Alice fails to sell

A few months ago, I learned from Fine Books & Collections that the auction house Christie’s was selling a copy of the first issue of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in a stand-alone sale on June 16, 2016. They estimated it to sell for $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. The copy “is one of ten surviving copies still in original red cloth, only two of which are in private hands, the other described as “heavily worn.””

After the auction, I was excited to see what price the copy would realize, but a quick internet search did not yield any information. Even the Christie’s website was silent about what had happened.

It was only a few days ago that I learned from FB&C that (even though the bidding reached $1,800,000) the copy “failed to meet its reserve and did not sell.”

The Universe in a Handkerchief

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I recently bought a copy of Martin Gardner’s The Universe in a Handkerchief (New York: Copernicus, 1996). (In a future blog post, I’ll describe in more detail how I bought it.) The book’s subtitle is “Lewis Carroll’s Mathematical Recreations, Games, Puzzles, and Word Plays.” I present here some items in the book that I found very interesting. Continue reading “The Universe in a Handkerchief”

A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #10 – The Spitwad

This is a perfect example of good writing. Here’s the summary from the author: “A science teacher with zero personality confronts a bully, with a little help from the heavens.”

Jacke Wilson

Here’s something I’ve learned: teachers are human.

They’re not superheroes or gods. Not saints or demons. They’re human beings, with flaws and weaknesses like all the rest of us.

Don Ward was a fine man who taught high school biology to undeserving students in the same crumbling, run-down building for forty-three years.

How bad was our school? When I was there, ceiling tiles used to fall crashing to the floor. I’d never actually seen one drop, but at least once a month we’d see one in the hallway by the lockers, broken on the ground with a cloud of white smoke that was probably 100% asbestos. In the ceiling, there’d be a gap that stayed there forever, never to be filled. No money in the budget. Or maybe nobody cared enough to bother.

Not such a great workplace for Don Ward. How did he do it? Why did he stay? It…

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I recently bought a fifth printing of Sherlock: The Casebook by Guy Adams (BBC Books, 2012) from Fully Booked in Alabang. (The pictures here are of the book’s dust jacket.) According to its last page, “This book is published to accompany Sherlock, broadcast on BBC ONE.” The book covers the six episodes of seasons 1 and 2. The BBC One website describes the show as “Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson’s adventures in 21st Century London. A thrilling, funny, fast-paced contemporary reimagining of the Arthur Conan Doyle classic.”

My wife and I first saw the three episodes of season 1 a few years ago and became instant fans of the show. I had never read a Sherlock Holmes story before (nor had I seen any TV shows or movies about him) and so I knew almost nothing about the character. The book describes what happened in the show, so I’m planning not to read the second half until I watch the season 2 episodes.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Silver Blaze”:

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

haddon My daughter found a copy of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Vintage, 2004) at a local BOOKSALE outlet and I bought it because she liked it. I very seldom look at novels, but I’m glad that I read this book.

This “murder mystery novel” is quite unusual in that (a) it starts at chapter 2, (b) it has footnotes, drawings, and an appendix consisting of a proof of a mathematical theorem, and (c) the murderer is revealed halfway through the novel.

So I think it is not a “real” murder mystery novel (hence the scare quotes in the previous paragraph), and, to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, that is the curious incident.

Although the story is told from the viewpoint of a 15-year-old boy, I found the observations on language (literal and figurative), writing (how to write detective fiction), the nature of the mind (how a normal person’s way of thinking differs from that of an autistic person, or of an animal, or of a computer), and mathematics very deep. I particularly like how a wide variety of mathematics is presented (probability, chaos, games, tessellations).

A quote from Wikipedia mentions that the book “was published simultaneously in separate editions for adults and children.” It seems that my copy has a few differences from the version that Wikipedia refers to. For example, Wikipedia mentions that the lead character is given a Cocker Spaniel puppy at the end, but in my copy of the book, the puppy is a Golden Retriever.

I found the ending quite sad, although most people would probably consider it a happy ending.

Stories at 4 1/3

(Originally posted at on September 7, 2012 1:55 AM)

Here are a few stories my daughter wrote when she was around 4 1/3 years old.


I’ve edited the story shown above as follows:

The laughing girl

Once upon a time, a little girl was laughing.  The girl’s mom did not know how to stop her.  She did laugh for long.  When she was sleeping, she still laughed.  Her mom didn’t know how to stop her.

Try to decipher the following (unedited) stories:

The cmel in the deset

the camel was in the dsrt he was lonli but
he lace wat he so he so a boy
the boy lac the camel the camel hed a frend he layc the boy
the boy took the camel home

the loni joraf

wons u pnd a tamme
a litul joraf wis lomli
the joraf so a boy he layc the boy
the joraf wis loni he fownd a boy
the joraf had a frend!

the boy hwo went owt

one day a litul boy cam owt
the litul boy had a lost shoo
my shoo! he yeld
hello he sed
shoo are you the lost shoo was ter

The little boy who [heart] fiting

One day a little boy went owt and he so anedr little boy i want to fit this boy! So he did Also the two boys fit bat the little boy said i hat fiting

The Old Beggar Woman

(Originally posted at on July 10, 2011 8:45 AM)

When I first looked through The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm Volume II (Bantam Books, 1988) many years ago, I was amused by some of the stories that were fragmentary and in some ways nonsensical.  A good example is Tale 150, which I reproduce here in its entirety.

Once upon a time there was an old woman.  Of course, you’ve seen old women go begging before.  Well, this woman begged too, and whenever she got something, she said, “May God reward you.”  Now, this beggar woman came to a door where a friendly young rascal was warming himself inside by a fire.  As she stood shivering at the door the youngster spoke kindly to the old woman, “Come in, grandma, and warm yourself.”

She entered but went too close to the fire so that her old rags began to burn without her noticing it.  The youngster stood there and watched.  He should have put out the fire, don’t you think?  And even if there was no water at hand, he should have wept out all the water in his body through his eyes.  That would have made for two nice streams of water, and with that he could have extinguished the fire.

How Children Played Butcher with Each Other

(Originally posted at on May 15, 2011 2:49 AM)

I just bought a copy of The Annotated Brothers Grimm (W.W. Norton & Company, 2004) from a BOOKSALE outlet.  It contains stories from the 1857 edition of the Grimms’ Children’s Stories and Household Tales.  One of my favorites is the first version of “How Children Played Butcher with Each Other.”

In a city called Franecker located in West Friesland, it happened that young children aged five and six, both boys and girls, were playing together.  And they decided that one boy should be the butcher, another boy should be the cook, and a third should be the pig.  Next they decided that one little girl should play the cook, another was to be the assistant to the cook.  The assistant was supposed to catch the blood from the pig in a little basin so that they could make sausages from it.  The butcher, as had been agreed, chased after the boy who was playing the pig, pulled him down to the ground, and cut his throat with a little knife.  The assistant to the cook caught the blood in her little basin.  A councilor who happens to be passing by sees the whole miserable spectacle.  He dashes off with the butcher, takes him up to the house of the mayor, who immediately calls a meeting of all councilors.  They deliberated at length on the matter and had no idea what to do, for they realized that it had all been child’s play.  One of them, a wise old man, ventured the opinion that the chief judge should put a nice red apple in one hand and a guilder in the other and that he call the child in and stretch both hands out to him.  If the child took the apple, he would be declared innocent.  If he took the guilder, he would be killed.  This was done:  the child, laughing, reached out for the apple and was therefore not subjected to any kind of punishment.

There is a second version of the story, which, in my opinion, has a more gruesome ending.  Maria Tatar notes that “[t]hese tales may seem to deviate dramatically from the form of the fairy tale, but bearing in mind that the German term for fairy tales (Märchen) is a diminutive form of the word for “news,” these two reports, which read almost like newspaper accounts, conform to the nature of the genre.”  She adds that the first version “appeared in the Berliner Abendblätter, a short-lived newspaper edited by the writer Heinrich von Kleist.  The incident was based on a published report from 1555 and interested Kleist because of the test at the end of the narrative, with the child declared innocent because he has not yet attained an understanding of symbolic thinking.”  (A guilder is a coin representing a certain currency unit.)