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English Bookbinding Styles, 1450–1800
I know less about bookbindings than I like to admit, a gap in my training that I suspect is shared by many of my colleagues in special collections libraries. Fortunately for my self-esteem, I am not alone, according to David Pearson, who states in his recent book on English binding styles that the subject “remains an area in which even rare book specialists often feel under-equipped or under-trained, and one that is often poorly served in catalogues.”
The Destruction of Great Book Collections Since Antiquity
An eyewitness account of the sacking and destruction of the Iraqi National Libraries in April 2003 leads Philip Hensher to note, “The burning of books…is so powerful a symbol of barbarism that the stench of it hangs in the air long afterward: It is something impossible to forgive, impossible to forget.” Unfortunately, this was not the first time books were destroyed in Iraq. According to Lost Libraries, “Genghis Khan’s grandson burnt the city in the thirteenth century and, so it was said, the Tigris River ran black with the ink of books.”
The King’s English
Adventures of an Independent Bookseller
This episodic history of Betsy Burton’s bookstore, the King’s English, reflects the recent story of independent bookselling. Burton and her first partner, Ann Berman, opened the shop in 1977, fueled by an enthusiasm for good literature and a dream of creating a hangout for book lovers in Salt Lake City. Neither partner knew much about running a business, but over time they learn how to negotiate with sales reps, stock inventories, assess and shape the reading tastes of their customers, and thwart the pilfering hands of larcenous employees. When a passion for books is no longer enough to make ends meet, they face the challenges bedeviling all independent booksellers: computerization and the Internet; chain stores and publishing monopolies; and the perennial bugaboo of civilization, censorship. At the King’s English, censorship evolved from objections over feminist literature in the 1970s to the Patriot Act in the 2000s. There are also the challenges unique to running a bookstore so near the headquarters of the Mormon Church. When Jon Krakauer comes to speak about his book on Mormon fundamentalism, Burton finds herself working with a private detective, the local vice squad, and a martial arts expert to provide security. She wonders where the line is between satisfying the wants of customers and squelching free speech.
Not of an Age, but for All Time
Shakespeare at the Huntington
This is a pleasing book for anyone with an interest in Shakespeare’s life and works. Jane Purcell, a high school teacher, offers far more than a handbook or guide to the Huntington Library’s Shakespeare holdings. The book’s eighty-five pages contain ninety-eight illustrations—including the inevitable title-pages and portraits, as well as art inspired by the plays and modern-day photographs of the library. Purcell’s command of Shakespeare scholarship comes through on every page, but the knowledge is worn lightly and served up with a palatable style.
The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950s E.C. Comics
One of the most significant art movements of the last century didn’t occur in the academies of Europe or in the universities and bohemian neighborhoods of American metropolises. It occurred between the colorfully lurid covers of comic books. The cramped sweatshops of comic-book publishers produced a body of work that is enormously influential in contemporary highbrow and popular culture. In their heyday, many adults dismissed comic books as a waste of time at best and as a catalyst for juvenile delinquency and depravity at worst. Yet, Roy Lichtenstein’s iconic comic-book–inspired paintings sell for millions, Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel about the holocaust, Maus, won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992, and Michael Chabon took home the fiction Pulitzer in 2001 for his rich epic, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, set in the comic-book world before the Second World War.
The Historical Map Transformed
When I show rare materials to students and other groups, the maps we encounter often elicit a collective indrawn breath, a palpable focusing of attention and scrutiny. Collectors of maps have an intimate knowledge of this fascination, and David Rumsey is clearly a map collector of the first rank. His collection numbers more than 150,000 items, and he has placed 10,000 images of his maps online (www.davidrumsey. com). As part of his continuing effort to bring the wealth of his collection to the public, Rumsey has written a large-format book, Cartographica Extraordinaire: The Historical Map Transformed, co-authored with Edith Punt. It is both an exhibition catalog of highlights from his collection and a thumbnail cartographic history of the discovery, exploration, and development of the Americas from roughly 1730 to 1930.
The Polysyllabic Spree
"Books are, let’s face it, better than everything else,” writes Nick Hornby. If that opening salvo doesn’t intrigue you as a bibliophile, or if you strongly disagree with it, you should put down this magazine and find something else worthwhile to do with your time (canasta, perhaps), because everything that follows in Hornby’s book, and in this review, is a passionate and opinionated dispatch about reading books. To wit: “If we played cultural Fantasy Boxing League, and made books go fifteen rounds in the ring against the best that any other art form had to offer, then books would win pretty much every time.
Classic Book Jackets
The Design Legacy of George Salter
If you collect fiction published in the United States during the middle years of the twentieth century—by Thomas Mann, William Faulkner, Graham Greene, Ayn Rand, William Styron, Franz Kafka, John Hersey, Hermann Hesse, John Dos Passos, or quite literally hundreds of other lesser-known authors—you will be familiar with the jacket art of George Salter. Salter (1897–1967) was born in Germany and practiced design in Berlin until emigrating in 1934 to the States, where he began designing books and jackets for American publishers.
Rhumb Lines and Map Wars
This little book exhibits a rare -- indeed, almost mutually exclusive -- combination of elements: scholarship, readability, and usefulness
I was a fan of The West Wing in its first few seasons, and I recall an episode in which the press secretary, C. J. Cregg, is cornered and subsequently closeted with a band of radical cartographers who lobby for every public school to adopt the Peters projection of the world map. This method of turning the round globe into a flat surface was promoted by the late Arno Peters (1916–2002), a German historian, and is allegedly fair to all peoples. In the map wars of the 1970s and 1980s, the traditional Mercator projection, named after its inventor Gerard Mercator (1512–1594), was accused of a kind of cultural hegemony, or even racism, for diminishing the relative size of developing nations compared to the First World. Mercator maps cause landmasses near the poles (Europe and North America) to balloon in size compared to those near the equator (Africa and Latin America). The Peters projection, by contrast, is supposedly area accurate, ensuring that the relative sizes of countries are correctly depicted.
Worlds of Tomorrow
The Amazing Universe of Science Fiction Art
The Golden Age of Science Fiction spanned the middle of the twentieth century, roughly 1920–1970, give or take a decade and a few heated arguments among fans. The groundwork was laid in the science romances of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, and the genre came of age in magazines and anthologies with hyperbolic titles like Amazing Stories, Super Science and Fantastic Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Uncanny Tales. To lure the reader of “scientifiction,” usually young and male, publishers adorned their rags with eye-catching artwork, combining outlandish images with garish colors and suggestions of overheated narratives. I remember rooting through old copies of these magazines as a kid, finding them in old bookstores and in the back of garages and basements.