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 5: (Re)Covering Rebecca Pop-Up Exhibit

From inside joke to temporary exhibition, in this episode Laura and Natalia interview graduate student Laura Schmitz-Justen about her project “(Re)Covering Rebecca: A Critical Look at the Cover Design History of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca.” This 1938 classic novel has gone through dozens of reprints, adaptations, and covers, many of which are exhibited.

From left to right, a cover Schmitz-Justen finds problematic and one she favors.

The question naturally arises, what role do covers play in marketing books? How do they promote genre and attract (or repel) certain audiences? Listen to the discussion here. American, British, and German editions, as well as a few Rebecca objects, such as a CD from the musical adaptation and a mug, are among the items showcased and discussed. Stop by to check out the exhibit before December 2019!

Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster English Department Library Johannisstrasse 12-20 Second Floor (Ask at Reception)

Early cover, modern classic cover, 80th anniversary edition cover, and musical poster

For a closer look at what was mentioned…

Musical Adaptation

Vogue Article and Bookbub Blogpost on Netflix Film Adaptation

UK Publisher Virago: Virago’s 80th Anniversary Edition of Rebecca

Taking back the word, the meaning of virago

Sarah Waters’ cover designs by Virago

Bestsellers: A Very Short Introduction by John Sutherland

Episode 4: Tittle*ating Typography

*A tittle is the dot over a lower case i or j.

Does anyone care about or even notice typography? We do! In this episode, we discuss our favorite fonts, controversial typefaces, and how type choices affect us as consumers and readers.

Different usages of the typeface Bembo
Pieces of Type / Examples of Typefaces

Although we use the terms more or less synonymously, type is the individual, physical piece used in traditional printing; typeface refers to the design of a complete set of characters; and font describes the size or style (bold, italic, etc.) of the typeface. For the curious, here is a typographic glossary.

It all begins with a game of Cheese or Font. Listen as Erin mispronounces everything and we run out the clock! Follow the link to listen.

For further viewing/reading:

…An American Marriage!

Notice the blurbs and stickers on the covers? Fun fact: Oprah’s Book Club and the Women’s Prize for Fiction were both started in 1996.

Tayari Jones has won the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction for her novel An American Marriage. She took home £30,000 in prize money and a bronze cast of the 7.5 inch ‘Bessie’ figurine, designed and donated by artist Grizel Niven. The awards ceremony was live-streamed on the @WomensPrize Twitter feed on June 5th.

‘Bessie’. Photo by @WomensPrize.

Over 308 pages, Jones explores the impact of a wrongful incarceration on an American family in clean, elegant prose from multiple points-of-view. Here, the Women’s Prize group interviews Jones about her novel.

An American Marriage was a surprising winner for our book club, which had unanimously predicted that Ordinary People would take home the Bessie. Opinion was divided on who participants wanted to win, but the majority voted for Circe. However, Miller won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2012, and it was deemed unlikely that she would win the same prize twice.

138,131 users have rated An American Marriage on popular reader website Goodreads, giving it on average 3.98 out of 5 stars, and making it the most rated of the shortlisted novels. Circe received the highest average rating at 4.30 out of 5 stars. Check out the table below to see how the other shortlisted titles were rated (arranged in descending order by total ratings).

Episode 3: And the Winner Is…

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 Shortlisted Titles
Dr. Rosenberg and Biblio Banter team in their natural habitat aka library

Our first guest! Just around the corner, on June 5th, the 2019 winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction will be announced. We gladly welcome Dr. Simon Rosenberg to the podcast for a discussion about this and other book prizes.

Prizes equal publicity…and controversy. In this episode, Dr. Rosenberg shares his thoughts on the impact, value, and future of book prizes. We also make our predictions for who will win the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction. And of course there’s a game: it’s a take on “two lies, one truth” using made-up titles and real winners from The Bookseller‘s Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. Play along with Dr. Rosenberg and see if you can guess which titles belong to published books!

To listen to the podcast, follow this link.

For further reading (and because you don’t believe that Too Naked for the Nazis is a real book), click the links below:

Women’s Prize for Fiction

Too Naked For Nazis Wins Prize for Oddest Book Title (2016)

The Economy of Prestige by James F. English

Edward St Aubyn’s Lost for Words – some prize-y fiction for a cozy evening with a cup of tea and a teaspoon of sarcasm.

What does smuggling have to do with books?

Book smuggling is mentioned in Robert Darnton’s cycle of the life of books. We talked about it in the first episode of our podcast. You can find it here.

One of the agents in the life of books that Darnton mentions is a smuggler. Not a vocation one would expect when talking about books and reading. Still, the illegal and risky movement of books across borders was occasionally necessary. Another proof of power of books and literature.

When government banned particular kinds of literature in the Soviet Union and some countries in Eastern Europe, samizdat was born. It was a system of publication that allowed to print and spread the prohibited literature. Here is a definition of samizdat by Merriam-Webster. This kind of publishing activity appeared around the late 1950s. The term ‘samizdat’ means both a way of publishing and a kind of literature produced by it. The familiar contemporary term ‘self-publishing’ has a lot in common with that publication practice of the Soviet times. Even the meaning of the two parts ‘sam’ (self) and ‘izdat’ (izdatel’stvo – publisher) sound so well-known and harmless. But the reasons and political influence of these two ways of book creation differ greatly.

Contemporary self-publishers choose this way due to economic, professional or even personal reasons. Samizdat authors and publishers had no other choice to bring their works to readers.

File:Russian samizdat and photo negatives of unofficial literature in the USSR.jpg
This image of typewritten samizdat copies and photographic films is from the Wikipedia article

There was also ‘tamizdat’. This lesser-known term is more closely connected to book smuggling. The literary works prohibited by the authorities could have been smuggled out of country (most often to Europe) in order to be properly published there. This is ‘tamizdat’; ‘tam’ means ‘there’. Foreign tourists brought manuscripts out of the country and returned with published books, one copy at a time. Or sometimes smugglers were citizens of the Soviet Union who were allowed to travel abroad. Ultimately, all book smugglers risked being caught crossing the border with banned literature.

“Writers were not only forbidden to create works that were dissident, formally complex, or objective (a term of reproach), but they were also expected to fulfill the dictates of the Communist Party to produce propaganda…”

from Literature under Soviet rule, Encyclopedia Britannica

Samizdat and tamizdat are closely connected. Some of the prohibited books were published abroad, smuggled into the Soviet Union and then became objects of samizdat – people would make hand-written copies (or even page-by-page photographs) of texts that would later be passed on or sold. This was an illegal enterprise, one was always at risk of being prosecuted for it. Another popular way of spreading this literature was through carbon copies. One typewriter could make multiple carbon copies at a time, so can you imagine the quality? All of us high quality e-book readers today, can we imagine reading with such dedication?

A close-up of a samizdat page (also Wikipedia)

Some of the examples of Russian literary classics that were originally published via tamizdat are: poems by Joseph Brodsky, Venedikt Yerofeyev’s Moscow to the End of the Line, and The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago was, for instance, first published in Italy in 1957. Books were considered luxury goods so the amount of smuggled materials was not very high, although, I believe, it is not easy to hide a 200-page manuscript in your luggage and hope no one would find it.

There was also ‘Gosizdat’, but this is a tale for some other time.

When I first discovered that there is academic interest in the role of smugglers in book publication and distribution, it changed the image of library-dwelling book historians in my head to that of dashing and brave adventurers. In my own eyes, I could finally combine my two childhood dreams: working with books and being Indiana Jones! There is much to research in the history of book smuggling, can you imagine what an exciting field of work lies ahead?

Here are some suggestions for further reading:

P. Steiner On Samizdat, Tamizdat, Magnitizdat, and Other Strange Words

D. Pospielovsky From Gosizdat to Samizdat and Tamizdat

Friederike Kind-Kovács, Jessie Labov Samizdat, Tamizdat, and Beyond: Transnational Media During and After Socialism

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