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Apples of Our Eye

November 20, 2020
apple crisp

Back in July we wrote about the three apple trees on our front lawn bearing abundant fruit, and were looking forward to a good harvest come autumn. But between hungry squirrels and crows and, for the first time this year, yellowjackets, only a half-dozen apples survived in an edible form. Next year we’ll double down on yellowjacket traps; there’s not much we can do about other critters, though if not for the insects there would still have been a good crop.

In the past, Wayne has baked a succession of apple crisps which were doubly satisfying for being made with our own apples. This year we had to drive an hour to Windy Hill Farm in south county to buy two bags of their freshly picked honeycrisps. Those are gone now, but our Big Y supermarket had bags of organic Fuji, so apple crisp has been on the menu again. Here’s Wayne’s recipe:


Peel, core, and slice 5 or 6 apples, medium or large size (they cook down). Grease a pie plate or the like (Wayne uses a 9-inch ceramic quiche dish, as in the photo). Add the sliced apples in layers, with 1/4 cup raisins (Wayne uses golden raisins). Add a sprinkling of granulated sugar and ground cinnamon (or apple pie spice) per layer, more or less sugar depending on the sweetness of the fruit. (The topping of course will add sugar. This recipe on the whole minimizes sweetness to allow the taste of the apples to come through.)

Combine in a medium bowl 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1/8 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, a dash each of cinnamon and cloves (or apple pie spice), and a pinch of salt. Rub or cut in 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter; the result can be rough. Spread this mixture evenly over the apples.

Preheat an oven to 375° F (190° C or Gas Mark 5). Put the dish with the combined apples and topping in a shallow pan, cookie sheet, or the like, to catch any spill-over, and bake for about 45 minutes, until the topping is a golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack.

Book Notes, October 2020

October 25, 2020

Books on sofa October 2020


The venerable London bookseller Sotheran’s (mentioned before) headed an advertising email ‘A month devoted to reading books & revelling in art’, and called this month ‘Booktober’ (and maybe next month ‘Novel-ember’). Isn’t every month Booktober, just as every day is Book Lover’s Day?

In the Eye of the Beholder

An antiquarian bookseller described an item as ‘interior excellent’ but did not mention the condition of the binding other than that it was made from later tree-calf (i.e. calfskin chemically treated to have a pattern roughly resembling a tree). Wayne asked for more information about the binding, as a bookseller will sometimes emphasize one quality to distract from a defect: interior excellent, (by implication) exterior not so good. In this case, the binding was in fact good, though nothing special.

Around the same time, Wayne read a Catalogue No. 1 by another bookseller. There are few antiquarian catalogues no. 1 being issued these days, especially in print, but they’re always worth looking at, since booksellers just starting out may offer exceptionally good prices in their inaugural catalogues to attract customers and develop a base. This was also a well-designed catalogue; but because a professional-looking catalogue can subconsciously confer the notion of quality on anything it lists, it’s important to read the descriptions very carefully. Wayne thought this one notable for the disconnect at the end: ‘light shelfwear and soiling to cloth, toning and foxing throughout text, some light waterstaining to margins, rear free endpaper torn, a handsome copy’.

Struggling Indies

The New York Times published an article about the struggles of independent bookstores (indies) versus the online behemoth (predominantly Amazon). ‘Buy books from people who want to sell books, not colonize the moon.’ Some of the readers who commented don’t buy books locally because they’ve adopted ebooks. Others say, with perfect reason, that local shops don’t (can’t) offer the discounts Amazon can. A few book buyers do still patronize their local independents. In our rural village in north-west Massachusetts there’s only a small shop for new books, which also sells coffee and handles college texts; it seems to do good business, or did before the pandemic, but for the most part it doesn’t stock what we want to buy (books like most of those listed below). A half hour away is a Barnes & Noble, but its stock isn’t as broad as at other Barnes & Nobles, not even all of the new Del Rey Tolkien editions which surely come under the heading of popular literature, and anyway B&N isn’t an indie. There is an indie about an hour’s drive from here, but it’s small and has never had anything to tempt us.

Sometimes we buy from Book Depository (UK), but they’re owned by Amazon, and Book Depository’s prices are sometimes much higher than Amazon’s. Amazon UK get a little business from us, but their packaging leaves much to be desired. Wayne received a box broken open at the ends, and the book inside not only had damaged (indeed, shredded) corners and edges but was wet, unsalvageable – and it wasn’t raining that day in Williamstown. More and more, for British books at least, we’re looking to Blackwell’s in Oxford, as their prices are good and their packing has been excellent. Wayne has also discovered the Pallant House Gallery (West Sussex) bookshop for certain art books; they too pack very well.

The photo at the head of this post shows our current month’s haul (so far; a few more should arrive still in October). Christina puts them in our booklist, and covers dust-jackets with Mylar, at the end of each month.

Time Magazine’s Best One Hundred Fantasy Books

John Rateliff mentioned this recent list in his blog. Some of the one hundred titles haven’t been out long enough to earn the title of ‘best’, while at the same time (as John points out) the list omits important authors such as Lord Dunsany. But really, the whole thing is a cheat to begin with. The Lord of the Rings is on it, naturally, but as three of the one hundred: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, as if they were separate works and not three parts of a single whole. Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy gets the same treatment; granted that The Golden Compass (Northern Lights), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass were written and published with more separation than The Lord of the Rings, they still comprise a single work rather than a series, and should be treated as one work on lists like this.

New Reading (Wayne)
Aquatint Worlds: Travel, Print, and Empire by Douglas Fordham. Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2019. A beautiful book on aquatint prints of foreign lands (relative to Britain), with much on their makers and the culture that produced a market for them. The text, however, is aimed at specialists rather than general readers.

Cosmos: The Art and Science of the Universe by Roberta J.M. Olson and Jay M. Pasachoff. Reaktion, 2019. A folio with many illustrations, emphasizing related art more than the science of astronomy. I’m teaching a course on the great astronomers this term with Prof. Pasachoff, and have known Roberta (Curator of Drawings at New-York Historical Society) for many years.

Designing the New: Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style by Alison Brown. DelMonico Books/Prestel, 2019. This catalogue accompanied the splendid exhibition we saw at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, last year.

John Nash: Artist & Countryman by Andrew Lambirth. Unicorn Press, 2019. A long account of Nash (1893–1977), perhaps too long, setting him in a larger history and art culture. Its images are often too small to be effective, and there are many works mentioned in the text which aren’t illustrated. I’ve just bought yet another biography of Nash; we’ll see how that compares. I disagree with Lambirth’s appraisal of Eric Ravilious, that his popularity stems largely from nostalgia, and that had he survived the war (Ravilious’s plane disappeared over Iceland in 1942) he would have had nowhere to go in terms of artistic development – by which Lambirth means, presumably, he would have remained a ‘decorative’ artist or given art up altogether.

The Lost House Revisited by Ed Kluz. Merrell, 2017. Kluz makes sad, haunting mixed-media pictures of English grand houses that have been lost to time, mainly to fire and neglect. Here again I know some of the contributors: Tim Knox, ex-Director of Sir John Soane’s Museum (now at the Fitzwilliam), and art historian John Harris.

POW: Allied Prisoners in Europe, 1939–1945 by Adrian Gilbert. John Murray, 2006. A more concentrated account than Gillies’ Barbed-Wire University I read earlier.

Scene through Wood: A Century of Modern Wood Engraving by Anne Desmet. Ashmolean Museum, 2020. Another exhibition catalogue, but for obvious reasons we couldn’t get to Oxford this year to see it. The book reproduces many (to me) unfamiliar wood-engravings and provides a good history of the art in the past century, but the arrangement, by theme, confusingly spreads information about individual artists hither and thither.

Serpentine by Philip Pullman. Penguin Books, 2020. A story of Lyra and Pantalaimon set between The Amber Spyglass and The Secret Commonwealth, and anticipating the latter. Filled out with illustrations by Tom Duxbury, it’s a very slim book; I read it in about fifteen minutes. But I love Lyra, and forgive Pullman the adverse comments he has made about Tolkien.

Telling the Map: Stories by Christopher Rowe. Small Beer Press, 2017. I was attracted to this book by its cover art by Kathleen Jennings, the style of which deliberately echoes Pauline Baynes’s Tolkien poster-maps. The stories are science fiction mainly in the short, strange, Twilight Zone mode. Most are too short, ending just when a concept or character was getting interesting. Even the longest piece, the novella ‘The Border State’, needs more space to avoid an ending that seems abrupt.

In the Curse, er, Course of Reading

August 14, 2020

Wayne writes: I forgot to include in my list of recent reading Science and Human Values by Jacob Bronowski, HarperPerennial, 1990. It’s not the most coherent of Bronowski’s works, but it has its moments. Bronowski remarks, for example, that in 1665, when the twenty-two-year-old Isaac Newton was sitting in his garden at home while the University of Cambridge was closed due to plague (so familiar!), he saw an apple fall from a tree. But

what struck the young Newton at the sight was not the thought that the apple must be drawn to the earth by gravity; that conception was older than Newton. What struck him was the conjecture that the same force of gravity, which reaches to the top of the tree, might go on reaching out beyond the earth and its air, endlessly into space. Gravity might reach the moon: this was Newton’s new thought; and it might be gravity which holds the moon in her orbit.

I must remember this for the Great Astronomers course I’m co-teaching this fall.

There’s also an interesting discussion of the nature of the creative act, which in Bronowski’s view has to do with the recognition of two aspects, a ‘hidden likeness’ such as between Newton’s apple and the moon, which are then fused into one. He writes:

The poem [a work of Art] or the discovery [a work of Science] exists in two moments of vision: the moment of appreciation as much as that of creation; for the appreciator must see the movement, wake to the echo which was started in the creation of the work. In the moment of appreciation we live again the moment when the creator saw and held the hidden likeness.

I was put in mind of Tolkien’s comments on the ‘sub-creative act’ in On Fairy-Stories.

Next up for my reading will be Ransom Riggs’ The Conference of the Birds, the fifth novel in the ‘Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children’ series, but first I’m re-reading the fourth novel, The Map of Days, to refresh my memory of what went before. Christina is putting together a list of her own reading for a future post.

Speaking of reading, I read in the Williams College catalogue a description of one of this fall’s courses, which refers to it as a curse: I hope that isn’t prophetic. Our local paper, meanwhile, has these double-takes:

‘The Academy [of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences] is compromised of more than 8,000 voting members.’

‘tapping the breaks’ (i.e. brakes, for those who don’t drive)

‘Faith Leaders Must Stand for Moral Principals’ (not heads of schools)

I’ve also read, in an ad, that a new webcam has a ‘wide angel lens’. Its images must be heavenly.

Book Lover’s Day

August 9, 2020

Wayne writes: Happy National Book Lover’s Day! I didn’t know it was, either, until Easton Press mentioned it in an email this morning. To a book lover, isn’t every day Book Lover’s Day?

Speaking of books, apologies to anyone who has come to this blog thinking, from its title, that it has something to do with Mary Trump’s book, Too Much and Never Enough. And welcome! We have nothing to do with The Donald, but much to do with books, so I thought that we should be saying more about what we’ve been reading – in this post, what I myself have been reading. I started to make a list of titles only at the end of May, after the library director at Williams asked staff, and others at the college, to say what we were reading at that moment, to be the subject of one of a series of Daily Messages emailed to the college community. I replied:

On my table is The Barbed-Wire University by Midge Gillies (2011), about how Allied prisoners-of-war in WW2 kept themselves occupied (other than by escaping). Officers, at least, who generally weren’t required to work, and at least those in Europe rather than Asia, had plenty of time not only to read but also to hear lectures and take courses. It’s not why I’m reading it – I’ve had this book for a while – but POW experiences of confinement, uncertainty, and fear uncomfortably parallel current circumstances. Two books read immediately before this were Humphrey Stone’s 2019 biography of his father, wood-engraver Reynolds Stone, and Tessa Wild’s 2018 William Morris and His Palace of Art: Architecture, Interiors and Design at Red House.

Here, with little further comment, are other books I’ve read since May, more or less in the order I read them:

The Art of Darkness: Staging the Philip Pullman Trilogy by Robert Butler. Oberon Books, 2003. On the Royal National Theatre adaptation of His Dark Materials. I wish I could have seen it.

Restoration Stories: Patina and Paint in Old London Houses by Philippa Stockley. Photographs by Charles Hopkinson. Pimpernel Press, 2019.

Laurits Andersen Ring. National Gallery of Denmark, 2019. Christina and I saw an exhibition of his work at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, just before the shutdown in March.

Louis I. Kahn and the Yale Center for British Art: A Conservation Plan by Peter Kinskip and Stephen Gee, in association with Constance Clement. Yale Center for British Art/Yale University Press, 2011.

John Piper’s Brighton Aquatints. Mainstone Press, 2019.

Winifred Knights, 1899–1947 by Sacha Llewellyn. Dulwich Picture Gallery/Lund Humphries, 2016.

Creating the V&A: Victoria and Albert’s Museum (1851–1861). Lund Humphries/V&A Publishing, 2019.

The Rise of Everyday Design: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain and America. Edited by Monica Penick and Christopher Long. Harry Ransom Center/Yale University Press, 2019.

Oxford: Mapping the City by Daniel MacCannell. Birlinn, 2016.

Novel Houses: Twenty Famous Fictional Dwellings by Christina Hardyment. Bodleian Library, 2020. One of the fictional dwellings discussed is Bag End from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

False Value by Ben Aaronovitch. Gollancz, 2020. The latest book in the ‘Rivers of London’ supernatural mystery series.

Elementary, She Read by Vicki Delany. Crooked Lane Books, 2017. The first in the ‘Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery’ series, but the last I’ll bother with, as I found the lead character unsympathetic. In general I’m a sucker for Holmes spin-offs (see below).

The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The Places That Inspired Middle-earth by John Garth. Princeton University Press, 2020.

Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts. Edited by Diana Donald and Jane Munro. Fitzwilliam Museum/Yale Center for British Art/Yale University Press,  2009.

American Dialogue: The Founders and Us by Joseph J. Ellis. Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.

The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison. Tor Books, 2020. Holmes and Watson, as ‘Crow’ and ‘Doyle’, in an alternate-universe England in which angels, vampires, werewolves, hell hounds, ghosts, etc. co-exist with ordinary people. The reader needs to know something of the Holmes Canon to appreciate what Addison has done with it. A bit of character development left me wondering What? How? for half the book, and the explanation, awkwardly left to the end, wasn’t satisfying (I mean, within the frame of the story; I didn’t think of Rex Stout’s notorious Holmesian ‘theory’ until afterward).

The Life and Art of Clifford Webb by Simon Brett. Little Toller Books, 2019.

And now I have to choose another book! What are you reading on Book Lover’s Day?

Baker, Baker

July 24, 2020

Potato Flour Cake ingredientsWayne writes: This summer, library staff at Williams College are trying their hand at making recipes from the Chapin Library’s historic cookbook collection: among others, marrow spinage (spinach) pasties from 1671, pound cake from 1830, donuts from 1952 (from an Eskimo cookbook, substituting vegetable shortening for seal blubber). I chose to make a potato flour cake from the first edition (1901) of the Settlement Cook Book. Elizabeth Black Kander wrote this slim volume for people served by the Settlement House in Milwaukee, many of them poor, mainly Jewish immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe. The book became widely popular, and new editions appeared well into the twentieth century. I bought a copy of the 1944 edition long ago at a public library sale.

The recipe for potato flour cake has only a few ingredients:

9 eggs
1-3/4 cups sugar
scant cup of potato flour (a flour made from dried potatoes, gluten-free)
half a lemon (rind and juice)

Separate the whites and yolks of seven of the eggs. Beat these whites very stiff. Beat well the seven yolks together with two whole eggs, then add the sugar, lemon rind, and juice; beat this mixture thoroughly, add the potato flour, and beat again. Now fold in the beaten egg whites and bake at 350° F in a preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pan before removing the cake to a large plate.

Potato Flour Cake finishedGiven the age of the recipe, I had a number of questions. How big were the eggs? In 1901, they were probably smaller than our Large eggs, which are now the standard size. (I remember when supermarkets carried Medium eggs, but haven’t seen them in a long while.) The U.S. government didn’t start to grade eggs by size until 1943. Then, what kind of pan to use? The recipe doesn’t say. Not knowing how high the cake would rise, I decided to use a 9-inch springform pan and to grease it with butter. How hot should the oven be? The recipe calls for baking ‘slowly in a moderate oven’; well, a ‘moderately slow oven’ is said to be 300–350° F, and a ‘moderate oven’ 350–375, so I split the difference at 350 (around 180° C, Gas Mark 4), which was right. Forty minutes was quite enough for baking; any longer and the bottom might have burned.

Local supermarkets had no potato flour, so I had to order a pound from the King Arthur website. The finished product is dense and sweet, though not as sweet as I expected with one and three-quarters cups of sugar. The lemon rind (removed using a Microplane grater) and lemon juice offset the sugar and added a distinct but not overpowering flavor. If I were to make this again, however, I would reduce the sugar by a quarter cup. The cake is good for dessert or breakfast, and best in small slices.

The batter is very stiff. If you use a whisk to mix it, after beating the egg yolks and whole eggs don’t leave the whisk sitting in the batter, or you’ll find it hard to remove! Presumably, the addition of beaten egg whites (which I whisked, not all that successfully, in a KitchenAid stand mixer) is meant to lighten the cake, but the batter is so heavy that one could not possibly fold the egg whites in ‘very carefully’ as the cookbook states (to keep as much air in them as possible). I had to mix them in as best I could.

This morning, I saw a recipe in the New York Times for ‘Roman Breakfast Cake’, which is similar to the Settlement recipe except that it uses fewer eggs and all-purpose rather than potato flour, adds berries, and includes a little baking powder. This was shown baked in a ring pan.

A week ago, we had a banana gone too soft for slicing on cereal, and Christina wondered if I could make banana bread with just one banana. I searched for a recipe, and adapted a good one by Christina Lane at, a site I’ll be looking at more closely. The result is actually more like a cake than a bread. I added the vanilla and spice.

1 over-ripe banana
3 tbsp. unsalted butter at room temperature
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 tbsp. honey
1 large egg yolk
dash of vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. wheat germ (optional, but I used it)
1/4 + 1/8 tsp. baking soda
dash of apple pie spice (or equivalent: cinnamon, cloves, etc.)
pinch of salt
2 tbsp. chopped nuts (optional; I used walnuts and pecans)

Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C, Gas Mark 4). Grease a mini-loaf pan well with butter. (A mini-loaf pan is roughly 6 × 3 × 2 in.; mine is an Ekco 3-1/4.) Mash the banana with a fork; add the butter, sugar, and honey, stir well. Stir in the egg yolk and vanilla. Sprinkle over the flour, wheat germ, baking soda, spice, and salt. Stir in the chopped nuts. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the bread comes out clean. Let cool in the pan before removing the bread to a wire rack.

The only food I bake on a regular basis is granola. I much prefer my own simple (some would say dull) recipe to anything commercial in a box. This consists of:

6 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (I use Quaker)
1 cup wheat germ
small handful of sliced almonds
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use canola)
1/2 cup honey

Mix the oats, wheat germ, and almonds in a large bowl. Combine the water, oil, and honey in a large measuring cup, add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients. Spread the granola on a large rimmed baking sheet, such as a jelly roll pan, either greased or (much easier for cleaning) with a sheet of parchment paper more or less to fit. Bake for around 40 minutes at 325° F (around 160° C, Gas Mark 3), until golden brown.

Coronavirus Forever

July 19, 2020

Scull and Hammond garden June 2020Well, it seems like forever, doesn’t it? More than six months since the first word of the coronavirus, four since schools and businesses shut down, and who knows how long before things return to normal – whatever ‘normal’ may mean down the road. Williams College has invited students back to campus this fall, and most have said they intend to be here; how it will work out in practice remains to be seen. Covid testing will be done twice a week to begin with, results to be returned within forty-eight hours. Wayne’s library will be open (eventually) by appointment only, and with restrictions, and only to faculty, staff, and students, at least in these early stages. Wayne will be working from home as much as possible, as he has been since mid-March, going in only when needed and for a course on the great astronomers he’s co-teaching this fall. Many of the classes here will be held remotely even if the students are on campus; all classes will be remote once campus closes down early at Thanksgiving break, and there will be no January term in 2021.

Usually on July 4th Wayne is at the library for its Independence Day celebration, featuring an original printing of the Declaration of Independence, the text of which is read by actors from the Williamstown Theatre Festival. That wasn’t possible this year due to the pandemic, so a virtual reading was assembled using Williams faculty, staff, and family members as Declaration readers. Wayne introduced the programme, mixed the video and audio, and created video commentary.* The result can be seen on the Williams online digital repository or on Vimeo.

Scull and Hammond garden June 2020We’ve been to garden centres a few times (masked). The plants available now, this late in the season, are mostly past their best, though the other day we picked up cheap some nice hosta and heuchera for the back (shade) garden. Wayne continues to shop for groceries alone. We’ve kept our stocks up as shortages come and go. At present, at least at the closest store, one can’t find graham crackers or tinned pears, or leaf lettuce, fresh green beans, or frozen peas, and there were no strawberries to be had yesterday though they were advertised as on sale. We (mainly Christina) spent some idle hours the other day putting together a diabolically cut vintage wooden jigsaw puzzle, reproducing one of Pauline Baynes’s medieval-themed pictures, The Betrothal, based on a poster she made for Macmillan in 1952.

Travel of course is out of the question. Williams has ruled out business travel until at least the end of December – not that this will matter, as the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair, which we’ve been attending every autumn, will be only a virtual event this year – and has asked employees to be careful about personal travel, after which one would need to self-quarantine. Meanwhile, the American Automobile Association would like Wayne to become a member, British Airways have extended our Bronze frequent flyer memberships, and we receive emails from our favourite hotels and restaurants in England announcing their re-openings. We wonder if we’ll see London or Oxford ever again, with the USA a hotspot for the virus and travellers from here personae non gratae, in addition to all the closings and restrictions.

Wayne also receives frequent emails from clothiers such as Brooks Brothers, Paul Stuart, and Ben Silver, for all the good it does. Brooks Brothers seem to have been the first major menswear house to sell their own brand of cloth masks, but Ben Silver have made an ingenious combination mask and pocket square. In most of these advertisements, the coronavirus doesn’t exist: the models are happy, maskless of course, and dressed much better than most of us are these days, with nowhere nice or special to go. At least the lockdown has reduced wear and tear on Wayne’s better clothes and shoes, which he wears to work, and he has saved a lot by not being tempted to buy anything new – which is not, specifically, why Brooks Brothers recently declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, though it’s part of the problem.

Scull and Hammond garden June 2020Our garden, at least, is flourishing, even in an official drought here in Massachusetts and temperatures too high for us to go out for long. A few photos are included here. All three of our apple trees (Cortland, Fuji, and Honeycrisp) are bearing fruit, Christina’s flowers are taller and more abundant than ever (with a few exceptions), and two Early Girl tomato plants, which Wayne planted in pots, are doing very well. Even our one indoor plant, a cyclamen, is happy. We thought that this had come to its end, as supermarket cyclamens tend to do before long, but we decided to see what would happen if we moved it into a larger pot and used a trick found on YouTube, by which the plant is watered with a mixture of H2O plus a little 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide. This adds oxygen to the soil and helps the flow of nutrients. Magic! at least for our cyclamen, which now doesn’t know when to quit growing new leaves and flowers.


* Wayne writes, for anyone interested in the tech: Ideally, I would have recorded myself at the library in front of the actual documents, rather than in my home office, but that too wasn’t possible. I’m looking off to the side most of the time rather than into the camera to reduce glare on my glasses from the monitor and a key light off to my right, and from a tablet in front of me running a teleprompter app. I made my commentary with a Logitech C920 webcam, a lavalier microphone, and Debut software. The other readers (except Michael from the Theatre Festival) recorded their voices with iPhones; I equalized these in Audacity (and used that to record my own part of the Declaration), and converted the files in VLC media player to mp3. I made the title slides in InDesign, saved as jpegs, and mixed everything together in Shotcut.

Lord of the Rings Comparison 4

July 17, 2020

Tolkien set paperback HarperCollins 2020Two new boxed sets of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the latter in three volumes, were published this year by HarperCollins, London. The earliest issued of these sets, in B format (trade) paperback, is in a lightweight paper slipcase. The cover and slipcase art is photographic, with each illustration made from combined and modified stock photos. The Fellowship of the Ring includes Douglas A. Anderson’s ‘Note on the Text’ and our ‘Note on the 50th Anniversary Edition’. Our revised index is in The Return of the King. Maps are printed in sections on text pages, except for the Shire map which is printed as usual on its own page.

HarperCollins have also published a set of the four volumes in hardback, with dust-jackets, in a stiff board slipcase, with illustrations and cover art by Alan Lee. It’s what one might call a semi-de luxe edition, with titling, running heads, page numbers, and the Ring inscription in Book I, Chapter 2 printed in red. This edition omits both notes on the text, the first to do so since the 50th anniversary of The Lord of the Rings in 2004, but includes our revised index. The two larger maps are printed as endpapers, the Shire map as usual.

Tolkien set hardback HarperCollins 2020In our Comparison 2 we documented four typesettings of The Lord of the Rings from 2004 to 2014: eleven of configuration A (from the original 50th anniversary edition), four of B (primarily a mass-market, A format paperback), one of C (a Houghton Mifflin trade paperback), and one of D (the de luxe HarperCollins volume in a plastic slipcase). The two new editions of 2020 share yet another typesetting altogether: we will call the paperback and hardback respectively E1 and E2.

Compared against known errors in other copies and printings, E1 and E2 seem to be currently the most accurate texts. They incorporate all of the corrections noted in our Comparison 3 in June 2016. At least one error remains, however: ‘Dear Frodo,’ at the beginning of Gandalf’s letter received by Frodo at Bree, is still indented. Given that E is a new typesetting, it may be that new printing errors were introduced; but at present we do not know of any.

Update, July 18: In comments to this post, Douglas Bailey points out another known error uncorrected in the new editions: in Book V, Chapter 1, p. 756 of the 50th anniversary edition (our setting A), the sentence ‘“I am,” said Pippin’ should be run on with Gandalf’s dialogue in the preceding paragraph. This is explained in our online addenda and corrigenda to The Lord of the Rings. There we also identify additions and corrections to the index, which were not taken up when the references were changed to suit the new pagination. Douglas comments as well that the two endpaper maps of Middle-earth are not consistent which each other in detail; we noted this to be true of other editions in The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion, p. lxvii.

Tolkien Notes 18

July 15, 2020

Well Known?

The Spring number of the journal The Book Collector refers (p. 135) to a ‘well known’ story ‘about Tolkien being advised by a friend to whom he showed his first manuscript to stick to teaching Anglo-Saxon’. Well known to whom? Not to us. And what was the ‘first manuscript’?

The same number, and same page, tells a story about Anthony Price, who as a young reporter on the Oxford Mail was asked to review The Fellowship of the Ring. His editor thought that the book looked ‘a bit dull’ and was worth only 400 words maximum. Price ‘disagreed and arranged an interview with Tolkien, who thereupon handed over proofs for the next two volumes, with handwritten annotations’. Price asked if he could write a feature article on Tolkien for the Mail; no, replied his editor, because Tolkien had written ‘a very odd book’, and the editor had talked with ‘some dons about Tolkien – they say he’s a real weirdo. But do the 400.’ Price’s review of The Fellowship of the Ring was published on 16 September 1954, as ‘Fairy Story for Grownups Too’; its length, however, is closer to 800 words than to 400. We know that Price spoke with Tolkien in September 1954, as Tolkien mentions it in a letter, but his interview was not published until 27 January 1956, and in the Oxford Times rather than the Mail. In the meantime, Price also reviewed for the Mail, in January and October 1955, The Two Towers (comparatively briefly) and The Return of the King.


Addenda and Corrigenda Updates

After a very long gap of time – nearly two years! – we have made new updates to many of the pages on our website listing addenda and corrigenda to our several books. These are:

Life in the Time of Coronavirus

March 21, 2020

It has been some months since we posted to our blog. This has been due to work (and general laziness), not to COVID-19. We wanted our readers to know that we’re safe and sound, at least so far.

Williams College sent its students away for spring break a week early. They are to take their classes online until the end of Spring Term. Faculty now have only a short time to revamp their syllabi and change their teaching methods to suit the new reality of ‘social distancing’, and librarians like Wayne are similarly having to adapt. Like most of the Williams staff, Wayne has been working from home since last Wednesday. Since he can no longer provide rare books and manuscripts to students and faculty in person, he’s filling the hours checking catalog records, revising bibliographical descriptions, planning summer exhibitions – hoping that the exhibition galleries will re-open by summer – and meeting colleagues online. He’s also standing by to scan or photograph materials, though this falls short of experiencing the immediacy of original objects.

Since we’re both of an age, and since Christina has an artificial heart valve, we’re being especially careful about exposure. At the beginning of March, we went to New York City for the antiquarian book fair, one of the two big buying trips Wayne does as Chapin Librarian every year. Concerns about the virus were then only just becoming urgent, with elbow bumps beginning to replace handshakes. The fair was less crowded than usual, though in density of people far in excess of the levels now recommended. Of course, fewer buyers meant less competition, and Wayne did well in the five hours we allowed. Since it was Christina’s birthday, we bought for our home library something she had wanted for many years, the two-volume set of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung (1910–11) illustrated by Arthur Rackham. We couldn’t find one of the deluxe copies bound in white vellum, but spotted a first printing of the trade edition, itself somewhat deluxe, in very good condition and with its rare original dust-jackets.

Earlier this week, we learned that at least one of the dealers at the fair later tested positive for the coronavirus, and a few others were assumed to be infected. None of these was among those we visited, and most of those Wayne spoke with the longest have told him they’re doing fine. We ourselves have now passed the fourteen-day mark since the fair, without symptoms. We’re staying in as much as possible; each of our dentists and Christina’s hairdresser cancelled appointments as they too distance socially (to adapt the phrase), and we expect that other events in our diaries will have to be rescheduled also. For the time being, Wayne is making the weekly supermarket run solo, for perishables and prescriptions, to spare Christina the effort. Wayne having read about the fragility of supply chains, we had begun to build up a stock of non-perishables and other supplies even before our New York trip, and that has proved to be a good thing as our local supermarket now has many empty shelves and bins which are not being restocked very quickly.

A booklist from Sotheran’s, the London dealer, received about a week ago included an amusing note:

The nightmare of self-isolation – fourteen days at home, unable to leave the house, and nothing left on Netflix. And then you turn to the beautiful prints you bought that brighten up the walls, and the lovely books that stir your imagination and fill up the hours to the brim. Actually, is two weeks long enough?

Two weeks wouldn’t make much of a dent in the books we want to read and already have, let alone those yet to come, or the music we want to listen to, or videos to watch (we don’t do streaming, but have many DVDs). So fourteen days would not be a hardship – or fourteen months, for that matter. Christina, being retired, spends most of her time at home anyway; through the winter she has kept busy continuing to index our collection of Tolkien-related cuttings, letters, and ephemera. With spring having arrived, she’s looking ahead to work in the garden once the local nurseries re-open (we hope) starting April 1st. When not at the library, Wayne is still picking away at our long-expected book on Pauline Baynes. Together we wrote a brief obituary of Christopher Tolkien for the newsletter of the Children’s Books History Society, and are preparing a longer appreciation of Christopher for the next number of Tolkien Studies.

Stay well!

Tolkien Collection Quantified – Comments

July 31, 2019

Quite a few of you looked at our latest post. Thanks, and apologies for the length of time between that post and the one before that. We’ve had some comments, both direct to our blog and on the Tolkien Society’s Facebook page.

Clive Shergold asked, presumably with tongue in cheek (though one never knows), what our figure in linear feet translates to in hobbit ells. First, define an ell, hobbit or otherwise! Then do the math. We measured in linear feet because that’s what librarians do on this side of the pond (though they express book heights in centimetres), and because American shelving tends to be sold in feet, typically three feet to a shelf (though with a lot of variation by manufacturer).

Juan Manuel Grijalvo thought that quantifying our Tolkien collection suggested that we don’t have a catalogue or inventory of it. We do have a catalogue, or rather catalogues, or lists, as one may like to call them. One is only of books and other materials (such as audio recordings) by Tolkien. Another comprises all other books in our library, including works on Tolkien, as well as everything ‘non-Tolkien’. These are kept in electronic form and updated as needed. But Christina has also been making shelflists – more detailed lists of books as we have them on our shelves, so that we can find an item more precisely if we want it. Our booklists, and lists of CDs, DVDs, etc., and other lists as well, travel with us on our laptop and tablets, so that we can refer to them and prevent buying something all over again that we forgot we had. We used to print lists out and carry them into book and record shops, but that became unwieldy, and of course electronic lists can be more easily searched.

Drew Foster would like us to do a video tour of our house. Drew, it’s hard enough to get good still photos of our books, etc., but rest assured that we’re not living among stacks of books in the middle of the floor or piled high against the windows. We’re collectors, not hoarders, and as librarians (one still active, one retired) we like and appreciate order. We even have (some) wall space on which to hang pictures!

Naturesfocus asked if we also have a fair amount of digital material in our collection. We have downloaded selectively (and legally), including some materials ‘born digital’, but our focus is on physical resources.

Note to anyone still planning to buy a copy of the new (2017) edition of our J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide, this is currently on sale from Amazon U.K. for only 61.89 (plus shipping), which we think is the lowest the online price has ever been, a 48% discount.

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