Archive for the ‘Books and reading’ Category

An engaging book review of Gillian Gill’s We Two in the Washington Times notes in passing that the power brokers around Queen Victoria were determined from the beginning to keep her young husband in his place.  So Albert was permitted to bring only his valet, his dog, and his librarian with him to England. This is the first time I have ever heard that royals have their own personal librarians. I wonder if one needs an MLS for such a gig?

Another new book has a very intriguing thesis that Gauguin sliced off Van Gogh’s ear:

According to a new book, the painter Vincent van Gogh did not slice off his left ear in a fit of madness and drunkenness in Arles in December 1888. His ear was severed by a sword wielded by his friend, the painter, Paul Gauguin, in a drunken row over a woman called Rachel and the true nature of art.

Such is the thesis proposed in Van Goghs Ohr, Paul Gauguin und der Pakt des Schweigens by Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans reviewed in the Independent (UK). They believe that Van Gogh lied about what happened in order to protect his friend. Whatever the case may be, it occurs to me  that A Woman Called Rachel and the True Nature of Art  would make a nice title for a novel.

Flannery  a new biography by Brad Gooch is the subject of a very interesting essay, Touched by Evil, on  writer Flannery O’Connor in the June Atlantic Monthly.  The author, Joseph O’Neill, wonders whether humans are as awful as O’Connor portrays them and says that she reflected on the question in a number of essays.  She wrote once:

I am always having it pointed out to me that life in Georgia is not at all the way I picture it, that escaped criminals do not roam the roads exterminating families, nor Bible salesmen prowl about looking for girls with wooden legs.

Whatever the answer may be, O’Neill says that Gooch is able to show that many of the “outlandish elements” in her stories ” were inspired by actual events”. This was a very interesting essay/review and  has left me in some ways even more puzzled by O’Connor than I was before– and that is saying something.


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I ran across a little story from Columbia on the lengths to which a dedicated teacher has gone to bring books to children. Biblioburro or, Donkey Library, is an effort by one teacher to take books to children on weekends. He started with just a handful of books and one donkey but his effort has grown to thousands of books and 8 donkeys thanks to donations. There is video and, I confess, I was somewhat taken aback to see a full grown man with a load of books riding on a patient, overburdened donkey. Nevertheless, it is another reminder, were any needed, of how lucky we are to have libraries and how important books and reading are to young and old alike.

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I don’t suppose a week goes by when ALA’s Library History Round Table doesn’t send me something of interest. Today was an especially fascinating link to the blog of Charles A. Seavey, Desert Sailor.Info. There are several interesting library matters to be found there but his essay “Books for Swabbies: Ship’s  Libraries in the “New” Steel Navy, 1880s-1930s was a fascinating glimpse of a world I never suspected.

Seavey writes at the outset that “by comparing the contents of ship and crew libraries with the recommendations of the American Library Association (ALA) we can see that fundamentally differing approaches to book collections were in place. I[t] will be argued that the ALA recommendations were for an “ideal” library only partially grounded in real world conditions. The Navy, on the other hand, was basing their selections on both the nature of their ship-borne libraries, and the world in which those ships operated. The Navy, in this instance, was far more aware of what their readers might actually want to read than was the ALA”.

USS Franklin

USS Franklin

 Seavey goes on to describe a rather complex history of ship libraries which got their start aboard the USS Franklin in 1820.  According to Seavey libraries on ships became “institutionalized” at this time.

Moreover, he reports that the US Navy was far ahead of all others. Great Britains’s Royal Navy did not place books on ships until 1913.

All in all, this is a fascinating look at a type of library I had never known existed.

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A wonderful essay in the Telegraph (UK),  Grand Theft Auto, Twitter and Beowulf all demonstrate that stories will never die reflects on the fundamental place story-telling has in our lives. The author, Sam Leith, was led to write the essay, apparently, after reading reports that we are “running out of narrative”. This fear has gone so far as to lead to the creation of group to fight it; at MIT of all places:

 A group of academics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in cahoots with some Hollywood moguls, have announced the opening of a “Center for Future Storytelling”.

What possible purpose could such a thing have? The author says:

Their announcement does not tell us, offering instead a feast of bilge about “next-generation synthetic performer technologies”.

But there we are. The Center for Future Storytelling is a sign of the times. The notion that the narrative arts are under threat from information overload, shrinking attention spans, text messaging, social networking sites and slam-bam CGI blockbusters is one widely given voice.

The article goes on to explore the place of shared narrative in our lives and criticizes the short-sighted thinking that supposes that libraries and books are redundant. But, best of all, he excoriates the thinking that supposes that the human need to tell stories can ever change.

I can’t really do justice to the article, so I highly recommend reading it for yourself!

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I have a guilty pleasure. I love children’s literature; the older, the better. There are some wonderful digital collections online and you will find treasures there. The New York Public Library has an excellent collection of children’s literature links (full-text sites and sceondary literature). Of particular note in its historical children’s lit section is the full text collection at the University of Florida. The Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s literature (BLHC) is simply wonderful. I found books there that my mother had read as a child and, because she had saved many of them, I also read them as a child. One of the reasons I like these older works is that I so love the illustrations in them. Here are some examples from books held in UF’s Special Collections and digitized by them:Beauty and the Beast, ca. 1880




These two are from one of several different versions of Beauty and the Beast that are available.





Here is an illustration from a book that may sound familiar: Sara Crewe, or, What happened at Miss Minchin’s :


This book was also published under the title: The Little Princess. Indeed, a movie (more than once) has been made of it. Can you recall which famous child star played Sara? 

Of course, I found many more titles I had never heard of. One such that caught my attention is called Strangers from the South and Other Stories (ca 1877).  kiddy-lit3-strangers-from-the-south-and-other-stories

It illustrates nicely one problem that we do need to keep in mind– these books reflect the attitudes and beliefs of their era which are not always acceptable to us anymore. This one is a good example of that.

There are other sites that contain classic children’s literature and many of these are found listed at the New York Public Library site. Nineteenth-Century Children and What They Read has a small collection (scroll down to get to the list of texts) of mostly pre 1850 titles. children’sbooksonline.org is another wonderful site

Aesop’s Fables are available and some have audio.

American Folklore, despite its name, has everything; and some of it has audio. There are holiday stories, tall tales, nursery rhymes, and much more.

Finally, the Fairrosa Cyber Library of Children’s literature has a very nice collection of classics, fairy and folk tales and more. Some are plain text; others are HTML. Unfortunately, the site does not appear to be as well maintained as one would like. I noted several broken links, which is always annoying. 


I would be very interested to hear, if any of you find an old forgotten favorite.

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I found a lovely essay, Of Bibliophilia and Biblioclasm, by Theodore Dalrymple (whom I always enjoy reading) in the New English Review. It is a meditation on the pleasures of used books, the joy of discovering unknown treasures in used bookshops and much more.  Of one of his finds, he writes: 

One of my treasured books is a little classic of which I should never even have heard had I not browsed in so many bookshops. It is William Blades’ The Enemies of Books, first published in 1880. The frontispiece is an engraving of John Bagford, described as ‘shoemaker and biblioclast,’ and another of the delightful pictures is of a furtive charwoman feeding pages of a Caxton Bible to feed a fire. The enemies of books are ranged in chapters in a great chain of being: first come inanimate forces such as fire and water, rising to the lower animals such as bookworms and other vermin, and finally rising to the pinnacle of biblioclasm, that is to say the conscious book-destroyers, the bookbinders and book collectors. … Now William Blades was a civilised man who loved books and knew that one never really owned books: one was their trustee.

I have loved used books and bookstores since childhood. In fact, my mother and I used to haunt Haslam’s Bookstore (St. Petersburg, Fla.)  which was enormous, or so I believed as a child. I googled it just now, expecting to learn that it no longer existed. Not only does it still exist, it has thrived (it has grown to 30,000 square feet with over 300,000 (new and used) books, according to its website). As if that weren’t cool enough, there is also a history page upon which I found a picture of the store.

This is the store that nourished my love of books

This is the store that nourished my love of books

Thanks to Google, I have learned that all the second hand bookstores that I have loved over the years are still going strong.

So while Dalrymple mourns the passing of such shops in England, my experience suggests that they are not in any obvious danger here. Or so I hope!

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Like most, if not all, blog software, WordPress tracks what search terms have led people to this site. Today I was surprised to see that we turned up in a search for “Dewey Readmore Books”. I suppose that I have mentioned Melvil and, certainly, the word books has shown up, but Readmore?

However, I was struck, chiefly, by the coincidence that I just finished reading Dewey’s biography Monday night. No, not Melvil’s but Readmore’s.

Who is Dewey Readmore Books, you might be asking? Well, a picture is always worth a thousand words:


I am a beautiful boy!

Dewey the Magnificent!


This handsome fellow spent 19 years delighting the Spencer (Iowa) Public Library staff and the people of Spencer, children and adults, alike, until his recent death. Despite my fondness for cats, I am not usually drawn to books of this sort. However, I came across a review that piqued my interest and so I read the book. It seems to me that it was at least as much about Spencer and the role libraries play in small rural communities, as about Dewey. In any case, I enjoyed it very much.

Cats in libraries are a well-known phenomenon. In fact, there is a Library Cats Map. You can click on any region of the US (and much of the world) and read a description of the library cats in that area. It doesn’t appear to have been updated in more than a year but its maker, Iron Frog productions, is, allegedly, interested in creating the most comprehensive compilation of library cats possible.

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