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ILAB seeks suggestions for 17th Breslauer Prize for Bibliography

Jon Gilbert, who won the last ILAB prize for bibliography

ILAB  is seeking nominations for the 17th Breslauer Prize for Bibliography, which will be awarded in 2018.  Worth $10,000 to the winner, the prize acclaims the best scholarly book about books.

Jon Gilbert, who is a bookseller with Adrian Harrington in Tunbridge Wells, won the last prize in 2014 for his book, Ian Fleming. The Bibliography.

The book can be in any language and published between April 2013 and April 2017. E- books and catalogs are not eligible.

The prize jury features Bettina Wagner (Bavarian State Library, Munich), Daniel de Simone (Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC), Yann Sordet (Bibliothèque Mazarine, Paris) and the antiquarian booksellers Fabrizio Govi (Italy), Konrad Meuschel (Germany) and Justin Croft (United Kingdom).

Nominations can be made by publishers, librarians, collectors, booksellers and any bibliophiles. To suggest a book, contact Fabrizio Govi at Libreria Alberto Govi Via Bononcini, 24 – 41124 Modena (Italia), phone 0039 059 373629, or via email info@libreriagovi.com

Raymond Carver’s short stories boosted by Birdman’s Oscars

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

Triple Oscar winner Birdman is sparking interest in Raymond Carver’s short stories. The movie chronicles an actor’s attempt to boost his flagging career with a stage adaptation of Carver’s short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which was originally published in 1981.

Birdman, which stars Michael Keaton, enacts parts of Carver’s short story and the collection’s title is seen frequent throughout the film on the marquee of a theater featured in the film. Birdman received nine academy award nominations and won for best picture, best director, best cinematography and best screenplay. Carver, also known for his poetry, died in 1988.

The collection’s title has been riffed upon by several other writers, including Chuck Klosterman, Haruki Murakami and Noah Richler.

Interested in further fictional brevity? Check out our recommendations for the Best Short Stories.

Facebook Club Announces Its 4th Book, And It’s Timely

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

Early last month we reported that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had begun a year-long goal of reading two books a month, sharing the titles publicly and opening avenues for discussion on the book club’s Facebook page. The books selected will be chosen with an eye for relevant themes of technology, culture, history and belief systems.

The first three books selected were The End of Power by Moses Naim, The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker, and Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh.

on February 18th, the fourth selection was announced, and it is a very timely choice. On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss aims to scientifically, thoroughly and exhaustively question – and then answer – the vaccination debate. It’s an inarguably timely choice. In late December, Disneyland in California became contagion ground zero for the measles, when an unvaccinated visitor to the park, ill with measles but as of then unaware, exposed countless other visitors. Since then, 139 cases of measles are confirmed and linked to that outbreak, and social media is rampant with discussions, debates, arguments, name-calling and overall hysteria about vaccinations.

Thanks in part to certain celebrities publicly stating that they don’t vaccinate, believing vaccinations to be unnatural, unsafe, the cause of Autism and other claims, certain areas of North America (including parts of California) have seen significantly reduced immunization rates in recent years. That has scientists, as well as doctors and other members of the medical community, troubled and alarmed, and parents on both sides fighting as hard as they can for their right to protect their children. Stories like the story of Roald Dahl’s daughter, who died of Measles at age seven, have been shared and shared again, as have stories about vaccine injury from the opposing team. It is a hotly debated, highly contentious current issue, which is no doubt why Zuckerberg selected On Immunity as the next title to read. Here’s the synopsis:

Why do we fear vaccines? A provocative examination by Eula Biss, the author of Notes from No Man’s Land, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

Upon becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear—fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what is in your child’s air, food, mattress, medicine, and vaccines. She finds that you cannot immunize your child, or yourself, from the world. In this bold, fascinating book, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. As she hears more and more fears about vaccines, Biss researches what they mean for her own child, her immediate community, America, and the world, both historically and in the present moment. She extends a conversation with other mothers to meditations on Voltaire’s Candide, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors, and beyond. On Immunity is a moving account of how we are all interconnected—our bodies and our fates.

Perhaps its childish opposite is Melanie’s Marvelous Measles by Stephanie Messenger, whose author-written synopsis reads, in part:

Melanie’s Marvelous Measles was written to educate children on the benefits of having measles and how you can heal from them naturally and successfully. Often today, we are being bombarded with messages from vested interests to fear all diseases in order for someone to sell some potion or vaccine, when, in fact, history shows that in industrialized countries, these diseases are quite benign and, according to natural health sources, beneficial to the body.

If one wants a clear picture of just how up-in-arms society is about vaccination currently, they need only go and have a read of the reviews for Melanie’s Marvelous Measles on amazon.com.

Time to revisit our Five Books Mark Zuckerberg Won’t Be Recommending:

(so far, we’re four for four!)

It’s Jenny from the book! J Lo inspires hunt for ‘first editions’ of Homer’s Iliad

Jennifer Lopez stars in The Boy Next Door as a high school teacher

The book world moves in mysterious ways.  Jennifer Lopez has sparked interest in ‘first editions’ of Homer’s The Iliad – the epic poem about the Trojan War written around the 8th century BC.

Since Lopez’s latest movie,  The Boy Next Door, was released in the US on January 23, ‘The Iliad, first edition’ has been the top search term on AbeBooks.com. To Kill a Mockingbird is the second most popular search during this period and that classic book has received just a little publicity this month.

In The Boy Next Door, Lopez plays a divorced English literature high school teacher who has a one-night stand with her younger neighbor played by Ryan Guzman. In one scene, Guzman’s character gives Lopez a copy of The Iliad, which is described as a “first edition” and apparently found for “a buck at a garage sale.”

The Iliad from The Boy Next Door (YouTube)

It appears people who have watched the film are trying to identify the actual edition handed to Lopez, which has dark yellow and blue boards. I cannot match the book seen in the movie to anything currently for sale on AbeBooks and I did trawl though several hundred listings yesterday. It could be a movie prop.

One expensive Iliad has sold on AbeBooks since the release of The Boy Next Door. A copy from 1715 sold for $3,785 on February 4. The Iliad has been the 29th bestselling book on AbeBooks.com since January 23 but that’s not unusual as we sell the classics all year round.

Journalists and bloggers have mocked the scene as no-one knows when The Iliad was first written down to create the ‘true’ first edition. However, there have been numerous editions of The Iliad printed since the 16th century and each new edition would have its own first edition, so in that context the movie’s dialog is actually correct.

The most expensive Iliad currently for sale on AbeBooks is another 1715 edition translated by Alexander Pope, but also including The Odyssey, for $32,000.

Something similar happened in 2008 with the Sex and the City movie that featured a fictional (as in not real) book called Love Letters of Great Men that Mr Big read to Carrie Bradshaw. We saw thousands of people (ladies, I believe) coming to site looking for the book on the weekend that the film opened.

I can’t be specific but Hollywood folks regularly shop on AbeBooks.com – cheap used copies for actors prepping for a role or for screenwriters doing research, very specific editions for use in films, and also rare items because there are many book collectors inside the movie business.

What Are Librarians Reading?

When it comes to voracious readers, we know no better example than librarians. These are the people steeped in the day-to-day curating, maintenance and knowledge of the collections in the stacks of our local libraries. We couldn’t help but wonder – when immersed in endless books day after day, how do you choose what to read?

We asked 10 librarians what books they were currently reading. Their eclectic selections ranged from a thriller set in a home furnishing store (IKEA Noir?) to Thomas Hardy and one of the Monty Python stars and far beyond. Let’s discover what the experts on reading are reading.

What Are Librarians Reading?

The Most Expensive Book Ever Sold On AbeBooks


It’s been an exciting couple of weeks at AbeBooks. We’ve been in operation since 1996, and in that nearly two-decade history, the two most expensive sales ever placed on the web site both hovered around the $65,000 mark – one was a 1937 first edition copy of Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and one was a 1644 copy of Areopagitica, John Milton’s treatise on the importance of feedom of the press.

Those records were obliterated – tripled in fact – by the recent sale of a rare ornithology (study of birds) book on AbeBooks, which sold for $191,000. The 1765 Italian title can be summed up as A Natural History of Birds and is full of gorgeous, detailed art, sourced in an unusual fashion:

“The book’s artwork was drawn and etched by Violante Vanni and Lorenzo Lorenzi, while the text was penned by Saverio Manetti – an Italian physician, ornithologist, and director of the botanical garden in Florence from 1749 to 1782. The artwork was created using dead specimens from an Italian nobleman’s ornithology collection as models, and the birds are displayed in rather dramatic, eye-catching poses. Some consider the book to be a commentary on 18th-century Italian high society because the bird poses are almost human.”

You can see a slideshow of some of that art, as well as learn more about the book, here.

Go Set a Watchman, A New Book From…. Harper Lee!

Five years ago we put together a feature called “To Kill A Mockingbird and Other Literary One-Hit Wonders“. As it had been 50 years since the publication of her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, and Lee, in her 80s, seemed to want nothing more than for people to stop badgering her, we felt it was a safe assertion.

Happily, wonderfully, delightfully, we were wrong, and if it weren’t for the fact that it is February 3rd, and not April 1st, I wouldn’t believe it. News reports this morning are all in agreement – Harper Lee is publishing a new book. The novel, titled Go Set a Watchman, was actually completed in the mid-1950s, and while it will be Lee’s second book, and will act as a sequel to Mockingbird, it was in fact completed first. The book is about an adult woman named Jean Louise, who has left her home in New York to return to her childhood home of Maycomb, Alabama to see her father. Lee’s editor read the story, 60 years ago, and convinced her to write a prequel about the childhood of the character. That book became Mockingbird, and Go Set a Watchman was forgotten. Lee herself was unaware that any copies of the manuscript had survived.

While Lee, now 88 and very private, is unlikely to do much publicity to promote the book, something tell me it will also not be necessary – the book is being published in its original state, as Lee wrote it, with no revisions – and the initial print run will be two million copies.

Go Set a Watchman is due for publication in the U.S. on July 14th by HarperCollins.

Madonna’s heartbroken after losing to a book on military incompetence in latest BookFinder report

Madonna's not happy

As you can see, Madonna is absolutely heartbroken after her Sex book fell to third place in the latest BookFinder.com report on the most searched for out-of-print books. The popstar was beaten by On the Psychology of Military Incompetence by Norman F Dixon and Lovely Reed: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Building Bamboo Fly by Jack Howell.

Read the report.

Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson: A Computer-Generated Cookbook

This is fascinating to me as a food lover, a tech employee and member of the book industry. Jeopardy devotees may remember the 2011 episodes in which Watson – IBM’s famed cognitive computing system – was pitted against human contenders on the trivia show. Brad Rutter, who first appeared on Jeopardy in 2000 and is now the all-time highest money-winner on the show, and Ken Jennings, who holds the title for longest run of wins on Jeopardy (74 days) both lost to Watson, all three times they played.

Now, Watson is being used to enhance the lives of humans, rather than just crushing their hopes and dreams: Watson is putting out its very own cookbook – Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson, set for release in April, from Sourcebooks.

In a creative attempt to break free of culinary ruts and open the minds of chefs to new flavor combinations, project members at IBM trained Watson, by inputting tens of thousands of recipes, flavor profiles, chemical composition of foods, complementary ingredients and the like, and Watson “learned”.

The computer then used three different metrics to analyse ingredients, rating them for surprise (suggesting ingredients which are rarely found together), pleasantness (“researchers have carried out studies on the flavours that give people pleasure at a molecular level,” says the book), and synergy (“studies indicate that foods sharing common chemical flavour compounds taste good together”).

“The system essentially worked as follows: the cook enters some basic elements that serve as a foundation for a dish, which Watson then processes using an extensive database of recipes, cultural studies, and chemical flavour composition, all of which results in an ‘output’ of ingredient lists that Watson finds interesting on scales of pleasantness, surprise, and flavour pairing,” said Michael Laiskonis, Institute of Culinary Education creative director.

The result is often surprising, sometimes strange, but usually delicious, using different criteria for combinations than a human might, and without our expectations and limitations. Some of the most successful recipes Watson has invented so far include Creole Shrimp-Lamb Dumplings, Peruvian Potato Poutine, and an Austrian Chocolate Burrito.

Three of my favorite things (books, food and technology) embodying two of my favorite adjectives (weird and delicious). I’m in!

via The Guardian

A Handbook on Hanging by Charles Duff

handbook-hanging-charles-duffIf you’re in the mood for some scathing, dark and wickedly barbed satire, look no further – A Handbook on Hanging by Charles Duff will fit the bill nicely. First published in 1928, this slim volume is a withering condemnation of capital punishment and the bloodthirsty nation that condones the practice, disguised as a helpful how-to manual. Its full title is A Handbook on Hanging: Being a short introduction to the fine art of Execution, and containing much useful information on Neckbreaking, Throttling, Strangling, Asphyxiation, Decapitation and Electrocution; as well as Data and Wrinkles for Hangmen, an account of the late Mr. Berry’s method of Killing and his working list of Drops; to which is added a Hangman’s Ready Reckoner and Certain Other Items of Interest, All Very Proper to Be Read and Kept in Every Family

A member of the European AbeBooks office, Charlotte, came across the book on her recent visit to the Ludwigsburg Antiquarian Book Fair in Germany.


The book has been compared to Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal by nearly everyone who has come in contact with it, and it’s no wonder. Swift’s 18th-century acerbic essay outlining his plan to alleviate Irish poverty by eating spare Irish babies (thus securing a food source while effectively reducing mouths to feed) is one of the most famous pieces of satire in existence. And following in its footsteps, Duff’s book uses the deadpan, total embrace of a hideous subject to elucidate its point. Written as a tribute to the art of hanging (and other means of execution), backed up with genuine facts and statistics, it masterfully forces the reader to see the grotesque, brutal hypocrisy inherent in the practice. Even while much attention is paid to the humor of the writing, there is no pulling punches, and consequently no denying the absolute horror involved in execution. The guide is quite thorough, with Duff covering everything from cases of bungled hanging, to executions of innocent men, to the dying (ha!) art of hanging.

In some passages, he writes wistfully about the depreciation of the ceremony and artistry of execution, lamenting its inability to achieve its fair recognition:

In the United Kingdom there is an average of about 150 cases of murder known to the police every year. Of these only ninety on an average are proceeded against, and in only about twenty-five are there actual convictions for murder. We execute a mere baker’s dozen of human beings every year. It will be seen from this that, unless the emoluments of the English hangman were very high or at all events brought with them very substantial perquisites, our public executioner could never hope merely by virtue of his office to become a rich man. Although this may be in the best tradition of the Government Service, you will agree that it is deplorable. And it is all the more deplorable when we compare the delicate art of the hangman with that of the ‘electrocutioner’ or the guillotiner, or the garrotter of other countries less civilized than ourselves.

What skill is required to turn a switch? What skill is required to twist a garrote? What skill is required to decapitate with the aid of an elaborate engine? I do not include in the same category as these three the German method of beheading with a sword. Thank Heaven there is still some art — or rather science — remaining on the Continent of Europe. The Germans go even further than we do in recognition of their science, for their executioner performs his ceremony in full evening dress, like a violinist playing a symphony to an enraptured audience at the Wigmore Hall; like Smeterlin playing Szymanowski; or any other virtuoso appearing at a public function. Our hangman performs in a lounge suit; or, for all I know, in plus fours. He certainly does not function either in evening dress or even a smoking jacket, though in Scotland he has before now worked in kilts. This shows how casually we English treat the business.

Charles Duff (1894-1966) was an English naval officer and linguist, by and large. A Handbook on Hanging was only one of nearly two dozen books he wrote, but the subject matter of the others stuck to more straightforward fare, chiefly language studies and travel guides. He was passionately anti-fascist, a fact which led him to resign from the Foreign Office in the 1930s, less than a decade after publishing A Handbook on Hanging.

The New York Review of Books issued a reprinting in 2001 with a foreword by Christopher Hitchens, fittingly enough. All in all, the book remains somewhat obscure, but has garnered a devoted cult following and has been reprinted many times, as recently as 2011.