Last month Ellen and Laura presented at the annual conference of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP) in Amherst, Massachusetts.
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.
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!
Inspired by the talks and the card game Super Frauen (English: Wonder Women), we play our own version: Women Who Make “Books”.
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…
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!).
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.
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!
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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…”
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
Other images we used in our game are:
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.
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?
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.
Play along, and let us know if you matched any of our answers!