Did you know?  Check our Rare Books Page

A Brief History of the Printing Press, Part II: Toward a Modern Press

By Alex Marcondes. Sep 30, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Fine Press, History

In part one of our history of the printing press, we reviewed the early days of the printing press, from Gutenberg’s original press to Clymer’s wildly successful Columbian press. Today, we will take a look at the last widely distributed hand press and the move onto the cylindrical press. These presses set the stage, and naturally lead us to the fully automated offset printing presses that power the massive publishing houses of today.

     
Read more...


Five Interesting Facts About Elizabeth Gaskell

By Neely Simpson. Sep 29, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature, Biographies

Elizabeth Gaskell was a woman ahead of her time. Her writing won the admiration of people like Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Eliot Norton, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, among others. Like modern professionals, Gaskell and her husband often lived separate lives in order to accommodate their own vocations. However, both were supportive and involved in the other's career. At the time of her death in 1865, the literary magazine The Athenaeum described her as, "if not the most popular, with small question, the most powerful and finished novelist of an epoch singularly rich in female novelists." Here are five interesting facts about this Victorian career woman.

     
Read more...


Behind the Scenes: The Making of Doctor Zhivago

By Audrey Golden. Sep 28, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature, Nobel Prize Winners, Movie Tie-Ins

It wasn’t easy for David Lean to bring Boris Pasternak’s twentieth-century epic Doctor Zhivago (1965) to the silver screen. Despite the fact that Lean had already won critical acclaim with previous films like The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Lean’s adaptation of the sweeping Russian novel came with difficulties and triumphs. For starters, the movie cost $11 million and took three years to make — no small amount of money or length of time for a cinematic feature in 1965.

In an early issue of Life Magazine from 1966, a reviewer described Lean’s film as one in which the director “flung onto the screen both the chaos and the compassion — the devastation of history’s onrush and its splintering effects on the people caught up in it.” To be sure, the feature closely follows the narrative of the Nobel Prize-winning novel. But do you want to know some interesting secrets about the making of Doctor Zhivago? If yes, keep reading.

     
Read more...


What Grazia Deledda Can Teach Us About Contemporary Fiction

By Matt Reimann. Sep 27, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature, Nobel Prize Winners

Before Elena Ferrante, there was Grazia Deledda. Yet the considerable fame Ferrante has accrued in the past few years is likely eclipsed by that which Deledda had in her lifetime. Once infamous on her home island of Sardinia, she became a national treasure almost overnight. Deledda won the Nobel Prize in 1926, making her the second woman (and Italian) to do so. Visitors and reporters flooded her house in the following weeks. Benito Mussolini, who was just beginning to inaugurate fascist Italy, adored her. He even planned to present an autographed portrait of himself to the author, signed: “with profound admiration.”

     
Read more...


The Dramatic Wasteland: T.S Eliot's Forgotten Plays

By Brian Hoey. Sep 26, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Nobel Prize Winners, Drama

“What we have to do is to bring poetry into the world in which the audience lives and to which it returns when it leaves the theatre.” — T.S. Eliot

Nobel Prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot has an influence that is likely too large and too all-encompassing to be measured. It includes nearly every poet who has come after him and some who came before, from Ezra Pound (whose own later work would come to draw influence from that of his protégé) to Billy Collins. What fewer people realize, however, is that Eliot’s influence extended beyond verse and into drama. Indeed, he proved to be one of the last century’s most vocal proponents of the revival of the poetic drama, a genre largely ignored since Elizabethan playwrights like Shakespeare and Ben Jonson.  

     
Read more...


Yoknapatawpha County and Faulkner's Snopes Trilogy

By Nick Ostdick. Sep 25, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, American Literature

The author himself once referred to it as “my apocryphal county.” A Frankensteinian creation of two very real regions, Yoknapatawpha County is home to a number of William Faulkner's most famous novels and stories, including the famed Snopes family trilogy, which features the novels The Hamlet (1940), The Town (1957), and The Mansion (1959). Faulkner’s fictional county is a landscape fraught with struggle and conflict, a place of drifters and vagrants, the morally apathetic and the socioeconomically disenfranchised. It’s a region of extreme racial tension and inequality, with a storied history of slavery, succession, KKK activity, Jim Crow laws, and discrimination. 

Which is perhaps why it makes perfect sense Faulkner chose to set so much of his work in this invented-yet-wholly-reflective-of-real-life setting, particularly his Snopes family novels. But to truly understand the choice of Yoknapatawpha for the Snopes, one must understand more clearly how the county came into being and the ways in which Faulkner pulled from history — and his own life — to create such a haunting, mythic place. 

     
Read more...


Five Interesting Facts About F. Scott Fitzgerald

By Alex Marcondes. Sep 24, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, American Literature

Chief expositor of the "Jazz Age," F. Scott Fitzgerald's name has become synonymous with the 1910s, '20s, and '30s. No other literary figure proffers the pictures of that generation like Fitzgerald does through his four novels and numerous short stories. Born in 1896, the experience of his characters in the first few decades of the twentieth century is largely contemporaneous with his own. Even outside of This Side of Paradise, explicitly described by the author as semi-autobiographical, rarely can we find a story of Fitzgerald's not permeated with similar autobiography: in fact, we often times see very obvious correlations between Fitzgerald's character's lives and his own. Here are five interesting facts about F. Scott Fitzgerald.

     
Read more...


Best Books on Australia

By Audrey Golden. Sep 23, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature, History

Australia is a vast country with a long Aboriginal past and a more recent history of colonization and violence. Yet when we think of this region of the world, these aren’t always the topics that immediately come to mind. To be sure, many of us think of adventures in the Outback, waves crashing along Bondi Beach, or sounds emanating from the Sydney Opera House. Rather than focus on tourist tropes of the country, however, we’d like to offer you some reading recommendations that can bring to light the intertwining histories of this immense region.

     
Read more...


Fay Weldon: An Unfiltered and Unapologetic Voice for Women

By Katie Behrens. Sep 22, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Biographies

The goal of an author is to find his or her own unique voice, distinct from all writers before. Some struggle for years to find the right style or tone, and others seem to happen upon their voice by accident. Fay Weldon is decidedly in the latter camp. An extremely prolific British writer now in her 80s, Weldon tells her stories with stark honesty and effortless wit, and she doesn’t care one jot what the critics say.

     
Read more...


From Curiosity to Canon: Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass

By Brian Hoey. Sep 21, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, American Literature

When Walt Whitman published the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855, it contained just twelve poems. He fronted the money for the publication himself and almost no copies were sold. The now-iconic photo of young, jaunty-hatted Whitman that served in place of the author’s name cast an odd shadow over what were already terribly peculiar poems. At best, the volume of billowing, exuberant free-verse was considered a curiosity. Ralph Waldo Emerson, for instance, appreciated its attempt to revive the spirit of transcendentalism, but found the verse itself a bit loose. At worst, the collection was thought of as an abomination. Poet John Greenleaf Whittier was said to have thrown his copy into a fire. Boston’s District Attorney found the book to be obscene and attempted to suppress it. It even cost Whitman his job after the Secretary of the Interior read it and deemed it offensive.

     
Read more...


The Sublime Silliness of Stevie Smith

By Matt Reimann. Sep 20, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Poetry, Literature

Stevie Smith was a strange poet. She did not abide by any recognizable standard of seriousness in her writing. In fact, her work could be considered rather silly. Her verses veered into nonsense, and her language aptly imitated infantile speech. She drew cartoons for her poems, and fought her publishers hard to be able to keep them in her books. At readings, Smith doubled down on her whimsy. Some of her poems, she believed, were just meant to be sung. And sing them she did, performing them wildly to the tune of hymns and folk songs. Because of Smith’s artistic peculiarity, opinions about her work have long varied. This confused reception, it seems, is the price she has paid her veritable originality.

     
Read more...


A Brief Guide to Collecting Newbery First Editions

C. S. Lewis once wrote, “A children’s story which is only enjoyed by children is a bad children’s story,” and he is not alone in lauding the virtues of the genre. The Newbery Medal, awarded once a year for excellence in writing for children, is considered the highest honor for children’s authors in the United States. Established in 1922, the Newbery also provides book collectors with a well-established place to begin.

     
Read more...


Where Samuel Johnson and David Foster Wallace Meet

By Nick Ostdick. Sep 18, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Biographies

In his infamous 1791 biography of British writer, essayist, and thinker Samuel Johnson, James Boswell wrote: “If nothing but the bright side of characters should be shown, we should sit down in despondency, and think it utterly impossible to imitate them in any thing.”

As it would happen, those words would prove prophetic in the response to Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, a book often credited with charting the course for what we consider the modern day biography.

     
Read more...


Top Five Collectible James Bond Novels

By Leah Dobrinska. Sep 17, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Book Collecting, James Bond

For the James Bond collector, acquiring a rare or unique copy of any number of the fourteen Ian Fleming classics is an accomplishment. And, each individual Bond aficionado seems to have his or her favorite collection piece. Here, we’ve compiled a (subjective) list of the top five collectible James Bond novels. Did we include your top pick? If not, share what we missed in the comments below.

     
Read more...


Collecting Writers of the Spanish Civil War

By Audrey Golden. Sep 16, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, Literature, History

Between the World Wars, a “little world war,” as Time Magazine described it, took place from 1936-1939. The Spanish Civil War pitted the Republicans, backed by international leftist allies, against the Nationalists and soon-to-be-tyrant General Francisco Franco. You might know a little bit about the history of the Spanish Civil War and its significance in Europe. Both Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany supported the dictator, turning the relatively localized war into a prescient event for the megalomania and political atrocities that have come to define World War II. As the Associated Press described it, the “conflict became a battlefield of ideologies . . . fascism against elected socialists and communists.”

How much do you know about the novelists and poets who not only depicted battles through language, but also fought alongside the Republicans in various regions of the country? From Pablo Neruda to Ernest Hemingway to George Orwell, let’s take a relatively quick guided tour through the literary history of the brutal war in Spain.

     
Read more...


And Then There Were 100 Million: Agatha Christie's Legacy

By Nick Ostdick. Sep 15, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Mystery, Suspense & Crime

It's sold more than 100 million copies since its publication in 1939. It’s been translated into more than 45 languages, dubbed time and again as the most successful novel in the genre, and widely regarded as the author’s masterwork. For almost any other author, these accolades would be something too grand to even hope for. But for famed mystery writer Agatha Christie (1890-1976), author of 66 mystery novels, the acclaim surrounding her landmark novel And Then There Were None is the perfect distillation of how Christie established critical tenets of the modern mystery novel and subsequently defied them. 

     
Read more...


Quiz: Which Famous Book Collector Are You?

By Andrea Koczela. Sep 14, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Book Collecting, Quizzes

You love books—perhaps they're even taking over your home. Well, here's some good news: you're in excellent company. Many historical figures and celebrities are also book collectors. From Thomas Jefferson to Keith Richards, book collectors come in a vast range of styles. So what defines your collecting approach? Take our quiz to see which of the world's most famous bibliophiles you most resemble. 

     
Read more...


The Complex Man Behind Roald Dahl Day

By Matt Reimann. Sep 13, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Children's Books

Some authors have birthdays — others have holidays. Roald Dahl belongs to the latter category. The beloved children’s author’s September 13th birthday has become something of a celebration, a way for parents and children alike to appreciate the stories and creative gifts of a remarkable children’s author. His work, manifested in the likes of Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach, has captivated countless children for over half a century. Dahl’s stories are undoubtedly lovable and cherished. The man himself, however, was far more complex.

     
Read more...


H. L. Mencken: Chief Polemicist and Literary Critic

By Alex Marcondes. Sep 12, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors

"Mencken is himself 'a lyncher' since he once proposed to take William Jennings Bryan 'to the top of the Washington Monument...disembowel him and hurl his remains into the Potomac.'"
-The New York Sunday Times

From the start of H. L. Mencken's popular career, beginning with his summary of Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy, Mencken's ideological roots were obvious to any discerning reader. His ideals required only a basic knowledge of the company he kept and the authors he idolized. While his style is permeated with raw wit and uninhibited ridicule of those he felt were beneath him, Mencken was a force, in more ways than one. He was formative in an early understanding of vernacular American English, a foremost literary critic in his time, and a champion of women's rights (even while being entirely unsympathetic to suffragists in his news coverage). He also popularized a social-Darwinian reading of Nietzsche that lasted through much of the twentieth century.

     
Read more...


The Humorous and Absurd World of Medieval Marginalia

By Matt Reimann. Sep 10, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Rare Books

For most of the Middle Ages, the only way to reproduce a book was to copy it by hand. Copying was solitary, lengthy, and physically taxing work. Scribes worked long hours, in contorted positions, and abided by rigid expectations. At heart, it was a droning process, too, allowing the copier only the ability to transfer the words of another. Consequently, many scribes developed a sense of humor to break up the monotony of their hand-cramping task. It was well-deserved, for without these scribes, we would have lost an unfathomable amount of our artistic and cultural history — from antiquity onward. Luckily, we can find evidence of their playful spirits in the margins of their very manuscripts, where illustrated miniatures and writings reveal the creative personality behind the pen.

     
Read more...


Interview About Dust Jackets with David Whitesell

The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia has a fantastic dust jacket collection. We had the chance to talk with David Whitesell, a curator in the Special Collections library and faculty member at Rare Book School, about some of the many dust jackets the university owns and the significance of these items.

     
Read more...


Ann Beattie: The Voice of a Generation

By Neely Simpson. Sep 8, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature

Although Ann Beattie had a happy childhood, she believed she was stupid. For this reason, she hated school, and even graduated from high school at the bottom of her class. She admits the only reason she took a creative-writing class as a teenager was so she could skip gym. She never imagined she would become a writer. Boy, was she wrong.

     
Read more...


Ari Gísli Bragason Talks About Iceland's Last Antiquarian Bookstore

By Audrey Golden. Sep 7, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Book Collecting, Interviews

On the corner of Klapparstígur and Hverfisgata, located in the heart of downtown Reykjavík, sits the last remaining antiquarian bookstore in Iceland. Bókin, the bookstore itself, is located on the first floor, but the owner has more rooms upstairs with books that haven’t yet been shelved. Downstairs, the books are in order by genre...sort of. Sections include, for instance, “Poetry,” “Novels,” “Icelandic authors,” and even a nebulous portion entitled “Mixed books.” Upstairs, the texts have been placed as they’ve come in, and the book hunting becomes even more exciting. I happened to spot a number of first and early editions, in the original Icelandic, of the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Halldór Laxness. In addition to books in Icelandic, the shop has a number of titles in English and Danish.

     
Read more...


Libraries and Special Collections: The British Library

By Katie Behrens. Sep 6, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Libraries & Special Collections

Where does one even begin to talk about the British Library? As a strong contender for the largest library in the world, and as one of the most publicly engaged, the British Library simply cannot be contained in a short article. Its treasured manuscripts only scratch the surface, but it’s a surface worth scratching nonetheless.

     
Read more...


I Write Pulp Because I Love It: An Interview with Josh K. Stevens

By Nick Ostdick. Sep 5, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Interviews

When setting out to tell a really great story, the saying goes ‘write what you know, write what you love.’Quaint as that adage may seem, noir writer Josh K. Stevens has made the most of it. Stevens, 33, has been an avid reader and advocate of crime fiction and devoted much of his late-teens and adult life to pursing his dreams of noir stardom while working a number of jobs to pay the rent, including that of an independent bookseller in his hometown of Woodstock, Illinois.

     
Read more...


A Brief Guide to Starting a Rare Book Collection

By Leah Dobrinska. Sep 4, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Rare Books, Book Collecting

Collecting rare books is at once a hobby, a passion, and an art form. The process is filled with nuances, and there are perhaps as many ways to go about forming a collection as there are collectors. However, some universal truths are present in the book collecting world. Here, we’ve compiled a brief guide to help you along your collecting ways. Whether you’re just starting out or if you have been at it awhile, we hope what follows is helpful. And we hope you’ll share with us in the comments below what you’ve learned and the skills you’ve honed through your own personal collecting journey.

     
Read more...


Almost Undiscovered: An Alison Lurie Primer

By Neely Simpson. Sep 3, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature

Alison Lurie has written on a wide range of topics; everything from architecture, to children's literature, to fashion. She is best known for her socially satirical novels, which are often compared to those of Jane Austen. Her novel Foreign Affairs, won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Despite her acclaim as a writer of fiction she says, "I don't know that many stories that I want to tell. So in between the stories I just talk." She said in a 2014 interview with National Geographic, "Throughout my whole adult life I've written fiction and nonfiction. And when I can't think of a good idea for a novel, I'll write about something else that I'm interested in. And I've got lots of interests."

     
Read more...


Allen Drury: Father of the Political Thriller

By Brian Hoey. Sep 2, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Pulitzer Prize

Given the recent popularity of TV shows like The West Wing, House of Cards, and Veep, it can be easy to forget that throughout American history, the public has rarely found Washington D.C.’s political goings on particularly compelling. Case in point, before the 1950s there had been only two major works of American fiction set in the nation’s capitol: Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age (1873) and Henry Adams’ Democracy (1880), each of which was written in the mid-nineteenth century. After decades of relative indifference, however, the New Deal and the rise of Communism finally primed the reading public to latch on to the intrigue and drama that so often attended the business of the nation. When interest in the government arose, Allen Drury was prepared to fill that demand, becoming the father of Washington D.C. fiction in the process.

     
Read more...


What Lessons Can We Learn From The Old Man and the Sea?

By Matt Reimann. Sep 1, 2015. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, Fishing

The Old Man and the Sea has a special prominence in the Ernest Hemingway canon. Published as the final complete work before his death, it was met with tremendous acclaim. The Old Man and the Sea was featured in the September 1, 1952 issue of Life magazine. Five million copies sold in only a couple of days. The famously fastidious Vladimir Nabokov was even an admirer. Though he dismissed Hemingway as a writer of “bells, bulls, and balls,” the author of Lolita couldn’t help but admit his appreciation for the “fish story." The Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize committee described Hemingway's "mastery of the art of narrative” in reference to the novella. What makes The Old Man and the Sea so great, and what can we learn from it?

     
Read more...


About this blog

How can I identify a first edition? Where do I learn about caring for books? How should I start collecting? Hear from librarians about amazing collections, learn about historic bindings or printing techniques, get to know other collectors. Whether you are just starting or looking for expert advice, chances are, you'll find something of interest on blogis librorum.

Get blog notifications per email:

Download the James Bond Dossier

Recent Posts

Book Glossary
Get your free Guide to Book Care

Blog Archive

> see older posts
A Guide to Historic Libraries Part I