Episode 8: Book Blurbs

“A masterpiece!


“The best podcast ever!”


In this episode we play the Book Game from Bookstr (not BookRiot, oops!) and discuss the history and usefulness of book blurbs. 

A blurb is, to quote Gelett Burgess, who invented the term in 1907, “a flamboyant advertisement” found on the front and back covers of books. Burgess later wrote the Burgess Unabridged: A New Dictionary of Words You Have Always Needed, available to curious readers on Archive.org, where words like “blurb,” “wowze,” and “huzzlecoo” increase even the most robust vocabulary. Most of these words never really caught on, but “blurb” is the noticeable exception.

Example of the first sentence based on a blurb. You can hear many other talented examples in our podcast

Do we need blurbs? Do we like blurbs? And can blurbs help you make up a convincing first line of book that fools your friends?? Listen and find out.

Let us know your thoughts so we can keep the conversation going!

To read more about blurbs see Merriam Websters’ The Must-Read, Smash Hit Story of ‘Blurb’ and NPR’s Forget The Book, Have You Read This Irresistible Story On Blurbs?

Episode 7: SHARP Conference Recap

Last month Ellen and Laura presented at the annual conference of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP) in Amherst, Massachusetts.

UMass Amherst’s pond, showing off our name tags, and view from the W.E.B. Du Bois Library

New England has a rich history, filled with authors, publishers, and printers, such as Benjamin Franklin, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, and Noah Webster. It is also a gorgeous part of the US and an area that has long been inhabited by Native Americans.

The northeast region’s Kwinitekw (Connecticut River) Valley sits at a crossroads of Indigenous nations and continues to be a central gathering place for Native American and Indigenous Studies scholars as well as for Native American and Indigenous leaders, artists, writers, and activists.

Five College Native American and Indigenous Studies

The conference theme was Indigeneity, Nationhood & Migrations of the Book. Amherst was an interesting place to host this topic, named as it is after a man who hoped to spread smallpox to the native inhabitants in 1763 through infected blankets. Both Laura and Ellen presented on topics related to indigeneity (Look out for our future blog posts about these topics!), but the three days of presentations touched on the significance of wampum belts, Japanese reading spaces, women printers, book of the month clubs, digital book piracy, and much, much more!

Cats, pins, and prints: textiles from the Folly Cove designers, buttons from the fabulous Women’s Book History, and prints from Detroit artist Ann Mikolowski

Inspired by the talks and the card game Super Frauen (English: Wonder Women), we play our own version: Women Who Make “Books”.

making “books” (four of a kind) out of book-making women

Listen below or on Spotify to hear what we have to say about out conference experience and learn about some super women. You can also find us on Anchor, Google Podcasts, and Radio Public.

Next year’s SHARP conference will be in Amsterdam (Yay!) and the theme is The Power of the Written Word. We’re already brainstorming…

Links to…
check out SHARP or join their mailing list
see the conference program and read presenter information.
“The Town of Amherst – What’s in a Name?”
writing by Professor Ron Welburn
Women in Book History
newly released book The Frankfurt Kabuff (book historians don’t just study books – they write them, too!)

Episode 6: Harry Potter at 20

In this episode we discuss the Harry Potter books, inspired the 20th Anniversary House Editions. These books are designed to reflect the styles of the four houses of magical Hogwarts.

In our discussion, we touch on Harry Potter ephemera, book collecting, the wonders of paratext, and the possibly predatory practices of publishers (alliteration!).

Striphas deals with the boy wizard in chapter five, “Harry Potter and the Culture of Copy”

We’re so lucky to have Natalia (for many reasons), who grew up in Russia and was exposed to a different Harry Potter than native English-speakers Laura, Ellen, and Erin. She sheds light on the books’ tumultuous translations and adaptations into Russian.

Who will be the Tri(via)wizard Champion?

On a lighter note, we also test our Harry Potter knowledge with Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit. Play along and see if you can out-Wizard us!

Follow the link for our ***magical*** discussion.

Episode 2: Frogs, Fighting Bunnies, and Other Drollery

Drollery, the strange and fanciful marginal illustrations found in illuminated manuscripts, is the topic of our latest podcast. Fighting rabbits? Check. Hybrid creatures? Check. Faces coming out of, um, unexpected places? Check.

Book of Hours, Bruges c. 1500
Walters Art Museum, Ms. W.427, fol. 68r
via Discarding Images

The word droll comes from the French drôle, meaning something humorous or funny. Drolleries were common appearances in margins from the mid-13th to 15th century; but although we have many examples of drolleries, we don’t always know what they were supposed to express to readers. Just what was the joke?

These clever images are not unlike today’s memes. Memes are jokes that are easy to understand now, but will make very little sense in a few centuries. (A meme encyclopedia may be in order?)

So, we decided to caption drolleries as though they were memes, with a bit of inspiration from the party game What Do You Meme and Classical Art Memes.

Le Régime du corps, c. 1285
The British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, Sloane 2435, f. 44v (Found in Keith Houston’s The Book.)

Other images we used in our game are:

The Queen Mary Psalter, c. 1310-1320
The British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, Sloane 2435, f. 44v
Book of Hours, Bruges c. 1430-1445
Walters Art Museum, W.239, fol. 85v
Rylands Haggadah
John Rylands Library Special Collections, Hebrew MS 6, f. 29b

You can listen to our discussion by following the link. And let us know your favorite droll images and, of course, your meme-like captions.

Beatus of Liébana, Commentaria in Apocalypsin, before 1072
BnF, Latin 8878, fol. 184v
via Discarding Images

To read more about drollery and illuminated manuscripts, see:
Smithfield Decretals (Decretals of Gregory IX, ca. 1340)
Sexy Codicology, ‘the Adventures of Medival Bunny, Part I: The Killer Rabbit’
Smithsonian ‘Why Were Medival Knights Always Fighting Snails?’
John Rylands Library Special Collection Blog, ‘Life on the Edge: Marginalia’
‘Real Balloon Animals’

Episode 1: Biblio-Files, the Origin Story

“Biblio Banter is all about _____.”
Match Game favorite Charles Nelson Reilly

Get ready to match the stars…of our new book history podcast!

In the very first episode of Biblio Banter, Erin, Natalia, Ellen, and Laura talk about the big questions: Just what is book history? (Or is it book studies?) What is a book? And why is book smuggling so exciting?

What is a book? Here is Random House’s definition.

We then fill in the blanks of Robert Darnton’s influential Communications Circuit in a game inspired by the classic (and wacky) 1970s game show Match Game.

Darnton’s Communication Circuit
First introduced in his 1982 article, “What is the History of Books?”

Play along, and let us know if you matched any of our answers!

To listen, follow the link.

For further reading, consider:

Samizdat – Smuggling Soviet Literature

Auction of First Edition Harry Potter

Take a course by Robert Darnton