Archive for January, 2019

Judging Books by Their Covers: A Useful Practice?

Matthew Arsenault

According to a 2017 Barnes & Noble article titled “How to Judge a Book by its Cover,” much of the literature in today’s book shops can indeed be judged by its cover. The article, written by Jeff Somers, identifies stereotypes and tropes in popular fiction covers to help readers deduce the genre of any certain book. Upon reading this article, I wanted to see if these modern guidelines would hold up against older book covers from, say, 100 years ago.

But I didn’t want to investigate the greatest literary works of times past – the covers of these have been analyzed to shreds by much better scholars than I. No, I wanted to look at covers of old genre fiction that lay shrouded in obscurity – the kind of books that can’t be found in the public or university library. Moreover, I wanted to go into these judgements completely blind, so searching for “weird old books” on the internet was out of the question. Thus, I went to the one place that I knew would harbor the most obscure books from decades past: my grandparents’ attic.

Figure 1: Rudyard Kipling, Stalky & Co., 1899. All images (c) Matthew Arsenault.

Lo and behold, in a box caked in dust and labelled “old books” lay the subject of my enquiry. After a thorough inspection for spiders, I cracked the box open and wiped the grime off the book spines. With my Barnes & Noble guide in hand, I set to work.

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The Book with Many Faces: How Different Book Covers Change the Same Story

Alyson Cook, Ravenclaw Hogwarts alumni

Figure 1: The UK Edition of the first Harry Potter. Image Source:

When I think of childhood summer vacations, I often think of my mom’s lemonade, swimming at the beach of the camping ground we would always go to and staying up way past my bedtime reading all the Harry Potter books. Without even looking at my book shelf across my room, I can already picture the cover of the first book: a big red train – the Hogwarts Express –, Harry Potter himself, standing on Platform 9 ¾ looking super confused with his lightning bolt scar visible, and the title in big gold lettering across a red background proclaiming, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Imagine my surprise when I was visiting a bookstore in the States a few summers ago and discovering something both strikingly familiar of past summers and surprisingly different.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?

What was that! I thought. And what was this book cover? Harry Potter flying through an archway on a broomstick? Catching a Golden Snitch?

I knew I had to investigate. Flipping through the book, I confirmed that it was, in fact, J.K. Rowling’s novel that I had read so many times before, just with a different face. Somehow, I felt like I was holding something both alien and familiar.

This led me to wonder about other Harry Potter covers, and whether or not this changed how they were received or how one would approach the contents of the book. How many faces to the story of The Boy Who Lived were there?

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James Joyce and Ulysses: The Man, the Controversy, the Printing

Aran Kocur

The Man

(Portrait of James Joyce c. 1918, courtesy of Wikipedia)

One of the best places to start with the novel Ulysses is a brief study of the author himself. James Joyce was an Irish novelist, poet, and short story writer born in 1882 in the city of Dublin, a home that features centrally in many of Joyce’s works, including Ulysses. To this day Joyce’s work inspires scholarly debate within classrooms and casual settings such as pubs, with Ireland generally embracing Joyce’s legacy after years of cold shoulder treatment while the man was alive. Joyce’s work also reflects his own place in a middle-class family that faced financial turmoil, as well as his eventual self-imposed exile from Ireland with his wife. Furthermore, Joyce appeared to experience a turbulent relationship with Christianity. A common aspect of Ulysses specifically, as noted by multiple scholars, is the distinct Jewish elements of both the story and particularly the character Leopold Bloom. Altogether, as is the case for endless authors today, all these aspects of real life seemed to shape Joyce’s writing in varying degrees.

The Controversy

(Image of Ulysses 1922 First Edition, selling for $75,000 USD on

Arguably the most well-known of Joyce’s works, Ulysses is a modernist novel originally serialized in the 19th century American literary magazine The Little Review. This particular magazine was an effort to collectively publish and showcase various modernist works, including both written works and visual art pieces. Modernism as a literary movement rising in the late 19th and early 20th centuries generally involved conscious decisions to subvert tradition and illustrate new social norms. Authors such as Joyce were transgressive and “sought to disturb social, sexual, and aesthetic complacencies” (Spoo 634) with their writing. Thus, plenty of controversy surrounded Joyce’s Ulysses before it was even printed in a single volume, making publication difficult to achieve, with publishers baulking at the work’s “obscene” content and reputation. In Thomas Staley’s words, “No novel written in this century has evoked more critical controversy or sparked such elaborate exegesis” (70).

The Printing

(The video above shows the owner of Peter Harrington books handling a first edition copy of Ulysses. Peter Harrington Books is another rare and antique bookstore specializing in first editions, signed and inscribed copies, maps, and more.)

Ulysses first official collected edition in what we of the 21st century would recognize as a cohesive, modern book format was printed in Paris in 1922. Publishers such as American B.W. Huebsch were eager to exploit Joyce’s text as a lucrative financial opportunity, so long as Joyce made certain editorial changes to his work. Joyce refused. After struggling and receiving multiple refusals from different companies on different continents, Ulysses was finally published under Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company imprint. A quarto volume roughly as large as a modern phonebook, the physical copy of Ulysses is almost as impressive as its literary influence as a modern novel. One thousand numbered copies were produced featuring Joyce’s name and the work’s title on the front cover. Of these, the majority were printed on white, handmade Dutch paper. A handful of these original books are available for sale even now, with a few copies ranging from $75,000 to $150,000 USD currently offered on the website of Raptis Rare Books, a store which specializes in rare and antique books. According to a newspaper article published in The Guardian in 2009, a well-preserved copy from the original print run reportedly sold for £275,000—roughly $440,000 at the time of sale! As for the rest of 1922, after the initial print release Joyce continued making grammatical revisions, culminating in another printing in October of the same year. This version is in some ways considered the “true” first edition, as it is Joyce’s own revision and additional writing which resulted in not only a grammatically and structurally improved product, but one that grew by roughly a third of its original size when finally published collectively. Thus, Joyce did not simply change the odd word and add a handful of sentences. Since Ulysses was originally released in a serial format, it makes sense that finally gathering all the separately released parts together into a single novel might inspire an author to edit and expand their work.

The Conclusion

Ultimately, Ulysses demonstrates a historical shift in both the printing industry and the literary content of Europe. Whether one approved of or saw value in its content or not, Joyce’s work helped transform Western literature in the 20th century and was an impactful component of literary modernism. The remaining copies of that 1922 first edition are reminders of how one text may play a key role in the continuing development of the book.


Works Cited

Brown, Mark. “First edition of Ulysses sells for record £275,000.” The Guardian, 4 June 2009, Accessed 13 Jan. 2019.

Mason, David. “CREATING A LITERARY HERO: JAMES JOYCE.” The Sewanee  Review, vol. 121, no. 3, 2013, pp. 467–473. JSTOR,

Raptis Rare Books. Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.

Spoo, Robert. “Copyright Protectionism and Its Discontents: The Case of James Joyce’s

‘Ulysses’ in America.” The Yale Law Journal, vol. 108, no. 3, 1998, pp. 633–667. JSTOR,

Staley, Thomas. “‘ULYSSES’: Fifty Years in the Joycean Conundrum.” Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, vol. 6, no. 1, 1972, pp. 69–76. JSTOR,

“Ulysses James Joyce First Edition.” Youtube, uploaded by PeterHarringtonBooks, 3 January 2016,

The Theory and Publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species

Lane Newsted

The Idea of Evolution

I’m sure all of us have heard of the term “evolution” at one time or another, and a good reason behind that word’s meaning originates from Charles Darwin’s research on the Galápagos Islands. I personally had only heard of Charles Darwin due to his Galápagos tortoise Harriet who lived 175 years! On these islands, Darwin would provide proof of natural selection, as the finches found on the separate islands in the Galápagos would differ from one another, Darwin realizing it was due to the birds evolving to fit their different environments (O’Neil).

(Retrieved from:

The finches found on the separate islands of the Galápagos showed the perfect proof for Darwin’s theory of evolution, as the birds differed among islands were proven to have been selected by nature to suitably live there (O’Neil). The finches that had beaks suitable to thrive in the environment (for example beaks suited to eat cacti on some islands, some suited to eat nuts, others evolved to receive nectar from flowers) were able to survive on that certain island and reproduce, passing down their traits for their offspring to survive and therefore continue on (O’Neil).

(Retrieved from:

Darwin’s research gathered on the Beagle Expedition in the five years at sea, twenty years prior to the publication of his book, ultimately would prove that populations of life evolve over the course of generations, due to natural selection or according to “survival of the fittest” environment (term not coined until the 5th edition of his book) (Darwin Online).

Printing of Origin of Species

On November 24, 1859, what would later become the groundwork of evolutionary biology was published in book form. Priced at fifteen shillings a piece, with 1250 copies being printed in the first run, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life would sell out faster than it was made (Darwin Online). You’re probably thinking that is an insane number of books! Well, the first print run of the book would give us a real example of how important and impactful this book was. Evolutionary biology would stem from Darwin’s publication, with his theory and research still being viable today!

In 1860, 3000 copies of the second edition were printed, with this and all subsequent editions making revisions to counter new arguments towards the viability of the text (Darwin Online). By 1872, the book had run through six editions, and it became one of the most influential books of modern times (Darwin Online). Only a year later, the third edition would release adding an introductory appendix, and the fourth edition in 1866 having sentences rewritten and revised (Darwin Online). As mentioned above, the fifth edition added the well-known phrase “survival of the fittest” in 1869. While the 1-5th editions sold well, and as such more were improved upon and made, the sixth edition of Darwin’s book released in 1872 would bring sales from 60 to 250 a month (Darwin Online). By printing in a smaller font, Darwin’s publisher was able to sell copies for half of its initial price, even including a glossary (Darwin Online)! On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life would become one of the most important publications in history, Charles Darwin’s theory and push for his own original voice to be heard becoming a groundwork of evolutionary biology.


Works Cited

“1859: Darwin Published On the Origin of Species, Proposing Continual Evolution of Species.” National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI),

O’Neil, Dennis. Evolution of Modern Humans:  Early Modern Human Culture,

“On the Origin of Species.” Darwin Online,

Reading HP Lovecraft

Nicholas Cooper

It all started one snowy afternoon, I woke up from a deep slumber to see that the once beautiful world was now encapsulated with ice and snow. Treating it as if it was a museum exhibit of old man winter himself I resigned to my comfy nook to stay warm and take advantage of this forced solitude.

Figure 1. Judge a book by its cover.


Figure 2. Night Gaunts

I could have any book within my library but I chose the unassuming Necronomicon and with it comes an experience that no other medium can bring forth. A thick, almost textbook size collection, with unassuming text styling and pictures that without context would seem benign.

Although paper itself has a smell, taste and texture to it that can’t be replicated using any other style of medium, this book with its deep dark wrapping, and leather like texture is abrasive to the things we are used to experiencing. It being thicker than normal but still considered a paperback when comparing to other books creates a sense of uneasy curiosity, if it was something we already knew it would be much less effective at doing its job. Scrawled across it stands the titular title “Necronomicon” with a depiction of a large winged tentacle beast that only those familiar with the content will recognize as the great beast Cthulhu. The back only contains the words,

“Lovecraft opened the way for me, as he had done for others before me” – Stephen King

Knowing that the king of horror and psychological thrillers grew from the seed planted by this writer only furthers the idea that the things within are not for the faint of heart.

The book is separated into sections, each containing one of Lovecraft’s short stories, not being a chapter based or linear story allows the reader to jump around to different parts reading what strikes one’s interest. This helps slowly build an increasing interest on the contents, starting on one of the shorter stories like Dagon gives a small taste at what a much bigger tale would be like.

Even the first small poem at the beginning named Night Gaunts gives a taste of dread that lays deeper within the book, with an accompanying picture the text reads

“Out of what crypt they crawl, I cannot tell,

But every night I see the rubbery things,

Black, horned, and slender, with membranous wings,

They come in legions on the north wind’s swell

With obscene clutch that titulates and stings,

Snatching me off on monstrous voyagings

To grey worlds hidden deep in nightmare’s well.

Over the jagged peaks of Thok they sweep,

Heedless of all the cries I try to make,

And down the nether pits to that foul lake

Where the puffed shoggoths splash in doubtful sleep.

But ho! If only they would make some sound,

Or wear a face where faces should be found!”

Although only the first literature among many within the collection, this little poem drives home the feelings that is felt by many other characters throughout. It is the curiosity about what could happen and gaining answers to the strange and bizarre questions that grip at the reader and keep them interested. These themes are not only played out within the writing itself but with the packaging the writing comes in.

Playing on the curiosity and wonder that has plagued much of human history, the creators of this book knew how to take full advantage of this. If a reader had only passing knowledge of Lovecraft and what he was capable of, the unassuming texture and design would draw one in to what lay beneath the surface of this soft cover collection.

Now I could go on at length to what HP Lovecraft is able to do with his words and how no one has been able to properly morph or sculpt his children into something new and modern, but I just want to bring to light how something so unassuming could bring about a very meta horror story staring the reader. This book being a collection of his works, compliments what his works stood for and what they were all about.

The design of the cover plays very much into the very themes of the contents, the idea that human curiosity will always be the down fall for those who reach to far into that unknown void. Very unassuming but a little off putting with its texture and cryptic wording and imagery, it is ambiguous enough to draw a newcomer into its hold, while those who are well versed in its themes can pick it out of a crowd with one eye closed.

To do something like this with a different medium would be rather complicated, you would almost need a spy movie to come within a secret compartment within a nickel plated suitcase, or a world war two video game to come in a ammo crate of that era.This Lovecraftian collection is rather cheap and pulls this off with very little effort, it puts little work in for great gain. Higher end collector’s editions of books or games go to great lengths to create this kind of experience but have to reach so much further with much more flash and interactivity. If the Necronomicon was to go to such lengths as other medium have gone, you would have to be given a map from an old fisherman who would take you to an island and find a dusty old manuscript written in blood. If the creators were to create something flashy and highly decorated, it would pull from the wonder and imagination that fills the gaps created from something very unassuming.

If the initial presentation is pushed too far toward being overly interactive and in your face or the other way toward being quite minimalistic can draw the audience away and get in the way for experiencing the substance that lays within. It is very much a thin line to walk and with the right marketing team can enhance the experiences or fill in the missing senses that a artistic package cannot bring forth.

Although we have been taught since our eyes could recognize language and begin building worlds within ourselves, we have been taught not to judge a book by its cover. Sometimes though its what is wanted from us, and to bring to life a part of a story with the bindings itself is very impressive. HP Lovecraft’s Necronomicon does this very well and while keeping with the general theme and idea of what resides within, slowly drawing a reader toward its pages and closing in around them to digest them into being part of itself.

Broadsheets and Chapbooks: Stalwarts of Affordable Literature, Cursory Gossip Media or Both?

Nial Willems

Whether one was a precocious child, a naughty grown-up with a taste for the scandalous, or some other wretched creature trapped in between, one’s experience with literature during the 16th through 19th centuries in Britain was likely to be well informed by the popular formats known as broadsides and chapbooks. Thought by some to be derived from the word “cheap”, “chap”-books and the similar single-sided, single-page publications known as broadsides, from which chapbooks developed, were widely distributed and immensely popular forms of literary ephemera during the pre-industrialized printing era (“Broadsides and Chapbooks”). Largely comparable to modern-day newspapers, tabloids and billboards in function, the formats assumed by chapbooks and broadsides are similarly indicative of the time and cultural context in which they arose, being highly adaptable for the conveyance of both the informational and the entertaining.

As a collective format, broadsides and chapbooks are significant for the historical context they help to illuminate about their time of prominence (Morrison). Between detailing crime convictions, announcing public executions, soapboxing on the daftness of vaccination, and making accessible to lower-class citizenry renowned works of song and literature, this kind of cheap literature proved critical to the encoding and dissemination of then-contemporary British culture (Archer).

In one broadside titled “Are You Vaccinated” and originally published by H. Disley, smallpox vaccination—a relatively new medical practice for the day (“Jenner, Edward”)—is given the satirical treatment by a lengthy tongue-in-cheek ballad. Of the 76 lines in this work, 48 are dedicated to providing the reader a comprehensive insight about just who—and what—was at risk of vaccination; citing Napoleon, “the monument on Fish Street Hill”, and even “the devil himself”, the composer frames the fad as all-consuming and utterly inescapable. Furthermore, he comments that vaccination has “turned his wife’s brain” so that she behaves like a monkey and “brays just like a donkey”, playing on the common fear of vaccines as unproven and dangerous. Following this charitable characterization, the writer offers in jest a final challenge for the reader to seek vaccination. While it certainly makes for a fun read today, the flippant sense of humour present in this broadside is also emblematic of a popular style used in early print ephemera which made broadsheets and chapbooks suitable as commercial formats for both packaging cheap laughs and promulgating ideas.

Scale of a typical chapbook compared to a human hand. Image source:

Key to the success of this cheap literature was—no doubt—its cheapness, which made it accessible to a far broader cross-section of the British population than the standard full-size book (dschapman). Cost-effectiveness was achieved through the use of low-quality paper, simple but enticing (though not always relevant) woodcut images, a general absence of extraneous decoration, and cheap labour—provided primarily by women and children, or subcontracted to lower class-families for domestic production (Richardson). The simplicity afforded by only imposing onto a single page further economized mass-production. Moreover, early chapbooks were often sold directly to consumers as single, folded sheets, with the trimming and sewing tasks left to the purchaser, should it have been desired (dschapman). Once folded thrice, the typical octavo chapbook contained 16 pages and featured dimensions of approximately 6” x 4” (Richardson), while broadsides “ranged from approximately 13″ x 16″ (‘foolscap’size) to over 5 feet in length” (Gartrell). The minimal use of material and the resulting compact scale of both formats lent them well to the task of economically mass-publicizing individual events, decrees, short-form literature, and, especially, tales of scandal—whether invented, true or a combination of both (dschapman).

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Fanfiction: Internet Garbage or Innovative Storytelling?

Delane Just

Image: Pixabay. Used under CC0 Creative Commons

Though the terminology is fairly new, “fanfiction,” also known as “fanfic,” is not necessarily a new concept. It is commonly believed that fanfiction started during the age of the internet, but this is not exactly true. For instance, Star Trek fanfiction was previously distributed through “fanzines” such as “Spockanalia” (Verba 1). However, the internet definitely contributed to the increase popularity of Fanfiction as popular sites such as (FFN) and Archiveofourown (AO3) are growing exponentially. I will explore how the internet plays into the success and growth of fanfiction as well as in what ways fanfiction allows for new storytelling possibilities.

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Frankenstein: The Story Behind its Printing

Brianna Kaminecki

I read Frankenstein, also known as The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley for the first time in my second year of high school. I learned quickly that Frankenstein was actually the doctor who had created the big, green monster kids associate with Halloween rather than the monster himself. While I did not initially enjoy its length at the time, I did come to appreciate its story because it genuinely scared me to think that some scientist could take corpse’s body parts and create new life from the combination of them by sewing them together like a mix-and-match ragdoll and bringing this new body back to life. He was not a cute, green, animated Halloween figure, but the unfortunate experiment of a scientist. I had a lot of questions after finishing the novel, most of which stemmed from paranoia. What if the story was real? Can scientists do such things? What if I had walked by such a specimen in the street and just had not noticed? All are unlikely, but the story produced this kind of thinking in my mind. While the plot of Frankenstein is purely fiction, I was missing out on a true story just beneath the novel’s surface: the story of its printing.

Its writing began in 1816 in Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Mary Wollstonecraft, a teenager, was staying with her future husband Percy Shelley, who was married at the time, Claire Clairmont, John Polidori and Lord Byron who suggested they each write a ghost story to pass some time (British Library). Doing so, she wrote hers about a scientist, Victor Frankenstein, and the monster he created, Adam. Initially, it was a short story that she wrote because of Lord Byron’s spontaneous scary story idea, but Percy Shelley urged her to expand it (Queralt). She did so and drew inspiration from his support, as well as the scientific advances that occurred during the Enlightenment. A significant experiment was done by Luigi Galvani in 1786, where he electrically stimulated frog nerves causing the frog’s body to twitch (Dibner). While it may not have been a direct influence, it demonstrated the progress science was making in the eighteenth century and Mary Shelley’s view of the dangers of science going too far in an age where science and religion were conflicted (Queralt).

Frankenstein was first published on January 1st, 1818 in three volumes. By this time, Mary Wollstonecraft had married Percy Shelley and had been married to him for almost two years. This first edition was not published under her name but anonymously with a preface by her now husband. Shelley was in collaboration with her husband, and he edited her work but was not the author. The manuscripts Bodleian MS Abinger c.56, Bodleian MS Abinger c.57, and Bodleian MS Abinger c.58, are her drafts for the novel and the first edition of the novel respectively, all of which survive and feature her handwriting as well as her husband’s editing. Each manuscript can be found in the Shelley-Godwin Archive (linked below). There is disagreement as to who really wrote the novel, but these manuscripts show that Mary Shelley’s hand is more present than her husbands and argue for her authorship (The Shelley-Godwin Archive).

The first edition of Frankenstein given to Lord Byron from the author, Mary Shelly.

(Image courtesy of Peter Harrington)

An 1821 French translation of the novel was the first time Mary Shelley was given credit as the author of Frankenstein. It was published by Corréard in Paris and listed the author to be “ Shelly” while the title remained the same, but was translated by Jules Saladin to Frankenstein, ou le Prométhée modern (Wikipedia).

The 1821 translation of Frankenstein crediting Mary Shelley as the author.

(Image courtesy of Gérard Oberlé)

A second English edition was published in 1823, about a year after her husband’s death, in two volumes and was the first English edition in which she was known as the author and is featured on its title page. This featuring of her on the title page was surely something she was proud of despite her husband not living to see it.

Finally, in 1831 it was published again in one volume with thorough revisions. This third edition is the most well-known version of the novel in the twenty-first century (Queralt). It features an engraving which depicts the “monster” of Shelley’s novel for the first time. He looks very different from how we have seen him presented in our childhood Halloween movies.

The third edition’s engraving of the creature, Adam.

(Image courtesy of D.J. Tice of the Star Tribune)

It is extraordinary to see how this novel has survived not only physically but also within the minds of people two hundred years later. It poses serious questions about science, religion and the human race. It is a novel to be appreciated because it is more than just a daily reading assignment but a real experience which readers can enjoy for both its story and meaning. It is interesting to me personally to see how it progressed being published and printed three different times because it seems as though it only improved. I fear that prior to this blogpost I saw this novel as nothing more than someone writing a book and publishing it, when there was a story of a young, female author to be explored. Novels are more than just their plots; they are also the stories of how they came to be published and printed.

Works Cited and Consulted

British Library. All Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians works. n.d. 11 January 2019. <>.

Dibner, Bern. Luigi Galvani. 30 November 2018. 13 January 2019. <>.

Harrington, Peter. The novel – Frankenstein in pictures. n.d. 13 January 2019. <>.

Oberlé, Gérard. n.d. 15 January 2019. <>.

Queralt, Maria Pilar. How A Teenage Girl Became the Mother of Horror. 26 October 2017. 12 January 2019. <>.

The Shelley-Godwin Archive. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. n.d. 11 January 2019. <>.

Tice, D.J. Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”: a creation for the ages. 10 June 2016. 13 January 2019.

Wikipedia. Frankenstein authorship question. 13 January 2019. 15 January 2019. <>.