Archives for the month of: April, 2015

IMG_0141_1024 copyOn 30 April 1936 my father, John Aubrey Hollick, received this yapp-edged blue morocco-leather-bound volume entitled The Liturgy and other Divine Offices of the Church. It was printed at the Chiswick Press Ltd., New Southgate, London and they appear to be the publishers too. IMG_0140His name is handsomely inscribed on the fly leaf followed by the date, and added below in a different hand, in a light pencil, the words “from his father”. This Liturgy would have been my grandfather, Walter John Hollick’s gift to his son on the occasion of his 23rd birthday. The inscription is in his hand.

Now it came to pass that on the 20th of January that year King George V had died and his eldest son acceded to the throne as Edward VIII. Everyone must be familiar with the shabby story of the new King’s wish to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson, an American who had divorced her first husband and was now seeking divorce from her second. Such behavior was deemed by the government to be un-king-like and Edward was eventually forced to abdicate in favor of his brother. The heft of Edward’s mind may be indicated by his insistence that he face left (as his father had done) on coins minted during his reign, in order to show the parting in his hair, which he rather admired, although traditionally on British coinage each successive monarch faces in the opposite direction to his or her predecessor.

In Church of England prayers the monarch is from time to time mentioned by name. When King George dies, all the sheets you have on hand become obsolete because there’s obviously little point in praying for the health of a monarch who’s just left us. I assume that the Chiswick Press kept sheets on hand, unbound, as all publishers of Bibles and Prayer Books did and still do. You print long and bind short in this business. Nowadays you’d curse and waste the sheets with the offending name — quite a lot of the sigs would be salvageable as the volume contains full Psalms and Hymns in which our terrestrial monarch is not referenced. However it’s an indication of the changed relationship between labor cost and paper cost that the Chiswick Press opted to print up little patches which they pasted in over the word GEORGE, conveniently similar in length to the new King’s name. In this photo you can make out the little patch about a third of the way down page 74. The correction process was not wholly successful though: on page 14 a patch is needed as we still remember George and his gracious family before the Lord, but it was omitted. I wonder if this means that they missed that correction across their entire sheet stock, or that the apprentice charged with the paste-up just missed page 14 on this copy only. It doesn’t look like a patch fell out.

IMG_0139It’s possible that these patch corrections were made to an already-bound book, but I think that would probably even then have been handled by a rip and tip: it’s just easier and neater to replace the whole page in a bound book.

IMG_0142Look however at this patch from page 38. Why is the length of the lines wrong? Maybe the type size is smaller because there are more words than previously. But why is it pasted in with the wrong alignment, about ¼ of an inch too far left? Does that pencilled X in the margin suggest that the Chiswick Press merely printed the corrections and then sent them to recent customers who’d be responsible for pasting them in themselves? Maybe. But the timing isn’t really right: he didn’t get the book till after Edward became king. (Albert, Duke of York, is the one who in the following year became George VI.)

Also enclosed in the book is a single sheet bearing prayers for the next coronation, of King George VI, in May 1937. What turmoil: having to correct your books then correct them all over again. Queen Elizabeth has done prayer book publishers a great favor by reigning for over sixty years. The capitalized one on this sheet is of course her mother.IMG_0143

Pasting patches wouldn’t be done nowadays — the skills are just no longer available to book manufacturers. In the olden days a bindery employee would have gone through an apprenticeship or thorough training where skills like this would have been drilled into his (or her, as the bindery was the one area where women were employed) young head. For instance any printer/binder would in the old days have been able to do a rip and tip: now we send them off to the “book hospital” where some of the old handwork skills are still to be found.

I wonder about that pencilled addition “from his father”. Who would have written it? Not my father: he’d not be needing reminding of who gave the book to him. Maybe his mother; making clear to him that she’d bought him a less-impersonal gift? I doubt that too. I think it was probably added by his sister, going through his things after he died. I believe she added these words so that I, at some point in the future, would be able to reconstruct this act of memory, which, having just received the book earlier this month, I am proud to do on this, the 102nd anniversary of my father’s birth, and shortly after the 70th anniversary of his death — on the 2nd of March 1945 in a Japanese POW camp.


contentThis publication was started in 1873, dreamed up by Frederick Leypoldt, editor of the recently formed (1872) Publishers Weekly. The LUCILE Project has the story. The idea was quite straightforward: all publishers would send PTLA the requisite number of copies of their catalogs, and these would be bound up in one volume for the convenience of the trade. Apparently by 1900 or so the publication had swollen to about a foot thick. The correspondence about this publication at the SHARP listserv tells us that the Hathi Trust has been unable to scan many of the volumes because they were more than 5 inches thick — quite a lot of room for trouble between 5 and 12 inches. Google Books did manage to scan at least one volume, 1917, which you can see here. If you scroll down past the Henry Altemus Company’s catalog, you’ll get to the contents list — there’s an amazing number of publishers who sent in their lists.

In 1948 PTLA became the basis for Bowker’s Books in Print, although apparently the earlier publication went on being produced till 2001. I don’t remember anything of this sort going on in the New York publishing houses I was working in for the last quarter of the last century, but no doubt that just means I didn’t know about it, not that it wasn’t happening.

imagesWe tend to be a bit judgmental about this topic. We see iconoclasm as something awful “they” do. But hang on. It’s not really all that long ago that we were busily engaged in it ourselves. Religion and politics make people do odd things. Oliver Cromwell’s men would go around chopping the heads off “catholic” statuary. Here’s an example from Ely Cathedral.

George III bites the dust at Bowling Green, NYC, 1776

George III bites the dust at Bowling Green, NYC, 1776

ditto, Saddam Hussein, Baghdad, 2003

ditto, Saddam Hussein, Baghdad, 2003








Of course we don’t think that these eager Protestants were right to smash stained glass windows and pull down statues, but we can, I think, recognize that they did have more or less rational reasons for doing so. They weren’t just doing it to be naughty.work_155









Now we focus our anti-iconoclastic gaze on the middle east, most recently the destruction of so much stuff in Mosul. Let’s assume that the reports are genuine and that it wasn’t just copies that were destroyed for show on their videos: these guys are known to be shrewd merchants, and might be thought to have saved the real stuff for resale. (And in a way, is being destroyed more of a loss than being sold into a secret private collection?) It is claimed that most Muslims disagree with the interpretation of scriptures which holds that these acts are mandated on the faithful. But the belief is surely not utterly crazy: one can see how a faith might come to the view that making images of god, or man, who was made in god’s image, was a bad idea. We may find it hard to sympathize, but so many tenets of all religions are hard to sign up for (without of course faith, that cure-all when it comes to the swallowing of extravagances). Of course it’s deplorable that these artworks should disappear for ever, but most of the people objecting would never have gone to Mosul to look at them anyway. Is it awful to suggest that the Bamiyan Buddas are as immediate to me today as they were in 2001 (which is rather more so than they were prior to their destruction, as I’d never heard of them)? I do think that if a majority in a society decides this is the thing to do, then their neighbors have no reason for preventing them. I do acknowledge that Mosul and Bamiyan don’t represent majority decisions, but east and west, might is unfortunately right. We western intellectuals do tend to idolize art, and maybe this modern attitude is a little offbeat in world-historical terms.

When it comes to destroying libraries, I’m a bit more conformist. Remember the panic about the destruction of the Timbuktu libraries by fundamentalist militants? Publishing Perspectives sent us an account of the saving of the manuscripts we were worrying about. It does seem that at least some of the documents escaped destruction. In the case of books, one of the great things is that printing, by making multiple copies, lessens the odds of any individual work being destroyed for ever. If you burn up the copy in Mosul’s library, you don’t affect all the other libraries and individuals that may have copies too. Now of course some of the Mosul stuff was, like Alexandria, no doubt unique, manuscript originals, which nobody now will be able to see. I too regret the fact that so little of classical Greek literature has come down to us. But again, if destroying it is what the “owners” really wanted to do, do any of us really have a right to say they can’t? Whatever the ethics of the situation, as a practical matter we certainly don’t have any way of enforcing our view. Our view, just because it’s ours, doesn’t automatically gain primacy anywhere in the world except in our head.

One of the more fascinating aspects of these things is how we none of us give a hoot about remote libraries and artworks until they have been destroyed, or are threatened with destruction. Of course you can’t know what you don’t know, and maybe just caring in a sort of generalized way is sufficient — though to me it verges on “just keep it there in case I ever get around to making a visit and want to look at it” selfishness. Here from MessyNessyChic (via Book Patrol) is a story about Chinguetti, another unknown desert library center which seems to be struggling against the sands of time. Of course “caring” folks will doubtless want to inveigh against the dust and storage conditions, but they’ll be relieved that UNESCO is on the case. I wonder how many more places like this there might be awaiting discovery by us (though doubtless perfectly familiar to the locals) so that we can take them under our western wing and care for them “properly”.

file000543315143Lit Reactor, via Ink, Bits, and Pixels brought us the news back in February that someone was dumping books in the median of Highway 287 in Colorado.

Now Book Patrol  closes the case. Apparently Glenn Pladsen was unable to make a go of it selling his books for a penny, so he took to chucking them away on his way to and from work.

Here’s another business made possible by the existence of the internet, and more specifically Amazon. It seems crazy to find books available for 1¢, but I’ve bought several used books for just that.  If you’re picking your inventory up as garbage, your cost of goods is pretty low, though the potential payoff comes with the shipping charge. Ink, Bits & Pixels tells us how this all got started. The Guardian (via The Passive Reader) has a fuller story.

Success is available only by being efficient. “What remains inflexible is the $3.99 fee Amazon charges the buyer for shipping. From that $4, Amazon takes what they call a “variable closing fee” of $1.35. They also charge the seller 15% of the item’s price – which in the case of a penny book is zero. That leaves $2.64 to cover postage, acquisition cost and overhead.” Not a huge amount, but enough, with volume, if your operation is super-efficient, to amount to a decent profit.

22bb8278-f7ae-4f74-b1a8-6cb90fdd4dba-620x372The Economist tells me about Robo-Chef, a pair of robotic hands which will execute any of 2,000 recipes loaded into its memory. 2,000! Link this up with Chef Watson and the world’s your oyster, or bacon, or beef, or brussels sprout.

Go to, the manufacturer, and don’t “skip intro” so you can watch their video: it’s fantastic. The robot even does clean up. It picks up the moves by mimicking its master.

I can’t see why anyone would buy a cookbook in, say, five years from now. It’s true that the beast isn’t going to be available for a couple of years, and if “the goal is to produce a consumer version costing £10,000” as the BBC tells us, the  threat may be a bit more remote than five years. But Moore’s law will surely come into play and bring the thing within all our budgets eventually. The BBC site has a video and an audio clip.


Here’s a J. K. Rowling interview from the Today Show about her future plans (which don’t include writing another Harry Potter book, though she does insist she will write more books for kids).  Her charity, Lumos, is focussed on relieving the condition of children in “orphanages” around the world — 80% of whom are apparently not orphans! The problem is poverty: as she says “If you are faced with a situation where you’re being told your child can starve or we’ll put it in an institution and it’ll be fed, what are you going to chose?”

If I’d made something like a billion dollars from my writing, I’d like to think I’d come up with as good an idea. Of course she shouldn’t write any more Harry Potter books: there are better things to do.

(Link via The Passive Voice.)

cognitive-cookingIs this the end? Cookbooks have proved a surprisingly resilient category of printed book — they make such good gifts. But here’s Jeopardy winner Watson scrutinizing all your ingredients and generating recipes for you. As IBM’s press release says “Chef Watson is able to learn recipes, dish types, and ingredients, understand human taste preferences, and then rearrange and redesign the data to generate unique combinations of savory ingredient pairings. Given the numerous different combinations of possible ingredients in the world, it’s impossible for a single person to imagine and reason about them all.”

Surely this means that flipping through recipe books is now shamefully analog — the sort of thing only your granny should be seen doing. From time to time “they” do go on about a wired-up refrigerator that tells you (or even automatically orders) what you are running out of. Well now it can send you an list of dishes you can whip up with what’s on hand. Thus far you still have to be the one to turn on the gas, stir the pot and do the cleaning up: but we can live in hope. I do think that we are just at the beginning of this sort of brain-add-on computing. We vent a lot about the difficulty of sorting through all the books out there now, but Watson or a relative will surely soon be able to digest all that for us, and return suggestions for what we might like to read next. Of course there’s nothing to stop his precocious great nephew from reading it all for us and delivering to us whatever inputs it is that our highly connected brain might feel the need of.

But wait a minute: one has to wonder when one discovers that they are promoting this new whizz-bang system with . . .  a cookbook.

And as our Luddite friends might have anticipated (hoped), when they tested it on NPR Chef Watson’s recipe did omit any instruction for using one or two of the ingredients listed. I guess it still has people in there somewhere, able reassuringly to make mistakes.

(Link via Book Patrol)


Poor old Bulwer Lytton (or Bulwer-Lytton), immortalized for the beginning of Paul Clifford, “It was a dark and stormy night . . .” This never seemed to me such an awful start, and I wonder how it grew to epitomize bad beginnings. In full the sentence reads “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” According to Wikipedia the phrase is considered to represent “the archetypal example of a florid, melodramatic style of fiction writing,” though why we should take the word of The Phrase Finder is not clear. I suspect we’ve all read purpler passages. So OK, it’s a little periphrastic to the 21st century ear: but it’s succinct and to the point when compared with the first sentence of Nicholas Nickleby say or The Canterbury Tales, or many other classic works which have dodged the “bad-first-line” bullet. Is it just because Snoopy began all the novels he wrote “It was a dark and stormy night” that they named it the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest? The contest has been going on since 1984, so I guess he’s saddled with it now.

Does he have a hyphen or not? Seems he was the son of General William Earle Bulwer, and added his mother’s maiden name (Lytton) when he inherited Knebworth House from her. His books now show him both with and without it, Dickens corresponded with him without hyphen, but whatever his own preference may have been, it seems we now (mostly) add the hyphen. My copy, an undated Cassell edition printed at The Mershon Company Press, Rahway, New Jersey, probably from the early 20th century, gives the author as Edward Bulwer Lytton (Lord Lytton). There are actually three of them, all of whom wrote. First is William Henry Lytton Earle, Baron Dalling and Bulwer who wrote An Autumn in Greece, Historical Characters and lives of Lord Byron and Lord Palmerston. The second, Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, first Baron Lytton is the dark and stormy night guy, and he is the brother of the first one. The third, Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton, first Earl of Lytton, his son, became viceroy of India, and wrote lots of poetry, often under the nom de plume, Owen Meredith. Confusion reigns: a Google search for Bulwer Lytton brings you info about Edward Bulwer-Lytton with a picture which is actually his son Edward Robert.

Here’s an OUP quiz to test your recall of first lines of famous books, and another for first lines of poems.

It’s on 23 April — this Thursday. Here’s a link to UNESCO’s site.