Madeleines are made from eggs, butter, sugar, flour, vanilla and lemon. Here’s a recipe.



Marcel Proust has stuck them into our minds as the prototypical memory stimulator. Here’s how it works, as explained by Gordon M. Shepherd in Chapter 20 of his Neurogastronomy: How the brain creates flavor and why it matters, Columbia University Press 2012. I quote:

Activating Proust’s Brain

We start with the knowledge that the taste of a madeleine must be mostly due to its smell. The stimulus for Proust’s taste experience was therefore the odors emanating from the mixture of pastry crumbs soaked in tilleul, the aromatic lime-scented infusion made from linden blossoms. What, then, might these smells have been?

It is sometimes argued that Proust dithered over exactly what kind of biscuit it was that stimulated his reverie, but it really does not matter. A traditionally made madeleine, in addition to possessing odor molecules that arise from the butter and eggs, would include several types of “aroma essences.” Flavors of foods are enhanced by heating and dissolving in water, which increase the vapor pressure so that volatile molecules are released into the air or within the mouth. Thus, as children learn, a humble pastry gives off its aromas with greater effect when its crumbs are dissolved in hot liquid. The aromas in a madeleine would include vanilla and several types of related odor molecules in the lemon, such as citral and limonene, which belong to the terpenes, a family of essential oils secreted by plants. As described in chapter 4, they are highly volatile, consisting of 5 carbon atom units linked together in various shapes and with various reactive functional groups such as esters, alcohols, and acids. The other source of olfactory stimulation in Proust’s concoction was the tilleul, which contributed its own scent.

How do these molecules give rise to a smell perception? As we have seen, receptor molecules in the fine hairlike cilia lying in the mucus are stimulated by the smell molecules as they are inhaled into the nose (the orthonasal route), and also by the smell molecules released from within the mouth that rise into the nasal cavity from the back of the mouth (the retronasal route). It is by this latter route, after the narrator has taken the brew into his mouth, that the smell molecules are released and carried by the warm and humid air of his nasopharynx to his olfactory sensory cells.

The smell molecules, absorbed into the mucus, act on receptor molecules in the cilia membranes. These in turn initiate the cascade of microkicks from one signaling molecule to the next to change a membrane protein formed around a tiny channel that lets electric charges flow through it. This alters the electrical potential across the cell membrane, leading to the discharge of impulses in the cell that is conveyed through its long fiber (axon) to the first relay station in the brain.

The narrator’s mouthful of crumb-laden tea thus activates a range of receptors tuned to the different volatile components, leading to impulse discharges that carry the information to the brain. But in addition to activating impulses, the signaling cascade in the receptor cells also contains a number of pathways for controlling the sensitivity of the sensory response. Repeated stimulation brings about desensitization of the secondary messenger pathway. In Swann’s Way, Proust appears to be describing precisely this effect: “I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, then a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop; the potion is losing its magic. It is plain that the truth I am seeking lies not in the cup but in myself. The drink has called it into being, but does not know it, and can only repeat indefinitely, with a progressive diminution of strength, the same message which I cannot interpret, though I hope at least to be able to call it forth again . . . I put down the cup and examine my mind.”

Desensitization of a secondary response is well known in the experimental literature and is often referred to as sensory adaptation. It is a very general phenomenon that occurs any time a given nerve cell or neural pathway is stimulated repeatedly. As discussed in chapter 8, the logic of this is that the nervous system is not constructed to register every sensory stimulus imposing on it, but only those that signal a sudden change from a former state. It is these that carry the most critical information, until a different stimulus occurs.

It seems clear that desensitization of the initial sensory mechanism takes place during Proust’s initial repeated attempts to conjure up the “truth.” However, a close reading of the text indicates that several other neural processes are likely also occurring. A second process is adaptation in the neural pathways that process the odor information to give rise to the odor perception; these would occur in the pathways of the brain flavor system. Adaptation may also occur in the pathways that link an odor perception per se to the systems underlying odor memory. Finally, there are systems related to the narrator’s vision of the “truth” — the systems involved in the storage of the visual memories and their retrieval. The fading of the “truth” may thus be due to multiple mechanisms of adaptation, in addition to the desensitization of the receptors. But to assess this further, we need to ask what is the nature of the odor perception elicited by the potion.

Impulses in the fibers from within the sensory neurons give rise to spatial patterns of activity within the first brain related station, the olfactory bulb. These patterns are the smell images of the information carried in the smell molecules (chapters 4-10), which are projected to the olfactory cortex where they form a content addressable memory of the smell object (chapter 11), and are sent from there to the orbitofrontal cortex (chapter 12) to be combined with other sensory and motor systems to form the perception of smell and flavor (chapters 13-18). 

It is this flavor image that was recognized by Proust’s brain, at first only indistinctly, as being part of a more complex memory that initially seemed beyond recall. The flavor image of the tea-soaked madeleine is thus metonymic for the complex multisensory image of the town of Combray.

Smell, Emotion, and Memory Recall

The direct access of the smell pathway to these forebrain mechanisms is essential for understanding the nature of Proust’s olfactory-evoked experience. We have indicated the cortical mechanisms involved in Proust’s cognitive, perceptual response (chapter 18). This direct olfactory connection to the forebrain provides insight into the heightened degree of the emotional state evoked by the odor stimuli, the strength of the voluntary search for the missing “truth,” and the overwhelming quality of the “involuntary” memory finally brought forth.

The emotions evoked by the madeleine are central to the whole theoretical edifice of the madeleine episode . . . Brain research can best provide insight into the question “Whence did it come?” We have explained how, from the olfactory cortex, the pathway for perception is directed towards the prefrontal neocortex. But the olfactory cortex also gives rise to multiple pathways that connect directly to the so-called limbic regions of the brain that are involved in the mediation of both memories and emotions.

The key structures include the hippocampus, a central organizing node for single-event “episodic” memories, and the amygdala, which, in parallel with the orbitofrontal cortex, is involved in stimulus reinforcement association learning. 

So now you know.


Regretful printer, by John DePol, from The Legacy Press.

You don’t want to be doing one of these. It means you (or one of your colleagues) have screwed up, and badly enough to warrant the expenditure of quite a bit of money.

Errata, also referred to as Corrigenda, are mistakes and misprints discovered after  a book has been printed. They may be joined by their cousin Addenda. In the early days of printing, when it took quite a while to work through the setting and printing of a book, Corrigenda and Addenda might be incorporated into the first printing, in the front matter which would be printed last. Some early printers corrected errors and omissions straightforwardly by hand-written additions.

The whole subject gives bibliophiles conniptions: they agonize over things like whether a book which had an erratum slip is complete if the erratum slip has gone missing — which of course tends to happen a lot.

If the mistake is embarrassingly silly it may be taken care of by a cancel — a completely new page tipped in in place of the ghastly original. An erratum slip may tend to advertise the carelessness of the author’s proofreading, and occasionally may be there as a silent admonishment by a frazzled publisher. Just dropping an erratum slip into the book is the cheapest way of dealing with the problem — other of course than simply ignoring it and assuming nobody’ll notice, which is more and more our modern attitude. But really an erratum slip should be tipped in somewhere near the end of the front matter: if you’re going to go to the expense of doing one, you really want the reader to get the benefit of the information it carries.

See also Anti-decluttering for a couple of examples.

This woodcut by Hans Burgkmair (1473-1531) carries the date 1510. Burgkmair is credited, along with Lucas Cranach, with inventing the chiaroscuro woodcut whereby a multicolor printed picture could be produced in multiple copies. This was basically an attempt to reproduce the technique of chiaroscuro drawing: drawings on a colored paper where ink was used to create shadow and white paint to create a dramatic highlight. Burgkmair’s “Lovers surprised by Death”, is the earliest chiaroscuro woodcut known. It was made from three wood blocks, printing in black, and two shades of red/brown ink. The highlights are left blank allowing the paper to create the contrast. Naturally careful registration was required when printing a chiaroscuro print. The detail below makes things a little clearer.

Chiaroscuro has always seemed a slippery term to me. It is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “The style of pictorial art in which only the light and shade, and not the various colours, are represented; black-and-white, or dark brown and white.” They suggest that that definition is now in fact obsolete, the meaning having generalized out to cover just the (usually dramatic) treatment of light and shade in any picture. I suspect my uncertainty about the word resulted from its being used in these two different ways. A painting by Georges de la Tour doesn’t really have much in common with Burgkmair’s print.

The video below accompanied an exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2014. Achim Gnann, from the Albertina Museum in Vienna gives a 5-minute history of the early development of the chiaroscuro woodcut.

If you don’t see a video here, click on the title of the post to view it in your browser. The YouTube video is a bit herky-jerky, but it is all there.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, in his essay “Books”, “Meantime the colleges, whilst they provide us with libraries, furnish no professor of books; and, I think, no chair is so much wanted. In a library we are surrounded by many hundreds of dear friends, but they are imprisoned by an enchanter in these paper and leathern boxes; and though they know us, and have been waiting two, ten, or twenty centuries for us — some of them — and are eager to give us a sign, and unbosom themselves, it is the law of their limbo that they must not speak until spoken to; and as the enchanter has dressed them, like battalions of infantry, in coat and jacket of one cut, by the thousand and ten thousand, your chance of hitting on the right one is to be computed by the arithmetical rule of Permutation and Combination — and not a choice out of three caskets, but out of half a million caskets all alike. But it happens in our experience that in this lottery there are at least fifty or a hundred blanks to a prize. It seems then, as if some charitable soul, after losing a great deal of time among the false books, and alighting upon a few true ones which have made him happy and wise, would do a right act in naming those which have been bridges or ships to carry him safely over dark morasses and barren oceans, into the heart of sacred cities, into palaces and temples.”

We should not perhaps be surprised that events have caught up with Emerson: we do now have professors of books. However our professors of books are not doing exactly what it was the sage of Concord desired. I follow the SHARP listserv (The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing) which is contributed to mainly by professors of books, and I can confirm that the main focus on books is not “in naming those which have been bridges or ships to carry [them] safely over dark morasses and barren oceans, into the heart of sacred cities, into palaces and temples”, but on the social, cultural and technical history of the book as object. A recent vigorous exchange perhaps indicates the extent to which the big problems have already been tackled by this new discipline. The discussion has been about marginalia (a good indicator of past usage): does an X in the margin carry a different meaning from a tick, and are their meanings any different from that of a vertical line? The acme was reached with serious consideration of whether a mark on the left of the text carries a different meaning from the same mark on the right of the text. Of course less minute issues are also grist to the mill of book history. There’s a vigorous study of the book as a physical and social object, and book history has become a university subject.

The great books of the western world in 60 volumes

The job Emerson was calling for, although not perhaps graced with any endowed chair, is nevertheless sporadically performed. A good librarian springs to mind. Some teachers do communicate their delights. I guess Great Books programs in so many American colleges may have been inspired by Emerson’s call, but that doesn’t seem to be what he’s on about. I suspect that being hit over the head with Mortimer Adler’s stultifying list of over 500 “great books” would be calculated to make many a student immediately apply for an apprenticeship in metal bashing. Emerson’s looking for a professor who’ll communicate his/her enthusiasm for their reading so that students will follow up for themselves. I would think this would include lots of books which aren’t “Great” but which are good and fun. Many of such books may of course actually be or become great, but the enjoyment is the thing. I rather doubt that anyone who has fun reading Leibniz: Discourse on Metaphysics is also going to yuck it up on Georg Cantor: Transfinite Numbers, or even consider wasting time reading Congreave’s The Way of the World. The sort of thing we want is the reading group reported on in a recent issue of The Wheel, a St Catharine’s College newsletter. A couple of history professors have set up a reading group to read “beyond research specialisms”. The group, perhaps unsurprisingly for such an élite organization, is made up of Fellows of the college and graduate students. You’ve got to keep the discussion at an appropriate level haven’t you? They are currently reading Eric Hobsbawm’s four volumes on modern Europe. Daringly they now propose opening the group up to “alumni in history and cognate disciplines”, but not to any of those unruly undergraduates. The additional members will be “invited to follow the same course of readings, and then join [the original group] for discussion and dinner in Cambridge on Sunday 5th November and then in London in the summer of 2018”. Not sure I’m cognate enough.

Then of course there’s The Western Canon. “Cannon to the right of them, Cannon to the left of them” mowing swaths through the charging cavalry of eager youth. Rather than bury the lads and lasses in Grotius’ The Law of War and Peace, Emerson would have his ideal professors just talk at random about things they’d loved reading, and thereby catch the enthusiasm of the student. Still I guess there are some things you do just have to plough though in order to be well educated! Actually I think the best university education will make you read the books you are meant to read, but make the experience rewarding enough that you’ll go on after graduation and read the best of the rest.

The literary critic, a title hopelessly compromised by its association with the book reviewer, is the sort of figure we’d look to for inspiration: someone a bit like Emerson in fact: the man of letters. This is rather an unfashionable job, seen as too conservative and hectoring for our modern permissive mores. Harold Bloom and George Steiner are surviving examples. I was always very glad to have bought The Modern Movement: 100 Key Books from England, France and America, 1880-1950 by Cyril Connolly when it was published in 1965. I’ve certainly not read all 100 (106 actually; he has one or two a. and b.s) but I have benefitted from Connolly’s directing me to most of the books included. Each entry is accompanied by a little essay telling you why you should care, and the book is completed by a comprehensive bibliography. Now there’s bridges and ships.

It must have been a word everyone knew in 1933 when the song “Easter Parade” featured in “As Thousands Cheer” on Broadway. The song is of course better known from the eponymous 1948 film with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.

The photographers — will snap us
And you’ll find that you’re
In the rotogravure.


Since 1933, partly as a result of advances in web-fed offset, newspaper color supplements and magazines have moved away from gravure printing. The excellence of the color reproduction turns out (for publishers) not to be worth the cost of engraving four gravure cylinders with pits to hold the cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks. As you can see from the illustration above, the ink covers the entire cylinder which then rotates and is cleaned off by the doctor blade* which leaves ink only in the pits — the deeper the pit the more ink — and none on the surface, before traveling on to meet the paper. See the section on Intaglio printing in my earlier post Printing methods, where there’s a video of hand printing by intaglio.

Photo: AJS Labels

In ABC for book collectors John Carter forthrightly describes gravure as “The finest of reproductive printing processes” Gravure “evolved in the second half of the 19th century. It involved the creation of an intaglio ground on a copper plate, either by a combination of hand-etching and engraving, or the similar treatment of an image projected on to the late photographically (photogravure). The process was mechanised with copper-faced cylinders instead of plates in the 20th century. To a publisher the presence of gravure plates was a mark of distinction, to be commercially advertised.”

I had assumed the “roto” part of the name referred to the fact that the gravure plate is curved around a roller, but the Oxford English Dictionary says the word probably was picked up from the name of the Rotogravur Deutsche Tiefdruck GmbH (Berlin), said to be derived from the names of the two companies out of which it was formed in 1911: Rotophot GmbH (Berlin) and Deutsche Photogravur AG (Siegburg).

Just to knock my roller idea on the head they say: “The form rotagravure (compare quot. 1919 at sense 1) reflects a reinterpretation of the first element of the word as showing classical Latin rota wheel, roller (see rota n.).” I still bet that, whatever the Latin tells us, RotoPhot got its name from these rollers. Modern printers, in contrast to their 15th century predecessors, are not required to be Latinists.

The process of printing etchings from rotating cylinders was developed by the Austrian-Czech artist and printer K. Klič in Lancaster in the 1890s (originally for printing textiles), but he did not patent his invention, and apparently did not use the word. A related process (invented by E. Mertens) was later popularized by the German company discussed above, but Klič is still frequently credited with the invention of rotogravure.

Rotogravure (or any kind of gravure) is far too expensive to be used for book and publications nowadays. It is now confined to printing labels for cans of vegetables: where color consistency from one can to another is absolutely vital, and the print runs are immense.


* Doctor blade may originate with dux, leader (via ductor) rather than with doctor, teacher.

I was aware of George Bernard Shaw’s desire to rationalize English spelling (famously his complaint that fish could be spelled ghote without phonetic alteration), but I didn’t know that he had sponsored the creation of a new featural alphabet. His requirements were that it contain at least 40 letters; be as “phonetic” as possible (that is, letters should have a 1:1 correspondence to phonemes); and be distinct from the Latin alphabet to avoid the impression that new spellings were simply “misspellings”. The alphabet was actually created after his death by Ronald Kingsley Read.


This means ghote be damned, fish would look like this: 


It turns out that  Penguin published a version of Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion in this script in 1962. This parallel edition was paid for by the Shaw Trust, but ended up being the only book to be thus sponsored because Shaw’s will was then contested.

I like the little price sticker on this image of the cover.

When we say folio we mean page number — usually anyway.

To begin with, however, the word referred to a page number which only appears on the front of the sheet; you’d have folio 23 recto and folio 23 verso. In this system which went out of fashion relatively early in the history of the printed book, what we think of as a 256 page book would end with folio 128 verso.

As John Carter tells us in ABC for Book Collectors, the word then moved on to refer to “the numeral itself in a foliated book or MS., and thus by a confusing extension the printer’s name for page numbers of any sort. Normally included in the headline, they might also appear at the foot, along with the catchword.”

The word also can refer more expansively to a book of folio format, consisting of sheets which have been folded only once. By extension it can also refer to “a large book”.

Imposition of a folio sheet, outer side above, inner below. The watermark and countermark make things clear.











A folio could also be a portfolio, the carrier in which you might transport that folio book or your large papers. This of course generalizes out to a portfolio of investments, or your area of responsibility as a government minister.

The word folio comes from the ablative of the Latin, folium, a leaf, from which of course, foliage, and via France, foil, as in gold foil. (The light sword thus named seems to have a different etymology, though the OED confesses it doesn’t know what it is.) As a verb foil also has an interesting and varied life, including quaintly “to subject land to the third of a series of ploughings”.

I just noticed that Pamela Paul has gotten a memoir out of her list of all the books she’s read since 1988 — My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues. I too have such a list, starting in 1987! She looks a good deal younger than me so she must have started the list at an impressively early age.

Although I have the list, even if such was my bent, I guess the memoir path is closed to me — been done. I actually started keeping records several years before that, but an ex-wife tossed out the book in which I was keeping my records. She claimed this was unintentional. My current list is in a dummy Bible (i.e. a thing that looks like a Bible but has no type inside, or in this case outside either). Should last me. Periodically I enter the titles into FileMaker Pro on my laptop, so the whole thing is searchable.

Pamela Paul’s book provoked Robert Gray into musing at Fresh Eyes Now on the fact that maintaining such a list might rather cramp your style when it comes to pretending to have read a book. Although I don’t do this a lot, I doubt if the existence of my BoB would inhibit me at all. I can’t remember, without looking them up, the books I read in 1996 (heck, even 2016 for that matter. Some of the titles I even have difficulty recognizing at all!) so why should I hesitate to claim to have read a title which might in fact turn out not to be there. One case he cites, that of assuring an author, falsely, that you have read and loved his book, always seems to me to be deeply fraught with potential disaster, and I have never done it. After all, if you express fervent delight, the author may feel the need to engage you in further chat about especially brilliant gems from the text. Much better to tell the truth, or at worst, the half-truth “I’ve started it” — after all reading the title could be regarded as a start.

Discoverability is vitally important. On the other hand discoverability is almost irrelevant. Both of these statements are paradoxically true.

Here are two blog posts, each taking the opposite side. The first one, from Publishing Perspectives of 20 March 2013 about Search Engine Optimization and Discoverability tells you you’ve got to do it. This is of course true: if you don’t get the metadata out there nobody on-line will ever be able to find your book.  But as Joe Wikert points out, at The Average Joe, 27 April 2015, there just aren’t people out there saying “Gee, I wish I could discover more content”. So it’s easy to get trapped into thinking discoverability is going to help sell books. It isn’t: but lack of discoverability will surely prevent sales. You’ve got to write a book people want to read. Getting them to realize they want to read it is of course the secret sauce. Having got their attention, then you need to ensure that the people can actually find your book.

See also Metadata and discoverability and Metadata glossary.


Not sure what I think about this. BookCrossing is a way of sharing your books by releasing them so that someone else can pick them up and enjoy then too.

You print a label and stick it in the front of the book, then leave the book where someone else will pick it up. They then go to the BookCrossing website and record the fact that they have the book. Then in theory on it goes again. They’ve been at it since 2001 and claim that there are currently 1,769,999 BookCrossers and 12,047,263 books travelling throughout 132 countries.

There’s a tab at their site called Book Map which appears to notify us of releases and captures as they happen. It seems to be active in Europe. Apparently nothing ever gets done anywhere else, which is odd because 29% of their members are in USA.