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Archive for January, 2010

January 31st, 2010 • Posted in Authors and Books

‘His whole style is predicated on transmitting absolutely no pleasure.’

So says Martin Amis about J.M. Coetzee in a interview with Prospect Magazine's Tom Chatfield. He also says that the Nobel prize winner has no talent. Pretty good sucker punch/ teaser I'd say. Let's hope there's more meat in the piece to fortify the beef. The interview and Chatfield's review of Amis's new novel (which the former hails as one of Amis’s greatest) will both be published online on Monday 1st February at

Wait a minute…that's in 10 minutes…and England is six hours ahead…so


January 31st, 2010 • Posted in Authors and Books

Bacon, Titian, Good and Evil

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion” (1944)

Dropped in on Charlie Rose's site as I am wont to do, and found this interview with the curator of this past summer's Francis Bacon retrospective at the Met. I happened to attend the exhibition. These were easily the most arresting of the works on display.

"Head" VI, 1949.

Both capture a frightening post-war zeitgeist: the horrified realization/ comprehension that men can fall to grotesque depths; that they have a proven capacity both to commit inhuman ungodly atrocities and inflict massive, unthinkable pain on their fellows. Note the phallic, hyena-like aggressiveness; the cage surrounding the screaming pope is reminiscent of the glass enclosures at the Nuremberg Trials.

After touring in quick succession this exhibition and Titian, Tintoretto,Veronese at the Boston Fine Arts Museum, I was struck by how Bacon and the others all used very similar techniques

Titian Portrait of an Archbishop

to convince the viewer of the correctness of their diametrically opposed positions: God is great and good versus God doesn't exist, men are beasts. A battle for hearts and minds through the depiction of facial expression. The mouths especially, and how, if you get them right, you succeed in conveying incredible emotion, genuine anger, empathy,

Art scholar

benevolence, sadness and

Titian: self portrait.


Head 1 (1948)

January 29th, 2010 • Posted in Authors and Books

The 13 Biggest Used Book Sales in America

IMCPL Foundation/Secondhand Prose Indianapolis, IN 100,000 Feb 5 – 13, 2010

OLD BOOK SALE MACON, GA 125,000 Feb 17 – 21, 2010

 31st Annual Friends of the Metropolitan Library Booksale Oklahoma City, OK 400,000 Feb 19 – 21, 2010

The Great Book Sale Jacksonville, FL 100,000 Mar 4 – 7, 2010

Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa FALL 2009 BOOK SALE Des Moines, IA 100,000 Mar 25 – 29, 2010

Friends of the Stone Ridge School Book Sale Bethesda, MD 125,000 Apr 16 – 19, 2010

 Friends of Phoenix Public Library Book Sale Phoenix, AZ 250,000 Apr 23 – 25, 2010

FRIENDS OF THE ALACHUA COUNTY LIBRARY Spring Book Sale Gainesville, FL 300,000 Apr 24 – 28, 2010

Friends of Tompkins County Public Library Book Sale Ithaca, NY 250,000 May 8 – 25, 2010

AAUW State College Branch 49th Annual Used Book Sale State College, PA 200,000 May 8 – 11, 2010

IMCPL Foundation/Secondhand Prose Indianapolis, IN 100,000 May 14 – 22, 2010

Friends of Lancaster Public Library 55th Annual Book Sale Lancaster, PA 250,000 May 24 – 26, 2010

Friends of CH Booth Library Newtown, CT 150,000 Jul 10 – 13, 2010


January 29th, 2010 • Posted in On Politics

A pig-headed feeling that one ought to use one’s reason

I've had enough of being shoved into and scraped up against capitalism's ugly corporate face. Consider last week's confluence of irritating encounters:
I requested seven back statements from my bank. The offshore automaton I was speaking to told me that this would cost $70. I told him this was ridiculous. He immediately said 'How about $30.' I said "How about nothing". At the end of the conversation, he said he'd only charge me $20. It was like haggling with a vendor in a Persian bazaar.  Worse. It was like blackmail. Now I have to go through the hassle of calling my bank manager to threaten that if he doesn't reverse charges I'll be taking my dwindling fortune down the road to a competing, inhuman computer-controlled hugely profitable financial institution, so that they can subject me to the same kind of abuse….
Similar scenario, this time at the airport, where I arrived an hour early to pick up my rental car. 'Sorry, this will cost you 50% more than what you agreed to pay on line'….'Can't you just adjust it at the other end? I can return the vehicle an hour early?' 'No the computer wont let me do this…' We eventually settle on something slightly less outrageous, but still, it cost me money.
 Finally, I went into a gas station outside of St. Catharines, Ontario. 'Chocolate bars, 2 for $2.22 said the sign.' That'll be $3.84 please…' 'But look at the sign,' I say.
 In all of these and a frighteningly large percentage of the commercial transactions I've engaged in during several weeks of paying attention, if I hadn't called them on it, these minion fronted, faceless, heartless, money grubbing monoliths would, as a matter of course, have ripped me off.  There are many more examples, with mistakes somehow, mysteriously working in their favour.

So it was with some interest that I read Leonard Woolf in his autobiography Downhill all the Way, on consumers’ socialism:The importance of the British co-operative movement and system is that they have proved that efficient control of large scale production and distribution by consumers is possible. I argued that it was possible and desirable to develop and extend this system into consumers’  socialism, i.e. the control of the industrial system by the community organized as consumers, and that this would not only revolutionize the whole economic system but also the social psychology of capitalism and of socialism based upon production and the interests of producers

The psychology of trade unionism and the psychology of capitalism, which spring from the same social postulates, and are complementary like the positive and negative in electricity, are so firmly established in modern society that to most people the idea that the object of industry should be consumption, not production or profit, seems Utopian and even immoral. I never imagined, therefore, that my argument in favour of socialism controlled by consumers would cut any ice in the Labour movement. But even in politics, where reason is so suspect and so unwelcome, I have an absurd, pig headed feeling that one ought to use one’s reason.

January 28th, 2010 • Posted in On The Book

Largest Book in the World

Klencke Atlas goes on display.

January 28th, 2010 • Posted in Authors and Books

A.L. Kennedy loves Buster Keaton

I'm currently editing an interview conducted with author/comedian A. (for Alison) L. Kennedy at the International Festival of Authors recently. In it, she speaks of her love of Buster Keaton, to wit:


Music on this rocks too.

January 28th, 2010 • Posted in On The Book

Audio Interview with Marie Korey, Librarian at The Robertson Davies Library, Massey College: On Collecting the History of the Book

A small college cannot hope to have a large library, but if it sets to work along the right lines it may aspire to the possession of a fine one… A book may be a thing of beauty, and an example of a great craft which we must not allow to die. The means of craft and the aspiration toward beauty live on in our College library.

— Robertson Davies, the Founding Master

Since its inception in 1963, the Library at Massey College has developed special collections in the History of the Book as well as supporting a working nineteenth-century hand printing shop.

The holdings of books and manuscripts include material on the history of printing,

from here.

papermaking, bookbinding, palaeography, calligraphy, type design, book collecting, and bibliography. The examples of book production range from the fifteenth century to the present, with a particular strength in nineteenth century colour printing and publishers’ bookbindings represented in the Ruari McLean Collection. The collections also include the papers of Canadian graphic designer Carl Dair. In 1981, the Library was named for the Founding Master of the College, Robertson Davies, and contains editions and translations of his writings.

Marie Korey is Librarian at The Robertson Davies Library, and a scholar of the history of the book. We met recently to talk about collecting books in this field. I assumed the role of a rich (difficult) book collector (easy) with a passion for books about books (very easy) who had retained Marie with the goal of acquiring the best of the best possible books and materials related to the development of the book. Please listen here:

Please subscribe to the Biblio File Podcast here


Copyright © 2010 by Nigel Beale.

p.s. Here is a list of some of the ‘essential’ books mentioned by Marie:

Bury, Richard de (1287-1345) Bishop of Durham, wrote “Philibiblon” which survives in many manuscript copies as well as printed editions.
“Dialogue” on Calligraphy and Printing in the sixteenth century, attributed to Christopher Plantin; this contains one of the earliest descriptions of typefounding. There was a facsimile done, with an English translation by Ray Nash published in 1964 under the title: Calligraphy & Printing in the sixteenthe century. Dialogue attributed to Christopher Plantin. 
Moxon, Joseph (1627-91), hydrographer, instrument maker, author and printer. He began publishing his “Mechanick Exercises” in monthly parts in 1677; the second volume, issued in 1683-84, was devoted to printing and type-founding. It is the first comprehensive manual on the subject in any language.
Bosse, Abraham. Traicté des manieres de graver en taille douce. Paris, 1645. Early manual on copperplate engraving.
Senefelder, Alois. A complete course of lithography. London: Printed for R. Ackerman, 1819.
January 28th, 2010 • Posted in Authors and Books

Thwaite, Grief, Hamlet and Suicide

Mark Thwaite treats us to a moving, personal take on his struggle with grief, and how reading Hamlet has helped. 

He ends with these beautiful paragraphs:

In my own minimal madness, I read "Hamlet" and I heard Hamlet call. Heard him speak to himself, of himself and half-realise he could hardly keep up with even that utterly, definitionally, self-limiting performance. I realised, along with Hamlet, lesserly, that my own disquiet was perforce undone by its (limited) creativity and coherence: the coherence of my incoherence mocked my incoherence. But, better, more simply, I read. I sat still and I read. And I read some more.

It turns out that almost every other line in "Hamlet" one already knows. The play reads like a sourcebook to all that has been written since. Bloom suggests that Shakespeare invented the human (a sense of the secular, self-questioning subject). I doubt that. Hamlet uninvents the (notion of a) coherent self even as the most fully human character the stage has ever seen steps forth — at the birth of subjectivity, Hamlet, our extreme contemporary, shows the subject to be a kind of fiction. Hamlet validates and allows for the self's self-incoherence; the undoing of the self is the self's own self-making. My local madness will pass. Our general madness will not. Something comforting therein is almost claimed.

A year or two ago I hosted a roundtable discussion on Hamlet here, surmising that:

[Hamlet] feels isolated in the world (he's an only child), surrounded by people who lack empathy; who are in fact, his enemies.  How can he trust anyone if he can’t even trust his mother to do right by his father, a man she supposedly loved, indeed worshiped. What chance is there that he will find genuine, honest faithful love in the world, love that he can trust and rely upon? There is no chance.

When love is thought to be impossible, when the prospect of it seems hopeless, this is when people turn to suicide.


And now that we're on the topic…look what kills Ophelia: conflict between her heart and the authority of her father. What renders Hamlet paralyzed? Conflict between competing authorities and sets of rules. Which to obey: his father's wishes,  the Church's strictures, his own sense of decency, right and wrong?

January 26th, 2010 • Posted in Authors and Books

God, Wisdom and Haiti

James Wood in the NY Times on Haiti, theodicy and Pat Robertson:

Terrible catastrophes inevitably encourage appeals to God. We who are, at present, unfairly luckier, whether believers or not, might reflect on the almost invariably uncharitable history of theodicy, and on the reality that in this context no invocation of God beyond a desperate appeal for help makes much theological sense. For either God is punitive and interventionist (the Robertson view), or as capricious as nature and so absent as to be effectively nonexistent (the Obama view). Unfortunately, the Bible, which frequently uses God’s power over earth and seas as the sign of his majesty and intervening power, supports the first view; and the history of humanity’s lonely suffering decisively suggests the second.

And some responses, including Peter J. Riga's:

Instead of admitting that we do not know how to reconcile a loving God with terrible disasters like Haiti and Indonesia, some theologians come up with cruel solutions that contradict the whole Christian enterprise (God wills it for our good, God punishes us for our good, we are to blame because of our sins, and so on).

We do not know the answer to this conundrum except to say that is the nature of freedom in an imperfect world and that is the mystery of the providence of God. God will work all things for our good even if we don’t understand. That is what faith is: the moment we say we understand, there is no longer any faith.

All I understand is that we don't know, and that someone said that this is the beginning of wisdom.

January 24th, 2010 • Posted in Authors and Books

60 minutes with Tarantino on Basterds

QuentinTarantino with Charlie Rose on Inglourious Basterds, etc.