David Bjoerling Jensen

2012 Booker Prize Shortlist

Earlier this week, the shortlist for the 2012 Booker Prize was announced.  The six titles, selected from the longlist of 12 announced in July, include two debut novels, three small independent publishers, two former shortlisted authors, and one previous winner.  The finalists are:

Being selected for the shortlist of this prestigious literary award is a notable achievement, as each of the authors receive £2,500 along with a specially commissioned hand-bound edition of his/her book.  The winner is awarded an additional £50,000 and can generally be assured of international acclaim and success.

As a personal aside, my particular interest in the Booker Prize has been spurred by my recent volunteer experience at The Morgan Library & Museum, where I catalog monographs in their Booker Prize Collection.  The collection is comprised of some 3,000+ items that were donated to the institution by an avid collector.  I’ve read the 2011 winner, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, as well as the 1981 winner, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie–both of which are captivating novels, well deserving of the prize’s tagline, “fiction at its finest.”

The winner of this year’s prize will be announced in London on October 16 at a ceremony covered by the BBC.

The Archimedes Palimpsest

palimpsest (palimp sest′), n.  a parchment or the like from which writing has been partially or completely erased to make room for another text.  [1655-65;  <  L  palimsēstus  <  G  palímpsēstos  rubbed again  =  pálin again + psēstós  scraped, rubbed, v.  adj.  of psân to rub smooth]

The Archimedes Palimpsest

So here’s the historical breakdown, convoluted as it may be:

Circa mid 3rd century BCE, the great mathematician/physicist/astronomer of antiquity, Archimedes, writes some of his most significant treatises and equations on a series of papyrus scrolls in Syracuse.  Then, approximately 1,200 years later, transcriptions of the scrolls were handwritten onto parchment leaves by a scribe working in Constantinople, and bound into folio codex form around the year 1000 CE.  Roughly 200 years later, a Christian monk scrapes the parchment clean (well, almost) and hand writes prayers in Greek over the mathematical text, thereby creating the palimpsest.  The new prayer book is used in religious study for centuries, but ends up being stored in the Greek Orthodox monastery, Mar Saba–one of the oldest inhabited monasteries in the world–for several more centuries into the future.  Fast forward to 1906, Danish philologist and historian, Johan Ludvig Heiberg, discovers the ancient manuscript, transcribes what he can make out of the obscure base layer text using only a microscope, and photographs each page (the transcriptions and images are later published as part of his doctoral dissertation entitled Quaestiones Archimedeae.).  Fast forward again to 1998…to make a long story short, the manuscript had gone missing, and through a series of rediscovery and changes of ownership, the mysterious little book found its way onto the stage of Christie’s auction house in New York City, where it sold to an anonymous private collector for $2 million.

In a nutshell, that’s the historical lineage of how this project–what I’m really getting around to telling you about–came to be.  Not long after its purchase in New York, the artifact was deposited at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore in order to conserve it, image it, and study it.  A team of experts from a variety of disciplines–conservators, bibliographers, paleographers, mathematicians, physicists–was assembled in order to achieve these tasks.

The most impressive part of all of this, to me anyway, is the unimaginably sophisticated imaging techniques used to illuminate and decipher the ancient writings.  It’s all spelled out on the project’s official website, but essentially, this is what happens:  nothing shy of a particle accelerator is used to generate a certain wavelength of x-rays, which, when turned onto the leaves, cause ferrous deposits left by the original iron gall ink to glow without damaging the parchment on which they’re written…and the sub-written text can then be examined plain as day.  Amazing!

All of the resulting work performed by these astute scientists has been compiled and made digitally accessible and freely available for public for use with the only stipulation being to give credit where credit is due.  Ironically, the wealthy benefactor of this elaborate project wishes to take no credit and insists on remaining anonymous.

The project is headed by William Noel, Curator of Manuscripts and Rare Books at the Walters Art Museum.  He gave a brilliant TED talk, which encapsulates this fascinating project.  If you find this as interesting as I do, I highly recommend watching this short clip:

Likewise, check out the project’s homepage, featuring all of the ins-and-outs of this undertaking, other video clips, and numerous links to well-respected publications on the topic:  http://archimedespalimpsest.org/

And one last thing…for a succinct timeline on the chronology I ran through above, you can view a PBS Nova article at: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/inside-archimedes-palimpsest.html


Random House Webster’s College Dictionary.  New York:  Random House Reference,  2005.

Crystallized Codices

Whoa!  Check this out!  These books were recently  found in a crevasse deep in a cave in the hill country of central Texas.  It seems a long-forgotten explorer had left them behind ages ago, only to let the unstoppable forces of nature work their mineralogical magic…and now they’re covered in crystals!

Nah, jk.  (But wouldn’t that be enchanting?)  Ever wonder how to re-purpose and old phone book or an obsolete text book?  Well San Francisco-based installation artist/sculptor Alexis Arnold has come up with one clever way.  Grow crystals on them and create an amusing new addition to the world of book arts.  No, you can’t read them.  But they’re interesting to look at, aren’t they?  It reminds me of something done with those chemistry sets that nerdy 9-year-old kids love to play with, except much more artistically executed, with a great idea for a substrate.

A body of her other work, CV, and links can be found on her website at: http://www.alexisarnold.com/.

Book Carvings

To my way of thinking, the hallmark of any good piece of artwork is whether or not one is left with an awe-inspired sense of “what the…?”  In other words, the criteria upon which I judge quality art–like the piece or not–are based upon whether I’m left pondering a) how on God’s green earth did this person dream this concept up, and b) what in the hootenanny hell did they do to create it?

In the case of artist Guy Laramée and his brilliantly conceived landscape carvings FROM BOOKS, he has done just that.  I highly encourage anyone as intrigued by this uniquely novel (no pun intended) form of artistic expression to read the artist’s statement, which may glean some insight into criterion “a” above.  As for criterion “b” I’m left musing that the creation of these works entail some ingenious craftiness with digital imaging technologies and a CNC laser cutting machine.  In any case, what the…?!?!

El amor por las montañas nos curara. Carved Litré dictionary, inks. 43 x 14 x 27 (h) cm (15 x7 x11 inches). 2012

Visit the homepage of Guy Laramée for many more images, recent and past projects, biography, CV, etc.

“Jitterbug Perfume”

Robbins, Tom.  Jitterbug Perfume.  New York:  Bantam Books.  1984.

So this was my first introduction to a Tom Robbins novel, and I must say…WOW!  My, oh my…that man can write!  That man can write.

Admittedly, I spent the first 30 or so pages grappling with the idea of whether or not I would be able to get into this book.  But once I caught the rhythm of the language, I set sail on a whimsical literary journey that only a brilliantly conceived work of the utmost creatively crafted fiction can inspire.  Here’s a quick example:

The Middle Ages hangs over history’s belt like a beer belly.  It is too late now for aerobic dancing or cottage cheese lunches to reduce the Middle Ages.  History will have to wear size 48 shorts forever.  In the pit of that vast stomach–sloshing with dark and vinegary juices, kindled by a thousand-year heartburn–major figures stimulated acute contractions, only to be eventually digested, adding to the bloat.  Clovis, Charlemagne, Otto I, William the Conqueror, Rurik the Viking, Pope Leo, Thomas Aquinas, Johann Gutenberg, and a platter of other renowned generals, kings, philosophers, and popes fermented and dissolved in that mammoth maw.  Our little couple, however, our Alobar and Kudra, remained intact and indigestible, like the hard octopus beaks that sicken the stomachs of whales, causing them to vomit the ambergris that bonds the bouquet in great perfumes.  Like octopus beaks, our couple.  Or maraschino cherries, (172).

This is one of those books that you don’t want to end, simply because it just so fun to read!

And smart, too.  No, genius!  Cleverly interweaving four sub-plots, the overarching theme amounts to timeless (literally, read the book and you’ll understand) love story with a general ethos of lightheartedness.  Invoking profound ideas about the afterlife rooted in the world’s great spiritual traditions, allusions are made to Christianity (and the historical lineage of its pagan roots), Buddhism, Hinduism…as well as to the notion of truly experiencing the living, immediate present, which transcends all religious doctrine, anyway.  The characters are very entertaining and well developed, too.  I want them to be my friends, and we’ll get beers and talk for hours without realizing that the sun is about to come up.  One of the protagonists, Dr. Wiggs Dannyboy, reflects an Irish adaptation of Timothy Leary, if that provides any clue as to how lively and amusing they can be!

Tom Robbins is a literary virtuoso, and this novel packs a dense artistic punch!  By all means, I will read this one again, probably a few more times during life.  It’s that good.

Veritas Odit Moras

Truth hates delay!  Which is precisely why The Chronicle of Higher Education presents Arts & Letters Daily, a heady website with content updated 6 out of 7 days of the week on philosophy, aesthetics, literature, language, ideas, criticism, culture, history, music, art, trends, breakthroughs, disputes, and even gossip.  The main columns are “Articles of Note,” “New Books,” and “Essays and Opinion.”  Brand new content is at the top, while the older stuff remains as one scrolls toward the bottom…and a lengthy scroll it is.  This site presents a comprehensive array of vetted intellectual output in dynamic splendor.  The daily updates notwithstanding, this is a site to be visited time and again, as it provides loads of links to well respected global news sources, scholarly magazines, book review columns, erudite blogs, etc.  Suffice it to say, there is far, far too much to take in during one sitting!


And if you’re wondering, veritas odit moras–“truth hates delay”–is their motto; taken from line 850 of Seneca’s version of Oedipus.

Oh yeah, one more thing…*wink/nod* to my little sis for calling this one to my attention.  Thanks, Erika!


Do you like antiquarian books?  Do you like well written, thought provoking blogs that cast the English language in its full blown glory à la fanciful imagination, acerbic wit, and properly placed but not overly used tongue-in-cheek sarcasm?  Do you like London?

If you answered yes to at least two of the three questions above, then you’ll likely enjoy the online journal of  Adrian Harrington Rare Books.  There, “information, updates, rantings, musings, and pretty pictures related (loosely I would imagine) to the world of rare and antiquarian books will be brought to you by a number of different personalities, some of whom cohabit in the same person’s head.”

Got a few minutes to stimulate your zeal for bookish intemperance?  Check out Bibliodeviancy.

It’s Like Magic!

ABRACADABRA!  As the mission statement reflects, the Conjuring Arts Research Center is a “not-for-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of magic and its allied arts, which include psychic phenomenon, hypnosis, deceptive gambling, mentalism, ventriloquism, juggling, and sleight of hand techniques.”

Based in the heart of New York City, the center appeals to practitioners and performers of the conjuring arts, academic historians, collectors, writers, and general enthusiasts; which serves to fill the gap between private collections of magic related history and information, and the public.

Accordingly, the crown jewel of this cultural institution is its magical library, housing over 12,000 volumes on the subject–over 500 of which are early printed works predating the year 1700.  In addition to monographs, a variety of magic-related periodicals are also a part of the collection, some published as early as the 18th century.  Included among the holdings, as well, is an extensive collection of unpublished manuscripts on magic methods, some dating back to the 15th century.

Additionally, the Conjuring Arts Research Center fosters and facilitates an outreach program directed toward disadvantaged youth and adults called Hocus Pocus.  The focus of Hocus Pocus is not magic entertainment, but rather, magic education…the intended audience: patients at children’s hospitals, veteran’s hospitals, and at-risk youth.  The goal of the program is to empower participants by introducing them to fun and accessible magic effects that, with some effort, they will master and be able to share in other settings.  Among the desired outcomes aimed at by this program are relief from boredom and monotony, distraction from physical pain, emotional support, inspired curiosity, increased self-esteem, and FUN!

After all, who doesn’t like magic?!?