Sunday, August 27, 2006


The Folio Hunter

I've an article in the new issue of Smithsonian about Anthony James West, whose two-decade quest has had him tracking down and examining every Shakespeare First Folio in the world:

His work for the Oxford University Press series The Shakespeare First Folio: The History of the Book may qualify him as the most indefatigable pursuer of a single edition in literary history.... Newly discovered Folios still turn up. In 2004, Anne Humphries, a homemaker near Manchester, was named the sole survivor of a relative she'd never heard of; among the estate was a Folio that executors listed as "presumed to be a facsimile." Not at all. West discovered another Folio in the public library of the Yorkshire mining town of Skipton; the book had been mislabeled and forgotten.

As long as Folios are misfiled in libraries and hiding with long-lost relatives, the count of 230 copies will inch upward. At least a dozen known copies remain untraced. "I have about 130 leads," West says, adding that some are "quite hot."


Cricket Obits

Carefully hidden away in the one place I would normally never think to look -- namely, the sports section -- this week the Independent of London excerpted a couple dozen entries from a "a new bizarre collection of obituaries published in the Widsen Cricketers Almanack since 1892."

A few samples...

DOYLE, SIR ARTHUR CONAN, MD, the well-known author, born at Edinburgh on 22 May 1859, died at Crowborough, Sussex, on 7 July 1930, aged 71. Although never a famous cricketer, he could hit hard and bowl slows with a puzzling flight. (It is said that Shacklock, the former Nottinghamshire player, inspired him with the Christian name of his famous character, Sherlock Holmes, and that of the latter's brother, Mycroft, was suggested by the Derbyshire cricketers.)

AINLEY, ANTHONY, who died on 3 May 2004, aged 71, was an actor and a keen club cricketer for The Stage and London Theatres CC. "He was an eccentric and very effective opening bat who appeared in full body padding, sunblock, helmet and swimming goggles," according to his fellow-actor Christopher Douglas, "and he had a penchant for charging down the track and smashing the ball back over the bowler's head." Ainley followed his father Henry on to the stage, but found his greatest success on television as The Master, the arch-enemy of Doctor Who, in the 1980s. At one club game at the time, Ainley's fame preceded him, and the Sutton and Cheam Herald ran a headline above its match report proclaiming that "Inter-Galactic Terror" had been visited upon Surrey. A complex character, he usually took his cricket teas alone in his car - possibly because, according to one report, he "despised cheeses of all kinds".

CRISP, ROBERT JAMES, DSO, MC, who died in Essex on 3 March 1994, aged 82, was one of the most extraordinary men ever to play Test cricket.... His defining moment came in the Second World War when he was an outstanding but turbulent tank commander, fighting his own personal war against better-armoured Germans in Greece and North Africa. He had six tanks blasted from under him in a month but carried on fighting.... before being invalided out in Normandy. The king asked if his bowling would be affected. "No, sire," he is alleged to have replied. "I was hit in the head."

FOWLES, JOHN ROBERT, who died on 5 November 2005, aged 79, was a novelist whose work included The French Lieutenant's Woman. Cricket remained a lifelong interest, from the time Fowles learnt the game from the Essex captain, Denys Wilcox, at Alleyn Court prep school in Westcliff-on-Sea. While watching England nervily bat to victory over the West Indies at Lord's in 2000, he was joined in his living-room in Lyme Regis by a stranger asking the score. When Fowles told him, the visitor sat down and watched with him until Dominic Cork had hit the winning runs. Only when he asked how much Fowles charged for bed and breakfast, did both men realise that the stranger had walked uninvited into the wrong house.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


London Monkey Nuts

I came across The Dangerous Book for Boys in London last month -- it jumped out because there was simply nothing else quite like it in the store:

So I was delighted to see TLS, of all people, lauding it this week -- "Cloth-bound, gold embossed, reassuringly heavy, it mercilessly tugs at the heartstrings of anyone old enough to have ever read a Boy’s Own annual... They seem to be entirely serious in their quest, and with only traces of irony they have compiled a book that is packed with articles on such atavistic topics as conker fights and the manufacture of water bombs, invisible ink and the rules of cricket..."

There's no sign of a US release, and I suppose there might never be -- you'd need to be an expat or a serious Anglophile to revel in this book. But it's just the thing to go along with a viewing of Ripping Yarns, or to delight in evocative trivia:

In a book that revels in the peculiarities of the English character, my favourite section was on the phonetic alphabet. Before the standard version was established (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, etc) the RAF had its own version, which was thought to be more suitable for the British accent. This seems to encapsulate the aims of The Dangerous Book for Boys itself, preserving in twenty-six words a whole chapter of English social history – Ace, Beer, Charlie, Don, Edward, Freddie, George, Harry, Ink, Johnnie, King, London, Monkey, Nuts, Orange, Pip, Queen, Robert, Sugar, Toc, Uncle, Vic, William, X-ray, Yorker, Zebra.


Shandy Girl

I've been semi-obsessed with Japanese bands for the last few months -- much more on that at a later date. Until then, enjoy the album art that I stumbled across yesterday on a recently released EP....

The track listing includes a song called "Shandy Girl," which I like to imagine has something to do with Laurence Sterne. But maybe it's just about beer and lemonade...

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Remember That Guy Who Saved His Comic Books?

Well, he's laughing at you now.

(There's great continuing coverage of Davis Crippen's $2.8 million comix El Dorado over at the Dallas Observer...)


Can You Hear Me Now?

Yes, it's a musical instrument composed of 126 vintage Bakelite telephones:

Which reminds me: NPR had a great piece a couple weeks ago on a weirdly prophetic yet inept video jukebox from the 1960s called the Scopitone. You can see scores of them in all their warbly glory -- like this French scopitone video for "My Year Is A Day" by Dearly Beloved (aka Les Irresistables) -- over at Youtube...

Saturday, August 19, 2006


If Rob Zombie Had Been a Bookbinder...

Damn you, Fine Books, stop reading my mind!

Scott files a report on the one thing creepier than snakebound books -- anthropodermic binding:

It turns out that 2006 has been a big year for human skin bindings. Christie's sold another one on June 30, referring to the material as "peau humaine." Everything sounds better in French, doesn't it. The book was Souvenirs d'une Cocodette, ecrits par ellememe. Leipzig: Landmann, 1878. The binding was executed in 1883 for Alexandre Coccoz by Francisque Cuzin for Georges Mercier fils, according to an enclosed note. Sold for $6,000. I couldn't find any other auction records for human skin bindings in the last 30 years.

As it happens, I have an article coming up in the not-too-distant future that touches upon a particularly nightmarish case of anthrodermic binding, as well as the collection at Ursus Rare Books that Scott goes on to mention. Scott finds an anthrodermic copy of Holbein's Dance of Death that sold for $1,320 -- and Holbein does seem to be a favorite, as I have here a 1898 Times of London article describing the Sotheby's sale for £10 of one "H. Holbein, Alphabet of Death, 1856, printed on China paper and bound in human skin, with a weird design combining a skull and an owl."

Say, here's a question: What new book of 2006 is most likely to have someone bind it in human skin? ...

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Here in My Car

Today's Times of London covers an Asperger memoir, Daniel Tammet's Born on a Blue Day:

As an isolated and obsessive little boy, he spent his time covering the inside of the garden shed with ancient Phoenician lettering, and was fascinated by the fact that all three of his childhood home addresses were prime numbers: 5, 43 and 181. He sees any prime number as a beautiful round pebble. At the same time he has virtually no sense of direction, gets lost easily and struggles to remember left from right. He becomes anxious if his routines are upset, the rigid order of his day beginning with exactly 45g of porridge for breakfast.
He's in some good company, of course: over in today's San Francisco Chronicle, Gary Numan talks about his Asperger's diagnosis.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


The Madwoman in the Library

Did you hate Jane Eyre?

Not as much as this person did:

From an eBay item the seller rather hopefully labeled Rare 2nd Edition Jane Eyre 1847 -- Has Bullet Hole!

It had no bids....


The Plagiarism Remainder Table

Hey, remember when people were trying to get $200 for a copy of Opal Mehta?

Well, not anymore.


Too Stupid to Be A Scientist

"Dangerous Chemicals + Sleep Deprivation = Science!"

(Spotted by Inside Higher Ed.)

Sunday, August 06, 2006


A Modern Grub Street

LA Weekly on the early years of manga, thanks to godfather Yoshihiro Tatsumi's appearance at Comicon:

Comic-book artists in Japan, Tatsumi is saying, are workers for hire. He would often be asked to draw 50 pages a night.... Tatsumi talks in the lecture hall about drawing and Japan in the 1940s. “I feel as if I had no choice in the matter,” he says. “The level of poverty in Japan was quite severe. If I was to take up music, I would have to purchase instruments. To me, it seemed the most reasonable thing to create comics, because all you needed was a pen and paper.”

His next work is an autobiography that's been eleven years in the making.... presumably not at the rate of 50 pages a night. (Ah, but wouldn't it just be insane if it was?...)


Not Outside to Garden, Presumably

It always delights me when newspaper book sections break from the sales-cycle format and cover books that have been out for years. This week at The Stranger Charles Mudede pondered Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, in the Guardian Umberto Eco reviewed, er, Banvard's Folly (the same review's turned up again!), while the Telegraph carried a fascinating piece on Colin Wilson's once-fashionable book The Outsider:

In its day The Outsider was that rare thing - a superselling work of philosophy. In its first few months of publication it raced through 16 editions, selling 40,000 hardback copies. Eat your heart out, de Botton. It's just 50 years, to the month, that Outsider fever swept literary London.... The London literary world of 1956 was, as Wilson put it, 'mothbally' and due for a shaking up. Wilson, with his polo-neck sweater, duffle coat, wild hair and geeky horn-rims - 'the sleeping bag philosopher of Hampstead Heath' (Osborne's snide description) - was heaven-sent for the part of shaker-up in chief.

The opening sentence of The Outsider was, that summer, as famous as that of the Communist Manifesto: 'At first sight, the Outsider is a social problem. He is the hole-in-corner man.' On publication the book received rave reviews. The Observer proclaimed it 'better than Sartre'. The Sunday Times thought it 'remarkable'. The Listener declared it the 'most remarkable' book the reviewer had ever come across.

I'd barely heard of Wilson before, but googling him did turn up this amusing exchange:

P.N. Surveying your work, it becomes apparent that you have written a great number of introductions - thrown seals of approval around with generous abandon. Do you think a serious writer should commit himself to so many projects. I once read a book on gardening with an introduction by you describing your detestation of the subject.

C.W: You may well be right about that, I'm afraid. In the case of the gardening book, someone wrote to ask me, "Will you write an introduction?" I wrote back, "Why me? I hate gardening." And he said, "That's allright - tell us about how you hate it." So I did. I should have refused of course.

Saturday, August 05, 2006



Over in today's San Francisco Chronicle, I review Deborah Blum's Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death.

Among those who turn up in the book is Mark Twain, who beneath his crusty surface harbored a hesitant belief in ghosts. He certainly was a haunted man: Caleb Crain gave me a heads-up this week that Twain's annotated copy of Moncure Conway's Autobiography is up for sale. (Alas, it's an eye-watering $35,000). In the margins of Conway's anecdotes about Twain, the bookseller notes this unnerving reflection on mortality: On another page, after noting the names of his childhood friends in Hannibal, Clemens writes, "They are all gone; why were they created?"

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?