Archives for the month of: October, 2016

cvicl_1xyaapwchSo can the guy really not decide which is better, the scroll or the codex, as Erik Kwakkel suggests in his Tweet of this illustration? I doubt it. I expect Book A was a scroll and Book B a codex, and the enquiring philosopher needed to consult both.

Just so, nowadays e-book or print book are not mutually exclusive categories. We don’t have to (and nor do we) chose one or the other. We often use both, just as today I’m reading The Secret Agent in the handsome hardback CUP edition, but while on the subway I pick up the story on my iPhone’s Kindle app.

But Christmas, or should I say the holiday season, is coming.

temple-of-the-musesJames Lackington is credited with the invention of bookselling as we know it. Lackington, Allen & Co. opened their shop, named The Temple of the Muses in a large building in Finsbury Square in 1794. “The Cheapest Bookstore in the World” it declared above the front door. Unexpectedly, The Temple of the Muses, which burned down (and closed) in 1841, has its own websiteLiterary Hub has a profile, and Classics and Class also has a good piece on the store.

In his Memoirs of the first forty-five years of the life of James Lackington he wrote of his first little shop: “Mr. Boyd then asked me how I came to think of selling books? I informed him that until that moment it had never once entered into my thoughts; but that when he proposed my taking the shop, it instantaneously occurred to my mind, that for several months past I had observed a great increase in a certain old-book shop; and that I was persuaded I knew as much of old books as the person who kept it. I farther observed, that I loved books, and that if I could but be a bookseller, I should then have plenty of books to read, which was the greatest motive I could conceive to induce me to make the attempt.” £10 of capital seems like a modest basis on which to found a business which would culminate in a temple of books, but one cannot argue with the motivation of having a ready supply of reading matter. (Eduscapes has an interesting section on Lackington as part of its extensive history of the book from 1450 to the present.

The Temple of the Muses had a stock of over 500,000 volumes and put out a catalog every year. These were large volumes and up to 3,000 of them were distributed in Britain and America. They had an international clientele. Lackington, in typical contemporary fashion, also acted as a publisher. The first edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was published in 1818 by Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones.

Quite the Bezos of his time, Lackington introduced many marketing ploys which are still with us. One which wasn’t familiar to me is his issuing of tokens which could be exchanged for books. I guess this is analogous to Book Tokens or Amazon gift cards.

A Lackington token

A Lackington token. Photo Georgian Index

life-and-fate_large   everythingflows_large   an-armenian-sketchbook_large   the-road_large

From the New York Review Books website:

Vasily Semyonovich Grossman was born on December 12, 1905, in Berdichev, a Ukrainian town that was home to one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities. In 1934 he published both “In the Town of Berdichev”—a short story that won the admiration of such diverse writers as Maksim Gorky, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Isaak Babel—and a novel, Glyukauf, about the life of the Donbass miners. During the Second World War, Grossman worked as a reporter for the army newspaper Red Star, covering nearly all of the most important battles from the defense of Moscow to the fall of Berlin. His vivid yet sober “The Hell of Treblinka” (late 1944), one of the first articles in any language about a Nazi death camp, was translated and used as testimony in the Nuremberg trials. His novel For a Just Cause (originally titled Stalingrad) was published to great acclaim in 1952 and then fiercely attacked. A new wave of purges—directed against the Jews—was about to begin; but for Stalin’s death, in March 1953, Grossman would almost certainly have been arrested himself. During the next few years Grossman, while enjoying public success, worked on his two masterpieces, neither of which was to be published in Russia until the late 1980s: Life and Fate and Everything Flows. The KGB confiscated the manuscript of Life and Fate in February 1961. Grossman was able, however, to continue working on Everything Flows, a novel even more critical of Soviet society than Life and Fate, until his last days in the hospital. He died on September 14, 1964, on the eve of the twenty-third anniversary of the massacre of the Jews of Berdichev in which his mother had died.

Grossman’s translator, Robert Chandler here discusses Life and FateEverything Flows and The Road in four videos made for his British publisher, MacLehose Press.

The short story he discusses in the fourth video, “Mama” is included in The Road.

Publishing Perspectives also interviews Chandler about his translations of Grossman and other Russian writers. The NYRB site shows the range of his work.

At one point in the video interview Chandler says Life and Fate, although it’s a big volume which might initially look off-putting, is actually very easy to read. So, no excuses, please. Get to it. It really is worth it.


tumblr_inline_nybv9rmdq01tefpu1_500In a world of print-on-demand and digital download, this initiative seems to be a step back into the analog world: a machine which will dispense cigarette-pack sized books. Apparently there’s just one Word-O-Mat machine in existence. It originated in Malmö, is now in Dundee at the Literary Festival (21-25 October), and will end up in Glasgow, where it will dispense mini books. As the company’s website says

“The Word-o-Mat zine editions will be dispensed from a beautiful vintage Wurlitzer cigarette vending machine based in Glasgow, Scotland. The machine is currently in Malmö, Sweden and will be taking a literary tour through Europe after the summer to its new home in Glasgow.

Wurlitzer is a legendary brand famed for making electric pianos, jukeboxes and electric organs as well as long-lasting vending machines.

Word-o-Mat editions will be published quarterly. Each edition is a small box the size of a cigarette packet, which contains several tiny books (zines) featuring the work of different authors from around the world. Sometimes this will be one short story and sometimes a collection of pieces like shorter poems or very short stories.”

Just how commercially viable this will prove to be remains to be seen. On their blog the writer reports making 2,000 mini books in her Dunbar living room. This hardly seems a production technique which can lead to any economies of scale, though details are sparse.

Atlas Obscura brings us a story about the vast underground stacks at NYPL. “This underground lair of books was part of a resolution to a tumultuous dispute over the library’s future. In March 2013, the library emptied its central stacks, the layers of shelving in the main building. While this main branch of the library has been a research collection, in which books could only be used onsite, the plan, at the time, was to renovate the old stacks and make this a circulating library. But researchers who valued the library’s old set-up objected, aggressively. The plan changed.”

Now that books have been returned to the underground storage vault, a new “book train ” has been installed to deliver them to readers on the surface.

The lack of a jaunty sound track or even commentary is a little disconcerting. A sound track might actually help here, whereas in the next video it’s no more than a trial. Open Culture has  a story about the train delivery system.

This a time-lapse video shows the resolving of the Rose Reading Room after repairs to the ceiling, where an immense plaster rosette crashed down a couple of years ago. Luckily it fell while the library was closed, so nobody was hurt. At the time it was anticipated that the reading room would be shut for six months.

The time-lapse link comes via The Digital Reader.

Later: Here’s a piece from Quartz reporting on NYPL’s decision to shelve by size, not Dewey Decimal. Now that computers enable you to locate any book with any unique location, this decision is far from strange. In so far as it will enable them to store more books in less space, it makes perfect sense.

You’ll know it when you see it. Laid paper has that little ridge and furrow pattern built in to it.

Here’s an extreme version of it offered by Gee Bothers of London for your wedding invitations:laidsample

Those furrows are made artificially nowadays, but the origin of the pattern goes back to the early days of papermaking, before we had invented machines to do the job. They weren’t as they now are a design feature; they were inherent to the process. Hand-made paper involves dipping a wire-bottomed sieve into a basin of water and pulp, pulling it out, and allowing the water to drain through leaving a sheet of (wet) paper behind. When you take the paper out of the mould, the pattern of the wires remains on the underside of the sheet: it’s a necessary consequence of the manufacturing process.

Nowadays so much of what we do in book manufacturing harks back to the old hand-work days: headbands, raised hubs on the spine, deckle edges, even the groove at each side of the spine, the half-title page, and lots of typesetting conventions. Nostalgia is alive and well in the book publishing business. When we decide to make a laid paper nowadays we do so for aesthetic reasons, and we have use a dandy roll, a light roller which carries the pattern and has no function other than to make an impression on one side of the web of paper. This pattern may include a watermark too: a laid paper doesn’t have to come with a watermark, just as a watermark can also be used with a wove (non laid, regular) paper.

The Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t really do justice to this term (this entry is unrevised since 1901). They include three paper-related quotations in a general definition of “laid”,  all dating from the 19th century. Like so many of the terms we use now as if they were ancient, the descriptor only became a word once we had developed to a point where we could have alternative choices. They cop out in giving the meaning only as “Deliberately framed” which doesn’t really work for paper (or indeed corn, ice, stitches and many of the other instances they reference)!

This will only be of interest to me I dare say (though it’s the sort of fact my mother would have delighted in), but they also explain the origin of what I always thought of as “the mill lade”, a contained stream, a sort of mini-canal which ran through the middle of the ancient wool town in which I grew up and was once used to power all the mills built over it. A laid drain is apparently a channel lined with stones — an exact description of the mis-spelled lade.

One hopes it never finds a place in e-books, but I guess for social media communication this expressive period/full stop might have a use. What about other punctuation marks? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to express themselves? Might this become the natural habitat of the interrobang?! (See Shady Characters here and here.)

Link via The Passive Voice

imageThe Cambridge establishment was miffed when credit was (justly) given to Agnes and Margaret Smith, non-academic, wealthy and intrepid travelers who in 1892 found the  Syriac Sinaiticus in St. Catherine’s Monastery, Egypt, rather than to a group of dons who subsequently went out to transcribe the manuscript. Atlas Obscura has the tale by Ailsa Ross.



You can examine Agnes Smith Lewis’ CUP publication of the find at the Internet Archive. The Syriac Sinaiticus is described and illustrated on pages 43-4. The imprint is interesting: I wasn’t aware that Cambridge like Oxford had allowed their London office to publish on their own. Well actually it looks more like they allowed their printer to publish on his own, using the warehouse in London as the distribution point. Maybe this can be read as a precedent for the recent unconventional publication of Michael Black’s Learning to be a publisher which, although it isn’t an official CUP publication may only be ordered from their bookshop in Cambridge.

The Monastery of St. Catherine seems to have been a treasure trove of Biblical manuscript. Wikipedia tells us “The monastery library preserves the second largest collection of early codices and manuscripts in the world, outnumbered only by the Vatican Library. It contains Greek, Arabic, Armenian, Coptic, Hebrew, Georgian, and Aramaic texts.” It also seems possibly to have been a low-security environment. Constant von Tischendorf, discoverer there of the Codex Sinaiticus in the 1840s, reported first finding leaves of it in a wastepaper basket, whence they’d have been taken as kindling to the ovens. Unsurprisingly the monastery did deny this. You can look at the manuscript at the Codex Sinaiticus site. The importance of the Smith’s discovery is that their Syriac Sinaiticus turned out to be the oldest Biblical translation.

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-11-04-43-amYou still have time to enter Heywood Hill’s anniversary drawing which can bring you a free hardback book every month for the rest of your life. But you have to act by the end of this month. The prize is effectively a life-time free membership to “A Year in Books”, which will cost you £325 annually if you don’t win the prize. I do think programs like “A Year in Books” are an excellent idea. If you look at the HH site, you can see that they offer a wide variety of subscription programs.

Heywood Hill (he was one person, not a pair) founded the shop in 1936. It’s a classy joint, situated in Mayfair at 10 Curzon Street. In 1991 the Duke of Devonshire became the majority shareholder, and the family are now sole owners. Nancy Mitford worked there during World War II and immortalized it in The Pursuit of Love. There’s a scene in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy situated in the shopThe New York Times Style Magazine did a piece on it earlier this year.


Notice in the photo that Heywood Hill is next door to Trumpers, hairdresser to the aristocracy! No connection to our current presidential election I am relieved to report.

(Link to drawing via Shelf Awareness.)