images from mid-19th century Shepherds' Guide … with the idea of proto-constructivist agit-prop on the fells, stray Herdwicks limning quasi-Malevichs, near-Mondrians, organised by eager sheepdog commissars. Kurt Schwitters perhaps nearby, appreciating this rural echo of the vanished hopes of Weimar modernism.

Smit Marks: “The smit mark is a bold stroke or pop, spot, or other coloured mark on the sheep’s body, that can be seen clearly from a distance.” – from a page about Shepherds’ Guides from a very interesting general site about the history of the Lake District.

See also Barry McKay’s lecture delivered at the Hidden TypographyConference, St Bride Printing Library, 20 October 2003.


Posed by Luc Sante, in an interesting post about an educational pocket library series published by the early 20th century American Socialist weekly Appeal to Reason:

What happened to continuing self-education? These books were read by teamsters and machinists and stevedores and farmhands and miners. They read them not because they thought the books could help them get a better job but because they were curious. They were hungry–they wanted to consume the world. This isn’t to say that every hod-carrier in Michigan in 1910 was reading them, but enough were to make the series continually expand. And none of it was fluff, or merely mercenary, or simple-minded propaganda. How many people–with considerably longer formal educations and a larger fund of leisure time–read anything like that sort of thing today, for fun? How many people assume without thinking about it that reading is and has always been a pursuit strictly for the privileged? Would it be too much to consider a connection between the rightward shift in politics and the decline of self-motivated learning?

…. just very good indeed. Isaac Tobin’s jacket designs, mainly for the University of Chicago Press.

jacket design by Isaac Tobin

Pointer from The Book Design Review, a while back.

Image: jacket for Chad Heap’s Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940.

Interestingly, this seems not to be the final jacket – this is the book’s page at the University of Chicago Press – but I think this one’s better, implying as it does that this sort of thing was going on just a bit earlier than one might have thought…

Dales totem

photo: Farm machinery on the disused railway line between Askrigg and Aysgarth, February 2008, taken by yours truly

The American poet and publisher Jonathan Williams, who knew, among other places, Wensleydale, where I have just been, died on Sunday last. in a characteristically-titled essay “Some Speak of a/ Return to Nature/ I Wonder Where They/ Could Have Been” he writes of the photographer Bill Brandt’s assertion that the ancient track between Lewes and Newhaven is the most beautiful road in the world:

I would want to ask Bill Brandt if he’s walked sections of the Lyke Wake Walk on the Cleveland Hills during the heather season, or the green tracks around Upper Wharfedale: the one from Cray over to Stalling Busk in Wensleydale. Beauty is in the feet of the beholder.

Others may mourn him more eloquently than I – Pierre Joris, Mark Scroggins, Ron Silliman, John Latta – via wood s lot, ever the grapevine for these things, from whom I had the news. Ruminations from the distant hills, a blog from the Appalachians, has a handy summation of Williams’ career and significance, and points out that Jargon Press, started while he was still a student, was named “not only for its meaning of personal idiom, but after the French spring pear, “jargonelle” and the French “jargon,” meaning the twittering of birds”. As my other web-cognomen, ‘ramage’, also means the twittering of birds, I’d like to hope for some kinship there. At any rate, I’ll be reading tonight in his books An Ear in Bartram’s Tree, The Magpie’s Bagpipe, and Jubilant Thicket. God rest the old curmudgeon, but not too much – we could do with his spirit still being up and around, somewhere. Here’s a taste, in memoriam one of his own pantheon, Thomas Bewick:

Mr. Bewick, pronounced BUICK,
rests in the churchyard at Ovingham,
pronounced AH-VIN-JUM,
a part of the Tyne Valley
now occupied by Horsey
People who have hardly ever heard

of him

Henry David Thoreau has a maple syrup mishap, 152 years ago yesterday.

(Yes, I know. I’ve been back from holiday ages. Work’n’stuff, what can I tellya?)

Bookish holiday


I took it [Gravity’s Rainbow ] on holiday to Greece with me in 1987. For three days I manfully ploughed on until I realised that it was actually ruining my vacation. I’d only got to page 127, and in the meantime my friend had not only polished off Kennedy for the Defence but was steaming through A House for Mr Biswas. I jettisoned it in the left luggage locker at Nafpolio station. It’s probably still there.

– an unnamed contributor to The Guardian, 29 May 2004, from Julie Rugg and Linda Murphy, A Book Addict’s Treasury (2006).

I’m off on holiday to the Yorkshire Dales for the next week or so, where I confidently hope to be steaming through Oliver VII by Antal Szerb. Anti-Pynchonism aside, though, which I must deplore, this is a caveat. It might well end up being some as-yet-unsuspected treasure dug out of the secondhand bookshop in Settle. I don’t think I’ll be jettisoning this book down a buttertub, though, somehow. Postings, however, will be even sparser than usual.

UPDATE: The Pushkin Press site, to which the link above points, seems to be down at the moment, but here’s a link to the Guardian review of Oliver VII which begins:

Is it possible to construct a novel out of pure joy? To construct a Shakespearean idyll when Europe is being overrun by Nazis, and the writer, personally, is in great danger?

Chris Engman, The Library, 2005: “I purchased these books at a discounted rate from a used bookstore, where many of them had sat on shelves for more than a decade, unwanted.”

via wood s lot

“…And the prize for the image that best sums up the state of this blog goes to…”

Lori Nix, “Library”, from The City

Lori Nix Photography, via neko at ffffound!, who spotted it here.


An amazing photoset on Flickr: The Detroit Public Schools Book Depository/ Roosevelt Warehouse

This is a building where our deeply-troubled public school system once stored its supplies, and then one day apparently walked away from it all, allowing everything to go to waste. The interior has been ravaged by fires and the supplies that haven’t burned have been subjected to 20 years of Michigan weather. To walk around this building transcends the sort of typical ruin-fetishism and “sadness” some get from a beautiful abandoned building. This city’s school district is so impoverished that students are not allowed to take their textbooks home to do homework, and many of its administrators are so corrupt that every few months the newspapers have a field day with their scandals, sweetheart-deals, and expensive trips made at the expense of a population of children who can no longer rely on a public education to help lift them from the cycle of violence and poverty that has made Detroit the most dangerous city in America. To walk through this ruin, more than any other, I think, is to obliquely experience the real tragedy of this city; not some sentimental tragedy of brick and plaster, but one of people.

Sweet Juniper!, via mefithingsmakinglight

“Read them and weep”, I think, is the only appropriate comment here. This is just tragic – as one of the commenters on Sweet Juniper says, “There is a guy in Detroit, wearing a nice suit, that is responsible for this. He gets to go home smiling, well paid, and nothing will be done about it.”

Dino Buzzati, novelist, writer of short stories, I know quite well – one story, about a man hospitalized for some unspecified disease, and moved repeatedly from ward to ward, and level to level, in the hospital according to the supposed severity of said disease, is as Kafkaesque as anything by Kafka.

Dino Buzzati, illustrator, not so much – until now.

[via wrongdistance]