Some people, when they are too tired to read anything challenging or deep, read a romance. Or a mystery. Or a magazine. I read books about books. I read my first book of this genre years ago when I worked in a used book store. The book, Used and Rare by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone, grabbed me, and I've read that book cover to cover many, many times since. The book store at which I was working, was filled mostly with romance, mystery, modern lit, and children's. Very little in the way of what I would call "rare" or antique. But that book was the catalyst for what I call my book collecting obsession. In fact, it was after my most recent re-read that I began, in earnest, collecting books with age. I wouldn't call them rare or even antique, but they do have age, and with age, a history.
But I digress. Book about books, and not my meager and mediocre collection, is the topic.
Since Used and Rare, I've read many other books of this genre, some captivating, some not so much. One not-so-much book is a book by Paul Collins called Sixpence House, a book I remember seeing in the new stacks when it first debuted (when I was young and broke), but never bought, although I hunted hungrily for a copy through every used bookstore for many years. I eventually forgot about Sixpence, until a discussion I had with Silvia, about the books-about-books genre brought that long-sought-for book to mind.
I bought the book. And waited. And waited. The book was a bit tardy in coming, which only added to the years anticipation that had been building. Finally the book arrived, and I devoured it in a little over a day.
And I was disappointed.
The anticipation may have been too much. But more likely, I was expecting a book of a different sort. Used and Rare is one couples journey into the rare book world. Book bindings, original manuscripts, and completely unique books (such as an old sea log in which Melville scribbled in the margins his first inklings of Moby), clutter the pages. Most of the authors and books of which the Goldstone's write, I was at least passably familiar with.
Sixpence is nothing like Used and Rare. Most of the books Paul Collins writes about, I'd never heard of. He seems to like old periodicals and ancient medical tomes. His writing about the village, Hay-On-Wye, a town in the Welsh countryside that boasts 40 book shops in a town of about 1500, is spot on. His descriptions of the buildings and the people and the pubs are engaging. I want to live in Hay, so well does he describe it.
But after all, this is a book about books, or so I thought. Sixpence is actually about the village. But I read the book primarily for those lusty descriptions of hand tooled gilt bindings, and illuminated margins that I hoped to find.
Collins writes about books that I never once imagined I would ever want to read. A technical book about insanity. A book of moldy essays by a moldy Scottish parson. Not exactly Dickens. But I finished the book, flipped to the Acknowledgments page, in which Collins thanks a bunch of people and dead authors without whose books his book would not have been possible. And I decided on a whim to order a few books, at random, from his dead author list.
One of which being that moldy book of essays. Which is a lovely, lovely book. Another, Two Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, is one of the funniest books I've read in a very long time. And Books in Black or Red. Oh, my. That book in itself is a rabbit hole from which I've yet to emerge. In fact, when I began this post, I intended to write about The Library by Andrew Lang, a book I read about in Black or Red which I read about in Sixpence. You get the picture. I guess that will be for another post. Or a series of posts.
That's it. I'll do a series of posts about books about books about books . . .
So, I started off saying that Sixpence was one of those not-so-much books. I've yet to reread the book cover to cover, but I dip into it often. Not for his descriptions of the town or the people. But for the books. I've now ordered and read many books that he writes about. Not one of them has been disappointing.
I've yet to read that book on insanity. Not sure I should.
There's probably a whole chapter in it about people who love books just a little too much.
Which reminds me of another book I read recently, A Gentle Madness, an encyclopedic book on the history of book collecting.
A Gentle Madness. My husband would beg to differ. There's nothing gentle about it.
So, back to the beginning. Books about books. I think I've hit on something. This could keep me writing for awhile. Tomorrow, or the next day or the next (you should know me by now), I'll introduce you to The Library by Andrew Lang.
How's that for my return to the blog world?