Friday, August 28, 2009

A. Edward Newton: The Book-Collecting Game

In a recent post about finding Helene Hanff's inscription in one of her books I purchased, I had intended to include another book with an inscription by its author. The editing process separated the two, concluding that each needed to stand on its own.

So here I want to share a nice inscription from the well-known bibliophile and writer, A. Edward Newton, in a copy of his book, The Book-Collecting Game (Little, Brown and Company, 1928)

Coincidentally it was found at the same resale shop as the inscribed Hanff book. I would think that both books were donated from the same collection and I will now be the steward of a small part of that collection for the next 20 or 30 years. Hopefully.

On the front free endpaper, Mr. Newton offers the following to an unknown recipient:

It's a great game.
If you don't believe it,
read and be convinced.

A. Edward Newton

Nov. 20, 1928

Geoffrey D. Smith (Professor and Head, Rare Books and Manuscripts, The Ohio State University Libraries) has written an informative article about Newton and his collection for the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies (FABS).

Any bibliophile will enjoy perusing FABS' list of member clubs and linking to their sites. Plan to spend a little time there.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Karius and Baktus: Thorbjorg Egner's dental trolls

Cute, lovable little trolls, right? Wrong! Unless you like cavities and tooth decay. Read on...

Here's an unusual and interesting book for children: Karius and Baktus, written and illustrated by Thorbjorn Egner. It's a European classic that uses the cartoonish trolls to teach children about proper dental care and how to prevent cavities.

Originally published in 1949, the copy pictured at left is an extremely rare copy of what I believe to be the first American printing (Bobbs-Merrill, 1962) of this children's book. It was translated from the Norwegian by Virginia Allen Jensen. And speaking of Scandinavia... troll lovers should check out The Trolls of Scandinavia.

I'm sure many books or pamphlets have been written since to educate children about good dental hygiene, but I couldn't say how many preceded Egner's story. I'd have to think that his was a pioneering effort or at least near the beginning of such such efforts to publish such literature. At any rate, the story became quite popular and the book has gone through many printings. Films and stage plays have even featured the almost likable little trolls.

These little trolls are the main characters in this humorous and charming little tale. Karius and Baktus are dental trolls who live in the mouth of a young boy named Jimmy. They thrive on candy, soda, and other sugar-based foods. This diet enables them to build a nice home (cavity) in Jimmy's tooth and he gets a pretty bad toothache as a result. A visit to the dentist destroys their home and prevents them from returning. But Jimmy must learn how to get rid of them altogether to protect the rest of his teeth. The author's illustrations add a humorous touch to deliver the message about taking care of your teeth.

I should have read this many years ago. Karius and Baktus built a subdivision in my teeth. All's well now, but these little devils didn't go quietly or cheaply.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

To an unknown booklover from Helene Hanff

In my collection of books about books, one stands out for its author inscription. I found this gem on a bookscouting trip a few years ago and can only surmise the demise of a kindred spirit for this book to have found its way into a resale shop.

The book is The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, by Helene Hanff, published by J.B. Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1973. It's not really a book about books, per se, but it is the sequel, or follow-up, to the cult-status favorite of bibliophiles everywhere, 84 Charing Cross Road, the story of a twenty-year correspondence between New York writer and English literature lover Helene Hanff and Frank Doel of Marks & Co., the antiquarian book shop whose address was 84 Charing Cross Road.

The book and the movie of the same name are personal favorites of mine. So, you see, the book has to be included in the books about books section of my library and it resides right next to 84 on the shelf.

My copy of Duchess is a first edition, but what makes the book special is Helene Hanff's inscription on the front free endpaper:
To an unknown booklover,
Helene Hanff
I had read an unsigned copy before I found the signed copy, and near the end of the book she recounts her last day in London and a stop by her publisher's, Andre Deutsch, to sign twenty books for a group of Australian booksellers arriving the next day. She liked to personalize her books to fans with long or witty inscriptions, and not knowing who would get these books, she came up with the "unknown booklover" inscription.

Obviously, she repeated the practice stateside because my inscribed copy comes from her American publisher, Lippincott, in Philadelphia. Nonetheless, it has to be a fairly rare inscription I would think.

When I found the book and saw her handwriting, I thought to myself, "I am now one of your unknown booklovers!" What are the chances of finding that book with that particular inscription? I should have gone out and bought lottery tickets that day while Lady Luck was smiling down on me.

I also have an inscribed copy of the British edition published by Andre Deutsch, 1974. This one I got the more conventional way by buying it from another dealer. It has an amusing and somewhat mysterious inscription from Ms. Hanff, which I will write about another time. I'm still trying to find out if the names mentioned in the inscription tie into one of her anecdotes in the book.

In the [hopefully] very distant future, my demise will be at hand and I'd like to think that this book will find its way into the hands of another unknown booklover and the torch will pass. But until then, I'm the unknown booklover. Or at least one of a very small and very lucky group.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Napoleon's Books

I started this blog three years ago with a post about Napoleon and his disregard for a certain bookseller, Johann Palm, whom he had executed. Now I have learned of his disregard for certain books beyond the seditious pamphlet for which Mr. Palm lost his life.

The photo to the left is of Napoleon's library. Looks like Napoleon cared about his books and preserved them in fine fashion. But he didn't care about all his books. Those tomes that did not meet with his approval were tossed into the fire. If he was traveling and had been given books to read, those he did not like were simply tossed out the window of his carriage.

I discovered this bit of information in a little book compiled by Christopher Morley: Ex Libris, published in November of 1936 for the First National Book Fair, sponsored by the New York Times and the National Association of Book Publishers.

In Morley's introduction, titled This Little Scrapbook, he states,
"I have purposely avoided the famous golden texts and purple passages of the bibliophile's evangel. You will not find Emily Dickinson's There is no frigate like a book, nor Wordsworth's Books are a substantial world, etc.; not even the well-loved but now too familiar rubrics from Lamb, Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, Stevenson, Gissing and the others. Most of the fragments here are contemporary, and it was the editor's pleasure to choose not only literary bits but also odds and ends of trade and technical palaver."
To that end, there is the odd habit of Napoleon reported in fragment number 7, which the Index attributes to James Westfall Thompson in Byways in Bookland:
In the hour after dinner, unless that had been a state affair, Napoleon used to glance over new books, throwing those which did not interest him upon the floor or into the fire. When on the road, it was the emperor's usual practice to pitch ephemeral literature, and books which did not please him, out of the windows of his carriage. This explains why not infrequently books bearing his arms are to be found advertised in sale catalogues of London and Paris booksellers.
Luc Sante, in a Wall Street Journal article last year commented on private libraries while writing about his own. Referring to Napoleon's traveling library, he supports what Thompson's anecdote alludes to--that Napoleon was a voracious reader. Sante writes that Napoleon traveled with a field library of some 40 volumes of religious texts, another 40 of epics, 60 of poetry, 100 novels, 60 histories and some historical memoirs. That's a regular Parnassus on Wheels, which brings us back to Christopher Morley. His inclusion in Ex Libris of Thompson's anecdote about Napoleon's flinging books into fires and the countryside is taken from Thompson's essay about the books Napoleon possessed and read. As stated earlier, this and other of Thompson's essays were collected in a volume titled Byways in Bookland, a copy of which is now on its way to my library. I look forward to reading more about what Napoleon read. In the meantime, I'll be reading more of what Christopher Morley compiled in Ex Libris and will post here about the more interesting fragments, as he calls them.