Cruel April: Poems from the Pandemic

“Where were you during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020,” will become a common query of us by generations to come. Some of us will respond with poetry–there’s been plenty of time to write, and America’s poets have answered Covid-19 with verse. Notably among them is Daniel Mark Epstein, who recently launched a series of sonnets created during the early days of the shelter-in-place order.

Dubbed “Cruel April: Poems from the Pandemic,” Epstein’s suite of ten sonnets explore the world as it has become, and our roles in it. “They are part of a larger sequence of sonnets that explore the themes of isolation, danger, and the strangeness of our new reality,” Epstein explains. “The themes include the anguish of loved ones being separated, the dangers of the virus to young and old alike, and the healing power of love.”

Though believed to have been originally conceived as a form to be read silently, the sonnet’s intrinsic musicality of fourteen lines of rhymed iambic pentameter lend itself to being shared aloud, and as such, Epstein, whose own accolades include National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim fellowships, tapped stars of the screen and stage to record themselves reading the poems: Emmy award-winning actors Tyne Daly and Paul Hecht, voice over narrator Jennifer Van Dyck, and screen legend Harris Yulin provided their voices, while visuals created at the Tivoli Arts Gallery in New York accompany the readings. As such, the series of poems is very much a multi-sensory endeavor.

Pestilence as poetic inspiration is hardly new–the Illiad opens with Apollo punishing the Greeks with nine-day plague, while the protagonists of Boccacio’s Decameron flee a disease-riddled Florence–and even now, Knopf has already published a volume of poetry created during the pandemic. “Cruel April,” meanwhile, is not a commercial enterprise–the poems are freely available online–and are intended to inspire and rally viewers to the notion that, despite our struggles with calamity and death, we can persevere, united and strong.

photo credit: Sarah Longaker

Covid PSA from the Princess in Black

Having a hard time explaining the new normal to your youngsters? Striking the right balance between informative without causing panic is essential, and Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and LeUyen Pham–the children’s book trio behind the bestselling The Princess in Black series–recently completed a child-friendly coronoavirus public service announcement to help make that task a little easier.

Created in accordance with Center for Disease Control guidelines as of April 8, 2020 and published by Candlewick Press, the free eight-page booklet is a “call to heroes” to join the intrepid problem solver, the Princess in Black, and do their part to slow the spread.princess2

All three creators have children at home and face many of the same quarantine-related issues as other parents:  “LeUyen, Dean, and I are all parents self-isolating at home with our children,” said Shannon Hale. “The anxiety and distancing is hard enough on our older kids, but we know that younger kids might be having an even harder time. We hoped that it’d help if a familiar book friend like the Princess in Black talked them through it. Even the Princess in Black is staying home! Even Princess Sneezewort had to cancel playdates! LeUyen had the idea of creating a short comic to download and share widely so caregivers could have an extra tool for talking to kids. Our goal is both to help kids understand what’s going on and to help them feel less alone.”

The Princess in Black and the Case of the Coronavirus is available for download here https://www.princessinblack.com/ and is attached here: pib-coronavirus

Tomie dePaola Dead at 85

Sad news out of New Hampshire: on Monday, beloved children’s book author and illustrator Tomie dePaola died at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center due to complications following surgery for head injuries sustained from a fall in his barn last week.

Born in Meriden, Connecticut, dePaola delighted generations of children with his tales of kindly and cheerful characters such as the beloved titular witch in dePaola’s Caldecott Honor-winning Strega Nona: An Old Tale (Prentice-Hall, 1975). Over 15 million copies of dePaola’s 270 + books have been sold worldwide and translated into twenty languages. 

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In a statement, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu praised dePaola as “a man who brought a smile to thousands of Granite State children who read his books, cherishing them for their brilliant illustrations.” An outpouring of remembrances from authors and illustrators are popping up across social networks as well.

 

 

Exhibitors at New York Antiquarian Book Fair Test Positive for COVID-19

Word spread yesterday via electronic listservs frequented by rare book dealers, collectors, and librarians that a New York International Antiquarian Book Fair exhibitor tested positive for the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The NYIABF was held March 5-8, just as the virus began appearing in the city. As expected, the news caused a flurry of anxious replies to the thread. In response, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America released this statement:

 

“We have no authority to reveal the identity of the individual … diagnosed in their home country yesterday, 11 days after being at the fair. An officer of the ABAA contacted a state Department of Infectious Disease who has confirmed that given our exposure to all of those at the NYIABF and surrounding activities, the most important thing for people to be doing at this time is to continue social distancing, monitor your individual health and if you have concerns about your personal health contact your health care provider or physician.”

 

Then, this morning, we heard from the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers that more exhibitors were affected and have given permission to share their status, including Pom Harrington of London’s Peter Harrington and ILAB’s secretary, Angelika Elstner, who is based in South Africa. Harrington said in a statement, “Angelika and I both returned from New York sick as did Adrian Harrington, Alicia Bardon, Dan Whitmore, and James Cummins, Jr. I know there are others poorly. Angelika fortunately managed to get tested in Cape Town which is better than the rest of us, and had a positive result. It is reasonable to assume the rest of us here are also positive for Coronavirus. We are all recovering well and some are recovered already. To everyone else, if you have symptoms you must isolate yourself.”

 

As for the delay in relaying this information, ILAB president Sally Burdon emphasized the “as soon as Angelika’s test was returned positive no time was wasted in letting both the ABAA and ILAB know. Angelika tried to get tested immediately on her return but her doctor told her she did not have COVID-19 but to stay at home and rest. It was only because of a change in circumstances in South Africa where she lives that she was able to get a test and she went to get the test literally at the very first opportunity. My understanding is that others named were not able to get tested. Getting a test in many countries is not easy and in some countries not possible at all if you do not have extreme symptoms.”

 

Burdon continued, “I would like to thank Pom Harrington, Angelika Elstner and the others he named for coming forward in this way and hope that everyone will understand how very difficult this situation is and support them and all of our colleagues who are ill at this time. This is not something anyone would wish for. Pom’s email emphasises the international nature of the virus and while telling us that no one is immune it also reminds us we are all in this together and need to act accordingly. I also have also heard anecdotally that the Maastricht Fair also has had people return ill from it. As we all know this virus is prevalent.”

Pippi Longstocking Slated for Big Screen Return

 

Courtesy of Penguin Random House

 

Just in time to celebrate Pippi Longstocking’s 75th anniversary in 2020, French film company StudioCanal and Britain’s Heyday Films are partnering up to produce a new adaptation of Astrid Lindgren’s (1907-2002) beloved children’s book series starring a plucky, red-haired Swede named Pippi.

The most recent big-screen adaptation of the Pippi books was back in 1988. Unfortunately, The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking was a commercial flop, even though Lindgren’s books starting the World’s Strongest Girl have been translated into 77 languages with 65 million copies sold world-wide. Lindgren’s now famous tales evolved from bedtime stories told to her daughter Karin and are filled with adventure and excitement.

Perhaps this version will fare better than the 1988 film. Harry Potter and Paddington producer David Heyman will be at the helm this time around, and he has been working closely with Nils Nyman, Astrid Lindgren’s grandchild and CEO of Astrid Lindgren Films.

In a statement, Heyman said, “I am thrilled to collaborate with Thomas Gustafsson, Olle Nyman and their team at the Astrid Lindgren Company and our partners at Studiocanal on this film adaptation of the brilliant and timeless Pippi Longstocking. Pippi has endured and inspired families everywhere through her life force, strength of character and her irrepressible joie de vivre. Astrid Lindgren’s books have been translated around the globe for many years – a testament to her vision which we are determined to honor with a new film.”

No word yet on the film’s cast, crew, or release date.

Coincidentally, a new edition of the book, featuring the original illustrations by Ingrid Vang Nyman, is due out from Puffin Books in April.

Anne Bronte’s Long-Overlooked Novel Gets Folio Treatment

As the youngest Bronte sister, Anne (1820-1849) was hardly a wallflower, but she is perhaps the least known. In her twenty-nine years she managed to compose poetry and two novels before succumbing to pulmonary tuberculosis. Her last novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, published under the pseudonym Acton Bell, was an instant success and sent shockwaves through Victorian society. The story centers on Helen Graham, a recent arrival to Wildfell whose mysterious background intrigues fellow tenant Gilbart Markham. Contemporary readers were scandalized by Bronte’s descriptions of alcoholism, domestic violence, and her unvarnished views on motherhood. In the introduction to the second edition, Bronte minced no words on her goals for Wildfell: 

“When we have to do with vice and vicious characters, I maintain it is better to depict them as they really are than as they would wish to appear. To represent a bad thing in its least offensive light, is doubtless the most agreeable course for a writer of fiction to pursue; but is it the most honest, or the safest? Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? O Reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts–this whispering ‘Peace, peace’, when there is no peace, there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience.”

After her untimely death, Anne’s older sister Charlotte suppressed subsequent English editions of the novel, saying that it was not worthy of preservation and that Anne wasn’t in her right mind when she wrote Wildfell. The book was ultimately re-published in 1854, but was rife with errors and massive omissions, eventually earning the moniker of “the mutilated texts.”

To mark the 200th anniversary of Bronte’s birth, which was January 17th, the Folio Society has issued a new edition based on the first printing complete with edgy new illustrations by Valentina Catto and an introduction by Girl with a Pearl Earring author Tracy Chevalier. This edition of Wildfell Hall completes the Folio Society’s triptych of Bronte bestsellers, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

According to Chevalier, “Wildfell Hall is a different, wilder beast–perhaps too wild for its time.” Though radical and revolutionary for genteel 19th-century readers, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall will no doubt resonate with readers in 2020 and finally establish Anne Bronte as a literary equal to her sisters.

Book News 11/26

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Here’s a quick look at what’s happening in the book world:

  • Variety reports that digital book subscription service Scribd raised $58 million from venture capital firm Spectrum Equity. Scribd’s website attracts 100 million visitors a month and claims a million subscribers.

  • A copy of The Art of the Deal with Trump’s signature and the inscription “future president” went for $1500 at auction this week. Alexander Historical Auctions handled the sale of the first edition volume which was accompanied by a typed letter of provenance from the original recipient.

  • Abby Richter profiled author-illustrator duo Brad Meltzer and Chris Eliopoulos about their books and recently launched series on PBS

  • A beloved Montclair, NJ bookstore gets compared to Narnia in The New York Times.

  • Calling all California book collectors: there’s a prize waiting for you, but the deadline is nigh. Read the requirements here.

 

Calling All Young Book Collectors (Who Live in California)

California bibliophiles 35 and under: the Southern & Northern California Chapters of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America has announced its second annual Young Book Collector’s Prize for Golden State-based collectors. 

 

The first-place winner receives a gift certificate of $500 to spend at the 2020 California International Antiquarian Book Fair where the winner’s collection will be on display, a year’s membership to the Book Club of California, the Bibliographical Society of America, and a year’s subscription to both The Book Collector and Fine Books & Collections.

COURTESY OF MATTHEW WILLS

The inaugural first prize went to Matthew Wills of La Jolla, a PhD candidate in modern Chinese history at UC San Diego, whose collection centered on anti-Confucian propaganda during the founding years of the People’s Republic of China. “[As an] historian and bibliographer, I research the history of book publishing and propaganda in Chairman Mao’s China,” Wills said in a statement. “In particular, I study books that show the Communist state’s hostility to China’s Confucian traditions.” Will’s winning collection totaled over 700 items, with editions in different languages including Braille, and comic books. Nate Pedersen interviewed Wills for FB&C on the eve of his win last February.

Submissions must be received by December 1, 2019. More details are at the California Book Fair website.

“On Paper” Gets a Makeover

After the 2013 publication of Nick Basbanes’s On Paper, book artist Tim Elycalled the author and requested the unbound sheets of the book, just as they appeared off the press. Basbanes’s editor kindly obliged, and off On Paperwent to Washington State to Ely’s art studio where he forges one-of-a-kind, handmade books that have been compared to illuminated manuscripts for their impeccable detail and expression. Photo credit: Nick Basbanes

Basbanes didn’t hear from Ely for five and a half years, but, considering that Ely’s work is found in private collections as well as the Library of Congress, Yale University, Smith College, The Victoria and Albert Museum, the Lilly Library, and the Boston Athenaeum, there was hardly any rush. Then, earlier this spring, the artist sent Basbanes a note saying the book was ready, and had it shipped to Massachusetts under the most careful of conditions.

Unwrapped, Basbanes came face-to-face with his book, now clad in a creamy off-white clamshell box with marbled borders. The book itself is now bound with strips of handmade Japanese paper, papyrus strips, and leather. Peppering the front and back boards are Ely’s own glyphs–symbols the artist calls “cribform” that take on different meanings depending on their placement and the tool used to create them. It is, said Basbanes, “a most exquisite piece of art.”

 

Ely, who had been doing what he called “a slow deep read of On Paper,” set himself a goal to “require every self-proclaimed book artist to read it and know it,” likening the use of paper to the “idea of drawing as a major expression,” finding inspiration in using paper as “a medium for telepathy.”

Spine of "On Paper." Photo credit: Nick Basbanes

“Beyond deep reading, I have found that the best way to become informed about an event or gather a bit of enlightenment is to make an expressive book,” Ely said a few years back. Indeed, his work is a kind of bookmaking alchemy, fusing the ancient art of monastic manuscript binding with contemporary expression.

PHOTO CREDITS: NICK BASBANES

Miniature Books at Grolier Club put on a Mighty Show

This story appeared on the Fine Books Blog Friday, March 8, 2019

Though the barometer may suggest otherwise, one of the telltale signs of spring in New York is the annual arrival of Rare Book Week, going on now through March 12. Besides the various pearls for sale among the well-stocked stacks at the three book and ephemera fairs, holding court around Manhattan are a slew of shows and exhibitions dedicated to celebrating the people and things of the book world. One that serious bibliophiles should not miss is the Grolier Club’s exhibition of Pat Pistner’s miniature bindings and books, now on view in the second floor gallery.

 

 

The 275-item installation–a misleading number, given that some items, like the 42-volume set of Sherlock Holmes mysteries is counted as one piece–spans the history of texts written on a diminutive scale. A miniature Babylonian cuneiform tablet accounting “plucked” sheep dating from approximately 2340 BCE shares space with sumptuous illuminated Books of Hours and contemporary artists’ books by Timothy Ely and Nancy Gifford. From an archive that currently includes 4,000 items, the Naples, Florida-based bibliophile whittled down her selections to those she said best represented the considerable historical scope of her collection.
“Collecting is so personal,” Pistner told a group during a Wednesday lunchtime tour of the exhibition, which she led along with co-curator Jan Storm van Leeuwen. “Some people focus on one element, but I’ve chosen to take a much broader view, with the goal of collecting the best possible examples of miniature bindings from across history.”
Out of so many tiny treasures bound in gold, silver, and other precious elements, can Pistner possibly have a favorite? “I love all of them, but these are perhaps my most prized,” she said, gesturing to a case containing 16th-century miniatures from France and Italy. She graciously posed for a photograph holding up a liturgical miniature called the Enchiridion p[re] clare ecclesie Sarum, a 1528 tome hailing from the collection of Charles Louis de Bourbon, Duke of Parma. The text dates to the 16th century, but the binding was by Pierre Marcellin Lortic, a 19th-century binder.

 

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Another, less dramatic (but no less significant) prize sits in a wall case in the hallway: a miniature printing of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Issued in 1862, the unassuming single-section pamphlet in tan paper is Lincoln’s preliminary proclamation freeing the slaves and the first printing in book form of the text. In a hurried effort to spread the word, 50,000 copies of this mini were distributed by Union soldiers to African Americans as they marched through the South. “Not many remain in existence,” Pistner explained. This one, like nearly every other item in the exhibition, is an exquisite example, all a reminder of the major role miniature books play in understanding the history of the written word.

 

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“A Matter of Size,” is on view now through May 19. Free lunchtime exhibition tours led by the curator will be held on April 24 at 1 pm and May 18 at 3 pm. No reservations necessary. The accompanying 476-page, fully-illustrated catalogue ($95, Oak Knoll) is a meticulously compiled resource that covers the breadth of Pistner’s collection as well as its place in the bibliosphere.


Images: Top two photos courtesy of the author; bottom, courtesy of Oak Knoll