The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books






May-June 2010

Buchnarr, 1494. Ware! Ware! Ware the Book-Fool!


april 10

march 10

february 10

january 10

Nov.-Dec. 09

Sept.-Oct. 09

July-Aug. 09

Apr.-June 09

Jan.-Mar. 09

Dec. 08

Feb.-Nov. 08

january 08

autumn 07

29 June 10

Scribbling in Books

Your correspondent paid a short visit to the Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and his Circle at the New York Public Library, and was shown treasures beyond compare by the curator, Elizabeth C. Denlinger.

If you like your books as new from the publisher : the three volumes of Frankenstein (1818) in dappled rose paste paper covered boards with printed spine labels, pages untrimmed, clean and fresh.

And if you like your books to display signs of use and the applied intelligence of the reader : Godwin’s An Enquiry concerning Political Justice, and its influence on General Virtue and Happiness  (1793), annotated in Italy by Percy Shelley and Mrs Mason (whose governess before the Revolution was Mary Wollstonecraft), at passages such as this (vol. II, p. 430) :

Lastly, one of the most essential ingredients in a virtuous character is undaunted firmness ; and nothing can more powerfully tend to destroy this principle than the spirit of a monarchical government. The first lesson of virtue is, Fear no man ; the first lesson of such a constitution is, Fear the king. The first lesson of virtue is, Obey no man ; the first lesson of monarchy is, Obey the king. The true interest of mind demands the annihilation of all factitious and imaginary distinctions ; it is inseparable from monarchy to support and render them more palpable than ever.

Or : Shelley’s own working copy of the suppressed Queen Mab , marked and rewritten throughout in preparation for an edition acceptable to the booksellers (in boards, worn, with doodles by the author on the back cover and elsewhere in the book, long passages struck through and rewritten in the margins below). No pile of corrected typescript or computer printout revised in ink or digital file could ever exemplify such an intersection of object and process and history.

We also saw other wonderful books, manuscripts, and artefacts being readied for loan to an exhibition at the Bodleian Library, including a ring given by Percy Shelley to his first wife Harriet and her last letter to her sister   her last will and testament, written while of unsound mind   the earliest surviving bit of juvenile verse by Shelley, and much more.

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‘ he composed a note ’

— James Fergusson. Spicilegium Scoticum. Books and papers of Sir Herbert Grierson and others . [London : James Fergusson Books & Manuscripts, 2010]. Catalogue of 440 items of Scottish interest, with evocative and carefully written descriptions. From the description of item 96, papers and offprints of Bruce Dickins, Cambridge scholar of Anglo-Saxon and antiquarian :

. . . R.I. Page in his memoir for the British Academy, Bruce Dickins 1889-1978 (a copy of which is also in the collection). “ Dickins published freely, but as a miniaturist ”, writes Page. “ ‘ Where somebody else would have written a book, he wrote an article. Where another would have produced an article, he composed a note. ’ . . . For this type of writing he developed a crisp, laconic style and a no-nonsense tone, wasting no space on otiose words or observations. ”

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21 June 10

Current reading :

— Stories. All-New Tales. Eds. Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. William Morrow, 2010. Received for review, includes a couple stories that I have heard performed by their authors : Liz Hand’s “ The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon ” and Michael Swanwick’s “ Goblin Lake ” ; as well as the devastating “ Stories ” by Michael Moorcock, Jonathan Carroll’s deft “ Let the Past Begin ”, and numerous other excellent pieces. I have been posting marginal glosses on the stories in Stories  in advance of a longer review and will continue to do so.

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Recent reading :

— James Walsh. Solvitur ambulando . Left Hand Books, [2002].
Epigrams on walking and thinking from classical antiquity to Thoreau to Walter Benjamin : take a walk around the block

— Kingsley Amis. Everyday Drinking. The Distilled Kingsley Amis . Introduction by Christopher Hitchens (2008 ; Bloomsbury paperback). Collection of short books and journalism ; funnier than the classic : Charles Baker, The Gentleman's Companion  v. 2 (1939). Both best savored sober.

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10 June 10

Current reading :

— Lydia Davis. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis . Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [2009]. “ The Race of the Patient Motorcyclists ” is one of the joys in this volume to which I hae turned after the Heinlein biography.

— The Beastly Bride. Tales of the Animal People . Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. Introduction by Terri Windling. Decorations by Charles Vess. Viking, 2010. Next up.

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Just finished the review of Robert A. Heinlein. Volume 1. Learning Curve (1907-1948)  by William H. Patterson, Jr. A richly documented and compelling book.

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2 June 10

Thoreau, Work, and Travel

Fully engaged with reading the Heinlein biography, it was for tonic effect that I dipped into my copy of The Annotated Walden . . . together with “ Civil Disobedience ”  edited by Philip van Doren Stern (1970), especially the essay “ Civil Disobedience ” first published as “ Resistance to Civil Government ” in the single published issue of Aesthetic Papers  (1849). “ The objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing government. ” Sentences such as this offer a salutary contrast with what Brian Aldiss called Heinlein’s “ preoccupation with power ”. Also prompted by having recently held a Thoreau pencil, a rare and potent literary artefact.

The shipping department has been working on filling orders for The Man with the Knives by Ellen Kushner ; and the bindery department is finishing up the hand bookbindings. Details here.

Your Correspondent will be travelling to London and will file a field report or two.

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24 May 10

Current reading :

— William H. Patterson, Jr. Robert A. Heinlein. Volume 1. Learning Curve (1907-1948) . Forthcoming from Tor, August 2010. The first volume of the authorized biography of Heinlein, a writer at the heart of twentieth-century American science fiction. I am looking forward to this thick book : 493 pp. plus another hundred pages of real notes (many of them discursive). For review, under deadline, so this means I will defer other pleasures (see below).

— Lydia Davis. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis . Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [2009]. A master of concision and of the possibilities of plain language and heightened awareness.

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Neglected, Forgotten, Overlooked

Your correspondent has always had an eye for small books produced for non-commercial purposes and experienced that distinctive, very faint stirring of joy when a small privately printed volume of occasional verse (on topographical, architectural and genealogical topics) was found. It is unrecorded in collective library databases such as OCLC, and when something more about can be written about its authorship and production, you will read it here first.

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17 May 10

Patrick Pearse (again)

The most interesting item I read this week (apart from Thoreau’s sentence, below ; and a private letter from Joanna Russ) appears in the current issue (vol. II no. 1) of the Occasional Nuggets from the Providence Public Library Rare & Special Collections , devoted to the Easter Rising Proclamation and Patrick Pearse (whose Short Stories  were reviewed in January) :

Rick Ring sheds more light on Pearse, author of the Proclamation, and cites ephemeral writings that are key to understanding whence the Proclamation arose : in particular, Tracts for the Times, No. 10. Ghosts  (1916).

Irish nationality is an ancient spiritual tradition . . .  The generations of Ireland have gone into battle for no other thing. To the Irish mind for more than a thousand years freedom has had but one definition. It has not meant a limited freedom, a freedom conditioned by the interests of another nation, a freedom compatible with the suzerain authority of a foreign parliament, but absolute freedom, the sovereign control of Irish destinies.

This goes a long way to explicating the invocation of “ the dead generations ” in the Proclamation. Ring also reports just how rare the Proclamation is (only two copies reported in public collections in the U.S.), and gives an overview of research by James Mosley into the circumstances of the printing and distribution of the broadside.
Details at : [N.B. this link has rotted].

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Deliberate Prose

Whatever book or sentence will bear to be read twice, we may be sure was thought twice.

— Thoreau, Early Spring in Massachusetts , 18 March 1842

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Spontaneous Poetics

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness . . . 

When is the last time you listened to a reading of Howl  by Allen Ginsberg ? Compelling, in your face, with some astonishing juxtapositions. Do it now.

(Thanks to the Anonymous Other for the reminder.)

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Rilkes ‘ Hände ’

Aber Hände sind schon ein komplizierter Organismus, ein Delta, in dem viel fernherkommendes Leben zusammenfließt, um sich in den großen Strom der Tat zu ergießen.

— R.M. Rilke, Auguste Rodin . Insel-Verlag, 1924 (p. 33)
Above : Rodin’s hand, with torso (Rodin Museum, Phila.)

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10 May 10

‘ The Man with the Knives ’ by Ellen Kushner

Monday 3 May was publication day for The Man with the Knives  by Ellen Kushner, a new short story set in the world of her novel Swordspoint , with original illustrations by Thomas Canty. Above, one of the hand bound copies signed by author and artist. A small and festive gathering was held at James Cummins Bookseller in New York City, with the author in attendance and signing.

Copies are available, and orders for subscribers are being filled this week. Details here.

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The Last Three

[CNB] :
— Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Pages from the Goncourt Journals  (2006, New York Review Books). Remainder found at Half-Price Books, Austin, read on trip to Paris
— Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature 1150-1750  (1998, Zone Books MIT Press). Cloth edition discovered at 12th Street Books, Austin, TX ; research for a book
— Andy Clark, Natural-Born Cyborgs : Minds, Technologies and the Future of Human Intelligence  (2003, Oxford University Press). Research for a book, found at Austin Public Library

[BC] :
— Wilkie Collins, Armadale . London : Smith Elder, 1866. The least-known of Collins’ “ big four ” novels of mystery and adventure.
— Henry Pullen, The Fight at Dame Europa’s School . Illustrated by Thomas Nast. New York : Francis Felt, [1871]. European countries are portrayed humorously as small boys, misbehaving
— Siegfried Sassoon, Meredith . New York : Viking Press, 1948. Slightly turgid, but very informative
— Natalie Merchant, Leave Your Sleep . New York : Nonesuch Records, Inc., 2010. Short illustrated biographies to accompany twenty-six nineteenth and twentieth century poems set to music. Delightful and provocative

Thanks to all participants to date. Please keep sending lists of the Last Three books read.

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Current Reading :

— Dorothy L. Sayers. The Nine Tailors. Changes Rung on an Old Theme in Two Short Touches and Two Full Peals . 1934 ; Harbrace Paperbound Library [ca. 1962]

Recent Reading :

— E.M. Forster. The Eternal Moment and other Stories . Sidgwick & Jackson, 1928. Includes the story “ The Machine Stops ”, Forster’s sole and very notable contribution to science fiction. Bought last fall at Serendipity Books in Berkeley

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Wander in the Archives

The Archives of the Endless Bookshelf have been swept and tidied and a guide has been prepared to assist wanderers. Index would be too strong a term : the headwords tend to be suggestive rather than directive. Start here. Have fun.

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This creaking and constantly evolving website of the endless bookshelf : I expect that some entries will be brief, others will take the form of more elaborate essays, and eventually I will become adept at incorporating comments or interactivity. Right now you’ll have to send links to me, dear readers. [HWW]

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