United and Divided

This week finds me in the British Isles, where the first foreign edition of A More Perfect Heaven makes its debut at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Scotland -- a month before the American edition comes out. It's the same book on both sides of the ocean, of course, except for the spelling of certain words and the contrast between the two jackets. Just as the United Kingdom and the United States are "divided by a common language," as George Bernard Shaw once quipped, we seem further divided in the way we judge books by their covers.

The background color of the U.K. jacket suggests the bluest depths of the night sky that Copernicus might have observed, while the U.S. jacket glows in a burnished brass-gold reminiscent of an early astronomical instrument. Both are beautiful, and I'm glad I didn't have to choose between them.

An important first edition copy of Copernicus's own book resides at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. It belonged to astronomer Erasmus Reinhold, a Copernican contemporary who made copious notes in the margins of many pages -- notes that indicate how the book's first readers reacted to its original ideas. I was hoping to view Reinhold's annotated copy while visiting the city, but, unfortunately for me, the librarian who has custody of the rare volume will be away on vacation.

The Book Festival coincides with Edinburgh's Festival Fringe, said to be the world's largest annual arts festival. The crowd of performers coming to town has made it easy for my publisher to find a couple of actors willing to portray Copernicus and his lone disciple, Rheticus. The two men will read aloud a few scenes from "And the Sun Stood Still," the play at the center of my book, during my Festival event.

After leaving Edinburgh, I'll take Copernicus to Dublin and Belfast, then England, with events in Bristol, Bath, Greenwich, and London. For a play reading at the new Peter Harrison Planetarium of the National Maritime Museum, the staff have promised to create stellar theatrical effects (or theatrical stellar effects?) on the dome with their digital laser projector.