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Archive for July 26th, 2009

July 26th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Unread Monographs versus face-to-face Discussion

Via Ron Charles on Twitter, this direct, stat filled condemnation of the ‘publish or peril’ ethic in academe, by Mark Bauerleinin in The Chronicle of Higher Education, and a call for emphasis to be placed on one-on-one interaction and conversation:

"As striving junior scholars and established seniors staged one reading after another, as advanced theories were applied and hot topics attached, the performances stacked up year by year —and seemed to matter less and less. Look at the sales figures for monographs. Back in 1995, the director of the Pennsylvania State University Press, Sanford G. Thatcher, asked who reads those books and revealed in The Chronicle, "Our sales figures for works of literary criticism suggest that the answer is, fewer people than ever before." Sixty-five percent of Penn State’s recent offerings at that point sold fewer than 500 copies. A few years later, also in The Chronicle, Lindsay Waters, an executive editor at Harvard University Press, said his humanities monographs "usually sell between 275 and 600 copies." In 2002 the Modern Language Association issued a report on scholarly publishing that cited editors estimating purchases of as low as 200 to 300 units. Remember, too, that standing library orders account for around 250 copies. (That’s my guess—also, a few librarians have told me that the odds that such books will never be checked out are pretty good.)

Why the disjuncture? Because performance ran its course, and now it’s over. The audience got bored.

For decades the performative model obscured a situation that should have been recognized at the time: Vast areas of the humanities had reached a saturation point. Hundreds of literary works have undergone introduction, summation, and analysis many times over. Hamlet alone received 1,824 items of attention from 1950 to 1985, and then 2,406 from 1986 to 2008. What else was to be said? Defenders of the endeavor may claim that innovations in literary studies like ecocriticism and trauma theory have compelled reinterpretations of works, but while the advent of, say, queer theory opened the works to new insights, such developments don’t come close to justifying the degree of productivity that followed. Also, the rapid succession of theories, the Next Big Thing, and the Next … evoked the weary impression that it was all a professional game, a means of finding something more to say.

At what point does common sense step in and cry, "Whoa! Slow down!


…[In another survey students report that "they liked their professors, they felt comfortable with them, but they didn’t much care to spend time discussing books and ideas with them. They didn’t realize that an essential part of higher education takes place in conversation, in face time with professors, in the give-and-take of one-on-one discussion. We need support for research into the problem and more-concrete incentives for professors to integrate out-of-class interaction into the syllabus.

Before another year of hirings and promotions and awards passes, decision makers should sit down and examine the larger consequences of requiring a monograph for tenure, approving projects on well-worn subjects, and pretending that books and essays that nobody reads are a proper allocation of resources and way of judging people. I know of few professors in the humanities happy with the productivity mandate, and I know that it has done damage to the general humanistic learning of undergraduates for 40 years."

July 26th, 2009 • Posted in On Book Collecting

No Reserve Auction for Bibliophiles

Bloomsbury Auctions held its first No Reserve Bibliophile Sale on June 30, 2009. The sale included property from The Heritage Book Shop, Colonial Williamsburg and The Metropolitan Museum of Art and contained over 450 lots. According to company spokesperson James Cummins "The sale was conducted differently in a few ways. There was no telephone bidding, nor was there a printed catalogue. There was quite an enthusiastic live audience which included collectors as well as dealers. This sale was done as an experiment to see how the market would react to quality material being offered without a reserve."

Here’s a look at what someone walked away with:

DOUGLAS, Norman. Birds and Beasts of the Greek Anthology. Florence, Italy: Tipografia Giuntina, 1927. 8vo. Unopened. In original dust jacket. Condition: browning and foxing to extremities; chips and tears to head of jacket and fading to spine. number 9 of 500 copies, signed by the author. [With:] Nerinda. Florence, Italy: G. Orioli, 1929. Large 8vo. Publisher’s cloth, in slipcase. Condition: fading to spine, shelfwear to slipcase. number 403 of 475 copies, signed by the author. [With:] Experiments. Privately printed, 1925. Small 4to. In original dust jacket. Uncut. number 170 of 300 copies, signed by the author. [With:] FIRBANK, Ronald. Prancing Nigger. New York: Brentano’s, 1924. 8vo. In original dust jacket. Condition: browning to pages, fading to jacket and tears to head and tail of spine. first edition. (4)  est. $300 – $400 Sold for $25 Sale NY033, 30th June 2009

It goes for between $150-$600 on AbeBooks:

"1927. DOUGLAS, Norman. Birds and Beasts of the Greek Anthology. (Florence): Privately Printed, 1927. Octavo, original blue paper-covered boards, printed paper spine label, uncut and partially unopened, original dust jacket. $600. Signed limited first edition, number 396 of 500 copies signed by Norman Douglas. An often outrageous and always crankily independent writer and traveler, Norman Douglas spent much of his life outside of England, living in Florence, Capri and the south of France (New York Times). Acclaimed for his 1917 novel South Wind, Douglas also developed a long association with the Florence publisher Pino Orioli, who published several of the writer’s works in his ‘Lungarno’ series and is possibly best remembered for publishing the first edition of Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover, printed only one year after the private printing of this signed limited edition. In Birds and Beasts, Douglas compiles a witty assemblage of myths, anecdotes, literary asides and the occasional recipe, such as one for an appetizing ragout of wild boar served [with] a single non-assertive vegetable, an account that echoes his close friendship with food writer Elizabeth David. Interior fine, lightest rubbing to original about-fine boards; light edge-wear to scarce original dust jacket, near-fine."


The next no reserve sale will take place sometime in December 2009. Might have to attend that one.