The National Emergency Library Makes 1.5 Million Books Free to Read Right Now

The coronavirus has closed libraries in countries all around the world. Or rather, it's closed physical libraries: each week of struggle against the epidemic that goes by, more resources for books open to the public on the internet. Most recently, we have the Internet Archive's opening of the National Emergency Library, "a collection of books that supports emergency remote teaching, research activities, independent scholarship, and intellectual stimulation while universities, schools, training centers, and libraries are closed." While the "national" in the name refers to the United States, where the Internet Archive operates, anyone in the world can read its nearly 1.5 million books, immediately and without waitlists, from now "through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later."

"Not to be sneezed at is the sheer pleasure of browsing through the titles," writes The New Yorker's Jill Lepore of the National Emergency Library, going on to mention such volumes as How to Succeed in Singing, Interesting Facts about How Spiders Live, and An Introduction to Kant’s Philosophy, as well as "Beckett on Proust, or Bloom on Proust, or just On Proust." A historian of America, Lepore finds herself reminded of the Council on Books in Wartime, "a collection of libraries, booksellers, and publishers, founded in 1942." On the premise that "books are useful, necessary, and indispensable," the council "picked over a thousand volumes, from Virginia Woolf’s The Years to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and sold the books, around six cents a copy, to the U.S. military." By practically giving away 120 million copies of such books, the project "created a nation of readers."




In fact, the Council on Books in Wartime created more than a nation of readers: the American "soldiers and sailors and Army nurses and anyone else in uniform" who received these books passed them along, or even left them behind in the far-flung places they'd been stationed. Haruki Murakami once told the Paris Review of his youth in Kobe, "a port city where many foreigners and sailors used to come and sell their paperbacks to the secondhand bookshops. I was poor, but I could buy paperbacks cheaply. I learned to read English from those books and that was so exciting." Seeing as Murakami himself later translated The Big Sleep into his native Japanese, it's certainly not impossible that an Armed Services Edition counted among his purchases back then.

Now, in translations into English and other languages as well, we can all read Murakami's work — novels like Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore, short-story collections like The Elephant Vanishes, and even the memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running — free at the National Emergency Library. The most popular books now available include everything from Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale to the Kama SutraDr. Seuss's ABC to Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (and its two sequels), Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart to, in disconcerting first place, Sylvia Browne's End of Days: Predictions and Prophecy About the End of the World. You'll even find, in the original French as well as English translation, Albert Camus' existential epidemic novel La Peste, or The Plague, featured earlier this month here on Open Culture. And if you'd rather not confront its subject matter at this particular moment, you'll find more than enough to take your mind elsewhere. Enter the National Emergency Library here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Americans Visited Libraries Almost Twice as Often as They Went to the Movies Last Year, a New Survey Shows

Image via Wikimedia Commons

One recurring story over the past year, covered by every major news outlet, asks whether streaming services are “killing” movie theaters (or if they are killing themselves). Another looks into the trend of binge-watching, and the effect of an entertainment ecosystem built on shows that seem to stream themselves. Given the ubiquity of this kind of coverage, we might be forgiven for suspecting that the U.S. is turning into a mass of passive home viewers transfixed by supernatural thrillers, dark comedies, reality TV, teen dramas, etc.….

This isn’t entirely the case.... While others tally up the number of eyeballs on variously-sized screens, veteran polling outfit Gallup spent part of December 2019 asking Americans around the country what they did when they went out. Among the nine activities they listed—including movies, concerts, sporting events, museums, zoos, and casinos—“visiting the library remains the most common cultural activity Americans engage in, by far,” averaging 10.5 visits per year, notes Justin McCarthy at Gallup News.




To put that “by far” into perspective, those polled reported, on average, going to the library almost twice as often as going to the movies, the second-place activity, over the past year. But as with all such polling data, we should not draw hasty conclusions without looking at specifics. Gallup breaks down the demographics by gender, age, income, region, and by households with and without children. Surprisingly, they found very little difference between the latter two groups’ reported library trips.

Among the other categories, we find that women reported going to libraries almost twice as often as men; that people between 18-29 report going over twice as often as those between 50-64—perhaps due to college assignments; and that low income households report going at much higher rates than those in higher brackets. “Cost seems to be a factor driving these trends,” writes Brigit Katz at Smithsonian. “Visiting the library is free, as are the variety of services libraries offer, including Wi-Fi.”

Indeed, “29 percent of library-going Americans over the age of 16 went to use computers, the internet or a public Wi-Fi network.” Libraries are places to gain access to cultural experiences that can be cost-prohibitive elsewhere: to take free classes and enjoy free movies, music, and, yes, books. The number of average visits has remained unchanged since a similar poll in 2001, “suggesting libraries are as popular now as they were at the turn of the millennium.” Trips to the movies, on the other hand, are down an average of 1.3 visits.

Make of the data what you will in the full breakdown at Gallup News. The telephone survey has a very small sample size—1,024 adults in all 50 states—which may not be at all representative of the whole. Nonetheless, McCarthy concludes that “despite the proliferation of digital-based activities over the past two decades… libraries have endured.” May they continue to do so, and to serve the needs of all Americans, especially those who might otherwise have little access to the kinds of knowledge, information, and culture that libraries steward.

via Smithsonian

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

The Library of Congress Wants You to Help Transcribe Walt Whitman’s Poems & Letters: Almost 4000 Unpublished Documents Are Waiting

Every once in a while, a prominent artist will offer the advice that you should quit your day job and never look back. In some fields, this may be possible, though it’s becoming increasingly difficult these days, which may explain the reception Brian Eno gets when he tells art school students “not to have a job.” Eno admits, “I rarely get asked back.” In a letter to his anxious mother, Gustave Flaubert, railed against “those bastard existences where you sell suet all day and write poetry at night.” Such a life, he wrote, was “made for mediocre minds.”

Sure, if you can swing it, by all means, quit your job. Most poets throughout history—save the few with independent means or wealthy patrons—haven’t had the luxury. Poetry may never pay the bills, but that shouldn’t stop a poet from writing. It didn’t stop T.S. Eliot, who worked as an editor (he rejected George Orwell’s Animal Farm) and a bank clerk (he turned down a fellowship from the Bloomsbury group). It did not stop William Carlos Williams, the doctor, nor Wallace Stevens, who spent his days in the insurance game, nor Charles Bukowski,  though he’d never recommend it….




Then there’s ultimate journeyman poet Walt Whitman, who left school at 11 to get a job and variously throughout his life “worked as a school teacher, printer, newspaper editor, journalist, carpenter, freelance writer, civil servant, and Union Army nurse in Washington D.C. during the Civil War,” as the Library of Congress (LOC) noted for the 200th anniversary of the poet’s 1819 birth. The LOC holds “the world’s largest Walt Whitman manuscript collection” and last year they announced a volunteer campaign to transcribe thousands of unpublished documents.

Whitman offered his own possibly dubious advice to aspiring writers—“don’t write poetry”—but he himself never stopped writing, no matter the demands of the day. He also advised, “it is a good plan for every young man or woman having literary aspirations to carry a pencil and a piece of paper and constantly jot down striking events in daily life. They thus acquire a vast fund of information.” Whitman’s “jottings” include typed and handwritten letters, original copies of poems, drafts of essays and reviews, and more.

His prose is always lively and robust, full of exhortations, exaltations, and admixtures of the high literary language and casual talk of city streets that were his hallmark. Witness the wild swings in tone in his brief letter to Abraham P. Leech (above) circa 1881:

Friend Leech,

How d'ye do? -- I have quite a hankering to hear from and see Jamaica, and the Jamaicaites. -- A pressure of business only, has prevented my coming out among the "friends of yore" and the familiar places which your village contains. --I was an hour in your village the other day, but did not have time to come up and see you,--I think of coming up in the course of the winter holidays.--Farewell--and don't forget write to me, through the P.O.  May your kind angel hover in the invisible air, and lose sight of your blessed presence never.

                  Whitman

There are many, many more such documents remaining to be transcribed among the close to 4000 in the LoC’s digitized Whitman collection. “More than half of those have been completed so far,” writes Mental Floss, and roughly 1860 transcriptions still need to be reviewed. Anyone can read the documents that need approval and officially add them to the Whitman archive.” This is a very worthy project, and it may or may not feel like work to volunteer your time deciphering, reading, and transcribing Whitman’s ebullient hand.

The question may still remain: How did Whitman acquire the physical and mental stamina to get so much excellent writing done and still hold down steady gigs to make the rent? Perhaps a series of guides called “Manly Health and Training" that he wrote between 1858 and 1860 hold a clue. The poet recommends routine trips to the “gymnasium” and a diet of meat, “to the exclusion of all else.” For those “students, clerks” and others “in sedentary and mental employments”—including the “literary man”—he has one word: “Up!”

As with all such pieces of advice, results may vary. Enter the two huge manuscript archives—“Miscellaneous” and “Poetry”—at the Library of Congress digital collections and peruse, or transcribe, as much of Whitman's endless stream of writing as you like.

via Mental Floss

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Smithsonian Puts 2.8 Million High-Res Images Online and Into the Public Domain

No matter how many public institutions you visit in a day—schools, libraries, museums, or the dreaded DMV—you may still feel like privatized services are closing in. And if you’re a fan of national parks and public lands, you’re keenly aware they’re at risk of being eaten up by developers and energy companies. The commons are shrinking, a tragic fact that is hardly inevitable but, as Matto Mildenberger argues at Scientific American, the result of some very narrow ideas.

But we can take heart that one store of common wealth has majorly expanded recently, and will continue to grow each year since January 1, 2019—Public Domain Day—when hundreds of thousands of works from 1923 became freely available, the first time that happened in 21 years. This year saw the release of thousands more works into the public domain from 1924, and so it will continue ad infinitum.

And now—as if that weren’t enough to keep us busy learning about, sharing, adapting, and repurposing the past into the future—the Smithsonian has released 2.8 million images into the public domain, making them searchable, shareable, and downloadable through the museum’s Open Access platform.




This huge release of “high resolution two- and three-dimensional images from across its collections,” notes Smithsonian Magazine, “is just the beginning. Throughout the rest of 2020, the Smithsonian will be rolling out another 200,000 or so images, with more to come as the Institution continues to digitize its collection of 155 million items and counting.”

There are those who would say that these images always belonged to the public as the holdings of a publicly-funded institution sometimes called “the nation’s attic.” It’s a fair point, but shouldn’t take away from the excitement of the news. “Smithsonian” as a conveniently singular moniker actually names “19 museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives, and the National Zoo," an enormous collection of art and historic artifacts.

That’s quite a lot to sift through, but if you don’t know what you’re looking for, the site’s highlights will direct you to one fascinating image after another, from Mohammad Ali’s 1973 headgear to the historic Elizabethan portrait of Pocahontas, to the collection box of the Rhode Island Anti-Slavery Society owned by William Lloyd Garrison’s family, to Walt Whitman in 1891, as photographed by the painter Thomas Eakins, to just about anything else you might imagine.

Enter the Smithsonian’s Open Access archive here and browse and search its millions of newly-public domain images, a massive collection that may help expand the definition of common knowledge.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The New York Public Library Creates a List of 125 Books That They Love

The New York Public Library sure knows how to celebrate a quasquicentennial. In honor of its own 125th anniversary, it's rolling out a number of treats for patrons, visitors, and those who must admire it from afar.

In addition to the expected author talks and live events, Patience and Fortitude, the iconic stone lions who flank the main branch's front steps, are displaying some reading material of their own—Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age classic The Great Gatsby, from 1925.

Donors who kick in $12.50 or more to help the library continue providing such public services as early literacy classes, free legal aid, and job training courses will be rewarded with a cheerful red sticker bearing the easy to love slogan "♥ reading."

The cover image of Ezra Jack Keats’ 1962 Caldecott Award-winning picture book The Snowy Day, which at 485,583 checkouts holds the title for most popular book in the circulating collection, graces special edition Library and MetroCards.

And a team of librarians drew up a list of 125 books from the last 125 years that inspire a lifelong love of reading.

The list is deliberately inclusive with regard to authors’ gender, race, and sexual orientation as well as literary genre. In addition to novels and non-fiction, you’ll find memoir, poetry, fantasy, graphic novels, science fiction, mystery, short stories, humor, and one children’s book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which the judges decided “transcends age categories.” (A similar list geared toward younger readers will be released later this year.)

The list was drawn from a pool containing anything published after May 23rd, 1895, the day attorney John Bigelow’s plan to combine the resources of the Astor and Lenox libraries and the Tilden Trustin into The New York Public Library was officially incorporated.

The selection criteria can be viewed here.

Obviously, the list—and any perceived omissions—will generate passionate debate amongst book lovers, a prospect the library relishes, though it's enlisted one of its most ardent supporters, author Neil Gaiman, whose American Gods made the final cut, to remind any disgruntled readers of the spirit in which the picks were made:

The New York Public Library has put together a list of 125 books that they love—the librarians and the people in the library. That's the criteria. You may not love them, but they do. And that's exciting. The thing that gets people reading is love. The thing that makes people pick up books they might not otherwise try, is love. It's personal recommendations, the kind that are truly meant. So here are 125 books that they love. And somewhere on this list you will find books you've never read, but have always meant to, or have never even heard of. There are 125 chances here to change your own life, or to change someone else's, curated by the people from one of the finest libraries in the world. Read with joy. Read with love. Read!

To really get the most out of the list, tune in to the NYPL’s The Librarian Is In podcast, which will be devoting an episode to one of the featured titles each month.

The current episode kicks things off with co-hosts Frank Collerius and Rhonda Evans’ favorites from the list:

Maus by Art Spiegelman

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Readers, have a look at the complete list of the New York Public Library’s 125 Books for Adult Readers, and leave us a comment to let us know what titles you wish had been included. Or better yet, tell us which as-yet unread title you're planning to read in honor of the New York Public Library's 125th year:

George Orwell, 1984

Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

W.H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety

Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton

Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

James Patterson, Along Came a Spider

Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Mary Oliver, American Primitive

Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None

Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

Sylvia Plath, Ariel

Ian McEwan, Atonement

Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red

Toni Morrison, Beloved

Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of the Vanities

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn

Joseph Heller, Catch-22

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

Claudia Rankine, Citizen

Stacy Schiff, Cleopatra

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

Langston Hughes, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes

Terry Pratchett, The Color of Magic

Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Walter Mosley, Devil in a Blue Dress

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City

Frank Herbert, Dune

Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

Alyssa Cole, An Extraordinary Union

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

J.R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season

Alison Bechdel, Fun Home

George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find

Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles

V.S. Naipaul, A House for Mr. Biswas

Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

Allen Ginsberg, Howl

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

Beverly Jenkins, Indigo

Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies

Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Gore Vidal, Julian

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club

Kate Atkinson, Life After Life

Tracy K. Smith, Life on Mars

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Art Spiegelman, Maus

David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day

John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children

Martin Amis: Money

Michael Lewis: Moneyball

Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend

J.D. Robb, Naked in Death

Richard Wright, Native Son

Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s Son

Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses

Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower

Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint

Graham Greene, The Quiet American

Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

Louise Erdrich, The Round House

Amor Towles, Rules of Civility

Alice Munro, Runaway

John Ashbery, Self-Portrarit in a Convex Mirror

Stephen King, The Shining

Annie Proulx, The Shipping News

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Nalini Singh, Slave to Sensation

Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues

John Cheever, The Stories of John Cheever

Albert Camus, The Stranger

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley

George Saunders, Tenth of December

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

Cixin Liu, The Three-Body Problem

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Denis Johnson, Train Dreams

Henry James, The Turn of the Screw

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

Joseph Mitchell, Up in the Old Hotel

Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen

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

Don DeLillo, White Noise

Zadie Smith, White Teeth

Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior

Via Lit Hub

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join Ayun’s company Theater of the Apes in New York City this March for her book-based variety series, Necromancers of the Public Domain, and the world premiere of Greg Kotis’ new musical, I AM NOBODY. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Free Coloring Books from World-Class Libraries & Museums: Download & Color Hundreds of Free Images

There are many roads to wellness. Meditation, yoga, exercise, and healthy diet are all effective therapies for bringing down stress levels. But we shouldn’t discount an activity we once used to while hours away as children, and that adults by the millions have taken to in recent years. Coloring takes us out of ourselves, say experts like Doctor of Psychiatry Scott M. Bea, “it's very much like a meditative exercise.” It relaxes our brain by focusing our attention and pushing distracting and disturbing thoughts to the margins. The low stakes make the activity easy and pleasurable, qualities grown-ups don’t get to ascribe to most of what they spend their time doing.

Reducing anxiety is all well and good, but some art and history lovers can’t accept just any old mass-market coloring book. Luckily, a consortium of over a hundred museums and libraries has given these special customers a reason to stick with it. Since 2016, the annual #ColorOurCollections campaign, led by the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM), has made available, for free, adult coloring books. The range of images offers something for everyone, from early modern illustrations like the cat at the top, from Edward Topsell’s Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes (1607)—courtesy of Trinity Hall Cambridge; to the poignant cover of The Suffragist, below, from July 1919, a month after U.S. women won the right to the vote (from the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens).

There are, unsurprisingly, copious illustrations of medical procedures and anatomy, like that below from the Library at the University of Barcelona. There are vintage advertisements, “canoe-heavy content” from a Canadian museum, as Katherine Wu reports at Smithsonian, and war posters like that further down of Admiral Chester Nimitz asking for “the stuff” to hit “the spot,” i.e. Tokyo –from the Pritzker Military Museum. “The only commonality shared by the thousands of prints and drawings available on the NYAM website is their black-and-white appearance: The pages otherwise span just about every taste and illustrative predilection a coloring connoisseur could conjure.”

One Twitter fan pointed out that the initiative provides “a great way to get to know some of the collections held in libraries around the world.” Their enthusiasm is catching. But note that few of the institutions (see full collection here) have uploaded a large quantity of colorable images. Most of the “coloring books” consist of only a handful of pages, some only one or two. Taken altogether, however, the combined strength of one hundred institutions, over four years (see previous years at the links below), adds up to many hundreds of pages of coloring fun and relaxation. If that’s your thing, start here. If you don’t know if it’s your thing, #ColorOurCollections is a free (minus the cost of printer ink and paper), educational way to find out. Grab those crayons, oil pastels, colored pencils, etc. and calm down again the way you did when you were six years old.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Evelyn Waugh’s “Victorian Blood Book”: A Most Strange & Macabre Illustrated Book

Most U.S. readers come to know Evelyn Waugh as the “serious” writer of the saga Brideshead Revisited (and inspirer of the 1981 miniseries adaptation). This was also the case in 1954, when Charles Rolo wrote in the pages of The Atlantic that the novel “sold many more copies in the United States than all of Waugh’s other books put together.” Yet “among the literary,” Waugh’s name evokes “a singular brand of comic genius… a riotously anarchic cosmos, in which only the outrageous can happen—and when it does happen is outrageously diverting.”

The comic Waugh’s imagination “runs to… appalling and macabre inventions,” incorporating a “lunatic logic.” The sources of that imagination now reside at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin, who hold Waugh’s manuscripts and 3,500-volume library.




The novelist, the Ransom Center notes, “was an inveterate collector of things Victorian (and well ahead of most of his contemporaries in this regard). Undoubtedly the single most curious object in the entire library is a large oblong folio decoupage book, often referred to as the ‘Victorian Blood Book.’”

Waugh deeply admired Victorian art, and especially “those nineteenth-century enemies of technology, the Pre-Raphaelites,” writes Rolo. Still, like us, he may have looked upon scrapbooks like these as bizarre and morbidly humorous, if also possessed by an unsettling beauty. (One 2008 catalogue described them as “weird” and “rather elegant but very scary.”) More than anything, they resemble the kind of thing a goth teenager raised on Monty Python and Emily Dickinson might put together in her bedroom late at night. Such an artist would be carrying on a long "cherished tradition."

“Victorian scrapbooking,” the Ransom Center writes, “was almost exclusively the province of women,” a way of organizing information, although “the esthetic aspect” could sometimes be “secondary.” The “Victorian Blood Book,” however, is the work of a paterfamilias named John Bingley Garland, “a prosperous Victorian businessman who moved to Newfoundland, went on to become speaker of its first Parliament, and returned to Stone Cottage in Dorset to end his days.”

Inscribed to Bingley's daughter Amy on September 1, 1854, the book seems to have been a wedding present, made with serious devotional intent:

How does one "read" such an enigmatic object? We understandably find elements of the grotesque and surreal. But our eyes view it differently from Victorian ones. As Garland's descendants have written, "our family doesn't refer to...'the Blood Book;' we refer to it as 'Amy's Gift' and in no way see it as anything other than a precious reminder of the love of family and Our Lord."

The "Blood Book"'s actual title appears to have been Durenstein!, which is the Austrian castle where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned. Assembled from hundreds of engravings, many by William Blake, it apparently depicts “the spiritual battles encountered by Christians along the path of life and the ‘blood’ to Christian sacrifice.” The "blood" is red India ink. The quotations surrounding each collage, according to the Garland family “are encouraging one to turn to God as our Saviour.”

One can imagine the “serious” Waugh looking on this strange object with almost reverential affection. He lapsed into a highly affected, reactionary nostalgia in his later period, announcing himself “two hundred years” behind the times. One contemporary declared, “He grows more old-fashioned every day.” But the savagely comic Waugh would not have been able to approach such a bizarre piece of folk collage art without an eye toward its use as material for his own “appalling and macabre inventions.”

See a full scanned copy of the "Victorian Blood Book," and download high-resolution images, online at the University of Texas, Austin's Harry Ransom Center.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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