Shelf Life

Name that machine

The house of Ralph Waldo Emerson is open for tours. The house of Ralph Waldo Emerson is open for tours.
By Jan Gardner
September 27, 2009

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Harvard Book Store will add 3.6 million titles to its offerings when it fires up a print-on-demand Espresso Book Machine on Tuesday. In less than five minutes, the machine prints and binds a paperback book. Most will be priced at about $8.

On Demand Books, maker of the machine, has 1.6 million titles in its catalog, and another 2 million titles in the public domain are available through an agreement with Google.

The bookstore is holding a contest to come up with a name for its newfangled printing press. The winner will be selected by a panel of judges who will sift through customers’ suggestions. Guidelines encouraged puns as well as silly and obscure literary references.

First we tour
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s home near downtown Concord looks much as it did during the 46 years he lived there with his family. During that period, Emerson cultivated friendships with Bronson Alcott and Henry David Thoreau and produced his “Self-Reliance’’ essay, among other works.

Public tours of the house take note of Emerson’s writing habits. In his study off the front hall, he wrote poetry, lectures, essays, letters, and journal entries. His journals, he said, were his “savings bank,’’ and he indexed each of them. It was at Emerson’s urging that Thoreau began keeping a journal.

Robert D. Richardson, author of a prize-winning biography about the writer-philosopher, offers fresh insights in “First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process’’ (University of Iowa). The title is derived from a line in Emerson’s essay “The American Scholar,’’ written in his Concord home: “First we eat, then we beget; first we read, then we write.’’

The last tour of the season will be on Oct. 25. The house was built in the 1800s as a summer retreat, and it isn’t up to New England winters.

Converging on Brattleboro
A full complement of established and emerging writers will converge on the Brattleboro Literary Festival next weekend. Notables include garden designers Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Hackett Fischer, Vermont goat herder, cheese maker, and memoirist Brad Kessler, and Wyn Cooper, whose poem inspired Sheryl Crow’s Grammy-winning song “All I Wanna Do.’’

Also next weekend in Brattleboro, Mystery on Main Street, New England’s only mystery bookstore, will host its third annual celebration of writers. The creators of “The Vermont Monster Guide’’ will tell tales about creatures roaming lakes, mountains, and hamlets. Don Bredes and Peter Abrahams will read from their new mysteries in which violence lurks amid the rural peace of Vermont.

Celebrate books
PEN New England’s annual celebration of books published in the past year will be a lawn party at the Longfellow House in Cambridge next Sunday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Everyone is invited to raise a glass to the authors.

Coming out
“Major Farran’s Hat: The Untold Story of the Struggle to Establish the Jewish State,’’ by David Cesarani (Da Capo)

“Juliet, Naked,’’ by Nick Hornby (Riverhead)

“Her Fearful Symmetry,’’ by Audrey Niffenegger (Scribner)

Pick of the week
Kenny Brechner of Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, recommends “Stitches’’ by David Small (Norton): “Readers would have an easier time leaving Shelob’s web [in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings’’] than the mesmerizing immediacy of Small’s graphic novel memoir. In this journey through and away from childhood trauma and ill-considered parenting, creativity is the engine of an unforgettable coming of age.’’

Jan Gardner can be reached at

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