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Brian Hoey
Writer and all around book nerd, Brian puts his English degree to good use turning words into magic. A great lover of beer, baseball, and books, he can write on Baltic Porter and Katherine Anne Porter with equal ease.

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VLOG: How Is Vellum Made?

By Brian Hoey. Apr 21, 2017. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Fine Press, Book Making

Vellum, a fine parchment traditionally made from calf skins, was for many years the default material for use in printing important manuscripts or documents. Many of Gutenberg’s first Bibles, for instance, were printed on Vellum, as were many illuminated manuscripts from the Medieval Era. And, in fact, despite the decrease in the material’s prevalence over the centuries, all British Acts of Parliament are still printed and archived on vellum. Differentiated from other forms of parchment by the quality of the animal skin used (debate continues as to whether vellum must refer to parchment made from calf skins or if it is more broadly applicable to finer quality parchment), vellum is extremely labor-intensive to produce. The resulting product, however, is durable and high-qualitysuitable for printing a book of hours or a religious work.  To learn more about the process, check out the four videos below.

     
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Ezra Pound and Mentally Ill Writers

By Brian Hoey. Apr 18, 2017. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Poetry, Literature

Of the great writers of the 20th century there were a tremendous number battling serious mental illness. Virginia Woolf struggled with bipolarity throughout her life, eventually killing herself in 1941; Hemingway was beset by a crippling depression that led to alcoholism and eventually suicide; Robert Lowell spent time in a mental hospital, as did Sylvia Plath and David Foster Wallace, both of whom famously committed suicide after producing works of monumental importance dealing with, among other things, the horrors of depression. As we go back further, we encounter the likes of Leo Tolstoy and Thomas Hardy. Everyone on this list is rightly idolized by modern writers and readers, but do we risk simultaneously idolizing the diseases that ultimately killed many of them?

     
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Collecting Nobel Laureates: Saul Bellow

By Brian Hoey. Mar 17, 2017. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, Book Collecting, Nobel Prize Winners

Since Saul Bellow won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976, only a few other American writers (the inimitable Toni Morrison, who earned the sought-after medal in 1993 and most recently, Bob Dylan, come to mind) have accomplished the same feat. This fact speaks to a number of phenomena, but it chiefly indicates the way that Bellow’s fiction represented a sort of capstone in American fiction. Born in Quebec to Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants, Bellow soon moved to Chicago, a city he would come to immortalize in his works. Perhaps more than any other writer, Bellow brought the modernist and intellectual traditions in 20th century fiction into conversation, crafting unforgettable characters in the process.

     
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Happy Birthday, John Steinbeck!

By Brian Hoey. Feb 27, 2017. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Authors, Nobel Prize Winners

Since its inception, the criteria for the Nobel Prize in Literature have always been slightly fuzzy. Some have taken Alfred Nobel’s assertion that the prize should determine "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction" as suggesting a kind of preference of idealism in the awarded work, and recent picks like Bob Dylan and Svetlana Alexievich have tended to bear out that reading. If one is wont to understand the award in those terms, then 1962 Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck, who would have turned 115 today, is perhaps one of the most auspicious picks of the last century. After all, the author of The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and Of Mice and Men (1937) virtually never wavered from his devotion to the idea that “In every bit of honest writing in the world … there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love.”

     
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Charles Lamb vs. Bob Dylan: Rereading and Retelling Shakespeare

By Brian Hoey. Feb 10, 2017. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Children's Books, Drama

Controversial Nobel Prize in Literature winner Bob Dylan admitted to being flabbergasted when he learned of the honor that’s lately been bestowed on him—but at least he managed to compare himself to Shakespeare in the process. The comparison, though, was an interesting one, and one that takes up the question of how we should approach the Bard’s writing. Dylan’s assertion was that he has never thought about whether his songs are ‘literature’ and that Shakespeare probably would have been in the same boat regarding his plays. Dylan says, imagining Shakespeare’s thoughts leading up to the original production of Hamlet (1599), ““Are there enough good seats for my patrons?” “Where am I going to get a human skull?” I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question “Is this literature?””

     
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How Ulysses Got Published

By Brian Hoey. Feb 2, 2017. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature, Book History

The past few years have been big for small presses. The two most recent Man Booker Award-winning novels were published by the same small press in England: London’s Oneworld Publications put out both Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014) and the British edition of Paul Beatty’s The Sellout (2015). Meanwhile, in the United States, Coffee House Press in Minneapolis put out the first American edition of Eimear McBride’s acclaimed debut tour-de-force, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (2013) which won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Anyone who claims that we are entering a golden era of small press publishing certainly has a point; however, it remains the case that small presses have often been bastions of the literary avant-garde, championing works that would go on to become classics in the face of disinterest or adversity. A prime example of this phenomenon is James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922).

     
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Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama: Spiritual Brothers

By Brian Hoey. Jan 31, 2017. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Modern First Editions

In an era where people all over the world are feeling increasingly divided by matters like race and religion, we can take solace in the knowledge that, recently, Pope Francis rated Thomas Merton alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and Dorothy Day as his most admired Americans. This after years of certain Catholics in the United States tried to downplay the importance of Merton’s work as a champion of interfaith understanding. Of course, the Pope is not the only Thomas Merton fan who holds a high religious office today. Merton also boasts the regard of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

     
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Thomas Bewick's Most Noteworthy Engravings

By Brian Hoey. Jan 26, 2017. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Legendary Illustrators, Book Making

Thomas Bewick, an English naturalist and woodcut engraver working during the 18th and 19th centuries, was by all accounts at the top of his field during his lifetime. He combined tools originally developed for metal engraving and innovative techniques that introduced the gray scale into what was previously a black-and-white medium with tremendous wit and artistic talent. In doing so, he created engravings that still delight audiences today. His devotion to the natural world (birds in particular) as well as his interest in fairy tales led to the creation of images so intricate and detailed that they often had to be examined with a magnifying glass in order for the full effect to be realized. Here’s an overview of some of his most noteworthy engravings.

     
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Legendary Book Editors: Maxwell Perkins, Gordon Lish, Robert Gottlieb

By Brian Hoey. Jan 12, 2017. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature

Robert Gottlieb, who famously edited the works of Joseph Heller, John Le Carré, John Cheever, and Toni Morrison (who was herself a literary editor before beginning her career as a novelist at age 39), said of editing books that the often-mysterious task "is simply the application of the common sense of any good reader." In the same Paris Review interview, he cautions against the "glorification of editors,” and says that "the editor's relationship to a book should be an invisible one."

     
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The Obama Presidential Library

By Brian Hoey. Dec 28, 2016. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Libraries & Special Collections

“(A Nation) must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgement in creating their own future.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt, June 30 1941, at the dedication of his Presidential Library

For the bookish, there is something incredibly charming about the fact that the nation’s preferred mode of commemorating presidents as they leave office is the construction of a library.

     
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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.

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