times.
The premise of the book is, at first, hard to swallow. It’s England, 1964, and Esther Hammerhans, a young library clerk at the House of Commons, has advertised for a boarder. What shows up on her doorstep is a big black dog who calls himself Mr. Chartwell. He walks, he talks, he drinks gin; little by little, Esther lets him in.
Winston Churchill enthusiasts will understand the ‘black dog’ reference, as the great man once characterized his depression as such. Indeed the 89-year-old Churchill plays a prominent role in the novel, and it is in portraying the struggle and desperation of these two characters--Winston and Esther--that Hunt is at her best. She certainly takes risks with this novel, which she pulls off for the most part. Her agility with language is impressive, and Mr. Chartwell can be a very satisfying read for those willing to play along.
Published first in the UK, Mr. Chartwell was praised as “daring,” “quirky,” “original, tender, and funny,” by the national papers. Here, reviews seemed mixed. Publishers Weekly found it “very original” and “clever,” while Tadzio Koelb for the New York Times Book Review thought it “strained.”
Judge for yourself. To read an excerpt published by the New York Times earlier this month, go here.
The text, of course, can be had anywhere. What this edition offers is seventy-two gorgeous photographs, taken over the past twelve years. Flora, fauna, landscape -- the same panoramas that Muir himself viewed. What’s more, several pages from Muir’s “Sierra Journal” manuscript (the original of which is housed at the Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library) are reproduced herein; he had lovely handwriting, certainly neater than Thoreau’s scrawl. Several of Muir’s sketches are also seen here for the first time in print.
Miller, has been involved in three other photobooks of this nature (no pun intended): Walden: 150th Anniversary Illustrated Edition of the American Classic, Cape Cod: Illustrated Edition of the American Classic, and First Light: Five Photographers Explore Yosemite’s Wilderness. He and his wife own and operate Sun to Moon Gallery, a fine arts gallery in Dallas, Texas. He will be doing several book-related presentations and signings, particularly in California and Texas, from now until the book’s formal centennial in June.
Visit the book’s website to read more, see some of the stunning photography (limited edition prints are also available for sale), and/or watch a book trailer.
And from this massive collection comes one of the most ambitious THNOC projects, Furnishing Louisiana: Creole and Acadian Furniture, 1735-1835.
Inside the graceful pages of Stealing Magnolias: Tales from a New Orleans Courtyard, Debra
Shriver shares her love affair for New
Orleans and her French Quarter home. The poetic
journey captures the city’s lusty European flair with the whimsical memories of Mardi Gras, the deep-seated traditions of Southern ambitions, and the grand pursuits of dining and imbibing.
I have decided to start the new year off with a few books that came to my attention a bit too late to make my holiday roundups, but which are eminently worthy of notice all the same. Think of each one as a little present for yourself; you won’t be disappointed.
So you didn’t get a pony for Christmas, too bad, but you can still treat yourself to what is easily the most magnificent art book devoted to the horse that I have ever seen, and the best part is you don’t have to feed it or clean out its stall. Arguably the most beautiful animal in nature, the horse has inspired creative expression for many centuries, with magnificent examples in a multitude of media to be found in the prehistoric caves of Lascaux, the sands of Mesopotamia, and depicted over the generations by cultures as varied as Babylonian, Scythian, Chinese, Greek, and Roman. First published in France in 2008, this remarkable book, newly translated and issued in a lovely boxed edition, pays homage to the horse in all its glory, with more than 300 color illustrations and thirteen learned essays to make the case. The horse, John Louis Gourand writes, is “undoubtedly the most frequently represented living being in art after man himself, from the very earliest of times.” Abbeville Press lives up to its well-earned reputation for producing art books in the grand tradition; the illustrations are superbly chosen, and vividly reproduced.
George Washington’s America: A Biography Through Maps, by Barnet Schecter; Walker, 304 pages, $67.50.
Known most famously, of course, as hero of the Revolution and first President of the United States, George Washington also worked as a surveyor early in his life, and had a lifelong relationship with maps. At his death, many of the charts he had owned and used were bound into an atlas that eventually made its way to the Map Collection of Sterling Library at Yale University, a corpus that provides the framework for this most interesting examination. In addition to the maps he purchased, Washington drew a number of his own that have survived. “These visual images,” historian Robert Schecter writes, “place us at the scene of his youthful ambition and his later battles--in the landscapes and on the waterways that were the theater of war in Britain’s North American colonies, and that sparked the imagination and desires of the preeminent founder of the United States.” Once independence was secured, the maps helped shape Washington’s “vision of America as ‘a rising empire in the New World.’”
The Encyclopedia of New York City: Second Edition, edited by Kenneth T. Jackson; Yale University Press, 1,561 pages, $65.
First published in 1995, this wonderful, one-volume encyclopedia about the city that never sleeps was one of the most successful books in the long history of the Yale University Press, prompting the preparation of this completely updated effort. The World Trade Center no longer anchors the Manhattan skyline, to cite just one major change, and Bernie Madoff was not a household name back then. The E-Z pass hadn’t been invented yet either, and the New York Giants hadn’t shocked the New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl. These are just a few of the 800 entries to be added to the mix, bringing the total to 5,000. Each is written by an acknowledged authority, be it in sports, entertainment, finance, architecture, or art, and each is a delightful little essay in its own right about every manner of New York person, place, institution, and curiosity, spanning pre-history to the present, and covering all five boroughs.This is one of my very favorite reference books, all spiffed up, and relevant as ever.
For collectors, there is an interesting backstory to the book. Every holiday season since 1993, Penzler has commissioned an original short story from a leading mystery writer. The only directive: some of the action in the story must take place in the Mysterious Bookshop. Penzler printed each story in pamphlet form, limited to 1,000 copies, and mailed them out as gifts to customers. A hot ticket for mystery collectors today! All of these tales are collected in this volume.
And if you are simply dying for a signed edition, there’s a holiday party this Thursday (Dec. 9th) at the Mysterious Bookshop (now located downtown at 58 Warren St.) at which Penzler and many of the authors in this anthology will be present to autograph copies.
One of America’s truly great storytellers, the incomparable Pat Conroy, is also a determined bibliophile--indeed one of the first signings of this delightful paean to reading was held last week at the Captain’s Bookshelf in Asheville, NC--so it is no big surprise that he has written a number of essays over the years about his particular passion for books and authors. The fifteen pieces gathered here form a whole of Conroy’s reading life thus far, and are a joy to pick up at any point. “Books are living things, and their task lies in their vows of silence,” he writes in one chapter that will be of particular interest to collectors, his association with the Old New York Book Shop in Atlanta. (He admits to having bought up to five thousand books there.) “I could build a castle from the words I steal from books I cherish,” he writes in a tribute to the librarians of his early childhood. Everything this man of the South writes, he writes from the heart. The bookish drawings by Wendell Minor that garnish these lovely ruminations are a pleasant plus to one of the outstanding books about books of the season.
The black and white jazz photographs of Herman Leonard, shot during the 1940s and ’50s have become the stuff of legend. Louis Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Kenny Clark, Stan Getz, Modern Jazz Quartet--they’re all here in this definitive collection, a veritable feast of musical images. “He was a master of jazz,” music historian K. Heather Pinson wrote earlier this year on the occasion of Leonard’s death at the age of 87, “except his instrument was a camera.”
Give Joseph Ellis all the credit in the world for committing his considerable skills to a fresh evaluation of the correspondence exchanged between John and Abigail Adams over the course of their marriage during what we can all agree were eventful times, and for demonstrating how the 1,200 surviving letters of theirs constitute “a treasure trove of unexpected intimacy and candor, more revealing than any other correspondence between a prominent American husband and wife in American history.” David McCullough made full use of these same letters in his magisterial biography of John Adams a decade ago, though the canvas there was monumental. Here, it is focused strictly on the remarkable relationship as revealed through the letters. The writing, of course, is superb, as always, and a joy to engage.
Collectors of Americana know Robert Morris as one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and covet examples of his autograph accordingly, but chances are that few know much about the Philadelphia entrepreneur’s role in the founding of the Republic. According to historian Charles Rappleye, Morris was unsurpassed in his efforts to fund the rebellion; after the war, he served in the Continental Congress and United States Senate, and was the first Superintendent of Finance, or treasury secretary. His methods were not always above reproach, however, and a dramatic downfall led to a resounding fall from grace. All in all a ripe prospect for a modern biography, which Morris gets in this thorough examination of his life.
Dual biographies can be problematic undertakings, but Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, both respected historians and the authors separately of other books on early America, have combined here to produce a most readable account of a fifty-year friendship, perhaps one of the most consequential acquaintances in American history. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were Virginians who each served as President of the United States, we all know that, but their relationship, as profiled here, was as much symbiosis as it was mentor-protégé. Burstein and Isenberg had made a significant contribution to the literature of our Founding Fathers.
You could almost regard this huge biography as a bookend to the Morris volume cited above in that it looks at a significant player in American history who pretty much excelled away from the spotlight, in this case as Chief of Staff during World War II to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. As the consummate military man, Ike was legendary for delegating authority to key officers, and the aide who rode herd on all of them was Walter Bedell Smith. In 1950, Smith was Harry Truman’s choice to head the CIA in 1950; three years later, his former boss, by then president, named him Undersecretary of State, in which capacity he oversaw the partitioning of Vietnam into two nations, and implemented a plan for a coup d’etat in Guatemala. This is the first biography of his life, one long overdue.
No big surprise that Jessica Kerwin, writer for Vogue, thanks “legions of librarians” in the acknowledgments she appends to this charmingly eclectic compendium, given the wealth of arcania on subjects ranging from the balloon adventures of the Montgolfier Brothers in the eighteenth century, to the history of women’s lingerie, to the tradition of dining outdoors known as alfresco. It is, in short, an encyclopedia of very interesting things, and the documentation is impressive. The writing is elegant, the style accessible; altogether a fun book.
Venice: Pure City, by Peter Ackroyd; Nan Talese/Doubleday, 403 pages, $37.50. Writing about the life of a city as if it were a living, breathing organism is a specialty of the estimable English writer Peter Ackroyd, his “London: The Biography” of a few years back being an exemplar of the form; with “Venice: Pure City,” he offers a worthy companion. As a place seemingly set apart from the rest of Italy--Venice is a cluster of islands in a lagoon, really--the city’s insularity has given it a degree of independence. “The Italians do not really think of Venice at all,” Ackroyd writes, “it belongs to some other realm of fancy or of artifice.” His blend of detail and atmosphere is always in perfect balance, his narrative skill apparent in every chapter.
I was lucky enough to receive a galley of the book, and I so thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Anne takes us to Whitman’s house in dilapidated Camden, NJ; to the slick shrine to Hemingway in Key West, FL; to the ‘boyhood home’ of Mark Twain in Hannibal, MO. At each stop, she takes a good look around and tries to separate fact from fiction, writer from building. It’s a travelogue combined with literary history, written with humor and humanity.
If you’ve been reading along with me for the past year, you may remember that I’m a big fan of Thoreau. I’ve made the “literary pilgrimage” to Walden Pond maybe eight or ten times, even brought my then one year old on a tour of the Emerson House on one of the trips. Bad idea. In one of the chapters in A Skeptic’s Guide, Anne goes to Concord--former home to so many literary luminaries--and finds herself “preternaturally anti-Concordian.” I laughed at this, as I can completely understand how odd our strange devotions to these writers’ haunts can be, and yet I can’t help but associate that feeling with the desire to buy first editions. I suppose I’m hoping to see or experience something the way that author saw it, something very personal, like the view from her library window, his hat hanging on the hook by the door, or the first edition of his first book, if only for a moment.
I am delighted to report the publication of two books that I have been eager for some time to see appear between hard covers, having had the opportunity to know a bit about them beforehand, and to have had communication with each of the authors as they were works-in-progress. Happily, they are everything I expected they would be, gracefully written in both instances, wisely reasoned, and a genuine pleasure to read.
Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, by William Powers; Harper, 267 pages, $24.99.
A former staff writer and media critic for the Washington Post, William Powers
has written extensively on every manner of communications technology, developing the premise of this book--and coming up with the splendid title--while a Fellow at Harvard University’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press in 2006. Powers is exceedingly savvy when it comes to navigating his way about the digital world, and while he is not about to abandon its wondrous applications in any way, shape, or form, he has chosen to step back a bit, take a deep breath, and pay attention to the wisdom of our cultural forebears. “The interior struggle” of “information overload,” he writes--the phrase was presciently coined in the 1970s by Alvin Toffler--“is having a dramatic impact in our personal and family relationships.” Constant connectivity with the entire world--text messages, cellphones, video streams--leads him to ask the fundamental question: “What is the point anyway?” This is neither a preachy polemic nor a boring diatribe, and while he calls on Plato, Shakespeare, Thoreau, and others for guidance, he does so with style, humility and elan. “Every space is what you make it,” he concludes. “But in the end, building a good life isn’t about where you are. It’s about how you decide to think and live. Place your index finger on your temple and tap twice. It’s all in there.” Links to various reviews and broadcast interviews are available on Powers’ website.
The Groaning Shelf and Other Instances of Book Love, by Pradeep Sebastian; Hachette India, 295 pages, 12.99 GBP ($20 US).
A well-known literary columnist in India whose many pieces for major publications are available on the Internet, Pradeep Sebastian has entered the books about books genre in impressive fashion, with a very nice collection of his erudite pieces on a striking variety of subjects, many of them previously published in different form, though a few--including a generous profile of yours truly he calls “The Collector of Collectors”--appearing here for the first time. How can a reader of the Fine Books blog not be simpatico with someone who makes this admission: “Holding a book but not actually reading it gave me time (and put me in the mood) to reflect on the act of reading and the physicality of the book; the book as material object.” Or someone whose favorite Sunday afternoon ritual is take volumes off his groaning shelves and rearrange them in a new order? “Should I abandon the by-author arrangement and categorize them by subject matter?” Very heavy concerns, indeed. The book has just been released by the India division of Hachette, parent company of Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt. It should be available in U.S. outlets shortly; for now it can be ordered through Amazon.UK.
Impressions of Nature is a beautiful book, brimming with full-color illustrations. Cave impressively relays the early history of nature printing, its spread through Europe, the work of major printers, and its applications in photography and graphic design. There seems to be something for everyone in this splendid volume.
Taking this opportunity to chat with Richard about something aside from rare books and deadlines, I asked him about creating this memoir and about his life in New York City.
Nicholas Basbanes was literary editor of the Worcester, Massachusetts Telegram & Gazette from 1978-1991, in which capacity he was able to interview hundreds of authors whose publicity tours took them through the city of Boston. In “About the Author: Inside the Creative Process”, Basbanes draws upon his conversations with an immense diversity of literary greats ranging from Alfred Kazin, Arthur Miller, John Updike, and Toni Morrison, to Doris Lessing, Kurt Vonnegut, Neil Simon and Alice Walker, to explore the motivations and processes that authors experience and utilize to create their novels, poetry, histories, and other literary works. A fascinating read from beginning to end, this 246-page compendium is as informed and informative as it is insightful and inspiring. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, “About the Author: Inside the Creative Process” is highly recommended reading and a seminal work for both academic and community library Literary Studies reference collections.
Well-done, Nick! About the Author is available in both a trade edition and a signed limited edition in the FB store.
This book is the first publication in honor of AAS’s 2012 bicentennial. It can be purchased online at AAS or through Oak Knoll Books.
The minute I read that profile, Woodsburner went on my wish list. A few weeks later, that wish came true, and yet the book sat on my bedside table until I could find the time to read it. It’s a lovely novel. Supporting Thoreau is a full, intriguing ensemble cast of nineteenth-century characters, including, as Chris pointed out in his article, a Boston bookseller who dabbles in pornography and an illiterate book collector, who tucks away some of the great first editions of the time period on her single bookshelf.
Kirkus Reviews called the novel “Pulitzer Prize material” (though this year’s Pulitzer for fiction went to Paul Harding’s Tinkers, also now on my wish list). Indeed, this is the kind of novel that seems rare these days. I don’t often post book reviews here, but if you enjoy historical fiction or literary fiction, take a chance on this one.
“Publishing people are fascinating, interesting, occasionally horrifying and astounding. This book shows that their contribution to twentieth century British history and intellectual life was enormous and my research has forced reassessments of people like Robert Maxwell and Allen Lane as well as re-introducing many lesser-known individuals whose roles were important in shaping what we read.”
The pub details: Book Makers: British Publishing in the Twentieth Century by Iain Stevenson, Hardback, 336 pages, 244 x 172 mm, £25.00. It can be purchased from the British Library Shop (tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7735 / e-mail: email@example.com) and online as well as other bookshops throughout the UK.
Another just-issued title will be of particular interest to Francophiles -- it’s a new English-French, French-English glossary of terms by Roland Herrmann. From the press release: “More complete, more precise, more realistic than anything that exists so far, it contains approx. 1300 entries each way. A handy and elegant volume, it will prove of considerable help in your understanding and/or drafting of book descriptions.”
Available at: Librairie de l’Amateur, Strasbourg (France), or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Price 23 € plus postage.
An exhibit of vintage posters from his collection will be on view at the Furman Gallery at Walter Reade Theater through March 9.
Below, Resnick’s book signing at Rizzoli Bookstore in Manhattan, last month.
Hamilton’s title piece took irreverent note of the fact that Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt (1725-1798) spent the final years of his eventful life as a librarian in the household of Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein of Bohemia, and it was in that dreary castle that he took pen to paper and wrote Histoire de ma vie, the racy memoirs for which he became famous, and which an anonymous benefactor acquired on behalf of the French National Library (BNF). Though the actual purchase price was not disclosed, the figure was widely reported to be five million euros, about $9 million, which, if correct, would qualify it as the costliest manuscript transaction on record. The papers--comprising 3,700 pages of yellowing sheets--were transfered Monday to the BNF in thirteen boxes, and represent the complete, uncensored account of Casanova’s amorous adventures. The material had been owned since 1821 by the Brauckhuas publishing company in Germany, and was once thought to have been destroyed in World War II; it was later found safely stored in a bank vault.
For those truly interested in the role of librarians, especially those coping with so many seismic changes brought on by the twenty-first century, I heartily recommend a new release from HarperCollins, This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, $24.99, by Marilyn Johnson. A staff writer for Life magazine. Johnson says that she first became interested in the subject while doing research for her first book, a well received examination of obituaries wryly titled The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries. “With the exception of a few showy eccentrics, like the former solder in Hitler’s army who had a sex change and took up professional whistling, the most engaging obit subjects were librarians.”
Before long she was fully involved in the world of these wonderful professionals whose sole goal in life, it seems, is to provide knowledge and information to others. Johnson’s coinage of the word “cybarian” takes note of the changing nature of the business, and of the many ways the people she proceeded to spend so much time with have adapted to the new technologies. She describes the modern librarian as a person whose job is to “create order out of the confusion of the past, even as she enables us to blast into the future.”
The result is a most enthusiastic book that is great fun to read (and one which, I feel bound to disclose, makes generous mention of several books that I have written.) Its greatest contribution, I think, is that it pays tribute to an essential public service that so many government officials blithely feel can be cut at will during budgetary crises, reductions made especially easy for them to impose since these temples of wisdom have no well-heeled lobbyists throwing corporate money around to champion their cause. The epigraph to one of Johnson’s chapters says it best: “In tough times, a librarian is a terrible thing to waste.”