Sunday, October 4, 2009

"The Making of a Picture Book"

This is the web resource accompanying the exhibit at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Library, in conjunction with the Friends of the Library event today, but I'll post the link separately here, as well:

"The Making of a Picture Book"

Friday, October 2, 2009

University of Massachusetts Friends of Library Events and Reception Sunday

UMass Amherst Libraries Hosts Book Discussion and Reception October 4

"Behind the Book: Creativity and Compromise"

On Sunday, October 4, from 2:00-4:00 p.m., the Friends of the UMass Amherst Libraries host the 11th Annual Fall Reception in Memorial Hall at UMass Amherst. The keynote speaker, author Corinne Demas, will give a talk "Behind the Book: Creativity and Compromise." The program starts at 2:30 p.m.; the event is free and open to the public.

Corinne Demas, professor of English at Mount Holyoke College and fiction editor for The Massachusetts Review, is the author of two collections of short stories, two novels, a memoir and numerous books for children. Her Ph.D. in Literature is from Columbia University. Demas' books includeAlways in Trouble (2009), Valentine Surprise (2008), Yuck! Stuck in the Muck(2006), Two Christmas Mice (2005), Saying Goodbye to Lulu (2004), and a memoir, Eleven Stories High: Growing Up in Stuyvesant Town, 1948-1968 (2000), among others.

The event is also a reception for a related exhibit, "The Making of a Picture Book: The Marriage of Text and Art" on display on the Lower Level of Du Bois Library from September 14 to December 18, 2009. The exhibit will
feature a behind-the-scenes look at the making of picture books by local authors and illustrators Leonard Baskin, Kathy Brown, Corinne Demas, Patricia MacLachlan, Richard Michelson, Dennis Nolan, Katy Schneider, and Jane Yolen. For more information.

As part of the program, Lewis Mainzer, past president of the Friends of UMass Amherst Libraries, will be honored with the 2009 Siegfried Feller Award for Outstanding Service. This award, established in 1998, is given annually to individuals who have made outstanding volunteer contributions to create awareness and build support for the UMass Amherst Libraries.
For further information, contact Emily Silverman of the UMass Amherst Libraries at (413) 545-0995, or essilverman at

RSVPs are requested (but not required) by September 26, to Susan McBride at (413) 545-3974 or friends at UMass Catering will provide refreshments. Books by Corinne Demas and authors related to the exhibit (Jane Yolen, Richard Michelson, and Patricia MacLachlan) will be available for sale by Amherst Books.

Catching Up

Because I've had to devote myself to other topics and tasks, I haven't posted much here of late, but now that the academic year is in full swing, the pace here, too, should increase.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Invention of Printing

New posting on my Public Humanist blog:

All of us “know” that the invention of printing was an epochal development in human civilization. Gutenberg and/or his invention of circa 1439-40 ranked at the top or very near the top of the lists of “greatest” of the millennium that journalists eagerly compiled. But how much do we really know?
Whenever I reach this topic on my syllabus, I ask my students: Just what was this achievement? They invariably give me a set of increasingly specific answers: printing? the printing press? movable type? I reply, variously: “nope,” or “close, but no cigar” (often adding: the Chinese had that centuries earlier). (read the rest)

Pencils from Cremated Human Remains

Causing quite a stir lately: reports on artist Nadine Jarvis, who creates pencils using the ashes from cremated corpses as the lead. "Carbon Copies," she calls them (an average of 240 per body, in case you were wondering).

Maybe this is the only way that writing can confer immortality on a person.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Perils and Pleasures of Autograph-Hunting

From CNN (7 March): "Saudi men arrested for seeking female writer's autograph":(CNN) -- Saudi Arabia's religious police detained two male novelists for questioning last week after they attempted to get the autograph of a female writer at a book fair in Riyadh, according to local media reports.

Both novelists, who were held for questioning but not charged with a crime, are demanding an apology from the conservative Muslim kingdom's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

The commission, feared by many Saudis, is made up of several thousand religious policemen charged with, among other things, enforcement of dress codes, mandatory observance of prayer times and segregation of the sexes. (read the rest)

In general, it is the reticence of the author that "the autograph hunters" must fear, though, here as in other affairs, many things can go awry. In P. G. Wodehouse's story of the same name, the unfortunate student seeking to bribe his housemaster with a celebrity signature ends up in trouble with both parties and forced to copy out classical literature as punishment (though a sort of reduced sentence signals a modest accidental victory). In the case of Saudi Arabia, the situation would presumably be more dire, but the seekers appear confident that no real consequences will ensue:

One of the writers, Khal, told Al-Watan that he doesn't believe the new leadership endorses actions like those of the commission members who detained him.

"It seems that the relationship between the committee and the intellectuals is based on animosity and hostility and perhaps that is shown from the fashion in which they treated us," he said.

One hopes--although in a society in which there can be a serious debate as to whether an influential cleric actually issued a fatwa calling for the death of Mickey Mouse (the fact may be [feebly] disputed; the fact that one has to debate that fact is not), one could well understand the caution of the collector.

Admittedly, my favorite tale of at least implicit or de facto autograph-hunting involves an audacious request that, although less objectively dangerous and less successful than either of the above, surely surpasses them in the quest for a place in the annals of something or other.

In 1940, a young Fidel Castro wrote to the President of the United States:

My good friend Roosvelt:I don't know very English, but I know as much as write to you.

I like to hear the radio, and I am very happy, because I heard in it, that you will be President for a new (periódo)

I am twelve years old. I am a boy but I think very much, but I do not think that I am writting to the President of the United States.

If you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american in the letter because never have I not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them. . .

[after giving Roosevelt his mailing address, he also helpfully offers to point the President to some big iron mines that could be useful for ship construction]

(And of course, Cuba still awaits that influx of aid from Washington.)

Top that one, I dare you.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Emily Dickinson Museum Now on Twitter

It's National Poetry Month, and the Emily Dickinson is in the midst of an especially ambitious and successful program: the "Big Read," in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Amherst 250th Anniversary Committee (more on individual events on another occasion).

The Museum has also gone modern. Although Emily once famously called publication "the auction of the mind," she also had a fascination for and mastery of the compact form, which poses such steep challenges to the writer. In a way, then, it is both ironic and fitting that the Museum is now on Twitter, in which every utterance must be contained in a mere 140 characters.

EDM thus joins over 200 of its sister museological enterprises--not to mention Ashton Kutcher and CNN Breaking News, recently locked in battle over their quest for mega-followings (nominally gathered in the service of charitable giving).

It's just too bad that the real Emily was so reticent and did not live in the age of Twitter. I would love to be able to read her concise and uncompromising tweets on these declarations by Ashton Kutcher & Co.:

"At the end of the day, we all have ego, we all have some level of ego," he said. "But if we can use our ego to actually create good charitable things in the world in some way, and use our ego -- originally, I defined Twitter as an ego stream when I first saw it. But then what I realized is if we can transform that into something that's positive that can actually effectively change the world, that can be a really valuable tool."
"I think it's really important that Twitter is not about celebrities. It's not a platform for celebrities," he said. "In all these interviews and things, it's been celebrity -- you know, people know have been on TV. It's really about everyday people having a voice. And I don't want it to be dwarfed by celebrity."
Sean 'Diddy' Combs, who joined Twitter and threw his support behind Kutcher, told Larry King that he views Twitter as an important medium for him to share who he "really" is, and give fans a direct line of communication to him. "It's a chance for people to know the real me," he said. "Due to my own fault there's such a persona of the Hamptons and the bling-bling and the "Forbes" list and who I'm dating. There's more substance to me than that. Over time I've just wanted to make sure that that has gotten out."
One can't exactly imagine one of them writing,

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you-Nobody-too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Dont tell! they'd banish us-you know!

How dreary-to be-Somebody!
How public-like a Frog-
To tell your name-the livelong June
To an admiring Bog!
And that's just the point (though in 210 characters, alas).

As for me, in the end, I'm just as glad to let Dickinson speak to the ages through her poetry, and to let the Museum speak to those who value her work and her world--on Twitter or anywhere else.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"What does the death of newspapers mean for historians?"

My latest blog post for the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities. The topic assigned me was, "What does the death of newspapers mean for historians?" though Mass Humanities gave it the online title, "The Checkered Past of Newspapers":

When people ask me what the death of the newspaper means to historians, I respond, what do you mean by death? or newspaper? I’d say, first, reports of its death are greatly exaggerated because (unlike Mark Twain) it can exist simultaneously in multiple forms and locations. The decline of the traditional newspaper is largely a phenomenon of western consumer society.

An eclectic set of images--"World History of Newspapers"--can be found via the "Gallery" rubric, always on the top page of The Public Humanist. Here are a couple of examples from Massachusetts:

Appropriate for our Lincoln year and Lincoln-obsessed political climate: A classic newspaper from the era of partisanship. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator of 7 July 1865 celebrates the “Great Funeral” of “The Foul Spirit of Secession,” which died “of a severe attack of the Great Union Army, in convulsions the most violent,” on 3 April (Union troops took the Confederate capital of Richmond on that date), and offers a “Tribute to Abraham Lincoln. Extract from a Memorial Address . . . delivered at the Hall of the Mechanics' Institute of St. John, N.B., June 1, 1865, at the invitation of the Citizens, by Charles M. Ellis, Esq. of Boston."

The Northampton Free Press, of 1872. Here one could find a potpourri of local news, politics, literary poetry and prose, and a wealth of advertisements that are a treasure trove for genealogists and historians of local history and daily life. The colossal format--over two feet tall--also helps to explain the old stock images of people sheltering under a newspaper in a rainstorm or during a nap in the park. Harder and harder to do nowadays, with less durable paper and the trend toward smaller formats.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Chronicling the History of the Book as Object

From my first posting on the Public Humanist blog:

Commentators, friend and foe, have made much of Barack Obama’s calculated appropriation of the legacy of Lincoln. What most struck me, as a book historian, was his decision to take the inaugural oath on the bible that Lincoln used in 1861.

In the Senate Chamber, Jill Biden struggled with a massive family bible (in Maureen Dowd’s catty phrase, “the size of a Buick”). The small “Lincoln” Bible, by contrast, was not Lincoln’s (still in his luggage) or even American (it was published in Oxford), . .

(read the full article)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Amherst 250th: Say What You Mean

Thanks, Pb!

I'm sure that the people organizing Amherst's 250th Anniversary celebrations were just so excited to win a major gift that they forgot to proofread:

As a historian of the book--and someone who from time to time has to read linguistically and conceptually challenged student papers--I am of course fascinated by the difference between oral and written language. More attention to stylistic felicity might have avoided this embarrassment.

Anyway. . .

Please be more careful next time.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

At the end of last year, Shiraz Socialist, trying to add some levity to the grim situation of the world, offered a cultural-political questionnaire. Among the highlights, one devoted to books and censorship:
It’s that time of the year when you get bumper issues of magazines, the reviews of the past twelve months and, of course, the Christmas quiz.

So here, for Christmas, is our special quiz.


Answer the following 10 questions to check your clerical fascism credentials!

1. Before being published a book should be:-
a) Vetted by a board of clerics for blasphemy
b) Vetted by academics for offensiveness
c) Eh?
. . . . .
10. The Golden Age was:-
a) 8th century, Baghdad
b) 1917 USSR – there was something to hope for
c) 10 September 2001 – though there was plenty of crap around, it wasn’t this particular kind of crap

(take the full quiz)
As 2009 begins, the questions seem bound to remain relevant for a long time.