Monday, December 31, 2007

Year-End Reading Report 2007

I read 135 books in 2007 - that's an average of one every 2.7 days. The raw number is down a bit from last year, but considering I wrote a masters' thesis this fall, I figure it's pretty decent. I had a very good reading year; picking a top ten for fiction and non-fiction was difficult, and even those at that bottom of the list really weren't awful (with a couple of exceptions). Books are in no particular order within the categories, and were not necessarily published this year.

Fiction Top Ten
The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow (review)
At Midnight on the Thirty-first of March by Josephine Young Case (review)
Stardust by Neil Gaiman (review)
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (review)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (review)
His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman (review)
The Nijmegen Proof by S. Barkworth (review)
The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox (review)
Round the Fire Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (review)
The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde (review)

Non-Fiction Top Ten
Hakluyt's Promise: An Elizabethan's Obsession for an English America by Peter Mancall (review)
Republic of Intellect: The Friendly Club of New York City and the Making of American Literature by Bryan Waterman (review)
Hubbub: Filth, Noise and Stench in England, 1600-1770 by Emily Cockayne (review)
Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary by Henry Hitchings (review)
The Minutemen and Their World by Robert Gross(review)
Patience & Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture by Nicholas Basbanes (review)
The Business of Books: Booksellers and the English Book Trade 1450-1850 by James Raven (review)
Edmund Curll, Bookseller by Paul Baines and Pat Rogers (review)
Nature's Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick by Jenny Uglow (review)
Chasing the Sun: Dictionary Makers and the Dictionaries They Made by Jonathon Green (review)

Fiction Bottom Five
Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott (review)
Mr. Foreigner by Matthew Kneale (review)
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (review)
The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips (review)
The Last Cato by Matilde Asensi (review)

Non-Fiction Bottom Five
Looking for Mr. Gilbert: The Reimagined Life of an African American by John Hanson Mitchell (review)
The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York by Mat Johnson (review)
American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, their Work by Susan Cheever (review)
Spellbound: The Surprising Origins and Astonishing Secrets of English Spelling by James Essinger (review)
The Shadow Club by Robert Casati (review)

Publisher of the Year
I'm going to add a little something extra to my year-end post this time around. Yale University Press is my publisher of the year, for their many excellent publications.

Happy New Year to all, and may your 2008 be filled with good books and good cheer.

Book Review: "Stardust"

Stardust is the first of Neil Gaiman's solo works I've picked up to read (I've read Good Omens, his wonderful and wickedly funny collaboration with Terry Pratchett, several times). What a delightful capstone this was to my 2007 reading. It's a graceful and deliciously-crafted fairy tale which introduces us to the world of Faerie - a place of witches and fairies and magic and talking badgers and small, furry man in funny hats - and to Wall, a human town which sits adjacent to the crossing into Faerie.

Gaiman's prose is simply delicious; it sizzles and dances with wit and liveliness. As Susanna Clarke (no mediocre storyteller herself) blurbs on the front cover of my copy, "We daren't ask how he knows so much about [Faerie's] woods and paths and high, lonely places. We're just grateful that he does."

Pure magic.

Comstock Murder Case Still Unsolved

Missouri book collector Rolland Comstock's murder (noted back in July) remains open and unsolved, the Springfield News-Leader reported yesterday. It is the only one of six 2007 Springfield homicide for which no suspect has been arrested. "Greene County Chief Deputy Jim Arnott said analysis of evidence has caused delays in the Comstock case. 'We're still waiting on some of the evidence to come back that we sent to a federal lab,' Arnott said, adding that he remains optimistic Comstock's killer will be brought to justice."

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Book Review: "Lyra's Oxford"

Lyra's Oxford (2003) is a fairly unremarkable short story, set two years after the events of Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass. The story's plot is barely explained; the best part about the book were the lovely John Lawrence engravings and the accompanying map of the alternate Oxford Lyra and Pan call home.

Pullman could have done more with this book, and hopefully his next efforts, whether short stories or full novels, will be more developed than this one.

Book Review: "Foucault's Pendulum"

Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum (1988), like The Name of the Rose, is a dense and ponderous novel filled with names, concepts, and words unfamiliar to all but the most diligent followers of things arcane. It was impossible for me not to get lost, but since it was the intriguing sort of lost rather than the frustrating sort of lost, I enjoyed it entirely.

The book is an utterly brilliant take on the whole concept of conspiracy theories and global interconnectedness. If it can be summed up in a single sentence, I think it's this one: "I believe that you can reach the point where there is no longer any difference between developing the habits of pretending to believe and developing the habit of believing" (p. 467).

As Eco's book covers some of the same ground as The Da Vinci Code (Templars, Holy Grail, &c.), the comparisons are impossible to avoid. But with its erudition and elegance, depth and tone, Foucault's Pendulum is by far the more interesting and provocative book. It's no easy read, but it's well worth the effort. I recommend it highly.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Early Declaration Facsimile Found at Supreme Court

A rare 1823 facsimile copy of the Declaration of Independence (printed on vellum by Washington engraver William Stone) was discovered behind a filing cabinet in a clerk's office at the Supreme Court before it was found in 2003 and put on display in a hallway last year, the Legal Times reports. The Declaration was on display in the clerk's office from 1935 through 1996, but was then placed behind the filing cabinet during renovations and "forgotten."

The copy is one of 200 printed by Stone at the request of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams; those copies were sent to each state, the members of Congress, and the justices of the Supreme Court.

The MHS's two copies of this Declaration each include the following note, written by John Quincy Adams: "Quincy 3 October 1826. This is one of two fac-simile copies of the original Declaration of Independence, engraved by my direction when secretary of state, and placed at the Library of Congress. the two copies were by a joint resolution of that body presented to John Adams, then one of the surviving signers of the Declaration. John Quincy Adams."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

More Responses to NEA Reading Report

The debate over the NEA's recent report "To Read or Not to Read" (which I opined on here) continues. Harvard English professor Leah Price weighed in on Sunday with an essay in the NYTimes Book Review, "You Are What You Read." Price makes several observations/critiques on the NEA report, but her main beef is this:

"Paradoxically, though, the N.E.A. shuns the literal workplace — and, by extension, any use of literacy for something other than disinterested pleasure. Its 2004 report, “Reading at Risk,” excluded not just nonfiction (giving credit for The Da Vinci Code but not The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire), but also reading done 'for work or school.' This time around, while any genre of 'voluntary reading' counts, the second restriction remains in force. It takes some gerrymandering to make a generation logging ever more years in school, and ever more hours on the BlackBerry, look like nonreaders. ...

More fundamentally, the 'after' in which Game Boys displace James Joyce presumes a 'before' that never existed. Think of the most successful printer in 18th-century Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin. As James Green and Peter Stallybrass have shown, Franklin’s wooden press cranked out auction announcements, lottery tickets, handbills advertising runaway slaves and newspapers crammed with classified ads, as well as 'Bills of Lading, Bills of Sale, Powers of Attorney, Writs, Summons, Apprentices Indentures, Servants Indentures, Penal Bills, Promissory Notes, &c' (as one advertisement put it). Franklin also printed labels for medicine bottles, wrapping for soap and '500 advertisements about thread.' What he didn’t print, with a handful of exceptions, was anything we would recognize today as literature.

People read for many reasons, from the sublime (to save their souls) to the ridiculous (to avoid eye contact on the subway). Franklin’s example should remind us that what the N.E.A. calls 'reading for literary experience' has never been more than one use among many. A crucial one, for my money; but then, a white, female, nonincarcerated exerciser, volunteer, voter and English professor like me turns out to be statistically likely to think so."

I don't disagree with any of this; as I said myself, more reading is taking place in new and different ways, and that's fine. However, Price goes a bit too far in her conclusion: "The file, the list, the label, the memo: these are the genres that will keep reading alive. Whatever happens to the novel, we’ll always need a rule book." It is not simply the act of reading any words on a page (or a screen) that makes a culture literate and literary; emails, memos and lists are different animals entirely from novels, biographies, essays, &c. Blurring the distinction between those types of reading, as Price seems to do, hardly seems the way to go.

Another response to the report is Caleb Crain's "Twilight of the Books" in the current New Yorker. Caleb's been enhancing this excellent essay with some posts over at Steamboats, and I'll have comments on both the essay and the supporting materials later this week.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Post-Christmas Links

A few things from around the Interwebs, as Christmas-Mania 2007 continues (one dinner to go):

- The Windsor Star profiles the special collections room at the University of Windsor's Leddy Library, which holds not only university records but also documents the "social history" of southewestern Ontario.

- Paul Collins points out a couple of just-released biblio-oddities: a new and improved edition of Bizarre Books: A Compendium of Classic Oddities and Scouts in Bondage and other Violations of Literary Propriety. Paul also claims to have found the root of the Three Stooges slapstick routines.

- Michael has a brief note on James Lackington, a famous 18th-century London bookseller.

- Bruce notes a couple of very handy (plus, free) imaging tools, including From Old Books, a great collection of scanned images and material from, well, old books.

- Scott Brown's wife Amy Stewart has written a short essay on their entry into the used book business (by purchasing Eureka Books). The whole thing is good (read it!) but here's the key paragraph: "I don’t know a damn thing about rare books—I like my paperbacks cheap and tattered—but I know that I plan to fight long and hard against the alleged demise of the book. Let the National Endowment for the Arts make dire predictions about the decline in reading. Let Sony, Apple, and Amazon roll out one handheld e-book device after another. I’m having none of it. I love the smell of an old book, I love the heft of a hardcover, and I love getting to know a person by browsing their bookshelves. Surely I’m not the only one. Antiquarian bookstores all over the country are closing their doors, but by God, I’m going to wedge my body in the doorway of this one and keep it open." Huzzah!

- From BibliOdyssey, images from one of my favorite hoaxes: the Turkish Chess Automaton, which toured Europe in the 1780s and fooled many.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Spanish Library's Holiday Card Features Recovered Map

ThinkSpain notes that the Biblioteca Nacional's Christmas card this year features a photograph of one of two 15th-century Ptolemaic maps stolen from the library this summer. The pictured map has been located in Australia, but has not yet been returned to Spain.

A full-scale audit of the library's holdings - the first since 1988 - will be carried out from 14-19 January. The new director has told the media he expects "more unpleasant surprises."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mold Destroying da Vinci Collection

The Codex Atlanticus, the largest collection of Leonardo da Vinci's drawings and compositions - bound in twelve volumes and housed at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan - has been heavily damaged by mold, The Times and AP both report today. The mold was first discovered in April 2006 by Met curator Carmen Bambach; a visit by four conservators from Italy's Opificio delle Pietre Dure, the Italian state conservation institute, confirmed the findings.

"Various types of mould, in colours ranging from black to red and purple, were identified on the drawings, which include sketches for some of Leonardo's most ingenious inventions." Lacking funds for full treatment, the team performed "minimum emergency restoration to try to limit the damage and prevent it getting worse." On Friday, a historian at the Ambrosiana told the press "We need to find sponsors to come forward to help pay for analysis to establish the necessary therapy, and then do the treatment."

One of the conservators said that the mold had taken hold "because the volumes were consulted by visiting scholars and exposed to the atmosphere and humidity."

"The Codex Atlanticus, so named because it was originally compiled as a single volume of miscellany comparable to an atlas, is the largest collection of Leonardo’s sheets. Formed at the end of the sixteenth century by the sculptor Pompeo Leoni, it is viewed by some scholars as a treasured but lamentable compilation, given that Leoni dismembered some of Leonardo’s notebooks to create it."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Links & Reviews

A good bunch of links (and a couple reviews) for this weekend; I'll be traveling for much of the day (taking the train west across Massachusetts, one of my favorite rides) and will be at home in upstate New York for the next week. I'll check in as I'm able during that time.

For holiday reading, I'm hauling along Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, which I just started this week, and Jay Winik's The Great Upheaval. I also have a few recent issues of The American Historical Review and Common-place that I need to catch up on.

- From The Times, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle biographer Andrew Lycett offers "10 things you didn't know about Conan Doyle."

- The BBC reported this week that the eBay auction of a 4,000-year old Iraqi clay tablet carved with cuneiform writing was halted after archaeologists spotted the sale. The tablet was confiscated by police from a Zurich warehouse, and the would-be seller faces a hefty fine (around $300,000).

- Author Alice Walker's papers have been purchased by Emory University. Journals, notebooks, drafts, letters and other materials comprise the 122-box collection. The archive will be processed and available in about a year, Emory says, although some of the journals will remain sealed for the time being. Emory also has the papers of Salman Rushdie, Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney, among others.

- The NYTimes profiled William Dane, Keeper of Prints at the Newark Public Library.

- From BibliOdyssey, images from the Kalender of the Shepherdes, a medieval almanac first published in the 1490s. Pecay writes "Although Kalender of the Shepherdes is the archetype for the persisting modern interpretation of an almanac (Old Farmer's Almanac for instance), the original work, which proved to be widely influential in both literary and social terms, was fundamentally about achieving salvation. The astrological charts and sherherd's folk wisdom about harvests, diet and medicine were side dishes to the core devotional and religious instructional main course."

- Rare Book Review reports that the Austrian National Archive has purchased the "handwritten manuscripts, notes and work papers of avant-garde Austrian writer Peter Handke" for €500,000.

- Over at Book Patrol, Michael notes a new and different twist on library theft: Tammie Ware has been arrested in Akron, OH after police found more than 1,000 books, DVDs, CDs and toys (worth more than $15,000) in her house, all stolen from the Akron Public Library. "Ware is accused of signing up her children repeatedly, using fake names, and checking out library materials under those names until the fines got too exorbitant." A police detective said "To the point she had listed thirty-five children. She had fines that totaled over eight thousand dollars." Apparently this had been going on for years, until a librarian noticed Ware signing up her kids using different names ... again. Ware's facing felony charges. I'll keep an eye on this one.

- John has the third installment of images from Houghton's Gibbon exhibit, which I finally got to see this week (just in the nick of time). It was very nicely done - kudos, John!

- This week marked the 164th anniversary of the publication of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (one of my favorite books). Michael caught the right date, and also linked to this exhibit of Dickens' Christmas books and stories.

- Over at Campaign for the American Reader, Marshall notes Garrison Keillor's "most important books," as told to Newsweek. They also asked him to name "a classic you revisited with disappointment" ("Moby Dick: Why did it take Melville so looooooonnnng to get to the story? I couldn't make it more than halfway through") and a "book that parents should read to their kids" ("Moby Dick: Two minutes and they'll be asleep"). Heh.

- Typefoundry reports in on the Caslon Tomb, a monument to several generations of Caslons at St. Luke's in Old Street (London).

- Last weekend, Paul Collins wrote about a long-lost feature of 19th-century periodicals: "the mysteriously one sided 'Editor's Chair' or 'responses to readers' sections, which give answers to individual readers without ever telling you what the questions were." Those from the Boys Own Paper have apparently now been collected in book form as Your Case is Hopeless. I agree with Paul: "I simply must have this book..."

- Michael has a new essay out, "The Internet and the Traditional Bookseller: A Failing Relationship." I think he's right that this is still very uncertain territory and that big changes are probably in the offing for how booksellers (and book buyers, for that matter) use the Internet.

- A copy of the 1685/1680 second edition of John Eliot's "Indian Bible" is currently for sale on eBay. Something you don't see every day. Asking price: $175,000.


- In The Telegraph, John Adamson reviews John Burrow's A History of Histories.

- In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Desmond Ryan reviews Eve LaPlante's Salem Witch Judge.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Preserving Chalk Penguins

This BBC story is making the listserv rounds today - it's not entirely book-related, but it's got an important preservation angle. Several blackboards have been found in the basement of Cambridge University's Scott Polar Research Institute, but these aren't just any old blackboards. They contain (signed) chalk sketches of penguins drawn by Captain Robert F. Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton for public lectures in 1904 and 1909.

Dr Huw Lewis-Jones, who found the drawings, told the BBC "People often compare Scott and Shackleton in terms of their achievements as explorers and their leadership qualities. Now, albeit with a smile on our faces, we can judge their artistic abilities as well. Some people may think they [the penguins] look a little crude but I think they are incredibly charming. They were drawn at public lectures in front of an enthusiastic audience, to laughter and to cheers, and then signed with a flourish. It's like having the explorers' autographs, only more wonderful, because each has signed their name next to a hand-drawn penguin."

The Institute is seeking donations to preserve and display the drawings.

Vatican Observatory Relocated

Italian media reports that the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo (the pope's retreat estate outside Rome) will be moved to a different building, to free up space for a guest house. The Observatory has occupied its present building since 1891.

"A library with over 20,000 rare books, an extensive collection of meteorites and the residences of the scientists will all be transferred to an old convent, located one and a half kilometres away from Castel Gandolfo."

The director of the Observatory said that the move will provide a "more comfortable" facility.

An interesting aside: there is a second official Vatican observatory, located atop Mount Graham in Arizona.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


I have some happy personal news to share this morning, which I hope you'll all forgive me for:

- Yesterday I printed out and handed in my history thesis, 'A Library of the Most Celebrated and Approved Authors': The First Purchase Collection of Union College, An Introduction and Bibliographic Catalogue. It's been a long time in the making, and I'm very pleased with how it turned out in the end. I'll be doing some more posts about it in January, but basically it's an analysis of Union's first library (purchased between 1795 and 1799), comparing the collection to other early national academic libraries and discussing how the library was designed to complement and enhance the College's curriculum. I'm going to be working more with this project in the future, but right now I'm looking forward to a little break from it. It's good to be done!

- As of 2 January, I will begin full-time duties at the Massachusetts Historical Society as an Assistant Reference Librarian. I've been working at the MHS part-time since the fall of 2006, and am really looking forward to taking this next step. It's a wonderful and very satisfying place to work.

Also, I noticed when I logged in to Blogger this morning that this just happens to be my 1,000th post here on PhiloBiblos, so there's another milestone passed. I look forward to writing another thousand, and hope you'll all continue to stick around and read them.

More book-news shortly.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More on Magna Carta Sale

There's a bit more information on last night's Sotheby's sale of the Magna Carta, including some comments from buyer David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group.

Rubenstein, who worked as a domestic policy advisor in the Carter Administration, told the press last night "Today is a good day for our country. I was moved when I saw the manuscript at Sotheby's and I was concerned that the only copy that was in America would escape. I was convinced that it needed to stay here. This document stands the test of time. There is nothing more important than what it represents. I am privileged to be the new owner, but I am only the temporary custodian. This is a gift to the American people. It is important to me that it stays in the United States."

Bloomberg adds " Rubenstein almost missed his chance to bid. He arrived minutes before the one-lot sale began, tossing his trench coat into a checkroom and racing to the seventh-floor salesroom." Apparently the first reports of the winning bid being placed by telephone were erroneous.

This copy of the Magna Carta, one of 17 which survive, is the only one in private hands.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Book Review: "The Devil of Great Island"

It's not often that Salem plays second fiddle in a book about New England witchcraft, but it does so in Emerson Baker's The Devil of Great Island (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). Baker concentrates on a 1682 incident on the Maine frontier in which the Walton family's house and members were subjected to a relentless and damaging assault by flying stones, a phenomenon called lithobolia. These events, Baker argues, allow for a broader perspective on the role of witchcraft accusations in northern New England, and serve to highlight the diverse and contentious nature of the region during the late seventeenth century.

Drawing on previous work by John Demos, Carol Karlsen and Mary Beth Norton - among others - Baker manages to weave the lithobolia incidents into our understanding of how witchcraft accusations came to be used as the ultimate trump card in disputes over property, power or pulpits. Although it takes him quite a long time to get to it, I think in the end Baker makes a solid case for his suggested culprit (the nephew of the woman the Waltons accused of launching the 'supernatural' assault).

The strongest elements of this book are Baker's synthesis of the scholarship connecting witchcraft allegations to other longstanding disputes over various important issues, and his comparison of the 1682 stone-throwing to the events at Salem a decade later. He offers much interesting background materials on the demographics of northern New England, the tangled histories of New Hampshire and Maine and other subjects; unfortunately the digressions he makes from the main narrative to delve into these larger areas prove rather distracting.

I had a few additional quibbles with Baker's writing style, which incorporates a bit too much slang or informalities for my taste. However, for those interested in understanding New England witchcraft from a broader angle and with a different focal point than Salem, this book and its predecessors are certainly recommended.

Magna Carta Sells for $21.3 Million

The Ross Perot Foundation's copy of the Magna Carta, dated 1297, sold tonight at Sotheby's for $21.3 million, barely hitting the presale estimates of $20-30 million.

AFP reports that the document was "picked up by a telephone bidder."

[Slightly later: Reuters adds that the buyer was private equity firm founder David Rubenstein, who "plans to keep it where it has been on display at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington." This is excellent news, I'm very glad to hear that the Magna Carta will be back at NARA very soon.]

[Update: See this post for more quotes and updates, including a revision of the first AFP report that the winner bid by telephone. Mr. Rubenstein was in the room.]'s Most-Sought of '07

The folks at have unveiled their list of the top ten most-sought out-of-print books in the U.S. for 2007. Not much change from the annual report, released back in August.

Pullman Pens Prequel

Banbury Cake reports that Philip Pullman, the author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, has written a book which occurs before the events in The Golden Compass (which was published as Northern Lights in the UK). Once Upon A Time in the North will be published in the spring by Random House.

Pullman told the paper that the new short book is "a separate story that takes place some time before Lyra was born involving the two characters Lee Scoresby, the balloonist, and Iorek Byrnison, the armoured bear. You will be able to read about their history and how they first met. You see when we meet them in Northern Lights they have known each other for years and fought in various campaigns together."

The next full-length novel from Pullman, currently titled The Book of Dust, is set to be published in 2009.

h/t Bruce at Bookshop Blog.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Book Review: "The Thief Taker"

Janet Gleeson's The Thief Taker offers a bit of a twist on the typical 18th-century London historical mystery, as Gleeson chooses as her protagonist/detective Agnes Meadowes, a middle-aged cook. At the behest of her employer, silvermaker Theodore Blanchard, Agnes undertakes an investigation into the theft of a silver wine cooler, stolen the night before it was scheduled for delivery to its buyer.

To get the wine cooler back, Agnes must consort with Marcus Pitt, the titular thief taker. These guys make good characters for books like this, and Pitt's no exception. Naturally, the usual twists and turns occur as the investigation proceeds; suspects come, go (and occasionally die) as Agnes goes about her search (while still returning home in time to cook all the meals).

Well researched and nicely written, this is a worthwhile book if you like the type. While the use of Agnes as detective does seem a little unlikely, just settle in and enjoy the ride.

Hosseini on Kabul

Author Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns) wrote an essay for yesterday's Guardian about his recent visit to Kabul, the first time he's been to the city since 1976. It is written with the same elegance, grace and gripping detail as his novels; it's as tough to read too, but just as necessary.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Links & Reviews

Another day, another snowstorm in the Northeast - Boston got rather more snow from this one than was forecast, but it's now switched over to sleet and then is going to change over to rain very soon. All that's sure to make for a wet, sloppy mess, and the blistering wind that's accompanying the storm isn't making things any more pleasant. Here's hoping the power stays on and the streets don't flood. Thankfully I've got plenty to do around the house today.

Without further ado, a few of the things I caught during the latter part of this week:

- Over at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell's been examining family legends of ancestral participation in the Boston Tea Party. Here's Part One, and here's Part Two. Interesting historical investigations, as ever. John's also been doing some campaign fact-checking, noting some major inaccuracies in recent comments by Mike Huckabee and his campaign manager regarding the signers of the Declaration of Independence. No, most of the Declaration's signers were not ministers.

- Joyce notes the impending closure of Loome Bookseller in Stillwater, MN - they've posted an amusing YouTube video advertisement for their closing sale, which is embedded in Joyce's post.

- BibliOdyssey offers up some of the illustrations from Flora Sinensis, Michał Piotr Boym's 1656 treatise on the plants of China. It's "one of the rarest and most important botanical works ever produced," and "the first western book to report on the indigenous sub-tropical plants of China."

- In the Boston Globe, Anna Mundow interviews D. Graham Burnett, the author of the new book Trying Leviathan (yet another one that's sitting on my shelf waiting for me to read it).

- Scott Brown reports on some high-selling Philip Pullman books on ABE, noting that even the highest one of those in November (which sold for $3,100) didn't make ABE's top ten for the month.

- In the Times Literary Supplement, Arthur Freeman has a fascinating essay on the 1535 Sacra Bible (believed to be the first - if partial - Bible printed in the British Isles) and its preface, which he attributes to Henry VIII himself. Another really interesting investigation into the publication's timing and print history.

- Some more interesting results from Sotheby's Thursday book auction: a Shakespeare Fourth Folio sold for £96,500 (well over the £35,000 estimate) and a Kelmscott Chaucer (one of the 425 copies printed on paper) made £37,700.


- Michael Dirda reviews Philip Gura's American Transcendentalism in the Washington Post.

- Over in the Globe, Michael Kenney reviews Our Savage Neighbors, a new treatment of the colonial Indian wars by Peter Silver.

- In the Guardian, Keith Thomas reviews John Burrow's A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the Twentieth Century. Thomas writes: "[Burrow] has undertaken a herculean task which would have daunted most scholars. Inevitably there are some trivial slips on which the specialists will pounce. But he has turned his formidable assignment into a triumphant success. The result is a highly enjoyable book, based on a vast amount of reading, written with attractive simplicity, brimming with acute observations, and often very witty. Anyone who wants to know what historical writing has contributed to our culture should start here."

- In the NYTimes, Gil Troy reviews Edward Larson's recent book on the presidential campaign of 1800, A Magnificent Catastrophe.

- The Little Professor reviews and analyzes Clare Clark's The Nature of Monsters.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

UC Unveils Mark Twain Digital Collection

The latest issue of College and Research Libraries News arrived this week; one of the reports within was about the Mark Twain Project Online at the University of California. The beta version is now live, and includes more than 2,300 Twain letters written between 1853 and 1880. Eventually, more than ten thousand fully annotated letters will be included in the online archive, along with digital editions of Twain's novels and other works. By 2010, Twain's Autobiography, never before available in complete form, will also be available on the site.

MTPO also offers an excellent and thorough user's guide and a very interesting history of the project.

Friday, December 14, 2007


We got a fast and furious snowstorm yesterday afternoon here in Boston; about ten inches (or so) fell in nine hours. You'd think from how the evening commute went (or, rather, didn't go) that the Hub had never seen snow before, but after some very long, very frustrating trips, everyone seems to have gotten home safely (I walk, so things were pretty much normal for me). The snow ended by around 10 p.m., so the roads were (mostly) clear by this morning.

I came into the library early to help clear out the front sidewalks, and enjoyed a very pleasant walk along the quiet streets (Simon and Garfunkel's "freshly fallen silent shroud of snow" sprang to mind). The sky then was still slate-grey, but by 8 the sun was shining and the clouds had almost completely vanished. We had quite a workout with the sidewalks, but thankfully the snow was mostly light and easily moved. The next storm, headed our way for this weekend, doesn't look quite so pleasant.

There doesn't seem to be too much major biblio-news this morning. I've still got to finish looking over the rest of the Sotheby's sales results from yesterday; I'm sure there are some notable prices aside from the Beedle the Bard craziness, but not much seems to have happened overnight. So, just for a laugh this morning, I pass along the Colonel's recent Cartoon Characters in the News report.

More once I've recovered from the most exercise I've had in recent (or, for that matter, distant) memory.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Beedle Buyer:

As I reported earlier, J.K. Rowling's Tales of Beedle the Bard sold for nearly $4 million this morning. We now know the high bidder:

Amazon has posted this page with many large pictures of the book and a message board, where people are asking all manner of questions. In answer to "the big one," no, Amazon cannot print or sell the stories in any form, as the sale did not include publication rights. They will be adding "reviews" of each tale, they report. "Craig Berman, an Amazon spokesman, said the company plans a tour for the book of libraries and schools," according to the AP.

Beedle the Bard Hits the Stratosphere

The single copy of J.K. Rowling's Tales of Beedle the Bard sold at Sotheby's today ... for £1,950,000! That's, um, well over the presale estimates of £30,000-50,000.

Proceeds will go to The Children's Voice charity.

More very soon.

BBC reports "After a bidding war between six auction participants, the book was bought by a representative from London fine art dealers Hazlitt Gooden and Fox." Rowling: "I am stunned and ecstatic. This will mean so much to children in desperate need of help. It means Christmas has come early to me."

The other six copies of ToBtB were given to people "closely connected" with the Harry Potter series.

[More, from Sotheby's: "
The price achieved today stands as the highest price ever achieved at auction for a modern literary manuscript, an auction record for a work by JK Rowling, and an auction record for a children’s book."]

[Later: We now know the buyer!]

Links & Reviews

Since my list of things to link to was starting to overflow, an extra collection of links this week:

- BibliOdyssey has engravings from works on magnetism by Athanasius Kircher. I'm partial to the last image (and the story behind it). They've also got a miscellany post with a little bit of everything.

- There's a new blog in town: Notes for Bibliophiles, by the Special Collections staff at the Providence Public Library. Good stuff. I've added a link.

- The Telegraph reports that the British Library has paid £1.1 million for the papers of Sir Harold Pinter. "Highlights include a run of letters from the Irish writer Samuel Beckett, an 'amusing' exchange of correspondence with the poet Philip Larkin, and a draft of Sir Harold's unpublished memoirs of his youth, The Queen Of All The Fairies." The BL plans to have the collection processed and open to researchers by the end of next year.

- Critical Mass reports the results of a survey on the ethics of book reviewing.

- Travis comments on the appeals of the Transy Four, noting in conclusion "I don’t know the likelihood of these arguments convincing three (or, I guess, only two) federal appeals judges to remand back to the district court for re-sentencing, but I can’t imagine the odds are in the boys’ favor. It seems to me that the sentencing judge got it about right. But I’m happy to see these idiots spending whatever money they have left on an attenuated appeals process." Read the whole post.

- Ian is back with a whole series of good posts at Lux Mentis, Lux Orbis - he includes some awfully nice words about my meager efforts here.

- Scott Brown comments on the end of the Crockett Contretemps, and includes some of Kevin Mac Dowell's thoughts as posted on Ex-Libris.

Yet Another Book of Mormon First Edition Sells

First editions of the Book of Mormon seem to be this year's most popular book-auction attraction, with at least three major sales already this year (the Orson Pratt copy, which sold for $180,000 at Swann in March; the Palmyra copy, sold in upstate New York for $105,600 in September; and the Paul Hanson copy, sold at PBA Galleries in October for $103,500).

A fourth copy sold yesterday at Hessney Auction Company (Geneva, NY), making $97,900 with premium. The sale took about three minutes, and the winning bidder was a Newport, CA "collector/investor" who was the underbidder in September's Palmyra copy sale. He told the Deseret Mountain News "that he plans to take the leather-bound book to a bookbinder as soon as he receives it. After it's repaired, he'll keep it in a custom-built protective box inside a safety deposit box. He plans to wait a year, then sell the book; he expects the price by then will have risen to $125,000."

It's cutting it close, but I think $97,900 is close enough to keep Ken Sanders' prediction alive. Plus this copy was in pretty rough shape, which has to count for something.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dallas Artifacts Recovered, Curators Embarrassed

This weekend I noted the loss of a box of historical artifacts belonging to the Dallas Historical Society. The box, I'm happy to report, has been recovered. It hadn't been stolen, but rather had been languishing in the lost-and-found of Dallas' Hotel Anatole. A police detective learned that the box was found on 15 November, the day it went missing, "in the hotel parking lot."

All's well that end's well, I guess ... but the DHS employees who were responsible for getting that box safely back to base certainly have some explaining to do.

Auction Reports: Sotheby's

Sotheby's New York had a sale of Fine Books and Manuscripts yesterday. A few highlights are below. Prices include premiums.

- The 1783 "official proclamation" broadside giving the text of the Treaty of Paris (which officially ended the Revolutionary War) sold for $301,000, much surpassing the presale estimates of $50,000-75,000.

- An autograph letter from Paul Revere to the first librarian of the Boston Athenaeum (12 September 1811) enclosing three copper coins discovered by an American naval officer in northern Africa fetched $28,000.

- The Houghton copy of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) - a first edition presentation copy with an autograph letter tipped in - made $325,000.

- A first edition of Robert Hooke's Micrographia (1665), one of the most impressive books ever printed, in my view, sold for $67,000.

Yesterday was a busy day at Sotheby's; they also had a sale of Voyages and Travels from the Library of David Parsons. Some very interesting titles sold in that auction as well, but I'll mention just a couple of them here:

- A 1620 first edition of Samuel de Champlain's Voyages et descouvertes faites en la Nouvelle France, depuis l'année 1615 iusques à la fin de l'année 1618 (Voyages and Discoveries in New France) made $85,000, just under the high estimate.

- Master Greenville Collins' manuscript account of an early and ill-fated search for the Northwest Passage (1676), which includes a map of the Shetland islands, a sketch of a walrus, and a full account of the Speedwell's voyage, stranding and rescue sold for $157,000, more than twice the estimate.

- A very nice 1626 first edition of Purchas His Pilgrimes, a collection of early travel accounts, sold for $109,000.

And finally, Sotheby's also sold George Washington's Order of the Cincinnati Medal yesterday. The medal was given to the Marquis de Lafayette by Washington's adopted daughter in 1824, and has been in the possession of the Lafayette family ever since. It fetched $5.3 million.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Book Review: "The Nijmegen Proof"

The Nijmegen Proof: A Romance of Rare Books is an odd little book. Just 650 copies were printed (so sayeth the colophon), and all were signed by the pseudonymous author, S. Barkworth (aka London rare book dealer Arthur Freeman). I'd known of the book for a while, and when our good friends at Colophon had a copy earlier this fall I had to snap it up.

Barkworth's book offers a glimpse into the rough and tumble world of the pre-Internet transatlantic rare book trade, featuring imperious and well-heeled academic acquisitions librarians, book dealers of all stripes, temperaments and levels of scruple from America and the U.K., some good old-fashioned auction-house shenanigans, and a fascinating hunt for what just might be a priceless relic. The well-written characters' joint pursuit of the "Nijmegen Proof" (that is, some scraps of paper believed to be an example of movable-type printing before Gutenberg, executed at the Dutch city of Nijmegen c. 1441) is a wonderful thing to behold.

The novel's written in a style which requires much concentration: nothing is revealed easily, you have to work to understand what's going on, and I loved that about it. It's smart, and satirical, and highly recommended.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Movie Review: "The Golden Compass"

This is really less a review of Chris Weitz' adaptation of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass than a collection of semi-random and mostly-unconnected thoughts about the movie, just to get that out of the way at the outset. If you want actual reviews, try here (my more traditional review of the books, however, is here).

First, I thought it was rather too short. Too many interesting portions of the book were totally absent from the film, which made the just-under-two-hours go by at a breakneck pace, with no moments to pause and enjoy the alternate universes or special effects. It felt too rushed. I wanted more richness, more depth, and more plot.

Weitz has taken some flack for toning down the 'anti-religious' aspect of Pullman's work (which as I've said seems to me to be not really anti-religious, just anti-dogmatic), but I agree with The Little Professor on this: she points out that the Magisterium portrayed in the film bears a much more striking resemblance to the Catholic hierarchy than its counterpart in the book, and that the movie has a rather sharp Protestant feel. She writes "If anything, Lyra's position as a savior figure, foretold in the witches' prophecies, implies the existence of an alternative religious structure--not the opposition of religion to no religion at all. And the film condemns the Magisterium's attempt to legislate behavior from above on the same grounds as Protestants have condemned the Roman Catholic Church since the Reformation: such external control promotes both legalism (that is, it emphasizes obedience to a law imposed from without, instead of spiritual rebirth from within) and denies the importance of the conscience. ... All of this overlaps with a secular or skeptical critique of religion, of course, but is hardly confined to it." It will be interesting to see how the next two films tackle this question.

The special effects were well done and excellently employed; Weitz pulled off the difficult task of making the daemons, spy-flies, witches and ice bears believable, while also bringing Pullman's parallel universes into being (though things moved too fast to get a good look). And the casting was superb. Dakota Blue Richards was simply perfect as the precocious and ornery Lyra, and Nicole Kidman worked as the ice queen Mrs. Coulter. Sam Elliott's Lee Scoresby and Tom Courtenay's Farder Coram were right on the money, and cameos by Christopher Lee, Derek Jacobi and other British staples were an added bonus. Kathy Bates should have had more lines as Scoresby's jackrabbit daemon Hester, and Ian McKellen's voice as Iorek probably didn't need whatever mechanical augmentation was applied to it to make it even more gravelly, but those are just quibbles.

A good movie, but not a great one. Bring on "The Subtle Knife."

For Your Favorite Bibliophile

A couple extra links for this morning's amusement:

- Over at Book Trout, Rachel has some gift ideas for the book-lovers on your holiday shopping list.

- LibraryThing has announced SantaThing, a secret-Santa program for LTers. It's only been up for a little while this morning, but interest is picking up fast.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Links & Reviews

- A number of historical artifacts have gone missing from the Dallas Historical Society. They "were placed in a box at the society's offices at the Hall of State in Fair Park after an awards ceremony" on November 15, and discovered missing last week. The Dallas Morning News has a report. Among the items are one of Santa Anna's spurs, "a silver Mexican Medal of Honor from 1836, a five-star collar insignia worn by Adm. Chester W. Nimitz at the Japanese surrender ceremony and a Bible belonging to one of Dallas' first families."

- In the Washington Post, Patricia Sullivan has an obituary of Smithsonian historian, scholar and collector Silvio Bedini, who died back in November at age 90. Some of Bedini's books treated
"timekeeping, early American scientific instruments, African American mathematician and astronomer Benjamin Banneker, Thomas Jefferson's lap desk and the origin of dominoes." His son told Sullivan that Bedini's bookplate featured a Gustave Doré "engraving of a man absorbed in books, surrounded by the phrase 'Satis Temporis Non Est Nobis': For us, there is not enough time." And don't we know it.

- From BibliOdyssey, a collection of Neapolitan and Genonan family crests.

- UCLA, the Huntington Library and the Getty Research Institute have joined forces to create a digital version of
Bernard Picart's Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde ("Religious Ceremonies and Costumes of All the People in the World"), first published in 1723. "Adapting techniques that have gained popularity over the Internet, the scholarly team is digitizing and annotating the 3,000-page oeuvre. Eventual plans call for making at least three annotated editions available on the Web." Good background on Picart and the project here, and there's also an article on the digitization effort in yesterday's LATimes.

- The BBC reported this week that the Vatican Archives has found what is believed to be Michelangelo's last sketch, a chalk drawing (created c. 1564) for part of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. "This particular sketch is thought to have survived because a building supervisor had used the back of it to make notes on problems linked to transporting the stone through Rome."

- In Paris, the Bibliotheque Nationale has opened an exhibition of its pornographic section, officially known as "Enfer" (Hell), for the first time since the 1830s. The show, which runs through March 2008, features more than 350 books, engravings, photographs and "curiosities." No one under age 16 is allowed into the exhibition hall.

- Travis notes this article in the University of New Mexico Daily Lobo, which reports the issuance of warrants for five people accused of stealing books from university libraries and reselling them at campus bookstores. Travis' take: "
I really hope we’re not entering a cycle where a bunch of youngsters think stealing books is profitable. Book thieves should be pathetic middle-aged males."

- Scott Brown's got some big news: he bought a bookstore! Eureka Books (Eureka, CA) looks like a great shop, and I wish Scott all the best in this new venture.

- LT unveiled a whole bunch of new features this week ... still some kinks to be worked out with at least a few of them, I've noticed, but I think they'll be very useful.

- A couple big auctions coming up: J.K. Rowling's Tales of Beedle the Bard will sell at Sotheby's in London on Thursday (13 December) and the Magna Carta will sell on 18 December at Sotheby's New York rooms. I've seen the catalogue for the latter, and boy is it impressive. This copy of the Magna Carta is estimated to sell for $20-30 million, although that could be the floor rather than the ceiling.


- In the NYTimes, Patrick Allitt reviews Garry Wills' new history of American religion, Head and Heart: American Christianities.

- In the Telegraph, Brian Dillon reviews Umberto Eco's recent works: Turning Back the Clock and On Ugliness.


- The Christian Science Monitor released its Best History of 2007 and Best Nonfiction of 2007 lists.

- Over at The Millions, they've started a neat series of posts called A Year in Reading, where they ask prominent authors, bloggers and other book-folks what they've read and enjoyed this year.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Adams Letters Webcast Now Available

In case you missed last month's packed-house public reading of selection from John and Abigail Adams' letters at Faneuil Hall, WGBH has now made the event available online in audio or video form. You can also download the event as an mp3.

Texas (Finally) Nixes Crockett Letter Purchase

The Crockett Contretemps is winding down, with news yesterday that the Texas Historical Commission has taken the long-awaited and inevitable step of announcing that it will not pay $550,000 for a letter purportedly (but clearly not) written by Davy Crockett before his death at the Alamo. The Houston Chronicle and Austin American-Statesman both have reports today on this latest update.

A report on the forensic analysis of the letter performed by Federal Forensic Associates, Inc. of Raleigh, NC was received by the THC yesterday, said spokeswoman Debbi Head, and upon receipt of that report the Commission decided it was best to return the letter to its seller (Ray Simpson III of Simpson Galleries in Houston). The full contents of the report have not yet been released, but will be made public next week, Head said. No handwriting analysis of the letter was done, although several experts reportedly offered to donate their services.

THC head John Nau defended how the Commission handled the Contretemps, saying "The contract was set up to provide the state time to determine whether or not we would go forward with the purchase. For the taxpayers and for the Texas archives, it unfolded the best way it could. It is a disappointment that it didn't turn out in a different fashion." Texas Governor Rick Perry also issued a statement yesterday afternoon: "Our hope and belief was this would prove to be a rare, historic acquisition for the state of Texas. Although that proved not to be the case, the Texas Historical Commission acted appropriately and followed the proper channels of due diligence after pursuing the potential purchase of the letter."

Bookseller Kevin Mac Donnell, who was one of the first to notice that the letter looked "off" told the American-Statesman that he's still not satisfied. "The way they handled it in providing information about the deal leaves a very bad smell. They owe the people of Texas some kind of answer. They were going to spend half a million dollars all in a hurry, they need to explain why."

Meanwhile, Ray Simpson III continues to have visions of dollar signs dancing in his head. "We are still hoping that it is the real deal. If not, we need to find out where it came from and exactly what it is," he told the Chronicle. He said that while he hadn't yet seen the report, Nau had told him "that it determined the letter's ink and paper match the period it is dated. 'If paper's right and the ink's right, then there has to be something else we don't know about it and why the state decided not to go through with the purchase.'"

Uh, yes, it's that the handwriting, grammar and penmanship are - obviously and entirely - not right. I'm glad Texas finally saw the handwriting (ahem, not Davy Crockett's) on the wall and put the kibosh on this deal.

Friday, December 07, 2007

On Inscription Forgeries

Over in the Telegraph today, bookseller Peter Grogan has a short piece about inscription forgeries and the forgers who forge them. Well worth a read.

Book Review: "Like a Hole in the Head"

Playwright Jen Banbury's first novel, Like a Hole in the Head (1998) has been widely described as falling into the "neo-noir" genre, if there is such a thing. Part-time bookseller and full-time cynic Jill finds herself in a major pickle after she unwittingly fences a rare doctored first edition of Jack London's The Cruise of the Snark. Banbury leads Jill through a series of increasingly-improbable events involving former child actors, all-night veterinarians, a fair number of drunken louts ... and some ducks, a bookstore cat, and a wounded dog.

The barely-believable plot of this novel is only made more ridiculous by the even less-believable ending, and yet I enjoyed reading it - it's a bizarre, but amusing, romp through the LA underworld. Unfortunately the book's role tends to get lost in the shuffle; Banbury could certainly have done more to work that into the narrative.

Recommended for a bit of light reading.

Maine Town Wants its Declaration Back

The state of Maine is suing a Virginia man in an attempt to reclaim an early copy of the Declaration of Independence. "Maine Archivist David Cheever says a Jan. 15 trial date has been set in Fairfax County, Va., to settle the dispute with Richard L. Adams Jr., who lives in the Fairfax area," WCSH reported earlier this week.

This particular copy of the Declaration was sent to what is now Wiscasset, Maine (in 1776 it was known as Pownalborough, Massachusetts). The Declaration was lost for many years before it was found in the estate of a Wiscasset woman and sold at auction in 1995. Soon after that, the state Attorney General's office and the Maine Archives began trying to arrange for the Declaration's return to Maine, as the Lincoln County News noted back in early 2006.

"The leverage for its return to the town is a state statute, which prohibits the sale of any permanent public document. Anything before 1900 would be considered a public document, according to State Archivist James Henderson." If the document is returned, the town would likely retain ownership.

"Wiscasset's copy has notations on the back of it that attest to its origin as the original copy that Wiscasset had and that left the town in 1995 after being sold at auction from the estate of Anna Plumstead for $77,000. Investigators traced its location then to New York City where it
was listed for $475,000, but a London book dealer bought it for $390,000. From there it went to its" current owner, Richard Adams Jr.

It's unclear from the news articles but this broadside is likely of the 'edition' printed at Salem, Massachusetts by E. Russell for distribution to the towns.

A similar dispute over another Maine copy, that belonging to North Yarmouth, was (eventually) resolved satisfactorily in 2001.

[h/t Everett Wilkie, who's been following this story over on Ex-Libris]

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Transy Thieves Want Shorter Sentences

The four men currently serving 87-month prison terms for assaulting a librarian and stealing rare books from Transylvania University back in December 2004 were in court yesterday, seeking reductions of their sentences.

"Defense attorneys and federal prosecutors appealed the sentence on different grounds. Defense lawyers, in oral arguments before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday, argued that [U.S. District Judge Jennifer] Coffman erred when she ruled that a stun pen used to subdue Transy librarian B.J. Gooch during the heist was a dangerous weapon. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, the use of a dangerous weapon during the commission of a crime increases the amount of time spent in prison. In the case of the four men, the finding that a dangerous weapon was used translated to about a 17-month increase in their sentence."

Prosecutors argued that 87 months was in fact too light a sentence, saying that Coffman, "when calculating the loss to the university, failed to add the value of several books that Borsuk and Lipka dropped in a stairwell when they were leaving the special-collections library. ... Coffman calculated that the loss to the university was about $735,000. But if the books, including two volumes of Audubon's Birds of America, that the men had intended to steal but dropped were included in that tally, the men would have received an additional 21 months in federal prison."

The attorney for one of the thieves, Charles Allen, argued that his client's sentence should have been lower because Allen's role was minor. The lawyer also claimed that federal prosecutors had "violated an agreement between Allen and investigators."

"The three-judge panel did not issue a ruling after yesterday's hearing in federal court in Cincinnati. If the panel decides Coffman erred, the case will be remanded to the federal district court and the men will be resentenced."

We know from their December Vanity Fair article that these guys have expressed no remorse for what they did. They deserve to serve every second of those 87 months, and if prosecutors can make their case for more time, all the better.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Auction Report: Bonham's

Bonham's held a books/manuscripts auction in New York City yesterday. Some highlights are below. Prices do not include premiums or tax.

- Declaration of Independence mania continues, as an 1818 broadside copy of the Declaration printed on vellum sold for $50,000. This version was printed at Washington, D.C. by Benjamin Owen Tyler; it's considered the first decorative print of the manuscript document, and is the first to include facsimile signatures.

- A Shakespeare Fourth Folio (London: 1685) didn't meet its low estimate, selling for just $24,000.

- A copy of the first octavo edition of Audubon's Birds of America (seven volumes, 1840-1844) sold for $35,000.

- Werner von Braun's Ph.D. dissertation with manuscript annotations fetched $27,500.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Book Review: "The Music of the Spheres"

Set in 1795 London against the backdrop of the disastrous English-backed Royalist invasion of Revolutionary France, Elizabeth Redfern's first novel, The Music of the Spheres (2001) is a dark, rich tale of international espionage, astronomical observation, and diabolical murder. All three of those themes combine to create a very creepy literary thriller, best not read immediately before bedtime (which was, naturally, when I read most of it).

None of Redfern's characters are very likable (in fact they are to a person rather the opposite), but that only adds to the murkiness of the book. The author has, though, captured the essence of her time period and setting very well, and she's written a book which is sure to hold its reader's attention (even if it's only to find out what horrible thing happens next). The ending may be apparent somewhat in advance (it was for me), but even having guessed what was coming I had no idea how Redfern was going to get us there.

If you enjoyed The Alienist, or Instance of the Fingerpost, or The Interpretation of Murder, I'd recommend this one as well.

Book(s) Review: "His Dark Materials"

Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass) has won all manner of awards, and every one of them seemed well-deserved to me. I decided to read all three books now so they'd be fresh in my mind for the first movie, and enjoyed all three a great deal. The first, The Golden Compass, was probably my favorite of the three, but each of them is quite imaginative. Together they make one of the best fantasy series I've read; I rate them right up there with the Harry Potter canon and Tolkien's works.

Pullman has created some brilliant plot devices through which to explore some of the most contentious issues in human society and retell Milton's great epic Paradise Lost. Alternate universes abound in these books, where humans' souls take animal form and accompany them through life as tangible companions, armored bears rule the Arctic and a grand alliance is formed to defeat the nefarious Authority. Through it all, two young people make their way through a dizzying labyrinth of adventures and escapades as they seek to unravel the mysteries of life, faith and Dust (Pullman's term for the force that seems to resemble the Christian concept of "holy spirit").

Some evangelicals and conservative Catholics have decried these works for their portrayal of organized religion, but while Pullman's books are very anti-authoritarian and anti-dogmatic, they are also deeply spiritual and very provocative in their examination of intense theological issues. I thought of them not as anti-religious, but as a direct critique of those who claim that their interpretation of faith is the only "right" way. I found BU religion professor Donna Freitas' take on Pullman's books very compelling, and agree with her conclusion: "It is a beautiful story, and a Christian story. It is a story that could prompt believers to reflect on their faith. It is just not a story that everyone may want you to read."

Absorbing characters, polished prose, and an important message about the role of faith in our lives made these books all the more interesting to me. Highly recommended.

Hong Kong Hosts Its First Book Fair

The International Herald-Tribune reports on the first Hong Kong International Antiquarian Book Fair, held last weekend. More than sixty dealers from Europe, Asia and the US exhibited at the fair, "not only to tempt Hong Kong's book lovers, but also to edge open the door to China." Most of the buyers were reportedly from Hong Kong or China, and Asian manuscripts sold particularly well, the paper notes.

Hong Kong's antiquarian book dealers (there are now four of them) get some good coverage in the piece; their most acute problem, the author notes, "is finding older books published in Hong Kong, in Hong Kong. Local collections rarely survived the turmoil of the Japanese occupation in World War II, or the humidity, or the lack of space in people's homes."

Certainly not the last we'll be hearing of the emerging Asian rare books scene.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Links & Reviews

Alright, oodles of links and other goodies today:

- A Greek court threw out charges against former Getty curator Marion True last week, deferring to a California law setting a three year statute of limitations "for prosecutions once the whereabouts of a stolen artifact have been established." True was accused of conspiring to acquire a looted gold wreath, which the Getty purchased in 1993 and returned to Greece eight months ago. True's trial on similar charges in Italy has been ongoing since 2005.

- Photos of some interesting new library exteriors have been making the rounds ... very imaginative!

- I missed this one originally, but The Guardian reported on 24 November about the massive warehouses being built to store excess books from the BL and other libraries. Some good discussion here of legal deposit libraries, digitization and other "Big Issues".

- On 13 December, the Library of Congress will unveil a new exhibit, "Exploring the Early Americas," which will feature the Library's newly-acquired 1507 Waldseemüller map (the first document which includes the name 'America'), among many other highlights from the LOC's collections. In this weekend's NYTimes Magazine, Mason Wyatt has a worthwhile essay on the naming of the continent. Another preview of the exhibit, here.

- The Boston Globe (among many others) reports on the auction sale yesterday of a single manuscript page from a love story (?!) written by Napoleon Bonaparte. The hammer price was $35,400.

- Over in the Philly Inquirer, Kate Haegele covers LibraryThing.

- Umberto Eco talks to the NYTimes (mp3).

- John Overholt's got some more images from his Edward Gibbon display at Harvard's Houghton Library. This post includes one of Gibbon's personal library catalogue cards, which he made using the blank backs of playing cards.

- Paul Collins notes his appearance on NPR this Saturday to discuss his NYTimes essay on cigarette advertising in paperback books (very popular in the 1970s).

- Rare Book Review notes that the Bodleian Library will pay tribute to John Milton's 400th birthday with an exhibit, "Citizen Milton," opening 8 December and running through 26 April 2008.

- From BibliOdyssey, some allegorical engravings of the continents and some images from the tombs of the Grand Masters of the Knights of Malta from a 1781 album.

- The Guardian profiles Philip Pullman.

- The NYPL has acquired a collection of archival materials from Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (h/t fade theory)

- William Blake's 250th birthday was last week; Michael Lieberman has some good links.


- Gail Caldwell has the Boston Globe's Best Fiction of 2007 list, while Michael Kenney tackles Non-Fiction.

- The Washington Post offers up their Ten Best of 2007, and the NYTimes follows suit. Two overlaps on the fiction lists (The Savage Detectives and Tree of Smoke), none on the non-fiction.

Review (didn't seem to be many that struck my fancy this week):

- In the Boston Globe, David Waldstreicher reviews Edward Larson's new book on the Election of 1800, A Magnificent Catastrophe.

Garnet Book Sells

The Henry Garnet book purportedly bound in human skin (my thoughts on that here) sold to a private collector at yesterday's auction for £5,400, the BBC reports. The bidding was reported to be "very lively."

Sunday, December 02, 2007

On Pullman's "His Dark Materials"

Last evening I finished reading an omnibus edition of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (review to come very soon, I promise, but I have to spend today doing thesis revisions, so that and this week's links & reviews will be up later tonight or tomorrow). Part of the reason I read the books now is that the first movie is coming out shortly (next week, I think) and I wanted to be able to watch that with the stories under my belt and fresh in my mind. This morning I discovered an interesting Times (UK) special section on Pullman, his books and the upcoming movie, so I pass that along as a sort of teaser. You could spend most of the day in there, I think.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Stolen Books Recovered

Way back in January I noted the theft of several rare books from Between the Covers Rare Books at the New Jersey Book Fair. All but one of those has now been recovered, the Newark Star-Ledger reported yesterday. "When he tried to sell one of the stolen books to Bauman Books in Manhattan, the thief was served up to the police and ultimately charged this week with theft of moveable property and conspiracy to commit theft, said East Hanover police Detective Jack Ambrose, who investigated the case with the help of a New York City police detective."

The thief didn't wait long to try and get rid of the goods; he called Bauman on 27 January (just two weeks after the thefts) and tried to sell them a first edition To Kill a Mockingbird, which he sent to the shop along with his bank account number (so they could pay him). The Bauman folks called police, and the rest is history.

Lunden, 36, is from Hudson, NY and apparently owns an "antiques transport business." He claims to have had an accomplice in the thefts, who's denying any involvement. Lunden's currently not in custody pending a court hearing.

One of the fourteen stolen books, a first edition of Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, was not returned. Its whereabouts are unknown.