Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book Review: "The Art Detective"

British art dealer Philip Mould's The Art Detective (Viking, 2010), published in the UK as Sleuth, offers a peek into the high-end art authentication game. In six chapters, each focusing around a particular painting or group of paintings, Mould energetically recounts the facts of the case at hand - of which several in the book feature the author himself as a major character.

With Mould we travel to Arlington, Vermont, where we encounter Earle Newton and his former church building filled to bursting with remarkable English and American portraits (the collection is now at the Savannah College of Art and Design). We share his tension as the hour of a West Coast auction with a potential early Gainsborough masterpiece draws near, and enjoy the ride as he seeks to unravel a Norman Rockwell mystery involving a forged painting and hidden walls. We delve deep into art restoration as Mould profiles master technician Martin Bijl, charged with removing centuries' worth of changes to a Rembrandt self-portrait. And we feel the thrill of discovery rapidly shift to the agony of disappointment when a family's fortunate (and potentially very lucrative) find is claimed just prior to its sale at Sotheby's by descendants of former owners.

Mould's got a good sense of narrative pacing, and does an excellent job in each chapter of providing necessary background, setting the stage, and baiting the hook, setting the mystery up for the reader quite nicely (and saving the juiciest little nugget for just the right moment).

I liked the "thrill of the hunt" aspect of this book quite a bit - while my own quarry is books and not (in fact is most decidedly not) the types of paintings which which Mould is concerned, the "rush" is the same, and the mysteries can captivate in similar ways.

NARA Releasing FDR Docs

The archive of FDR documents from the collection of his personal secretary, Grace Tully, is now being (slowly) released by the National Archives, the Times reports today. The cache of some 5,000 documents (first discussed here back in November 2009 and again in February) is currently being processed, but nine never-before-public documents were released yesterday; you can see them here.

I think my favorite is the 26 November 1943 letter from FDR to Tully on the Cairo Conference, which ends: "I've seen the Pyramids and made close friends with the Sphinx. Congress should know her."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cool New AAS Online Exhibit: "A Place of Reading"

The American Antiquarian Society has launched a very nice new online exhibit, "A Place of Reading." From their introduction: "In highlighting the locations where individuals performed the act of reading in America, through the use of images and objects from the AAS collections, we hope to tell a story. It is not a definitive story by any means, but a story of three centuries' worth of individuals 'caught' in the act of reading in homes, taverns, libraries, military camps, parlors, kitchens, and beds, among other places."

This well-illustrated presentation examines reading in colonial homes and taverns, profiles the private libraries of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, then highlights the antebellum-era popular press, as well as Civil War-period "reading at the front." A very lovely image bank of reading images (accompanied by a blog for additional submissions) is a great accompaniment.

For background and further info on the exhibit, check out the announcement post at Past Is Present.

Great work! Spend some time browsing through the pages and images - you'll be well rewarded indeed.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Book Review: "Slow Reading"

John Miedema's Slow Reading (Litwin Books, 2009) was written based on the author's library school research at the University of Western Ontario. It's a short (65-page) exploration of the idea that "reading slowly allows for a deeper relationship with stories and ideas" (p. 1).

Miedema offers four essays: the first, "The Personal Nature of Slow Reading," provides a short history of the concept and various metaphorical approaches to reading (particularly the idea of reading as consuming, a la Francis Bacon). He differentiates "slow reading" as a voluntary act from "close reading" as a professional practice; its voluntary nature, he suggests, is the key aspect - it's not just reading slowly, but actively engaging with the text.

In the second essay, "Slow Reading in an Information Ecology," Miedema fleshes out his major point: that print remains the "superior technology for reading anything of length, quality, or substance" (p. 20), and that there is "something enduring about print" (p. 26) that e-readers (no matter their technical capacities) can manage. "Print," he writes, "enlists the hands, signalling the brain where to read next, and how much more there is to read. Digital reading shifts all the work to the eyes" (p. 31). While this is one of the things that has kept me from reading anything long-form in e-form (I find that I like to riffle the pages as I read, and often use a finger to trace my progress down the page), I'm not sure in the long run it's going to be what "saves print." As Miedema notes, there are important uses for both print and digital form (i.e. reference is better digitally, while long-form reading is best done in print).

Perhaps more controversially, Miedema suggests that digital books have not evolved into anything other than a sort of metadata for print books (that they exist "only for evaluative purposes before the reader seeks out the physical copy") (p. 37). I think it's too early to say that this is the case; while the statistics aren't in yet, it seems likely that many adopters of reading via the Kindle or iPad may not go out and buy physical copies of all the books they purchase for those devices (on the other hand, the amount of money I've spent on print copies of Google Books titles makes Miedema's point work in my specific case).

In the third essay, "The Slow Movement and Slow Reading," Miedema connects his idea of slow reading to the more general "slow movement," (slow food, &c.). As part of this, he suggests, we might look to some of the same principles that govern those concepts, like locality (reading local authors, or books about your home region). And in "The Psychology of Slow Reading," he offers a very wide-angle overview of the neuroscience behind reading. Finally, in "The Practice of Slow Reading," Miedema suggests ways to "do" slow reading, and fully engage your faculties in reading a text. These are the fairly intuitive things that many of us do when we really want to read: pick a comfortable spot, collect your thoughts, grab a notepad, &c. One of his hints is one I've found very useful - always read like you're going to write a review.

I'm very glad to see Miedema's research in published form, although I wish that some of the academic paraphernalia and style had been edited away. The in-text citations break up the flow of the text, and the introduction of cited authors in this book is a bit stilted (they're only rarely referred to by first name, and usually just dropped into the text in the form of a surname and a publication date). There were certain areas that warranted more fleshing out, and I hope they will be in future works (by Miedema or others).

Overall, a valuable examination of the issues concerned, and a valuable reminder that you'll get more out of a book (no matter its form) if you engage with it fully and carefully.

Links & Reviews

- In the Edmonton Journal, an important op/ed by Daniel Paul O'Donnell about the role of humanities in the new digital economy.

- Mike Widener reports that you can now watch a 20-minute tour of the Yale Law School library's rare books collection. Very cool!

- In the BBC News magazine, a profile of diarist Samuel Pepys. I'm still reading his daily entries, 350 years on (one each day). They're great fun.

- Be sure to check out the new 18thConnect site, and read more about the idea here. And, more on the digital humanities front, there's a good story in IHE about recent Google grants for the digital humanities project. More on one of those (very interesting) grants here.

- Abstracts for the upcoming SHARP conference in Helsinki are now up here - boy do I wish I was going!

- Over at Fine Books Blog, Jonathan Shipley notes a new Chronicle Books production, The Art of McSweeney's.

- Some pretty nasty news out of India, where cricket star Sachin Tendulkar will publish a deluxe edition of his memoir, the Tendulkar Opus in which the signature page will be made of paper containing the cricketer's blood. The edition, of which just ten copies will be produced, will weigh in at more than 80 pounds, and will cost $75,000.

- That recent new Bellesilles contretemps has pretty much fallen apart, with both Bellesiles and the Chronicle blaming the student for passing along a false story: see the editor's note at the bottom of the story (here).

- The NYTimes' take on the breathless (and statistically-managed) announcement from Amazon this week about Kindle sales vs. hardcover sales.

- From the Independent, a good synopsis of the recent Kafka news and the continuing legal battle over certain of his papers.

- There's a Q&A with Eric Jay Dolin about his new book Fur, Fortune, and Empire in the Boston Globe.

- In the "Daily Beast," Daisy Hay writes about her experiences in researching and writing Young Romantics.

- New blog: Eius Liber, by a William & Mary grad student working on New England history.

- In the Guardian book blog, Steven Moore has a post on the novel's historical roots.


- Jack Rakove's Revolutionaries; review by Virginia DeJohn Anderson in the NYTimes.

- Ruth Harris' Dreyfuss; review by Leo Damrosch in the NYTimes.

- Eric Jaffe's The King's Best Highway; review by Jonathan Yardley in the WaPo.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

This Week's Acquisitions

Quite a few review copies this week, which I'm very much looking forward to sinking my teeth into, plus a stop at Harvard Bookstore this morning after my haircut. They've got a good bunch of McSweeney's back issues in the used book sections, including two I didn't have.

- Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic by David Howard (Houghton Mifflin, 2010). Publisher.

- The Papers of Robert Treat Paine, Volumes I-III (MHS, 1992-2006). Work.

- The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace by Lucy Worsley (Walker & Company, 2010). Publisher.

- Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (W.W. Norton & Co., 2010). Publisher.

- McSweeney's Issues 23 and 28; edited by Dave Eggers (2007-2008). Harvard Bookstore.

- The Fall of Troy by Peter Ackroyd (Nan A. Talese, 1997). Harvard Bookstore.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Robert Treat Paine's Books

I've just completed another Library of Early America, this the collection of Robert Treat Paine (1731-1814). Probably best known today as a signer of the Declaration of Independence (the tenth one whose library we've now reconstructed), Paine also was at various times a school teacher, a merchant (he made a whaling voyage to Greenland), an army chaplain during the Seven Years' War, and an important legal official in Massachusetts (serving as Attorney General from 1777-1790, and as a justice on the Supreme Judicial Court from 1790 through 1804).

Paine's library is documented in a manuscript "Catalogue of Books beloging to Robt. Treat Paine," with the Robert Treat Paine papers at MHS. Paine started his catalog in 1768, organizing the books by format (folio, quarto, octavo, &c.). He added to the list as he acquired new titles, and then reorganized the catalog in 1805, supplementing the organization with the addition of some "subject headings" (Law, Theology &c., History, Physiology & Philology, and Poetry & Belles Lettres).

An interesting feature of the library catalog is a list at the end of "books lent and to whom," revealing that Paine frequently loaned titles to various friends and relations (and almost always got them back, too). An interesting example is William Law's A serious call to a devout and holy life, which Paine loaned to "Miss Sally Cobb" (who would in 1770 become his wife) and to her mother, "Mrs. Cobb." Another is James Garton's Practical gardener, borrowed by General William Hull. The notes on loans are included with each applicable record.

On to the next! On deck is completing the catalog of Richard Cranch (the brother-in-law of John Adams, and a longtime friend of Robert Treat Paine, to whom Paine loaned a few books). Then it'll be on to David Cobb's library (Paine's brother-in-law) and Thomas Paine (his father). That is, unless some other library crops up and distracts me (as they are wont to do).

[Update: 25 July 2010 - I've added 156 more titles, after stumbling across a section of pamphlets from RTP's library in the 1850 book catalog of his grandson, Charles Cushing Paine].

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jacques Gets 3.5 Years

William Jacques received a 3.5-year jail sentence today for the theft of books from the Royal Horticultural Society. He was found guilty on 22 June. The judge told Jacques "You are a Cambridge graduate and should know better, I suppose. This was a systematic and carefully planned theft and you had prepared what, in my view, was a target list, from your research at that library, of books that were worth stealing. ... The effect of your criminality was to undermine and destroy parts of the cultural heritage that's contained within these libraries and make it more difficult for those who have a legitimate interest in these books to gain access to them because libraries have to take inconvenient and expensive steps to stop thefts of this kind."

Good news indeed.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Durham University Seeks Missing Books

Durham University has issued a new call for the return of its rare books and manuscripts stolen in 1998 along with the now-returned First Folio.

Among the still-missing items are "a manuscript by the medieval political writer Egidius Romanus, and a volume containing three works on English history with maps - Michael Drayton's Poly-Olbion (1612); William Slatyer's The History of Great Britanie (1621) and Matthew Stevenson's Florus Britannicus (1662)."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Book Review: "Summer World"

What better time to read Bernd Heinrich's Summer World: A Season of Bounty (Ecco, 2009) than from the deck of a cottage on the Maine coast in July, just a few hours' drive from where much of the action in the book takes place (at Heinrich's cabin in the woods of western Maine and at his home near Burlington)?

This book, a companion to Heinrich's earlier Winter World, takes as its subject the ways in which animals (mostly insects, birds and plants, with the occasional mammal or frog tossed into the mix) manage to survive the summer's heat. The sections tend to begin with Heinrich noticing something (a wasp carrying a blade of grass, say, or a strange-looking caterpillar) and then expand outward from there as he explores the topic. Sometimes this involves further observation, or experiments, or research - with other things he just writes about what he sees, hears, and feels about what's going on around him.

I felt as though another pass by an editor to give this book a bit more thematic cohesion might not have hurt things, and there were times when I wanted more footnotes or more answers to the questions Heinrich poses (in more than a few cases he posits some biological oddity or another, but never lets the reader know if the answer has been found, or whether his own explanation is in fact the correct one).

I've enjoyed many of Heinrich's earlier works, and quite liked this one too (with the caveat noted above). His own line drawings sprinkled liberally throughout the book add much, as does the color of the ink (the entire book is printed in a very pleasant green). While his biology-professor jargon comes through once in a while, in general he writes quite clearly for the non-specialist, about things that are all around us, if we choose to look for them.

Book Review: "Milton in America"

Milton in America (Nan A. Talese, 1997) is Peter Ackroyd's flight of fancy about what might have happened had John Milton opted to leave England at the time of the Restoration and decamp to Puritan America. Told alternately from the perspectives of the blind Milton himself and his companion and guide Goosequill (in both flashbacks and straight narrative, and including transcripts of Milton's missives to an English friend), this novel imagines Milton becoming a sort of Puritanical dictator, enforcing strictures of religion and conduct on the settlers (who are, at first, entirely overawed by Milton's presence and happy to do as he says ... for a while).

There were interesting tidbits of historical material thrown in here and there (but not in any systematic way, and usually greatly disguised), but mostly this is Ackroyd musing, creating his own Paradise Lost and putting Milton right in the center of it. He's captured quite well the tensions between English settlers of different religious perspectives and the original inhabitants of the area.

The narrative thread was sometimes rather difficult to keep hold of, and frankly I thought the idea of this book somewhat better than how it ended up being carried off. Nonetheless, a worthy premise, and certainly it's fascinating to think about how things might have gone had Milton in fact crossed the Atlantic and made a new home on this side of the pond.

Book Review: "The Rape of Europa"

Lynn Nicholas' The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War (Vintage, 1995) chronicles the chilling effects that the Nazi regime and World War II had on the art world of Europe. Using a wide range of archival sources from America and Europe, as well as contemporary media accounts and correspondence/interviews with surviving participants, Nicholas weaves a narrative that is at once fascinating and horrifying.

Nicholas meticulously chronicles Nazi efforts to obtain desired art from wherever it was, by just about any means necessary: outright confiscation, bribery, extortion, special military operations, &c. The efficiency with which Hitler and his minions gathered, transported, and stored the artistic masterpieces once held in private and public collections alike. She spends much time on Goering and his collecting habits, which bordered on the maniacal and sometimes even brought him into conflict with Hitler (and, as we've seen from the recent books on the van Meegeren forgeries, once or twice led him to purchase outright fakes).

Efforts by collectors, curators and dealers to protect their artworks also fall under Nicholas' wide purview; some of the steps taken are really quite remarkable. Here we learn of the vast removal projects that saw artworks taken from their comfortable galleries and stashed in remote chateaux, manor houses, even mines (with varying degrees of success, depending on the place).

Once Nicholas has managed to chronicle the dispersal of the art, she begins to put it back together again, tracking Allied troops as they took back territory from the Nazis (whose turn it then was to hide the art they'd pilfered from all across Europe), and the small core of "Monuments Men" who were tasked with protecting the found art. And then came the political and diplomatic rigamarole involved with determining how to return the pieces to their rightful owners, if they could be found (a process which continues to this day). Finally, she examines a few of the great treasures that remain missing to this day, perhaps still stashed in some sealed-off German salt mine, or hanging in a remote Russian dacha.

Dense, but entirely readable and completely captivating, filled with a cast of larger-than-life characters and great art.

Links & Reviews

Short one this week; I'm sure I missed some things in being away for a few days, so I'll catch them for the next round.

- Word this week that a tiny clay fragment from the 14th-century BCE was discovered in Jerusalem. It's the oldest written document ever found in the city.

- From Religion Dispatches, notes on the "hypertextuality" of medieval manuscripts.

- I really loved an entry in Ralph Luker's "Mid-Week Notes" this week: "Last week the Library of Congress announced that its technicians had discovered that Thomas Jefferson had changed the word 'subject' to 'citizen' in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence. It failed to note that Julian P. Boyd had pointed that out in his edition of the Thomas Jefferson Papers many years ago. See footnote #10."


- Marla Miller's Betsy Ross and the Making of America; review by Siobhan Conaty in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

- Sally Gunning's The Rebellion of Jane Clarke; review by Clare Clark in the WaPo.

- Nicholas Carr's The Shallows and William Powers' Hamlet's Blackberry; review by Jennifer Howard in the WaPo. This is a must-read. The latter is also reviewed by Laurie Winer in the NYTimes.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Auction Report: Sotheby's

The English Literature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations sale at Sotheby's London today made £771,788. Full results are here.

Today's top seller was a first edition of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, which made £61,250. Next highest was a signed E.H. Shepard drawing from Winnie the Pooh, which sold for £55,250.

The major lot, one of two known copies of the first print appearance of "A Study in Scarlet," inscribed by Conan Doyle (est. £250,000-400,000) did not sell.

Also at Sotheby's London today, the Books for Cooks sale made £396,833.

To Maine!

I'm off this evening for the usual trip to Maine, which is much abbreviated again this year. I'll be back on Sunday afternoon, so will hold off on posting links and reviews until then (another post or two will be up on the timer).

The books I'm bringing this year:

- Roderick Random by Tobias Smollett

- The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War by Lynn H. Nicholas [this came with me on the Virginia trip and didn't make it to the top of the pile, so it gets another chance]

- Summer World: A Season of Bounty by Bernd Heinrich

- Milton in America by Peter Ackroyd

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Another Cambridge Bookstore Closing

Just two months after news that Rodney's Bookstore in Central Square will be closing comes word that Lame Duck Books in Harvard Square will also be shutting its doors. Tom Pazzo posted the news yesterday afternoon, quoting an email.

Since I checked last night, the store's online catalog has been taken down.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Book Review: "Flight from Monticello"

Michael Kranish's Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War (OUP, 2010) is a very detailed treatment of the British invasion of Virginia in 1781, including the near-capture of outgoing governor Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. Drawing on traditional sources, but complementing them nicely with primary documents from Hessian, British, and Continental soldiers involved in the fighting, Kranish tells the story of the tumultuous months in a compelling, narrative style.

By providing several chapters of background on Virginia politics, Jefferson's early life, career, and relationships, and the early years of the Revolution in the state, Kranish lays the groundwork for the main event, an in-depth reconstruction of the British assault on Virginia (led for a time by the traitor Benedict Arnold) and Jefferson's actions to combat the invasion and then, when the time came, to flee from it.

Putting Jefferson's escape into the context of the political, social and military situation in the state as the British drew nearer, it's really a surprise the whole thing didn't go even worse. Given the state of intelligence-gathering, executive authority, military readiness, &c., it actually is quite amazing that the entire governmental and military apparatus of the state wasn't completely demolished.

Kranish does well here in recreating the scenes, and provides some really fascinating anecdotes to weave into the fabric of the story, including the saga of John Champe, a Continental soldier who infiltrated British lines in New York under Washington's orders in a scheme to kidnap Benedict Arnold, but misses the chance and ends up on a British boat bound for Virginia. And the inclusion of elements from Jefferson's personal life add much: not only was he dealing with the collapse of the state he governed, but also with an ailing wife and a dying child.

The story of the flight itself is followed by a good treatment of the aftermath, in which Jefferson was strongly criticized for his actions at various later points, and felt compelled to depend himself vociferously and at great length. Kranish's closing episode of the book, which features Henry Lee visiting Monticello just six days before Jefferson's death to view papers pertaining to the period of the escape in 1781, makes the case quite clearly that this was an episode that had a major impact on Jefferson's life and reputation.

On Academic Bibliography

There's an important article in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education by Jennifer Howard (follow her on Twitter at @JenHoward) about bibliography's place in today's academic culture. Good quotes here from David Vander Meulen and Michael Suarez, among others - Michael's quotes about theory vs. praxis are particularly useful, I think.

Howard also touches on some places that are doing very interesting things with bibliographic instruction: not just RBS, but also Texas Tech (where bibliography is embedded in the English Department's curriculum), and Florida State, home of the three-year History of Text Technologies program.

I don't say this often, but I will for this one: read the whole thing.

No Business for You!

Me, writing to an Amazon seller: "Could you please describe the condition of your copy of [Book X]. Your description does not contain any details. Is it damaged? Is there underlining/highlighting in the text?"

Seller (in part): "Thank you for your recent inquiry about our inventory. Due to the volume of our sales, and the structure of our fulfillment process, we are unable to provide researched answers at this time. Our entire inventory is listed according to the following guidelines: Like New ... Very Good ... Good ... Acceptable."

Each term above is followed by a list of descriptors, i.e., for Like New "Book looks new; similar to what you'd see in a book store."

Me: "Thanks. But your description doesn't include any of those terms; it reads, in its entirety, 'Our feedback rating says it all: Five star service and fast delivery! We have shipped four million items to happy customers, and have one MILLION unique items ready to ship today!' If you can give me an indication of which of your guidelines that falls under, I'd appreciate it."

No response.

No purchase. I'll wait until I can get the book from a person who's actually seen it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Links & Reviews

- The deadline for the Bibliographical Society of America's New Scholars Program is approaching - get your materials in by 31 July!

- With the necessary caveat that it's in The Sun, there's a long writeup of Raymond Scott today, in which he describes his last-ditch maneuver as a chess move designed to "confuse his opponents." The author, Mike Kelly, has been following Scott for the last 18 months, having been engaged by published Tonto Books to write a book about the case.

- Waterstone's founder Tim Waterstone has written a novel, In For a Penny, In For a Pound, described as "a searing treatment of the world of books that contains recognisable caricatures of several figures in publishing, newspapers and high finance." It's due for release in September.

- David's Grann's New Yorker piece on art investigator Steve Biro is well worth a read.

- Beverly Jensen's husband Jay Silverman writes in the Huffington Post about bringing his late wife's stories to publication as The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay, which I reviewed this week.

- The July Common-place is out, and includes an essay on using the "More Product, Less Process" method at the Connecticut Historical Society, among other features (it's an excellent production, as usual).

- In Slate, Jan Swafford writes about print vs. e-books, and why the latter won't be supplanted.

- Jim Lindgren has some new concerns about a recent Michael Bellesiles essay in the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

- From the Simmons GSLIS gang, a podcast on the history of the Boston Athenaeum.

- Writing in Slate, Paul Collins covers the fascinating German project Lost Films, a wiki-attempt to identify unknown early films.


- Michael Jarvis' In the Eye of All Trade; review by Charles Foy in Common-place.

- Andrew Graham-Dixon's Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane; review by Michael Prodger in the Telegraph.

- James Shapiro's Contested Will; review by Sophia Lear in TNR.

- G.W. Bernard's Anne Boleyn; review by Philippa Gregory in the LATimes.

- Daisy Hay's Young Romantics; review by Ben Dowing in the NYTimes.

- Robert Wittman's Priceless; review by Sarah Halzack in the WaPo.

- Nick Bunker's Making Haste to Babylon; review by David Wallace-Wells in TNR.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book Review: "The Book in the Renaissance"

Andrew Pettegree's The Book in the Renaissance (Yale University Press, 2010) examines the first century and a half of print culture in Europe, surveying its origins, its spread, its characters, and its impact on the western world. Straight away he makes the key point, that early print culture was shaped "less by the idealism of scholars than by pragmatic businessmen for whom the only books that mattered were those that turned a profit" (p. xiv) - and these weren't (for the most part) the great folio tomes we know and love, but cheap, short, disposable pieces of news, controversial literature, popular science and medicine.

Many of these productions, which Pettegree correctly describes as the bedrock of the nascent printing industry, have failed to survive at all, or if they do, it's in a strikingly small number of copies (his example, p. 333, that of all the sixteenth-century books published in French more than half are known in a single copy, was certainly enough to raise my eyebrows). Using the new technologies now available to us, Pettegree suggests that we can, "for the first time chart a coherent narrative of print, from the first experiments of the 1450s to the dawn of a mass information society" (p. xv).

Pettegree's opening chapters describe the early trials and tribulations of the printing trade, as processes of coordination were developed and commercialization schemes were launched (it became immediately clear, he notes, that jobbing work was going to be an absolute necessity when printing large projects, since the capital outlay for materials, &c. had to be made long before profits from book sales could be expected). He then chronicles the not-always-positive reaction to printing's spread, as readers adapted to the new medium and printers sought niches within which they might operate successfully. A survey of print networks follows, as Pettegree uses several case studies to chart the geographic connections between authors, printers, booksellers, collectors and others connected with the book world.

Given the author's personal research interests and previous works, it's not too much of a surprise that much of the book focuses on the Reformation's impact on the book world and print culture. While there are chapters centered around literary publications, news-sheets, schoolbooks, and other genres (medical works, emblem books, &c.), these (while good) didn't feel as strong to me as Pettegree's treatment of the religious conflict that engulfed Europe and played a major role in shaping certain aspects of the book world during the sixteenth century. The struggle led to the first decisive steps toward censorship, geographic shifts in printing centers, disruptions of the international book market, &c.

While portions of this book felt a bit scattershot (as if certain elements were added in an attempt to make the coverage comprehensive), for the most part it's a fascinating and readable exploration of European print culture in its early years. It, as well as the project Pettegree directs at the the University of St. Andrews, the Universal Short Title Catalogue, deserve wide notice.

Book Review, "McSweeney's, Vol. 34"

After their last production, it's not too much of a surprise that the good folks at McSweeney's went a little easier on Volume 34, which consists of two paperbound books united by a decorated plastic sleeve (image here). The first book includes nearly twenty pages of letters from the likes of John Hodgman and Sarah Vowell, eleven short stories, and nineteen self portraits (by, among others, Sarah Silverman, Jack Pendarvis, and Jonathan Lethem).

The stories were (mostly) good, and included a piece on Vietnamese-American journalism in New Orleans after Katrina; a T.C. Boyle tale of a shipwreck, and Tom Barbash's "Letters from the Academy," a one-sided correspondence from a very creepy tennis instructor.

"The End of Major Combat Operations" is the other volume included here. By reporter and author Nick McDonell, it's a 250+ page compilation of anecdotes and reporting from the ground in Iraq, covering everything from the dangerous lives of interpreters to the jargon deployed by American soldiers to the ad hoc modifications that had to be made to army vehicles so that they didn't continuously rip down Iraqi power lines. It's the sort of writing that doesn't show up in the conventional reports from the front, and kudos to McSweeney's for publishing it.

Another fine production from Eggers & Co.

This Week's Acquisitions

Here's what came this week:

- Caleb Williams by William Godwin (W.W. Norton, 1977). Raven.

- Roderick Random by Tobias Smollett (OUP, 2008). Raven.

- The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre by John Polidori (OUP, 2008). Raven.

- Introduction to Newton's Principia by I. Bernard Cohen (Harvard University Press, 1971). Raven.

- Slow Reading by John Miedema (Litwin Books, 2009). Publisher.

- Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman (Crown, 2010). Barnes & Noble.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Scott Cleared of Theft, Guilty of Other Charges

Well, I saw this one coming. The jury in the Raymond Scott case cleared him on the charge that he stole the First Folio from Durham University in 1998, but found him guilty of handling stolen goods and removing criminal property from the United Kingdom.

Scott was remanded to custody, and Judge Richard Lowden stated after the verdict that there will be "an inevitable substantial custodial sentence." In the meantime, he has ordered a psychiatric evaluation.

I was afraid this was how the verdict was going to play out - the charges on which Scott was convicted were fairly airtight (he did walk into the Folger with the stolen Folio), but it seemed to me (at least based on the reports of the prosecution's case that I've been able to read) that there was some question about the theft itself.

How this'll all shake out now, nobody knows - but I'm glad of the guilty verdicts that we got, and more than anything else, what's important is that the Folio is back where it belongs, at Durham University.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Defense Rests in Scott Trial; Jury Out

Raymond Scott's case went to the jury this afternoon after closing arguments were completed. Jurors will consider the charges of theft, handling stolen goods, and removing criminal property.

Scott's defense lawyer offered little more than a strategy of insulting his own client. Toby Hedworth, QC said that Scott is "genuinely some sort of fantasist" and compared him to Walter Mitty.

In his closing argument, Hedworth told the jury "You may have done a bit of a doubletake when you saw Mr Scott. So much of what he is and what he does is outwith our normal expectations. Yes, he’s a petty shoplifter. But does that mean he’s guilty of any other type of theft? Yes, he’s feckless and a spendthrift. He is, you may think, of questionable taste. Yes, he’s had his head turned – he fell into a honey trap. But is he just the sort of bizarre, naive, out-of-the mainstream type of character who could be taken in by someone much more worldly and cynical in Cuba? Is this naive mummy’s boy simply out of his depth? He’s someone who genuinely believes a 21-year-old dancer is his fiancee. Ladies and gentlemen, there’s no fool like an old fool."

Feckless. Petty shoplifter. Naive mummy's boy. Old fool. And, depending on what the jury decides, we may be able to add "convicted First Folio thief" to that list.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Auction Report: Arcana Sale @ Christie's

[Note: For background, see my preview of this sale, here.]

The sale of the first portion of the Arcana Collection was held this afternoon at Christie's London, for a total take of £8,169,800. Results are listed here. Just eight of the 48 lots failed to sell, but three of the major pieces were among them.

Things got started pretty quickly, with Lot 2, an early German Bible (1477) beating estimates and selling for £169,250. While Boccaccio's De claris mulieribus (1473), estimated at £250,000-350,000, did not find a buyer, his Decameron, bound with Masuccio's Novellino, fetched £361,250 (again surpassing estimates). Jean Grolier's copy of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili made £313,250, and the amazing copy of Hieronymus' Epistolae (1470) fetched £937,250. A 1484 Paris edition of Ovid sold for £97,250, while Pliny's Historia naturalis (Venice, 1476) made £313,250.

The Latin Nuremberg Chronicle sold for £67,250 (beating the estimates handily), and then the German copy (with illuminations) made an eye-popping £541,250 (estimates had it at £120,000-160,000).

The expected big-ticket items among the illuminated manuscripts didn't do much: the Abbey Bible, a fabulously-illuminated manuscript on vellum (Bologna, 1260s) and the Elizabeth de Bohun psalter/book of hours (England, 14th century), both estimated at £2 million plus, didn't sell. Nor did the Cauchon Hours.

There was a little manuscript action, though: a manuscript of Bartholomaeus Anglicus' Le livre des propriétés des choses (Paris, c. 1390), beat expectations to become the top seller of today's sale, reaching £1,105,250. An illuminated triptych on vellum over wood panels (Bruges, c. 1540) made £241,250, as did a pair of French books of hours from around the 1460s (Lots 36 and 37). A French manuscript of Ovid's Heroides (Paris, c. 1493), with lovely miniatures, made £601,250 (within the estimate range). And the Hours of François I fetched £337,250 (on estimates of £300,000-500,000).

Overall, not bad, but not a good day for the headliners.

Scott Declines to Take Stand

Raymond Scott has declined to give evidence in his own defense, according to British media reports this morning. Prosecutor Robert Smith told the jury "You are entitled to ask yourself why, had he had an explanation, he has not gone into the witness box and told you what the explanation is. You are entitled therefore to conclude there is no explanation that might sensibly be offered by Raymond Scott, otherwise he would have told you. If there is none, there is only one conclusion, the prosecution say the circumstances he had the folio were dishonest and he knows so."

He added "This is quite a small court room, it is not far to walk from the dock where the defendant is sitting to the witness box, where all the witnesses in the case have stood to give their evidence, facing you. It is plainly a step too far for Mr Scott, for he is unwilling to enter the witness box, take the oath and give evidence in front of you. Of course, he is not obliged to give evidence, no one can compel him to do so and it is his entitlement, if he wishes, to remain where he is, but his unwillingness to enter the witness box carries with it certain consequences."

Yesterday afternoon, the judge told jurors that if Scott declined to appear on the witness stand, they could "draw such inferences as appear proper."

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Auction Report: Sotheby's

The Sotheby's London Western Manuscripts and Miniatures sale, held today, brought in £908,513. Full results here.

Just 29 of the 40 lots sold: the expected big attractions (the Hours of Anne de Montmorency, a French illuminated manuscript from 1539, and a Hebrew Pentateuch from the 13th century) were not among them.

The top seller was an astronomical calendar from the mid-15th century, which made £253,250 over estimates of just £40,000-60,000. Next came a c. 1465 copy of Petrus de Crescentius' Liber Ruralium Commodorum, which also surpassed expectations (£70,000-90,000) and sold for £223,250. Most of the other lots that sold ended up reasonably close to their estimates, with the exception of a genealogical chronicle roll (London or Westminster, 1461-66) which sold for £25,000 over estimates of just £5,000-7,000.

Tomorrow, the Arcana Sale!

Jury Hears of Scott's Prior Thefts

The latest dispatches from the Raymond Scott trial: so far this week jurors have gotten to hear of Scott's long record of shoplifting and attempted theft. He's got more than a dozen convictions under his belt, dating back to the early 1990s. Among the things he's swiped: whiskey and brandy, a smoke alarm, a crystal vase and clock, £150 of figurines, two books from a Waterstone's (the latter two thefts occurred while out he was out on bail for the Durham folio charges), &c. &c.

Scott was expected to begin presenting its case today.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Book Review: "The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay"

Beverly Jensen died in 2003, but her collection of short stories (which taken together form something of a novel) have been published by Viking this year as The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay. The stories (apparently drawn from family tales) center around two sisters, Avis and Idella Hillock, and take place over the course of their lives, from 1916 through 1987.

From the opening installment (if not from the title itself) it becomes quite clear that this is not going to be a book filled with sweetness and light: the girls and their family members face crushing hardships right from the get-go as they deal with some of life's most cruel slings and arrows long before anyone should have to do so. When they leave their rural Canadian home for life in America (small-town Maine in Idella's case, Boston and other cities for Avis), they confront additional pressures and trials throughout their lives. And yet, somehow, a bond of devotion keeps them together, often laughing (even if sometimes through tears) at their shared struggles and triumphs.

Jensen's created some marvelous characters here, from the two Hillock girls themselves, to their hard-drinking and miserable father Bill, to Idella's indomitable and hilarious mother-in-law. The rocky coasts and gritty small towns Jensen captures here are embodied in her writing style; no flowers, just the brutal reality of life as it is. Sometimes very sad, sometimes incredibly amusing (the penultimate story, "Wake," is both at once), and always written with a graceful, passionate strength, these stories deserved to be published, and they deserve to be widely read.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Links & Reviews

- Ed Pettit launched the George Lippard Society this week, "a literary organization dedicated to the life and works of George Lippard and other writers of Philadelphia Gothic." Sign up or find out more at his post.

- Big congratulations to Princeton's rare books and special collections team - their exhibition catalog Liberty and the American Revolution: Selections from the Collection of Sid Lapidus won the RBMS' Leab award this year. I reviewed the catalog (here), and agree entirely that this award is well deserved.

- Sotheby's has a preview video up of their 15 July Literature sale (previewed here).

- The University of Alabama will acquire a large collection of rare books and photographs relating to Southern history, including Confederate imprints. UA alumnus Steve Williams' library contains more than 20,000 books and 12,000 images, and will be partially donated to the university (plus a $3.5 million payment).

- From Smithsonian, a look at major archival collections that will open to researchers in the next forty-five years.

- The winners of the 2010 Bulwer-Lytton contest for worst first line have been announced. Prepare to groan.

- The commissioner for the Chicago Public Library has issued a strong rebuttal to a local Fox News piece questioning investment in public libraries.

- Malcolm Jones writes in Newsweek about the "slow reading" movement.

- Pratt Libraries have mounted their bookplate collection on flickr - more than 1,200 images of personal and institutional bookplates!

- Fore-edge painting gets the Booktryst treatment this week.

- An interesting project from got some good press in the Wall Street Journal this week - they've announced some borrowing options, including 70,000 ebooks through OverDrive, plus 200 scanned books from participating libraries (including the BPL); these use the Adobe Digital Editions platform for digital rights management. The money quote from the WSJ article comes from author Stewart Brand, who granted permission for his book The Media Lab to be lent as an ebook: "I figure libraries are one of the major pillars of civilization, and in almost every case what librarians want is what they should get."

- It's now been three years since the murder of book collector Rolland Comstock, and Missouri police say they're still building a case. In a longer piece in the News-Leader, Comstock friend Becky Frakes discusses the case, and there is word that the civil suit filed against Comstock's ex-wife Alberta by her daughter Faith Stocker was supposed to go to trial this month, but has been delayed.

- A fascinating and absorbing new site launched this week: Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900) offers core documents related to the history of copyright in Italy, Germany, France, Britain, and the United States.

- The June Fine Books Notes is out (and rumor has it that the summer issue is in the mail!)

- Another new biblio-blog to announce: Non Solus, from the University of Illinois. I've added a link, and subscribed.

- Bruce McKinney announced in the July Americana Exchange that he's organizing another sale of materials from his collection: The American Experience, 1626-1850. Bonhams New York will host the auction, which will be be modeled after McKinney's De Orbe Novo sale at Bloomsbury last December (lot descriptions will include purchase dates and prices paid).

- Over at the SEA site, a list of new and forthcoming books on early American topics.


- Martha Miller's Betsy Ross and the Making of America; reviews by Marjoleine Kars in the WaPo, Ruth Graham in Slate.

- Andrew Graham-Dixon's Caravaggio; review by Christopher Bray in the Independent.

- Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; review by Rosamund Unwin in the Scotsman.

- Gary Nash's The Liberty Bell; review by Jack Rakove in TNR.

- Adrian Johns' Piracy; review by Jeffrey Rosen in the WaPo.

- Nathaniel Philbrick's The Last Stand; review by Clive Sinclair in the Independent.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

This Week's Acquisitions

A real hodgepodge this week:

- American Literature in the Colonial and National Periods by Lorenzo Sears (Burt Franklin, 1970). Commonwealth.

Bermuda Journey: A Leisurely Guide Book by W. S. Zuill (Bermuda Book Stores, 1946). Commonwealth.

I says, says I; a novel by Thinks-I-To-Myself [i.e. Edward Nares] (Boston, published by Bradford and Read; and Anthony Finley, Philadelphia. Oct. 17, 1812). Franklin Gilliam Rare Books.

John Stark: Maverick General by Ben Z. Rose (TreeLine Press, 2007). Book cart.

Correspondence and American Literature, 1770-1865 by Elizabeth Hewitt (Cambridge University Press, 2004). Book cart.

Surreptitious Printing in England, 1550-1640 by Denis B. Woodfield (Bibliographical Society of America, 1973). Colophon Books.

Last of the Rare Book Game by George Sims (Holmes Publishing, 1990). Colophon.

Publishing, Printing, and the Origins of Intellectual Life in Russia, 1700-1800 by Gary Marker (Princeton University Press, 1985). Colophon.

The Book Encompassed: Studies in Twentieth-Century Bibliography; edited by Peter Hobley Davison (St. Paul's Bibliographies, 1998). Colophon.

Alfred William Pollard: A Selection of his Essays; edited by Fred W. Roper (Scarecrow Press, 1976). Colophon.

Bookbinding in Early America: Seven Essays on Masters and Methods by Hannah D. French (AAS, 1986). Colophon.

A Critical Edition of the Private Diaries of Robert Proctor: The Life of a Librarian at the British Museum; edited by J. H. Bowman (Edwin Mellen Press, 2010). Publisher.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Scott Case Takes Another Strange Turn

Just when we thought the Raymond Scott trial couldn't possibly get any stranger ... last night he walked into the Peterlee police station and handed over a 1627 dictionary (possibly the Oxford edition of Rider's Dictionary, published that year, although the reports don't say). Today in court a police detective said that Scott showed up last evening at around 6:45 p.m., with the book in a "Vivienne Westwood carrier bag." He told police that he had acquired the book in Cuba in January 2008, and did not know whether it had been stolen. Pc Julie Fox told prosecutors "He stated to me that he brought the book back from Cuba in 2008 with a set of Shakespeare volumes."

The judge examined the volume in court today, and then passed it amongst the jurors (although just what it has to do with the charges at issue in the current trial is not entirely clear). It's hard to tell from what we currently know whether this might be another of the items stolen from Durham in 1998.

Today's reports, piggybacking on those from earlier in the week, suggest that Scott has now admitted that it was the Durham Folio that he took to the Folger in 2008, but that he continues to deny stealing it. The trial resumes on Monday.

Book Review: "The Trial of Elizabeth Cree"

Peter Ackroyd's The Trial of Elizabeth Cree (Doubleday, 1995) will definitely rank among the creepiest books I've read this year; it's a remarkably gruesome novel, in which Ackroyd uses his expert style to tweak the pacing and perspective of the story, manipulating the reader's expectations until the very last possible moment.

Ackroyd's awfully good at building a world, in this case the gritty, take-no-prisoners slums of 1880s London, with its gin-guzzling prostitutes and rowdy music-hall entertainments. And as he tends to do, the author has inserted various historical figures into the action - Karl Marx nearly finds himself a victim of Ackroyd's vicious murderer, entertainer Dan Leno plays a key role; there's even a cameo appearance of the (as-yet-unborn) Charlie Chaplin!

By interspersing chapters of trial transcripts, diary fragments, and straight narration (from several different narrators, with varying levels of credibility), Ackroyd keeps the novel moving very quickly, while providing significant background material and subtle clues (although unless you're paying much more attention than I was, these are easy to miss on the first pass).

An engaging read: if you liked The Alienist, The Interpretation of Murder, or Clare Clark's novels, give this a try.