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Jane Austen ring goes up for auction

A ring once owned by author Jane Austen will be auctioned by Sotheby's later this month. Austen, the author of the much-loved novels "Pride and Prejudice," "Sense and Sensibility" and "Emma," never married or had children, but the ring has remained in the possession of her family since her death in 1817. Scholars had been unaware of its existence, and it is expected to sell at auction for $31,000 to $46,000.

The ring is made of gold with a cabachon blue stone of natural turquoise. It is, as Sotheby's auction house notes, in a simple style Austen wrote of sympathetically in her work. In "Mansfield Park," Fanny Price is given a gold chain by her cousin Edmund, who tells her, "I consulted the simplicity of your taste."

The jewelry is given to Fanny "in all the niceness of jewellers packing," just as the ring remains in its original box. It comes with letters dating back to 1863 describing its provenance: The ring was passed from Jane Austen to sister Cassandra Austen to sister-in-law Eleanor Austen to niece Caroline Mary Craven Austen to niece Mary A. Austen-Leigh to her niece, Mary Dorothy Austen-Leigh, then to her sister, Winifred Jenkyns, who passed it to her descendants.

The ring will be offered at Sotheby's English Literature, History, Children's Books and Illustrations auction on July 10. The auction includes many sets of letters, and superb copies of the "Shakespeare Fourth Folio" (est. $124,000 to $186,000), Charlotte Brontë’s "Jane Eyre" (est. $93,000 to $124,000), and Charles Darwin’s "On the "Origin of Species" (est. $77,000 to $108,000). It also includes fine first editions of Jane Austen's novels "Mansfield Park" (est. $4,600 to $7,700), "Northanger Abbey" and "Persuasion" (est. $3,800 to $5,400), "Emma" (est. $15,500 to $23,000) and "Pride and Prejudice" (est. $31,000 to $46,000).

Hat tip to the Paris Review blog for spotting Jane Austen's ring for sale.


Jane Austen's unfinished manuscript goes up for auction

A Jane Austen memento. Pricey? Creepy?

Literary letters for auction at Sotheby's

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jane Austen's ring and a note about it, written by Eleanor Austen. Credit: Sotheby's


It's Taschen's bargain warehouse sale

Art book publisher Taschen launched its semi-regular warehouse sale today, marking books down by 50% to 75%. The online sale continues through June 24; its stores, like the one in Beverly Hills, will also be offering bargains.

The warehouse sale includes discontinued titles, books that are "slightly dented" and "retired review copies." That means they're in limited supply, and this might be the last chance to get a book you've been keeping in your sights. One of the first to sell out is the "Big Penis Book 3D" -- but maybe that's for the best. Who knows who'd put their hands on it?

Taschen's warehouse is full of photo books, books that showcase art, even books about type -- "Bondoni" is a reprint of the 1818 typeface masterwork by the offical printer for the Duke of Parma, Giambattista Bodoni. There are many books about classic art and contemporary design. There are more than a few sexy books. There are books with photos of exotic locations, wild animals, movies, living spaces abroad, robots and Marilyn Monroe.

Taschen is the company of Benedikt Taschen, whose eclectic tastes govern its offerings. "He will stand behind every book that he publishes, no matter what," the Wall Street Journal wrote in 2011, "a directional choice that has not only defined the Cologne-born publisher as a seminal maverick in the world of books, but also as a rebellious risk-taker."

"Most books look so ... dispassionately done; they are disposable from the beginning," Taschen told the Journal. "Their books are not designed to become significant objects, so most books have no identity, no soul. I'm not saying all, but the vast majority [of publishing houses], with a few exceptions, have lost their profile and personality. It doesn't look like they have spent a lot of care and love."

Taschen publishes about 100 books a year; about 125 titles are part of the warehouse sale.


Meet Benedikt Taschen

Hugh Hefner for cheap? Taschen's big 2011 sale

Taschen makes its mark with high-end bookstores

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Mad for 'Hunger Games' merch: nail polish, socks, crossbows


Danielle Pepers is such a fan of “The Hunger Games” that she had the book’s unofficial mascot -- a mockingjay -- tattooed on her right arm earlier this month. But her intrigue with the books, and upcoming movie, didn’t stop there. On a recent Wednesday, Pepers, 27, was shopping for T-shirts and jewelry at Hot Topic, a teen-oriented chain store at the Glendale Galleria that sells pop-culture ephemera. A mound of movie tie-in merchandise greeted her at the door.

There were knee socks, pillow cases and nail polish. Mini figures, sweat bands, even a watch. Still, that wasn’t all. Stepping over to the digital kiosk, there were dozens of other “The Hunger Games” items – 60 in total -- that could be special ordered into the store, including an $80 crossbow and ear buds for $19.50.

With “The Hunger Games” set to hit movie theaters next week, the publisher of the books it’s based upon is releasing four movie tie-in titles, including an illustrated movie companion, a tribute guide and, on March 23, the day of the film’s release, “The World of the Hunger Games,” a visual dictionary featuring pictures from the film. Other publishers are also hoping to cash in, with unofficial guidebooks, cookbooks and parodies, including Harvard Lampoon’s “The Hunger Pains.” It’s Lionsgate, however, that has unloosed the floodgates on a tidal wave of licensed merchandise –- most of it sold at Hot Topic and made by the National Entertainment Collectibles Assn. in New Jersey, one of the country’s largest providers of wholesale licensed movie merchandise.

Earlier this month the Los Angeles nail polish company, China Glaze, began selling Electrify (in orange glitter), Stone Cold (in metallic flake) and 10 other colors inspired by “The Hunger Games” 12 districts, where the action of the book unfolds.  Licensed through Lionsgate and available at Hot Topic and Sally Beauty, sales “have already exceeded our normal collection standards,” said China Glaze brand manager Rachel Schafer.

Huge as “The Hunger Games” is even before the film’s release, nothing says success like a Barbie. Mattel recently announced plans to introduce a collectible Katniss Everdeen doll to its Barbie Collector series before the end of the year.

Continue reading »

A bookstore says: Don't be an iPhone-y [video]

Late in 2011, an online-only retailer launched a holiday promotion offering discounts to people who shopped in brick-and-mortar stores and used their smartphones to scan prices and instead buy online. This ruffled the feathers of some who found the practice predatory, particularly fans and supporters of independent bookstores. It didn't matter that the promotion itself didn't apply to books -- the fear that it might, someday, caused a hubbub. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo even penned an op-ed against it in the N.Y. Times.

Apparently, booksellers at Harvard Bookstore (not connected to the university) were compelled to pick up a movie camera and make the sitcom-y vignette above.

While the online retailer's promotion brought attention to the issue, it's not at all new. For quite some time, bookstore staffers have been observing customers coming in, browsing the shelves, asking for help, then departing to buy the book they sought online. Now they can even do it while standing right there in the store. It's almost always cheaper online.

The staffer, his expertise, the building's rent and lights, the cost of getting the books into the store itself -- that's why the bookstore price is higher than the online price. Imagine if you went to an online retailer's site and typed in "big head, cover" -- would you ever find the book these customers want?


Don't miss: a bookstore comes alive [video]

Shakespeare & Co. founder George Whitman, 98, dies

Mysterious Galaxy Books opens its doors in Redondo Beach

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Got $10 million? The world's most expensive book could be yours

Book collectors with fat wallets take note: A first edition of the rare John James Audubon book "The Birds of America" will be auctioned by Christie's in New York on Jan. 20. When another copy of "The Birds of America" sold for $11.5 million in 2010, it became the world's most expensive book.

"The Birds of America" was published in the early 1800s as a serial, with subscribers getting a handful of plates at a time. It was printed on oversized pages, more than 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide; the original black-and-white engravings were hand-colored. It took a decade to complete the project. There are thought to be only about 120 copies of the book in full, which includes 435 color illustrations.

"The format was chosen not out of any grandiosity but because it was Audubon's remarkable desire –- and ability -- to produce life-sized engravings of each bird," rare book dealer Rick Gekoski told the Guardian. "Thus the finches and cardinals have plenty of space in which to flit about, while the flamingo and trumpeter swan tilt their necks graciously inward and arrange themselves with some care. The effect of this is just terrific." 

The edition of the book that Christie's will auction later this month was purchased as a fully bound set sometime after 1838, the year it was finally completed. Christie's writes that it was bought by (deep breath): William Henry Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 4th Duke of Portland PC, FRS, FSA (24 June 1768 - 27 March 1854), styled Marquess of Titchfield until 1809... [or] this set may also have been purchased later by the 5th or 6th Dukes of Portland, the son of the 4th Duke and his cousin, respectively.

Since 1973, 24 copies of the book have come up for sale. 14 of those were sold off page by page, because the individual plates are so valuable. 107 copies remain in institutions and 13 are in private hands. If you've got about $10 million, those hands could now be yours.

And if you haven't got quite that much scratch, a low-resolution, screen-size version of Audubon's "The Birds of America" can be seen at the Audubon website.


The world's most expensive book - by Audubon - sells for $11.5 million

Fantasy xmas shopping for book lovers - Christie's droolworthy auction

Literary letters for auction at Sotheby's

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The page featuring the Common American Swan from John James Audubon's "The Birds of America." Credit: Christie's / Associated Press

Karl Marx, Harper Lee sold big in 2011

ToKillaMockingbird1sted Used book-selling website AbeBooks' biggest sale in 2011 was of Karl Marx's "Das Kapital," the three-volume first edition published by Otto Meissner in 1867. Ironically, someone paid $51,739 for the seminal critique of capitalism.

The second-highest sale on the site was of a first edition of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," published in 1960. This copy of the American classic sold in May for $25,000; the high price tag probably came from it being signed by Lee herself. Now 85, Lee largely withdrew from public life after the publication of her first novel a half-century ago. Signings are rare; she never published another book.

In the spring of 2011, Lee emerged from her quietude to issue a statement through her sister's law firm repudiating an upcoming book, "The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee." The book by Marja Mills, a former Chicago Tribune reporter, was said to be written "with direct access to Harper and Alice Lee [her sister] and their friends and family." In the written statement, Lee said she had not cooperated with the author: "Contrary to recent news reports, I have not willingly participated in any book written or to be written by Marja Mills. Neither have I authorized such a book. Any claims otherwise are false."

Meanwhile, Lee memorabilia has begun surfacing elsewhere. A number of letters and cards written by the author to a fan were sold in 2011 by Nate D. Sanders auctions. The chatty letters included thanks for gifts, the occasional note about her work and one letter which asked, "Please don't put this on the internet."

The Internet was one thing that Karl Marx wasn't worried about.

A sampling of big-ticket sales from AbeBooks in 2011:

$20,447--A first edition of J.R.R. Tolkein's "The Hobbit," with a correction on the back cover. The first printing, in 1937, was of just 1,500 copies.

$18,750--14 pages written by John Ruskin by hand in 1866 on a work by Thomas Carlyle, which Ruskin used for his essay "Notes on the Economies of the Kings of Prussia."

$14,925--Charles Baudelaire's poetry collection "Les Fleurs du Mal," published in 1837. Six poems were banned for their erotic content.

$10,500--Pablo Picasso's "40 Dessins de Picasso en Marge du Buffon" (40 Drawings by Picasso in the Margins of Buffon), a folio published in 1957 of which there were just 226 copies. Picasso signed it in green crayon.

$9,500--"A Natural History of British Insects." The 16-volume illustrated set was published from 1792 to 1813.

$5,500--A handwritten, signed postcard from poet Hart Crane to his stepmother, sent seven weeks before his 1932 suicide.

$5,000--"Anatomy: Descriptive and Surgical" by Henry Gray. The 1858 first edition, first printing has an embossed cloth binding with a gilt-lettered spine.

According to another used book-selling website, Bookfinder, the most sought-after out-of-print book in 2011 was Madonna's "Sex."


Most wanted used books, according to Bookfinder

Signed copy of "To Kill A Mockingbird" sells for $25,000

Harper Lee letter for sale: "Please don't put this on the internet."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: "To Kill a Mockingbird," sold by AbeBooks.com. Credit: AbeBooks

14 offbeat gifts for writers


Sure, writers like books. You already know that. With a short shopping window left before the holidays, here is Jacket Copy's offbeat list of gifts for the writers in your life, full of things, well, you might not have thought of. For instance, the charming typewriter temporary tattoos by artist Julia Rothman, above. ($5 for a set of 2).

I haven't yet met the writer who doesn't reach for the backspace key, the modern version of the trusty eraser. Artist Lisa Congdon's photograph of vintage erasers is available from the art print website 20x200, which sells art prints, framed or unframed, in affordable limited editions. Unframed, an 8x10 print is $20; the largest prints, available in a much smaller run, are $200 ($450 when framed).


Does the writer in your life need an endless supply of coffee? Give them an endless (if modest) supply of fresh beans with the Grow-Your-Own-Coffee Kit from ThinkGeek. The enclosed mini-greenhouse is 9 inches long, 4.5 inches wide and 6 inches high ($10).

To drink that coffee there may be no better mug than the one from The Rumpus that begins with the phrase "Write like a...." I cannot complete it here, but the line was taken from the website's advice column Ask Sugar. While the language is strong, the sentiment is gentle: the phrase appears on the mug in the shape of a heart. ($13; the mug, with strong language)

The splendid Rewrite Desk from design team GamFratesi creates a serene bubble of mid-century-style serenity for the writer inclined to distraction. The desk, which has been in design showcases, does not yet appear to be produced for consumers. Maybe someday....

Continue reading »

14 eclectic, bookish gifts

Books are good -- books are always good -- but book lovers cannot live on books alone. Here is Jacket Copy's eclectic list of gifts that aren't books, but could please the bookish. Above, a frosted glass lamp that is both a bedside reading light and, when it's time to close your eyes, a bookrest that saves your place. May not be suitable for "1Q84." Available at the Los Angeles Public Library bookstore ($85).

Blik makes self-adhesive, removable wall tiles. The above design -- "Academia" -- is the result of the company's collaboration with Threadless. Academia wall tiles can make a wall of books in a spot where there's not enough room for a bookshelf; they'll be available at the end of December ($39 for two 48" x 24" tiles).

Book darts are metal bookmarks that clip on the edges of pages -- so lightweight, they say, that the pages are unharmed. Think of them as eco-friendly Post-Its (Tin, $10; envelope, $3.25).

Brainiac bookends from designer Karim Rashid come in black and gold or white and pink. They are 7" tall and made of resin ($180).

This Secret Passageway Switch is hidden within a book, and should, when tugged, swing open the bookcase to reveal a secret door. If you don't have a secret passageway, it can be used to turn on a lamp. The switch, created by B. Light Design, requires home assembly ($50; currently sold out, but too good to omit).

For the cat lover who carries an e-reader: covers and cases with cats. Those pictured here are from shops on Etsy. From left to right: the Totoro iPad cover, in faux leather ($29), a cotton Kindle cover with colorful cats ($15), and the foam-padded fat-cat Nook cover ($75).

Continue reading »

Book recommendations from poets and rock stars at The Millions

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

The Millions is a book-focused blog that has always been open to many voices -- it's called The Millions, after all. It is currently midway through its annual Year in Reading series, in which authors, bloggers, actors, artists, rock stars and poets share what books really sent them this year. This year, those contributing include U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine and Hamilton Leithauser, lead singer of The Walkmen (both pictured, above).

One of the things that distinguishes the Millions Year in Reading from other year-end lists -- and geez, there are a lot of year-end lists -- is that it isn't trying to be a best of what was published in the last 12 months. Many times the books that are selected are classics, or are items that might have been published in the last few years and someone just got around to reading, or are somewhere in between: old, in the mix, not-yet-required reading.

It's a potpourri of personal recommendations. Some come from people you already knew were bookish: National Book Award-winning novelist Colum McCann ("Let the Great World Spin"), short-story writer Deborah Eisenberg, bestselling debut novelist Chad Harbach ("The Art of Fielding"), and brilliant cultural critic Geoff Dyer. (Full disclosure: I participated too, as I have every year since 2006).

The books they write about are a literary bunch. McCann picks Fernando Pessoa’s "Book of Disquiet," a Portuguese book first published in the 1980s, more than four decades after Pessoa's death; McCann compares "Book of Disquiet" to James Joyce. Eisenberg writes about a New York Review of Books reprint of "The Radiance of the King" by Camara Laye, a West African writer, first published in English in 1956. Harbach selects Hungarian author Dezso Kosztolányi's "Kornél Esti," published in English for the first time by New Directions, "The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India" by Siddhartha Deb and Philip Connors' memoir "Fire Season." Dyer looks at a recent nonfiction book, "All God’s Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence" by Fox Butterfield, an "investigative genealogy" that starts with a prison stabbing and goes all the way back to the Civil War.

Then there are the rock stars. What does The Walkmen's lead singer Hamilton Leithauser recommend? Robert Graves' "I, Claudius," the biography "Frank: The Voice" by James Kaplan, D.C. mystery novel "King Suckerman" by George Pelecanos, and Dexter Filkins' chronicle of Iraq and Afghanistan, "The Forever War." Duff McKagen goes for "Lamb" by Christopher Moore, writing "I knew by the fourth sentence in that Moore would now be one of those 'authors that I really like.'" (File "one of those 'authors I really like'" under Things I Never Thought a Member of Guns N' Roses Would Say).

I would suggest that the books people write about on The Millions show that readers like to read interesting books. At this gift-giving time of year, the Year in Reading sparks inspiration that's both off the beaten path and recommended.

The Millions' Year in Reading continues adding new book picks every day until Dec. 31.

[For the record, Dec. 13, 7:36 a.m.: An earlier version of this post said that Nathan Larson, formerly lead singer of Shudder to Think and now a novelist himself, recommends "Down and Out in Paris and London" by George Orwell. It was Nathan Englander, a writer, who made that suggestion.]


L.A. Times 2011 Holiday Books and Gift Ideas

Should a new writer quit Twitter and Facebook?

The Reading Life: Geoff Dyer on “The Missing of the Somme”

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: Left, Philip Levine at home in August. Credit: Craig Kohlruss/Fresno Bee/MCT. Right, Hamilton Leithauser, performing with his band The Walkmen in Los Angeles in 2010. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times

This weekend: Ry Cooder, holiday book guide

OK, OK. Maybe they're not together in the same issue -- more on that later -- but this weekend's book coverage includes Times’ book critic David L. Ulin’s fascinating conversation with musician Ry Cooder about his newfound career as a short-story writer. Cooder's book "Los Angeles Stories" (published by City Lights) brings to the printed page the same storytelling process that inspired his so-called California Trilogy of albums “Chavez Ravine,” “My Name Is Buddy” and “I, Flathead.” Ulin calls the stories "deftly rendered” as they offer a panorama of the city between 1940 and 1958, the year the Dodgers came to town. We've got an excerpt of Cooder's story "All in a Day's Work" here.

Other reviews in Sunday Arts & Books offer a virtual travelogue of interesting  places and people. Times Theater critic Charles McNulty looks at James Wolcott, Vanity Fair’s “takedown artist extraordinaire,” as he recounts growing up in '70s New York and his friendship with critic Paulene Kael in "Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York." Carolyn Kellogg reviews “Salvage the Bones,” the pre-Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi-based novel that just won the National Book Award for fiction. The author, Jesmyn Ward, Kellogg notes, “wanted to write about poor, black rural Southerners in such a way that the greater culture would see their stories....”

Out of Africa, this week, is our review of L.A. Times reporter Christopher Goffard’s “You Will See Fire: A Search for Justice in Kenya,” the true-life tale of American Catholic priest John Kaiser and his quest for social change in one of the most corrupt countries in Africa. Kaiser dies for his trouble, and that fact fuels Goffard's narrative, which our reviewer, Richard Rayner, calls “a moving and powerful” story.  The reporting for the book came from a three-part series of articles that Goffard wrote for The Times in 2009.  

And, lest we forget, next Wednesday marks the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor: We include an excerpt from “Pacific Crucible," Ian W. Toll’s history of the war in the Pacific during 1941-42. In her Not Just for Kids column on YA books, Susan Carpenter looks at Cassandra Clare’s “The Clockwork Prince: The Infernal Devices, Book Two,” in which the author blends "societal restraint and an otherworldly battle into a steamy steampunk drama."

Ok, so back to holiday books. This week we present our annual 28-page holiday guide of book choices and gift ideas (Section U in the print newspaper) along with reviewer lists, including thoughts from book critic Ulin on what titles to load onto that electronic device you may be giving someone, Carolyn Kellogg on what tablet devices are selling this season, Susan Carpenter on what’s hot for kids of all ages and Nick Owchar on compelling reads about history’s turning points.

Thanks for reading.

-- Jon Thurber, Book editor  

Image: Cover of the L.A. Times holiday books & gift ideas guide. Credit: Elvis Swift / For The Times


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