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Though the barometer may suggest otherwise, one of the telltale signs of spring in New York is the annual arrival of Rare Book Week, going on now through March 12. Besides the various pearls for sale among the well-stocked stacks at the three book and ephemera fairs, holding court around Manhattan are a slew of shows and exhibitions dedicated to celebrating the people and things of the book world. One that serious bibliophiles should not miss is the Grolier Club’s exhibition of Pat Pistner’s miniature bindings and books, now on view in the second floor gallery.




The 275-item installation--a misleading number, given that some items, like the 42-volume set of Sherlock Holmes mysteries is counted as one piece--spans the history of texts written on a diminutive scale. A miniature Babylonian cuneiform tablet accounting “plucked” sheep dating from approximately 2340 BCE shares space with sumptuous illuminated Books of Hours and contemporary artists’ books by Timothy Ely and Nancy Gifford. From an archive that currently includes 4,000 items, the Naples, Florida-based bibliophile whittled down her selections to those she said best represented the considerable historical scope of her collection.

“Collecting is so personal,” Pistner told a group during a Wednesday lunchtime tour of the exhibition, which she led along with co-curator Jan Storm van Leeuwen. “Some people focus on one element, but I’ve chosen to take a much broader view, with the goal of collecting the best possible examples of miniature bindings from across history.”

Out of so many tiny treasures bound in gold, silver, and other precious elements, can Pistner possibly have a favorite? “I love all of them, but these are perhaps my most prized,” she said, gesturing to a case containing 16th-century miniatures from France and Italy. She graciously posed for a photograph holding up a liturgical miniature called the Enchiridion p[re] clare ecclesie Sarum, a 1528 tome hailing from the collection of Charles Louis de Bourbon, Duke of Parma. The text dates to the 16th century, but the binding was by Pierre Marcellin Lortic, a 19th-century binder.




Another, less dramatic (but no less significant) prize sits in a wall case in the hallway: a miniature printing of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Issued in 1862, the unassuming single-section pamphlet in tan paper is Lincoln’s preliminary proclamation freeing the slaves and the first printing in book form of the text. In a hurried effort to spread the word, 50,000 copies of this mini were distributed by Union soldiers to African Americans as they marched through the South. “Not many remain in existence,” Pistner explained. This one, like nearly every other item in the exhibition, is an exquisite example, all a reminder of the major role miniature books play in understanding the history of the written word.




“A Matter of Size,” is on view now through May 19. Free lunchtime exhibition tours led by the curator will be held on April 24 at 1 pm and May 18 at 3 pm. No reservations necessary. The accompanying 476-page, fully-illustrated catalogue ($95, Oak Knoll) is a meticulously compiled resource that covers the breadth of Pistner’s collection as well as its place in the bibliosphere. 


Images: Top two photos courtesy of the author; bottom, coutesy of Oak Knoll

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New Orleans has a rich literary history--William Faulkner, Sherwood Anderson, Walker Percy, and many others called the Big Easy home or featured it in their work. And now, the city’s National World War II Museum offers veterans a haven for their stories of war and sacrifice.

Over two decades ago, authors and historians Stephen Ambrose and Nick Muller originally envisioned a museum in recognition of New Orleans-based manufacturer Andrew Higgins, whose landing craft, vehicle, personnel (LCVP) boats ferried platoons onto the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. The D-Day Museum opened in 2000 but by 2003 had outgrown its original scope, when it was redesignated the official National World War II Museum by Congress. (Note: As an independent non-profit, the museum is unaffected by the current government shutdown.) Today, the six-acre campus sprawls across the city’s Historic Warehouse District and offers sweeping immersive and interactive displays exploring WWII and its aftermath.

And the museum isn’t done growing: by January 2020, the Liberation Pavilion will open to the public: a three-story building encompassing a second-floor library with space for 22,000 volumes.

“Currently, we’ve got approximately 10,000 written and oral histories from WWII veterans that will be housed in the new library,” said Toni Kiser, the museum’s assistant director for collections management. “Some of these histories were originally collected by Ambrose for his books like Band of Brothers and D-Day, while others arrived as part of larger acquisitions.” The testimonials vary by length and scope. Some veterans put pen to paper when the war was still fresh in their minds and had their memoirs printed, bound, and even distributed. Others are more modest and informal, spanning a few pages at best.


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Some of the memoirs exist only as oral histories committed to film--Ambrose conducted many such interviews for his books, for example. Conversely, some recorded narratives have lost their original visual or aural component. “Interestingly, Ambrose would use the same tape to record his interviews--after transcribing each interview, he would record over the old interview with a new one,” explained Kiser. “Other, older oral histories came to us on VHS. The museum is having them digitized and transcribed so that anyone who comes in can access them.”

Kiser hopes that these memoirs will help future generations to understand this war once open to the public. Though non-lending, the library will be open to scholars and other visitors. “We’re getting to the point where most of the veterans from WWII have passed away. And each story is a unique wartime experience. These memoirs will serve as a beacon for future generations as a reminder of what these brave men fought for and what the war meant for America.”


Images: Courtesy of the National WWII Museum

Last week saw the return of one of my favorite book fairs -- the annual Amsterdam book fair. This is hosted at the Marriott hotel, by the NVvA, which is the Netherlands branch of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. What better way to start the day than this view of the Reichsmuseum from my hotel room?

amsterdam morning copy.jpgAlthough a relatively small fair (there were 48 exhibitors this year) it is very friendly, and expertly managed by the fair team. The fair is just the right size to spend time at every booth, so you don’t feel that you have missed much. Naturally this leads to me spending far too much money! Every booth had brought their best to Amsterdam, my personal favorite being a huge copy of Oriental Field Sports by William Howitt, on sale at the Aix La Chapelle booth.

oriental field sports-1 copy.jpgOne of the nice touches at Amsterdam is that there is always an event for the exhibitors as part of the stall fee. This year we attended a party hosted by Antiquariaat Schierenberg at Prinsengracht in Amsterdam. Here is Jereon looking somewhat relieved the day after.

schierenberg copy.jpgThe following day saw a return to the fair, and more gazing enviously at other people’s stock, including these fine book boxes on Michael Solder’s stand. It is always good to see friendly faces and other associations attend the fair, and to see the beautiful objects they bring.

solder book copy.jpgSo we are all packed up, and back on the circuit for the next fair. For me this is the Bibliomania fair in Paris. Marcia is extremely worried that a five-day fair here gives me far too many purchasing opportunities. Wish me luck.

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

Postcard from Poetic San Francisco

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Last week brought approximately one million people to the Bay Area to celebrate America’s men and women in the Armed Forces at the 37th annual San Francisco Fleet Week. My father served two combat deployments as a naval officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV-34) in the Tonkin Gulf in 1969 and 1970. For roughly the past decade, he and a group of fellow officers from the carrier known affectionately as The Mighty O have made the annual pilgrimage to the City by the Bay. This year the invitation extended to children and grandchildren, meaning nearly a dozen of us descended on the city to navigate cable cars, relentless hills, and the crowds at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Between watching the Blue Angels maneuver over San Francisco and meeting the elite search, rescue, and detection K-9 squads, there was some time to take in the city’s literary offerings as well, such as stopping by City Lights, the independent bookstore-publisher founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and professor Peter Martin.

After browsing the stacks of the beloved shop, we approached a young couple sitting on the sidewalk behind two well-used Smith-Corona typewriters. Their proposition was simple: for a modest fee, supply a topic and these street poets would compose a rhyme, right on the spot. Curious what a ten-dollar poem would yield, we agreed to the terms. The topic? An ode for my “effervescent” daughter. While the young man in the Yale sweatshirt typed away, his comely assistant paged through a well-worn paperback of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, copying words into a small notebook. “This is my vocabulary list for the day,” explained the UT Austin English literature major.



Ten minutes later, our creation was complete; a poem composed in sprung rhythm--a dynamic form similar to free verse--entitled, “For all the Bubbles in the World,” a celebration of my vivacious, free-spirited child. A few spelling mistakes add to its charm. 


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What drew these two to the field of itinerant poetry? “We love sharing our love of poetry with the world,” said the young bard as she closed her book. True to the nature of their profession, the traveling minstrels would soon be packing up and heading to another city--they had recently spent a few weeks at Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA--where they would continue to spread good vibes via inspired verse.

As ever, San Francisco remains a most welcoming place for all walks of life.


Images, from top: SAN FRANCISCO (Oct. 5, 2018) The U.S. Navy flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, flies over the Golden Gate Bridge during San Francisco Fleet Week (SFFW) 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Burgains/Released). Middle and bottom: Photos of itinerant poets and resulting poem by the author. 

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the U.S. publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first in J.K. Rowling’s blockbuster fantasy series starring a young wizard and his friends. Today, the New-York Historical Society welcomes the British Library’s exhibition dedicated to exploring the magic and mythology at the core of the Potter books. Harry Potter: A History of Magic features manuscripts, magical objects, and other treasures hailing from the archives of the British Library, Scholastic (Harry Potter’s publisher), and the author herself. The New York show also features new items not on display in England, such as the pastel illustrations for the original editions of the book and costumes from the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.                                                                                                                                                                    

To get you started, here are top six must-see picks in the exhibition:


1. Jacob Meydenbach, [H]ortus Sanitatis. Mainz, 1491. © British Library Board

Before Wikipedia, there were encyclopedias. This one is the world’s first encyclopedias dedicated to natural history. Harry reads this to learn about growing mandrakes--a plant believed to possess magical healing powers. (The ancient Romans used it as an anesthetic.)


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2. Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook. Italy, ca. 1506-08 ©British Library Board


There’s plenty of stargazing in the Potter books, and museum curators included da Vinci’s notebook in the exhibit to inspire young astronomers and scientists of the future. 


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3. The Ripley Scroll, detail England, ca. 1570. General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University


This cryptic, twelve-foot alchemical roll decodes the elixir for eternal life and was the inspiration for the first book in the Potter series. One copy recently sold at auction for nearly $800,000.  


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4. Oracle bones. China. ca 1600-1046 BCE. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Give of A.W. Bahr, 1923.

The oldest artifact in the exhibition, these bones, believed by the ancient Chinese to be of dragon extraction, were used over 3,000 years ago to predict the future. 


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5. Robert John Thornton. The Temple of Flora. London, 1807. The LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden. 


Mandrakes, mermaid’s wineglass, wolfsbane--all common plants found in any self-respecting medieval herbalist’s repertoir. Harry’s longtime sidekick Neville Longbottom is a star herbologist and would no doubt consult volumes like this. 


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6. Tombstone of Nicolas Flamel. Paris, 15th century © Paris, Musée de Cluny - Musée national du Moyen Âge. 


Nicholas Flamel was the fourteenth-century scribe and manuscript dealer who dedicated much of his life to decoding the Philosopher’s Stone. Though he didn’t find the secret recipe to eternal life, Flamel lived well into his eighties. He even designed his own tombstone that was originally housed in the church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie until it was destroyed in the French Revolution. 


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Harry Potter: A History of Magic runs now through January 27, 2019. Tickets and more information may be found here

Guest Post by Catherine Batac Walder

7 stairs.JPGA walk along the famous Cobb, the wall that protects the harbor, must be high on the list of anyone visiting Lyme Regis. The town is known for the fossils found in the cliffs and beaches, which are part of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site. I was one of the many whose main purpose of visiting was not to search for fossils, but to see the stairs from where Louisa Musgrove fell in Jane Austen’s novel, Persuasion. But there were others before me, most notably, Lord Tennyson, who walked nine miles from Bridport to Lyme in 1867, and when he called upon his friend, fellow poet Francis Palgrave, he refused all refreshment, demanded to be taken to the Cobb, and commanded, “show me the steps from which Louisa Musgrove fell.” Up until that time, the historic seaside town of Lyme Regis, cited by Austen as “Lyme” in the book, was mostly only known as the landing site of the Duke of Monmouth’s failed rebellion of 1685. How generations of readers can turn a minor character and a dramatic scene into a literary destination is always fascinating.

6 stairs.JPGWe spent only a day in Lyme and unbeknownst to us, we visited during the annual Regatta and Carnival Week (August 3-12), so there were no parking spaces, and the sandy parts of the beach were absolutely packed. The crowd thinned out as we got to the Cobb, still I thought I should be very careful--the goal was to find the stairs, and as much as I marveled at every chance of a Jane Austen connection, I didn’t want the stairs to be known to family and friends as “the stairs where Catherine fell, as well.” The text from Persuasion is the most important clue as to the location, but I also used the films as a point of reference. I watched the 1995 film version, and I learned that there were two other films made, in 1971 and 2007, and all three films used three different stairs! But as soon as we got to the Cobb, it was easy to find the stairs, all three were a short distance from one another.

1 stairs.JPGThe first we saw was the double staircase used in the 1971 film. I didn’t think they were the ones Austen thought of, they were solid and even the way the fall had been depicted in the film was too contrived. Furthermore, the plaque underneath this double staircase suggested that it had been repaired and completed in 1826, and I presumed that these stairs had only been added that time. Austen died in 1817, and she visited Lyme in 1803 and 1804, so she wouldn’t have referred to these stairs.

2 stairs.JPGWalking farther, we encountered the second and most popular choice of stairs, locally known as Granny’s Teeth, which were featured in the 1995 film. Before this trip, I searched the internet and read many sites, many of them quite reputable, that believe Granny’s Teeth to be the steps mentioned in Persuasion; not surprisingly, as even the Jane Austen Centre said this set was “the most plausible spot for Louisa’s fall.” They, too, are my favorite stairs, there is just something believable and romantic about them that is easily identifiable with an Austen novel.


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When you see Granny’s Teeth, you might think the name impolite to grandmothers but it is also the kind of name that Austen would come up with, as honest as she was, I thought. Also, they are so steep that a woman clad in a Regency dress is likely to fall, even if one is very careful.

4 stairs.JPGThe last stairs we encountered (seen in the 2007 film) are the most likely candidate according to locals doing tours in the area, and indeed this is true, if chapter 12 of Persuasion is to be the source. “There was too much wind to make the high part of the new Cobb pleasant for the ladies, and they agreed to get down the steps to the lower, and all were contented to pass quietly and carefully down the steep flight, excepting Louisa; she must be jumped down them by Captain Wentworth.” Here, Austen referred to the “new Cobb,” the part that was destroyed towards the end of the eighteenth century, and rebuilt just before her first visit, where these newer, more modern steps than Granny’s Teeth are located. I’m not sure which stairs Tennyson’s friend had shown him, but I bet he would not have been as annoyed as I was seeing how crowded the bottom of Stairs No. 3 was that day. No time to sit on the step and close my eyes in reverie, with people going up and down every few seconds. Well, they were the stairs closest to the end of the Cobb, the swimmers and spectators needed to get to the events of the day. Had the weather been windy and wet, no one among us would have been allowed there, let alone walk to the end of the wall (no channeling of Meryl Streep dressed in her cloak in bad weather then, from that scene in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, also filmed on the end of the Cobb). At the end of my visit to the Cobb, I’d forgotten all fear of falling down stairs. It was the Cobb itself - it was stepping on that sloping man-made wall and being pulled in all directions by a curious three-year-old that was more than scary for me, even if it was a bright sunny day. Someday I’d like to return, during a quiet and dry spring or winter maybe.

5 stairs.JPGHow exciting it must be for authors to write about something as trivial as a set of stairs and for it to become a fuss later. If Austen were still alive, I think she’d laugh at this confusion and probably say that her stairs were imagined, in the same manner that most of the locations of her stories are fictitious.

--Catherine Batac Walder is a writer who lives in the UK. She has contributed several posts from abroad over the years, including this one about Jane Austen in Hampshire. Find her at:

Images (top to bottom): A walk away from the town, seen in the distance; A view of town, as Austen aptly described it, “the remarkable situation of the town, the principal street almost hurrying into the water;” The double staircase; Granny’s Teeth; Close-up of Granny’s Teeth; Possibly the stairs from Persuasion; Author’s copy of Austen’s novels, near the end of the Cobb. Credit: Catherine Batac Walder.

Should you find yourself in or near Hartford, Connecticut, make time for the Mark Twain House & Museum. I visited last week and was awed by its beauty. Twain (or Clemens) and his wife, Livy, relocated to Hartford in 1871 and engaged architect Edward Tuckerman Potter to design the 25-room abode. They moved in three years later. Even if you--or members of your travel party--have only read one Twain novel, back in high school, the house alone will delight. One sign I noticed called it ‘America’s Downton Abbey.’ Not quite, but you get the point.

Twain House.jpgAmong our favorite rooms was, of course, the very plush library. There’s no photography allowed inside the house, so you’ll have to picture patterned wallpaper, an elaborate oak mantelpiece, and a Tiffany chandelier. The wooden bookshelves that line the room do not contain Twain’s books, but they do hold titles he owned in contemporary editions. (Writers, take note: you can rent this room for a three-hour writing session.)

We also admired the conservatory, just a nook off the library really, filled with sunlight and hanging plants and a small fountain set in the floor.

But it’s the billiard room that best evokes Twain the writer, in my opinion. Up on the third floor, the large room is dominated by a billiard table--one that was actually owned by Twain--but tucked into the corner is a desk where the author wrote his most famous books, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, among others.

The family, which included three daughters, lived in this home for seventeen years. After that, it became an apartment building and a branch library. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1963, and since that time, a series of renovations has returned it to the space that Twain knew and loved.

Image credit: Rebecca Rego Barry

Cotton_world_map.jpgLooking for a reason to go to England? The Medieval Academy of America may have something just for you. This fall, it’s launching a travel program modeled on lifelong learning programs run by traditional universities, and the itinerary definitely has the Anglobibliophile in mind.

From October 23-28, Medieval Academy of America executive director Lisa Fagin Davis will be leading the five-day, four-night tour that winds through London and Oxford. Dubbed “The Anglo-Saxons: Britain before 1066,” the excursion includes a visit to Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms on display at the British Museum and Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. (Be sure to read the fall issue of FB&C for a review of the Tolkien show.) This is the only week both exhibitions will be on view at the same time.

While in London, the group will take in a performance of “King Lear” with Sir Ian McKellen in the title role of one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, as well as a curatorial tour of the Tolkien exhibition. 

The trip costs $2,580, which includes hotel, meals, and tickets, and transportation in-country. Single-occupancy hotel rooms add $750. (Airfare not included.) All proceeds from the trip benefit Medieval Academy of America programming. Participants need not be Medieval Academy members.

The trip is limited to twenty travelers, and registration closes on August 23. See the brochure and detailed itinerary at:


Image: Anglo Saxon Mappa Mundi, c. 1025-1050. Via Wikimedia.

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William Birch’s paint box, ca. 1780. Courtesy of the Philadelphia History Museum at the
Atwater Kent, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection.


Conjure an image of early America, and Federal-era architecture, bustling shipyards and streets, and bucolic farm scenes probably come to mind. Whether most of us realize it or not, much of how we view that era was created by William Birch (1755-1834), a London transplant whose work became synonymous with the time when a young nation was full of hope and optimism.


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William Birch. Portrait of George Washington, 1796. Enamel on copper. Philadelphia
Museum of Art. Gift of the McNeil Americana Collection.

Now through October 5, the Library Company of Philadelphia is showcasing Birch’s paintings, including never-displayed manuscripts, enamels, and other pieces illustrating Philadelphia during the nineteenth century when it was the capital of America.



William Birch, Second Street North from Market St. w[i]th Christ Church, (Philadelphia, W. Birch),1827-1828. Hand-colored engraving. Library Company of Philadelphia.

“The exhibition tells the story of Birch’s entire life from his early years in England to his death in Philadelphia,” explained the Library Company’s prints and photographs curator Sarah J. Weatherwax. “It also explores the influence Birch’s work had on Philadelphia iconography long after his death. While many people are aware of Birch’s views of Philadelphia, few know much about his work as an enamel painter or his aspiration of being a landscape architect, themes that are examined in the exhibition.”

Considered America’s first “coffee table book,” Birch’s now-iconic The City of Philadelphia (1800) showed a civilized city and helped bolster early national pride. It was also a commercial success. “The City of Philadelphia showed Philadelphia as the cultural, economic, and political capital of the newly formed United States,” Weatherwax said. “Here, between the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers was a city where important institutions flourished, where businesses prospered, and where the inhabitants carried out their activities of daily lives. The engravings are large, colorful (if you paid to have them hand-colored), and engaging.”

Meanwhile, Birch’s follow-up book, Country Seats, was less successful. “The views in Birch’s Country Seats are much smaller in size and appear rather lifeless,” explained Weatherwax. “Nor is there a built-in audience for scenes of a wealthy gentleman’s country estate in the same way that views of city’s street life would have. Also, Americans of the period tended to think of the countryside as the location for agricultural endeavors or other practical uses, not the rural retreats Birch portrayed.” Though Country Seats met a tepid response, Birch knew his work held importance beyond what his contemporaries thought. In his autobiography, Birch wrote that his book was “the only work of its kind yet published.” Little could he have realized the historical record his achievements would provide over two hundred years later.

Birch is considered to be one of the first commercially successful artists in America, and his work remains as relevant as ever, even if the places he painted are drastically changed. “Birch’s views of Philadelphia provide us with our most comprehensive documentation of an 18th century American city and continue to be the cornerstone of how we represent a late 18th century urban space,” said Weatherwax.

Approximately 100 items from the Library Company of Philadelphia’s collection are on display, including material loaned from other institutions and private collectors. Highlights include Birch’s private copy of the Country Seats with a notation stating, “intended to be continued but no encouragement,” two ceramic vases made by the Tucker Factory of Philadelphia decorated with views from Birch’s Country Seats, a watercolor sketch of Birch’s country estate, and a copper engraving plate used for City of Philadelphia.  

The Library Company’s director Michael Barsanti likened Birch’s portraits to America’s baby pictures, and that “they show the strength and promise of our country as it appeared in its earliest days. They also show what we looked like through the eyes of a new immigrant, who saw a contrast between its vitality and undeveloped natural beauty and the England he left behind.”


More information on the exhibition here

Guest post by Catherine Batac Walder

Walder picture book-making March 2018 3.JPGThese last few years, the Story Museum in Oxford has hosted some events for children at the Oxford Literary Festival. In 2016, we went to an event there with author, illustrator, and current children’s laureate Lauren Child, and in 2017 met Fairytale Hairdresser series author Abie Longstaff. This year, there were a few events at the museum that I wanted to go to (including one with How to Train your Dragon creator Cressida Cowell) but alas, time didn’t allow it. One thing that I was keen from the start, though, was “How to Create a Picture Book,” with award-winning author and illustrator Claire Alexander. The two-hour event was geared towards children 8+. My daughter just turned seven but as this was right up her alley, and after asking her if she wanted to go, I signed her up.

The event took place in the Long Room of the Story Museum, the children sat around tables at the front while we accompanying adults watched from the back. I felt like a stage mother but I was giddy about my daughter attending her first writing workshop, where else but in historic Oxford, where a lot of characters in children’s books that we now love came to life. The museum itself, formerly a huge Royal Mail depot, felt so magical that it could be a part of Lyra’s fictional Oxford. It snowed all day on that Saturday, but it wasn’t freezing enough for the snow to settle (the first time in my 10 years of attending the festival that it ever snowed), as though encouraging the children to create their own Narnia, a world imagined by another beloved author in this very city.

Claire Alexander started the workshop by reading one of the books that she had illustrated as an example. And then she showed some of her drafts/sketches, giving tips like how she would look up pictures on the internet to base a scene on. She showed examples of a few techniques that illustrators use such as double page spreads, vignettes, and single page layouts. As someone with an interest to write for children, I found the event equally interesting and noted many useful information such as when doing a spread, you have to be sure that you don’t put a text or an important character in the “gutter” (middle of the spread). She also gave examples on how to show feelings and emotions in one’s illustrations, that is, to use close ups or to draw the character small in a big world in order to create feelings of loneliness or distance.

Using Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “The Land of Nod,” Alexander guided the children in telling a simple story over 16 pages or eight spreads to create a mini book. Stevenson’s poem worked so well for this purpose as it has 16 lines. I liked how Alexander helped the children by showing how she’d draw a particular scene and I just knew later that my daughter watched, observed, and listened to everything when she even recapped Alexander’s technique at starting a drawing: “It looks like a stick figure at first, and she draws really lightly, but this time she doesn’t, so we can all see the drawing,” she told me. Alexander walked around the room constantly to look at the children’s works-in-progress, supervised them and praised their work. The children participated in the discussions on how to illustrate scenes and some of them drew their ideas on the flipchart in front of the group.

Alexander signed books at the end of the session. She graciously doodled a cat in my daughter’s sketch notebook after I told her how much the little girl loves her cat drawings. She drew Millie from Millie Shares and said she hadn’t drawn Millie in a while. How special that Millie in the book is alive in my daughter’s notebook, saying hello to her (in photo).

Walder picture book-making March 2018 2.JPGAlexander teaches writing and illustration of picture books. She won the 2013 Paterson Prize for continued excellence for Back to Front and Upside Down and is also author of Monkey and the Little OneThe Best Bit of Daddy’s Day, and Lucy and the Bully.

The Story Museum in Pembroke Street, Oxford, is a work in progress. Future events include “Fairytales for Grownups” and “How to write for children,” in addition to exhibitions and installations that run all year-round; It’s Always Tea Time, focused on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, opens tomorrow.

--Catherine Batac Walder is a writer who lives in the UK. She has contributed several posts from abroad over the years, including her post on seeing Hilary Mantel at the 2017 Oxford Literary Festival and Orhan Pamuk in 2014. Find her at:

Images credit: Catherine Batac Walder

If your travels take you to Massachusetts now through the new year, be sure to add the Concord Museum to your itinerary and check out the 22nd annual Family Trees: A Celebration of Children’s Literature. Thirty-seven decorated trees fill the museum, each inspired by classic and contemporary children’s literature.


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Moving Books Press founder and children’s book author D. B. Johnson is serving as this year’s honorary chairperson. Johnson’s first book, Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, was inspired by fellow Concord resident Henry David Thoreau.

Family Trees is an all-volunteer effort and routinely attracts families from throughout the Boston area. Admission is $8 for children over five, $10 for adults. Additional programming includes crafts, photos with Santa, and readalouds with D. B. Johnson and Dragons Love Tacos author Adam Rubin. Full details may be found here.

Image courtesy of the Concord Museum


                                                                                                                                             Massachusetts has an over two-hundred-year connection with the Rainbow State. Back in the early 1800s, missionaries sailed from Boston to Hawai’i, determined to convert the locals and also to bring the wonders of print to those distant shores. Along with religious fervor, the missionaries also brought a second-hand printing press, kickstarting an impressive outpouring of printed material in Hawai’i.

On November 9, Skinner’s Auctioneers and Appraisers welcomes the public to its Boston Gallery at 63 Park Plaza to learn more about the Bay State’s early involvement in Hawaiian printing. Elizabeth Watts Pope, curator at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, will be on hand to discuss Hawaii’s printed history and share items from the AAS’s collection of over two hundred books, pamphlets, bibliographies, newspapers, and engravings written in Hawaiian and other Polynesian languages. A highlight of the collection includes an 1838 copperplate engraving of Holden, Massachusetts, done by a self-taught Hawaiian engineer who never left his island home. Watts will discuss these and other items, why missionaries excised the letters ‘B’ and ‘D’ from the Hawaiian language, and how one of the strongest collections of early Hawaiian printed material wound up in Worcester.

For more information and to RSVP/Register: Skinner Auctioneers & Appraisers

                                                                                                                                                  Image credit: Na Mokpunia o Hawaii Nei. Courtsey AAS. 

Spirits at Stowe House

If you’re looking for a literary take on Halloween, check out the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford this month, which will be hosting an after-hours ghost tour while discussing 19th-century Spiritualism.



                                                                                                                                                                                                Hailing from a famously religious family, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and fervent abolitionist was also a devotée of séances and occasional forays into Spiritualism--a religious movement that maintained that the deceased could communicate with the living through spirit guides. Stowe’s own husband, theology professor Calvin Stowe even wrote about seeing fairies and demons appearing at his bedside in the middle of the night. 

In addition to offering an interactive tour of the Stowe house, the Victorian Cottage where Stowe lived for over two decades is now a National Historic Landmark.

“Spirits at Stowe” takes place on several dates in October; $18 per person, $12 for Stowe Center members.

                                                                                                                                                          Image: “Frederick Hill Meserve’s Historical Portraits, ca. 1850-1915 (MS Am 2242), Houghton Library, Harvard University.” Photographer unidentified [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Pint-Sized Bookstore Takes Up Residence in LA


Though already home to a sizable number of independent, brick-and-mortar bookshops, Los Angeles recently welcomed a new addition to the family: OOF Bookstore, which opened its doors in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Cypress Park on July 2. Writer Christie Hayden first felt the call to launch a bookstore while studying at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and in 2015 created Bookish, a mobile bookshop on wheels staffed by artists in Baltimore City featuring small press titles and independent projects. (Not to be confused with the book recommendation website by the same name created by publishing giants Hachette, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster.)

Since then, the Bookish founders traveled to New York City, the District of Columbia, and eventually found their way to Los Angeles. Hayden discovered the location of OOF while searching for an apartment on Craigslist. Like Bookish, Hayden stocks OOF with locally published ‘zines and books, catalogues, art books, and ceramics, and hosts artist exhibitions of works on paper.

Whether intentional or not, Hayden is staying true to her nomadic roots and doesn’t have a website for OOF, though the store’s Facebook page contains basic contact information and is updated regularly with new inventory announcements and sales. We wish all the best of luck to this free-spirited endeavor. OOF Books is located at 912A Cypress Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, 90065.

Mexico Modern at UT Austin

                                                                                               mexico_modern_4_x_6_72_dpi.jpgModernism in Mexico got its start around 1910, fueled by insurrection and civil war that fell along both geographical and economic battle lines. By 1920, artists, journalists, and gallery owners began an exciting exchange of ideals and aesthetics with their counterparts in the United States, ushering in two decades of a dynamic cultural exchange.                                                              

On September 11, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin, is unveiling a new exhibit dedicated to this transfer of ideas entitled, Mexico Modern: Art, Commerce, and Cultural Exchange 1920-1945. Over two hundred items pulled from the Ransom Center archives highlight the importance of this border-crossing cultural transfer where indigenous traditions fused with modern sensibilities, proving that art and ideals know no boundries, especially political ones.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Also available will be copies of the book Mexico Modern, published in conjunction with the Museum of the City of New York which includes essays by the show’s curators and examines leading figures in this artistic and cultural movement.


Mexico Modern: Art, Commerce, and Cultural Exchange 1920-1945 is on display through January 1, 2018. Admission is free.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   We at FB&C hope our readers in Harvey’s path are safe and dry. If you’re looking for ways to help, The New York Times ran this article on how to donate to Harvey victims while avoiding scammers.  

Bowdoin’s Book Week

Next week, Bates College graduate Nick Basbanes ‘65 revisits his old Maine stomping grounds to give a talk exploring the impact of paper on books and culture. Though not speaking at his alma mater, Basbanes will be 22 miles down the road, at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. Entitled, “On Materiality: A Cultural Consideration of Paper and the Book,” the talk will use material gathered for Basbanes’ 2013 book, On Paper: The Everything of Its 2000-Year Historyone of three finalists for the 2014 Carnegie Medal for Excellence. Expect a spirited commentary on the book as a material object, with particular emphasis on the 2000-year run of paper.



This free talk is in advance of Bowdoin’s fall 2017 exhibition, “Bound and Determined: The Remarkable Physical History of the Book.”                                    

                                                                                                                                                 Find Basbanes at the podium on Wednesday, August 30, at 4:30 p.m. in the Visual Arts Center at Kresge Auditorium. The talk will be followed by a reception on the second floor gallery of the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library. Can’t make it to Maine? The event will be live streamed at the following link:

Stick around Brunswick through Thursday, August 31, when Bowdoin will host another paper-specific talk called, “Appreciating Paper: Art’s Best Supporting Actor.” Ruth Fine, former curator of special projects at the National Gallery of Art and Marjorie Shelley from the Metropolitan Museum of Art will explain how historic European artists chose their papers as well as the genesis of the importance of “works on paper.” This free talk will be held in the Kresge Auditorium at 4:30 p.m.

Golden Books Shine at UCLA

pp.JPGMost children and adults of a certain age in this country have read The Poky Little Puppy, Scruffy the Tugboat, The Shy Little Kitten, or one of the many dozens of other titles that make up the popular Little Golden Books series. Founded in 1942, the Golden Books series has featured beloved authors like Margaret Wise Brown, Janette Sebring Lowrey, and illustrators like Richard Scarry and Garth Williams, and today continues to publish enjoyable and affordable books for young readers.

Now through October 15, UCLA Library Special Collections is hosting an exhibit celebrating seventy-five years of Golden Books. The show highlights the twelve original titles Golden Books published, which, in the throes of World War II, collectively sold 1.5 million copies within the first five months of publication.

A selection of Little Golden Books like The Three Little Kittens and The Little Red Hen are on display in a variety of formats and sizes. The pieces hail from UCLA’s Children’s Book Collection which focuses primarily on English and American children’s publications before 1840 as well as runs of Newbery and Caldecott medal winners.

                                                                                                                                                                      The exhibit is free to the public. Contact the UCLA special collections library at (310) 825-4988 for more information.

Some Farm: E.B. White’s Maine Home for Sale

The house that inspired E.B. White’s classic children’s book Charlotte’s Web is for sale. Including a circa 1795 farmhouse and 40+ acres of farmland nestled on Allen Cove in Blue Hill Bay with views of Acadia National Park, the property is listed with Downeast Properties for $3.7 million. White’s story of how a spider named Charlotte convinced a farmer to save the Wilbur the pig from the dinner table was published in 1952, earning a Newbery Honor in 1953 and named the top-selling paperback of all time by Publishers Weekly in 2000.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

E.B. and Katherine White purchased the farm in 1933. Town & Country and New England Today both recently ran extensive pieces on the property, the current owners, and the history of the place. 


                                                                                                                                               White adored the farm and lived there until his death in 1985. The current owners, Robert and Mary Gallant, purchased the property from the White family and have scrupulously maintained the farm for the past thirty years; in fact, the rope swing that makes a cameo in Charlotte’s Web still hangs in the barn doorway. The wooden desk, workbench, and wastepaper basket are still in the boathouse where White composed his stories.

Serious inquirers are invited to contact Martha Dischinger at Downeast Properties in Blue Hill, Maine, at 207-266-5058 or by email at

From noon July 31 through noon August 1, the Mystic Seaport Maritime Museum in Mystic, CT, held its 32nd annual Moby-Dick reading marathon. Visitors were invited aboard the ninteenth-century whaleship (and now teaching vessel) Charles W. Morgan and read Herman Melville’s (1819-1891) nautical adventure.                                                                                                                                                         

The nonstop reading of all 133 chapters commemorated Melville’s 198th birthday. Originally published in 1851, Moby-Dick sank commercially during the author’s lifetime and went out of print in 1891. The book was revived in the twentieth century as an example of “The Great American Novel,” helped in no small part by writers like William Faulkner, who wished he had written it, and Hemingway who said he was still trying to “beat” Melville at the writing game. 



Nearly forty participants read from their own copy of Moby-Dick, ranging from dog-eared, yellowed paperbacks to fancy commemorative hardcovers. The honor of reading the opening lines of “Call me Ishmael” went to an actor portraying Melville, who recited chapter one from memory. Chelmsford, Massachusetts, resident Nikki Richardson read read chapter two, The Carpet Bag, “one of the shortest chapters,” she said. Many readers came and went during the 24-hour reading, while sixteen reserved lodgings below deck in the Morgan’s forecastle.


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Readers came to remember Melville, to enjoy time on the water, and to honor family. “I read because literature was part of my double major,” explained Richardson. “Also, I am the daughter of a submariner who installed a love of the ocean and its tales in his children. I particularly love whaling stories and this is one of the greatest, incorporating fictionalized details of the story of the whale that rammed and sank the Essex.”                                                                                                                                               

Some readers had participated in marathon reading sessions at other New England ports like New Bedford and on Nantucket. “It’s an addictive experience to be among people with a singular love for literature,” said Richardson. “People come back again and again.”

Participants received a commemorative bookmark handset and printed on a nineteenth-century press located at Mystic.


Images (top): Herman Melville (Public domain); (middle) Nikki Richardson reading chapter 2 of Moby Dick. Credit: Elissa Bass.

Photographer Mathew Brady (1822-1896) is mostly remembered today for his Civil War images--wounded soldiers resting under trees, prisoners awaiting transportation, scores of dead combatants lying in bloody fields--and is considered one of the pioneers of photojournalism. Yet Brady had already secured his status as a premier photographer prior to the outbreak of war, having founded a flourishing daguerreotype studio in New York in 1844 where he photographed the best and the brightest of the Antebellum Era, such as Martin Van Buren, former first lady Dolly Madison, and then-presidential hopeful Abraham Lincoln.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

A sampling of Brady’s pre-war portraits are currently the subject of an exhibition at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. (A comprehensive virtual tour of all of NPG’s Brady portraits, including an index of sitters, is available here.) The show features historic engravings, advertising broadsides that marketed Brady’s studio, and the portraits themselves--some daguerreotypes, others done via ambrotype, a next-generation daguerreotype done on glass and viewed by reflective light. Ambrotypes were considered the height of photographic innovation, and Brady made sure that he was at the vanguard of this innovative industry.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Antebellum Portraits by Mathew Brady takes up a small corner of the first floor of the National Portrait Gallery, where a dozen sensitive images are shielded from light--daguerreotypes are incredibly light-sensitive and must stay shrouded in shadow to remain intact--yet these tiny treasures reveal volumes about the people who sat for these portraits as well as the shrewd businessman who took them. A common request was to create cartes de visite, small photographs mounted on thick paper and used as visiting cards. Portraits of celebrities were even traded among fans, much like baseball cards are today. Brady’s cartes de visite were lush affairs: double-sided ambrotypes nestled in velvet-lined leather cases with brass mats.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Perhaps the black tulip of the lot is the salted-paper print of senatorial candidate Abraham Lincoln. It is a rare, large-format, salted-paper print. (Salted paper prints were another photographic technique popular in the 1860s that involved wetting paper with ordinary table salt and silver nitrate.) Brady took this photo on February 27, 1860, the day Lincoln was set to address a crowd of Republicans at Cooper Union’s Great Hall. Up to this point, Lincoln was considered a backwater long-shot for the presidency, but Brady’s portrait of a well dressed, clean-shaven candidate helped change Lincoln’s image.                                                                  

“We chose to focus on Mathew Brady’s pre-Civil War portraiture because it was during the period from 1844 to1860 that Brady built his reputation as one the nation’s most successful camera artists,” said Ann Shumard, exhibition curator and senior curator of photographs. 



Brady eventually opened a studio in Washington, D.C. near the National Mall at 625 Pennsylvania Avenue. The free show runs from now until June 2018 at the Center for American Portraiture in Washington, D.C. More information may be found at


photo credit: M. Brady

As part of a year-long celebration of two decades in existence, the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature of Abilene, Texas, is hosting a summer exhibition dedicated to beloved children’s picture book illustrator Garth Williams (1912-1996).


                                                                                                                                                           Showcasing over one hundred works of original art, including preliminary drawings for various children’s books and other drafts, Garth Williams: Illustrator of the Century offers visitors an unexpected glimpse at the work of a perfectionist whose renderings of people, places, and things continue to elicit powerful emotional responses from readers of all ages.

Born in New York City and raised in London, Williams illustrated dozens of now-classic children’s books such as E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little as well as the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. For a while, Williams also illustrated for the New Yorker and various postwar advertising campaigns, which the exhibition explores as well.

“Williams made it all look so easy,” said children’s picture book critic Leonard Marcus. It certainly seems all great masters have that gift.

Garth Williams: Illustrator of the Century is on view at the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature at 12 Cedar Street in Abilene. Why Abliene? The city has spent the last twenty years transforming itself into a mecca for children’s book aficionados. For example, the city touts its impressive collection of outdoor storybook-themed sculptures and regularly hosts children’s literature-centric festivals and events.

More information about the exhibit is available at

Streaming Books, Literally


screenshot: PixGrove                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Ever feel like your home is overwhelmed with books? (No? Really?) Well, Spanish artist Alicia Martin has taken inspiration from book sprawl and created massive outdoor sculptures that suggest the aftermath of a book-eating cyclone.

Since the late 1990s, Martin’s book sculptures have tumbled from windows or cascaded over archways throughout Europe, with three located in the heart of Madrid. Despite the innate grandeur of these projects, very little has been written about Martin’s work, in English or Spanish, other than on than a handful of Pinterest sites and blogs. But, here’s what we know:

Each sculpture requires a minimum of 5,000 volumes, according to the artist, who sources her raw material from an ever-present supply of discards. Each structure is held together by internal metal and mesh framing, around which Martin attaches the books. These sculptures recall the work of another biblio-centric artist, that of Nancy Gifford and her piece “Lament,” which we wrote about back in 2014. (Update: “Lament” found a permanent home at the Davidson Library at UC Santa Barbara in 2016.)

In different ways, both Gifford and Martin offer up commentary on the grand sweep of cultural change underway. “The book chose me,” said Martin for the Spanish-language art website in 2014. “It [a book] carries much symbolism, and though the result seems obsessive, I do not recognize myself in this obsession. It is an object that stores and records time and space. The book itself is an object to be read, and offers as many “readings” as there are people who have read it.”

So, the next time your books find themselves everywhere but the bookshelves, just think: glued together and toppling out a window, they could have a new story to tell.



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The Key in the Hand, Japan Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 2015. Image courtesy of Galerie Templon. 

                                                                                                                                            The Galerie Templon in Paris is hosting an exhibition dedicated to Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota from May 20 through July 22, 2017. The performance and installation artist is known for her room-filling pieces that are at once monumental yet incredibly intricate, as if a giant spider has enveloped everything in its path in skeins of thread. Indeed, Shiota signature is quite literally tying various components of her work--often mundane items like keys, shoes, and dresses--together with red woven wool yarns, spinning intricate, ghostly webs beckoning for inspection and introspection. Shiota’s pieces are art as theater--viewers become participants in the installations, themselves springboards for meditations on the constant tension between life and death. She has said in interviews that most of her work focuses on “the memory of absent things” and that rooms can possess memory of those no longer with us, recalling, in a way, the cognitive realism of Proust and his madeline in À La Recherche du Temps Perdu.

Entitled, Destination, Shiota’s current exhibition employs empty boats as an attempt to explore life’s journeys, dreams, and how modern lifestyles have pushed humankind towards the unknown at an ever increasing pace. The show follows a theme Shiota explored at her other recent installation at the chic Parisian department store Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche, where she suspended a fleet of spectral wooden boats like a massive chandelier over the store using 300,000 yards of woven white thread. (Check out the opening night here )

Shiota revisits the boat theme in Destination, where a fleet of eleven-foot boats surround a sixteen-foot vessel, the ensemble caught in a red sea of red yarn. “I have been using boats [in my artwork] since my exhibition at the Japan Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2015,” explained Shiota, who, like many artists, uses boats as symbols of travel and finding one’s destination, though there is a slightly dark element to all this. If viewing the boats from below, as in the Bon Marché exhibit, the viewer becomes a drowning victim looking up at the hulls. Here, red yarn ensnares the boats, possibly preventing these vessels from arriving at their final destination. None of Shiota’s boats carry passengers but perhaps, as the artist suggests, they carry spirits and memories of the dead.

Destination also suggests that, in this age of hyper-fast everything, perhaps we’re getting tangled in the process, forgetting what harbor we’re actually navigating towards, and that maybe we should all just slow down a little bit and enjoy the ride. “Though we may not know where we are heading, we can never stop,” Shiota said. “Life is a journey of uncertainty and wonder, and the boats symbolize our dreams and hopes.”



Image courtesy of Galerie Templon. 


Since 1942, Harvard’s Houghton Library has focused on preserving a trove of collections that together represent almost the full scope of the history of the written word. Yesterday evening, over one hundred professors, librarians, and friends gathered at Houghton to commemorate the library’s seventy-five years of existence. Festivities opened with a lecture held at the stately Loeb House by Carl Pforzheimer University professor Ann Blair, who discussed the importance of preserving and using primary materials while highlighting the enduring need for libraries to transmit knowledge to posterity, especially in the digital age. Afterwards, participants made the quick walk past trees unfurling their fragrant blossoms to Houghton Library, where a book launch party and exhibition awaited in the ground-level Edison and Newman Room.

Entitled Houghton Library at 75 ($25, Harvard University Press) and edited by assistant curator of modern books and manuscripts Heather Cole and Hyde collection curator John T. Overholt, the publication offers a glimpse of the myriad holdings that fill the library’s shelves. From third century Greek papyri and European incunables to the Gutenberg Bible and drawings by John James Audubon, how do you choose the cream of the crop? The curators gamely rose to the challenge of selecting seventy-five items that they felt represent the breadth of the library’s holdings. The Bullard portrait of Emily Dickinson and her siblings, William Blake’s hand-colored Europe a Prophecy, and Shakespeare’s First Folio are three examples included in the book.

Meanwhile, HIST 75: A Masterclass on Houghton Library, is the first in a series of year-long exhibitions, lectures, movie screenings, tours, and other events celebrating these precious pieces and the place that keeps them safe. Forty-six of Houghton’s treasures were selected for display by faculty members who based their criteria for inclusion on whether the item had been useful for research, teaching, or provided inspiration somewhere along the line. Blair chose an English writing tablet from 1581 with pages in the middle treated with a chemical to harden them, creating a reusable writing surface (portable stylus included), while fellow Pforzheimer University professor Robert Darnton selected a volume of Emerson’s Essays with Herman Melville’s lively annotations scribbled in the margins. 

The festivites also aimed to raise awareness that the Houghton’s collections are not intended to gather dust and be forgotten; rather, these items are meant to help fulfill the core mission of Harvard--to educate through a commitment to the “transformative power of a liberal arts and sciences education.” Though access was restricted in the library’s early years, today many of the collections are available for up-close examination, either by visiting the library or by consulting Harvard’s vast and freely accessible digitized archives. The push to invite a new generation to Houghton is working: last year no less than 283 classes were held in the library, hailing from nearly every discipline.

After a tour of the exhibition and enjoying a spread of wine and cheese, partygoers departed, hopefully inspired to return and spend more time among the materials that define our shared human experience.

Learn more about Houghton’s 75th celebrations, including forthcoming events, here

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The Monypenny Hours (Use of Paris) in Latin and French, illuminated manuscript on parchment France, Paris, c.1490. Credit: Les Enluminures. 


Aimlessly strolling through Paris in springtime may be a rite of passage for star-crossed lovers, but tomorrow rare books and manusripts dealer Les Enluminures invites walkers to promenade with purpose on Saturday, April 8 at 10:00 a.m., to examine the origins of the book trade when medieval booksellers, binders, and illuminators plied their trade in the heart of the city. Advance registration is essential, so call +33(0)1 42 60 15 58 or email tout de suite if you’re interested.

In a sort of bibliophile’s trip down memory lane, the group--led by medieval book and manuscript expert Christopher de Hamel and Les Enluminures founder Sandra Hindman--will meet outside the west front of Notre-Dame, right where the outline of the medieval street rue Neuve Notre-Dame is marked in the ground. The starting point demarks where the city’s book trade began to blossom starting around 1200. Medieval tax records pinpoint the exact locations of bookish businesses such as those of thirteenth-century booksellers Emery d’Orléans and Nicholas Lombard. Further along, participants will see where the bookstand of husband-and wife duo Richard and Jeanne de Montbaston once stood. The couple copied and illuminated dozens of manuscripts, most notably the popular and controversial romances of the Roman de la Rose. (Jeanne’s illustrations of monks and nuns harvesting nut phalluses from trees and performing other erotic acts have long fascinated scholars and casual observers.) 

From the rue Neuve-Notre-Dame the group will cross the Petit Pont and head up the rue Saint-Jacques where booksellers Alain Spinefort and Claude Jaumar set up shop in the shadows of the now-demolished Dominican convent that lent its name to the street. A right turn onto the appropriately named rue de la Parcheminerie reveals the former residences of scribes and illuminators such as Ameline de Maffliers. A quick glance down the diminutive rue Boutebrie (originally rue Erembourg de Brie) where the work of illuminators such as Jean le Noir, Jean Pucelle, and Honoré no doubt influenced the temporary name change of the street to rue des Enluminures in the mid-1200s. Finally, the group will retrace its steps across the Ile de la Cité and head back to Les Enluminures at rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau where a light lunch will be served, and participants will be invited to examine (and purchase) original manuscripts created on those very streets centuries ago.

The promenade coincides with an an exhibition on display at Les Enluminures entitled Made in Paris: Spotlight on the Medieval Book Trade, open to the public from now until April 28. Capping something of a book-lover’s trifecta, the Salon International du Libre Rare & de l’Objet d’art unfurls at the Grand Palais this weekend as well. (Les Enluminures will be manning Stand C5 if you feel like saying bonjour.)

                                                                                                                                                             L’amour des livres anciens is most definitely in the air this spring in Paris.

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Cover for Kobudo kenpo, karate katsuyo zukai setsumei goshin-jutsu (1952). Reproduced with permission from the Hawaii Karate Museum Collection, the University of Hawaii at Manoa Library.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Hawaii is home to one of the largest and most robust karate centers in the United States, mostly due to Okinawans who immigrated to the islands in the early 1900s. Karate was practiced in Asia as early as the 1400s, and over the centuries evolved into the art of punching, kicking, and grappling as it is recognized today. As a result, Hawaii has been a hot-spot training ground for practitioners (called karatekas) for over a century. Senseis (teachers) past and present have authored hundreds of pamphlets and books to ensure proper technique and form. Now, much of that written history is preserved in the University of Hawaii’s Karate Museum Collection.



Interior image from Kobudo kenpo, karate katsuyo zukai setsumei goshin-jutsu (1952). Reproduced with permission from the Hawaii Karate Museum Collection, the University of Hawaii at Manoa Library.                                                                                               

Hawaii-based karate historian Charles Goodin accumulated the roughly 700 items that make up the bulk of the collection, including ephemeral material like tournament programs, fliers, and posters. “Those items tend to be easily lost and forgotten,” says University of Hawaii curator Tokiko Bazzell. “They provide a chronological story of karate’s development, as well as the names of participants and officials associated with Hawaii’s karate community.” Goodin donated his collection to the University of Hawaii in 2008, where the majority of items are accessible to the general public. The 260 rarest items are stored in the Asia Locked Press Special Collection Room. Though these fragile pieces are available by appointment only, many have been digitized and can be viewed through UH’s digital depository site, eVols

Historians and curiosity-seekers routinely make exciting discoveries digging through the archives. Bazzell recalls one instance when a Canadian researcher contacted her about a book entitled She mao he hun xing quan (Snake, Cat, Crane: Mixed Form Styles of Karate) believed to have been written in the 1950s by a great-uncle, Liang Yongheng. “This fellow came to the Asia Collection to verify whether his hunch was correct. Indeed, it was--the family had lost its copy of the book in the Chinese Cultural Revolution. I was so moved to see how happy he was to have “met” his great-uncle’s book. We never know what kind of discoveries can be made through collections like this.”


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She mao he hun xing quan (Snake, Cat, Crane: Mixed Form Styles of Karate) by Liang Yongheng. Reproduced with permission from the Hawaii Karate Museum Collection, the University of Hawaii at Manoa Library. 

Karate continues to flourish in Hawaii and is an integral part of the community. “It is a unique cultural legacy of Okinawa, brought here by the earliest immigrants,” says Goodin. “In fact, pre-war Hawaii was one of the first places where karate was propagated outside of Okinawa, and today Hawaii remains an important center for karate. It’s a more than a martial art; karate is sport, recreation, and a timeless cultural treasure.”

Holiday Time at the Houghton

Harvard University’s Houghton Library usually buzzes with scholars engaged in research, but on the day before Christmas Eve the space exuded a more relaxed atmosphere. A forthcoming story and its swiftly approaching deadline occasioned my visit, and it turned out that the half-day before the library closed for a weeklong winter break yielded more time with librarians who might otherwise be engaged in bibliocentric endeavors.

As it was, librarian Susan Halpert, a three-decade veteran of the Houghton, graciously explained the finer points of wrangling Harvard’s vast books and manuscripts database, then whisked us through the Emily Dickinson Room, the John Keats Room, and the recently completed Hyde suite, which houses what is perhaps the finest collection of Samuel Johnson material outside the U.K. Until recently, the Hyde suite was reserved for non-academic purposes, but now roughly 250 different courses utilize the resources here throughout the semester. 

In an effort to welcome more students to the library, the Houghton launched a summer fellowship program in 2015 specifically aimed at undergraduate students. Fellowship participants receive a stipend of $2,850 and participate in an exploratory, ten-week research opportunity that encourages academic inquiry while also alleviating some of the intimidation inherent in facing the sheer breadth and scope of Harvard’s holdings.The results have been impressive; one of last year’s fellows, current senior Jess Clay, used the Houghton’s collection of drawings and papers by John James Audubon to explore the naturalist’s role in American Romanticism, and also compared Audubon’s drawings to poems by Emily Dickinson and fables by Jean de la Fontaine. Clay’s efforts resulted in an exhibition entitled, Sublime and Manifest: The American Romanticism of John James Audubon, on display in the Keats Room at the Houghton through February 2017.



                                                                                                                                                 The tour of the Houghton’s inner sanctum concluded at noon, and it was time for the library to shutter its doors. By 12:01, not a creature was stirring.


Flyer for undergraduate presentation at Harvard. Image Credit: Barbara Richter



“Make Way for Ducklings” Turns 75

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Drawing for Make Way for Ducklings (“‘Look out!’ squawked Mrs. Mallard, all of a dither...”) by Robert McCloskey, 1941. Reproduced with permission from MFA Boston.                                                                                                                                                                                               

1941 proved to be a banner year for picture-book creators; Margret and H. A. Rey’s Curious George was published by Houghton Mifflin, and Viking Press presented Robert McCloskey’s second book, Make Way for Ducklings. Though neither the Reys nor McCloskey were natives of Massachusetts, both authors and their books are now forever bound with the Commonwealth. (Massachusetts designated Make Way for Ducklings its official children’s book in 2003. Michigan is the only other state to have such an honor.)

2016 marks 75 years that both books have delighted readers of all ages. Houghton Mifflin celebrated Curious George’s milestone birthday on September 17 with an event dedicated to discovery dubbed “Curiosity Day.” The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) is currently hosting an examination of McCloskey’s work in a retrospective entitled, appropriately, “Make Way for Ducklings: The Art of Robert McCloskey.”

Organized in cooperation with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, the show presents over 50 works on paper, mostly on loan from the May Massee Collection at Emporia State University in Kansas. (May Massee was a children’s book editor at Viking whose roster of award-winning authors and illustrators included Ludwig Bemelmans, Robert Lawson, Munro Leaf, and McCloskey, among many others.)


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Drawing for Make Way for Ducklings. Reproduced with permission from the MFA, Boston.           

                                                                                                                                                                                                                             The show highlights preliminary drawings for Ducklings and final illustrations for McCloskey’s other books such as Lentil (1940) and Centerburg Tales (1951). (Wouldn’t the top sketch “Look Out” make a great illustrated envelope? Just a thought.) There’s also a set of miniature bronze models created for Nancy Schön’s now-iconic oversize sculptures of Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings that have welcomed adoring children in the Boston Public Garden since 1987. The exhibition also explores McCloskey’s artistic process and inspiration, and also explains why the book was printed in brown ink; though McCloskey had hoped to illustrate using watercolors, full-color printing was expensive in 1941, as America had just entered World War II. The book would have to be printed in monotone brown, so McCloskey drew the images backwards onto zinc lithographic plates, which saved money on printing by skipping offsetting altogether.

Duck prints lead showgoers throughout the exhibit, and there’s plenty of bench space and a selection of the two-time Caldecott Medal winner’s books available for quiet browsing.

Make Way for Ducklings: The Art of Robert McCloskey is on view at the MFA Boston now through June 18, 2017. Admission is free for children under 7, and free to all on Wednesdays after 4 p.m. (Museum entry is free for MFA members and $25 for non-members.) For more information visit

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Entrance to Emberley exhibition. Image reproduced with permission from Worcester Art Museum. 

A comprehensive exhibition for award-winning children’s picture book author and illustrator Ed Emberley opened November 16 at the Worcester Art Museum (WAM) in Massachusetts that examines Emberley’s enduring 60-year influence on budding artists and authors.

Over 100 artworks from Emberley’s own archive are on display--woodblocks, hand-drawn mock-ups, even a 90” by 30” print of Paul Bunyan--along with another 100 books written and illustrated by the prolific author. 

The career of the 85-year old Massachusetts native began in 1962 when The Wing on a Flea: A Book About Shapes made that year’s New York Times top-10 list of illustrated books. Since then, Emberley has create books stylistically diverse and endlessly creative, with some seeing greater commercial success than others, and many achieving beloved, almost cult-like following. For example, the 1975 out-of-print The Wizard of Op remains a coveted item by collectors, available online at a base price of $50 in acceptable condition. Prices rise to over $200 for copies in mint condition.

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Paul Bunyan’s Bunk House with plenty of space to cozy up and read. Reproduced with permission from Worcester Art Museum. 

Why host a retrospective now? Guest curator and fellow artist Caleb Neelon collaborated on a book about Emberley in 2014 with designer Todd Oldham (Ed Emberley/AMMO Books) and has been nursing the idea for a full-scale examination since then. “Putting together a show has been in the back of my mind since our book came out, and it turned out Adam Rozan [Director of Audience Engagement at WAM] and I were on the same page,” Neelon said.

“Emberley’s books stand the test of time in that they teach you something--whether you’re the kid or the grownup with the kid, you learn how to draw a simple lion or something else, and you feel good because you did it, and you can do it again, returning to that good feeling,” Neelon continued. “Ed’s whole goal is to get kids to look at something and say, ‘I can do that!’ When children turn seven or eight, some start to feel self-conscious about their drawing abilities and many stop drawing. These books take kids through that awkward stage and lets them have fun while they’re at it.”

“We hope our visitors will appreciate that Ed Emberley is an artist that must be seen and shown in art museums,” reiterated WAM’s Rozan. “His is the work that will be viewed in institutions now and in the future. Emberley’s work reminds us to innovate, dream, and wonder about the importance of the visual image and its relationship to the written word.”

WAM’s associate curator Katrina Stacy sees Emberley’s work as emblematic of a story with deep intergenerational Massachusetts roots, “and surprisingly, has never been the focus of a museum retrospective.” To ensure people of all ages can fully appreciate the breadth of the show, the curators included elements like easy-to-read labels and plenty of areas to rest, read, play, and of course, draw. WAM will be hosting regular drop-in workshops during the exhibition where visitors of all ages can try their hand at Emberley’s own artistic techniques. (See website for details on dates and times.)

“There are a lot of sad moods flying around our world right now,” concluded Neelon. “This is a good show to see if you are feeling low and need a lift.”

KAHBAHBLOOM: The Art and Storytelling of Ed Emberley runs through April 9, 2017 at the Worcester Art Museum 55 Sailsbury Street, Worcester, MA 01609


While the Boston area gears up for an ambitious, multi-venue examination of illuminated manuscripts and early printed books with the Beyond Words exhibition, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is hosting two overlapping shows: one dedicated to medieval illumination, and a second focusing on the chemical legacy of alchemy. The Alchemy of Color in Medieval Manuscripts explores the creation of various vivid pigments traditionally used in medieval manuscript painting. Gold, for example, was used for its incorruptibility--that is, it doesn’t tarnish or oxidize with time--and was employed to convey great spiritual importance. Verdigris, on the other hand, was infamous for its destructive, reactive properties. Produced by corroding copper strips with vinegar, the mixture yielded a greenish-blue hue that varied depending on the initial chemical ratios. Meanwhile, The Art of Alchemy explores the influence the practice had on artistic expression in sculpture, glassmaking, and manuscript illumination. 


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                                                                                                                                                              Saint Mark, about 1325-1345. Tempera colors and gold leaf on parchment. Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

                                                                                                                                                            Now through February 2017, the Getty’s concurrent exhibitions examine the origins of alchemy--from Greco-Egyptian antiquity through its transformation into chemical study--as well as alchemist’s integral role in medieval illumination and how these “ancestors of modern chemistry” endeavored to do more than just transmute lead into gold. Without alchemists, many of the brilliant hues we associate with illumination would be less radiant. Though alchemists were largely dismissed as crackpots during the Renaissance, recent studies have shown that their work in chemical compounding influenced the work of Sir Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle. 

The exhibitions draw from the Getty’s archives at the Research Institute and Museum, and while exploring the importance of The Great Art in medieval society, The Alchemy of Color in Medieval Manuscripts also explores that era’s shifting perceptions and interpretations of art and science.

As further proof that medieval alchemy lives on in today’s artistic world, the Getty invited Tim Ely, an alchemist of our own time, to host a two-day workshop examining the materials and methods necessary to produce contemporary manuscript illumination. Artist and historian Sylvana Barrett will host gold-leaf demonstrations at the museum through January. Other demonstrations include a culinary workshop highlighting the connections between food, color, and science, and Derek Jarman’s avant-garde production Blue (1993) will be screened this evening on the Garden Terrace, with sweeping vistas of Los Angeles serving as the film’s inky backdrop.

The Alchemy of Color in Medieval Manuscripts runs through Jaunary 1, 2017 at the Getty Center and the Art of Alchemy is on view at the Getty Research Institute through February 12, 2017. More information may be found at

The Summer of Hamilton

Has the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Hamilton reached its zenith? After a twelve-month run that grossed $90 million dollars in ticket sales, the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, made his final appearance onstage in June. Now, doorbuster ticket prices are dipping below $500 per seat. Still, if that’s too rich for your blood, check out the New-York Historical Society’s museum-wide celebration of America’s first Secretary of the Treasury and his influence shaping the U.S. government.

Replicas of the dueling pistols used by Hamilton and Burr on view at the New-York Historical Society, on loan from the JPMorgan Chase Historical Collection. Photo credit: New-York Historical Society, Courtesy of the JPMorgan Chase Historical Collection.

The Summer of Hamilton exhibit includes some of the items from the museum’s 2015 installation that also showcased the life and times of Alexander Hamilton, but there are new items as well: Life-size bronze statues depicting Hamilton and Burr in their deadly duel; Hamilton’s 1797 gift of a tall case clock to the Bank of New York; and his writing desk, on loan from the Museum of the City of New York.

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Alexander Hamilton to Elizabeth Schuyler, October 5, 1780 (The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, GL C00773) Photo Credit: New-York Historical Society

In addition, the NYHS will display nine documents written by Hamilton, including his touching love letter to fiancée Elizabeth Schuyler; his infamous letter to mistress Maria Reynolds; and his proposal for the federal government that he presented at the Constitutional Convention.


In a letter (also on display) where Hamilton supports Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr as president, his complaints sound remarkably prescient when read against the backdrop of today’s riotous political bickering: “In a choice of Evils let them take the least--Jefferson is in every view less dangerous than Burr.”

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Kim Crowley, Alexander Hamilton, bronze, 2004, New-York Historical Society (photo: Don Pollard)

And back by popular demand, the NYHS will recreate the infamous Hamilton-Burr duel on Sunday, August 7 with actors from American Historical Theatre.

                                                                                                                                               Visit The New-York Historical Society’s website for a complete list of programming and hours.

Flying High with Aviation Books

Earlier this week I strapped on a leather cap and goggles, stepped aboard an open-cockpit biplane built in 1942 and took an aerial tour of Martha’s Vineyard and the surrounding vicinity. The plane is part of a small fleet stationed at Katama Airfield, the largest remaining active grass runway in America. The airfield and surrounding costal heathlands are now protected nature zones, home to nearly a dozen endangered plants and animals, a paradox of man, machine, and nature existing in symbiosis.


Biplanes at Katama Airfield, circa 2007. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Though the view was glittering, truth be told, as Cole Porter wrote, I get no kick in a plane. I’d make a horrible hotshot. When not focusing on the horizon during the twenty-minute jaunt, I thought about classic aviation books to soothe my nerves. Volumes rejoicing in the miracle of flight have been flying off bookshelves for over a century, and certainly some are worth more than others--my 1953 book club edition of Charles Lindbergh’s Pulitzer Prize winner The Spirit of Saint Louis isn’t worth much more than forty bucks. Meanwhile, a first-edition, first-printing of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, purchased at the Book Den East in Oak Bluffs for ten dollars in 2000 is probably worth 150 dollars today. Every so often I enjoy reading Anne’s lyrical prose about dealing with the turmoil and chaos of modern life during the Eisenhower era.


Cover for Gift from the Sea

Some complaints never change. 

                                                                                                                                                      The black tulip for certain serious aviation collectors is a first edition paperback of Mossyface: A Romance of the Air, by William Earle and published in 1922. “William Earle” was the pseudonym for Biggles series creator Captain William Earl Johns, and many early collectors didn’t recognize the connection. (I hate to say it, but it’s not much of a pseudonym.) Most copies were pulped long ago, and surviving books are often a mess. One dealer is offering his copy online for nearly seven thousand dollars, complete with wrinkled spine and deteriorating paper.  

Pilots may drink the wine of gods, but I’ll stick to the terrestrial pleasures of books.

Or Else: Cautionary Tales for Children

The Rare Book Room in Philadelphia’s Free Library is running an exhibition on children’s books where “happily ever after” is not always the end goal. “Or Else: Cautionary Tales for Children” examines 250 years of the evolution of danger and morality in children’s literature, exploring early Calvinist beliefs on moralism and later works that provide room for humor and laughter in tandem with moral guidance.

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                                                                                                                                                         The show starts with material from the 18th century because until then “children read the same books as adults,” said curator Caitlin Goodman. The show’s inflection point--when books started to be written exclusively for the education of children--comes with Henrich Hoffmann’s gruesome Struwwlpeter (Slovenly Peter). “Hoffmann’s book was a different species of cautionary tale because it was didactic and entertaining,” said Goodman. Hoffmann’s stories were meant to frighten children into behaving, and paved the way for modern classics like Where the Wild Things Are and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. “Though Slovenly Peter demonstrates a turning point in children’s literature, it’s still a far cry from Maurice Sendak’s Pierre. Most of the kids in the Slovenly Peter series die.” (In Sendak’s dark classic, Pierre is swallowed by a lion because he “doesn’t care,” but is rescued.) 

Over 100 items from the Free Library and the Rosenbach collections are on display, including Isaac Watts’ Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language For the Use of Children, William Blake’s radical poems on childhood (which were never intended for children in the first place), Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Tomi Ungerer’s The Three Robbers.

A reading nook set up especially for young visitors also doubles as a board game area, with a duplicate of a Victorian-era morality race game called “The Mansion of Bliss.” It is similar to “Shoots and Ladders,” except that the goal is to get to heaven, and the game is hard to win. “No one has succesfully played through during the exhibition,” Goodman said. “People get frustrated and think the game is unfair, but our modern standards of fairness are very different from Victorian beliefs.” The reading corner is also stocked with modern favorites, like Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. “These books are extremely popular, yet manage to be instructive,” Goodman explained, and they continue the tradition of cautionary tales into the 21st century.



“The Mansion of Bliss: A New Game for the Amusement of Youth.”  1822. Reproduced with permission from the Free Library.


The Rare Book Department is open from 9am to 5pm Monday through Saturday. “Or Else: Cautionary Tales for Children” is on display through July 23. If you can’t make it to Philadelphia before the show closes, all of the materials in the exhibition have been scanned and may be viewed here. For more information, visit


Printing a Child’s World

From Alice in Wonderland’s 150th anniversary celebration to Mo Willems’ New York retrospective, children’s picture books and their creators are enjoying something of a moment in Manhattan’s cultural and literary circles. Now, the Met is hosting an installation of printed works celebrating the world of children as depicted on canvas and paper.

Through October 16, visitors to the show entitled “Printing a Child’s World” in the American Wing at the Met Fifth Avenue will be greeted by over two dozen works dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Rarely displayed children’s books, illustrations, and prints by artists such as Randolph Caldecott, George Bellows, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Nast explore how art and advertising at the turn of the last century became ever more focused on the experience of childhood. Then as now, idyllic scenes of children at play, rest, or reading were commercially successful and played with the heartstrings (and purse-strings) of viewers.



Cover image for The House That Jack Built. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Highlights include nine original Caldecott watercolors for The House That Jack Built; Nast’s iconic, cherry-cheeked, jovial rendering of Santa Claus from A Visit from Saint Nicholas; and an illustration by Winslow Homer that appeared in an 1858 edition of Eventful History of Three Blind Mice. Writers and reformers of the time saw the world’s youth as the living embodiment of all that was new and modern during an era of sweeping social change, while working in mass-market mediums cemented the legacies of illustrators like Homer and Caldecott, whose art remains celebrated by collectors and artists today.

Material for the installation comes from the Met archives, the New-York Historical Society, and from a private collection.

“Printing a Child’s World” is on view at the Met through October 16. More information may be found here.

Olympians Descend on Manhattan

On Tuesday, ISIS suicide bombers carried out attacks that killed over 30 people and wounded more than 300 in Brussels. The next day, as members of the press gathered at the Manhattan Onassis Cultural Center in advance of an archaeology exhibition, Greek Minister of Culture Aristides Baltas wondered how this exhibit could provide meaning in the wake of such horrific events, suggesting that “culture and education may be the best weapon against terrorism of all kinds.” “Gods and Mortals at Olympus” certainly offers hope that an understanding of Hellenic culture may civilize ruthless extremists, though it is something of an uphill battle: Terrorist groups, and ISIS in particular, routinely plunder ancient sites to fund their operations. However, for the rest of us, there’s much to be learned from this show, on view now through June 18th.


Spectacle-Shaped Brooch with Fabric Remains Early Iron Age (1000-700 BC). Copper alloy, iron, and textile. Photo © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Antiquities of Pieria, and the Dion Excavations. Courtesy Onassis Cultural Center NY.


Nestled in the slopes of Mount Olympus, Dion was the religious center of Macedon for centuries, with sanctuaries dedicated to Zeus, Artemis and the Egyptian goddess Isis. Over ninety artifacts excavated from unearthed temples, baths, and private homes are on display in the Onassis Foundation’s recently renovated gallery space.  Brooches from the Iron Age, copper lamps, gold bracelets and stunning Roman-era mosaics evoke the importance of Dion as a sacred site, and how the constant influx of outside cultures influenced local art and architecture.


Mosaic of the Epiphany of Dionysus Late 2nd-early 3rd century AD. Stone tesserae. Photo © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Antiquities of Pieria, and the Dion Excavations. Courtesy Onassis Cultural Center NY.

Dion was also a major theater hub dating back to 400 BC, when Euripides wrote The Bacchae under the patronage of Macedon’s King Archelaus and was believed to have visited the city seeking inspiration. A suite of mosaics depicting theatrical masks surround the imposing “Epiphany of Dionysus,” a 5 foot by 7 foot mosaic dating from the late 2nd century CE which shows the god of wine and theater bursting out of the sea on a jaguar-drawn chariot. Pulled from a luxurious villa, the piece suggests that the homeowner had embraced Roman customs while still retaining various Greek religious traditions. (Many of the stelae on display have inscriptions written in both Greek and Latin, offering further evidence of life in the city under Roman rule.)


Slab with the Imprint of Two Feet and Dedicatory Inscription Late 2nd-3rd century AD. Marble. Photo © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Antiquities of Pieria, and the Dion Excavations. Courtesy Onassis Cultural Center NY.

Equally impressive is a diminutive 3rd century BC gold bracelet with lion’s head finials, which was discovered in a Macedonian tomb outside the city. Massive marble statues, table supports, and stelae depicting various gods, all offer tantalizing glimpses of this special place.


Bracelet with Lion’s Head Finials Late 3rd century BC. Gold. Photo © Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ephorate of Antiquities of Pieria, and the Dion Excavations. Courtesy Onassis Cultural Center NY.

Shepherding the exhibit into the 21st century are installations by contemporary Greek artists Maria Zervos and Kostas Ioannidis. Zervos’ video combines imagery shot at Mount Olympus with her translations of poetry by the ancient female poet Telesilla (510 BC), exploring how contemporary viewers perceive ancient notions of perfection and immortality. Ioannidis created sound installations which can be heard in the gallery foyer, playing on the idea of a “mountain language.” An onsite video game called “Secrets of the Past--Excavating the City of Zeus” invites players to pretend they’re directing the excavation work at Dion and decide the best way to unearth and examine the artifacts.

The Greeks at Dion demonstrated an ability to adapt as religious beliefs changed, even in the midst of war and natural disasters, and these artifacts offer opportunities to discover similarities between an ancient culture and our own. That’s something to be hopeful about.

GODS AND MORTALS AT OLYMPUS: ANCIENT DION, CITY OF ZEUS is free to the public. Visit the Onassis Foundation’s website for information on guided tours and additional programming.

A recently opened exhibit at the Huntington Library explores the life and work of You Chung (Y.C.) Hong (1898-1977), one of the first Chinese Americans to pass the California Bar. An expert on U.S. immigration laws, Hong was a tireless advocate for equal rights of Chinese-Americans and worked to overturn the Chinese Exclusion Act, a federal law signed by president Arthur in 1882 that prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers and severely restricted the entry of Chinese non-laborers. (The law was not repealed until the Magnuson Act of 1943.)  In addition to appearing at numerous congressional hearings in the subject, Hong represented nearly 7,000 clients during his career. “Y.C. Hong: Advocate for Chinese-American Inclusion” draws from the Huntington’s Hong Family Papers (acquired in 2006) and provides a thorough explanation of this prominent attorney and civic leader.

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Translation: These blessings I wish for my compatriots:/ Businesses that flourish,/ Fortunes smoothly sought,/ And once that is done, safe and speedy passage home. Y.C. Hong’s business card/business flyer, ca. 1928. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. 

Among the photographs, ledgers, and correspondence on display, a Chinese typewriter is a particular standout. Purchased by Hong in the 1930s, the machine features over 2500 characters etched on movable metal slugs in its tray bed. To type, one would move the character selection lever across the character chart, then press down on the type bar. The type bar would then pick up the slug, ink it, and impress the image onto paper.

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Improved Shu Zhendong-style Chinese typewriter 改良舒式華文打字機, ca. 1935. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Another impressive artifact is a 1936 document called a “coaching paper,” containing hundreds of question and answers Chinese immigrants would memorize and then recite to their American sponsors. (Immigrants could expect to face nearly 400 questions during their interviews.) To avoid arousing the suspicion of cheating among American authorities, clients were advised to destroy such documents. Children of American citizens were eligible for citizenship which sparked a lucrative trade in false kinship papers. Those fortunate enough to evade detection and gain entry became known as “paper sons” and “paper daughters.”
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Zheng Wenqi’s 鄭文其 coaching paper, ca. 1936. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“Y.C. Hong: Advocate for Chinese-American Inclusion” is on view until March 21, 2016 at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. More information may be found here.



A Bibliophile’s Visit to Paris

I just returned from a long weekend in Paris, and it was the first time I’d spent any time in the city in over a decade. As we strolled, sipped, and simply bathed in the glory of the city, I was moved to recall that old epigram by French critic Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, or, the more things change, the more things stay the same. I think this applies especially to Parisian book culture. The famous bouquinistes, or open-air antiquarian booksellers, still manned their hunter-green stalls along the river quayside, offering passersby the pleasure of searching for literary treasure while simultaneously taking in the city sights. While I knew that this tradition had existed in Paris since the 1500s, I didn’t realize just how many bookstalls comprise this UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, over 200 booksellers operate 900 book boxes, stretching from the Pont Marie on the Left Bank to the Quai Voltaire on the Right Bank, and is touted on postcards printed by the Mairie de Paris as ‘the largest open-air bookstore in the world.’


A “bouquiniste” by the Seine, in Paris, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After browsing the stalls, I hopped on the Métro, taking the lightning-fast Line 14 to visit my old stomping grounds, the ever-evolving Tolbiac section of the 13th arrondissement. In addition to a bustling Chinatown, this neighborhood is famous for hosting the large towers of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. Fourteen years ago, the only things piercing the skyline here were the four glass-and steel towers of the library, and visitors unfamiliar to the area were few and far between. (For a detailed picture of the highly ambitious, intensely controversial construction of the new facility, look no further than the last chapter of Nick Basbanes’ Patience & Fortitude, where the library’s architect calls the Tolbiac site “a stretch of industrial wasteland on the banks of the Seine.”)


By savagecat [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Well, things do change. The area is now home to urban hipsters, boutiques, movie theaters, eco-friendly condos and floating bars. The piscine Josephine Baker, the first pool to be built in Paris since 1992 was opened across from the Bibliotheque. Best described as a pool-barge, the Josephine Baker’s glass windows look directly onto the Seine, and get swimmers as close to taking a plunge in the river without chancing their health. On sunny days, the roof retracts, and sunbathers can gaze out onto the Seine, or admire their literary patrimony soaring into the sky beside them.

So what did I bring home? A novel by Francophone writer and UCLA professor Alain Mabanckou, and another biting satire by Michel Houellebecq, who, rumor has it, also calls the 13th his home. Vive Paris!

Noepe, an Island Writing Sanctuary

Back in the early 2000s, poet and recent graduate of Emerson’s MFA program Justen Ahren returned to his Martha’s Vineyard home and found that while the island was full of writers, there wasn’t a formal space for folks to get together and share their writing experiences. So, after attending a few far-flung workshops, Ahren wondered why he couldn’t foster a literary community in his own backyard.

As we spoke at the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival in early August, Ahren recalled how his  writing program took shape:  “In 2006, the proprietor of the Point Way Inn in Edgartown asked if I had any ideas for using the space in a different way, and without hesitating I suggested creating a writers residency.” The next year, the Noepe Center for Literary Arts  opened its doors. “We had two attendees that year. This year we’ll welcome 60 writers-in-residence!” he exclaimed.


The nonprofit bills itself as an inspirational sanctuary where writers attend workshops and author lectures, and offers both established and emerging writers space and time to put words to paper. Workshops are open to the public - this week, for example, husband and wife team Author Richard Zacks and ICM Agent Kristine Dahl explain how a book gets published, from conception to publication. Writers interested in the residency program apply through Noepe’s website.

Even with the island literary community well-established, a touch of wanderlust drives Ahren to keep traveling. This November he is inviting ten writers to pack their bags and meet up in Orvieto, Italy, for a weeklong workshop devoted to cultivating a daily writing practice. “I chose Orvieto after visiting the town with my daughter. It’s small enough to feel intimate, yet big enough to offer ample cultural, social and entertainment opportunities,” Ahern said.

The writing center is called Noepe after the Wamanpoag Indian name for Martha’s Vineyard. It means ‘land between the currents,’ and that’s what this place offers its visitors - a small, serene patch of solid ground in an ever more turbulent and congested publishing world.

The Gay Head cliffs in Martha's Vineyard consi...

The Gay Head cliffs in Martha’s Vineyard consist almost entirely of clay and have long been a sacred spot for the Wampanoag. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Very Gorey Halloween

Halloween is still two weeks away, yet goblins, witches and faux headstones already claim valuable lawn space across the country. While the kids celebrate with silly tricks and sticky treats, why not indulge grown-ups this season with work by the marvelously gloomy Edward Gorey.

Located in the Flatiron neighborhood in Manhattan, B&B Rare Books is featuring three Gorey first editions; The Doubtful Guest, ($275) The Blue Aspic ($150) and The Loathsome Couple($100).  All three are in fine to very good condition and none will break the bank. 


Although these books aren’t for the faint of heart - unwelcome visitors, death and destruction feature prominently throughout - perhaps the most ghoulish tale is The Loathsome Couple.  It is considered a cult classic among Gorey collectors and tells such a shocking story that even the author acknowledged it as his most appalling. The murderous husband and wife couple is based on a real duo that perpetrated the chilling Moors Murders in England in the 1960’s.  Unlike in most Gorey tales, the characters in this book are caught and suitably punished. 

Another way to celebrate Halloween would be to visit the Gorey House in Yarmouth Port on Cape Cod. Since the author’s death in 2000, the home has been converted into a delightfully unique museum that chronicles the life, work and charitable endeavors of the master of macabre. 


The Gorey House hasn’t planned anything special for Halloween this year. (The House co-hosted a Dracula Blood Drive with the Cape Cod Hospital in 2006, but hasn’t since then.) It is currently exhibiting original artwork from The Vinegar Works, Three Volumes of Moral Instruction.

Currently featured in the gift shop is a toy theater based on Gorey’s drawings and sets for his award-winning Broadway production of Dracula. It retails at a reasonable $25.00.

Sadly, Ombledroom, the twenty-eight pound white cat who ruled the House and delighted visitors for twelve years, passed away last summer at the age of twelve. Visitors can pay tribute at to the feline’s final resting place, which is situated under a Southern magnolia tree on a patch of lawn by the house.   Happy Haunting!


A semi-regular series profiling new archives.

jc_peckham_peace_wall_003_0.jpgThis past August marked the anniversary of the London riots, the anniversary of a terrible time that saw pockets of the city razed, pillaged and plundered for reasons that still have not been adequately identified.

In the South-East district of Peckham, the damage was devastating and iconic: images of a flaming double-decker bus on the local high street became emblems of the destruction the rest of the city had sustained. 

The worst in a few brought out the best in the rest of communities all over London: the streets were cleaned, the broken glass and skeletal remains of burned out cars were cleared away early in early the morning after the riots, a massive effort organized almost entirely over Twitter. In Peckham, the boarded-up windows of a looted Poundland (the UK equivalent of a Dollar Store), went a step beyond utility: they became a public archive. Members of the local theatre, the Peckham Shed, started to stick post-it notes on the boards, decorating what they called the ‘Why We Love Peckham Wall’:

There was so much fear, anger and distress in the area in the aftermath of the rioting that we wanted to do something to remind people that lots of people really care about Peckham; that there are incredibly talented young people here and a vibrant and proud community which wants to come together to try to address the problems here. (Source)
Neighbors and passersby joined in, and soon the covered wall was featured as a zoomable, interactive images on The BBC: “Peckham isHome”; “CHANGE!”; “I feel at home here”; “PECKHAM LIVES”, and “I love Peckham”.

Luckily, the Peckham Shed also had it in mind to preserve the testimonies of locals with more than images - and thus an archive of just about the most ephemeral materials you can think of, Post-It Notes, was born.

Last month in remembrance of the riots the boards containing the post-its were exhibited outside the library in an area known as the Peckham Space.  And now, the Peckham Peace Wall has been installed, according to the Creative Review, it is based on 4,000 originals that have been digitally hand-traced and added to tiles for permanent display, designed by the local creative collective Garudio Studiage.

jc_peckham_peace_wall_009_0.jpgArchives are awfully elastic things: it’s great that something like the Peckham Peace Wall, an archive from the ashes, serves all three purposes of serious commemoration, positive reinforcement, and the literal preservation of local color and local involvement. Let’s hope to see more like it. 

The Water Babies in the 100 Greatest Books for (Victorian) Kids

Guest Blog
by Catherine Batac Walder

A recent blog post on this site linked to the 100 Greatest Books for Kids. It made me think of children’s books that were extremely popular during their time and wonder what had caused the decline in their status such as Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies.

Around the time this list of 100 Greatest Books for Kids was published, we nipped into an antique shop in Eversley, a village close to ours, and were drawn to St. Mary’s Church right beside the antique shop, where Kingsley had been rector from 1844 until his death in 1875.

St. Mary’s Church in Eversley, the view from Charles Kingsley’s grave.

The Water Babies is the only work of Kingsley that I’ve read so far. I personally couldn’t grasp the idea of Tom, the young boy in the story, turning into a water baby as I thought this new life in the water was even lonelier at first and more unsafe than the cruelty and danger he had faced as a chimney sweep. The idea is for him to learn from his adventures but then it wasn’t his fault that he was born poor and didn’t know much as a chimney sweep. To become a water baby was, I thought, an unfair way to be taught lessons in life. At the end of the tale, he was restored to being a human again. That he didn’t remain a water baby, to me, seemed to have defeated the whole purpose of his transformation and just proved that it was better to be a land baby after all. The first few chapters were strong but it appeared as though his transformation into a water baby was only to keep the adventures going, somehow to create excitement out of the author’s desire to impart a moral fable. Tom’s adventures aren’t as fantastic as those of the hobbits or that certain boy wizard for today’s readers. There didn’t seem to be enough “action” whenever he met someone new. Kingsley (as the narrator addressing a young boy, presumably his youngest child, to whom he dedicated the story) wrote like a firm school teacher. I did enjoy the references to pop culture of that time. His thoughts I didn’t find out of date but there was just a lot of information and he dwelt too much on a single subject, almost sounding too defensive about his arguments.
Many are of the opinion that the decline in popularity of The Water Babies roots from the inclusion of the common prejudices of that time period and insulting references to other races, cultures and religion.* Apparently, most modern editions of the book have an inscription on the copyright page stating that “references that would have little meaning or purpose for the children of today have been omitted.” I haven’t read a modern edition of the book so I’m not sure which parts had been edited out. But then the tale is satirical and as in any such work, the author uses irony that in the end we’re not quite sure if he’s dismissing others or his kind. Undeniably, Kingsley had wit and humor. And if I would think of other things that were admirable about him, I would put on top of the list his niece Mary Kingsley (1861-1900) who was considered to be a woman who belonged to the twentieth century in her desire to affirm the value of different cultures. She was an explorer in West Africa and was a champion of the traditions of indigenous peoples. She challenged the prevailing assumptions of her generation through her passionate concern to understand and safeguard the tribal societies she encountered (Fuller and Fuller, The Story of Eversley Church, 2004, p.19).

Kingsley Centenary Window, the south window of the chancel, designed by Christopher Webb.

Eversley Church was listed in the Domesday Book as a possession of Westminster Abbey. What singles it out among typical English churches is its connection to Charles Kingsley. As you explore the church, you see many memorials, stained glass windows, etc. all relating to Kingsley. The crèche is called “The Water Babies Creche.” There is a stained glass window in the chancel that marks the centenary of Kingsley’s arrival in Eversley as a curate. Installed in 1942, the window shows the figure of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the heroine of Kingsley’s poem “The Saint’s Tragedy” and the figures on each side are reminiscent of the water babies. My favorite part of the church is the Sarsen Stone that was discovered there in 1940. Geologists identified it as one of the Bagshot series from about 50,000 years ago.

Grave of Charles Kingsley and his wife Fanny at the St. Mary’s churchyard. The Latin epitaph at the base reads “Amavimus, amamus, amabimus” (We loved, we love, we shall love).

Although I’m not a huge fan of The Water Babies, I now associate Charles Kingsley with St. Mary’s Church, the great changes he had made for the parish and the legacy he had left in Eversley, something that the villagers are undoubtedly proud of even to this day.

*I couldn’t find evidence of this theory about its decline in popularity. Even the “studies” I found on some sites point to Wikipedia, which doesn’t suffice. Perhaps FB&C readers could shed some light...

Many thanks to Catherine Batac Walder, a writer living in the UK, for this photo essay. She has previously written for us about Sherlock Holmes and ex-library books.

This past Friday I traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest awards ceremony and reception at the Library of Congress. So with twenty-four hours on the clock, I visited two of the biggest and best libraries in the country--which happen to be right around the corner from each other.

042523W5.jpgFirst stop: The Folger Shakespeare Library. I sauntered through Manifold Greatness, the amazing King James Bible exhibit, part of which traveled from Oxford. My favorites from the exhibit were William Blake’s biblical illustrations, a “squirrel” binding, and Queen Elizabeth I’s red velvet-bound Bishops’ bible. I toured the reading room, which is so lovely because it retains an ‘old-fashioned’ library feel (all too often scrubbed out of our state-of-the-art libraries). Tapestries on the wall, stained-glass windows, heavy wooden tables, and a bust of the Bard scanning the room. My private tour included a trip to the special collections areas, where I marveled at a collection of porcelain collectibles, costumes, and yes--the 82 folios. I only wish I had had the forethought to book a ticket for Othello, playing in the cozy, Elizabethan-style Folger Shakespeare theatre.
The Journey Through Hallowed Ground (JTHG) follows the footsteps of our founding fathers in a 180-mile journey along a four-state region, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia, from Gettysburg to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Explore the changing landscapes from rolling mountain ranges to softly plowed fields, study the architecture from colonial homesteads to regal plantations and savor the local cuisine from country cooking to wineries and fineries. The book, The Journey Through Hallowed Ground, The Official Guide to Where America Happened from Gettysburg to Monticello, by David Edwin Lillard, journals the trail in regions and towns highlighting battlefields, scenic drives, outdoor excursions, lodging, distinctive shopping and historic tours.  

The Hotel Monteleone is celebrating its 125th anniversary and since 1999 has owned the title of Literary Landmark awarded by the American Library Association, a distinction shared with only three hotels in the country. The Monteleone has long been a favorite haunt of distinguished southern authors with many immortalizing the hotel in their work. Richard Ford, Truman Capote, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner always made 214 Royal Street their address while in New Orleans. Although you may not stay in the exact room where they penned their prose, you can definitely feel the vibes sitting at the Monteleone Carousel Bar. Join me as we toast the Monteleone and learn more about this literary legend as noted in the book, Hotel Monteleone: More than a landmark, the heart of New Orleans since 1886.

Monteleone Exterior.jpg 
I adore New York, and after reading the new issue of Fine Books & Collection highlighting the city and the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, it brought back fond memories of my fist visit with my daughter. It was just weeks before Christmas 2008 and with our love for history and the arts along with her career in advertising and mine in writing, New York was the perfect destination.

empire skycraper jungle b&w.jpg 
In New Orleans, along the banks of the Mississippi River, the Southern Food & Beverage Museum (SoFAB) captures the essence of southern culture and cuisine. Make it your first stop on your next trip to New Orleans and get the inside scoop on those quirky southern appetites. Packed with several galleries and changing exhibits, you’ll find stunning black & white  photographs chronicling generations of farmers and fisherman, rusted Bargs Rootbeer and Falstaff Beer signs perched inches from the ceiling, and America’s Cocktail Museum showcasing a collection or rare spirits and books including Prohibition-era literature.

But more than a museum SoFAB is a research center stocked with a 9,000 book library offering a timeline in Southern culinary culture and traditions.

tug boat and GNO bridge.jpg
poster.gifThis afternoon the 44th annual California International Antiquarian Book Fair opens in San Francisco. Music is the theme this year, but with approximately 200 A.B.A.A. exhibitors on hand, there will be plenty first editions, artists books, illuminated manuscripts, fine bindings, children’s books -- really anything you could wish for (plus, it’s a beautiful, sunny day here in SF!). For a preview of what some dealers are bringing, see my blog from last week.

San Francisco is one of America’s premier ‘book towns.’ Last year, bookseller Matthew Jones wrote a feature for us, “Go West, Book Lover,” on all the great literary stuff to do here. Today I’m taking some of his advice and poking around some shops in my hotel’s neighborhood before heading off to the fair this afternoon. With the help of Chris Lowenstein of Book Hunter’s Holiday, I experienced the legendary City Lights book shop last night. Plus, she drove me down the infamously curvy Lombard Sheet. (Thanks, Chris!).

800px-Bird_Library,_Syracuse_University.JPG As promised, though a bit late, a brief overview of my day in Syracuse. First stop: Bird Library (seen here at left; the exterior is unaltered since my undergrad days there). I met some very lovely people, including the dean of the SU Libraries Suzanne Thorin, director of library communications Pamela McLaughlin, Sean Quimby, director of the special collections research center, and Peter Verheyen, head of preservation. As I had hoped, I had the chance to talk with Peter (who is, by the way, featured in our autumn issue) about what’s going on in the book conservation lab these days. One thing that surprised me is the use of Shrink-wrap as a preservation ‘enclosure’ for older books in the circulating collection. Neat!

DSCN3053.JPG The Little Rock Public Library—known since 1975 as the Central Library of Arkansas System, or CALS—is observing it’s hundredth birthday this year, an ongoing celebration that I was pleased to participate in last week with a talk at the main library, a bustling operation that last year accommodated close to 2 million customers, some 37,400 visitors a week, and on track now to exceed that number for 2010. The figures for book circulation, 2.3 million volumes, 44,300 a week, are also up 11 percent from 2008, yet another indicator of just how essential the public library remains as a cultural institution in our daily lives.

What really knocked me off my feet on this trip, though, was the fantastic second-hand bookstore owned by CALS in downtown Little Rock, the first such public library initiative of its kind to my experience, and operated since 2001 in support of the library. Called River Market Books & Gifts, the store occupies three floors in the Cox Building, a beautifully restored machinery warehouse that dates to 1906, and includes a chic cafe, art gallery and creative center for various library programs. The variety of used books is spectacular, I must say, and because all are donated, they are offered for sale at exceedingly fair prices (and in remarkably decent condition as well.)

There’s a brand new book out there irresistibly titled Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards by Josh Wilker that is getting some terrific reviews. When my copy arrives, I’ll offer a considered response, though I have to say out front that it has all the earmarks of being my kind of book, combining as it apparently does a number of elements that resonate with so many of my own interests, not least among them the continuing splendor of our national pastime, baseball, and the idea that collecting is a metaphor for life itself.

But in the meantime, I’d like to share a baseball card story of my own, and the best part is that it isn’t one that has mellowed over the many decades since I, too, hoarded these marvelous little objects that so evocatively define a certain time and place, but one that came my way a mere two months ago during a trip my wife and I made to Mississippi, and which I wrote about in my most recent online column for Fine Books & Collections.

Jim&NAB.jpgSince length was an issue in that article--and since the topic at hand was the literary tour we had just completed--one detail I did not mention in the piece was a wonderful conversation Connie and I had one morning over breakfast with Jim Miles, the personable gentleman who so capably drove our bus from town to town throughout the Mississippi Delta over the three days of the tour. A tall, broad-shouldered, athletic man with a rock solid handshake--and clearly someone, to my eye, who had participated in organized sports back in the day--Jim smiled when I teasingly asked what position he had played as a youngster, linebacker or tackle. “Well, I did play a little football in high school,” he said amiably, “but baseball was my sport.”

And thus began the following tale:

A native of Batesville, Mississippi, Jim grew up on a farm harboring a dream like so many millions of other American boys that he might one day play in the big leagues, and he became fairly adept at throwing tattered old baseballs wrapped in electrician’s tape at targets he had drawn on the side of the family barn. “This was hard-core St. Louis Cardinals territory back then, but my favorite team was always the New York Yankees, because they won all the time,” he recalled in his easy Southern drawl. “I threw pitch after pitch at that barn, and in the game I always played in my head, it usually came down to me against Mickey Mantle in the bottom half of the ninth inning with the World Series on the line. And the way it always played out was that Mickey Mantle would hit a grand slam off me to win the game, and the series.”

Pretty odd, I thought, that he didn’t whiff Mantle in his imaginary confrontation, he served up what amounted to a gopher ball. “He was my hero,” Miles explained unapologetically. “To my way of thinking, it would have been an honor to just pitch against him.”

So now we jump ahead to the 1960s; James Charlie Miles, Jr. is a star right-handed pitcher with Delta State University, and he signs as a free agent with the Washington Senators organization. He bangs around the minor leagues for a couple of years, moves from farm team to farm team, and then one day in 1968 he is told to get on a bus and join the parent team, which was in dire need of some fresh relief pitching to help what was, historically, a club that had earned the reputation for its city as always being “first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.”

Jim appeared in just three games that year in the majors, ut one of them was played in New York City, where the young man had never been before in his life. “When I came out of the runway into Yankee Stadium, and looked around, I was dizzy with excitement,” he said, and he recalled going to Monument Park in the outfield to pay his respects at the plaques honoring Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig before the game got underway. He passed most of the contest uneventfully in the bullpen, but in the top of the sixth word came from the dugout that he should warm up and get ready to pitch the bottom half of the inning.

The Senators, typically, were behind, so there was little drama involved in the outcome. But it was an opportunity for Miles to show what he had, and he wasted little time getting two men out. “Then one thing led to another,” he said, and before he knew it the bases were loaded, with none other than Number 7 himself, Mickey Mantle, then playing in what would be the final year of his illustrious career, due up next. A switch-hitter, Mantle stepped into the batter’s box from the left side of the plate, where his power was greatest, and focused his attention on the lanky right-hander standing 60 feet, 6 inches away.

“I had a sneaky little fast ball that tailed away from left-handed hitters,” Miles said, and he quickly got ahead in the count, no balls and two strikes--but not without suffering through two monster swings that seemed to take the air out of the park. “So here I am ahead in the count, and I figure I’ll try this tricky little pitch of mine, a Luis Tiant kind of twirl I had developed where I have my back to the plate for an instant before releasing the ball. I admit I was probably being a little too cute for my own good, and when I let it go I could see it was heading right down the middle of the plate, exactly where I didn’t want it to be.”

It was a grooved pitch, in other words, right in the Mick’s wheelhouse, but the funny motion, in all likelihood, caused the slugger to flinch momentarily and lay off the ball--which the umpire shockingly called strike three. “Well let me tell you I floated off the mound into the dugout,” Miles said, and it was the only time he would ever face Mantle. He returned to the Senators the following year, played for the legendary Ted Williams, pitched in a dozen games, then retired at season’s end after suffering a career-ending injury. He would spend many years in Mississippi as a coach and athletic director at a local college, winning a number of divisional championships, all the while rich in the memory that he’d had a once-in-a-lifetime moment in Yankee Stadium, living out a boyhood fantasy in ways that he could have never foreseen.

Jim Miles 001.jpgAs luck would have it, Jim had an extra baseball card along with him in the bus, which I was honored to accept as a gift. It’s a Tops 154 rookie card, issued in 1970--Miles was still technically a rookie in 1969--and features his photo on the front, above that of another Washington player, Jan Dukes. His Minor League stats appear on the back, with this spine-tingling line:

“Jim comes equipped with a sinking fast ball and good curves. Fanned Mickey Mantle only time he ever faced him.”

Such stuff as dreams are made on; and a keeper for sure.

If you find yourself driving through New Jersey and have a couple of free hours on your hands, you might consider visiting the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, a truly remarkable concentration of material objects from the golden age of invention, and for scholars and researchers the repository of what is estimated to be five million papers and documents relating to the work of a self-educated creative genius. As national parks go, this one might not share top billing with the Grand Canyon, Yosemite or Niagara Falls, but it lacks nothing in the form of illuminating the can-do spirit of the American Industrial Revolution and showcasing the marvels of gee-wizardry. Most of the 1,093 patents granted to Edison were for inventions that were developed here

edison_exterior.jpgRecently reopened after a six-year $13 million renovation that included the installation of an elevator and various interactive displays, the complex--known informally in its time as Edison’s “invention factory”--is now welcoming the public once again, and allowing visits throughout the various working spaces and laboratories, where teams of innovators once worked to develop such modern marvels as the phonograph, a fluoroscope to view x-ray images, machines to extract iron from ore, processes to streamline the manufacture of cement, cylinder recorders for office dictation, and nickel-iron-alkaline storage batteries. A motion picture projector synchronized with a phonograph that he called the kinetophone was developed here as well; it led to the opening of the world’s first movie studio, which visitors can see on the third floor, complete with an original Steinway piano used to audition show-biz hopefuls.

edison_bed.jpgBuilt in 1887, this facility was ten times larger than the one Edison had used for ten years at nearby Menlo Park, where he invented the electric light system. If you had no idea what is contained on these grounds--and if there were no signs to identify it as a national park--the temptation would be to drive right by the three-story brick structure, assuming it to be one of many nineteenth-century industrial sites so typical of the northeast.

Schooled at home as a child by his mother, Edison was a largely self-taught autodidact, and among the many fascinating holdings here is a 10,000-volume library still shelved in his personal working area. Between two book cases in an alcove off to one side is a small bed, placed there by Edison’s wife so the great thinker could take an occasional catnap. An inveterate note-taker and doodler, Edison was forever sketching away in his notebooks, of which 3,500 survive; seeing some of these, in fact, was my primary interest in a recent visit, graciously arranged and hosted by Leonard  DeGraaf, archivist for the Thomas Edison National Historical Park.

edison_bookplate.jpgThe Edison site is one of three National Park Service properties that maintains substantial collections of original manuscripts and archives, and functions as a research facility for scholars; others include the Colonial home of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Cambridge, Mass., and the house of master garden architect Frederick Law Olmsted in the Boston suburb of Brookline. Also part of the Edison complex--which was presented to the National Park Service by the Edison family in 1962--is the family mansion, Glenmont, set atop a scenic hill just a couple blocks away, and open to visitors as well. Well worth a trip.

It is an axiom in book collecting that the market value of an object is not necessarily determined by what one person is willing to pay for the privilege of ownership, but by the lengths to which a determined underbidder is willing to compete for the prize in open bidding. This dynamic was in persuasive evidence last night a few miles north of West Palm Beach in Stuart, Florida, at an auction organized to benefit the Hibiscus Children’s Center, a local charity dedicated to the needs of abused and neglected youngsters.

Billed the Little Auction That Could in respectful tribute to Watty Piper’s classic children’s tale of infinite possibilities, The Little Engine That Could, the premise was centered around asking various celebrities to inscribe copies of books that had meaning in their lives. More than 80 people responded, and it was decided to offer the books for sale in two venues, online at eBay for 70 of the items in a contest that continues through Nov. 25, and last night in open competition at the historic Lyric Theater before an audience of 400 people for 14 others.

A total of $34,000 was raised last night, the most coveted item being Pop-up White House, a nicely engineered piece of movable art with illustrations by local artist Chuck Fischer--and signed by President Barack Obama; this neat little item, a unique curiosity if ever there was one, was hammered down at $6,500.  Equally robust was the $4,500 paid for a copy of Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan of the Apes signed by the renowned animal authority Jane Goodall--her specialty is chimpanzees, naturally--the $2,900 for a copy of Horatio Alger, Jr.’s Struggling Upward signed by Maya Angelou, and the $2,600 bid for the copy of Harry Potter (Book 7), inscribed by the author, J. K. Rowling.

It was a great program, about as capably conceived, organized, and executed as anything comparable I have ever been associated with, and the credit for that certainly goes out to every member of the crackerjack staff of volunteers, but primarily to the guiding spirit, the co-chair of the event, Karla Preissman, who came up with the concept two years ago, and contacted every celebrity individually to participatee. A brilliant move on her part was to arrange for a tastefully mounted exhibition of the books at the Elliott Museum in Stuart, which my wife and I had a chance to visit yesterday before the evening’s festivities.

It was an unannounced visit there earlier in the week by a person who has chosen to remain anonymous that led to the preemptive bid of $850,000--that is not a typo, it is $850,000--for a copy of Jean de Brunhoff’s The Travels of Babar co-signed by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, and his mother, the former First Lady, Barbara Bush.

The benefactor was said to be passionate about the goals of the Hibiscus Center, and found this a worthy way of supporting it. In one fell swoop--before the first bid went up last night--the Little Auction That Could became the Little Auction That Most Assuredly Did, all of it made possible by the enduring magic of books. An unqualified plus was the opportunity I had to speak on the program with Carl Hiaasen; the man is a fabulous speaker, and a real hoot.

Indulge me, please, as I make a connection between the recent victory in the World Series of the New York Yankees--their 27th championship--and what so many futurists perceive to be the imminence of a paperless society, and what, by extension, all that portends for the traditional book as we know it. It’s a stretch, I agree, but an amusing concept to consider all the same.

If you were paying attention this past Friday, there was a ticker-tape parade through Lower Manhattan, and unlike so many other New Englanders who chose to tune out--I have been a Red Sox fan for more than half-a-century--I tuned in. Yes, I wanted to see the MVP, Hideki Matsui, riding in the lead float, I even wanted to see that amiable turncoat, Johnny Damon (I am actually very fond of the man), rejoicing in the triumph with his ebullient teammates. But what I wanted to see most of all was how New York City was going to handle the matter of the ticker tape at a time when there is no ticker tape.

The reason for that, you see, is quite simply that there are no more stock tickers, there haven’t been any for about thirty years or so, the only ones that survive are now museum pieces, and the only ticker tape available these days is a custom-order curiosity that sells online for $40 a spool. But there was a parade in Lower Manhattan through the Canyon of Heroes on Friday, all right--the 205th such celebration since the whole tradition got started on October, 29, 1886, that one to salute the newly dedicated Statue of Liberty--and there was plenty of paper filling the air. What it was, according to press accounts, was a half-ton of confetti packed in 400 bags and trucked in by a group known as the Downtown Alliance to be distributed among employees in the financial district who now get their stock quotations from computers.

When the confetti ran out, according to a piece in the New York Post, some dull-witted revelers began tossing rolls of toilet paper, which is fine enough, I suppose, as long as its unspooled and not likely to cause a concussion if it hits someone on the street, but not so bright were the financial records and other confidential office materials that went out the windows along with it. Among the fifty tons of debris collected by sanitation workers were pay stubs and trust fund balance sheets. Some of the documents came from the Liberty Street financial firm A.L. Sarroff, including client accounts, with Social Security numbers and detailed banking data. “They’re records that should have been shredded,” said firm founder Alan Sarroff. “An overzealous employee threw them out the window. He was reprimanded.”

So--a half-ton of confetti, and fifty tons of office paper, a ticker tape parade doth make. There’s still plenty of cellulose, in other words, to fill the void, and a good deal of it, apparently, remains necessary to the conducting of business. And the future of the parade itself? Like the traditional book that so many of us prefer, it’s in no immediate jeopardy of falling out of favor either. Why? Simple enough, in both instances, because people like it. All you need to mount a procession through in the city that never sleeps is a legitimate hero to honor. Good luck on that score; if you’re going to toss out the office records in jubilation, though, make sure you shred them first.
The last couple of weeks have been pretty busy for me, starting off with a keynote address in Columbus, Ohio before the Ohio Preservation Council on the occasion of the group’s 25th anniversary--the theme for the event was irresistibly titled “A Celebration of Paper--followed in quick succession by presentations in Worcester, Mass., to benefit the Worcester Public Library and the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.

There were very nice audiences in attendance at each of the events, all of them reaffirming for me my abiding conviction that book people are the greatest. I was pleased to learn in Worcester that the main branch last year had more than a million people use their services, quite a testament in a city whose population is somewhere in the neighborhood of 180,000 people. If there is any municipal service anywhere that gives its residents more bang for their taxpayer dollars than the library, I’d like to know what it is. Doesn’t matter if you’re a senior citizen, an elementary school student, an immigrant looking for help, or a just casual reader interested in reading the new Dee Brown blockbuster, the library is there, doing it’s job--and with no lobbyists, either, pleading its case to the politicians who vote on budgets. I was one of three speakers--Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson, and historian Russell McClintock were the others--and we helped raise enough money to keep the library open on Sundays through the rest of the fall. Pretty cool.

The story was much the same in New York. The Mid-Manhattan branch is situated directly across Fifth Avenue from the main research library--the magnificent building featuring Patience and Fortitude, the wonderful lions carved of pink Tennessee marble, at the front door--and is six floors of activity, with public programs mounted pretty much every week-night, all of them free and open to everyone. Hats off to Cynthia Chaldekas, senior librarian there, and coordinator of all these events. A class act all around.

I would be remiss, finally, if I did not mention the great time I had last Sunday participating in the day-long program of activities organized by Hand Papermaking magazine, which included an introduction to the remarkable collection of papers from all eras and every continent--some 40,000 specimens all told--gathered over the years by Sidney Berger, a noted bibliophile and writer of books about books, who is also director of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. Sid’s wife, Michele Cloonan, is dean of the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Services, one of the top programs of its kind in the country, and an enthusiastic collector of paper and type specimens in her own right.

Also on the agenda was a visit to the International Paper Museum in Brookline, Mass., established by Elaine Koretsky, one of the outstanding scholars in papermaking history, justly celebrated as the Dard Hunter of her generation. I wrote a piece for Fine Books & Collections magazine two years ago about a trip I took to China with Elaine and a group of paper pilgrims, our goal to see paper as it has been made for more than two thousand years in the place where the skill was invented; it’s on my website in the travelogue section, with a bunch of photos I shot; check it out.
gorey_sign.jpgNothing is more entertaining than a visit to the home of a favorite author, especially when the house in question once belonged to the unrepentant bibliomaniac and pack rat Edward Gorey, who died nine years ago at 75, and left behind a veritable treasure trove of odds and ends. His rambling, 13-room cottage on 8 Strawberry Lane in Yarmouthport, Mass.--just off the Old King’s Highway (also known as Route 6A) on Cape Cod--is now a museum, chock full of “stuff” such as antique cheese graters, bottles, sketches, the trademark beaver skin coat, various cloth creatures--including one of the original Figbash-- made and stitched by hand, toys, and of course a few of the 35,000 books Gorey had acquired during his lifetime, and which helped inform his extraordinary body of work.

ombledroom.jpgThere are imaginary bats and cats, of course (including one real feline in residence, aptly named Ombledroom, pictured here), some bugs and slugs--the full Gorey oeuvre is in evidence, and altogether makes for a delightful way to spend an hour, either solo or with kids, it doesn’t matter, since everyone is welcome, and like the man’s great body of work itself, there is something for everyone. A nice touch is the scavenger hunt each visitor is invited to participate in; there are twenty-six objects from “The Ghastlycrumb Tinies” hidden in plain view in each room on the tour, there to be discovered by one and all. During my most recent trip there last week, I learned that Gorey’s enormous library of books--they had been kept in an adjoining barn--had recently been shipped off to the West Coast, where they will take up residence at San Diego State University, quite a nice turn of events, since the library there is already home to the archives of the writer Peter Newmeyer, who collaborated with Gorey on a number of wonderful books.

gorey_door.jpgRick Jones, a Gorey friend who is now director and curator of the Edward Gorey House, told me that an interesting detail regarding the books is that their former owner wrote in every one when he read it, how long it took, and whether he read it again. With regard to the curiosities, Jones had this wonderful observation: “One cheese grater is a cheese grater; for Edward, a group of them became a work of art.”

Nothing worthwhile ever happens in a vacuum. Authors say it all the time, because it’s true: there is no greater satisfaction than the knowledge that something you have written has found an appreciative readership, and if you’re really lucky, to have touched a person’s life in some tangible way. Writers are inspired to soldier along and spend years on dreams and ideas that they hope ultimately will find their way between hard covers, and then cross their fingers, waiting for the response.

Reviews from critics, of course, are one of the key vital signs of the business--and it would be disingenuous of me in the extreme to suggest that I don’t await their appearance with keen anticipation--but what matters the most, by far, is what readers “out there” feel about your work. Letters, emails, people you meet at public events, comments that have been posted on  blogs--all provide a means for dialogue. But I have to tell you about an event I attended last week at Lorain County Community College (LCCC) just outside of Cleveland that has left me weak in the knees.

BasbanesProject.jpgAbout a year ago, I was contacted by Kevin Hoskinson (at right, with yours truly), a professor of English at the college, with news that one of my books, “Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World,” had inspired the formation of a student essay program, to be called “The Books That Stir Us: The Basbanes Project.” If something like that doesn’t get your attention, nothing does. Using the stories related in EBIR as a model, Hoskinson had invited submission of thousand-word essays centered on a basic premise: “What one book has contributed most to the story of your current life.” Hoskinson secured funding for the project, and was able to offer $500 prizes for three winning entries, selected on a blind submission basis by a panel of judges.

Basbaneswinners.JPGA total of fifty-seven essays were turned in, with books ranging from “Who Moved My Cheese?” and “The Diary of Ann Frank” to “The Lord of the Flies,” “The Road Less Traveled,” and the Bible.  I had the singular pleasure to be present last week at the awards ceremony, called a “celebration of books, learning, and of students.” The winners--pictured here with NAB--were Sara Davidson, for “Ishmael,” by Daniel Quinn; Tristan Rader, for “The Little Engine That Could,” by Watty Piper; and Benjamin Willets, for “The One Straw Revolution,” by Masanobu Fukuoka.

The names of all the participants, and their books, are posted on the project website, along with links to the texts of their essays, which I hope you all take some time to check out. They’re wonderful, and I agree with Kevin, I wish we could have given cash awards to everyone. The festivities included the showing of a fabulous video produced by the college’s marketing and broadast media coordinator, Ron Jantz, which I hope will be available for general viewing soon.  A very special day, all around--one made all the more memorable by an evening a few of us spent the night before at Progressive Field for a Red Sox-Indians game (won in the 10th inning by Boston on a Jonathan Van Every home run.)
By pure coincidence, it has been my good fortune to participate in the re-dedication of two libraries recently, the Cushing Memorial Library at Texas A&M in March--which I wrote about in this space a couple of weeks ago, and which will be the subject of my next Fine Books & Collections column--and the Morris Library at Southern Illinois University (SIU) in Carbondale, Ill. just last week. Especially heartening in both instances is the fact that each institution has made clear an unequivocal belief that books as we know them still matter a great deal, and that the library remains the center and soul of their universities.

At SIU, the commitment involved the appropriation of $56 million five years ago to take a building that had been built in the 1950s and make it suitable for use in the twenty-first century, quite a courageous stand for a publicly supported institution to make at a time when so many others feel that computers are the only way to go. The 235,000-square-foot structure is the central repository for the university’s three million volumes--SIU is an Association of Research Libraries (ARL) member--and maintains an extensive battery of terminals and laptop connections to satisfy all electronic needs. Fully accessible to the 25,000 enrolled students, the library also serves the general public, giving the taxpayers a mighty bang for their buck.

An attractive building located at the virtual crossroads of the campus, the Morris Library has been newly fitted with common rooms that make it particularly inviting as a gathering place; there is a coffee and food gallery, of course, but also eleven nicely appointed group study areas that are ideal for reading and contemplation. During a walking tour provided by Dean of Libraries David Carlson, I was especially taken by what he called the “time out” room--a soundproofed cubicle where students can take a break from tedious routines without annoying others.

Carbondale is in the extreme southern section of the state, just 96 miles from St. Louis, 330 miles from Chicago. To be expected, special collections are strong in the history of the Middle Mississippi Valley, but there are outstanding holdings too in American philosophy, twentieth-century world literature, British and American expatriate writers of the 1920s, the Irish Literary Renaissance, and freedom of the press and censorship issues. Rare Books Librarian Melissa Hubbard provided a nice introduction to some of her favorite items, including a Kelmscott Chaucer, several of the nine first-edition copies the library has of James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” and a few incunables that any curator would be pleased to have in the vault.

In anticipation of my visit to SIU, Gordon Pruett, editor of Cornerstone, a quarterly publication  of the Morris Library, did a lengthy Q&A with me that was published in the current edition of the magazine on pages 4-5 and 11; click here for a PDF.

All in all, it was a very busy trip, but there was still time for a whirlwind visit to the local second-hand/antiquarian book store, a terrific place called The Bookworm, conveniently located at the Eastgate Shopping Center on East Walnut Street, owned and operated by Carl and Kelly Rexroad. I found three books from their stock of 50,000 volumes that added to the weight of my suitcase, and thank them for the terrific job they did to make for such a successful signing following my public talk.
I had the pleasure this past week of visiting Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, and speaking at ceremonies held in Cushing Library marking the acquisition of the university’s four millionth book, an auspicious event for a dynamic program that for the past ten years has been embarked on a remarkable program of establishing itself as one of the outstanding research centers in the United States.

don_quixote.jpgBecause a noteworthy event such as this demands a fabulous book, the title acquired for the occasion was an exceedingly rare copy of the 1617 Barcelona edition of “Don Quixote.” Part one of the world’s most consequential work of fiction had been published separately, in 1605, part two in 1615; this edition marked the first time the two parts had been issued together, and appeared in print just a year after Cervantes’s death. To give you an idea of just how scarce this edition is, it is the only perfect copy held in any North American library, making it more scarce, in fact, than the Gutenberg Bible, with copies in twelve American institutions. At Texas A&M, it joins a collection of one thousand other editions of “Don Quixote,” along with a substantial archive of digital images, and contributes mightily to the mission of the university’s Cervantes Project, which has received support from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The four millionth book ceremony was part of a double celebration, the other being the tenth anniversary of the reopening of the Cushing Library as repository of the university’s rare books and special collections, and to showcase, with a splendid exhibition and a terrific catalog, both called “A Decade of Promise,” the new acquisitions that have been made over that period. I plan to write at length about the arrival of Texas A&M as a major player in the world of rare books in a forthcoming Fine Books & Collections column, but I do wish to note here the essential role of the Friend--with a capital ‘F’, as I said in my remarks--in this process.

Making this milestone possible was Sara and John Lindsey, A&M Class of 1944, who purchased the book for the university; they also purchased for the library the two-and-a-half millionth book, a Kelmlscott Chaucer of 1896, and the three millionth book, a first issue, 1855, of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” and contributed to the purchase of the one millionth and two millionth volumes as well.

Libraries require a lot of elements to achieve greatness, not least among them administrators with foresight and librarians with vision, but never, to my knowledge, have they been able to accomplish anything of substance without the help of their friends--excuse me, their Friends--and that applies at every level of participation. Those with modest means--but eager all the same to help preserve our literary patrimony--can participate in other ways, such as the Adopt-a-Book program sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Mass. It’s all for a great cause.
I recently read a blog item in Down East magazine speculating on why it is that Maine, that big, craggy, irresistible coastal state in Northern New England, is “so bookish.” By that, the writer, Paul Doiron, says he means “the whole literary shebang,” to wit: “the bookstores and reading groups and vast hosts of library volunteers,” not to mention a vibrant community of writers, Stephen King being the best known contemporary voice in a long tradition of accomplishment that has included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Sarah Orne Jewett, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Kenneth Roberts and Edwin Arlington Robinson.

Doiron speculates that this passion for books and reading might have something to do with the long winters, which I know, as a person who went to college in the Pine Tree State (Bates, ‘65) can be formidable. But there is also something wonderfully complex in the Maine character, I think, that savors a good story, and maintains an enduring respect for things in print. (One response on Doiron’s blog offered this: “It’s dark. It’s cold. There’s a lot of empty space and the mind wanders. The options? Read, write or drink a lot. In really tough winters, sometimes we go for all three.”)

What has made me think about all this was a quick trip my wife Connie and I made this past week up to Bar Harbor for a bit of research, a pleasant getaway that allowed us to enjoy a leisurely drive home along U.S. 1, visiting one second hand bookstore after another, six by my count, over one forty-mile stretch between Trenton and Searsport, all of them open for business, which is saying something, since there is still scattered snow on the ground despite the official arrival of spring, and most of the summer tourist attractions still off-season.

ChickenBarn.jpgBrowsing was pretty much the order of the day for me, though I was nonetheless impressed by the numbers and the variety of the offerings. One place I would certainly put on the must-visit list for anyone trekking Down East is Big Chicken Barn Books & Antiques in Ellsworth, a perfectly appropriate name for a converted chicken barn one hundred yards long, three stories high, and filled on the first floor with every manner of antique and knick-knack, and lined on the second with 120,000 books, magazines and pieces of ephemera. The place was bustling when we stopped by Saturday afternoon, so there was little time to chat at length with owners Annegret and Mike Cukierski, who opened this splendid curiosity twenty-three years ago, and have every intention of keeping it going, what with son Chad now fully involved in the operations. There’s lots of stuff in here on Maine, a healthy section of regional history and literature, and remarkable runs of magazines and periodicals. The owners say this is the largest book store in the state, and I don’t think this is a case of hyperbole. It is easily the longest book gallery I have ever seen--a football field, one end to the other, and a fabulous chicken sign out front.

Book Wine.jpgWe had great fun, too, at Country Store Antiques, Books & Wine, just outside of Bar Harbor in Trenton, a pretty spacious operation in its own right, with a fine variety of offerings, including a full floor devoted entirely to 50,000 books. I especially enjoyed schmoozing with owner Vicki Landman, a former county librarian in Maryland, now a full time books and antiques seller in her native state. I told her of my interests in the Maine paper industry, and she suggested a number of titles that might be useful, and gave me the names of some people to contact for more information. “Hey, I’m a librarian,” she said.

We didn’t get a chance to stop at Harding’s Rare Books further down the coast in Wells, a lot closer to my home in Central Massachusetts, and always a favorite stop of mine whenever I’m in the area. Any booking odyssey to Maine has to include a stop here--with ample time set aside for serious examination of each and every one of the fourteen rooms. Founder Doug Harding has been in the business here since 1960, and is a widely respected professional in the trade. (I got my deathbed edition of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” from him twenty-five years ago, a lovely copy in mint condition, and my collection of Winslow  Homer wood engravings has been greatly enriched by my many visits here over the years as well.) For those who need a navigational fix, Wells is 48 miles south of Freeport, home of L.L Bean. There are many splendid places to stop for lobster in between. 

NAB BH.jpgFinally, if I may, how about a picture of yours truly in Acadia National Park, courtesy of CVB, to prove that one does not live entirely by books alone (at least not all the time):

Happy booking!

With wind chills well below freezing, it is still off-season on Cape Cod, but you’d never have known it by the splendid turnout at the Sandwich Public Library Sunday afternoon for the latest in a series of author appearances and events centered around a comprehensive celebration of the book.

Inspired by the Big Read program introduced a couple years ago by Dana Gioia, the director of the National Endowment for the Arts (and a subject of a recent column I wrote for Fine Books & Collections), the initiative in Sandwich has improvised by focusing on more than one book for community reading, and organized a continuing program centered around one basic theme, in this instance books that have touched people’s lives.
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