by Kirsten Berg, June 30, 2010 3:51 PM
Who's afraid of Helmut Newton? I am. More specifically, I'm afraid that I'll have to lift or move our signed limited edition copy of Newton's Sumo
one more time. It weighs 66 pounds, and if I drop it on my foot I'll be in a cast for weeks.
So heavy and unwieldy that it shipped with a custom folding stand, Sumo is the kind of art object you either love, or hate. According to Taschen, the book's publisher, it was the most expensive book production of the 20th century.
Having escaped Germany in 1938, Helmut Newton forged a career in fashion photography that spanned over 30 years. (You can check out his biography on Vogue.com.) He was killed in 2004 when his car crashed into a wall of the famous Chateau Marmont in Beverly Hills, and his ashes are buried in Berlin, next to Marlene Dietrich.
As everyone knows, you can never be too thin or too rich. Though we have only one copy of the signed limited edition of Sumo, Powell's does stock the trade edition. It weighs in at a slim 15.7 pounds.
And many thanks to Matthew, Gary, and Michael Powell for helping me wrestle with the 66-pound copy of
by Kirsten Berg, May 5, 2010 1:07 PM
"One's life is more formed, I sometimes think, by books than by human beings; it is out of books one learns about love and pain at second hand."
—Graham Greene, Travels with My Aunt
I've been thinking about the great reading experiences I've enjoyed in the last few months. What makes a reader? Is it the ability to sit quietly and fall completely into a narrative? Is it the genuine enthusiasm that we feel when we hand a book to a friend and say, "You've got to read this!"?
What makes a book collector? Love of the reading experience, love of a particular author, love of a single title? A bit of madness can't hurt. Surely the answer has more to do with emotions — desire, yearning, delight — one usually associates with sex or food. It is not a surfeit of money or shelf space that compels us.
I've been thinking also of the generation growing up with eBooks, with the Kindle and iPhone and online gaming and the social network of Facebook. Most likely, most will grow to find real friends beyond the portal of computer screens and text messages; how many will discover the book?
There have been many memorable partings in history and in literature. Some were melodramatic, some overwrought, and a precious few that were perfect. This is my last bi-weekly posting on the subject of rare books for the "pages" of Powells.com. Thanks for reading.
by Kirsten Berg, April 21, 2010 12:11 PM
Whether you view Sir Aurel Stein
as a tomb raider
or as the savior of precious cultural objects might depend on whether you are Chinese or British. An impartial observer might merely wonder: Sir Aurel Who?
Sir Aurel Stein was born in Hungary in 1862 and later became a British citizen. He was a linguist, explorer, archaeologist, and scholar. Many of the artifacts he collected are in the British Museum and the Bodleian Library at Oxford holds his papers. Stein traveled many thousands of miles through the Middle East and Asia along the ancient trade route known as the Silk Road. He "discovered" the caves at Dunhuang and he brought the Diamond Sutra, the oldest known complete printed text, out of Asia in 1907.
He died in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1943 at the age of 83.
To understand his place in the panorama of Asian studies, Buddhist literature, art history, and linguistics is not an easy task. He played a part in the "Great Game" of exploration and geopolitics, as did the famous explorers Francis Younghusband and Sven Hedin. He lived the kind of life of study and travel that was probably only possible during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was monumental.
It is only fitting that one of the most impressive sets we have right now is Stein's Detailed Report of Explorations in Westernmost China. Consisting of four folio volumes and a map portfolio bound in silk, the books are housed in a custom folding case that, when laid out flat, is a map of the Silk Road.
Whether or not this fabulous production of Stein's work appeals to you might depend upon whether you are Chinese or British. Or English-speaking: the text throughout is printed in Chinese.
by Kirsten Berg, April 7, 2010 3:55 PM
It's not such a reach, really, to move from this:
into a discussion of rare books, especially if the theme of the discussion is "Publishers That Don't Fit."
Publishers, just like car manufacturers or clothing designers, all have their niche. They know what their customers want. Yet here are a few examples of (mostly) famous books that make the biblio-geek pause, just for a moment, to consider their histories.
First, A Confederacy of Dunces. Published by Louisiana State University Press in 1980, the story of author John Kennedy Toole is well-known to book collectors. Unable to get his book accepted for publication, he killed himself, and his mother found the manuscript with his belongings after his death. She brought the manuscript to the attention of author Walker Percy, and LSU Press became Toole's publisher.
Better known for books such as Agrarianism & Reconstruction Politics or regional history titles, A Confederacy of Dunces is one of the three Pulitzer Prize winning titles published by LSU Press.
Ever had trouble with your car? Then you might have had an encounter with Chilton, the publishers of a fantastically long lived and successful car repair series. With titles such as Auto Repair Manual 1970 to 1977 on their roster, they somehow managed to be the first to publish one of the biggest science fiction titles known on this planet.
Another famous first is the Naval Institute Press printing of The Hunt for Red October. Back in 1984, when the first copies were printed, the paper used was clay coated, as was usual for Naval Institute Press titles. Clay-coated paper is heavy, and perfectly suited to printing detailed schematics such as the workings of a super secret nuclear submarine, or perhaps this:
An obscure example of a weird publisher mash-up is the 1883 printing of The Story of Nell Gwyn. Nell was one of the many mistresses of Charles II, loved by the king and the public for her wit and earthy charm. Who published this tale of Restoration politics and sex? John Wiley, the home to technical titles such as Principles of Pavement Design and the Encyclopedia of Minerals.
A new kind of library: the New York Times Dining section this week says that Zengo, at 40th Street & Third Avenue, has a tequila library. Anyone know what this is? Bottles or
by Kirsten Berg, March 24, 2010 1:45 PM
A recent New York Times story
about a freshman at Drew University caught my attention. He allegedly stole autographed letters from the university library and then sold several of them:
Mr. Scott pilfered the letters while working part time at the university archives, the prosecutors said. He sold some of them for thousands of dollars, and left others sitting in a dresser drawer, where F.B.I. agents found them after executing a search warrant of his dorm room on Saturday.
Those silly freshmen — always leaving the evidence in their dorm rooms.
Stories of stolen books and documents, as well as forgeries or fakes, are a fascinating subgenre of the history of bookselling. While Mr. Scott might never have a book written about his truncated crime spree, certain others in the world of books and maps have risen to dubious heights as thieves and forgers and have inspired some very good books.
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much is the story of John Gilkey, a prolific thief of rare books who kept the books he stole rather than selling them. A financial fraud as well as a self-indulgent lover of fine volumes, he spent 18 months in San Quentin prison. While some of the books he stole were recovered, others are still missing. An excellent account from the perspective of the rare book industry was written by Ken Sanders, the former security lead for the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America.
Ego, money, and murder figure in the story of Mark Hofmann. Raised as a Mormon in Salt Lake City, he became one of the world's most accomplished forgers. Specializing in documents pertaining to the Mormon Church, he created documents in his basement and sold many directly to the Church. Robert Lindsey's book about Hofmann and his crimes, A Gathering of Saints begins with the discovery of a forged Emily Dickenson letter and ends in murder. Hofmann is currently serving a life sentence at the Utah State Prison.
Gilbert Bland was a very successful map dealer. His story, told in The Island of Lost Maps, is a tale of thievery on a grand scale. He used fake credentials to gain access to some of the most important rare book and map collections in the country, such as Baltimore's Peabody Library and the Regenstein Library in Chicago. He stole from special collections rooms that had been designed specifically with security in mind. He stole maps under the watchful eyes of librarians.
Bland sliced maps out of their book bindings with a razor blade, as did E. Forbes Smiley, a map dealer and convicted thief who has 97 map thefts to his name.
According to an accounting released by the federal prosecutor, Mr. Smiley acknowledged taking 34 maps from the Boston Public Library, 32 from the New York Public Library, 11 from Sterling Memorial Library at Yale, 9 from Beinecke Library at Yale, 8 from Houghton Library at Harvard, 2 from the Newberry Library in Chicago and 1 from the British Library.
Sentenced to three and a half years in prison, he was released on January 15, 2010.
Faked and stolen goods have been a part of the book trade forever. The Shakespeare fakes of William Henry Ireland appeared in 1795, Hitler's diaries were published by the West German news magazine Stern in 1983, and the fake diary of Jack the Ripper made it to press in 1993. Thefts from libraries continue even as rules restricting access to collections are made more and more stringent. And in 2009 the rare book dealer David Slade, past president of the Antiquarian Bookseller's Association, was sentenced to prison for the theft of multiple rare books from the Rothschild family.
Our own Library of Congress has had its collections plundered. In 1998 James Gilreath was sentenced for stealing rare books from the Library; he was caught when he tried to sell several to a rare book dealer in Boston. But rare books are hard to fence and the thieves are often caught when they try to turn their take into hard cash. It is perhaps a sign of the times that the latest notable theft at the Library of Congress had nothing at all to do with books
by Kirsten Berg, March 10, 2010 2:00 PM
Quite often at cocktail parties or in the first-class cabins of transatlantic flights I find myself engaged in conversations about rare books. The general belief is that if a book is old it must then be rare. Without going into a lecture on sociolinguistics
, it has to be admitted that "old" is relative, and that the term "rare" is too often thrown about carelessly in the world of collectible books.
Books can be collectible without being rare. These would be titles or authors that have resonance with the collector. Fight Club and first editions or signed editions from the Twilight saga are examples of collectible books.
Other books have moved beyond the collectible category and are truly rare. The three-volume first edition of Pride and Prejudice is a great example. It's a classic case of supply vs. demand. The first edition is desirable and scarce. Mathematically expressed, the formula looks like this: D + S = $.
Collectible, rare, and scarce books are just like cars, only with fewer moving parts. By that I mean that much of the same criteria are used to assess them. Physical condition plays a huge part in the valuation. Highlighting, library stamps, crayon drawings, broken bindings, mold, mildew, and coffee stains are the equivalent of a lamp post through the front end of your Ferrari.
Books can be scarce without being rare. Just remember that there are books no one cares about, not even a little bit. They are not significant. They are not a touchstone to history. There might not be very many of them, but so what? A great example of a book that is scarce and valuable is Tamerlane by Edgar Allan Poe. Fifty copies were printed in 1827. This is the book you want to find in that old trunk in the attic, or buy for 50 cents at a garage sale.
The best example of a scarce, rare, significant title that we have on our shelves today is History of the Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark. Rebacked, retaining the original boards, complete with the map in very good condition; again, not a bad find if you happen across one in that mythical trunk in the attic.
Our copy of Der Kampfwagen in der heutigen Kriegfuhrung might not look like much, especially if you have trouble reading the Old German font. It is scarce ? only three libraries in the world (http://www.worldcat.org/) hold copies. It is in good condition, complete with the folding map. It is also historically significant.
If you know the reason why Der Kampfwagen is historically significant, be the first to leave the correct answer in a comment below. I'll reward your knowledge with a Powell's treat ? whatever I can grab from the marketing department while they're in a
by Kirsten Berg, February 24, 2010 3:50 PM
In 1910 an Englishman named Douglas Carruthers
began a 5,000 mile journey that crossed Siberia and Asia. His goal was to see Dzungaria, the ancient Mongol kingdom. He published his account of the expedition, Unknown Mongolia
, in 1913. It is just the type of early 20th century travel literature that I love. Its value is scholarly, the narrative is entertaining, and the author's photos accompanying the text are both beautiful and plentiful.
Carruthers and his companions traveled by "tarantass, canoe, boat, and raft, by ass, ox, camel, and pack-pony." Reindeer were also ridden, though by the locals rather than by those in Carruthers's caravan. Their supplies — they carried over 300 pounds of flour with them and shot game along the way — were transported by 20 horses.
While modern travel gives us plenty to complain about, Carruthers had more than the TSA to contend with. The Russian government wasn't forthcoming with the visas and the Russian maps were less than accurate. The Siberians accompanying the travelers were not always happy with the amount of meat; the Uriankhai herdsmen did not value money and could not be counted on to sell their reindeer. Hunger and cold were always on the itinerary.
A great many of us vacation, some travel, others journey, and a select few explore. A quick look through the history of travel literature reveals that mere vacations are not the stuff enduring books are made of. Mary Kingsley, for example, did not vacation. Travels in West Africa could never have been the end result of a tour with Cook's. Though The Wilder Shores of Love is often categorized as a work of biography or feminist studies, Lesley Blanch could not have written it unless she had been, in her heart, a traveler in the largest sense of the word.
Douglas Carruthers knew how to travel. Upon his return to England he was awarded the Royal Geographical Society Patron's Gold Medal. The RSA also honors him with a Douglas Carruthers Memorial Lecture. He is also remembered as a Long Rider, a select group that celebrates equestrian travel.
Michael Palin, the current president of the Royal Geographical Society, has described geography as "a sense of wonder fused with the hard truths of science." It's an apt description of travel as well.
Visit the Powell's Travel section
by Kirsten Berg, February 10, 2010 4:47 PM
Before Obama wrote Dreams from My Father
Before George x 2...
Before THE blue dress...
Before the Gipper...
Before 444 days in captivity...
Before Ford pardoned Nixon...
Before Marilyn sang "Happy Birthday"...
Before the scariest two weeks in October...
Before any of this happened, there was a Senator from Massachusetts. Though most of us know his book Profiles in Courage because it won a 1957 Pulitzer, fewer of us have heard of the book he published in 1960, The Strategy of Peace. It seems to be the obligatory pre-presidential campaign tome of its time (remember W's A Charge to Keep?).
This is what makes being a used book buyer so much fun — the copy of The Strategy of Peace that came to us the other week at the buying table in our downtown store was inscribed by John F. Kennedy, and laid in was a T.L.s (typed letter, signed) on United States Senate stationary.
To celebrate our acquisition, here's a trivia question: What movie star of the great Hollywood era owned a complete set of United States presidential signatures, from George Washington to FDR? Below is the catalog entry from one of the Sotheby's sales of her library.
Here's a clue: she was the mistress (today we'd say 'domestic partner') of a man for over 30 years, but she never married him.
The first person to post the correct answer will win whatever Powell's swag (shirt, pens, pint glass — who knows?) I can lift from the marketing department while they are out to "lunch.
by Kirsten Berg, January 13, 2010 2:30 PM
My brother gave Barnes & Noble gift cards to my parents this Christmas, and my mother is enthralled by the Kindle, so I've been shopping around for a new family. I'd like my new family to be financially secure, broad-minded, and happy. They should also be here in Oregon, because I don't want to have to get a new driver's license photo taken.
Focusing on these criteria, I think I've found my new family in the pages of the book This Very Place the Lotus Paradise.
These people are so happy! What could be better than greeting your spiritual leader with flowers and song as he drives by in his Rolls Royce?
Or helping with his travel plans by painting one of his airplanes?
Or lining up along the dirt road in anticipation of his driving by in a(nother) Rolls Royce?
Or taking part in the first documented bioterror attack in the U.S.?
The Bagwan Shree Rajneesh — later rebranded as Osho — was deported from the U.S. and eventually went back to Pune, India. Now the site of a beautifully appointed retreat, the Osho community location in Pune has a web presence that could just as easily represent an upscale day spa or meditation center in Tucson.
I'm 25 years too late to join the family group at Rajneeshpuram, Oregon. Perhaps I'll just meditate on forgiveness.
by Kirsten Berg, December 16, 2009 1:30 PM
The first translator of Anna Karenina
into English, Nathan Haskell Dole
, was raised in a strict Puritan home in Massachusetts. In his introduction to the 1886 edition
, he claims that "the teaching of the story cannot fail to be considered in the highest degree moral and stimulating." Perhaps he was hoping that his literary friends in Boston wouldn't be shocked at his translating a novel that contained multiple adulterous liaisons and a suicide.
What was "moral and stimulating" in 1886 is today "a sexy and engrossing read," according to Oprah's Book Club. Anna herself is described as "the book's namesake and the woman we've all been waiting to meet," which makes her sound as though she's about to step out onto the talk show stage. Oprah picked Anna Karenina for her book club in 2004 and the title vaulted to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, 127 years after its publication in Russia.
Nathan Haskell Dole's translation made Anna Karenina accessible for the first time to the English speaking world. He was not fluent in Russian, which made his job somewhat difficult. The French edition had been published a year earlier and if Dole didn't finish his translation quickly, someone else would be the first to publish Tolstoy in English.
"After the present translation was begun, an anonymous French paraphrase appeared," Dole writes in the introduction to the 1886 edition. "In order to hasten the preparation of this volume for the press, that version has been used in a few passages, but always with the Russian original at hand."
Translation: Dole cribbed from the French edition of Tolstoy's novel and made it to press on time.
When you read Tolstoy in translation (or any author in translation), what are you reading? The words of the author faithfully transliterated? Or the sentence structure and vocabulary of the translator? Constance Garnett, possibly the most widely read translator of Tolstoy, reportedly omitted words or phrases she did not understand.
For her book club, Oprah chose the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation. ''First of all, get this edition,'' she told viewers. "Look for the Oprah's Book Club little sticker there because there's lots of different editions."
There are a lot of different editions. The short list of translations looks like this:
- Anonymous translation from Russian to French in 1885
- Doyle 1886
- Isabel Hapgood 1898
- Constance Garnett 1901
- Louise & Aylmer Maude 1918
- Rosemary Edmonds 1954
- Joel Carmichael 1960
- David Magarshack 1961
- Margaret Wettlin 1978
- Pevear & Volokhonsky 2000
- Kyril Zinovieff 2008
Even the Modern Library edition of Constance Garnett's translation has been re-worked by Leonard Kent and Nina Berberova.
Anna Karenina was the first book chosen by Oprah that she had not yet read. "It's been on my list for years, but I didn't do it because I was scared," she told her television audience. Then she and hundreds of thousands of readers (the print run of the Oprah Book Club edition was over 800,000 copies) conquered their fears and tackled Tolstoy.
The story of Anna Karenina is available in many formats — movies, music videos, ballet, even e-downloads in 423 installments. Whether Anna's story is "moral and stimulating" or "a sexy and engrossing read," it's clear that there's a love affair between Anna Karenina and the reading public.
÷ ÷ ÷
I'm off to lay roses on Tolstoy's grave and will return in