Archive for category Books

The Death of the Book(store)

Brenna Sych

FIG 1. Booklover mug – Giftware carried by McNally Robinson Booksellers (Photo by Brenna Sych)

Bookstores are magical places, places where stories and knowledge are sitting waiting to be discovered. The scent of coffee and ink and pages mixing together to create a tempting space to spend an afternoon.

But is that idea dying?

I hear it whenever I say I work in a bookstore, “Those still exist?” Now I’ve been a bookseller at a local independent bookstore for five years, specifically in children’s books, but I have worked all over, and I’ve seen how the focus of the store has changed in that time.

While there has been reports that the number of independent bookstores is up (American Booksellers Association). The question is, how long will that last and how have bookstores changed to last this long?

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Has the Internet Killed the Book?

Philip Gordon

Image: creator unknown.

Image: creator unknown.


What People Thought Would Happen

Since the inception of the internet and the mass adoption of its wondrous potential, people have been predicting all kinds of changes to the world of printed books. Imagine yourself as a child many years from now sitting on your grandfather’s lap. He clears his throat after a long raspy sip from his scotch on the rocks and tells you a story. “ When I was your age Timmy, people read books.” “Ah Grampa? What’s a book?” You’d ask nervously. “Well, books were a technological innovation where stories and information were printed on pages and bound together.” Your grandfather puts his hands together to demonstrate either side of the book, folding them open then apart to show the motion used when opening and shutting a book. You look wide eyed at him in confused amazement. “Hold on Grampa, let me look up what a book is online.” You close your eyes and see the web in your mind’s eye and search for an image of a book using only your thoughts immediately understanding all of its functions. “Why do you tell me about all this useless stuff Grampa, people don’t need to read anymore… we just know everything.” Your grandfather, gets up out of his chair looks out the window and sheds one single tear. The tear slides down his wrinkled face while his image reflects in the darkness of the window pane.

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A Battle Between E-Books & Printed Books: Who Will Survive in the End?

Mattia Gregory

With technology playing such a major role in our lives today many books have begun to appear as digital forms rather than your original paperback. There are pros and cons to both sides of the debate on whether digital books (eBooks) will take over the form of printed books. Or will printed books continue to be the original format of reading material?

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William Blake’s Books as Art

Sheila Bautz

A Lifetime of Visions… Poetic Flow… Artistic Flare… Inventions… William Blake was a prolific Poetic Genius born in 1757 during the Industrial Revolution in Britain. He studied art as a child at the academy of Henry Pars followed by a seven year apprenticeship under James Basire. Shortly after his apprenticeship with Basire, in 1779, Blake began to experiment with improving the printing process and its techniques. (Bentley, 1981).

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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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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.

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. <>.

Into the Unknown: The Voynich Manuscript

Megan F.

Cipher Manuscript, Folio 1r, courtesy of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University Library

A medieval codex with an unknown author and an indecipherable language and script – where did the Voynich Manuscript come from and what does it mean?

Imagine this: you’re rifling through a box of unidentified documents – flipping past loose pages of sermons, financial records, and personal diaries. Suddenly, your hand rests on a thickly-bound codex. You pull it out of the box and run your hands over it, smoothing the centuries-old parchment with your fingertips. Opening it to reveal its pages, you see elegant but unrecognizable writing surrounded by colourful yet rudimentary illuminations. You don’t know it yet, but you’re holding what will soon become known as “The Most Mysterious Manuscript in the World” (Hurych).

What is it?

Held at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library since 1969, the Voynich Manuscript (VM) remains one of the world’s most mysterious texts. It is officially named the Cipher Manuscript by Yale, and is classified under the shelf-mark “Beinecke MS 408” (Cipher Manuscript); however its more popular name refers to the rare book trader Wilfrid Voynich who discovered the manuscript in 1912 among miscellaneous texts sold by the Jesuit College of Villa Frascati, just outside of Rome (Hurych). Upon discovering the manuscript, Voynich began seriously studying it and launched what would become more than a century’s worth of public fascination with the enigmatic text (Hurych). Despite decades of research and several compelling discoveries from academics worldwide – including this 2018 study from the University of Alberta – no one has been able to definitively answer the fundamental questions regarding the manuscript:

  • Who wrote it?
  • What does it say?
  • What was its purpose?

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