Category Archives: Books

The Obscene Books that Oxford Librarians Hid for Centuries

alex atkins bookshelf booksThe University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, founded in 1602, is a legal deposit library which means that it is entitled to a copy of every book published in the United Kingdom — including what is considered obscene. At the height of the Victorian Era, the Obscene Publications Act was passed in 1857 which prohibits the distribution of obscene materials, defined as “[materials that] deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such influences.” Perhaps they were thinking of rebellious, inebriated, and horny college students. (But they clearly don’t understand college students — there is no greater encouragement for students to read particular literary works when they are classified as “obscene” and locked away. College students are amazingly resourceful — and they will find ways to get to the good stuff!) Nevertheless, any library that allowed individuals access to these books would incur serious legal consequences. Students who read these forbidden materials were warned that they would develop warts on their hands and go blind.

Accordingly the librarians at the Bodleian created the Phi collection (the Greek letter Phi was stamped on the spine of each book, although it is not clear why that particular letter was selected) for the obscene literary works they acquired. Up until 2010, students could not review, let alone check out, a book from the Phi collection unless they received prior permission from faculty and library staff (which means, in plain terms: rarely). There are currently about 3,000 titles in the Phi collection, ranging from scholarly or scientific studies of ancient cultures to novels that initially caused a scandal, that have never seen the light of day. By now you are wondering, “So, what did the library staff and the British bureaucrats consider absence?” Here are some of the titles that are included in the new exhibit at the Bodleian: Story of Phi: Restricted Books. The exhibit is curated by a Latin Professor Jennifer Ingleheart who commented, “The display invites visitors to consider the complexities behind what is currently in the Phi collection versus the hundreds of items that have been reclassified over the years, revealing how ideas about sexuality and suitable reading material have changed over time.” You be the judge if this are really obscene:

The Joy of Sex: A Gourmet Guide to Lovemaking by Alex Comfort

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

The Love Books of Ovid

The Pop-Up Kama Sutra by Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot

Phallic Objects & Remains: Illustrations of the Rise and Development of the Phallic Idea by Hargrave Jennings

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Satyra Sotadic, a 17th century work of European pornography, by Luisa Siegea de Velasco

Sex by Madonna

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For further reading: https://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/whatson/whats-on/upcoming-events/2018/november/story-of-phi


The Antiquarian Bookseller’s Catalog: Dec 2018

An antiquarian bookseller’s catalog is a bibliophile’s dream of a museum between two covers. Open any catalog, and you will find literary treasures — valuable first editions, rare inscribed copies, manuscripts, letters, screenplays, and author portraits — from some of the most famous authors in the world.

Jarndyce Antiquarian Bookseller, established in London England in 1969, specializes in 18-19th century English literature and history. The location of the bookshop, 46 Great Russell Street, was the former home and office of the famous book illustrator Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886), for whom the children’s picture book award is named. Prior to that, the building was home to Luzac & Co., a bookshop that was founded in the early 18th century and moved to London in 1890. Over the years, Jarndyce has published more than 200 catalogues. Bibliophiles salivate as they browse through their catalogs, filled with fascinating and valuable literary treasures. Here are some highlights from their most recent catalog, Catalogue Number 234 (Winter 2018-19):

The Novels of Jane Austen (1892), 10 volumes, edited by Reginald Johnson: $3,550

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1870), first Tauchnitz edition: $825

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1894), first edition with illustrations by Hugh Thomson: $2,284

Villette by Charlotte Bronte (1853), 3 volumes, first edition: $3,172

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1867), early edition purchased from Lewis’ library: $1,840

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad (1904), first edition: $825

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1867), early American edition by T. B. Peterson & Brothers: $380

Middlemarch by George Eliot (1872), 4 volumes, copyright edition: $1,903

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1896), first edition: $635

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: https://www.jarndyce.co.uk/index.php


The Best Books About Books for Book Lovers: 2018

The Art of Reading: An Illustrated History of Books in Paint by Jamie Camplin

Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount

A Book of Book Lists: A Bibliophile’s Compendium by Alex Johnson

The Book Lovers’ Miscellany by Claire Cock-Starkey

Book Towns: Forty Five Paradises of the Printed Word by Alex Johnson

The Great American Read: The Book of Books by Jessica Allen

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Readling Life by Anne Bogel

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders by Stuart Kells

A Library Miscellany by Claire Cock-Starkey

Massimo Listri: The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries by Elisabeth Sladek

1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List by James Mustich

Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions by Alberto Manguel

Writers: Their Lives and Works edited by Angela Wilkes

Writers and Their Cats by Alison Nastasi

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For further reading: http://money.cnn.com/2015/02/11/news/companies/lottery-spending/index.html
https://www.statista.com/statistics/207468/monthly-retail-sales-of-us-book-stores/


The Antiquarian Bookstore: The Orphanage of Used Books

alex atkins bookshelf booksEach time you step into an antiquarian bookstore, you cannot help but feel as if you are stepping into an orphanage of used books. Each book seems to scoot their shiny spines ever so slightly toward the bookshelf’s edge, calling out to you, “Please open my covers, read me — take me home with you.” But, alas, there are far too many to review, to really consider — especially in a well-stocked used bookstore that contains more than 50,000 books, some orphaned recently, and some long ago. Of course, the lucky few forlorn books that make their way to the cashier’s counter, evoking the ambivalence of envy and hope from its fellow orphans, treasure the notion that soon they will find a new home, sitting next to new siblings, each with their own journeys, their own stories to tell.

But it is not only the book buyer that considers these books as orphans — so too does the bookseller. It is he or she that has initially brought the book into the antiquarian bookstore after careful consideration, cleaned it, priced it, and gently placed it in its proper place in a labyrinth of bookshelves. And sometimes that place becomes the book’s home for months, that eventually turn into years and decades. For the bookseller, that book becomes part of the bookstores family. Each time, the bookseller glances at its proud, shiny spine, he or she thinks, “Perhaps today, this book will find its rightful owner, someone who will read it and cherish it. And if not today, perhaps tomorrow.” A bookseller must experience some level of sadness when they say goodbye to an old friend; however that sadness must be mitigated by the joy that the book will be rediscovered and find a new life in a new home.

Recently a bookseller from Broadhursts Bookshop in Southport, England (founded in 1920), shared the story of such a an orphaned book. Joanne Ball, a part-time employee tweeted on November 17, 2018: “I have just sold a book that we have had in stock since May 1991. We always knew its day would come.” The book was a children’s biography of William the Conqueror purchased by an “older gentleman who was buying several books on the Norman Conquest of Britain for his grandson.” Soon the news of this book sale captured the interest and imagination of book lovers and booksellers around the globe. One author wrote: “The book held its breath. It had hoped so often, only to have that hope crushed. Hands lifted it from the shelf, wrapped it warmly in paper. As the door closed on its past life, the book heard the soft cheers of its selfmates.” Other booksellers shared stories of books that were orphaned for decades; one wrote: “We had a book called ‘The Larger Moths of Warwickshire’ in stock for ten years. I was quite sad when someone bought it.” The folks at Broadhursts Bookshop were overwhelmed by the response; they wrote: “Would never have guessed for even a moment that this Tweet would go viral — thank you all for your likes, retweets, comments & follows. We are incredibly overwhelmed, and so happy at how many book-lovers there are out there.”

Perhaps the sale of this orphan book is the book that launched a thousand book sales — one book lover posted the perfect challenge to bibliophiles everywhere: “You know when people go to dog shelters and say I want to take home the dog who has been here longest. I’m going to this in bookstores. “Can you point me to the book you’ve had here the longest?” That will be some random book collection!… I will liberate those books!” This endeavor to paraphrase Portia from The Merchant of Venice — it is twice blest: it blesseth the indie bookstore that sells and the book lover that buys. So if you love books, visit your local antiquarian or used bookstore and liberate those orphaned books and share your story with Bookshelf readers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: http://www.npr.org/2018/11/18/669052716/bookstores-tweet-on-the-sale-of-a-children-s-book-after-27-years-goes-viral


A Storyteller Can Remind Us that the Swallows Still Sing Around the Smokestacks

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Fiction cannot recite the numbing numbers, but it can be that witness, that memory. A storyteller can attempt to tell the human tale, can make a galaxy out of the chaos, can point to the fact that some people survived even as most people died. And can remind us that the swallows still sing around the smokestacks.”

American author, Jane Yyatt Yolen (born 1939) has written more than 365 books in the fantasy, science fiction and children genres. Her best-known work is the historical fiction novella, The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988), about a 12-year-old Jewish girl, Hannah Stern, from New York who is travels back in time to Poland in 1942 to experience the Holocaust. Stern witnesses the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand while living at a work camp. Ultimately she understands the profound importance of learning about the past. The novella won the National Jewish Book Award in 1989, and the television film adaptation (1999) was nominated for a Nebula Award. Yolen was awarded the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 2009.


What is the Most Rejected Book of All Time?

alex atkins bookshelf books“Tis a lesson you should heed, try, try again. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” When American educator Thomas Palmer wrote that in the Teacher’s Manual (1840), he was encouraging schoolchildren to finish their homework. But that same adage is perfectly true for aspiring writers who will receive their share of rejections slips from publishers and agents. Some of the greatest writers have received rejection slips: D. H. Lawrence, Herman Melville, Vladimir Nabokov, George Orwell, Marcel Proust, Kurt Vonnegut — to name just a few.

Of course, this discussion invites the question: what is the most rejected book of all time? Technically, that would be a book that has never been published — and there are thousands of those. But let’s limit the question to a book that was eventually published. According to the folks at LitHub, the author that holds the records for receiving the most rejections for a book is American science fiction writer Richard Samuel “Dick” Wimmer for Irish Wine (the first part of the Irish Wine Trilogy). He was 28 years old when he wrote it, but it took more than 25 years — and 162 rejections — until it was finally published in 1989 (by then, Wimmer was 53 years old).

In second place is Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. Canfield’s manuscript received 144 rejections from publishers. Of course, the book became a phenomenal best-seller and launched a very lucrative brand and franchise. Dig this: the Chicken Soup books have sold more than 130 million copies. Responding to the sea of rejections he received, Canfield wrote: “If we had given up after 100 publishers, I likely would not be where I am now. I encourage you to reject rejection. If someone says no, just say ‘next!'”

Not far behind is Robert Pirsig’s classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. That philosophical work received 121 rejections. Fortunately for Pirsig, he persevered, and the book went on to become a bestseller and cult classic, selling millions of copies. Who says success isn’t the best revenge?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/may/23/local/la-me-dick-wimmer-20110523
https://www.facebook.com/JackCanfieldFan/posts/10153285514315669
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_books


Signs at an Indie Bookstore: Why Not Try a Book?

alex atkins bookshelf booksIndie bookstores are owned by some of the most passionate bibliophiles you will ever meet. They love books and are thrilled if you come in and just take a look around to see their treasures. What makes some of these indie bookstores so unique is not just about how they display their books, but by the clever signs they place around the bookshelves — to encourage you to read or to promote literacy. Recently, I found this sign, entitled “Why Not Try a Book?” which makes a compelling case for why printed books are better than e-books. You be the judge.

Why Not Try a Book?

Infinite battery life

Page always loads

DRM free

Never loses your data

Immune to viruses

Compatible with all hands and eyes

Vibration and drop resistant

What else can we add to this list? Leave your suggestion in the comments.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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