Category: Book News

‘Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu’: risking all to save rare manuscripts

Those of you who read this blog regularly may remember that the crisis regarding the manuscripts of the Timbuktu library which were in danger of being destroyed by an al-Qaeda group has been a concern of mine since I first learned of it a few years ago. Now a new book, just out, tells the story of the rescue of in excess of 377,000 manuscripts (work is currently underway to preserve the manuscripts as they were taken to an area with a wet climate). I have just downloaded the book to my Kindle and I will report back with a review – so check back for that…

By David Wright
Special to The Seattle Times

It has all the elements of a classic adventure novel. An intrepid librarian ventures across deserts and through jungles to unearth ancient manuscripts, building a great library in a legendary city, only to be forced to smuggle it book by book out from under the noses of brutal pillagers bent on destruction.

Yet despite its sensational title, Joshua Hammer’s “The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu” (Simon & Schuster, 288 pp., $26) provides a sobering look at an ongoing human and cultural tragedy across the Arab world.

Hammer’s reportage highlights a lesser-known front in the ongoing struggle within Islam between the tolerant majority and fundamentalist jihadis, a situation too often framed as a contest between Islam and the West. It is a story that couldn’t be more timely, and yet the tumultuous history of Timbuktu shows just how far this cyclical struggle predates the Arab Spring.

In a golden era from the 14th to the 16th centuries, Timbuktu developed from a wealthy trading hub between north and sub-Saharan Africa into a cosmopolitan city renowned for its scholarly culture, preserved and celebrated in thousands of beautifully delineated manuscripts.

These intellectual treasures have been repeatedly suppressed and destroyed over the years, by repressive warlords and anti-Semitic purges in the 15th century, Moroccan invaders in the 16th century and a Sufi “jihad of the sword” in the 19th century. The colonizing French in 1894 administered the coup de grace, exporting precious manuscripts to European collections, but by that time Timbuktu’s cultural patrimony had largely — and often literally — gone underground.

Starting in 1984, librarian Abdel Kader Haidara devoted himself to restoring his city’s heritage. Prospecting for books for the Ahmed Baba Institute, Haidara managed to recover a staggering number of manuscripts that had been scattered across the region in private collections, cached away in trunks, and buried in pits and caves. Haidara’s intrepid adventures call to mind the medieval book hunters whose efforts to ferret out the forgotten writings of ancient Greece and Rome helped fuel the Renaissance across Europe, as described in Stephen Greenblatt’s 2011 award-winning book “The Swerve: How the Ancient World Became Modern.” Just as then, clouds of intolerance were gathering on the horizon, and now a new Savonarola was kindling bonfires of the vanities under the banners of al-Qaeda.

Hammer does a fairly good job of disentangling the complex factors that led up to the jihadi takeover of Northern Mali and Timbuktu in 2012, a chaotic mix of hostage taking, uneasy alliances between Tuareg rebels and Wahhabi extremists, and the law of unintended consequences of the Arab Spring, when al-Qaeda militants plundered Qaddafi’s abandoned armories.

What is made vividly clear to readers who may be apt to view terrorism as something that happens on U.S. or European soil is the pervasive terror experienced across the Islamic world when “the bearded ones” roll into town to “turn the clocks back fourteen hundred years.” It is against this horrifying backdrop of menacing oppression and summary brutality that Haidara and his associates decide to risk life and limb to save Timbuktu’s libraries from the flames.

There’s no need to reveal here just how these brave librarians and citizens managed to smuggle 377,000 intact manuscripts out of harm’s way past a brutal totalitarian regime, through lawless wilderness and war zones to Mali’s capital city of Bamako far to the south. Suffice it to say that they earn their “bad ass” sobriquet several times over. Riveting skullduggery, revealing history and current affairs combine in a compelling narrative with a rare happy ending. So far.

David Wright is a reader services librarian at the Seattle Public Library.

World-Class Literary Works Reign At NY Antiquarian Book Fair

Source: Antiques and The Arts Weekley
Gate Up 25 Percent Over Last Year’s Event, Says Promoter Sanford Smith

NEW YORK CITY — Featuring more than 200 international dealers of rare books, maps, illuminated manuscripts, photographs, ephemera and singular items of historical interest, the New York Antiquarian Book Fair returned, perhaps one last time, to the Park Avenue Armory April 7–10. Produced by Sanford L. Smith + Associates, the fair is sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America and its parent organization, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.

This is a very good article with a great deal of insight and interest. Please be sure to click the link to read the article in full…

Click Here


Prince Of Tides Author Pat Conroy Dies At 70

Published March 5, 2016 12:20 AM ET
Richard Shiro/AP

Pat Conroy dies at 70.

Pat Conroy dies at 70.

Pat Conroy, author of best-selling novels including The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides, died Friday of pancreatic cancer. He had revealed the diagnosis — and vowed to fight it — just weeks ago.

Novelist Pat Conroy, who announced last month that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer, has died, according to a statement from his publisher. Conroy was 70.
He announced his diagnosis on Facebook almost three weeks ago, saying “I intend to fight it hard.”

Today’s statement from Todd Doughty, executive director of publicity at Doubleday included comments from Conroy’s wife and his longtime editor:

“Conroy passed away this evening at his home in Beaufort, S.C., surrounded by family and loved ones. ‘The water is wide and he has now passed over,’
said his wife, novelist Cassandra Conroy. Funeral arrangements are currently being made at this time.

“Pat has been my beloved friend and author for 35 years, spanning his career from The Prince Of Tides to today,” said his longtime editor and publisher, Nan A. Talese of Doubleday. “He will be cherished as one of America’s favorite and bestselling writers, and I will miss him terribly,” Talese said.”

The Associated Press notes that four of Conway’s “novels of troubled relationships and dysfunctional families” were turned into movies, including his best-known books, The Great Santini and The Prince Of Tides.

“Conroy writes from his own experiences, as a child of a violent father,” said NPR’s Tom Vitale in a 1986 Morning Edition interview with the author. “Like his Prince Of Tides protagonist, Pat Conroy grappled with his own conflicted sense of identity, particularly as a Southerner”, Conroy told Vitale:

“I’m a military brat. My father was a Marine Corps fighter pilot from Chicago, Ill. I did not live in Southern towns, I lived on bases. I was a Roman Catholic, which is the strangest thing you can be in the South. Not only that, I married a Jewish woman from Bensonhurst. So when people refer to me as a Southerner … I liked it because I never had a home. It was the first name that was ever associated with me that put me in a place.”

Even 30 years later, Conroy’s determination to crack his identity hadn’t stopped. In the previously mentioned Facebook post, he added:

“I celebrated my 70th birthday in October and realized that I’ve spent my whole writing life trying to find out who I am and I don’t believe I’ve even come close. It was in Beaufort in sight of a river’s sinuous turn, and the movements of its dolphin-proud tides that I began to discover myself and where my life began at fifteen.”


Harper Lee, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ author, dead at 89

Harper Lee

Source: By Todd Leopold, CNN
Updated 8:31 PM ET, Fri February 19, 2016

(CNN) Harper Lee, whose debut novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” immortalized her name with its story of justice and race in a small Southern town and became a classic of American literature, has died. She was 89.

Her death was confirmed Friday by the City Hall in Monroeville, Alabama, where she lived.

In a statement, Lee’s family said, “The family of Nelle Harper Lee, of Monroeville, Alabama, announced today, with great sadness, that Ms. Lee passed away in her sleep early this morning. Her passing was unexpected. She remained in good basic health until her passing. The family is in mourning and there will be a private funeral service in the upcoming days, as she had requested.”
Added nephew Hank Conner in the statement, “This is a sad day for our family. America and the world knew Harper Lee as one of the last century’s most beloved authors. We knew her as Nelle Harper Lee, a loving member of our family, a devoted friend to the many good people who touched her life, and a generous soul in our community and our state. We will miss her dearly.”

Her publisher, HarperCollins, also released a statement. “The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer but what many don’t know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness,” said the company’s president and publisher, Michael Morrison. “She lived her life the way she wanted to – in private – surrounded by books and the people who loved her. I will always cherish the time I spent with her.”

“Mockingbird,” which was published in 1960, was drawn from elements of Lee’s childhood in Monroeville. In steady prose shaded by memory and lyricism, she describes how an impulsive girl, Scout Finch, her older brother, Jem, their friend Dill and a variety of other townspeople get caught up in the case of Tom Robinson, a black man who’s been accused of rape in the Depression-era town of Maycomb, Alabama.

Through it all, no character is more indelible than that of Scout’s widower father, Atticus Finch. The scrupulous, fair-minded lawyer who defends the falsely accused Robinson in a racist courtroom set a standard for goodness and bravery that still resonates more than 50 years later.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand,” Atticus says to Scout at one point. “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see through it no matter what.”

The book won the Pulitzer Prize, and Gregory Peck, who played Atticus in the acclaimed 1962 movie, earned an Oscar for best actor. Finch was named the greatest hero in movie history in a 2003 American Film Institute survey. His reputation is such that a 2010 poll by the American Bar Association Journal was titled “The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Are Not Atticus Finch).”

An earlier draft of the book, titled “Go Set a Watchman,” was published in 2015. The book was criticized for a different portrayal of Atticus, who voices racist sentiments, and questions arose as to whether Lee actually wanted it released.

Despite mixed reviews, the book was one of the top sellers of 2015.

Throughout all this, Lee maintained a low profile. She had assisted her friend Truman Capote, the basis for Dill, while he researched his novel “In Cold Blood,” and though he reveled in the praise and fortune that came with fame, she resisted it.

“I never expected any sort of success with ‘Mockingbird,'” she told critic Roy Newquist for an interview published in 1964. “I didn’t expect the book to sell in the first place. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of reviewers, but at the same time I sort of hoped that maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.”

Even as “Mockingbird” became a fixture on high school reading lists and demands for her became ever more pronounced, she took shelter in New York and Alabama, hiding in plain sight. It wasn’t that she was reclusive, exactly; it’s that she preferred to let her work speak for itself.

At one event in her honor — and there were many — she was asked to address the audience at the Alabama Academy of Honor. She turned down the opportunity.
“Well, it’s better to be silent than be a fool,” she said.

‘I kept at it’

Nelle Harper Lee was born in Monroeville on April 28, 1926. She was the youngest of five children born to Amasa Coleman (A.C.) Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch. Though A.C. was not a widower like Atticus, Lee’s mother was mentally ill, so she and her siblings were essentially raised by her father. The two became very close.

She met Truman Persons, who was two years older, as a child. The tomboyish Lee and the sometimes petulant Persons, who was sent away by his parents to spend his summers in Monroeville, became close friends and would spend hours reading and making up stories. Recognizing his daughter’s imaginative temperament, A.C. Lee gave her an Underwood typewriter. She carried it everywhere.

Lee attended the University of Alabama, including a short stint in law school, but didn’t finish. Instead, she moved to New York where Truman Persons, now Truman Capote, had established himself as one of the country’s leading writers.

Lee, too, wanted to write but had little time to pursue the vocation until a pair of Capote’s friends, Michael and Joy Brown, gave her a Christmas gift: They would pay all her expenses for a year. Lee took two to write “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Though the book seems effortless, she told Newquist it came in stops and starts.

“Naturally, you don’t sit down in ‘white hot inspiration’ and write with a burning flame in front of you,” she said. “But since I knew I could never be happy being anything but a writer, and ‘Mockingbird’ put itself together for me so accommodatingly, I kept at it because I knew it had to be my first novel, for better or for worse.”

After she finished “Mockingbird,” Capote — fresh off the success of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” — invited her to assist him on a new project: the story of a murdered Kansas family, the Clutters. Lee became part secretary, part interviewer, part go-between for the flamboyant Capote. The work they did would become the foundation of Capote’s 1966 best-seller, “In Cold Blood.”

“Mockingbird” was published in July 1960 and became an immediate best-seller. Indeed, it’s never stopped selling; as of 2006, it had sold 30 million copies and moves a million more each year.
Lee was caught off guard by its success.

“I can’t say that (my reaction) was one of surprise. It was one of sheer numbness. It was like being hit over the head and knocked cold,” she told Newquist.
Book to screen

The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was optioned for a movie. Lee was wary of Hollywood’s attention but was allowed some input. Her choice for Atticus was Spencer Tracy, but he was unavailable. The studio’s first choice was Rock Hudson.

When Gregory Peck was chosen, he traveled to Monroeville to meet with Lee. He became so attuned to the role that Lee burst into tears the first time she saw him in character. The two became lifelong friends. After filming concluded, Lee gave the actor her father’s prized pocket watch; later, Peck’s grandson was named for the author.

The movie has been called “the best-ever book-to-screen adaptation.” It captured Lee’s world just right: the dilapidated homes, the county courthouse (built on a backlot but based on the actual Monroeville building) and, above all, her characters.

The performers who played Scout and Jem, Mary Badham and Philip Alford, were Alabama-born acting novices. Brock Peters, who played Tom Robinson, broke away from the heavies he’d portrayed before landing the role. (More than five decades later, he would deliver the eulogy at Peck’s funeral.) Robert Duvall, who played the mysterious Boo Radley, was a screen newcomer. He would go on to a storied career.

With the success of the film, “To Kill a Mockingbird’s” place in the culture was cemented. But Lee never followed up. She worked on a second novel but never finished it. Later she tried her hand at a true-crime book. That, too, would remain incomplete.

“Go Set a Watchman” was an earlier version of “Mockingbird.” The book engendered its share of controversy over concerns that Lee, by then in an assisted-living facility, hadn’t approved its release, despite a statement that she was “humbled and amazed that this will now be published.”

Regardless, “Mockingbird” was a career in itself.

The story was both a steady source of income and, eventually, somewhat of a millstone for Lee. She spent many years sharing a house in Monroeville with her sister, Alice, a centenarian who followed in her father’s footsteps as a lawyer. Strangers would knock on the door and ask for autographs. Lee sued a local museum over trademark infringement. She got caught up in a lawsuit in which she claimed she was “duped” into signing over the copyright to her book. The suit was settled in 2013.

Over the years, biographers and reporters would attempt to get close to Lee. For the most part, she resisted their blandishments, though one teacher, Charles Shields, wrote a 2006 biography, and a Midwestern journalist, Marja Mills, moved next door and eventually wrote a book, “The Mockingbird Next Door” (2014). By then, Harper Lee had suffered a stroke and both Lees needed more detailed care.

Nevertheless, there is no forgetting “Mockingbird.” The film lives on; it’s in the National Film Registry. Each year, Monroeville puts on a staged version of the story.
And, of course, there is the book, still selling, still being read, still moving many to tears.

The book, and its author, offer two qualities that are often in short supply: respect and restraint.

Perhaps there is no more moving example than a famous scene from the book and movie. Atticus Finch has just lost the rape trial. His client, Tom Robinson, will probably be put to death. In the balcony, Scout and Jem sit with Maycomb’s black community in stunned silence. As Atticus quietly leaves the courtroom, the Reverend Sykes, a local black leader, gets Scout’s attention. The citizens on the balcony are all standing. He urges her to do the same. “Miss Jean Louise,” he says, “stand up. Your father’s passin’.”

Lee never married and had no children.


Van filled with $350,000 rare books stolen in Oakland

Moe's Books

Van filled with $350,000 rare books stolen in Oakland

Source: SFGate
By Jenna Lyons Published 4:51 pm, Friday, February 19, 2016

A man had a van with $350,000 worth of valuable books stolen from outside an Oakland home. It’s believed the men went to Moe’s Books in Berkeley to try to sell a few thousand dollars worth in novels.

Photo: John McMurtrie

A man had a van with $350,000 worth of valuable books stolen from outside an Oakland home. It’s believed the men went to Moe’s Books in Berkeley to try to sell a few thousand dollars worth in novels.

He’s been in the book dealing business for more than 15 years, but Lawrence Van De Carr said he’d never come across such a jewel of a title: a mint copy of Isaac Asimov’s 1950 classic “I, Robot” valued at $8,500. That novel, once a prized possession of Van De Carr’s, is now gone, along with around 400 of his other books worth well over $350,000. Someone stole his van filled with boxes of rare books while it was parked outside a friend’s Oakland home this week.

“The thing about that book is it was as new as the day it was published. Just a perfect, perfect copy. It glistened,” Van De Carr lamented.

“It’s my livelihood, it’s how I make a living,” added Van De Carr, owner of Bootlegger’s Books in Chicago. “Now, I have nothing.”

One suspect has been arrested, he said, but his van filled with novels penned by Faulkner, Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy, among other famous authors, has not been found.

Van De Carr has spent more than a decade making several visits to the Bay Area for annual book fairs. Two every February, and two in every October. He just attended fairs in San Mateo and Pasadena, and like always, planned to stay with a friend in Oakland in February, avoiding the harsh winter in Chicago for at least a short while. He said he parked his silver 2008 Ford van outside his friend’s home Monday afternoon. But when he went outside Tuesday morning, it was gone.

First he called the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America. The group sent out a warning to its network of book dealers to be on the lookout for the stolen books.
Van de Carr said he called Oakland police around 11 a.m. Monday to report the theft.

“Everyone was on the lookout for these books and sure enough someone showed up four hours later,” he said. Joshua Anderson, 30, went to Moe’s Books in Berkeley shortly after the bookseller’ association sent out an alert. He and an alleged accomplice had four books, valued around $14,000, that they were trying to sale, said John Wong, manager at the store.

Among the classic first-edition they were trying fence were “A Hornbook for Witches: Poems of Fantasy” by Leah Bodine Drake, one of only 563 known copies; “No Country for Old Men” by McCarthy, “Always Comes Evening” by Robert E. Howard, and “Pylon” by William Faulkner. The men said they got the valuable volumes from a deceased uncle, but Anthony, one of Wong’s employees, wasn’t buying it. “Anthony was suspicious because they had said they were left by their uncle,” Wong said, adding that he and his employees had just been made aware of the stolen books when the pair walked into Telegraph Avenue store.

Anthony, who did not want his last named used, stalled the men by sending them up to the fourth-floor rare books section, while he called police. When officers arrived, one of the men escaped through a back door, but Anderson ran out through the front, where he was caught and arrested, Wong said.

Alameda County Sheriff’s Office online records show a man with the same name was arrested in Berkeley Tuesday on suspicion of making a false check and appropriating loss property, among other charges. Oakland Police would not comment on the case and Berkeley Police were not immediately available.

“We’re probably the largest open book shop in the Bay Area,” Wong said. “It’s probably natural they would have come here.”

The second man has yet to be apprehended, but he might still be trying to sell the books. Van de Carr said that after Anderson was arrested, he got a call from an El Cerrito bookstore reporting a man was there trying to sell rare books. He said he recognized the titles as those from this stolen van.

Now, Van de Carr, still without his car, is stranded in the Bay Area. He said he will wait until the end of the month before deciding whether to rent a car or fly back to Chicago. Police throughout the Bay Area have their eyes peel for Van de Carr’s 2008 silver Ford van with the Illinois license plate number E-91496.


Tolkien’s annotated map of Middle-earth discovered inside copy of Lord of the Rings

Source: Guardian

finest piece of Tolkien ephemera to emerge in the last 20 years

Perhaps the finest piece of Tolkien ephemera to emerge…

A recently discovered map of Middle-earth annotated by JRR Tolkien reveals The Lord of the Rings author’s observation that Hobbiton is on the same latitude as Oxford, and implies that the Italian city of Ravenna could be the inspiration behind the fictional city of Minas Tirith.

The map was found loose in a copy of the acclaimed illustrator Pauline Baynes’ copy of The Lord of the Rings. Baynes had removed the map from another edition of the novel as she began work on her own colour Map of Middle-earth for Tolkien, which would go on to be published by Allen & Unwin in 1970. Tolkien himself had then copiously annotated it in green ink and pencil, with Baynes adding her own notes to the document while she worked.

Blackwell’s, which is currently exhibiting the map in Oxford and selling it for £60,000, called it “an important document, and perhaps the finest piece of Tolkien ephemera to emerge in the last 20 years at least”.

It shows what Blackwell’s called “the exacting nature” of Tolkien’s creative vision: he corrects place names, provides extra ones, and gives Baynes a host of suggestions about the map’s various flora and fauna. Hobbiton, he notes, “ is assumed to be approx at latitude of Oxford”; Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University.

The novelist also uses Belgrade, Cyprus, and Jerusalem as other reference points, and according to Blackwell’s suggests that “the city of Ravenna is the inspiration behind Minas Tirith – a key location in the third book of the Lord of The Rings trilogy”.

“The map shows how completely obsessed he was with the details. Anyone else interfered at their peril,” said Sian Wainwright at Blackwell’s. “He was tricky to work with, but very rewarding in the end.”

The notebooks reveal that Hobbiton is on the same latitude as Oxford

The notebooks reveal that Hobbiton is on the same latitude as Oxford, and imply that the Italian city of Ravenna could be the inspiration behind Minas Tirith. Photograph: Blackwell’s Rare Books

Correspondence between Tolkien and the late and acclaimed illustrator Baynes, who also worked on books for CS Lewis, as well as Baynes’s unpublished diary entries, gives further details about the sometimes thorny relationship between the two. On 21 August 1969, Baynes describes a visit to Tolkien and his wife in Bournemouth, “to chat about a poster map I have to do – he very uncooperative”.

The author later apologies for having “been so dilatory”, and a later lunch sees the author “in great form – first names and kissing all round – and pleased with the map”.

Henry Gott, modern first editions specialist at Blackwell’s Rare Books, said the map was “an exciting and important discovery: new to scholarship (though its existence is implied by correspondence between the two), it demonstrates the care exercised by both in their mapping of Tolkien’s creative vision”.

“Before going on display in the shop this week, this had only ever been in private hands (Pauline Baynes’s for the majority of its existence). One of the points of interest is how much of a hand Tolkien had in the poster map; all of his suggestions, and there are many (the majority of the annotation on the map is his), are reflected in Baynes’s version,” said Gott. “The degree to which it is properly collaborative was not previously apparent, and couldn’t be without a document like this. Its importance is mostly to do with the insight it gives into that process.”

Blackwell’s is selling a range of works by Baynes, who died in 2008, aged 85, including a range of her original signed drawings from the Narnia books.

This article was amended on 23 October 2015. The map was not found by a Blackwell’s Rare Books specialist, but found in a book handed into the shop. This has been corrected.


Stanley Gibbons launches rare books index

By: Nia Williams


Stanley Gibbons Investments has launched a rare book index measuring the value of 30 first edition 20th Century classics.
The index will help guide investors and collectors looking to build a rare book portfolio as part of a long-term investment strategy.

The index of first editions includes Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale and Live and Let Die, which are valued at £24,000 and £8,000 respectively; J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, valued at £65,000; while F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is the highest at £247,000. George Orwell’s Animal Farm has experienced significant value growth according to auction data, rising from £190 to £5,100.

Overall the index has shown 398% growth, an 8.8% annual growth for the last ten years.

“As an authority in the collectibles market, Stanley Gibbons aims to help guide and provide access for investors who are looking to diversify some of their wealth into alternative assets,” said Keith Heddle, managing director of Stanley Gibbons Investments.

“While the index may cause households to start examining their collections, it is important to understand that in order to be investment grade these books must be of a certain condition, have the ‘dust jacket’ still intact and have a particular history and rarity associated with them. That said, they can give immense pride of ownership as well as strong capital growth potential.

“There is a book in everyone and this resonates with investors.”

The rare books index follows the now established rare stamps and coins indices, which Stanley Gibbons says demonstrates these collectibles to be one of the most reliable, long-term ‘buy and hold’ alternative assets for investors looking for portfolio diversification and low volatility.

Over the past 10 years, the GB250 Index, which tracks the performance of the top 250 traded, investment grade British stamps, recorded a CAGR of 11.4%. The GB200 coin index, charting the performance of 200 rare British coins, showed a CAGR of 12.75% without a drop in that time.


Exhibition Delves Below Deceptively Simple Surface Of Hemingway’s Prose

Source: NPR

Ernest Hemingway revises For Whom The Bell Tolls, in Sun Valley, Idaho, in November 1940.

Ernest Hemingway revises For Whom The Bell Tolls, in Sun Valley, Idaho, in November 1940.
Robert Capa/International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

In 1938, Ernest Hemingway made a recording to promote the publication of The Fifth Column, his play about the Spanish Civil War written while he was covering the conflict for American newspapers in 1937.

“While I was writing the play, the Hotel Florida, where we lived and worked, was struck by more than 30 high-explosive shells,” he said. “So if it is not a good play, perhaps that is what is the matter with it. If it is a good play, perhaps those 30 some shells helped write it.”

It’s classic Hemingway: simple declarative sentences about rising above the heat of battle in the face of death.

A new exhibit, 54 years after Hemingway’s death, tells a different story. Declan Kiely, curator of “Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars” at New York’s Morgan Library, says, “So much of his great writing is about failure. It’s about weakness. It’s about fear.”

The first manuscript in the show — and perhaps the rarest — is four pages on Red Cross stationery handwritten in a Milan hospital in 1918 by a teenage Hemingway wounded during World War I. It’s the writer’s first story to feature his alter ego, Nick Adams. Here, he is a badly injured soldier who falls in love with a nurse, then takes his own life.

Kiely notes that it has many hallmarks of the Hemingway style, including pared-down dialogue, brief descriptions and an arresting first paragraph: “Nick lay in bed in hospital where from outside came the hysterical roar of the crowd walking through the streets.”

A teenage Hemingway on crutches while recovering in Milan, Italy, in September 1918.

A teenage Hemingway on crutches while recovering in Milan, Italy, in September 1918.
The Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

The story has no title. It was never published and, until now, it’s never been displayed.

But it contains the raw material for one of Hemingway’s most celebrated novels, A Farewell to Arms. He wrote 47 different endings for the novel before settling on the one he liked.

“That is all there is to the story,” reads one of the four endings on display at the Morgan Library. “Catherine died and you will die and I will die and that is all I can promise you.”

“It doesn’t get much bleaker than that,” Kiely says.

Alongside the alternate endings are the first two pages of the first draft of A Farwell to Arms. Kiely notes the multiple revisions until the “absolutely beautiful, poetic, haunting beginning of the novel” starts to take shape for the very first time: “In the late summer of that year, we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and a plain to the mountains.”

Hemingway worked hard to write prose that looked so simple, says Sandra Spanier, a Hemingway scholar at Penn State University and editor of the author’s collected letters, being published in 17 volumes.

“I think that what’s valuable about this exhibit is that we can see the inner workings, we kind of see behind the curtain the tapestry with all the knots and flaws showing — but see how he worked his way into, I think, perfection in certain cases,” Spanier says.

"Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars," an exhibit at New York City's Morgan Library, includes items ranging from the author's dog tags to original manuscript pages.

“Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars,” an exhibit at New York City’s Morgan Library, includes items ranging from the author’s dog tags to original manuscript pages.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum /The Morgan Library & Museum

The exhibit — which includes handwritten first drafts, outtakes, letters, notebooks and photos — lays out Hemingway’s papers in chronological order: handwritten drafts of his early stories; the first two chapters he cut from his 1926 breakthrough novel, The Sun Also Rises; and the letter from F. Scott Fitzgerald convincing Hemingway the chapters had to go.

Hemingway saved everything and, miraculously, almost everything is intact, says curator Declan Kiely.

Hemingway wrote 47 endings for his novel A Farewell to Arms before settling on one. Here, the first page of a handwritten Farewell manuscript.

Hemingway wrote 47 endings for his novel A Farewell to Arms before settling on one. Here, the first page of a handwritten Farewell manuscript.
Reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

The papers survived multiple transatlantic voyages and the Cuban revolution in 1959. A month after Hemingway’s death in 1961, Mary Hemingway — the author’s fourth wife — returned to Cuba, packed up his belongings and shipped them to Tampa, Fla., via shrimp boat. They bounced between Tampa and New York, where they stayed until 1972, when they were donated to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. They’ve been in storage there for four decades.

But Hemingway might not have been so thrilled about the show at the Morgan. He gave written instructions that his letters should never be published — his wife waited 20 years after his death before agreeing.

He never kept a journal, he put all his experiences into his stories and he didn’t like to talk about himself, as he made clear in the brief acceptance speech he recorded when he won the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature.

“I have spoken too long for a writer,” he said. “A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it.”


Belarusian Journalist Svetlana Alexievich Wins Literature Nobel

Source: NPR
October 08, 2015 7:05 AM ET
By: Colin Dwyer

Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich, during the ceremony for the German Book Trade Peace Prize, which she won in 2013.

Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich, during the ceremony for the German Book Trade Peace Prize, which she won in 2013.
Daniel Roland/AFP/Getty Images

Investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, the Swedish Academy announced Thursday. Alexievich is the first writer from Belarus to win the prize.

Alexievich won “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time,” according to the citation for the award.

‘Voices From Chernobyl’: Survivors’ Stories

On her personal website, Alexievich explains her pursuit of journalism: “I chose a genre where human voices speak for themselves.” Fittingly, Alexievich prefers to leave the stories to her many interviewees, letting eyewitness accounts shed an unsettling light on tragedies like World War II, the Soviet-Afghan War and the disaster at Chernobyl — an investigation that has been read aloud in excerpts on All Things Considered.

For that work, Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, Alexievich interviewed hundreds of people touched by the massive 1986 nuclear meltdown, which spread radioactivity on the wind across much of Eastern Europe.

“All of my books consist of witnesses’ evidence, people’s living voices,” she told the Dalkey Archive Press. “I usually spend three to four years writing a book, but this time it took me more than ten years.”

In an interview following the announcement, the Swedish Academy’s permanent secretary, Sara Danius, elaborated on the decision.

“For the past 30 or 40 years, she has been busy mapping the Soviet and post-Soviet individual,” Danius said. “But it’s not really about a history of events; it’s about a history of emotions.”

If you’re new to Alexievich’s work, Danius added, she recommends beginning with War’s Unwomanly Face — a history the Soviet women who fought as soldiers in the Second World War.

A photo taken on October 8, 2004 in Oslo shows the Nobel Peace Prize medal. Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel prize for literature on Thursday, has drawn international acclaim with her emotional accounts of the Chernobyl disaster and World War II based on witness accounts. PHOTO | AFP

A photo taken on October 8, 2004 in Oslo shows the Nobel Peace Prize medal. Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel prize for literature on Thursday, has drawn international acclaim with her emotional accounts of the Chernobyl disaster and World War II based on witness accounts. PHOTO | AFP

It has been quite a long time since a nonfiction writer won the Nobel. Not since the heady days of Bertrand Russell and Winston Churchill, over half a century ago, has an author won for a career of work primarily in nonfiction. Alexievich’s prize breaks that long dry spell.

The 67-year-old is the 112th writer — and 14th woman — to win the prize. She will receive her medal at a ceremony on Dec. 10.

Read excerpts of Voices from Chernobyl.


Mold Is Threatening Boston Public Library’s Rare Books

Source: Smithsonian
By Erin Blakemore

Mold Is Threatening Boston Public Library’s Rare Books

As spores are found in the stacks, it’s time to battle a fuzzy foe

card catalog
Card Catalog
(Fred de Noyelle/Godong/Corbis)

Exposure to mold can have health consequences for humans. But mold can hurt books, too. Fine Books and Collections’ Nate Pedersen reports that a recent outbreak at the Boston Public Library is creating a health hazard for 500,000 rare books — and a real hassle for librarians.

It started with spores, writes Pedersen: After discovering mold on a medieval manuscript and other rare books, the staff of the Boston Public Library’s Rare Books Department decided to close the facility for five to ten weeks as they assess and address the problem — and hand-examine over 500,000 rare books.

Construction at the library could be to blame, reports The Boston Globe’s Andrew Ryan. Library staff tells Ryan that renovations that make it difficult to control the internal temperature of the collection and a recent bout of humidity seems to have contributed to the mold problem. Now, writes Ryan, outside consultants armed with industrial-strength dehumidifiers are at work determining the extent of the problem and attempting to dry out the facility.

Mold is one of the top enemies of archivists, who must protect fragile materials from spores that can lay waste to frail paper and irreplaceable objects. Worldwide, archivists and librarians regularly trade strategies for spotting and remediating mold, which preservationist Sandra Nyberg calls a “distinctly icky” fuzzy foe.

Boston’s collection isn’t the first to struggle with mold in its manuscripts. In 2007, the University of Illinois and Urbana-Champaign’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library suffered from a mold outbreak after a spike in humidity — one that took eight months to address. The process, which library staff described as “harrowing and exhausting,” may be similar to the one Boston Public Library staff are about to undergo. One staffer tells Ryan that the war against mold is “a constant battle” — but one BPL is committed to fighting.

Read more:
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12!
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter