The Bibliothecary
March 16 - 31 , 2006
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The Bibliothecary

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Friday, March 31, 2006
In case you were wondering what would be an appropriate gift for me (birthday, Christmas, Father's Day), a nice copy of
Shakespeare's First Folio is
going on sale.  And at £3.5 million, what a bargain!  I remember watching the last auction for a
Folio (a few years ago).  It was curiously exciting.  What a thrill it must be to have that much money to spend on a book.  
And I admit, if I had that kind of dough, I'd do it, folly be damned.

Went out with a friend last night to see Andrew Delbanco talk about his new biography of Herman Melville.  I haven't read
the book yet, but the talk has really geared me up.  Delbanco reminded us how young Melville was when he wrote
, just 32 years old.  And though he continued to write for the rest of is life, his literary career was over.  For forty years,
Melville wrote, but almost no one read him.  That bearded prophet of
Moby-Dick was a young guy.

Try the Moby-Dick crossword puzzle.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

                                     Wheel of Books

I found this illustration for a revolving book desk at the Electronic British Library Journal.  I would love to have this.  Just
spin the wheel and there's my
OED; spin the wheel and there's Moby Dick; spin the wheel and there's Poe's annotated tales.  
It would be fun to load up, like loading a cd changer with your favorites. Every week I could select different books. Of
course, my study would have to be the size of barn to accommodate such a contraption.  But I can dream, can't I?

Readers' Comments
Scott J comments on my American book list:
I agree Moby Dick is wishful thinking, but only because no one has read it.  The story is a kind of highbrow sound byte, and
I admit that's not enough.  However, if the other two books don't belong, then why study literature at all?  The Book of
Mormon is a great pick, but surely Huck Finn is more widely read.  Does poetry make nothing happen?

Scott, my list isn't just a bestseller list.  
Huck Finn is widely read, but I can't document its influence on American culture.  
The same with
Moby Dick and Leaves of Grass.  I think all three of those can be used to define the character of America (if
such a thing exists), but I don't think any of these works has had a profound impact on the culture as a whole (Moby Dick is
more than a soundbyte).  I think I can make that case for the other choices.  So, they belong on a list of books to read if you
want to know about America (and the human condition and whaling), but I don't think these books have made anything
"happen."  And yes, in America, poetry makes nothing happen.  

MPH comments on the Juliet post of yesterday:
a link to a 1993 Elvis Costello album called The Juliet Letters - inspired by the professor who answered the letters
addressed to Juliet.

Michael, Thanks.  I had not heard of this one.  Should I give it a listen?


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Willy was a dirty fellow.  And by "Willy" I mean willy.  Know whut I mean, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

James Shapiro, author of 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, on the professional life of Shakes:

It is tempting, but misleading, to see Shakespeare's career in binary terms: as playwright first or poet first, court or popular
dramatist, isolated or collaborative genius, concerned or careless about seeing his work published. It is more accurate to describe
his creative universe as one of overlapping circles, which included those Francis Meres called Shakespeare's "private friends" - their
names now lost to us - with whom he shared his sonnets; his fellow sharers and players; aristocratic patrons; printers, censors and
booksellers; other playwrights whose plays he helped acquire and in which he acted; and playgoers of all social ranks, in the city, at
court and in the countryside.

Everyman Shakespeare!

And here's some Shakespeariana that I never heard of:  the lovelorn still write letters  to Juliet Capulet:

Every week, hundreds of letters pour into the office of the Club di Giulietta, in Verona, Italy, the city that is the setting for
Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." Some are addressed simply "To Juliet, Verona," but the postman always knows to deliver them
to the club's Via Galilei headquarters. Every letter is answered by the club's group of volunteers, no matter what the language,
sometimes with the assistance of outside translators. (In the past, the owner of a local Chinese restaurant helped.)

A collection of the letters is now being published.  Reminds me of  Letters to Sherlock Holmes, a collection of letters to the
sleuth of 221B Baker Street. Of course, some of  the writers to Holmes truly believe he existed (and of course, he did), but
what I find curious about the Juliet letters is the faith of the letter writers.  Not the faith that there is a Juliet to receive their
missives, but that there is some kind of spiritual Juliet, a Shakespearean oracle, ready to guide their hearts of love.  "Very few
letters, oddly enough, are sent to Romeo."

And just to prove I'm not some kind of Shakespearean obsessive, here's a review essay on Christopher Marlowe by
Stephen Greenblatt.  See!  I'm not all about Shakestuff!


TheBibliothecary always welcomes' readers' comments.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Here's my list of 12 American books that significantly changed society (see Friday's post below).  I couldn't quite go as far
Melvyn Bragg and assert that all of these books "flooded the world with newness and observable change," but they
certainly flooded American culture with newness and caused great change.  America would be a much different place if these
works had not been written.  Here they are in roughly chronological order:

Common Sense  Tom Paine
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Federalist Papers  Madison, Hamilton, Jay
American Spelling Book  Noah Webster
Walden  Henry David Thoreau
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Uncle Tom's Cabin  Harriet Beecher Stowe
Book of Mormon
How to Win Friends and Influence People  Dale Carnegie
The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care  Benjamin Spock
The Feminine Mystique  Betty Friedan
Roots  Alex Haley

Books that almost made the list:

The Jungle Upton Sinclair
On Civil Disobedience  Thoreau
On the Road  Jack Kerouac
Up from Slavery  Booker T Washington
Silent Spring  Rachel Carson
Horatio Alger's novels
Peyton Place  Grace Metalious

Three books that I wish would be on the list.  Bragg categorizes these choices as "testaments of hope," books that we wish
had changed the world:

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn  Mark Twain
Moby Dick  Herman Melville
Leaves of Grass  Walt Whitman

I'd love to have your thoughts (especially criticisms) on these lists.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Sunday, March 26, 2006
The Books2Eat festival is due to begin again on April Fool's Day.  Bibliophagy, we learn, is developed early:

"A young child's attitude toward a book is not unlike that of a cannibal toward a missionary," wrote A. S. W. Rosenbach, the noted
book collector, who cited bibliophagy as one reason that so few first editions of early children's classics have survived.

I always found that a good Dickens entrée really satisfies, a Poe dish will give you nightmares and Henry James has always
given me indigestion.

More fore-edge paintings.  Some of these are fantastic.  Check out the gallery.

A little Sunday fun:  the Rolling Stones hawking Rice Krispies in 1964.

A piece in the NY Times on the great director, Don Siegel.  There's a retrospective of his films in NY.  A Boris Karloff film
fest a few weeks ago, now Don Siegel.  Ahh, sometimes NY is so attractive.  
My movie watching continues, but it becomes
more and more obvious that I'll never reach 365 for the year.  The best last week was the new version of
Bleak House.  


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Friday, March 24, 2006
Melvyn Bragg has come up with twelve British books that have changed the world:

I wanted books that I could prove had changed, rootedly, the lives of people all over the land –

Principia Mathematica (1687) by Isaac Newton
Married Love (1918) by Marie Stopes
Magna Carta (1215) by members of the English ruling classes
Book of Rules of Association Football (1863) by a group of former English public-school men
On the Origin of Species (1859) by Charles Darwin
On the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1789) by William Wilberforce in Parliament, immediately printed in several versions
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft
Experimental Researches in Electricity (three volumes, 1839, 1844, 1855) by Michael Faraday
Patent Specification for Arkwright’s Spinning Machine (1769) by Richard Arkwright
The King James Bible (1611) by William Tyndale and 54 scholars appointed by the king
An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) by Adam Smith
The First Folio (1623) by William Shakespeare

I'm surprised Bragg chose only Shakespeare to represent literature (not that he chose Shakes, but that he chose no others).  
He defends his lack of novels on the list:

Some can be books rarely remembered now and modest even when they were first published, but books that somehow made us
recognise what we more largely could be and changed us. But I find it difficult to take a single novel, or even, given all the benefits
possible, a body of work by DH Lawrence, for instance, and track through, as I have been able to do I hope with the other books,
the ways in which they met the grand challenge of changing the world out there.
Changing a single world, yes. And yes, those small fields of influence can and sometimes do grow in power over the years so that
The Waste Land, which first fell largely on barren soil, became in my generation an accessible quarry of modernist mantras. But
nevertheless, to hold to the argument about a book that flooded the world with newness and observable change, it was reluctantly
my conclusion that to take a novel would be a testament of hope rather than a statement of what actually happens.

Bragg's right, of course, in that it is enormously difficult to track the influence of works of art.  Sometimes the social effects of
a novel are obvious, such as the case of Stowe's
Uncle Tom's Cabin, which played a role in starting the American Civil
War.  War between the states was probably inevitable by the mid-19th Century, but Stowe's book had a such a galvanizing
effect on so many people that it came to be a clear contributor to America's most defining moment.  But how do we
document the influence of Twain's
Huckleberry Finn?  Is the lack of obvious documentary evidence proof that it is not a
book of wide ranging influence?  Is Bragg right that we only
hope works of literature (novels in his case) can change the
world?  I'm going to come up with a list of 12 American books that changed the world and post them soon (hopefully in the
next week).  Send me your own lists, of American or any nationality or even world books that have changed the world.  

A review of a new translation of Luis de Camões' sonnets.  Camões is best known for his Lusiads, but his other poems are
little known outside the Portuguese-speaking world.  But this creates such a high standard (at least for this reviewer) for a
translation to succeed:

Yet Camões' lyrical poetry has a double fascination. First, four decades before Shakespeare was writing lines like "My mistress'
eyes are nothing like the sun", Camões was "out-Petrarching" Petrarch, creating poems of wonderfully lucid wit and beauty.
Second, the lyrics chart his progress towards being the poet who would write The Lusíads, as he left behind the Arcadian nymphs
and shepherds of his juvenilia and engaged with the challenge of his experiences in Africa and India. He was the first great European
poet to cross the equator and find a style to encompass different people and landscapes.

Perhaps it would be easier to learn Portuguese?


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Thursday, March 23, 2006
The silence ends.  I hadn't meant to be offline for nearly a week, but you know, children intervene.  When I get very busy at
home, I tend to stop reading and writing.  Too much brain power needed.  Watching movies is easier when it's late at night
after a long day taking care of small children.  So I watched a lot of documentaries last week.  A couple short ones:

Edgar Allan Poe: the Other Side of Violence (1961) This is from the Touch of Fame series with Dr. Herman Harvey,
produced for a California TV station.  This is the kind of film they used to show to students as a "teaching aid."   Dr. Harvey
sits in an easy chair, book open before him, cigarette in one hand, speaking in a careful, reassuring tone, narrating the life of
Poe and the warped mind Poe must have had to write such ghastly stories.  It does include a modern dress dramatization of
"The Black Cat" that is curiously effective.

Bartleby (1969) short film dramatization by  
Encyclopedia Britannica part of a series of short stories adaptations produced
in collaboration with Clifton Fadiman.  There is an accompanying guide by Charles Van Doren, but I haven't seen the guide.  
Spooky harpsichord music and well-acted.  A young Barry Williams (Greg Brady) plays the office boy and calls
Bartleby "a

And some longer ones:

Herman Melville, Damned in Paradise (1985) A 90 min documentary on the life of Melville.  That's right, 90 minutes.  How
did they get the funding for this?  But it is fantastic.  John Huston narrates and F. Murray Abraham reads from Melville's texts
as the camera pans about the historical places of Melville's world (the islands he visited, as well as his homes, ships and New
York City) and literary critics provide interpretation.  I considerably enjoyed this.  Beautiful cinematography.  Abraham's
readings are exciting.  A wonderful portrait of Melville's life.  If you ever get the chance to see this, it's worth it (you might
find it in a library).

The Real World of Andrew Wyeth (1980) Another gem.  
Wyeth guides the viewer through his life and works.  
Extraordinarily revealing about the craft of painting, Wyeth sounds (to me) like a poet.  I especially like it when he admits to
a great fantasy to be invisible, so he can observe people without his presence affecting them.  And I especially like his
definition of painting as truth and memory.  That doesn't sound like much out of context, but after watching the film, learning
how Wyeth painstakingly creates his works, it rings very true.  See this one if you can.  Again, try a library for a copy.  And
there is a
Wyeth show about to open at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, "Andrew Wyeth: Memory and Magic."  I hope I
get to see it.

Thomas Eakins: a Motion Portrait (1986)
A mix of documentary and dramatization of Eakins.  Begins with Eakins snubbing
the Academy of Fine Arts for bestowing a gold medal on him.  He takes the medal, but shows his contempt for their
recognition.  Too little, too late.  Eakins then takes the medal to a bank to sell the medal for its value in gold.  

Now I'm swept up in watching the new
Bleak House that ran on Masterpiece Theatre last month (and on the BBC last
year).  Absolutely spectacular.  I'll post on it when I'm finished.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Saturday, March 18, 2006
I found a speed reading test online.  I tested at 260 words per minute, just above average, but at 82% comprehension which
is pretty good.  I know I'll never have enough time to read all the books I want to, but I still think it's better to read slower.

One thing that will probably never improve is my handwriting.  And now I know there's a term for bad handwriting,
cacography.  It's common knowledge that boys in school always have much worse penmanship than the girls, so are males
born with a cacographic gene?

A very interesting piece on a photographic exhibit at the Shapero Gallery in London, Face to Face: 19th-century Portrait
Photographs 1850-1900, featuring photos of the exotic cultures that fascinated the Victorians:

Photography was also used to provide a record of empire. The Bombay Photographic Society was founded (by and for Europeans)
as early as 1854, and one of its members, a civil servant called William Johnson, published a photographic record of The Oriental
Races and Tribes, Residents and Visitors of Bombay in 1863. The camera was used less for strictly anthropological reasons than to
catalogue possessions, namely the various peoples acquired by the British Crown from the East India Company in 1858.

I was quite taken with several of the portraits.  Am I a Victorian at heart, amazed at the exoticism of these foreign cultures?  
Check out the
Egyptian woman and the Middle Eastern woman.   I also love the Svartisan Glacier, Norway and the
Sinhalese man.  And of course, how could I not love this guy smoking his long pipe.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Friday, March 17, 2006
In honor of St Patrick's Day, check out Ken Bruen's letter from Galway in the Philadelphia City Paper:

After a reading, we went to ... yup, the pub. And the customers, alerted to me arrival, had lined up shots of Jameson and green
Guinness. It's a complete mystery to us in Ireland how you could desecrate a pint with green dye. Are ye stone mad and we do
know ye mean well but god almighty.

Also, this week's PCP is the Spring Book Quarterly and the cover story is about an early 20th century Philadelphia noir
writer, John McIntyre.  This is so fortuitous for me.  Just last week I found McIntyre's
Steps Going Down at a library.  As it
was subtitled, "A study of underworld life in Philadelphia," I knew I had to read it, but thought I'd research the author first.  I
found his
Ashton-Kirk, Secret Agent online and a foreword that McIntyre wrote for a history of dime-novels, but that was
it.  So who is it that comes to save the day for me?  The oft mentioned (in
this blog) Duane Swierczynski (he's the editor of
PCP).  Should have asked him first.

Readers' Comments
Greg Kindall of Seven Roads responds to yesterday's sausage post:
Hi Ed -- Xtin at Xtinpore
recently reported on an email conversation in re: saucisson lyonnaise -- A number of culinary
philosophers are mentioned.
Greg Kindall
Seattle  Washington

Thanks, Greg.  And I wholeheartedly agree with Escoffier, "The appearance of a hot sausage with its salad of potatoes in oil
can leave nobody indifferent ... it is pure, it precludes all sentimentality, it is the Truth."

and our friend Dan also comments on yesterday's post:
Ed, Another post that hits the mark. I knew there was something I liked about you. Where to start? Well, I told you already
how much I enjoyed
The Wheelman, so I won't repeat it again. I read the Swierczynski interview and I got to tell you, that
bastard got me! He answered a question about
The Wheelman:

To be perfectly honest, if THE WHEELMAN has any kind of appeal, it's because it's a bit relentless. The mini-chapters are short by
design, meant to be consumed like potato chips. I hate when I'm up late, digging a novel, but see that the current chapter goes on
for 30 more pages. It's like.... fuuuuuck. So I made everything really short, hoping to trick a reader into thinking: okay, just another
page. Okay, another. Okay, just one more... And then it's 4 a.m.

Talk about hitting the nail on the head! Man, those short chapters reeled me in page after page. The worst part was that the
book had to end. If I could write a novel, I would use that same technique. Of course if I were to write a novel, I would have
to use that technique due to my lack of attention span. Anyway...great interview: enough to get me to buy his other books.
On to Matthew Pearl. Another great writer. I loved
The Dante Club. It's one of the books that got me onto my historical
fiction kick ( was a Dante historical fiction kick...along with Nick Tosches'
In the Hand of Dante, an all time great).
Even though I am not a Poe fan, I am certainly anticipating his new book.
Last, a comment on America's favorite poem: What!?!? The list of choices is a little bit lacking. I had to vote for Eliot,
thought Whitman was a close second. Frost seems like the kind of writer that would be America's favorite poet though, but I
guess that wasn't the question.

Dan, I had the same experience with
Wheelman and I wrote to Duane to complain about keeping me up all night.
I still haven't gotten around to reading Tosches' book.  One of these days.
And have you seen the results of the poetry voting.  "Prufrock" is in the lead.  I love the idea of
that being America's favorite


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.

Thursday, March 16, 2006
There's an interview with Duane Swierczynski in the new issue of Allan Guthrie's online zine, Noir Originals, in which we
learn the difference between writing non-fiction and fiction: "If fiction is Polish sausage, then non-fiction is the little bits of
meat and gristle and knuckles and teeth you push into the meat grinder."  Kielbasa.  My mouth waters.  And it's not just any
author who can reference Ultraman, nuns, Friday the 13th movies and kielbasa in the same interview.  It takes a
crime novelist to do that.

I am so excited to learn that Matthew Pearl has a new book coming out in May, The Poe Shadow.  Pearl's first novel was
The Dante Club which had Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell (all 19th
century American writers were required to sport three names, you know) trying to catch a serial killer who uses
as a template for his murders.  Great stuff.  And the new one: Poe, Dupin, "sinister machinations involving political
agents, a female assassin, the corrupt Baltimore slave trade, and the lost secrets of Poe’s final hours."  Matthew Pearl, I love

And here's a very interesting piece on Inspiration, the Divine Muse that feeds the artist:

In our craving for something we can't count on we will often unwittingly do anything we can to destroy it. Inspiration may not
belong to us, but it is only we who can be inspired. And by the same token it is only we who can spoil it.


The Bibliothecary always welcomes readers' comments.
Tree and Column, Tintern Abbey.
Roger Fenton
1853. Albumen print mounted on card.
The Chess Players, 1876, Oil on wood
Thomas Eakins (American, 1844–1916)
A sixteenth-century design for a revolving reading
desk: Agostino Ramelli, Le diverse et artificiose
machine; composte in lingua Italiana et Francese
(Paris, 1588), p. 317. BL, 48.f.15.