Sunday, February 27, 2011

Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell, Rare now, Oscar Nominated Film May Win Adapted Screenplay Academy Award

Anne and I watched Winter's Bone, nominated for best film, writing (adaption), and lead actress, the other evening in preparation for tonight's 83rd Academy Awards.  A solid film, adapted for screen from the novel, Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell, Little Brown and Company, Boston, 2006 (and Sceptre Books, London, 2006).  Recent Oscar gossip suggests that this Sundance 2010 honored film (grand jury prize for American dramas and the Waldo Salt screenwriting award) may pick up the writing Oscar, a minor upset for this low budget, low grossing film.

Original Cover 2006 Little Brown Edition

After watching the movie, a haunting tale of life in Southeast Missouri amidst, clan, kin and meth lab culture, I began wondering about the book.  I have to admit, I have a bit of Missouri in my blood as my paternal Grandfather hails from there, so the focus on clan and kin was as interesting to me as it was disturbing.  Luckily my heritage is more Central/Northeast Missouri and I hope, a bit removed from the Missouri of the movie.  But still, after watching the movie, I wondered about the book.

Original Cover 2006 Sceptre Books Edition

A little research turned up only 7 copies of the first edition, first printing hardcover available via my preferred Internet book site, 6 of the preferred, Little Brown edition and 1 of the Sceptre edition.  The scarcity of this title, at this time, is intriguing.  Perhaps the scarcity is a prediction of 2011 Oscar glory and booksellers, doing their constant research, have stockpiled copies of the Little Brown edition to await tonight's results.  If Winter's Bone wins for adapted screenplay expect to see additional copies flood the market tomorrow-maybe, maybe not.  Perhaps the book itself is such a powerful read that anyone who bought the original release is keeping it safe and sound in their library.  I would guess that Little Brown printed 10,000 copies of this novel, the second by Woodrell.  Since Winter's Bone, the movie, was honored at the 2010 Sundance Festival, movie tie-in book collectors may have done their best to acquire all available copies before the Oscar madness spikes the price.  If you would like to place a bet, and purchase a copy now it will cost you minimum $99+ for the Sceptre edition and $300 to $500 for the Little Brown release. 

David Woodrell is a veteran author but, if price lists are any indication, his other books are not in great demand.  I'm sceptical of the scarcity of Winter's Bone and I plan to await the outcome of tonight's Oscar award announcement and then, keep my eye on non-searchable, non-connected, local used book stores in the Boston area for a copy at short money.  Just for reading sake, the paperback is widely available.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

John le Carré donates archive to The Bodleian, Oxford Univeristy. Time to start collecting his books!

A nice article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Jennifer Howard, The Novels That Came In From the Cold:  John le Carré Gives Archives to the U. of Oxford, is worth a visit, especially if you are interested in collecting spy novels of the Cold War era.  A wonderful gift to the world class Bodleian Library at Oxford and an indication that scholars and collectors will continue to be interested in le Carré for years to come.  I wonder if the announcement will cause a run on le Carré's books or just push up the price!  Of course, another way of looking at this is Oxford still may be annoyed that The Lilly Library at Indiana University holds the Ian Flemming archive and book collection (see my previous post on Flemming) and they are pushing to acquire the archives of all Oxford associated authors or UK spy genre authors.

I'm not an active collector of the spy novel genre but I do own one first edition, first printing le Carré, A Perfect Spy, Alfred Knopf, New York, 1986 (UK Edition, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1986).  I consider this collectible for anyone trying to build a comprehensive le Carré collection of first edition, first printings of both the UK and USA editions, or simply a collection of USA editions.  I rescued A Perfect Spy while cleaning out a family library and kept it after researching the market for the book.

From the Chronicle article:

"John le Carré is the pen name of the novelist David Cornwell, an ex-spy and Oxford graduate himself. Over a 50-year career, he has used the cloak-and-dagger—or mackintosh-and-pistol—genre to document the mind-set and casualties of the Cold War and subsequent geopolitical upheavals. He has written 22 novels, among them The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, The Tailor of Panama, and The Constant Gardener as well as the novels that put Smiley at the heart of the action." Smiley (George Smiley)  refers to the main character of many of le Carré's novels, an ordinary Oxford graduate who matches wits with a Russian spy, Karla.  While action is the hook, the history of the Cold War era and le Carré's deep understanding of the strategy, actions, and outcomes of the Cold War is the reward.  For anyone interested in immersing themselves in the history of the Cold War le Carré is a fine starting point.

le Carré is a prolific author with a new novel published late in 2010.  His Smiley Series comprises eight novels published between 1961 and 1991.  He authored fourteen other novels and a few non-fictions works and collections so far.  His books are the source for numerous big screen movies, television series, mini-series, and  films.  To be released in 2011 is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, staring Colin Firth, of The King's Speech (subject of a recent post here).  If you are interested in collecting le Carré, you better start now as there is ample supply and the prices will sure to rise as his fame continues to grow.  Start your search for first edition, first printings of his books today!

John le Carré has a wonderful website here.  His latest book is

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The King's Speech, Eric Gill Notes on Postage Stamps, The Coronation Stamp, A New Book From Kat Ran Press

The movie, The King's Speech, winner of 7 BAFTA awards and nominated for 12 Academy Awards is sure to become a film classic.  It is a fabulous film and deserving of all awards to follow.  The story of King George VI and his struggle to overcome a persistent stammer, supported by his devoted wife, the future Queen Mother, and his therapist and commoner friend, Lionel Loque is story all should experience.

While I love the movies and particularly enjoyed The King's Speech, at heart I am a book junkie and always figure that to memorialize anything, be it film, place, era, person, object, I need to add a book to my library.  In this case the film has no directly associated book being based on an original screenplay.  While I'm certain that there are collectible books about King George VI who rose to the throne after his older brother abdicated to become a beloved King and England's national backbone during the dark years of World War II and father to the current Queen Elizabeth, I have no burning desire to add one to my collection.  Nor do I want to step into the mad world of film memorabilia collecting, all I want is a special book that will always remind me of The King's Speech! 

Cover, Eric Gill Notes on Postage Stamps, Kat Ran Press, 2011.  Rejected design of the Coronation Stamp for King George VI and Elizabeth, Designed by Eric Gill

Desire and opportunity meet in the just released, Eric Gill Notes on Postage Stamps, afterword by Michael Russen, Kat Ran Press, Cambridge, MA (buy a copy via Kat Ran Press is primarily a book design firm with some original publishing activities and has published 12 books uder the Kat Ran Press imprint.  Eric Gill Notes on Postage Stamps is their most recent release and a title in the series, Kat Ran Essays on Philatelics.  The book itself is paperback, 24 pages, 8 x 9, with 56 full color illustrations, design and typography by Michael Russen, composed in Gill Sans Pro type, printed and bound at Acme Bookbinding, Charlestown, Ma

The content includes a lecture essay written in 1940 by noted 20th century type and book designer Eric Gill (deserving of a separate post)  concerning the design of stamps, which he disliked, and an afterword by the publisher, Michael Russen, locating Gill within the stamp design tradition.  While Gill was extremely successful as a type and book designer, he was not very successful in the stamp design game.  His designs for the Coronation Stamp for King George VI were all rejected!  I'd love to collect books designed by Eric Gill but they are way out of my price range.  This gem is a great addition to my library and will always remind me of The King's Speech and the story of King George VI.  I purchased the regular edition and was lucky enough to be one of the first 100 buyers and received along with the book, a canceled Eric Gill stamp.  There will be a deluxe edition, hand bound by Sarah Creighton which will include 15 mint stamps designed by Eric Gill available in April.

Great Britain. 1937
  King George VI and National Emblems
  Typography by Eric Gill
  Portrait by Edmund Dulac

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Algeria....and the Revolutions of 1848, A couple of book suggestions

I've been thinking about the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe as a great source of insight into what is happening today in the Middle East and North Africa.  Today, Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post suggests that the 1848 upheaval is a better period of history to study to better understand what is happening today, and I agree.  Stop thinking the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980's, what is happening today is more in line with what happened in Europe in 1848! 

Map of the Revolutions of 1848
The 1848 revolutions across Europe, propelled forward by the rising middle class in partnership with the impoverished classes, reacting to spikes and shortages in food prices, annoying hereditary monarchies, growing nationalist tendencies calling for unification (Germany and Italy), a general movement towards participatory democracy and a more liberal political system, resulted in the first steps towards the modern era.  The 1848 revolutions were not all successful or immediate, but they did start the reform and modernization of impacted nations.  Like 1848, I doubt that today's revolutions and reforms across the Middle East and North Africa will result in immediate Utopia.  More likely, these rebellions and revolutions will usher in a period of change that will sometimes be positive, sometimes negative but all, eventually resulting in dramatic change in governance and hopefully a new era of stability where freedom and democracy is the norm.

If you an unfamiliar with the revolutions of 1848 there is no better time than now to become acquainted with the era and actors.  Here are two titles that seem appropriate and would be solid additions to any private library.

Penelope Smith Robertson, The Revolutions of 1848:  A Social History, Princeton University Press, 1952, 1967 (1st Princeton paperback edition), 1968 (2nd Princeton Paperback edition).  This is a distinguished and major narrative history and tells the story of the peoples and places involved in the 1848 revolutions.  When published it was considered a defining history of this era, continues to be well regarded and remains a standard by which more recent histories are compared.  I would suggest acquiring a first edition, first printing of the 1952 edition.  It is unlikely that serious revisions were undertaken for the paperback releases and in this case, acquiring the original, in fine condition, is a solid addition to a private library.

A recently published book provides an updated overview of the revolutions of 1848 based on the focused research published for the 1998 sesquicentennial.  Mike Rapport, 1848:  Year of Revolution, Basic Books, New York and Lilttle Brown, London, 2008, 2010 (paperback). While the paperback release is the link displayed here, I would suggest that anyone interested in acquiring this title, find a copy in fine condition via the used book marketplace, here.

Adding both titles to a library would created a wonderful set of books about the often marginalized, but very timely, history of the revolutions of 1848.  A wonderful review of the Rapport book, which mentions the Robertson title, can be found here.   

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lawrence of Arabia, T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom and better understanding the Middle East and North Africa today

Political upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa dominates the news again today with Libya seemingly in free fall towards civil war and continuing and increasingly violent clashes in Yemen and Bahrain.  If you are not familiar with T.E. Lawrence and the Arab revolt of 1916, it is high time to acquire and read T.E.  Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom or at least, study the history of the Middle East during and right after World War I. To truly understand the Middle East and North Africa today, a basic understanding of the 20th century founding of the nations of North Africa and the Middle East is necessary.  This is not only a chance to learn but a great opportunity to add to a private library and acquire a very collectible book, universally considered a masterpiece.

Thomas Edward Lawrence, 1888-1935, better known as T.E. Lawrence or Lawrence of Arabia, was a British Liaison Officer during the Arab revolt of 1916.  This revolt,  inspired and encouraged by Lawrence, played a key role in World War I and saw the Ottoman Empire destroyed and their almost 900 year rule over the lands of North Africa and the Middle East ended.  Lawrence was a central actor and military leader during the Arab revolt and his influence, especially his introduction of guerrilla warfare techniques, remain visible in today's Middle East (see IED).  The aftermath of the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the defeat of Germany in World War I led to French and British dominance of these lands between 1918 and 1947 and the establishment the Middle East and North Africa as we know it today.  Lawrence advocated for Arab freedom and self-rule and did not support the French and British control that his victories eventually enabled.  At the end of World War I Lawrence chose a life of obscurity and tried to deny, without much success, his status as an epic hero.

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom is Lawrence's autobiographical memoir of the Arab revolt and chronicles his experiences and unique perspective of the events and people that created the modern Middle East and North Africa. I believe this book belongs in every private library and especially those with an interest in modern history, the Middle East, North Africa, World War I and contemporary world politics.  Not only is this a must acquire for most private libraries, the early printings are highly collectible, the publication itself has a fascinating history and the most complete edition was just published in a trade edition in 2004.

I don't have a copy of the Lawrence masterpiece in my private library and that is something I need to correct.  It has been at least 15 years since I recall last doing some casual research into acquiring a copy.  Now, I will offer a detailed overview of the challenge and make a final suggestion that I will follow and perhaps you will as well.

Lawrence began writing his memoir of the Arab revolt shortly after the end of World War I.  In 1919 he completed a draft of the manuscript which he then lost.  In 1920 he rewrote the manuscript which now totaled over 400,000 words.  In 1922 Lawrence completed a re-write of the 400,000 word draft, trimming it to 335,000 words and gifted the manuscript to The Bodleian Library at Oxford University.

Lawrence did, at his own expense, have the 1922 manuscript typeset and 6 proof copies were printed, now referred to as "The Oxford Text".  The printing was done without correction but Lawrence did proof the 6 copies, making corrections and addressing reader comments in his own copy.  In 2001, his copy was sold at auction for $1,000,000 to a collector.  In 1926, at the urging of friends, Lawrence agreed to edit the manuscript to 225,000 words to support a single volume abridged edition to be offered by subscription and totalling 200 copies.  This illustrated and individually bound edition now demands a premium price in the rare book marketplace and sells for over $75,000.

Finally, in 1935 after Lawrence's death, a general audience trade edition was published based on the 1926 abridged edition.  This edition, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Jonathan Cape, London, 750 copies and Doubleday, Doran and Company, Garden City, NY, 750 copies)became a best selling title, has been reprinted numerous times, is a classic of world literature and is most likely, the most affordable collectible copy available in the used book marketplace.  This edition has gone through numerous reprints and is available in various paperback editions.  I would like a copy of this edition especially for the illustrations.
In 1997, copyright to the abridged edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom expired and it was finally possible to release new editions.  Shortly thereafter, Castle Hill Press,  founded by Jeremy Wilson the authorised biographer of Lawrence, published a new and complete edition, in two volumes (750 copies printed) based on the 1922 Oxford Text.  In 2004 Castle Hill released a trade edition of 1800 copies preceded by a subscriber's library bound edition (2003. 1000 copies).   Castle Hill Press has created a complete bibliographic history of Seven Pillars of Wisdom and maintains a fabulous website concerning T.E. Lawrence and his writings.   

Since I read the 1935 edition years ago I am no real hurry to acquire just any copy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom.  For simple reading, I imagine that a print on demand edition will do, although I'd be carefull in researching what edition you are actually buying, or perhaps you can find the complete edition via your favorite library.  Which edition will I acquire?  I will most likely purchase the available Castle Hill trade edition of 2004.  I imagine that over time, the 1935 edition will lose all value and that the 1997 two volume Castle Hill edition will become very sought after and expensive.

There is a new biography of T. E. Lawrence by Michael Korda. I'm not in the market for yet another biography and this seems to compete with Jeremy Wilson's 1989 authorized biography.  Wilson's biography is available in the used book marketplace and I imagine would be the gold standard in terms of biographies.

If you need more time to figure out which edition is best for you,  at least, rent the Academy Award winning film, Lawrence of Arabia, staring Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness, and Anthony Quinn (1963 Oscar list here) for a great introduction to this era and topic.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Onionskin paper, collecting art books, Fra Angelico and Hieronymus Bosch to start

At least two books in my private library feature extensive use of onionskin paper for reproducing fine art.  These two books are precious for their content and subject matter.  Onionskin paper is very delicate and I am happy to report that both books are in perfect, like new, condition.  I am not expert on the current use of onionskin paper in the manufacturing of contemporary, general audience, art book publishing, but I know that this paper choice is very expensive.  My research so far suggests that it is a rare publisher that will take on the expense, especially for a general audience publication. 

I doubt any other paper option would result in the wonderful coloration and texture to be found when viewing art within a book printed on onionskin paper.  Texture is critically important when trying to experience reproductions of fine art, whether ancient, renaissance, realist, impressionist, or modern.  Next time someone tries to suggest that displaying art on their 50 inch high definition display is  wonderful, just show them a book of fine art published on onionskin paper and note the obvious difference in quality and experience.  They will be ashamed that their aesthetic sense is so lacking.

My two examples of the use of onionskin paper in a general audience, trade, art book publication were published in the late 1980's by Guillaud Editions, Paris/New York and Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., Publishers, New York.


Fra Angelico:  The Light of the Soul, by Jacqueline and Maurice Guillaud, Guillaud/Potter, 1986, was the first title in a planned series of similar art books authored by the Guillaud's and published by the Guillaud/Potter partnership.  This edition was the first book to offer photographic reproductions of the legendary Fran Angelico frescoes from the Convent of San Marco in Florence after they were restored.  A first book in a new series is likely collectible.  A first book with photographs of the restored frescoes pubslished so beautifully is also, likely, collectible.

A Monk's Cell with Angelico Fresco, Convent of San Marco

Fra Angelico is a major figure of the Italian Renaissance.  A Dominican Friar, he most likely began his artistic pursuits as a manuscript illuminator working in Fiesole, outside of Florence, Italy.  Between 1436 and 1445, he and his assistants painted around 50 frescoes at the Convent of San Marco, Florence.  Now a museum, it is a must see during any visit to Florence.  Anne and I visited Florence in 1996 and I still clearly recall the power and beauty of the Fra Angelco frescoes adorning the monk's cells and the display of his manuscript illumination.

A Manuscript page illuminated by Fra Angelico

Being able to experience the beauty of Fran Angelico's work is a joy and I can't imagine any other publication offering reproductions that would be as extraordinary as the reproductions on onionskin paper in the Guillaud edition

The second example I own is from the same Guillaud/Potter series, Hieronymus Bosch:  The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Jacqueline and Maurice Guillaud, Guillaud/Potter, 1989, with Isabel Matteo
GómezHieronymus Bosch, died 1516, is one of my favorite artists.  He focused on painting scenes of sin and human moral failing and really, not much is known of his life.  What's not to love for that focus?  Today about 25 works remain officially verified as being by Bosch, all are unbelievable masterpieces of early Dutch surrealism.  The Gulliaud/Potter edition is a work that is brilliant.  The reproductions on the onionskin paper are breathtaking and since on my only visit to the Prado Museum in Madrid, the Garden of Earthly Delights was out for restoration, I am left to wonder at this Bosch masterpiece via this book!
The Guillaud/Potter series includes Rembrandt:  The Human Form and Spirit 1986, Matisse:  Rhythm and Line, 1987, Goya:  The Phantasmal Vision, 1987, Giotto:  Architect of Color, 1988, Piero della Francesca:  Poet of Form, 1989, Degas:  Pastels, 1989, Frescoes in the time of Pompeii, 1990, and Van Gogh: Vertigo of Light, 1991.  I so enjoyed writing this post and revisiting the two books I own, I will probably find space on my shelves to add the remaining books from this series.
Collecting art monographs (general audience, trade) is not to be pursued without careful consideration.  These books have large first printings and they are priced to attract the impulse art book buyer.  Art monographs are often well cared for and seem abundant in the used book marketplace.  They do not always hold their value and over time become simply another art monograph easily acquired in the special sales bin of your local rare and used book dealer.  I've never seen a book from the Guillaud/Potter Series with onionskin paper discounted for immediate sale and while upon publication, the books were expensive, they have held their value!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ever try to figure out which level of Hell represents the day? Dante's Inferno, Sandro Botticelli illustrations

With over 1400 books in my private library I always feel that when writer's block hits, I can simply grab a cherished book off the shelf and write about it.  Today is one of those days and the book I settled on is Sandro Botticelli:  The Drawings for Dante's Divine Comedy, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2000 (distributed in the US and North America by Henry N. Abrams Inc., New York, ISBN 0810966336).  Not a truly bad day in my life, but rather a day when, for personal reasons, I started wondering what level of Hell I seem to be experiencing.  Thinking about Dante's Inferno (the best current translation is the Robert Pinsky translation published in 1994, illustrated by Michael Masur)motivated me to browse through the book of Botticelli's drawings.

Botticelli's map of Dante's Inferno from the engraving in the 1481 edition
 Sandro Botticelli:  The Drawings for Dante's Divine Comedy is not a rare book but I believe it is collectible and regardless of future value, extraordinary, worth the price today and a fine addition to any private library. 

There is absolutely no way any, mere mortal, collector could acquire a copy of the original edition of Dante's Divine Comedy with Botticelli's illustrations.  That edition, published in 1481by Niccolo di Lorenzó della Magna, Florence, with commentary by Chistophoro Landino Fiorentino, and engravings attributed to Baccio Baldini, is simply priceless.  A copy can be found at the Kupferstichkabinett (Museum of Printing and Drawing), Berlin and seems to be the only copy I can find.

Facsimilie editions of the 1481 edition have been published and include reproductions of the 1481 Baldini engravings and reproductions of Botticelli's original drawings.  Notable here would be the edition published by Bruce Rogers & The Press of A. Colish, NY, 1955, the Nonesuch Press edition of 1928, (both include reproductions of the drawings) and Dantes Divina Commedia mit den illustrationen von Sandro Botticelli, Codex Reg. Lat. 1896.  Codex Ham. 201 (Cim. 33), 2 volumes, volume 1: facsimile, volume 2: commentary by Peter Dreyer, Zurich, 1986 ($7,500+).  Recently a reasonably priced edition, illustrated with the Botticelli illustrations, has appeared in the Everyman's Library Classics Series.

To simply marvel at Botticelli's masterful illustrations for the Divine Comedy, one need search no further than the Royal Academy of Arts edition.  Not only are all the engravings from the 1481 edition reproduced but it is a complete catalog and study of all existing drawings Botticelli created for the Divine Comedy.  Experiencing Botticelli's genius is memorable!

7th Circle, Third Round.  The desert of burning sands:  the souls of those who committed violence against the divine order, punishment of the usurers-Descent into the abyss on Heryon's back-drawing
Botticelli created the series of drawings for the Divine Comedy between 1480 and 1495 on sheep parchment.  He drew using a thin metal point, probably made of silver and a softer stylus of lead-tin alloy.  He then improved the original effort with pen and ink in colors ranging from yellow to brown and black.  He drew on the smooth, flesh side of the parchment with the associated text from the poem on the rough, hair side. Shortly after completing his drawings, they disappeared and today, 92 sheets with 92 images are known to exist.  85 may be found in the Kupferstichkabinnet in Berlin and 7 in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.

While searching for appropriate links for this posting I stumbled upon the Ohio University Libraries Italian Literature site and I plan on spending time exploring this fabulous resource on Dante. 

If all this information about Dante and Botticelli is too much to handle, do still give Dante a chance via the recently published graphical novel format edition of the Dante's Divine Comedy adapted by Seymour Chwast, Bloomsbury, New York, 2010, appropriate for all ages!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Page citation, the book vs. the electronic book. The Godfather, page 27

The digital revolution continues to advance and the electronic book is quickly penetrating all markets where the physical book once dominated.  A fascinating area of growing concern is how to actually share a page reference in an electronic book.  There is no one to one correspondence, of pagination from a printed book to the multiple electronic book format, page displays.  Reading is primarily a solitary experience but in certain reading related endeavors, citing an exact page reference is required and opportunities for community experience, especially when it is so easy to cite a specific page or page range that cries out for sharing, abound. 

How to cite a page from an electronic book is being discussed and debated within the academic world.  It seems a minor annoyance but one that is vexing scholars, students and scientists who must carefully note a page reference to support an argument, statement of fact, or to indicate the breadth of knowledge being displayed.  A simple page reference provides a pointer so that the critical reader is able to verify the reference, meaning and importance.

This challenge is not only academic but also a concern for anyone who finds it easier to point someone to an actual page when discussing a book.  An example from my childhood suggests the power of the page reference.  This was not simply a reference to a page but an encrypted message implying the content of the page in question was controversial and needed to be kept secret, espcially from innocent children.  I still believe this example serves as a wonderful reminder that the shared experience of reading is best supported by a physical artifact, the printed book. 

While too young to attend a showing of the Oscar-winning The Godfather, I was old enough to read the book.  I had both access to a copy and serious motivation once the word got out about page 27.  I had no idea what was to be found on page 27 but I kept hearing references to this infamous, page 27, among adults and peers, older and obviously wiser.  That coded message, "Did you read page 27?," simply had to be explored.  I still recall that moment when I was able to grab my parent's copy of Mario Puzo's classic novel of the mafia, and within a minute or so, understood what everyone was talking about.  I also clearly understood why everyone was speaking in code!  After reading page 27, I returned to page 1 and read the entire book.  I still have the first edition, first printing, our family copy, of The Godfather, by Mario Puzo, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1969 and I just verified my memory of page 27!  (First edition, first printing available here $200-$4,500, beware of book club editions and printing history.) 

Will the challenge of page citation be a perpetual thorn in the side of the e-book revolution?  I doubt it, but it will continue to cause confusion until a standard referencing system is adopted.  The success of the electronic book is due to many factors and one factor continues to drive the move towards e-books, price to the consumer.  The basic idea is that without the investment in paper, printing, binding, storing, picking, packing and shipping, a publisher can slash the price of an electronic book and the price charged the consumer plummets vs the printed book.

What happens, however, when the question of common page referencing is resolved?  The simple solution is that every electronic book will need to be programmed so that each word or paragraph is numbered so that a standard page/paragraph reference is pre-defined.  Who will program that numbering algorithm?  This will surely increase the cost of either the e-book machine or the cost for the publisher in creating the universal book source file.  And what do do about e-books that are simply scans or books currently in the e-book marketplace.  Will these all need to be re-scanned and re-programmed?  Will this be a significant cost?  I don't know, but no one likes change, no one is looking to add to costs and no one, especially the consumer, wants to pay more!  I predict that standardization of page, paragraph and word numbering is on the way and will raise the price of e-books.

For me, I still have trouble believing that timeless reference to page 27 in The Godfather will ever be replaced by, "Did you read the page following word 2,656 or paragraph 329?".

Monday, February 14, 2011

Will Algeria be the next to force a change in government? Books About Algeria and Algerian Literature

Whenever I start to think about political events, especially calls for reform or revolt driven by the people, I begin to wonder about the culture of the people in question.  When I think about culture I immediately begin to think about the literature of the people.  Unless you can travel and spend time with a people, the next best way to understand them is to sample the literature that defines their culture and history.  Today, I'm trying to learn a little bit about the literature of Algeria.  Recent events in North Africa have led to the toppling of the governments of Tunisia and Egypt.  Is Algeria next?

Algeria has played a role in the history of North Africa from ancient times with Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Ottoman and eventually French control (1830-1962).  Independent since 1962 Algeria, population of around 34 million, is an oil rich nation with an economy primarily controlled by the State and is struggling to modernize, diversify and meet the needs and growing demands of a young(ish) population. 

After winning independence from France in 1962, Algeria's government was based on socialist development models with primary State control of industry.  In 1988 some reforms were instituted to allow for competing political parties but these were abandoned due to conflict with and fear of the growing political power of Islamic religious parties from the established political elite.  In recent years, radical Islamic groups have threatened Algerian stability and transitioning to a more open economic model with a more open democratic government is proving very difficult and slow-moving.  The Algerian people continue to demand government and economic reforms and are calling for the resignation of their current President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in office since 1999.  For background information on the history of Algeria see Library of Congress Country Source material for Algeria.  The CIA World Fact Book is a great source of data on all countries and the page for Algeria is here.  Check your favorite news source for continuing coverage of the protests and calls for reform, I suggest The Christian Science Monitor for ongoing coverage.

What about the literature of Algeria? 

One of my favorite authors, Albert Camus(1913-1960), was born in Algeria during French control and his Algerian upbringing definitely impacted his later writings.  He moved to France when he was 25 (1938) and he quickly became active in the intellectual circles calling for dramatic social and governmental change.  Think of Camus as bringing an Algerian sentiment to the pre-World War II, World War II and post World War II debates on government, economic and social issues. 

His book, The Rebel:  An Essay on Man in Revolt, translated by Anthony Bower (Alfred Knopf, New York, 1954) is a masterpiece, offering a foundational philosophy of man, the rebel.  Camus's study of man in rebellion was impacted by the active political debates of the day but his foundational thought on what motivates man to revolt rings true in any era.  For a fundamental understanding of the call for reform, revolution and change in Algeria today, one could have no better insight than that provided by a native son.

Finding literature that speaks to the calls for independence from the French with a more pure, enduring, Algerian voice and for literature of today that speaks to today's Algerian character is possible and probably very interesting!

My research suggests that the first place to start is with Nedjma:  A Novel by Kateb Yacine (George Braziller, New York, 1961).  The University of Virginia Press released a paperback edition reprint in 2001 and the product description from the page at is insightful:  "Nedjma is a masterpiece of North African writing. Its intricate plot involves four men in love with the beautiful woman whose name serves as the title of the novel. Nedjma is the central figure of this disorienting novel, but more than the unfortunate wife of a man she does not love, more than the unwilling cause of rivalry among many suitors, Nedjma is the symbol of Algeria. Kateb has crafted a novel that is the saga of the founding ancestors of Algeria through the conquest of Numidia by the Romans, the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, and French colonial conquest. Nedjma is symbolic of the rich and sometimes bloody past of Algeria, of its passions, of its tenderness; it is the epic story of a human quest for freedom and happiness."  A few copies of the 1961 Braziller edition are available (see link for Braziller above) for about the same price as the paperback!

Assia Djebar, Professor of French at New York University is a contemporary Algerian author often focusing on the role of women in Algerian history, society and their importance and potential to force change.  She is an important voice of the Algerian people through her writings and films.  It seems to me that the place to start with Djebar is Fantasia:  An Algerian Cavalcade (Quartet, London 1989 and Heineman, New York, 1992).  There are first edition, first printings available, but there is some confusion in the listings and either the few available are expensive or the low priced are probably not true first editions.  In this case, especially if you are interested in simply reading, I'd go with a current paperback edition. Djebar has more recent publications and they may appear more timely from the publication date, they could not be in line with current events and I believe her earlier work remains the best bet!

I have a collection of Camus and love his writing.  I am tempted to explore Algerian literature but for the time being, I will probably just keep an eye on current news.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness novel, Alchemy, Book Collecting, and Further Reading

I collect books about alchemy with an emphasis on building a significant, interesting and varied section of my private library rather than on collecting rare, and often one of a kind, priceless manuscripts.  Alchemy is a fascinating subject area for book collecting.  The long history of alchemical works is essential for our understanding the evolution of science and ideas.  The history of alchemy provides insight into early and medieval science, especially chemistry, and continues today to be a controversial topic for the modern scientific community where the importance of the history of alchemical traditions is of great interest to historians of science and ideas and despised by contemporary scientists.  Alchemy, outside the formal constructs of empirical science, continues to offer a rich source of ideas, settings and characters for art and literature.
A new work of fiction, soon to be a breakout bestseller, has just been published, A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.  She is a serious scholar, Professor of History, University of Southern California, specializing in the history of science and ideas with a focus on the period, 1400-1700. A Discovery of Witches is her first novel but she is a veteran author with two scholarly books in print, John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature (Cambridge University Press, 1999) and The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution (Yale University Press, 2007).

A Discovery of Witches promises to be a gripping read, if early reviews are to be believed, revolving around the discovery of a lost and important alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, Oxford by a witch, who finds a partner, support, protection and love from a vampire.  Who wouldn't fall for a novel including a witch, a vampire and a rare book? 

When ordering a copy for myself via, I noticed a list of 10 books, suggested by the author, as background sources for those interested in a better understanding of alchemy, magic, witchcraft and vampires.  I'm familiar with all the books on her list and own a few myself.  While that list is a fine starting place, I would like to suggest a short list of my own on just the history of alchemy. 

The Alchemist in Life Literature and Art, John Read (Thomas Nelson and Sons, Ltd, London, 1947).  Read, then Professor of Chemistry, University of Saint Andrews, Scotland, offers an introduction to alchemy and the alchemist from the viewpoint of art and literature, prior to the rise of modern chemistry in the second half of the 18th century.  Read states in his Preface:  "This subject, so full of fascination for the discerning man of science as well as for the lover of literature and art, has received surprisingly little attention, possibly because it calls for a blending of interest often wrongly supposed to be as hard to immingle as oil and water."  This wonderful short introduction is still available on the used book market for less than $50.00.

Darke Hierogliphicks:  Alchemy in English Literature from Chaucer to the Restoration, Stanton J. Linden (University Press of Kentucky, 1996).  Linden, at the time, Associate (now Emeritus) Professor of English, Washington State University traces the portrayal of alchemy across 300 years of literature, roughly 1386-1685, with an emphasis on the impact of the alchemist as portrayed by writers from Shakespeare to Milton and beyond.

A very brief introduction to alchemy is The Alchemist's Kitchen:  Extraordinary Potions and Curious Notions by Guy Ogilvy (Walker Publishing, New York, 2006).  The author is described in the flap copy as "a leading alchemical researcher, writer, and practicing alchemist."  An introduction to the historical practice of alchemy, it is wonderfully illustrated with woodcuts and engravings of alchemical practice and the alchemist's world.  Perhaps best, is the warning on the copyright page, "Caveat:  Alchemy can be extremely dangerous.  Explosions and poisonings are commonplace.  Some of the processes described in this book may be unlawful in some jurisdictions; they are performed at your own risk."

One of the most useful books on alchemy from my library is A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, Lyndy Abraham (Cambridge University Press, 1998).  Abraham at the time, a research fellow in English at the University of New South Wales, mined the Ferguson Collection at the University of Glasgow to illustrate this traditional and comprehensive dictionary of alchemical imagery.  Ferguson, who amassed a huge collection of books on the occult and magic, complied and published the most amazing bibliography of books of secrets ever published, Bibliographical Notes on Histories of Inventions and Books of Secrets (Holland Press 1959, 1981, and now print on demand).

The last book I suggest is The Secret Art of Alchemy, Stanislas Klossowski de Rola (Thames and Hudson, London, 1973).  Today, the study of alchemy may be divided into 2 basic pursuits.  The first and most formal is in line with modern science, seeks to understand alchemy as precursor to modern chemistry and considers alchemy important as a subject of study within the history of science and ideas.  Tangential to that is the related study of alchemy as seen through art and literature.  The second and generally controversial pursuit (the more amusing) is the quest to understand alchemy to acquire secret insight and knowledge of man, nature and the cosmos (and turn led into gold).  The general tradition of the second pursuit is the focus of The Secret Art of Alchemy.  The author, Prince Stanislas de Rola is quite a character, "friend of The Beatles and Stones, exotic dandy, actor, musician and son of artist Balthus – a genuine enigma."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Take 2--Pawn Stars, Rare Books, Sir Isaac Newton, History of Science, Geology, Agricola

My copy of John Harrison's, The Library Of Isaac Newton , arrived yesterday after being freshly printed in Tennessee on February 3, 2011 (in this case a good example of the value of print on demand!).  With the insight provided by Harrison's study of Newton's Library I would like to add a little more information to my post of February 1, Pawn Stars, Rare Books, Sir Isaac Newton, History of Science, Geology, Agricola

I still agree that the copy of Agricola's 1546 book, De Ortu et Causis Subterraneorum, purchased by the Pawn Stars, is from Newton's personal library but I am now much less confident that the annotations in the manuscript were made by Newton. 

The shelf marking on the inside cover do confirm that this copy was part of the Musgrave Catalog published in 1767 (the work was not listed in the quickly assembled Huggins List from 1727 created shortly after Newton's death).  I also feel confident that the specialist who looked at the handwriting was simply wrong in stating that Newton did not write in tiny script, as the example below shows he certainly did!

Newton's Notes in Howard, Copernicus of all sorts, convicted....1705 (no. 810)
From page 17, Harrison, The Library of Isaac Newton, Cambridge University Press, 2008

Script size aside, from what I have learned from Harrison, I seriously doubt the annotations were in Newton's hand.  My guess is that a previous owner annotated the manuscript prior to Newton's acquisition of it.  Newton owned only three books on mineralogy, all by Argicola.  The other two books, one held by the University of Wisconsin and one by Trinity College, Cambridge, do not have any annotations. Newton's copy of De re Metallica, 1621 is noted as showing "some signs of dog earring."  De re Metallica was Agricola's masterpiece and that makes me doubt Newton would be motivated to carefully study the earlier, 1546 publication.  Harrison also notes that of the 1,763 books he catalogued only 84 were verified to be annotated by Newton.  This leads me to conclude that the annotations in the 1546 manuscript are not in Newton's hand.

Before the appearance on Pawn Stars, that last known mention of this rare book was a listing in the Thame Park Auction of 1920, buyer unknown.  The catalog markings need to be studied more carefully as they do tell a story about the history of the book once it left the Newton estate.  Perhaps the Pawn Stars could post a photocopy of the front matter along with copies of the annotated pages! 

I do hope that De Ortu et Causis Subterraneorum will be acquired by Trinity College, for a fair price, and be added to the largest single collection of books from Newton's library. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Great Libraries of the Past and Present, Egypt, Bibliotheca Alexandria,

The current events in Egypt are covered in great detail by both traditional and Web 2.0 news outlets.  I certainly support a more free, democratic, and modern Egypt and believe that reform is possible without the need for violence. 

The news coverage of the demonstrations often include reference to The National Museum of Egyptian Culture in Cairo (Egyptian Museum) and sometimes coverage of the Biblotheca Alexandria: The New Library of AlexandriaDr. Zahi Hawass, a larger than life archaeologist and media star, as well as, the newly appointed Minister of Antiquities in Egypt,  has been very active in protecting Egypt's cultural treasures, especially the Museum in Cairo. The Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandria, Ismail Serageldin, is not a media star but should be honored for his efforts to protect the library and to continue championing the library as a key cultural institution, important as a symbol of the power of education and learning for the future of Egypt.  A wonderful overview of the successful efforts to protect the library during this time, a collective community effort, is detailed in this article from the Wall Street Journal, A Symbol for the New Egypt.

The Library of Alexandria has a storied history and the institution has been victim of war and revolution since Roman times.  The first Universal Library of Alexandria was founded after the death of Alexander The Great (320 B.C.) and continued his tireless efforts to expose his great empire to the refined, rational thought of the Greek world. 

Ptolemy I Sotor who brought Alexander's body to Alexandria and laid it to rest in the now lost mausoleum eventually became ruler over Egypt and is credited with founding the Library as a continuation of Alexander's quest to create a Universal Library.  It is thought that the Library of Alexandria, under Ptolemaic rule, eventually housed over 400,00 scrolls collecting all the known books in the world. 

In 48 B.C. Julius Caesar arrived in Alexandria at the request of King Ptolemy XIII to settle a dispute between the King and his co-ruler sister, the legendary, Cleopatra.  Caesar's arrival in Alexandria caused a revolt, the Alexandrian War, led by King Ptolemy's General, Achillas. He laid siege to Alexandria from the sea causing Caesar to burn the fleet and also setting fire to the city, including buildings holding books for the Library and, legend has it, all the papyrus manuscripts were lost.   Unfortunately the history of the Library at Alexandria is muddled and the Library, after the Alexandrian War, continued to exist with significant holdings.  During the Roman era, the Library evolved into a bilingual, Greek and Latin institution and continued to expand.  Another legend states that after Caesar's assasination in 44 B.C.,  Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius) gave Cleopatra more than 200,000 manuscripts from the Library of Pergamon (Turkey) to add to the library holdings in Alexandria. 

It it clear that the great Library of Alexandria, partially destroyed during the Alexandria War, survived long after Caesar's fire and continued to be an important repository of books and a famous center for  scholarship.  Even after Constantine established Constantinople (today, Istanbul) as the capital of the Roman Empire and embarked on his own quest to establish a universal library in his capital city, a primary source for manuscripts was Alexandria.  In 642 A.D. Alexandria again was conquered, this time by Arabs.  It is again suggested in historical writings that the library, perhaps not the original or as grand as the original, still existed in some form and that the holdings were yet again destroyed after the Arab conquest.  We simply do not know, for certain, what happened to the holdings of the original Library of Alexandria

The Bibliotheca Alexandria

Rare Books and Special Collections

The current Biblotheca Alexandria is the heir to the famous collections of history and mythology.  The Bibliotheca Alexandria opened in  2002 and is a center for learning, scholarship and study.  Even with the Internet blackout that has hit the population of Egypt the Library continues to have web access and will continue to be a center where the future of Egypt can be studied, discussed, debated and defined. 

The spirit of Alexander The Great's original dream of establishing a Unverisal Library is alive and well today and the Bibliotheca Alexandria is a shining symbol of the importance of institutions dedicated to books, education and learning, all essential ingredients for personal and political advancement.  I expect that all the people of Egypt will continue to protect this institution from whatever follows of politics and reform.

Supporters and Opponents protect the Library 2011

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Eagle, a new movie based on, The Eagle of the Ninth, classic historical fiction by Rosemary Sutcliff

Opening February 11, 2011 is The Eagle, a new movie adaptation of the beloved Rosemary Sutcliff novel, The Eagle of the Ninth.  I predict great things for The Eagle and a rush of interest in Sutcliff's series of novels about Roman Britain, beginning with The Eagle of the Ninth and continuing with The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, Dawn Wind, and Frontier Wolf.

Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-1992) was a children's author of great acclaim.   She published her first book, The Queen Elizabeth Story, in 1950 and 39 more titles followed until her death in 1992.  She was greatly admired by critics and award committees and beloved by fans.  The Eagle of the Ninth and the series it launched is considered a masterpiece of historical fiction for children as well as a great read for adults.

The Eagle of the Ninth is both history and mythology.  The Roman Ninth Legion Hispana was stationed in England in 43 A.D. and active until 120 A.D.  After 120 A.D. the Ninth Legion Hispana disappeared from all historical records.  Today, no one knows for certain what happened to the legendary Ninth.  Were they disbanded in disgrace?  Were they overwhelmed and massacred by the barbarians north of Hadrian's Wall?   For Rosemary Sutcliff, the history and mythology of the Roman Ninth Legion Hispana provides the foundation for her series, beginning with The Eagle of the Ninth, introducing readers young and old to the history of Roman Britain from the search for an explanation of the Ninths disappearance in The Eagle of the Ninth,  through the following three centuries of Roman influence until Rome formally abandoned Britain.

With the release of the movie it will be easy to acquire a freshly printed trilogy edition of the first three titles in the series-a great gift idea for the 12+ reader.  While ease of acquisition is certainly a factor when buying a book associated with a current movie, it seems much more interesting and meaningful to acquire either the original editions or an illustrated edition of these wonderful books.

Rosemary Sutcliff titles are certainly collectible and it would enjoyable to have a complete collection of her historical fiction.  If the movie is a success interest in Sutcliff's novels will increase and the price for a first edition, first printing of The Eagle of the Ninth , Oxford University Press, illustrated by C. Walter Hodges, 1954, will sky-rocket!  Today, as the movie premiere approaches, I can find zero copies of the first edition, first printing for sale.  Either booksellers are holding back copies to see if demand will support much higher prices, speculators have snapped up all the copies that were available or savvy collectors acquired a copy months ago before the movie hype started. 

There are two valid alternatives to collecting the Oxford University Press edition, the first US edition published by Henry C. Walck 1954 or the Folio Society edition, illustrated by Roman Pisarev published in 2005.   The Walck editions that are available are all "ex-library" and not really worth the effort to acquire.  If you desire a nice edition I reccomend the Folio Society edition.  They have published both The Eagle of the Ninth and The Silver Branch in fine, collectible editions.  On the used marketplace you can acquire a copy for as little as $20.00.  I do own both Folio Society editions and am kicking myself for not acquiring the Oxford University Press editions in 2005, when the Folio Society edition was released and I last considered acquiring the Oxford University Press edition.  Yet another example of the he who hesistates, is lost!