Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year-End Reading Report 2009

December 31 already? How's that possible? Guess it's time to compile the reading statistics for another year.

I read 102 books in 2009 (these 100, plus two that I read but didn't keep), for an average of one every 3.6 days. That's down again from last year (sigh) but such is life. Next year, given some of the projects I'm going to be working on (more on which to come!), it should be a totally different story.

It was another excellent year in reading. Here are my top five fiction and non-fiction reads (in no particular order within the lists):

- Stone's Fall by Iain Pears (review).
- The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt (review).
- Paradise Lost by John Milton (review).
- Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (review).
- Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde (review).

Honorable mentions to David Liss, The Devil's Company and Michael Cox, The Glass of Time.

- Abigail Adams by Woody Holton ("review").
- The Case for Books by Robert Darnton (review).
- The Book of William by Paul Collins (review).
- Empire of Liberty by Gordon Wood (review).
- A Brave Vessel by Hobson Woodward ("review").

Honorable mentions to Umberto Eco, The Infinity of Lists and Ingrid Rowland, The Scarinth of Scornello.

Happy New Year to all, and may your 2010 be filled with good books and good cheer!

2009 Farewells

The literary community lost a great number of friends this year. A few of them are listed below, in order of the date of death. I'm sure I've missed some, so please feel free to add them in comments, or email me and I'll update the post.

- Bell, Whitfield, Jr., d. 2 January. Author, historian, Benjamin Franklin scholar, head of the American Philosophical Society. Philadelphia Inquirer Obit.

- Fairfax, John, d. 14 January. Poet. Guardian Obit.

- Mortimer, Sir John, d. 16 January. Novelist, screen-writer, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey. NYTimes Obit.

- Updike, John. d. 27 January. Novelist, critic. NYTimes Obit.

- Ravenberg, Ron, d. 31 January. Collector of James Cook, founder of Aldus Society. Columbus Dispatch Obit.

- Dalrymple, Helen W., d. 13 February. Library of Congress researcher, spokeswoman. Washington Post Obit.

- Upward, Edward., d. 13 February. British novelist and short story writer. Times Obit. Believed to be the UK's oldest living author at the time of his death.

- Knopf, Alfred A., Jr., d. 14 February. Publisher. NYTimes Obit. A fellow Union alum.

- Salih, Tayeb, d. 17 February. Prominent Sudanese novelist. Guardian Obit.

- Nolan, Christopher, d. 20 February. Irish writer, winner of the Whitbread Price. Independent Obit.

- Cole, Tom, d. 23 February. Writer of movies, plays, short stories, and a novella. Boston Globe Obit.

- Farmer, Philip José, d. 25 February. Author of science-fiction/fantasy novels and short stories. NYTimes Obit.

- Purdy, James Otis, d. 13 March. Novelist. NYTimes Obit.

- Mayhall, Jane, d. 17 March. Poet. NYTimes Obit.

- Cox, Michael, d. 31 March. Publisher, novelist. Times Obit.

- Wynne, Marjorie, d. 4 April. Yale rare book librarian, founder of RBMS.

- Krug, Judith, d. 11 April. Librarian, ALA official, founder of Banned Books Week. NYTimes Obit.

- Ballard, J. G., d. 19 April. Novelist. Boston Globe Obit.

- Volkmann, Daniel G., d. 27 April. Book collector. San Francisco Chronicle Obit.

- Marcus, David., d. 9 May. Literary editor. Guardian Obit.

- Donald, David Herbert, d. 17 May. Historian, biographer. Boston Globe Obit.

- Elon, Amos, d. 25 May. Israeli essayist, author. NYTimes Obit.

- Eddings, David, d. 2 June. Fantasy author. Guardian Obit.

- Norse, Harold, d. 8 June. Beat poet. NYTimes Obit.

- Weller, Sam, d. 24 June. Salt Lake City bookseller. Salt Lake City Tribune Obit.

- McCourt, Frank, d. 17 July. Irish-American writer. NYTimes Obit.

- Dunne, Dominick, d. 26 August. Author and journalist. NYTimes Obit.

- Meltzer, Milton, d. 19 September. Historian and author of children's non-fiction. NYTimes Obit.

- Peterson, Merrill, d. 23 September. Historian, Jefferson scholar. Charlottesville Daily Progress Obit.

- Safire, William, d. 27 September. Speechwriter, language maven. NYTimes Obit.

- Mazer, Norma Fox, d. 17 October. Young adult novelist. NYTimes Obit.

- Gore, Marian L., d. 11 October. Antiquarian bookseller. LATimes Obit.

- Coleman, Earl M., d 12 October. Publisher, poet. NYTimes Obit.

- Snyder, Nathan, d. 25 October. University of Texas librarian, collector of Judaica. American-Statesman Obit.

- Taylor, Robert, d. 25 October. Boston Globe book critic. Globe Obit.

- Hunt, Waldo, d. 6 November. Pop-up book publisher. Washington Post Obit.

- Nokes, David, d. 19 November. English professor, Samuel Johnson biographer. Guardian Obit.

- Xianyi, Yang, d. 23 November. Translator of Chinese classics into English. Independent Obit.

- Otto, Calvin P., d. 23 November. Book and ephemera collector, founder of the American Ephemera Society.

- Trusky, Thomas, d. 1 December. Professor, book artist, founder of the Idaho Center for the Book. Idaho Statesman Obit.

- Lederer, William J., d. 5 December. Novelist. NYTimes Obit.

- Polite, Carlene Hatcher, d. 7 December. Novelist, creative writer professor. NYTimes Obit.

- Rota, Anthony, d. 13 December. Bookseller, ABA/ILAB official. Independent Obit.

- Gach, John P., d 20 December. Rare bookseller, bibliophile. Baltimore Sun Obit.

- Levine, David, d. 29 December. NYRB caricaturist. AP Obit.

Book Review: "The Infinity of Lists"

The Infinity of Lists (Rizzoli, 2009) is Umberto Eco's latest volume in a series of whimsical musings (On Beauty, On Ugliness) that couple short essays by Eco with an anthology of short textual excerpts and beautifully-reproduced images which complement the texts.

Here, Eco meanders through the world of lists, defining the various types (including "practical" and "poetic"); their uses in literature, essays, history, poetry, and art; and their implications for the reader/viewer. He chronicles the sorts of lists used throughout history, and how those have changed over time (coming, he concludes, to "the Mother of all Lists, infinite by definition because it is in constant evolution, the World Wide Web, which is both web and labyrinth, not an ordered tree, and which of all vertigos promises us the most mystical, almost totally virtual one, and really offers us a catalogue of information that makes us feel wealthy and omnipotent, the only snag being that we don't know which of its elements refers to data from the real world and which does not, no longer with any distinction between truth and error", p. 160).

Eco's ability to cross genres and write eloquently about everything from wunderkammern to saintly relics to Italo Calvino to Miltonic verse to Arcimboldo's art to the infinite library designed by Borges becomes more and more fascinating with every book of his I read. He's a wonder, he really is. The only think I'd have liked in this book might have been longer essays by him. The rest of it is absolutely delightful, and the excellent reproductions make it an eye-pleasing browse as well.

Book Review: "Shades of Grey"

Jasper Fforde's at it again with Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron (Viking, 2009). This, the first in what looks to be a planned trilogy, introduces us to a new Ffordian world, a dystopian society where color is everything. Since the unexplained long-ago Something that Happened, humans have changed a bit: each person can only see a single color naturally, with all other hues supplied synthetically (an expensive proposition). The world is governed by the Rules, sent down from the High Office and enforced by a network of prefects (those who can perceive red, blue and yellow to the greatest extent). The Rules sometimes make no sense (no new spoons have been manufactured for centuries), but there they are.

Our hero is 20-year old Eddie Russet, a genial fellow trying to make his own way in the world, marry up-color and work for the prestigious National Color department. But when he's temporarily relocated to the provinces to conduct a chair census, he finds himself involved in a series of adolescent hijinx, mysterious goings-on, and a conspiracy which could bring down the entire civilization. Of course he also comes across an irresistible Grey with a cute nose ... but you'll have to read the book to find out about her.

Fforde's capacity for inventive amusement never falters, and the way he parcels out the whys and wherefores of this new world of his worked perfectly - just as I got the point of thinking 'what on earth is this about?', the explanation would fall into place, just on cue. The strange color-based caste system, the bizarre Rules, the odd remnants of past civilizations that make themselves known - layer upon layer of allusion, pun and joke is brilliantly executed.

Somewhat darker and more sinister than most of his other works, but as you'll discover on reading it, there's light at the end of the tunnel. I'll await the next volume with great anticipation and impatience.

Book Review: "When the Emperor Was Divine"

Julie Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine (Anchor Books, 2002) is a slim but powerful story of one of the darkest periods in American history: the relocation of Japanese-Americans during the opening years of WWII. The narrative style is somewhat distant (and the perspective varies from chapter to chapter, eventually encompassing five different viewpoints), which lends an air of ambiguity to the story, but also, I found, brought me closer to the characters than a different structure might have done.

The language is spare and simple, but the message comes through loud and clear. A truly remarkable and notable first novel, showing how careful attention to small details can bring a family and a horrible experience to life.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Book Review: "The Children's Book"

A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book (Knopf, 2009) is a luxurious epic of a book, chronicling the lives of an impressive array of children (at least thirteen), their parents and various hangers-on from the late Victorian period through the end the First World War. Over the course of the book the children go through the usual processes of growing up, but for this bunch that includes some pretty serious complications.

The families, whose paths cross in interesting ways throughout the book, are all involved in some way with the crafts movement of the period (pottery, book production, theater, &c.), as well as the political goings-on (socialism, suffragism and so forth). Byatt expertly integrates the history of the period with her narrative, and seamlessly inserts her characters into the real-world milieu. The fantasy worlds she creates, in all their creepy possibility (and some of the plot-lines she pursues really are disturbing) are remarkable.

This is a truly rich book, but the number of characters Byatt introduces and documents is staggering, and I found it difficult at times to keep track of them all. The meandering nature of the text sometimes seems a bit much, and there were times when I needed something more fast-paced - but overall (and, I must say, especially the last third of the book and the gut-wrenching treatment of World War I) this is a real achievement.

Obama Moves to Declassify Records

President Obama has issued an Executive Order (full text here, synopsis here) to govern the declassification of government documents. The AP report on the order notes: "Among the changes is a requirement that every record be released eventually and that federal agencies review how and why they mark documents classified or deny the release of historical records. A National Declassification Center at the National Archives will be established to assist them and help clear a backlog of the Cold War records by 2014." President Obama has set a four-year deadline for the processing and release of some 400 million pages relating to the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, among other records.

The order supersedes Bill Clinton's 1995 E.O. 12958, and George W. Bush's 2003 E.O. 13292, which was widely panned by advocates of open government.

While the devil's always in the details on these things, and we will need to watch the implementation process carefully, this move is absolutely a step in the right direction - even the basic principle laid out by this administration that no document is to remain classified indefinitely is a welcome change from the previous rules.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Links & Reviews

Slightly abbreviated this week since I'm still on the road - I'll catch up with any missed reviews/&c. next Sunday.

- Here's what we need: a bookstore night! Buenos Aires has one, as reported by NPR this week.

- Writing for "History Now," Joanne Freeman reminds us of violence in Congresses past. [h/t Dan Cohen]

- At the AAS blog, an introduction their Printers' File, a 134-drawer collection of data on American printers.

- From McSweeney's, the Gutenberg Christmas Catalogue, 1608.

- Sarah at Wynken de Worde lists her "most influential book history tools of the decade."

- The Little Professor reviews the new "Sherlock Holmes" movie.


- Peter Ackroyd's The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein: review by Clea Simon in the Boston Globe.

- Gordon Wood's The Empire of Liberty: review by Mark Noll in Books & Culture.

This Week's Acquisitions

Santa was very good to me this year:

- The American Leonardo: A Tale of Obsession, Art and Money by John Brewer (OUP, 2009). Gift.

The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map That Gave America Its Name by Toby Lester (Free Press, 2009). Gift.

The Landmark Xenophon's Hellenika by Robert B. Strassler (Pantheon, 2009). Gift.

The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton by Jerome Karabel (Houghton Mifflin, 2005). Gift.

On Ugliness by Umberto Eco (Rizzoli, 2007). Gift.

The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser (Smithsonian, 2009). Gift.

Plato's Republic: A Biography by Simon Blackburn (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007). Gift.

Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution by Joel Richard Paul (Riverhead, 2009). Gift.

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (Dial, 1998). Gift.

Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo (Penguin, 2009). Gift.

Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose: Natural History in Early America by Lee Alan Dugatkin (University of Chicago Press, 2009). Gift.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (Broadway, 2004). Gift.

King of the Lobby: The Life and Times of Sam Ward, Man-About-Washington in the Gilded Age by Kathryn Allamong Jacob (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). Gift.

American Sketches: Great Leaders, Creative Thinkers, and Heroes of a Hurricane by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster, 2009). Gift.

Playing Darts with a Rembrandt: Public and Private Rights in Cultural Treasures by Joseph L. Sax (University of Michigan Press, 2009). Gift.

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English by John McWhorter (Gotham, 2009). Gift.

Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter's by R. A. Scotti (Viking, 2006). Gift.

Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans by Lewis Gould (Random House, 2006). Gift.

Flower Hunters by John and Mary Gribbin (OUP, 2008). Gift.

The Barbary Wars: American Independence in the Atlantic World by Frank Lambert (Hill and Wang, 2005). Gift.

The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre by Dominic Smith (Washington Square Press, 2007). Gift.

The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of 'Proper' English, from Shakespeare to South Park by Jack Lynch (Walker & Company, 2009). Gift.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (Plume, 2005). Gift.

The Making of John Ledyard: Empire and Ambition in the Life of an Early American Traveler by Edward G. Gray (Yale University Press, 2007). Gift.

The Tyrannicide Brief: The Story of the Man Who Sent Charles I to the Scaffold by Geoffrey Robertson (Pantheon, 2006). Gift.

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde (Viking, 2009). Publisher.

- The Annotated U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence by Jack N. Rakove (Harvard University Press, 2009). Gift.

- I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas by John Rox (HarperCollins, 2005). Gift.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Travels

We're off this afternoon on the holiday journey (Boston to upstate NY, to CT, and back again). I've loaded up the book bag and filled the iPod with "This American Life" and "To the Best of Our Knowledge," and am looking forward to the trek.


- A.S. Byatt, The Children's Book (which I'm still trying to finish)

- Jasper Fforde, Shades of Grey (which I will probably read instead of Byatt)

- Josiah Quincy, The History of the Boston Athenæum, with Biographical Notices of its Deceased Founders (my sop to doing 'work' over break)

- Ulrich Boser, The Gardner Heist

Also in the bag is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, in case I get the urge for it.

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays to all!! I'll check in as events warrant and time permits.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Alexander Hamilton's Library

I've just completed work on Alexander Hamilton's library in LibraryThing - it's now available here. This is one of the most tricky of the Libraries of Early America collections, for reasons I'll try to explain here.

So far as scholars have discovered, no catalog or inventory of Hamilton's library exists. In fact, the most complete document relating to his collection is a letter he sent to Richard Varick on 16 June 1795, requesting ten law books he had loaned and wanted back.

A collection of Hamilton books was deposited at Columbia University in 1955 by Alexander Hamilton III, and were donated to the university by his widow in 1973. Many of those books were probably in Alexander Hamilton's collection, but there is reason to believe that at least a portion of them were added after his death in 1804. Those books published prior to 1804 have been included in his LT library, with the vital caveat that there is a chance they may not have belonged to AH.

Beyond the Columbia collection, I scoured the twenty-seven volume set of The Papers of Alexander Hamilton and the five volumes of The Legal Papers of Alexander Hamilton (both Columbia University Press) and was able to add another segment of the library: those books sent to AH by various authors, those he cited in his published essays and letters, and those few we have record of his purchasing from booksellers. Following this, I added additional titles based on a list created by the editors of his legal papers based on his citations. And I found a few titles scattered here and there in various institutions, plus some in auction/dealer catalogs. All those taken together comprise the 315 titles in his LT catalog.

However - there are still mysteries to be solved. These include:

- This snippet. Any help in tracking down the auction catalog here snippeted (which appears to be a 1972 Parke-Bernet list) would be most appreciated.

- Some books from Hamilton's law library are believed to have been given to something known as the "Irving Library Association" in the 1870s by one of Hamilton's descendants. Google searches reveal possible organizations by this name in MA (the most likely suspect, I think), KY, and TX, but unfortunately none of them seem to have left much of a trail. If you know of this group, any information would be helpful.

- We know from his letter to Varick that Hamilton signed his books ("I believe my name will be found written in any that belong to me"), so it's likely that there are more lurking out there. Additions to the LT collection would be very useful.

Many thanks in advance for any assistance on those questions, and I want to take this opportunity to offer my sincere gratitude to Jane Siegel for providing the catalog cards from Columbia that allowed this project to get off the ground!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Reflections on DNBRD

The first (but I hope not the last!) "Do Nothing But Read Day" passed yesterday. The fact that Boston got socked with a snowstorm certainly helped with the resolution to stay inside and curl up with books all day!

Since we'll be traveling later this week my girlfriend and I exchanged our Christmas presents yesterday morning, which changed my reading plans a bit for the day since I then had some new titles that wanted immediate attention.

I spent much of the day with Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, using it as an occasional break from A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book (I'm liking that one, but it seems to have a strangely soporific effect on me unless). In the evening after I finished the Vonnegut I turned to Umberto Eco's The Infinity of Lists, which is really a striking book.

All in all, a great suggestion, and I hope the momentum gathered this year will make 2010's DNBRD even more widely-known, and observed!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book Review: "Cat's Cradle"

Kurt Vonnegut is one of those authors I'd never read but felt like I ought to have. So when I opened a gift this morning to find his Cat's Cradle (1963) I decided to take full advantage of a snowy, quiet Sunday to read it. It's the sort of book that lent itself perfectly to a one-sitting extended read, and I laughed and pondered my way through in a couple short hours.

Vonnegut's created an interesting world here, including the bizarre banana republic of San Lorenzo, to which our narrator (the author of a book about the day the first atomic bomb was dropped) takes us along for a crazy mixed up tour of intertwined characters, invented religions and philosophies, and a dip into some wild new scientific ideas which turn out to be not-so-good for everybody.

Some memorable and strange characters and customs, and a brilliant satire on Cold War science (and scientists), political relations, religion, and human nature itself. Quite funny, and whimsical, but with a bit of a sharp bite as well.

Links & Reviews

Before I hunker down in the snowstorm for "Do Nothing But Read Day," here are this week's links and reviews.

- From the Eye blog, an interesting look at early book design.

- In Forbes, a look at forged modern first editions and the eBay world that allows them to persist. Offers some good, reasonable advice for those who'd collect them, too.

- Some fantastic images from the Nuremberg Chronicle, courtesy of BibliOdyssey.

- In the NYTimes, Margo Rabb writes on book thefts at independent bookstores.

- A fire at the Dean Heritage Centre in Soudley, Gloucestershire caused damage to some of the museum's archives, rare books and artifacts.

- Cornell University will partner with the Internet Archive to make available 80,000 already-scanned out-of-copyright works. [h/t Book Patrol]

- Paul Collins notes his current New Scientist article, "A History of Walking on Water."

- And on the other digitization front (i.e. Google Books), the ALA, ARL and ACRL sent a letter [PDF] to the Justice Department on 15 December requesting "active supervision of the settlement by the court and the United States."

- Ben Macintyre writes on Dr. Watson in the Times, calling him maybe the most "unfairly overshadowed character in English literature." And the University of Minnesota is highlighting its major Holmes collection with some multimedia goodies.

- From McSweeney's, "Letters to Santa Written by Shakespeare Characters."


- David Nokes' Samuel Johnson and a new edition of Sir John Hawkins' The Life of Samuel Johnson: reviewed by Henry Power in the TLS.

- Amanda Vickery's Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England: reviewed by Andrea Wulf in the NYTimes.

- Peter Ackroyd's The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling: reviewed by Steven Livingston in the Washington Post.

- Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna: reviewed by Jane Shilling in the Telegraph.

- Thomas Mallon's Yours Truly: A History of People and Their Letters: reviewed by Richard Eder in the Boston Globe.

- Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall: reviewed by Karen Heller in the Inquirer.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Book Review: "The Lost Chalice"

Vernon Silver's The Lost Chalice (William Morrow, 2009) is a riveting account of the longstanding saga of the famous Euphronios Krater. Following up the excellent 2006 book by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini, The Medici Conspiracy (reviewed here) Silver extends that account by bringing the krater back to Italy (it was returned to Italy in January 2008) and by interviewing not only convicted smuggler/dealer Giacomo Medici himself, but also several others closely involved in the case (including the only surviving member of the tomb-robbing party who excavated the krater in 1971).

Silver's interest extend beyond the krater, though, and encompass other Euphronios works, including a kylix (or chalice) which was probably looted from the same area as the krater at around the same time. Silver tracks this piece, and several others, through the sordid underbelly of the illicit antiquities trade as they made their way around the globe, in and out of Swiss warehouses, the auction houses of London, the museums of America, and private collections hither and yon.

This is the sort of book I love: a non-fiction subject which reads like a thriller. Silver's talked to all the people he should have, and worked his way through innumerable court filings and documents - he's done his homework, and it shows. It's books like this, as well as the continued legal pressure on collectors (both private and institutional) and dealers which will eventually put an end to the trade in looted artifacts. Of course, until then, the great stories they provide will offer Silver and others the chance to write good books like this one.

After I finished the book this afternoon I started poking around on the author's website and on his blog noticed that two of the major characters in the book (former head of the Met Thomas Hoving and former Met curator Dietrich von Bothmer, who together arranged the 1972 purchase of the krater by the museum) both died recently (Bothmer in October, Hoving just last week). And it'll be interesting to see where the case continues to meander: former Getty curator Marion True and dealer Robert Hecht are still on trial on charges related to the purchase of looted antiquities, and other related investigations are still underway, even after decades. As recently as 2 December, a Corinthian column krater believed to have been handled by Medici was returned to Italy after being seized by authorities in New York (it was scheduled for auction at Christie's). The saga continues.

This Week's Acquisitions

The new goodies of the week:

- Student Notebooks at Colonial Harvard: Manuscripts and Educational Practice, 1650-1740 by Thomas Knoles, Lucia Zaucha Knoles, and Rick Kennedy (AAS, 2003). Raven.

- Paradise Lost and the Rise of the American Republic by Lydia Dittler Schulman (Northeastern University Press, 1992). Raven.

- Journals and Journeymen: A Contribution to the History of Early American Newspapers by Clarence Saunders Brigham (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1950). Raven.

- A Sentimental Journey and Other Writings by Laurence Sterne (OUP, 2003). Raven.

- Printing Places: Locations of Book Production & Distribution Since 1500; edited by John Hinks and Catherine Armstrong (Oak Knoll, 2005). Raven.

- A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel (Picador, 2006). Harvard Bookstore.

- A Gambling Man: Charles II's Restoration Game by Jenny Uglow (FSG, 2009). Publisher.

- Humanism and Libraries: An Essay on the Philosophy of Librarianship by André Cossette (Library Juice Press, 2009). Publisher.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Boston Wins Poe Debate!

Last night's Boston round of the Great Poe Debate went off wonderfully, before a packed Rabb Lecture Hall at the BPL. I snapped this picture of the combatants before the debate began: from left, moderator Charlie Pierce, Boston's Paul Lewis, Philly's Ed Pettit (pictured below making his dramatic entrance in the now-famous "Philly Poe Robe"), and Baltimore's Jeff Jerome.

The group gave opening statements about the relative importance of their city to Poe, then Charlie had some amusing questions for each of the four, they took some audience questions, and summed up their arguments. A good discussion, very meaty but hilarious at the same time. It was, obviously, quite a Boston-centric crowd, but the discussion about Poe and his legacy transcends location, of course. Boston poet laureate Sam Cornish, called in as celebrity judge, said it would be unfair to award a prize, and gave each debater a stuffed raven.

Before the debate, "The Raven in the Frog Pond: Edgar Allan Poe and the City of Boston" exhibit opened in the Cheverus Room on the third floor of the library - that'll be up through the end of March, so do make sure you get up there to see it. It's a well-crafted selection of Poe highlights focusing on his connections with Boston over the course of his life. There's even a Tamerlane, courtesy of Susan Jaffe Tane, a private collector. Don't miss the show!

Many thanks to the BPL folks, Paul Lewis and his team, Ed, Jeff and Charlie for their participation last night.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Auction Report: Sotheby's

The English Literature, History, Childrens' Books & Illustrations sale at Sotheby's London today made £997,113. Full results are here. Top sellers:

- E.H. Shepard drawings, the map for Winnie-the-Pooh and a lot of the only two Shepard drawings of heffalumps did well; the former made £49,250, and the latter was the top seller at £55,250.

- An Edmund Dulac watercolor for Sleeping Beauty, "The Castle in the Distance," did more than better the £8,000-12,000 estimate, selling for £51,650; the same price was had for a Rackham oil painting.

- A first edition of Darwin's Origin made £49,250.

- An unpublished William Blake letter (the first Blake letter at auction in more than 15 years) sold for £46,850.

LT Runs with DNBRD

LibraryThing's jumped on the "Do Nothing But Read Day" boat (which I mentioned here last week). I think it's great, and can't wait for Sunday. I've gone ahead and added the "DNBRD2009" tag to the books I'm intending to read that day (see them here), but will add fair warning that they may change between now and then.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Auction Report: Bonhams (and an Adams pamphlet)

The big story, if not the biggest seller, out of the Bonhams New York sale of Books, Maps and Manuscripts on 15 December was Charles Dickens' toothpick, which sold for $9,150. Full results of the sale are here, and other highlights include:

- A fourth folio Shakespeare (1685), which made $103,700.

- A very rare pre-publication presentation copy (in a really nice binding) of a John Adams work, Letters ([London, 1786]), a collection of letters between Adams and Dr. Henrik Calkoen. This copy was presented to Adams' cousin, Ward Nicholas Boylston. It sold for $109,800.

Interestingly, there are not very many copies of this pamphlet at all, and since there were a couple different issues, it's not clear exactly how many of this particular version there are. Here's what it looks like to me: there's one here at MHS (a presentation copy to Adams' brother-in-law Richard Cranch, and obtained for us by Jeremy Belknap through a trade with Cranch); two at the Boston Athenaeum (one with the bookplate of Adams' grandson Charles Francis, the other in the Washington collection, sent to him by Benjamin Lincoln in 1788 - the record for that one is here), one at Princeton, and one in the British Library. The Washington copy is bound with other pamphlets; the Princeton copy is in marbled paper wraps, and ours at MHS was rebound in the 1960s. ESTC lists another at the American Antiquarian Society, but I don't find it in their online catalog.

Book Review: "Maps and Legends"

I have long found that I tend to like an author's non-fiction or fiction works, but not the other way round (i.e. if I like their novels, their essays/letters bore me, or vice versa). There are some exceptions (Poe, Hornby) but they're uncommon. Michael Chabon is one of the former kind; his novels have just never particularly gotten to me, but his essays, collected by McSweeney's in 2008 as Maps and Legends, I quite enjoyed.

In this collection, most of the pieces from which were previously published elsewhere, Chabon writes about writing, and reading, and life, and how all three go together (or, occasionally, don't). He muses on the state of modern short fiction, and golems, the Yiddish language, comic books, the stories of M.R. James (which I must add to the reading list) the Sherlock Holmes canon, Philip Pullman's works, and much beyond. The language is careful, precise, and spare, and I liked (as I tend to do), reading of the author's thought processes and inspirations in writing (how did that idea come into being, anyway?).

Funny, touching, and diverting. And nicely designed, in that McSweeney's way that is so pleasing to the eye and to the brain.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

And Then There's France

As debate continues to simmer in this country about how best to respond to Google's digitization efforts - namely whether or not the Google Book Settlement should be approved in its revised form, and what that will mean for the future of digitization in this country - France has done what the U.S. probably ought to have done five or ten years ago: on Monday President Nicolas Sarkozy announced a pledge of the equivalent of $1.1 billion "toward the computer scanning of French literary works, audiovisual archives and historical documents."

The funding will go toward the creation of what's being described as a "public-private partnership" to digitize French literary materials, and Bruno Racine of the Bibliotheque Nacionale said that whatever arrangements are made could well include Google as a partner. The NYT reports that the French culture minister met last week with Google's senior vice president and chief legal officer David Drummond.

While I may not agree with how France is paying for this (it's part of a $51 billion package, funded "largely through government borrowing, against the urgings of the European Union and the country’s own audit authority"), I definitely like the idea. A billion dollars would go a long way toward creating and implementing an open-source, open-access digital library (as hinted at by Robert Darnton in his most recent NYRB piece, which I commented on here).

Monday, December 14, 2009

It's Poe-Time in Boston!

"The Raven in the Frog Pond: Edgar Allan Poe and the City of Boston," a new exhibit at the Boston Public Library, will open at 6 p.m. this Thursday, 17 December. At 7 p.m. that evening, the Boston round of the Great Poe Debate will kick off, featuring our good friend Ed "Philly Poe Guy" Pettit, BC professor Paul Lewis (curator of the exhibit) and Jeff Jerome from the Poe House in Baltimore. It'll be moderated by Charlie Pierce.

Paul Lewis does a pre-debate Q&A with Kathleen Burge in the Boston Globe.

If you can't make it to the events on Thursday evening, the exhibit will run through 31 March 2010.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Book Review: "A Monument More Durable Than Brass"

The beautiful exhibition catalog to accompany "A Monument More Durable Than Brass: The Donald & Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson" (at Harvard's Houghton Library this fall, and now at the Grolier Club through 6 February 2010; digital version here) is an excellent complement to the exhibit.

The catalog features well-reproduced photographs and short descriptions of many of the items on display, but even beyond those offers significant essays: Tom Horrocks' useful introduction to the volume, James Engell's "Perdurable Johnson," which examines the lasting legacy and impact of Johnson's writings to the common reader and our continuing fascination with the man and his works, and William Zachs' "The Hydes Collect Johnson," a short but very interesting look at the Hydes as collectors and scholars of Johnson and his circle. Detailed timelines of both the Hyde Collection and of Johnson's own life are helpful, as is a short bibliography following the catalog.

John Overholt's item descriptions capture this series of Hyde Collection highlights perfectly, from Gilbert Stuart's portrait of Johnson to the great man's teapot and his register of books loaned to friends, to fragments from the manuscript of the Dictionary and beyond. It was a delight to re-experience the exhibition through this catalog, and I encourage all who can to go see it in physical form at the Grolier Club.

Book Review: "The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein"

Peter Ackroyd's The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2009) is a retelling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein story through the eyes of the creator himself. While I need to re-read the original to be sure, it seems clear that some license has been taken with the plot of that novel, and with the biographical details of the Shelleys themselves. They appear here, of course, as Ackroyd brings Frankenstein into their orbit and moves him to England where he carries out his "researches."

Ackroyd presents us with the background to Frankenstein's pursuit of the "stuff of life," including his early queries at Oxford and his interests in electricity, galvanism, and other scientific inquiries. His depiction of the workings of the "resurrection men," who find and deliver the bodies Frankenstein uses for his experiments, is delightfully morbid, but the final experiment itself is absolutely repulsive (Ackroyd's creative power is on full display here - the sequence gave me the willies).

The creature itself figures in no small way here, as it pursues Frankenstein in search of revenge and fulfillment. Or, does it? I'll spare the spoilers, but the last few pages will have you thinking deeply about gothic fiction and narrative authority.

I had trouble getting into the novel at the start, but once the action got going I was hooked, and read through the last 200 pages in a single sitting. Gripping stuff, even if it turns some of our ideas about Frankenstein and his monster on their heads. Good for a nice long winter afternoon.

Book Review: "The Book"

Nicole Howard's The Book: The Life Story of a Technology was first published in 2005 as part of Greenwood Press' Technographies series, and has been re-published this fall in paperback by Johns Hopkins University Press. Defining technology as a "manmade artifact that serves a practical function," Howard points out that "no other technology has had the impact of this invention. Indeed the book is the one technology that has made all the others possible, by recording and storing information and ideas indefinitely in a convenient and readily accessible place" (p. vii-viii). She argues that "by examining the book as a technology, we get the best example of how profoundly information and media technology affect culture and history, and how vital the technology of the book has been to cultural and intellectual change (p. ix).

This book traces the web of technologies involved in the creation and culture of books (illustration, ink, parchment, paper, type, printing, &c., &c.), as well as those involved on the human side (printer, publisher, author, typesetter, librarian, bookseller, &c., &c.), creating a very succinct history of the book that will be quite useful, I suspect, in introductory book history courses as a survey text (or by any bibliophile who wants to know more). At just 150 pages, it's a quick but useful synopsis of the subject. The references could be more frequent (although since in-text citation is used, more frequent references might be rather bothersome) and the reproduction quality of some images used here is not the best (almost comically ironic in a couple of cases, including a very fuzzy image of what is an extremely detailed Dürer woodcut).

Extremely minor quibbles aside, this is a good overview of the book from the days of papyrus scrolls to the 21st century, when books will go through another series of changes, she argues, but will remain in some form "the world's most critical technology" (p. 158).

The bibliography can certainly be put to good use by those who find themselves interested in one aspect or another of what Howard discusses in the text; there's much fodder there for the curious.

Links & Reviews

- Perhaps the most underreported news of the last week-and-a-half or so: over at Search Engine Land, Danny Sullivan comments on a change in Google's search protocols to "personalize" search: that is, I might get different results than you do for the same exact search, based on what I've searched for in the past. As Rory Litwin notes, "Read through this and then consider what an inconvenience it is for searchers like us librarians who are searching on many different things for many different reasons. The record of past searches interferes with the results of subsequent searches." (Kinda like when you buy a present on Amazon and then get recommendations for things like that for the rest of time - gah).

- In The Millions series "A Year in Reading," Reif Larsen weighs in with his top books of 2009. And The Independent has a list of the "best biographies" for 2009 (there are links within to the rest of their "best of" lists, too). The Washington Post has its Holiday Guide 2009, their "Book World" section has its own Top 10 list, and Jonathan Yardley offers his own picks.

- News this week that both Kirkus Reviews and Editor & Publisher will cease publication.

- Some librarians at Loyola Marymount University got creative with the NUC this week; I love this!

- Paul Laity interviews Jenny Uglow in the Guardian.

- The BBC and the British Library have agreed to jointly make available some 150 million items from the BL collections, and almost a million hours of BBC radio and t.v. content.

- In the Boston Globe, Katherine Powers writes on Charles Dickens, and they run an NYT piece by Motoko Rich about the delicate question of e-book rights.

- Chris has a selection of bookish gifts for the bibliophile on your list (if you run out of books for them, I guess). And in the NYTimes, David Pogue "unsuggests" B&N's new Nook e-reader.

- Albany's Capital Bookstore is profiled by Paul Grondahl in the Times Union.

- Imogen Russell Williams complains about the "reader guides," "Q&As" and other such fluff following the text in various books.

- Library Juice Press has released André Cossette's Humanism and Libraries: An Essay on the Philosophy of Librarianship (an English translation of this text, originally published in the 1970s).

- Columbia University Library has mounted PDF transcriptions of the Stationers' Company registers, 1554-1640. [h/t Wynkenhimself]

- Two "returns" this week: an Ohio library received a book (Emil Ludwig's Napoleon) this week, along with an anonymous note which read in part "I removed this book from your stacks in 1949 and did not check it out. I apologize. It’s an excellent book and in good condition. ... Carrying guilt for 60 years is a terrible thing." And a WWII vet is returning a photo album taken from Hitler's Berchtesgaden home at the end of the war.


Playing around with a new format for these; the hyperlink takes you to the review.

- Robert Darnton's The Case for Books: reviewed by Andreas Hess in Times Higher Education.

- Joel Richard Paul's Unlikely Allies: reviewed by Carolyn See in the Washington Post.

- Woody Holton's Abigail Adams: reviewed by Virginia DeJohn Anderson in the NYTimes.

- John Milton Cooper Jr.'s Woodrow Wilson: reviewed by Beverly Gage in the NYTimes.

- Leanne Shapton's Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry: reviewed by Phil Baker in the Sunday Times. (a little background about this book here).

Saturday, December 12, 2009

This Week's Acquisitions

Here's what came this week:

- The Adventurers of Bermuda: A History of the Island From its Discovery until the Dissolution of the Somers Island Company in 1684 by Henry Campbell Wilkinson (Oxford University Press, 1958). Book Dispensary (Ontario, Canada) via AbeBooks.

- Culture Club: The Curious History of the Boston Athenaeum by Katherine Wolff (University of Massachusetts Press, 2009). I'm going to be writing a review of this for Libraries & the Cultural Record (should be out around this time next year).

- Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen (Henry Holt, 2009). Publisher.

- The History of the Boston Athenæum, with Biographical Notices of its Deceased Founders by Josiah Quincy (Cambridge: Metcalf and Company, 1851). Harvard Bookstore (print-on-demand copy). Background research for the Wolff review mentioned above.

- The Alchemaster's Apprentice by Walter Moers (Overlook, 2009). Publisher.

- The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd (Doubleday, 2009). B&N.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Auction Report: Various

Probably not surprising given the number of recent sales, I've gotten behind. Some catchup:

- At the Wolfgang A. Herz library sale (Christie's New York, 9 December), the total take was $3,548,687. Ten lots made over $100,000, with the top slot going to a six-volume Blaeu atlas (1649-55) with spectacular contemporary coloring, a beautiful binding, and some great provenance. It sold for $458,500. A copy of the 1513 Ptolemy Geographiae opus novissima traductione e Grecorum archetypis castigatissime pressum made $290,500, and a really lovely first German edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle sold for $206,500. Many other goodies in this sale; full results here.

- At Bloomsbury New York's Capture the Imagination: Original Illustration and Fine Illustrated Books sale (9 December) the top seller was Tom Feeling's original artwork for Soul Looks Back in Wonder, which made $15,000. A preliminary illustration from William Steig's Sylvester and the Magic Pebble sold for $14,000, and an Aubrey Beardsley cover design fetched $9,500. Full results here.

- The Bibliophile sale at Bloomsbury Godalming (10 December) was the place for bargains this week; several items sold for as little as £10. The top seller was Bidloo's Anatomia humani corporis (1685), for £2,100.

- Sotheby's New York's Fine Books and Manuscripts today (11 December) brought in a total of $1,883,250. The top seller was a second edition of Galileo's Sidereus nuncius (Frankfurt, 1610), which made $122,500. A first edition of Johannes Hevelius' Prodromus astronomiae (Danzig, 1690) sold for $86,500. A copy of the first English edition of Jefferson's Notes on Virginia (London, 1787) in original boards made $22,500, and a first impression of Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables set a new record for Montgomery, fetching $37,500.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Scotland's Oldest Book to be Displayed

Some very cool news out of Scotland: the "Celtic Psalter," an 11th-century manuscript believed to have been produced at Iona, and called Scotland's "oldest surviving book*," is set to go on public display for the first time, as part of the "Masterpieces 1" exhibit at Edinburgh University. It has been in the university library's collections since the 17th century.

Rare books librarian Joseph Marshall told The Scotsman "We have had the book for a large part of its recorded history but we have never had a public exhibition room, so it has never been in proper public view before. It's really only been seen by academics and researchers – people who study medieval manuscripts. The great thing about it is we think it is the oldest Scottish book still in Scotland, so it is one of our greatest national treasures, and people haven't really known about it. We are hoping people will recognise it for what it is – one of the most precious documents in the country."

Other items in the "Masterpieces 1" exhibit include the first book printed in a Gaelic language, and what's called the "finest surviving copy" of Scotland's first "substantial printed book" (the Aberdeen Breviary, 1509-10).

* There are other claimants to the "Scotland's oldest book" mantle, so the Celtic Psalter is being qualified as "the oldest Scottish book currently in Scotland."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

American Books in 1709

At the New Yorker Book Bench blog, Jill Lepore writes on her "top ten books of 1709" (by which she means books printed in British North America that year, and punts on the tenth spot by giving it to Ben Franklin reasons that are unclear from her post). She gives the top slot to what she calls "the only truly secular publication of the year," Daniel Leeds' American Almanack (printed at New York). Lepore writes that in the mainland British colonies "only thirty-one books were printed (if you discount a handful of broadsheets, proclamations, and volumes of laws)."

Evans' American Bibliography (I:198-205) lists 63 titles published in America in 1709, and in a quick ESTC search, I got 22 non-duplicate titles for New York, 45 for Boston, 2 for New London and 1 for Philadelphia (for a total of 70). Lepore's correct that most of these were short (only five of Evans' 63 contain more than 100 pages), but by including these other figures we get something that looks a little different from how she describes things. Using the Evans titles as a base, this is the subject breakdown I get:

- sermons/other religious publications - 33 (12 of which were by Cotton Mather)
- laws and government proclamations - 20
- almanacs - 5
- speeches and political essays - 3
- periodicals - 1
- grammars - 1

Given this, Lepore's depiction of Leeds' almanac as "the only truly secular publication" is at least a little misleading, and the book listed in the "grammars" category above is the most inexplicable omission from Lepore's list, since it was almost certainly the single most important book published in America that year. That was Ezekiel Cheever's A short introduction to the Latin tongue, for the use of the lower forms in the Latin School. Being the accidence abbridg’d [sic] and compiled in that most easy and accurate method, wherein the famous Mr. Ezekiel Cheever taught; and which he found the most advantageous by seventy years experience (Boston in N.E. : Printed by B. Green, for Benj. Eliot, at his shop under the Town-House, 1709). According to ESTC, it went through some eighteen Boston editions alone through 1784, and was also published in London (1734 and 1738), New York (1749), Salem and Newburyport (both 1785).

Seems to me that this should have rated at least a spot on the list.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Best ... Idea ... Ever

A Wisconsin library school student has proposed that Sunday, 20 December be proclaimed the first annual "Do Nothing But Read Day." The requirements:

"- you must read more than one book (they can be short, and short stories count!)

- comfy clothing (jammies preferable)

- no shoes (slippers are ok)

- mugs of beverages and snacks"

She says "blankies" and "sleepy cat(s)" are optional.

Sounds pretty good to me!

Auction Report: Sotheby's

Two sales at Sotheby's London today:

In the morning was the Western Manuscripts sale (previewed here), which took in £1,704,739 total. More than half of that went to the miniature, showing silver mining in Bohemia, which formed the frontis of an illuminated manuscript choirbook (lost since the 1920s and probably not exhibited publicly since the Middle Ages, est. £200,000-300,000). It more than doubled its estimate, making £612,450. The illuminated copy of the gospels in Greek from the 12th century (illuminated late in the 14th), made £289,250, and the pre-Wycliffe English translation of the Psalms by Richard Rolle, once owned by Thomas Phillipps sold for £217,250 (better than tripling the estimate). Full results here.

The afternoon session was Music and Continental Books and Manuscripts, which took in £1,160,350. Top sellers were the manuscript of Anton Bruckner's motet "Christus Factus Est," which fetched £61,250. A Beethoven letter to Karl Holz sold for £58,850, and a 35-volume set of Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopédie (1751-1780), made £49,250. Full results here.

Book Review: "The City of Dreaming Books"

What would happen if you put Jasper Fforde, Douglas Adams, and Nicholas Basbanes in a room and told them to write a book together? Something that resembled Walter Moers' The City of Dreaming Books (Overlook, 2007), perhaps. Moers' book is a mildly creepy, utterly bizarre trek through an alternate universe where books are a way of life (or, for at least one race of the strange beings, the source of life itself).

Our narrator, Optimus Yarnspinner (a dinosaur and aspiring author) travels to Bookholm (the city of books) to seek out the author of a manuscript in his possession. The descriptions of this city are enough to make any good bibliophile drool a little, but dark things lurk beneath the narrow and dangerous streets of Bookholm (and above them, too, as he finds out when mind-control music sends him and hundreds of others into the mad scrum known as "book rage") . Optimus soon finds himself the victim of the nefarious megalomaniac Pfistomel Smyke, who lures him into the endless catacombs beneath the city and maroons him there.

The remainder of the book is given over to Yarnspinner's long stay in the tunnels, where he encounters various dangerous critters, the one-eyed memorization machines known as Booklings (for whom reading is the only source of nourishment), his greatest hero, and a great many fascinating books (including a few sentient ones, some that kill, and a great many of immense value).

Filled with literary allusions, puns, footnotes, and all the devices that fans of books about books will love (plus some exquisite illustrations, also by Moers), it's also something of a biting satire toward all things literary: authors, publishers, booksellers, reviewers and others of their ilk all come in for a little bit of good-natured poking here and there.

While I thought there were a few plot holes, and a few of the characters didn't really do much for me, I enjoyed jumping this romp through Moers' universe. It's awfully nice to suspend belief for a while and descend into the catacombs of a good book.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Belanger on Books

An article featuring a profile of Terry Belanger appeared in the 5 December Chronicle of Higher Education, and can be found in full here (original version here, requires login). It's a very interesting piece, and captures nicely the attitude I think many of us "biblio-folk" have about printed books and their place in a "digital world."

Some of the many useful quotes from the piece: "I see the Web and everything it stands for as being an immense improvement over our old arrangements. It's absurd to sit around sentimentalizing about the decline of the book in the face of the kind of knowledge that the Web now gives us, and the research it allows us to do."

Of course, Belanger notes, digital reproductions won't necessarily do the trick, for future students of book history: "They need their own shot at the past from original materials in the same way that we did. Each generation needs to rediscover the past in its own way, using its own improved technology for that purpose."

The article makes the important point (that can't be made enough, I think, in these days of worry about the future), that "books do certain things well and digital technologies do other things well. The two should coexist without trying to eliminate each other."


Sunday, December 06, 2009

Links & Reviews

- On last Saturday's "Weekend Edition," Scott Simon and Paul Collins visited the vault in theFolger Shakespeare Library. Paul adds a bit more at Weekend Stubble. A great segment.

- Mark Leslie Lefebvre writes on print-on-demand technology.

- The new website of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) is now live. Check it out! It includes a thoughtful essay by John Wronoski of Lame Duck Books, "Young Booksellers, Young Books: The Prospects of the American Rare Book Trade."

- The December Fine Books Notes is up.

- Jill Lepore's got an essay in the New Yorker on the history of health care reform in America.

- A new installment of "Dispatches from a Public Librarian" is up at McSweeney's.

- The Royal Society has mounted a website highlighting some of its most "trailblazing" publications. [h/t Ian]

- Archivists at the University of Delaware have located a Thomas Jefferson letter among the recently-acquired archives of the Rockwood Museum. The 1808 letter by Jefferson acknowledges the death of John Dickinson, saying of him "A more estimable man, or truer patriot, could not have left us." [h/t TJMonticello]

- A new exhibition at the Houghton Library, "London As It Is," an examination of the "creative process of Thomas Shotter Boys," British artist known for his lithographs of London street life. The exhibit will be in place through April 2010. [h/t Houghton Library Blog]

- Speaking of exhibits, a reminder of the Morgan Library's "William Blake's World: 'A New Heaven Is Begun'" which runs through 3 January 2010, and "A Woman's Wit: Jane Austen's Life and Legacy," which is up through 14 March 2010. The Morgan has also allowed the NYT to mount images of the entire manuscript of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, in a neat online presentation.

- News from the University of Chicago that forensic science has proven that the "Archaic Mark," a small 44-page Gospel of Mark, is a late 19th-century hoax rather than an authentic early text. A paper by the scientists involved will be published in an upcoming issue of Novum Testamentum.

- In the TLS, John Barnard asks "Who Killed John Keats?"

- The blog Largeheartedboy is tracking the "Best of" lists for 2009, aggregating them here. [h/t GalleyCat]. Some new lists today include the Boston Globe best fiction and nonfiction for 2009.

- In the NYTimes Magazine, Dr. Lisa Sanders diagnoses Sherlock Holmes, Jeff Bezos answers questions about the Kindle, and Ben Zimmer covers the creation of a new language for James Cameron's upcoming film Avatar.


- I had not intended to provide any links to reviews of Sarah Palin's Going Rogue, but Sam Tanenhaus' review in the New Yorker is worth a read.

- Tim Rutten reviews Mark Lamster's Master of Shadows in the LATimes.

- Nicholson Baker reviews Ken Auletta's Googled in the NYTimes. Kinda funny to see Baker going after a writer for making unfair characterizations of his subjects ... but he coins a new term for the pre-Google days, "antegoogluvian" (which I quite like).

- Stuart Kelly reviews Umberto Eco's The Infinity of Lists in The Scotsman.

- In the Washington Post, Carolyn See reviews Jack Lynch's The Lexicographer's Dilemma.

- Michael Dirda reviews Jenny Uglow's A Gambling Man: Charles II's Restoration Game in the Washington Post.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Media Coverage of Auction Records

Some of the coverage of yesterday's two sales (summarized here and here):

Reuters notes that the Tamerlane sale broke the record for a 19th-century book of poetry, and the "For Annie" fragment set the new mark for a 19th-century literary manuscript. The AP calls the buyer of the poetry mss. "an American collector."

The AP also notes that Cormac McCarthy has invited the winner of his typewriter to join him for lunch at the Sante Fe Institute, the NM-based nonprofit to which the proceeds from the typewriter sale will be given.

A short Washington Post piece on the Washington letter says that the bidding war came down to two telephone bidders.

This Week's Acquisitions

This is another batch mostly from the print-on-demand machine at Harvard Bookstore, which I'm finding awfully useful.

- Hermsprong; or, Man as He is Not. A novel. In two volumes; by Robert Bage (Dublin: printed by Brett Smith, for P. Wogan, P. Byrne, J. Moore, and J. Rice, 1796). HB.

- Books Fatal to Their Authors by P. H. Ditchfield (London : Elliot Stock, 62, Paternoster Row, 1895). HB.

- Bermuda Past and Present: A Descriptive and Historical Account of the Somers Islands by Walter Brownell Hayward (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1912). HB.

- Vortigern, an Historical Tragedy, in five acts; ... and Henry the Second, an Historical Drama. Supposed to be written by the author of Vortigern by William Henry Ireland (London : printed for J. Barker; B. White; T. Egerton; and R. Faulder, [1799]). HB.

- John Dunton's Letters from New-England (Boston: [Prince Society], 1867). HB.

- Tamerlane and Other Poems by Edgar Allan Poe (Boston: Calvin F.S. Thomas, 1827). Christie's. [heh - couldn't resist]

- The Library of Isaac Newton by John Harrison (Cambridge University Press, 2008). Amazon.

- The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt (Knopf, 2009). Publisher.