Thursday, December 15, 2011

On Santa's sleigh, a few gift ideas from Bellemeade Books

It's ten days before Christmas. Did you forget anyone on your twice-checked list? Or maybe you've just decided to have another nog and wander online until inspiration strikes, and "accidentally" discover something for yourself at 3 a.m.? In any event or whichever method you choose to shop, Santa's on his way -- that nimble and quick elf waits for no one.

Here are some titles that have been reviewed in Bellemeade Books the past year. Order right here through the search box and then relax. Have a gingerbread cookie and think how you'll be spending the plastic cash your Aunt Emily just sent in her holiday card.

The bookplate is one of the unrecognized losses of the print empire (like a once-mighty imperial force, the artforms of type and the book are retreating before the digital demands of a new order). Where first-editions and beloved books in a personal library were at one time marked as belonging to an individual through bookplates, the internet no longer requires an Ex Libris stamp. That leaves the collecting of antique bookplates -- a print adjunct dating back almost to the age of Gutenberg -- to a vigilant group of bibliophiles, who occasionally share their finds with the world at large. Martin Hopkinson's Ex Libris: The Art of Bookplates presents one hundred of them, dating from the nineteenth century to the 1970s. The plate of the Mander Brothers Work People's Library (above) is just one example. As the need for bookplates recedes, the contemporary world, at least, might see these miniatures as works of art.

MetaMaus is Art Spiegelman's new comprehensive book about the creation of Maus, A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History, the 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning story of his father's experience in a Nazi prison camp. It's a great look-behind-the-scenes at the creation of Spiegelman's ground-breaking approach to visualizing non-fiction. The book includes a DVD of the complete Maus manuscript hyper-linked with source materials, and the text is structured around an extensive interview with Spiegelman.

Evan Hughes's study of Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life surveys the writers' landscape of the borough, home at times over the years to authors as varied as Hart Crane, Richard Wright, Thomas Wolfe, and Henry Miller. The result is a good look at how life in the borough shaped generations of literary reputations, a long history seldom matched anywhere else. “Mobs and murderers appear to rule the hour,” Whitman wrote in 1857, as the nation moved closer to civil war; even then, Hughes notes,"the workings of the American republic, though often crooked and halting, were bringing more and more newcomers and an ever-greater frenzy of activity."

"As my mother got sicker, had brain surgery, lung surgery, chemo, and radiation, I could hear how much more difficult it was for him to keep the fear from creeping into his voice. He knew we were going to lose her. It was only a question of when. Officially, they had lost each other many years before, of course, but it was obvious how deeply he was tied to her. They were still uncannily connected." That's some catch, that Catch-22: Yossarian Slept Here: When Joseph Heller Was Dad, The Apthorp Was Home, and Life Was a Catch-22 is Erica Heller's revealing biography of life with her father's out-sized reputation, and another lesson, if any were needed, that children of writers usually have to wait until their parents have left the room before telling their side of the story.

The closest we're allowed to approach Salinger is, apparently, still in biography and memoir, even though those have been discouraged and actively litigated against. The most recent biography, Kenneth Slawenski's J.D.Salinger: A Life, presents the most rounded portrait of the reclusive writer to date, although it doesn't get closer to his manuscripts than the familiar published titles. Slawenski argues that Salinger came to regard writing as a meditative form of Vedatic belief, but his literary disappearing act now reaches a logical climax. Many writers' unpublished manuscripts become even more of a fetish-object after an author's death and it's unrealistic to think interest in what Salinger left unpublished will diminish -- at last, though, he will rest peacefully where no one can come knocking.

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