Book blog

The page for books and related stuff, like great libraries of the world, the fight against library closures in the UK, the fight against stupid librarians who insist on clearing perfectly good books off the shelves of UK libraries, and that pesky thing that all bibliophiles never have enough of - shelves! Send your text and photos to

Ultimately cool libraries and other book related... things

If you want to keep your finger on the pulse of trending, sustainable, architecture and design, then Dezeen is the website for you. Of course, their content also includes much book stuff to interest the masked bookseller. Here, we give a few examples.

The Shared Lady Beetle micro-library is based on a bike sharing scheme bicycle, one of thousands that have been abandoned. The designer, Luo Yujie, said "They have consumed plenty of industrial raw materials, encroached on scarce urban public space and been dumped in horrible piles. As a designer living in the city, I have been thinking about the possibility for friendly reuse of those abandoned bikes... facing the unknown development in the city, we should stay positive, strive to change waste into treasure and tackle changing situation responsively, so as to better take care of the city and the earth."

The Federation of Masked Booksellers is behind those ideas 100%. The bike looks wonderful but pretty heavy; none of us think we would be able to pedal it very far!

Also from Dezeen, Indian architecture studio Nudes (Ed: what??) has designed the Meandering BookWorm Pavilion to encourage reading among children and adults. Located in the gardens of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) Museum in Mumbai, the BookWorm pavilion has been built as a response to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal that all youths and a substantial proportion of adults achieve literacy by 2030. I know what you're thinking, Masked Booksellers, what happens when it rains?? We always have to keep a careful eye on the weather during outside sales. Do they know more precisely when it's going to rain in Mumbai, so the BookWorm Pavilion can be cleared or covered up?

It's good to see books being made available for children; ExLibris say the reverse is happening in Nottingham where at least two schools have discarded the entire non-fiction section of their libraries. The reason? The children find it quicker to get the information they want off the internet.

The pages of Dezeen can be inspiring, intriguing but also totally wacky. From Dutch designer Dewi van de Klomp comes furniture entirely made from foam rubber, an "overlooked" material she claims - especially by those fuddy-duddies in the bookshelf trade (see bookcase leaning drunkenly against wall, left).

"Not everyone has to understand or be a fan of my work," she said. "I like to flirt with the boundaries of design. Functionality is not a must. It is about the story that I would like to tell." In Nottingham, ExLibris's Head of Engineering Services, a big Dezeen fan, scratched his head and said "we like to spank the boundaries of design as much as anyone but foam?? Our aim is to protect our books in storage and on display, and if we don't do that we're in big trouble with DOOPEL (Director of Operational Planning, ExLibris) - she likes a bit of functionality."

The Lord of the Books

Greetings and admiration from the Federation of Mask Booksellers to Book Rescuer Jose Alberto Gutierrez, dustbin man of Bogota, Columbia. He has assembled a Library from books he found in the the waste bins of the wealthier parts of the city. It all began one day when he discovered a copy of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina among some rubbish. He now offers his books to other people as a free community library. "I realised that people were throwing books away in the rubbish. I started to rescue them," he said. Quite rightly, Mr Gutierrez, has gained the nickname The Lord of the Books. He doesn't wear a mask, but he rescues books and the Federation of Masked Booksellers has never been sectarian.

Much of this text and the adjacent picture of Jose among all the books, has been shamelesly lifted from the BBC web site.


The Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt

Outside BibAlexOutside BibAlex"You spent all day in the Library??" people asked when we returned from Alexandria: "Er...well yes, it's the Bibliotecha Alexandrina." Not only is it a huge library of stunningly original architecture, where you can wander round looking at any of the books on the shelves, but there are several exhibitions and a shop to look at also. In the basement, there's the Ancient Manuscript Museum which is only lit by the lights illuminating the old books. These are mostly in Arabic, but for some books, there's an electronic display of the pages which you can turn. Press a button and the page in view is translated into English. Cool. There are many Korans and other religious works, some elaborately decorated, and also books on medicine, mathematics and astronomy. There are photos of pages before and after restoration and an enchanting display of very tiny books. Some books had so many annotations and marginalia, they looked like web pages.

Outside BibAlexShelves inside BibAlexInside BibAlex

Inside BibAlexInside BibAlexAbove centre, there's an exciting close up shot of the shelving system keeping Walt Whitman from falling over. Nice. On the left, part of the BA's extensive holdings of Danielle Steel. Ok, Ok there's loads of proper books too - they get donations, and just as we thank profusly the old lady who's just brought us several hundredweight of Reader's Digests, I guess they don't judge. We were surprised to find so many books in English. The BA are also collecting copies of every web site on the internet. I know what you're thinking: "Even...." Yes, apparently even the FMB web site!

On the right, a passing book trolly.

Inside BibAlexSurrounding BibAlex On the left, dilligent students, busy at their studies. A few months after our visit came revolution, and these same students were surrounding the BA, determined to protect it from Mubarak's hired thugs. The picture on the right and the two below are nicked from the BA web site; there are more pictures on the BA web site of scenes around the library and demonstrations in Alex. There is a moving tribute from the BA's Librarian and Director, Ismail Serageldin, to the youth of Egypt and a message to the BA's friends around the world (2019: this link doesn't go to these pictures and Serageldin's tribute any more; not sure if they are still somewhere on the BA web site).

Surrounding BibAlexSurrounding BibAlex


The Sparrow's Nest, Nottingham, UK

Sparrows' NestAn unassuming 1930s detached house in Nottingham on a quiet, leafy avenue houses the UK's national collection of Anarchist literature, journals and papers. It is also aquiring personal archives which give blow by blow accounts of old struggles from the Spanish Civil War to Thatcher's pole tax. Founded in 2008, the collection is already being visited by research students looking for material. The Sparrows are now wondering what to do when the collection has outgrown the nest, and so are frantically looking for more twigs. From time to time, there are interesting talks on various subjects. One of the most memorable of these was that of local writer and broadcaster, Ray Gosling. Currently, you can visit the nest on Mondays, but go to the nest's web site for opening times, events info and to view the catalogue. Not yet quite in the same league as the Bibliotecha Alexandrina, but soon - who knows?


A maritime collectable

Some Principles of Maritime Strategy Some Principles of Maritime Strategy - bookplate Some Principles of Maritime Strategy - marginalia

A small, blue book with rather shabby covers, but clean pages and still tightly bound, first published 1911 but this is the 1938 reprint of the 2nd edition (1919). Priced at £9. The title is "Some Principles of Maritime Strategy", a classic by the influential naval historian, Julian Corbett. You'd pass it by if early 20thC naval strategy isn't your bag.

It was sold by Lee Maritime Books as belonging to the collection of Captain John Moore, RN. When he died in 2010, Gerald Lee bought Captain Moore's book colection from his son and daughter. Gerald specializes in maritime books which he sells at very reasonable prices and if he spots that a book is damaged, he won't send it out. Unlike Amazon, his packaging is outstanding, using at least half a roll of parcel tape, so that if your parcel should fall over the side of the ship, your books will still be OK provided you can get a diver to recover them.

After a career as an inovative submarine commander, Captain Moore left the Navy to become editor of Jane's Fighting Ships (See his obituary on the Old Salt Blog). Jane's is the big, blue book that the captain on the bridge is always poring over in those war-at-sea films. There has been a volume covering most years since the end of the 19thC, listing every warship in the world, giving a brief description and usually a photo.

Just as Gerald advertised, there is a book plate stuck in the front end-paper. At the top it has a line of Latin: "SED SIC SIC SINE FERIATI". Then "E.L. JOHN E. MOORE." and underneath that, "Sherborne" and "July 1938" hand written, most likely by Moore himself. The latin is from a slightly racy poem attributed to Ovid or Petronius and means something like "But thus, thus, keeping endless Holy-day". From his obituary, Moore was 16 in 1938 and attending Sherbourne school. Tags from dodgy Latin poems on your book plate must have been the height of cool in 1938 public schools, and what schoolboy doesn't want "endless holiday"?

At some places in the margins, Moore wrote comments on the text in faint pencil. It's hard to know at what stage of his life he did this - perhaps careful study of the notes might provide clues.

So collectables don't have to be expensive to be unique and interesting. When you hold a book like this in your hands, it's not just something to read but a unique glimpse into someone's life - you don't get that with Kindle!

... talking of book plates

Exlibris Paul FortuneExlibris Frau Kathi HenrichNottingham FMB group, ExLibris must be somewhat discomfitted and crestfallen knowing that if you Google "ex libris" images, it doesn't throw up photos of their latest triumphant booksale but dozens of beautiful "ex-libris" or book plates. Then you're only a few clicks away from the whole world of buying, collecting, exhibiting, comparing and displaying bookplates. I have only given a very few bookplate related web sites here because you will be up to your armpits in bookplate blogs and websites before you know it! With each one more extraordinary than the last, DO NOT SURF THESE AT WORK if you need to get that report finished. Starting right at the top, theres the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Amateurs d'Exlibris (or FISAE). Greetings to the FISAE from the Federation of Masked Booksellers! Exlibris John Saye Then there's the The Bookplate Society, which has been going since 1891 (with a bit of a gap between 1908 and 1972), sells a range of publications about bookplates and brings out The Bookplate Journal twice a year. There are conferences, meetings and exhibitions all over the world - I was unaware that interest in bookplates was so widespread.

Exlibris Ananda CoomaraswamyExlibris Amos Bonsall A book plate implies a sizeable collection, linking the books in it to the collector's personality and interests. Bookplate designs are sometimes strangely esoteric, sometimes erotic, inviting endless speculation on the stories that the picture might be narrating. Not bad going for a very small piece of paper. Many artists concerned with graphics and printing created book plates - Eric Gill, Edward Gordon Craig, Paul Nash, Frans Masereel and Frank Martin are a few that spring to mind - but some of the most beautiful have been created by engravers little known outside bookplate circles. The blue booklate of Frau Kathi Henrich on the right is from the website World's Strangest. The two of Paul Fortune and John Saye above left are by Frank Martin (from the book about his work "Hollywood - Continental", 1988; see also The ex-libris of Ananda Coomaraswamy on the left below these is by Eric Gill. On the right, the ex-libris depicting an ice-bound ship is that of Amos Bonsall, who was master's mate on Grinnell's second arctic expedition. It can be found with many other bookplates and ephemera, on the American web site called, appropriately enough, Confessions of a Bookplate Junky (the link takes you to the polar exploration section).

Exlibris woodcutSome of today's graphic artists continue the tradition of bookplate design; the designs of Serbian artist Rastko Ciric are witty and startling. On the left, there's a picture of a Japanese bookplate woodblock being cut by hand, which gives an idea of the detailed work that has to be carefully performed within a small area if you're going to make bookplates this traditional way. That's what you had to do before the days of cameras, PCs and Photoshop.

I haven't heard of anyone putting a book plate on a Kindle; I suppose you'd only need one. Anyway, this section needs a line drawn under it - the temptation to stay in "Oooh that one's nice!" mode, adding more and more bookplates to the page, must be firmly resisted. You should have more than enough info here to get you started.

Shelf life

Islamic scholars in a librarySecond hand book shops are very good at selling you books but no help when it comes to finding somewhere to put them. This is something that worries every bibliophile as he/she lugs home yet another bag of books on the bus, along with "will I have time to read this lot before I'm dead?". On the freshome web site, you can see 30 of the most creative bookshelf designs and the cartridgesave web site has 20 Sensational Bookshelves. Some of the ideas here just look wacky, and don't look as if they'll protect the books very well. They're all a step up from a plank with three bricks at either end, but in many ways, a horizontal plank is still a hard format to beat. On the right, we see that in the ancient islamic library where the scholars are meeting, the books on the shelves are stacked sideways. Books are rather hard to get at when sideways, but its sometimes argued that its the best way to store a book. Be that as it may, topping all the bookshelf websites hands down is Book Shelf Porn. Here are hundreds of pictures of books on shelves, from vast libraries to a small box at the side of the road, to a tottering heap on someone's desk. After browsing this website, you'll realise it's quite all right for 80% of the furniture in your home to be bookshelves/bookcases and for most surfaces to be inaccessible because of piles of books.

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