Wednesday, March 08, 2006


The Loeb Classical Library and the TLS

I love to put my feet up and read the TLS, my favorite book review. I read the paper copy whenever I can get my hands on it, but have also recently started reading online as well, particularly since I discovered the blog of TLS editor Peter Stothard. One of his posts from late February covers the imminent 500th title in the Loeb Classical Library. Sir Peter says:

"Every early edition of the Loeb Classical Library carried the sponsor's message, 'A word about its purpose and its scope', which attacked the turn-of-the-century rush for mechanical and social achievement and what was then the neglect of the humanities.

(Loeb) admired the way in which any Parisian could buy cheap copies of Latin and Greek texts, with a simple parallel translation into their language. He wanted English readers to have the same."

A great article on a great humanist publishing legacy. A few years ago I put together a decent collection of Loeb Classics for a good customer, and as I packed them up to ship them away to him, I had such a pang of regret about selling them. There are more out there, I know, I see at least a few in most used bookshops I visit. Still, I had them in my hands, and I let them go. Who wouldn't want an entire wall of Loebs, their distinctive red and green covers in tidy rows.

I used to order Loeb editions for one of my regulars(a rather feisty retired lady)and I do remember the light elegance of the copies-didn't know they had red covers as well! The ones I got for her were always green.
This is off topic, but I wanted to report on my vist to Wells, Maine. My wife decided I needed to get out of town for a couple days on spring break and talked me into it, without much objection on my part. She suggested Wells, based on memories of the many used book stores in the area. As it turned out, they were closed for the season, except for Douglas Harding's, the one I was most excited about visiting.

I spent about five hours there, over the course of two days, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. So many temptations, so many finds.

The highlights were Casuals of the Sea (William McFee), Modern Essays (first volume, selected by Christopher Morley), Books in Black or Red (Edmund Pearson), Sixpence House (Paul Collins and apologies to him for buying it used), The Seven Stairs (Stuart Brent, and thanks to you, Sarah, for suggesting it), a hardback copy of The Outermost House (Henry Beston), and a beautifully bound copy of Last Essays of Elia (Charles Lamb).

The most curious book was The Pleasures of Literature and the Solace of Books, quotations compiled by Joseph Shaler.

Now, where to put them?

Re. Loebs: Greek in green, and Latin in red. They are elegant indeed, such a pleasing size and design...

Harding's is always worth a visit. The owner is one of Maine's great bookmen, and he has a great shop, well-organized and sprawling, deep sections of history and literature, and a good section of books about books, which you seem to have cleaned out, Dan! Great choices - I still don't have "Casuals of the Sea" - someday I'll come across it! Hope you enjoy "The Seven Stairs" - the early sections sum up so well what it really feels like to operate a bookshop. And I think I already mentioned his great reading lists at the end of the book. Get busy building more bookcases, that's my advice.
I saw Mr. Harding, just back from somewhere warm, but was too shy to speak to him. I did have several conversations with his daughter and she said a couple of her kids are helping out at the store, along with at least one of her siblings. So, the family business stays in the family.

"The Seven Stairs" looks like a lot of fun; I've begun reading it and peeked ahead. Imagine looking up to see Katherine Hepburn walk into your store! I did see a copy of "Yankee Bookseller", another book you had recommended, but, at $50, it was out of my range.

One thing I really liked about the layout of Harding's was the section of vintage fiction, separate from more recent fiction. I read every title in the former and it was enormously helpful not to have to weed through the latter (and the same goes in reverse for those with opposite tastes.)

Thanks again for your suggestions. Gotta go build some bookcases.

Don't worry, Dan, I'm also usually too shy to speak to him...

p.s. I love Henry Beston's writing. "The Outermost House" is a wonderful book on solitude, nature, the strength of the seasons. His wife Elizabeth Coatsworth wrote a few books I also love. Her autobiography "Personal Geography" is one of my favorites. The poet Kate Barnes is one of their daughters.
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