James H. Billington (1929-2018): A Remembrance

“If we didn’t already have libraries, they would now have to be invented. They are the keys to American success in fully exploiting the information highways of the future,” wrote James H. Billington in the winter 1994 issue of Media Strategies Journal. At the time, the thirteenth Librarian of Congress was reminding a nation enthralled with the nascence of the internet that libraries would be as important as ever in the electronic age, as preservation repositories, testing grounds for experiments in digitization, and strongholds where anyone could freely access humankind’s various written efforts.
Billington wasn’t just offering his opinion; he was engaged in what would become a battle to preserve the mission of the Library of Congress (LOC).
In 1995, a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggested, in an effort to streamline operations at the LOC, that the library’s $350 million annual operating budget be slashed to practically nothing and turn its focus to “increasing revenue” (whatever that means) rather than building and sustaining the country’s knowledge hub. Luckily, Congress committee members charged with reviewing the document rejected the plan. As Billington noted in Patience & Fortitude (Basbanes, 2001), the attempt to undermine the LOC’s mission was hardly noticed by the national media. “The Messiah could make a personal appearance in the main reading room, and the chances are fifty-fifty that it would get any attention from the press,” he said. But the GAO’s report, if acted upon, would have had serious consequences for the future of America’s library, and Billington “went after it tooth and nail….because it was a cautionary issue of no small significance.”
Indeed, what was at stake, as the career humanist realized, was whether the world’s largest library–charged with, as he put it, “stockpiling information”–could continue to ensure that anyone could browse the LOC’s unique treasures.

 

And yet, Billington did not shy away from the new digital medium. In fact, he embraced what this technology could offer. During his tenure from 1987 to 2015, Billington oversaw great change at the LOC, ushering in dozens of free digital initiatives like the online American culture resource for K-12 education now known as the National Digital Library; thomas.gov, a free portal to U.S. federal legislative information; National Jukebox, which provides free access to over 10,000 out-of-print music and spoken word recordings; and a digital talking books app. He also established programs like the National Book Festival and the Veterans History Project.
And though cost-cutting was often on the wish-list of many political agendas, over the years, Billington raised over half a billion dollars to supplement Congressional financial support no matter who was in office.
Billington faced the future of book culture with steely-eyed awareness and an understanding that far surpassed many contemporaries. He welcomed the Internet age as a liberation of physical books from the cumbersome task of storing facts and figures. “With the move to electronic formats, what I believe you will now see is that books containing data will be online, and the serious kind of traditional literature that has always been in book form will continue to appear in book form. The book, in my view, will be freed from a very heavy burden that it has to bear all these years,” he explained in Patience & Fortitude. “It will be allowed to flourish anew.”

Biopic on Pippi Longstocking Creator in Theaters Now

Astrid Lindgren gets the silver screen treatment in a new film that explores a child forced to grow up all too soon.

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  Who among us hasn’t heard of Pippi Longstocking, a nine-year-old Swedish orphan of prodigious strength and fortitude whose adventures result in all sorts of well-intentioned mischief and fun? Unfortunately for English readers, translations of Astrid Lindgren’s (1907-2002) Pippi Longstocking series read a bit clumsily, but the protagonist still charms with steadfast outspokenness against bullies of all sorts. No matter what, Pippi and other characters from Lindgren’s vast cast of characters are always resolutely on the side of children.

 


Now comes a film biopic that traces Lindgren’s formative years as a clever girl with a gift for storytelling but whose childhood is cut abruptly short by an unplanned pregnancy. Becoming Astrid, directed and co-written by Pernille Fischer Christensen (A Soap; Someone You Love) offers a captivating examination of the events of Lindgren’s childhood that fueled Lindgren’s eventual rise to fame. Starring a masterful Alba August as the young Astrid, the 123-minute film is a nuanced look at a girl who must grow up all too soon and face life as an unwed mother largely on her own. Though Lindgren’s situation is as old as human history, how she deals with it is mesmerizing.


And yet, as good as Becoming Astrid is, it leaves much on the table. After refusing to marry the older newspaper editor who impregnated her, Lindgren heads to Stockholm where she learns stenography while waiting to give birth. The baby boy is sent to a foster mother in Denmark while she finds her footing and regains her family’s acceptance.


And then the film ends. Concluding director’s notes say that Lindgren eventually married her work supervisor, Sture Lindgren, and went on to write the books that made her an international sensation. It’s a pity the film ends where it does because it leaves so many questions left unanswered, such as: When did Lindgren transition from oral storytelling to putting pen to paper? How did she land her first book deal? Additionally, the film suggests nothing of Lindgren’s lifelong devotion to fighting for various causes like banning seal hunting, ending child pornography, and championing equality for the downtrodden and forgotten.


Becoming Astrid offers a tantalizing glimpse of an inspirational woman and provides, in part, an explanation for why Lindgren’s stories are full of abandoned, parentless children. And though the film is not a full biographic treatment, it is still very much  worth watching as it ignites a desire to know more about the subject. In fact, a recently published biography by Jens Anderson entitled Astrid Lindgren: The Woman Behind Pippi Longstocking (Yale University Press) fills in those gaps.


In the final analysis, like her characters, Lindgren was a child forced to take care of herself but didn’t have the right tools to do so. She made mistakes, learned from them, and despite it all, grew up strong, which is certainly what we all hope for our children.


Becoming Astrid opened in New York on November 23rd at the Film Forum  followed by a national roll out. Watch the trailer here.   Image courtesy of Music Box Films

Children’s Books that Explore the Worlds Around Us

Worlds collide in this trio of exciting new children’s books that explore realms near and far and that are sure to entertain any intrepid adventurers. 

A Story Like the Wind, by Gill Lewis, illustrated by Jo Weaver; Eerdmans, $16.00, 80 pages, ages 9 and up.

Anyone who can get through this book without tearing up must have a heart of stone. Award-winning author Gill Lewis’s tale of channeling hope despite facing an uncertain future starts in a rudderless boat bobbing about in a vast ocean carrying refugees away from war. As the situation seems to take a turn for the worse, the passengers begin to talk about the lives they left behind. Young Rami only had time to grab his violin before fleeing and shares a musical story about a white stallion unwilling to bend to an evil overlord. The creature pays a heavy price for its actions, but in turn inspires hope that the struggle is worth the pain. Kate Greenaway award finalist Jo Weaver’s inky-toned illustrations are an evocative and powerful match for the stirring prose. A beautiful and heart-wrenching celebration of love, kindness, and freedom for all. 

The King of Nothing, by Guridi, translated from Spanish by Saul Endor; The New York Review of Children’s Books; $16.95, 32 pages, ages 2-6.

Originally published in 2013 in Spanish, the English translation of Guridi’s book offers a wry look at different ways of welding power.  Here, we meet Mimo the First as he rules over his domain of nothingness–perfectly outlined by dash marks throughout the book–and maintains law and order with unprecedented tenacity. All is right until one day when Mimo is confronted by something and goes on the offensive to eradicate this unwelcome interloper. But this intruder is stubborn, too, and the little king is faced with some unpleasant choices. Will there be war or compromise? 

A caveat, please: parents will make this book immensely more enjoyable if they can refrain from political commentary while reading with their children. To be sure, for some adults, the temptation to editorialize does exist here. Instead, delight in this absurd and whimsical examination of the power of the human imagination and leave politics out of it. 

Image reproduced with permission of NYRCB. copyright 2013 Guridi.

Image reproduced with permission of NYRCB. copyright 2013 Guridi.

The Boy Who Went to Mars, by Simon James; Candlewick Press, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 2-6.

Award-winning children’s book creator Simon James is back with a story reveling in the joys of active imaginations. Young Stanley is taken by surprise when his mother leaves on an overnight work trip and decides that he, too, must take a trip. Except that Stanley flies off to Mars, and his spaceship returns to Earth carrying a slightly petulant little martian. And this extra-terrestrial doesn’t like to play by earthling rules: no hand washing, no vegetables, and certainly no tooth brushing. An altercation between the martian and a playmate leads to an emotional internal reckoning, leaving the boy/martian to figure out how to make things right. James’s pen and watercolor illustrations capture both the boundless pleasures of imaginative play and the unequivocal love of strong family bonds. 

Alleged Ponzi Scheme Treasures Head to Auction in Paris

Another tale from the underbelly of the book world sees the light of day. On Monday, November 19, at 4pm, French auction house Artcurial will be hosting a sale of science material being dispersed from Aristophil, a fund ostensibly founded in 1990 by French insurance salesman-turned-manuscript dealer Gérard Lhéritier to invest in rare books and manuscripts. Aristophil closed shop in 2014 after authorities discovered evidence that Lhéritier was running a Ponzi scheme that fleeced 18,000 investors of roughly one billion dollars. (Esquire ran this fascinating in-depth piece on the man, his career, and how the plan unraveled.) Lhéritier was indicted for fraud and money laundering, among other charges, and awaits a court date. Now the treasures of Aristophil are being auctioned off. 

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Next week’s sale is the thirteenth of the Aristophil archives (apparantly, worries that these items are co-owned by investors in a hedge fund are no longer so burdensome), and the first to tackle the fund’s scientific materials. Items on the block are nothing short of breathtaking: a 1610 copy of Galileo’s Sidereus nuncius (est. $18,000 to $30,000), a first edition of Darwin’s Origin of the Species (est. $15,000 to $28,000), and even mathematician Charles de Bovelles’ 1510 Géométrie en francoys, of which only three other copies of this edition are known to exist, with pre-sale estimates ranging upwards of $55,000.


Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Emilie du Châtelet, René Descartes, the A-listers of the scientific community are all well represented here and will no doubt make for an interesting auction. 


See the whole science catalogue here.

Image: Sidereus nuncius, by Galileo Galelei, 1610. Reproduced with permission of Artcurial. 

Change Comes to New Haven’s Antiquarian Book Scene

 

“I am eternally grateful that in the summer of 2000 Bill Reese offered me the opportunity to become an associate at the William Reese Company,” Aretakis said recently. “Over the next fourteen years, I learned from Bill every day. I am proud of the business I built over the past four and a half years [in California], and during that time I learned new skills as I developed a business on my own. I bring these skills, as well as all that I learned from Bill Reese, with me as I return to the Reese Company.”
Aretakis’s official start date was November 1, and he will be manning the Reese booth at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair November 16-18.
“I am excited to be part of the team that will guide the William Reese Company into the future,” Aretakis said, “and continuing on in Bill’s tradition and adapting to the ever-changing environment of antiquarian bookselling.”
Meanwhile, longtime Reese associates Teri Osborn (a FB&C “Bright Young Bookseller” in 2011) and James McBride (a 2017 BYB) recently launched McBride Rare Books, also in New Haven.
“This certainly is an interesting and exciting time for us,” said McBride and Osborn. “Together, we have a combined experience of nearly two decades in rare books, including academia, librarianship, and the trade. With McBride Rare Books, we look forward to continuing our roles as trusted and valuable members of the antiquarian book trade, working closely with our clients and colleagues.” As they did at Reese, the pair plan to continue focusing on Americana and are making their inaugural appearance as freshly minted bookstore owners at the Boston Book, Print, and Ephemera show on November 17. “It’s a consistently great fair, and we’re very much looking forward to exhibiting.” And though McBride and Osborn have chosen to hang their shingle in New Haven for now, they plan to move to New York City in spring 2019.
As for thoughts concerning Aretakis’s move to Reese: “Nick will be a much-needed steady hand at the tiller,” team McBride said, “and we have no doubt that he will carry the business forward in the finest traditions of the firm.”

 

Many heartfelt congratulations to all in what appears to be a bright new chapter in the field of antiquarian bookselling.

Ephemera Dealer Peter Luke Knows What You Want, Even if You Don’t–Yet

Peter Luke knows what you want, even if you don’t know what you want—yet. As a familiar face at the Book and Paper Fairs for almost three decades, the dealer specializing in Americana and ephemera can usually be found in a large room at the fair that he’s crammed with all sorts of treasures selected specifically for his waiting customers.

Read the whole story at the Book & Paper Fair blog!

 

Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards – The Fine Books Blog

Source: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards – The Fine Books Blog

Image: Floyd Cooper, Illustration for The Blacker the Berry by Joyce Carol Thomas (HarperCollins). Courtesy of NCCIL. © 2008 Floyd Cooper.