The Hunt for Boswell

Just ordered a copy of Pride and Negligence: The History of the Boswell Papers (1982), which is the story of the finding and accumulation of the papers, letters, journals of James Boswell!


The introductory chapter of Peter Martin’s A Life of James Boswell is one of the most thrilling tales about manuscripts — from the letters that were used to enclose shopping purchases to the wrangle for more from the family. And here are 290 pages about the “Hunt for Boswell”. Can’t wait to receive it.


Comtesse de Boigne

In looking at the biography — too late into the 19th century to be the same lady — I had to look up the memoirs of a similarly-named lady. Ah, la Comtesse de Boigne was the Regency-era memoirist! Some of her books are available (free) online.


vol. I: 1781-1814 (US edition)

vol. II: 1815-1819 (US edition)

vol. III: 1820-1830 (US edition)

Recollections of a Great Lady; being More Memoirs

I have most of the series in its original publication, but several years ago there was a respectable reprint edition.

(all “boigne” books at

BookWatch: January 2014

Being a member of BIO – Biographers International Organization, we are treated every month to The Biographyer’s Craft, a newsletter all about biography, books, writers.

When I spotted that many of my “wish list books” came from just one perusal of the newsletter, it dawned that to cull it each month might yield some “hey! I forgot all about that book” and induce a re-look or two. I’ll work to also post them in the New & Exciting page. I hope anyone with comments will feel free to participate!

Elsewhere I have mentioned that wartime chronicles also catch my eye from time to time (WWI and WWII, especially the British homefront; also Holocaust chronicles). And that is where this first in the list falls.

NB: these books haven’t been seen, but their subject-matter makes them sound of interest.

Nicholas Shakespeare, Priscilla: The Hidden Life of an Englishwoman in Wartime France (HarperCollins)

Catherine Hewitt, Valtesse de la Bigne: A Courtesan’s Conquest of Paris (sold to Icon Books)


And one non-BIO book I anticipate with great relish: Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen’s Country Life (Francis Lincoln; not due out until June, 2014)

Can there more longer weekends, please?

Ah, two days just zoom by, don’t they? Well, they do when called “Saturday” and “Sunday”…

Yesterday, I was continuing my read through Book of Ages, about Jane and Benjamin Franklin. I’m maybe fifty pages from the end, and it is from this period that most of Jane Franklin Mecum’s letters exist. And today I’m picking up where I left off in Pride and Prejudice a couple of weeks ago. Elizabeth Bennet has just received and re-read Mr Darcy’s letter… a thrilling section of the novel.

So why stop to get online?

I did want to give a little heads-up to a couple of books that caught my attention lately. One seen in a local bookstore; and one I’ve just ordered from Canada (I reside in Vermont, very close to the border). Here in the northeast we’ve been rather immured in ice; even with a January thaw, the ice still retains its hold around my house. VERY slick yesterday.

But on to books.

The one which caught my eye at the bookstore yesterday, from its title alone, is

36 stampsA History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps, by Chris West. For my own purposes, I wish “postage stamps” were taken less literally: the book begins with the 1840 “PENNY BLACK”, which features the profile of Queen Victoria. The chapter is appropriately called “In the Beginning”.

Given its just due, the Penny Black inaugurates the reader into the postal system. It also, of course, tells the early tale of Victoria’s long reign.

Readers can take a look inside at Amazon.

Chris West on YouTube

* * *

And the book that I ordered?

pf_leeThe biography of writer Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life, by Hermoine Lee.

How I loved — when in the throes of my Germany/Austria mania — her The Blue Flower; then I found copies of books like The Bookshop and Offshore. Gotta love a woman who became a writer when in her 60s; there’s hope for me yet.

I may live near the border, but as far as books (and anything else) goes, Canada is a ‘foreign country’ and the US is an ‘international shipment’ destination; items cross the border so slowly.

I dipped into Lee’s biography of Virginia Woolf, which I believe was one of my last purchases at the lamented-no-longer-in-business Tuttle Books in Rutland (Vermont).

* * *

gorgeous nothingsI will mention here also another book that caught my eye, looking online over the last week or so:

Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings, by Jan Bervin and Marta Werner.

I wish I felt more affinity for Dickinson (poetry in general), for this book is about her writings scribbled on envelopes! a truly tactile book, filled with images (a full-color facsimile edition).

The New York Times‘s review
• fine essay on The Rumpus

* * *

I’ve also been asked to review Dark River Melody, when it’s available in a few months. So more about that later.

OverREADERS Anonymous?

Perusing HOUZZ yesterday, this article’s very title compelled me to read it:

not my books!

The story of “Not my Precious Books!” begins with a conversation:

“Years ago I was chatting with an acquaintance, and she referred to a weekly meeting she attended without naming it. I asked her what it was.

‘Overreaders Anonymous,’ she said.

I froze. I had no idea there was such a 12-step group, but if anyone was an overreader, I knew I was. And then my auditory memory caught up with my fervid imagination, and I realized she had actually said, ‘Overeaters,’ and I resumed breathing.”

Like author Alison Hodgson, reading is my drug of choice. I must say, in my defense, much that has been amassed over the years interests me still: favorite authors, authoritative texts on history, fascinating biographies. For the most part, my books ARE books that I cherish and dip into, and yes (sometimes) re-read.

But what of those “lesser” books, those piled and hidden out of sight; unwelcomed gifts; or really-wrong purchases. Why are those still in my house?!

Now, I don’t consider myself a HUGE hoarder of books. Probably because I know a couple of people far, far worse! One book-loving friend can – like Hodgson, once – count books in the thousands. She and her book-loving husband amassed a room’s worth on the third floor of their condo, and also had shelving in the dining room, living room, office, and probably places I’ve never even seen. Mine is a quite modest collection, in comparison. (My mother, who owns few books, would beg to differ, but that’s a whole other blog post.) And I wouldn’t give them up for the world. There IS no library nearby with the FULL 6-volumes of The Letters of Mrs Piozzi, for instance. Plus, I’ve painstakingly built up this set over the years to have it “complete”. I have several sets, some purposely bought because they were sold as a unit (not many such sales out there), others are in the act of being built up as volumes come on the used-book market. (A must-must-must-have: dust jackets!)

piozzi letters

So, Alison Hodgson’s list of “Reasons for Holding on to Books” resonates, especially “Reason No. 3“:

It was part of a set. If you are a book collector, you know what I’m talking about.”

Indeed, I do. There’s something about the completeness of a series published in two or four or ten volumes that grabs my attention when I see them on a shelf. I can think of at least two series where I found a “volume one” or “volume two” locally, and hunted for its “matching” companion online. Had I read the book from cover to cover? Possibly not… I just knew I’d want the “set”!

Or, one can take the word “set” loosely: an author pumping out several tomes in succession can also constitute a “set” in my opinion. Think “All Creatures Great and Small” –> you just gotta have ’em all!

But remember, I’ve those piles beside an upstairs chair; another pile beside a set of shelves (actually, I think that one became tall enough to be divided into two piles, side-by-side). Those books are not parts of sets; I don’t think many of them were gifts; quite a few were remaindered hardcovers (i.e., bargains too good to pass up); one has an author’s signature.

There are a few that sounded good… But here I must confess a story behind the keeping of those: On vacation, in Paris, a decade or more ago, I had brought along a book (as I always do) — I just could not get past the first couple of pages. A year or so later, I took the book off the shelf; this time I devoured it! A fabulous read, well-written, fantastically-researched. The history of a handful of letters that opened up the life-story of a 19th century Frenchwoman. (Post a comment, if you wish to know the title & author.)

So, among these books that I’ve hated… perhaps one really IS a jewel in the rough – and I was just missing that interest-of-the-moment which sparks the reader-to-book connection.

Or else it is just a dud, taking up space, collecting dust.

But: I remember a travel book, set in the 1950s or 1960s, that I picked up for a song at a local used bookstore. It was “o-kay”. Nothing more. Didn’t I see it later, in a catalogue that I used to love receiving in the mail because of the spotlight it put on books that the press sometimes reprinted. There was that same travelogue! Reprinted (i.e., in paperback; mine was the original hardcover printing), and selling for 1000% more. As I write, I relive the moment in my mind’s eye, when I dipped into the paperbag of discards and retrieved that book: if it was good enough to reprint decades later, perhaps it was a better book than I originally thought. (Confession No. 2: I’ve never cracked it open again…)

I have to chuckle over Hodgson’s Reason No. 2 for keeping books: Sentimentality. She, like me, has the first copy of Pride and Prejudice that she ever read. I remember its purchase well because I bought it after watching the 1980 BBC version, with Elizabeth Garvey and David Rintoul (still a favorite); one unwieldy volume with all the Jane Austen novels. Lovely drawings, like subtle silhouettes, herald the start of each novel. Who could part with such a treasure, even as I move on to the complete set (note that phrase!) of the Chapman edition of Jane Austen novels.

Alison Hodgson asks,

  • Do I love it?
  • Will I read it again?

To that I would add: “Would I be tempted to buy it again, not remembering that I read it already because I got rid of it?” If the answer to that question is “yes” – then save yourself some money, and pull the chair a little further from the wall (nice hiding place). Remember, too, that while it’s better to give than receive, you’ll possibly only receive a limp “buck” for that hardcover you paid full-price for. Far better to donate! Find a good cause.

To All Readers,
Best Wishes for a Book-filled 2014!