The Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, opened last week an exhibition of book cover design called The Cover Sells the Book: Transformations in Commercial Book Publishing, 1860-1920. Whatever your favored term--pictorial bindings, publishers’ bindings, or decorative cloth bindings--or movement--Aesthetic, Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, or Pre-Raphaelitism, the idea here is to chart “the sweeping changes in book design, inspired by technological developments, marketing strategies, and shifting ideas about art.”

The Scarlet Letter copy.jpgIn the Victorian and post-Victorian age, technological change made books easier to print and market widely. It also created an unusual backlash: artists like William Morris turned away from the mass production of books and returned to the ‘old-fashioned’ methods of letterpress and hand-illumination. He believed in creating beautiful books through the use of quality materials and integrated design. It wasn’t long before that aesthetic was adapted and commercialized by major publishers for their mass-produced, but still eye-catching publishers’ bindings.

“People wanted beautiful books in their homes, both for viewing pleasure and as a clear status symbol. The new interest in books as works of art attracted an expanded group of consumers, a burgeoning middle class with more disposable income,” said Rachael DiEleuterio, librarian and archivist at the Delaware Art Museum.

Camp-Fires and Guide-Posts copy.jpgMorris and his fellow British artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti feature prominently in the exhibition, as do American designers Sarah Wyman Whitman and Margaret Armstrong. The selections on view are largely pulled from Mary G. Sawyer’s 2009 gift of more than 3,000 books to the Delaware Art Museum’s Helen Farr Sloan Library and Archives. Several items from noted Delaware bibliophile Mark Samuels Lasner are also included among the fifty-plus books and posters on display.

If you can’t make it to Delaware before the exhibit closes on August 27, check out the online version.

                                                                                                                                         Images: (Top) The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1892), Binding designed by Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842-1904), Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum. (Middle) Camp-Fires and Guide-Posts, by Henry Van Dyke (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1921), Binding designed by Margaret Armstrong (1867-1904), Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum.

If you were online over the weekend, perhaps you noticed the Google Doodle dedicated to Josephine Baker, whose 111th birthday would have been on June 3rd. (Baker died in 1975 in Paris of a cerebral hemmorhage.) 



                                                                                                                                                                       The American dancer who went to Paris at age nineteen and quickly epitomized the glitz and glamour of the Roaring Twenties is now the subject of a recently released graphic novel biography.


Written by French author-illustrator duo José-Luis Bocquet and Catel Muller, Josephine Baker (SelfMadeHero; $22.95) explores Baker’s rise to fame as one of the first black entertainers to grace the world stage.


Illustrations by Catel Muller. Reproduced with permission from SelfMadeHero                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Despite her fame and becoming one of the highest-paid stage performers of the era, Baker experienced racism daily, and offstage joined the French Resistance (Baker was the first American woman to be buried in France with military honors) as well as the Civil Rights movement, championing unity and tolerance for all.


Illustrations by Catel Muller. Reproduced with permission from SelfMadeHero                                                         

At a hefty 568 pages, no stone goes unturned in this biographic treatment, which also includes the stories of the twelve adopted children Baker called her “rainbow tribe” and fifty-five mini biographies of the men and women in Baker’s life. Catel Muller’s sinewy illustrations evoke a swinging, graceful exuberance, the whole a revealing portrait of a woman who refused to live life in the shadows.                          


Josephine Baker, by José-Luis Bocquet, illustrated by Catel Muller, SelfMadeHero; $22.95, 568 pages. 

We spy some beautiful birds headed to auction in New York on June 15. The ornithological library of Dr. Gerald Dorros comprises a “superb selection of important works from the heyday of beautifully illustrated natural history books,” according to Christie’s.

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 10.53.10 AM.pngThe biggest names in birding are accounted for--Audubon, Gould, Elliot--in first editions, several in presentation copies. And in some cases, such as the first edition of Saverio Manetti’s Storia naturale degli Uccelli (1767-1776) pictured here, the auction estimate reaches six figures ($150,000-250,000). Same goes for Gould’s The Birds of Australia (1851-1869), estimated at $250,000-350,000. Those birds can fly!

More modestly, and more interestingly to some, will be the material related to the publication and sale of Audubon’s books, such as the “very rare” prospectus for the original edition of The Birds of America (1831) that bears an unsigned ink presentation in what may be Audubon’s hand, according to the auction catalogue. The estimate is $6,000-8,000. Another lot features the scarce salesman’s sample for the 1871 Lockwood octavo edition of Audubon’s Birds of America and Quadrupeds of America, containing extensive examples of the text and forty hand-colored plates. It is estimated at $7,000-10,000. Still another lot boasts a title-page to volume three of Birds (1834-35) boldly inscribed by Audubon in 1840 while visiting Baltimore to solicit subscriptions for his masterpiece. It is estimated at $10,000-15,000.  

Image via Christie’s

Manhattan-based Symphony Space is welcoming summer with its annual Bloomsday performance dedicated to celebrating James Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses.

For the uninitiated, Bloomsday refers to the date--June 16--during which the events of Ulysses take place and the day is observed worldwide with readings and celebrations.  

As in years past, Symphony Space’s Bloomsday event features authors, actors, and self-proclaimed “Joyceans” who will perform readings from sections of the book considered to be the most heretical, sexual, and political--in other words, the very elements that got Ulysses declared obscene in the United States from 1922 until 1933, during which time the U.S. Postal service seized and burned nearly 500 copies of the book. Federal Judge Judge Woolsey finally lifted the ban in 1933, saying that “The words which are criticized as dirty are old Saxon words known to almost all men, and I venture, to many women....If one does not wish to assoicate with such folks as Joyce describes, that is one’s own choice.”

                                                                                                                                                                       Presented in collaboration with the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and co-produced with the Irish Arts Center, this year’s Bloomsday on Broadway is hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon and stars Criminal Minds actress Kirsten Vangsness, Malachy McCourt, Valorie Curry, and others.



Malachy McCourt. Reproduced with permission from Symphony Space

Considered to be one of the most challenging books for even the most dedicated Jocyeans to read cover to cover, Bloomsday on Broadway is partnering with the Leonard Lopate Show Book Club to bring in experts and authors to help audience members unlock Joyce’s wit and wisdom--attendees are invited to join the Facebook Group to participate in the discussion before and after the performance.

“Bloomsday on Broadway XXXVI: One Book Called Ulysses” takes place on Friday, June 16 at 7 p.m. at the Peter Jay Sharpe Theater at Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street in New York. General admission tickets cost $26.

                                                                                                                                                                 For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit

The simple green pine desk that Henry David Thoreau used during his famous stay at Walden Pond left Concord, Massachusetts, for the first time last week, bound for the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City, where it will be on exhibit beginning Friday, June 2. Alongside eighteen other Thoreau artifacts from the Concord Museum, the desk is part of a joint exhibition titled, This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal.

2 Desk copy.jpgDavid Wood, curator of the Concord Museum and author of An Observant Eye: The Thoreau Collection at the Concord Museum, explained in a press release: “Thoreau’s green desk was made in Concord in 1838 by a cabinetmaker who charged about a dollar for it. Thoreau kept it with him all his life, wrote on it daily, and kept his journal locked inside it. The part the desk played in American’s intellectual history is all out of proportion to its humble form. It’s interesting to note that in all likelihood Thoreau’s green desk has never before been more than two miles from the shop it was made in.”

Thoreau’s walking stick, flute, spyglass, and his copy of the Bhagavad-Gita are among the objects lent by the Concord Museum to the Morgan for an exhibition marking the 200th anniversary of the author’s birth. More than twenty of Thoreau’s journal notebooks from the Morgan’s collection, along with letters, manuscripts, and field notes, will also be featured.

This Ever New Self will be on view at the Morgan through September 10. It will then travel to the Concord Museum for a second run, September 29, 2017-January 21, 2018.

Image: Desk, about 1838; Concord Museum Collection; Painted pine, steel; Gift of Cummings E. Davis (1886) Th10; Provenance: Henry Thoreau; Sophia Thoreau; Cummings Davis.

3691-0041-17-003C.jpgA yearbook from Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey, from Allen Ginsberg’s graduating class of 1943, signed and annotated by the Beat Generation poet himself, goes to auction next month in California. Stored in a closet for more than seventy years by Ginsberg’s classmate, Norman Katz, the yearbook turned up two years ago at an Antiques Roadshow event in Tucson, Arizona.

The blurb alongside Ginsberg’s class picture describes him as “the philosopher and genius of the class ... hates dull teachers and Republicans,” to which he added in blue pen, “May all of your 50 children be Democrats” and signed his name.

3691-0041-17-001C copy.jpgA printed “Class Poem” by Ginsberg (the class poet) appears in the yearbook, with this opening stanza:

We leave the youthful pennants and the books,
Discard the little compasses and rules;
We open up our eyes, and test our souls,
Prepare ourselves to wield more mighty tools.

Ginsberg also personalized this particular yearbook with a handwritten ditty for his pal Katz that begins:

This is the Katz Pajamas,
our graduating now:
I wish to say that I’m a
graduate, too, and bow.
At the Roadshow event, appraiser Jason Preston valued the yearbook at $10,000 (watch the appraisal below). At the Profiles in History Historical & Pop Culture auction on June 8, the estimate is more conservatively placed at $4,000-6,000.

Images courtesy of Profiles in History


Gabriel García Márquez working on “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Photograph by Guillermo Angulo
Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center


Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and the Harry Ransom Center (HRC) at the University of Texas at Austin is marking the day by releasing an online collection documenting the creation of the novel that catapulted Márquez onto the world stage.                                                     

This digital launch is part of a larger project funded by a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources to digitize more than 24,000 images from the Márquez archive, which is slated to be completed by December 2017.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

The acquisition of the Colombian-born author’s collection from the Márquez family in 2014 complements the HRC’s vast literary archives of fellow authors like James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and Jorge Luis Borges. Students in the Latin American Studies program will no doubt benefit from studying Márquez’s trove of manuscripts, notebooks, correspondence, photo albums, and writing implements, like the two Smith Corona typewriters and five Apple computers Márquez kept and worked on throughout his career.

On May 24, the HRC hosted a Facebook Live discussion where José Montelongo of UT’s Benson Latin American Collection and Alvaro Santana-Acuña, a Ransom Center fellow and assistant professor of sociology at Whitman College led a lively conversation in Spanish and English about Márquez and his book. (See the discussion here.)

Interestingly, Márquez destroyed his working papers for Solitude (the HRC does have galleys as well as the last typescript version of the novel), while the trove that remains reveals a perfectionist at his craft. Santana-Acuña, author of the forthcoming book, Ascent to Glory: The Transformation of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ Into a Global Classic (Columbia University Press), explained what awaits scholars who examine the remaining drafts. “He was a hardworking writer. He reviewed texts again and again until he made sure that the language was simple and effective.” No small feat for a book whose plot covered seven generations and treated magic and mythology as reality, in the process creating what is widely considered the seminal work of magical realism.



Gabriel García Márquez’s annotated typescript of “Love in the Time of Cholera.” Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center

The novel would eventually become known as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century, garnering Márquez the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, yet it was not an immediate smash hit, at least among critics. “The book was an unexpected success, but critics were baffled back in 1967,” explained Santana-Acuña. “It was anachronistic and traditionalist; a return to old-fashioned storytelling at a time when the novel form was said to be in crisis.”

Crisis or no, when it comes to Solitude, Márquez put it best: “There is always something left to love.”

The Beatrix Potter Society is crossing the pond next month to host a three-day symposium at Connecticut College entitled, “Beatrix Potter in New London on the Thames River.” Sponsored in conjunction with the college’s Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives, the three-day program will feature talks exploring Potter’s life and her relationship with the natural world, panel discussions, and an exhibition of original Beatrix Potter materials. Speakers include historian and Potter biographer Linda Lear, the Free Library of Philadelphia’s art department head Karen Lightner, and the current resident of Potter’s marital home Mandy Marshall, among many others.



The Roly Poly Pudding. Public Domain

Potter enthusiasts are heartily welcomed, especially since this is is the first Potter Society meeting held in the United States in five years.

Registration for the symposium is required and the deadline to register has been extended to May 31. The full cost to attend is $450, which includes on-campus lodging and all meals. A reduced rate of $370 is available for those lodging off-campus. Members of the Potter Society may also apply for funding assistance through the Jane Morse Memorial Fund

Find the application here.
For further information, contact Betsy Bray at or at (860) 752-9303

In need of some bookish beach reads for the upcoming long weekend? Get thee to a bookstore or library and fetch one of these five recommended novels:

cover_Mad Richard copy.jpgMad Richard by Lesley Krueger (ECW Press, $15.95) is based on the tragic true story of Victorian-era artist Richard Dadd. As his promising career takes off, Dadd rubs shoulders with J.M.W. Turner and Charles Dickens. Charlotte Brontë also enters the picture, after Dadd’s mental health takes a turn and he ends up in the Royal Bethlem Hospital (i.e., Bedlam). Smart and satisfying.

The Book of Summer by Michelle Gable (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s, $25.99) is the third novel by the author of A Paris Apartment, featured in my 2014 summer reading round-up. Set in Nantucket, the novel’s dual narrative pings between the eve of World War II and the present, following the characters who fill the faded pages of a summer home’s guest book. A great escape!

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller (Tin House, $25.95) is my current read, picked up for its premise: A wife hides letters to her husband within the pages of the thousands of books he has collected, and then disappears. Set on the English seaside, the novel is thoughtful, with a sharp edge. If that sounds like your cup of tea: try an excerpt

9781250100528 copy.jpgThe Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World by Brian Doyle (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s, $25.99) is Robert Louis Stevenson’s lost first novel, imagined by Doyle. As “an affectionate homage,” (The New York Times) Stevenson fans are likely to either love or hate it. Boyle, however, does succeed in transporting the reader to 19th-century San Francisco.  

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Random House, $28) is historical fiction--not “bookish” in the same sense of the others on this list, but it is so innovative in narrative style and so brilliantly imagined, the reader feels herself in the presence of Literature. It is haunting and heartfelt, and lives up to all of the hype (...MacArthur Genius, bestseller, critical acclaim).

Images courtesy of ECW Press and Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press.

Exciting news for young female book collectors: Brooklyn’s Honey & Wax Booksellers has announced an annual prize of $1,000 to be awarded to a woman aged 30 or younger with an “outstanding book collection.” The collection can include books, manuscripts, and/or ephemera, organized by whatever principle the collector deems appropriate to the material.

H&R copy.jpgHoney & Wax booksellers Heather O’Donnell and Rebecca Romney, pictured here at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair last year, took some inspiration for the collecting prize from the American book collector Mary Hyde Eccles. “Rebecca and I are both interested in the historic role of women in the rare book trade, on both the buying and the selling sides, and want to do whatever we can to get younger women involved,” said O’Donnell.

The Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize “rewards creativity, coherence, and bibliographic rigor,” according to the announcement, and “collections will not be judged on their size or their market value.” Entrants need not be enrolled in a degree program, a significant difference from similar collecting contests, and one that opens it up to a broader range of applicants. As O’Donnell said, “We want to give those women who have applied to their college book collecting contests and/or to the National Collegiate contest an additional chance to be recognized for their work, and we’d also like to reach out to bookish young women outside the academy.”

The deadline is July 15, and the application details are here.

Image courtesy of Honey & Wax.

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