Not altogether sure how I’m following Canuck Carl, and this post of his has absolutely nothing to do with books, but I find the story fascinating. Read about Shrek the New Zealand sheep who ran away and lived in a cave for six years. Wild sheep are able to shed their coats each year, but because we have bred Merino sheep to produce wool and hold onto it until we come along and cut it off, that’s what Shrek did, and after six years he was carrying 60 pounds of wool around and suffering from heat exhaustion. See him being released from his self-imposed sweater captivity at Canuck Carl’s post. (You can see a video of the event at YouTube.)

I recently read Isabella Tree’s Wilding (due from New York Review Books this fall*) and was lucky enough to visit Knepp Castle in Sussex where she and her husband have been progressively rewilding their farm since 2001. This involves letting plants grow as they will and most importantly eliminating chemical fertilizers and the antibiotics in animal feed, while introducing grazing animals to mimic the putative prehistoric European environment. They have brought in English longhorn cattle, Dartmoor ponies, Tamworth pigs (all three the closest surviving relatives of ancient progenitors) and red deer. These animals look after themselves year round and graze the grass, plants and trees as presumably they would “in a state of nature”. The government prohibited the rewilders from going the whole hog and leaving any dead animals to decompose! But this is of course how things would/should be. Here are a few of the cattle after overwintering on their own, looking in fine fettle (photo taken on March 14th. You can enlarge it by clicking on it).

Observe the little bramble thicket in the right foreground. This is where oaks grow. Their acorns are stashed away all over in the ground by jays, and when they sprout they are quickly munched down by the grazing animals. Only those sheltered by prickly undergrowth can prosper and grow. Thus Mother Nature arranges things.

Any tree or tree limb that falls down at Knepp is left to decompose in situ. We were told that an oak has three life stages, 300 years growing, 300 years as a mature tree, and 300 years dying. There are plants and animals who need a dead tree in order to thrive, and some of these are quite rare. Supplies of hollow dying trees are generally a bit short — we humans tend to assume a tree without leaves needs cutting down.

Of sheep there are none at Knepp: they are notoriously efficient grazers and reputedly account for the fact that the Highlands of Scotland are basically treeless. (Nor presumably were they present in the European post-glacial environment.) The effect of ceasing to apply chemicals and allowing everything to look after itself has been dramatic. The diversity of insect life has increased immensely: in one research project 12,178 individual dung beetles from 13 species were collected, 11,666 from Knepp, and the rest (only 512) from the control sites, two nearby organic farms. The Knepp sample contained 11 different species whereas the organic farms had 6 and 8 species. This difference in numbers shows the effects of restraining our impulses to modify nature. Very encouraging, to me, was the speed at which species diversity increased: even one year made a big difference. Birds seem to know Knepp offers riches, and home in on the place on their migration. England is in the process of losing its nightingales, but in one field at Knepp we were told “In a month or so there’ll be 15 nightingales singing in this field alone”. Turtle doves have returned. It’s almost as if the information is passed around among these long distance commuters as they meet at some busy crossroads over northern Africa. A note about species diversity at Knepp can be found here.

Rewilding seems unambiguously good for the ecosystem. The trouble with intervention in a complex system is that we always run into unexpected effects. Yellowstone, wolves, and willows is one familiar example. There’s no top predator at Knepp. Should there be? It’s probably far too small to be able to accommodate a couple of wolves! It is, however, reassuring to know that once we humans have managed to eliminate our own species the world looks likely to be able to hit the restart button quite quickly and try again as if we’d never tinkered.


Wilding was published in Britain by Picador in 2018, and has just come out there in a paperback edition.

I went to an event on 28 March at the Grolier Club about hi-tech library work at Cambridge University Library. The talk was held in the same room as the exhibition “Alphabet Magic: A Centennial Exhibition of the Work of Hermann and Gudrun Zapf”. The exhibition remains open till 27 April.

I had a brief look round the Zapf show after the Librarian’s talk. Hermann Zapf was the creator of well known typefaces such as Optima and Palatino (used in the transcribed poem below). One of the more amazing survivals are pencil-sketched layouts and paste-up rough designs: who keeps those things? Both Zapfs were born in 2018: Hermann died in 2015. Gudrun, a type designer, calligrapher and artist in her own right, is still living.

This poem was one of the items on display and I thought I’d transcribe it and even try to translate it.

What’s the point of those red caps down the sides  — they just seem to be there as a Zapfian design element, with a bit of an indexing function? Is there any significance in the omission of C, D, J, Q, V, and X from the poem? Y isn’t really a member of the German alphabet: it figures in German only as part of a loan word. I cannot discern any sort of anagram hiding in those red letters.

Transcribing the poem is a breeze, but this is a hard translation nut to crack. So much of the ode’s point is to use the letter being held up for attention in the words used to exemplify it. “Tot”, death, is a good example, that “terrifying word, ringing out like a tuba tone, formed of that double T, most striking, deepest word: death”. Maybe we could say “tomb” but that kind of changes things, and certainly makes nonsense of the “double T” point. Next Mr Weinheber assures us of God’s good will to us as evidenced in his giving us the soft letter W. We Anglos must be specially favored: after all the W in English is even softer than its German cousin/ancestor.

Here’s a preliminary go at the start:

Dark, grave-dark U, like a velvet June night!/ Bell sounding O, swinging like red bronze:/ Greatness and weightiness you represent:/ Sleep and sleeper, need and death/ Higher-goal driven I, heaven in noon light./ quivering tirili pouring from the lark:/ Love, ah love, your sound thunders with flaming tongue./ E as in woe and snow 

“E as in woe and snow” just about sums it up. Maybe woe could become weeping and snow change to sleet which isn’t quite the same thing, but insofar as Mr Weinheber has brought any wit to his ode, it’s clobbered over the head by this sort of English. Ode an die Buchstaben may not be great poetry, but it may be untranslatable.

Healthy Holly has certainly racked up some healthy sales figures. But they may just have been a consequence of overdosing. The Mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, author of these books, self-published them at various times between 2011 and now, though there seems to be uncertainty about just how many titles there have been. Three can be seen here: A Healthy start for Herbie, Fruits come in colors like the rainbow, and Exercising is fun, though pictures may be found online of Vegetables are not just green and Walking with my family is fun. This last is no doubt just a proof.

The bonny bouncing sales were made to organizations like the University of Maryland Medical System on who’s board the author sat at the time of the sale of 100,000 copies at $5 a pop. Now I suppose one can see a scenario in which this would be acceptable — the board says “If only we could find some little colorful books to encourage kids to be healthy” and Ms Pugh pipes up “I’ve got just the thing, and could easily bang out a couple more” to which the board says “Great, let’s do it”. Maybe at that point someone might have suggested a possible conflict of interest problem, but I can certainly imagine a good-will-all-round situation where this would be basically OK. But clearly it wasn’t. Ms Pugh is quoted as saying that the deal with the medical system had been a mistake. “I am deeply sorry for the lack of confidence or disappointment which this initiative may have caused Baltimore city residents, friends and colleagues”. And by paying back $100,000 Ms Pugh signals to us all that everything was not on the up and up with this deal. There are reports of many books languishing in warehouses, and it might seem that the accounting process has been altogether vague. It turns out that other board members of UMMS may also have been engaged in apparent self-dealing. Insurance was one example mentioned by NPR’s Morning Edition today.

Mayor Pugh is taking a leave of absence having been struck down by pneumonia. That she is a Democrat is perhaps not irrelevant in light of the Republican Governor Larry Hogan’s involvement. He has written to State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt “These are deeply disturbing allegations. I am particularly concerned about the UMMS sale because it has significant continuing ties with the State and receives very substantial public funding.” He has further tweeted (something Republicans seem intent on bringing into the political mainstream) “The people of Baltimore are facing too many serious challenges, as it is, to also [have] to deal with such brazen, cartoonish corruption from their chief executive”.

The Baltimore Sun now reports that the State Prosecutor is opening an investigation. Their story includes video coverage.

Is this a first? A full-blown political scandal revolving around the publishing of books. We generally just get to bring out accounts of this sort of thing, not to be the very mechanism driving the scandal. We can stand tall now we find our industry coopted into a story of alleged malfeasance.

The Wall Street Journal reported the story. (Link via The Passive Voice)

The Queens Half-Marathon used to take us around College Point, lots of which is charmingly low-key and residential, but we only got to glimpse The New York Times plant from afar. It opened in 1997. You’ll drive right past it when you come over the Whitestone Bridge. It is immense, unsurprisingly for a plant which puts out 1.7 million copies of The Times each week. At the plant they also print USA Today, Newsday and AM New York.

Photo: Christopher Payne/ New York Times

Christopher Payne has spent two years photographing the plant, and the results were published in The New York Times Magazine on 24 March under the tile The Daily Miracle. The piece is introduced by Luc Sante who riffs on the  contrast between the immensity of the plant and the possible fragility of its future. Follow the link to find a substantial selection of Mr Payne’s photographs.

Well the baseball season is a day or two old already — it started a couple of days earlier than usual this year. Here’s a nice tweet from Joe Esposito to mark the opening of the new season.

I’m not sure why we’d need a question mark following the word coincidence. Yes, of course it’s a coincidence, though it is a striking one. We don’t after all spend much of our time in front of the TV watching the International Journal of Middle East Studies being put together.

All those misery-guts commentators who go on about how publishing is doomed, might spend more of their glooming and dooming time focussing on the future of baseball — at about $10 billion, major league baseball is only the size as the academic journals subset* of the publishing industry! There are indeed a couple of major league publishers involved in academic journals but most of the activity is generated by minor league publishers. (Extending the metaphor, one might see self-publishing as an upsurge of local baseball/softball leagues in the parks.)

The comment below Mr Esposito’s tweet is not altogether unexpected, though I suspect grounds crew, laundry staff and beer sellers may be more in the publishing salary range than the superstars we read about. It is of course true that a top left-handed reliever will out-earn the best of editors, whether left or right-handed. A journeyman out-fielder too I guess. Still someone working on a journal may find that their career can last longer than a ball-player’s, so lifetime earning power may look a bit more even.


* Claims like this always make me nervous: one wants to check them, but where to go, and how are we to judge the basis on which every claim is made? Of course Mr Esposito doubtless knows, and his academic journals figures can be trusted. It must be a world-wide number too.

Dr Zweder Masters tweets this picture of a mural in Utrecht. Apparently the artists, Jan Is De Man and Deef Feed, asked locals for the titles of their favorite books and incorporated the results into their painting.

Printing Impressions (via The Passive Voice) sends this analysis of trends for 2019.

They show that, despite all our fears of a few years ago, print book sales continue to edge upwards. Maybe we are all in a sort of holding pattern, waiting till something better than the ebook comes along, or maybe there is really some brain circuit function which likes to turn a paper page or whatever. I do believe that book printing will become ever more digital and shorter run. I expect we’ll arrive eventually at a place where it looks weirdly quaint that there were ever warehouses filled with books waiting for people to want to buy them. If, by then, people still want a printed copy of a book it will be printed for them after they’ve paid for it. This seems a vastly superior business plan to the hit or miss method we’ve evolved, however skillful we’ve become at managing the odds. Just set it up and let it run.

See also Print on demand.

My Modern Met shows us a typewriter which could type music for you. (Link via Shelf Awareness for Readers.) It looks horrendously intimidating.

The Keaton Music Typewriter was first patented in 1936 with a 14 key-arrangement, which was raised to 33 with a new 1953 patent. There were two keyboards: one a rotating keyboard with notes, and another, which didn’t move, with symbols like bar lines whose vertical alignment was constant. The fixed keyboard consists of the nine keys at the right hand end of the ring. The curved bar at the side enabled you to move up and down to place your note at the right height on the staff lines. Each notch on the bar moves the print head 1/24″ — the system requires you to have preprinted paper with the staff lines 1/12″ apart. A needle arrangement enables you to see where the next note is going to be typed.

Here’s a one-minute video showing the machine in (tentative) operation.

If you do not see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

It is assumed that most of these machines would have been used by music publishers and printers rather than composers, who would surely have found it much easier to write their music out by hand.

Music Printing History is a trove of information about the different techniques which have been used in reproducing music over the last 1,000 years.

See also my earlier posts Music engraving, and Typewriter music.

Notice of an exhibition about one of the foundational texts of social anthropology is delivered by HyperallergicThe Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl Indians by Franz Boas and George Hunt was published in 1897, and, in the way of anthropology monographs, remains relevant to this day. These books are ageless: they provide a record of social structures which may no longer exist, and are our best insight into how societies were structured in the past. Bronislaw Malinowski, W. H. R. Rivers, A. R. Radcliffe Brown, Margaret Mead et al provide accounts of societies which no longer exist in their original pre-contact form, and their books will be being read by students of social anthropology for ever. They can’t be superseded, and whatever shortcomings one may regret in the interpretations made by individual researchers these monographs remain primary evidence. I had to read Boas (or at least consult the book) as an undergraduate. The potlatch and the images associated with Pacific Northwest Coast indigenous culture remain irresistible to students.

George Hunt was not credited on the title page. His contribution is noted on a sort of half-title following, where the book is described as by Boas “Based on Personal Observations and on Notes Made by Mr. George Hunt”. Hunt was a member of the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw community, and his great granddaughter, artist Corrine Hunt has collaborated with the curator of this exhibition which highlights the role of the book in stimulating and rebuilding Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw culture. Apparently in the early 1920s George Hunt corrected and expanded the book. Hundreds of pages of unpublished revisions were stored away in archives after Boas’s death in 1942. These materials and others are being combined back into the book in a digital edition being prepared by Bard College and the U’mista Cultural Centre.

The Story Box will be running at The Bard Graduate Center on West 86th Street in Manhattan until July 7th.

Bookbinder Jeff Peachey brings us this image of an End Locking Loose Leaf Sectional Post Binder. It comes from an advert on a blotter. (You can see where the sunlight has yellowed the bit which wan’t buried under papers.) I used to have one of these desk blotters — before the days of Bic pens we had to blot everything we wrote because the only way to write anything was with an ink pen. My blotter was a superior leather version, put out by a bible bindery down in Cornwall. I once made the journey down to visit them, arriving all-a-tremble after some hair-raising driving by my Bible manufacturing colleagues.

A binding like this would live and have its being in an office situation. You’d need a hole puncher to prepare a new sheet for insertion: unscrew the bolt at the top of the post, open the book and insert your new page in the appropriate location. I can’t remember for sure whether or not the large account books I remember from the accounts department in Bentley House in the sixties were bound like this, but I bet the were despite what I wrote in my earlier recollections. There’d be a page for every book in one or more volumes, and every sale would be entered by a clerk perched on a high stool. Clearly the pages would need to have been placed in the book in alphabetical order, otherwise Mr Walmisley would never have been able to find his place when Bill Starling’s assistant arrived to tell him about that trade counter dale of Pericles.