Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Andrew Motion / American Boys

* Soon-to-be Godine author and British poet-laureate Andrew Motion is making the news in Britain. Motion is pressing the new Prime Minister to help keep literary manuscripts in British institutions via tax-incentives.

"The writer has expressed concerns that work by figures including Tom Stoppard, Ted Hughes and Evelyn Waugh, is being snapped up by US institutions. Professor Motion told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that there are 'magical and meaningful' reasons to preserve original documents for the nation. The British Library has said it cannot pay as much as US universities."

He worries that there is a cultural “black hole” developing in Britain because of the loss of these literary-historical documents. I'd never heard of this as a problem, but I'm glad Motion is working to make changes. Intellectuals flock to universities and libraries for manuscripts and letters, even contracts, for research on authors, so having these kinds of papers is much more than a matter of national pride. Collections like the ones to which he is referring can be the building blocks of intellectual communities.

* In other news the Dangerous Book for Boys is topping all kinds of sales lists and recently got a long review in The Weekly Standard. Roger Kimball of the New Criterion writes, "The Dangerous Book for Boys is a book that implicitly endorses Aristotle's observation that courage is the most important virtue because, without courage, it is impossible to practice the other virtues." Too true. The success of Dangerous Book for Boys has created some new interest for our American Boy's Handy Book series.

Dangerous Book for Boys
and American Boy's Handy Book are pretty similar. Their aims are to occupy children without the assistance of a TV or video-game system, and maybe even to enbolden them towards courage and virtue, as Kimball writes. The biggest difference is that our retro look comes from the book's being written in the 1880's, and our author – Daniel Carter Beard – was a founder of the Boy Scouts. The Dangerous Book for Boys is more up-to-date in a few ways, with chapters on making a battery and the fifty states (there were only 41 when American Boys was first published), where Godine's Handy Books include things like making blow darts, how to build a number of rafts, war kites, novel modes of fishing, and – my favorite – 12 illustrated pages on snowball warfare. We also have two volumes for boys, the American Boy's Handy Book and its more outdoor companion the Field and Forest Handy Book, and a girl's volume—the American Girls Handy Book.

Ah the joys of childhood.

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