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Posts Tagged ‘books

So many books, so little time”*…


There are millions of books in the world (and almost definitely hundreds of millions—last they checked, Google had the count at 129,864,880, and that was seven years ago). The rabid and/or competitive readers among you will now be asking yourselves: yes, yes, now how will I read them all?

Well, you won’t…

A logical method for figuring out “How many books will you read before you die?

Then, increase your count with:  “How to Read (a Lot) More Books This Year, According to Harvard Research.”

* Frank Zappa (riffing on an age-old theme)


As we memento mori, we might send imaginative birthday greetings to Washington Irving; he was born on this date in 1783.  A short story writer, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat, he was America’s first genuine internationally best-selling author.  While best remembered for stories like “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” both of which appear in his book The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.), he also wrote biographies of George Washington, Oliver Goldsmith, and Muhammad, and several histories of 15th-century Spain dealing with subjects including Christopher Columbus, the Moors, and the Alhambra; he served as the U.S. ambassador to Spain from 1842 to 1846.

Mathew Brady’s copy of an original daguerreotype by John Plumbe



Written by LW

April 3, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Panem et circenses”*…


There was a time when in-flight entertainment was better than anything you could actually bring onto a plane. That time has long passed…

The past– and future– of in-flight entertainment: “Are you not entertained?

* “Bread and circuses,” Juvenal


As we remember that books are a joyous way to pass a fight, we might send tasty birthday greetings to the culinary genius behind green eggs and ham, Theodor Seuss Geisel, AKA “Dr. Seuss”; he was born on this date in 1904.  After a fascinating series of early-career explorations, Geisel settled on a style that created what turned out to be the perfect “gateway drug” to book addiction for generations of young readers.

The more that you read,

The more things you will know.

The more that you learn,

The more places you’ll go.

I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)


Written by LW

March 2, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I just enjoy translating, it’s like opening one’s mouth and hearing someone else’s voice emerge”*…


The Highbrow Struggles of Translating Modern Children’s Books Into Latin.”

* Iris Murdoch


As we try transliteration, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Umberto Eco; he was born on this date in 1932.  Most widely known as a novelist (primarily for his international best seller The Name of the Rose), Eco was also a literary critic, philosopher, and university professor highly-regarded in academic circles for his contributions to semiology.

An occasional translator, Eco once remarked, “translation is the art of failure.”



Written by LW

January 5, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Let us save what remains”*…


On Friday morning, January 25, 2013, 15 jihadis entered the restoration and conservation rooms on the ground floor of the Ahmed Baba Institute in Sankoré, a government library in Mali. The men swept 4,202 manuscripts off lab tables and shelves and carried them into the tiled courtyard. They doused the manuscripts—including 14th- and 15th-century works of physics, chemistry, and mathematics, their fragile pages covered with algebraic formulas, charts of the heavens, and molecular diagrams—in gasoline. Then they tossed in a lit match. The brittle pages and their dry leather covers ignited in a flash.

In minutes, the work of Timbuktu’s greatest savants and scientists, preserved for centuries, hidden from the 19th-century jihadis and French conquerors, survivors of floods, bacteria, water, and insects, were consumed by the inferno.

In the capital city of Bamako 800 miles away, the founder of Timbuktu’s Mamma Haidara Library, a scholar and community leader named Abdel Kader Haidara, saw the burning of the manuscripts as a tragedy—and a vindication of a remarkable plan he’d undertaken. Starting with no money besides the meager sum in his savings account, the librarian had recruited a loyal circle of volunteers, badgered and shamed the international community into funding the scheme, raised $1 million, and hired hundreds of amateur smugglers in Timbuktu and beyond. Their goal? Save books…

The whole heart-warming story at “The Great Library Rescue of Timbuktu.”

* Thomas Jefferson


As we check it out, we might wish a spectacularly happy birthday to Phineas Taylor (“P.T.”) Barnum; he was born on this date in 1810.  Barnum founded and ran a small business, then a weekly newspaper in his native Connecticut before leaving for New York City and the entertainment business.  He parlayed a variety troop and a “curiosities” museum (featuring the ‘”Feejee” mermaid’ and “General Tom Thumb”) into a fortune…  which he lost in a series of legal setbacks.  He replenished his stores by touring as a temperance speaker, then served as a Connecticut State legislator and as Mayor of Bridgeport (a role in which he introduced gas lighting and founded the Bridgeport hospital)… It wasn’t until after his 60th birthday that he turned to endeavor for which he’s best remembered– the circus.

“I am a showman by profession…and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.”

source: Library of Congress

Written by LW

July 5, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers”*…


The Athenian Oracle – a sort of 17th-century version of Quora – had its roots in The Athenian Mercury, a magazine published twice a week in London between 1690 and 1697. Its Editor-in-Chief John Dunton had come upon the idea of having an advice column in the magazine, giving the readers a chance to send in their questions which would then be answered by a group of experts. This group, called The Athenian Society, consisted of a Dr Norris, the mathematician Richard Sault, the clergyman and author Samuel Wesley, as well as Dunton himself. The questions received by the society covered everything from natural sciences and philosophy to literature and religion, and in 1703, they were collected and published as The Athenian Oracle. Questions range from why horses neigh or how dew is produced, to asking if there is a cure for stammering, as well as philosophical questions on what happiness is – or what death is. Some of the questions were written by women, resulting in a spin-off called The Ladies’ Mercury which was published for four weeks in 1693 and was the first periodical specifically aimed for women.

All will be answered– page through “The Athenian Oracle (1820).”

* Voltaire


As we celebrate certitude, we might recall that it was on this date in 1717 that, as the announcement of the event had it:

A catalogue of curious and valuable books, belonging to the late reverend & learned, Mr. Ebenezer Pemberton, consisting of divinity, philosophy, history, poetry, &c. Generally well bound, to be sold by auction, at the Crown Coffee-House in Boston, the second day of July 1717. Beginning at three a clock afternoon, and so, de die in diem, until the whole be sold. Also a valuable collection of pamphlets will then be exposed to sale. The books may be viewed from the 25th day of June, until the day of sale, at the house of the late Reverend Mr. Pemberton, where attendance will be given.

… the first book auction held in America.  The proceeds helped educate the recently-departed Mr. Pemberton’s son, also named Ebenezer, who went on to become a celebrated minister whose sermons were widely circulated in print.

Ebenezer Sr.



Written by LW

July 2, 2016 at 1:01 am

“A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors”*…


There are dead encyclopedias lurking everywhere, in basements and garbage dumps and church sales, because the publishing industry had such success at selling them to Americans in the 20th century. At their 18th-century Enlightenment origins, encyclopedias were for the educated elite. In the United States, historian Ann Katherine Johnson writes, reference books like encyclopedias and dictionaries began the 19th century as a luxury good—“tools for a relative few”—and exited as “mass-produced books designed ‘for the people.’ ” By the 20th century, in North America, encyclopedias had become a middle-class social tradition.

“Through most of the twentieth century, as many as 90 percent of American encyclopedias were sold door to door,” writes Jack Lynch in his book You Could Look It Up. Encyclopedia salespeople became so common as to be the butt of some pretty good jokes. But their pitch—“If you want to get ahead, you’ll invest in a set”—hit on some serious anxieties. “They were selling not books but a lifestyle, a future, a promise of social mobility,” Lynch writes. “You are holding your family’s future in your hands right now,” a 1961 ad for World Book, featuring a feminine hand grasping an order form, promised.

The advent of the home personal computer, and then the internet, killed the print encyclopedia dead. Why does this feel like such a tragedy to me? Encyclopedias were full of ideology, but pretended to be neutral; as proponents of the Wikipedia model point out, there is some advantage to the way we perceive authority now, as a distributed, ever-evolving web of edits and updates, performed by self-appointed experts who should be trusted only so far and no further. Yet my sense of nostalgia persists.

Artists Brian Dettmer and Guy Laramée tap these feelings in their work. Dettmer explodes encyclopedias, ransacking their interiors for illustrations and scattered words, putting them on display in new configurations. When you look at the resulting pieces, you recover some of that feeling of endless browsing, catching your eye on one image, then another; in fleeting impressions, you get a sense of the kind of world the encyclopedia portrayed. Laramée, on the other hand, approaches the books as objects, leaving them closed and monolithic, their art and words lost to the viewer. Sculpted into landscapes, they transcend their form, becoming something totally new…

More examples of Dettmer’s and Laramée’s work, and Rebecca Onion’s interview with them at “How Two Artists Turn Old Encyclopedias Into Beautiful, Melancholy Art.”

* Charles Baudelaire


As we look it up, we might that it was on this date in 1897 that Karl Elsener patented a pen knife with a large blade, a second smaller cutting blade, a corkscrew, and wood fiber grips, which he called the Officer’s and Sports Knife.  Six years earlier Elsener had produced the second knife requisitioned by the Swiss Army, the first to be produced in Switzerland.  That knife– the Soldier Knife— was issued to officers and soldiers as a rifle maintenance tool (it also had a can-opener for ration tins). This original model was issued for almost 60 years, until 1951, with only small updates. With the addition of the Officer’s and Sports Knife, Elsenser launched his company, Victorinox, into pocket knife production for the general public, and created the “prepared for anything” category we’ve come to know as Swiss Army Knives.



Written by LW

June 12, 2016 at 1:01 am

“The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man”*…


The Annual Library Budget Survey, a global study that queries 686 senior librarians about their budget spending predictions for the year, was published last week by the Publishers Communication Group (PCG), a consultancy wing of Ingenta, the self-described “largest supplier of technology and related services for the publishing industry.” The survey found uneven growth expectations for libraries worldwide…

Check it out at “How Are Libraries Doing Around the World?

* (Groucho Marx’s buddy) T.S. Eliot


As we keep our voices down, we might send informative birthday greetings to Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee OM KBE FRS FREng FRSA FBCS; he was born on this date in 1955.  While working as a Fellow at CERN in 1989, he invented the World Wide Web, developing and demonstrating the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet.  Currently the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees the continued development of the Web, he remains a staunch defender of an open Web and the free flow of information.

[On the heels of yesterday’s almanac entry, should “Internet” be capitalized?]



Written by LW

June 8, 2016 at 1:01 am

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