Saturday, February 24, 2007


More from Burton

Burton's The Book-Hunter is too delicious. I'm reading the section about librarians, and he mentions Magliabecchi, librarian to the Grand Duke of Tuscany (as did The Reader's Encyclopedia last month; see the Ms). Apparently Magliabecchi "...could direct you to any book in any part of the world, with the precision with which the metropolitan policeman directs you to St. Paul's or Piccadilly. It is of him that the stories are told of answers to inquiries after books, in these terms: 'There is but one copy of that book in the world. It is in the Grand Seignior's library at Constantinople, and is the seventh book in the second shelf on the right hand as you go in.'" (p.144)

Magliabecchi was a self-taught bibliophile, and Burton's writing style gleams like dull gold when describing him: "He devoured books, and the printed leaves became as necessary to his existence as the cabbage-leaves to the caterpillars which at times made their not welcome appearance in the abjured greengrocery. Like these verdant reptiles, too, he became assimilated to the food he fed on, insomuch that he was in a manner hot-pressed, bound, marble-topped, lettered, and shelved. He could bear nothing but books around him, and would allow no space for aught else; his furniture, according to repute, being limited to two chairs, the second of which was admitted in order that the two together might serve as a bed." (pp.144-145). Abjured greengrocery! Verdant reptiles! I don't know whether to be deeply gladdened or wildly disheartened that no one writes like this anymore.

I have bookish friend who is downsizing her bedroom furniture so she can fit more bookshelves in the space! I will mention the idea of sleeping on two chairs. Beds do take up a lot of space!
"The quality of the best .. bookshops is determined by their width and depth of stock, by the taste and wit of their managers" From a review of "Out of Print & Into Profit" in this week's TLS. I think you'll enjoy it.
Be wildly disheartened. I just finished reading The Book-Hunter just a couple months ago and am always eager to read others like it.
Dear Vicky, she could always use piles of books as the supports for the bed. All that wasted space under there, it's a shame, really.

Lesley - thanks for the heads up, I will track down a copy this week, the article sounds great!

Hi Quillhill - that is indeed the direction in which I was leaning. Holbrook Jackson's "Anatomy of Bibliomania" has as much verbosity, but Jackson's style is, in that book at least, so put-on that I find it off-putting. If you know what I mean (patterned as it is after - a different Burton's - "Anatomy of Melancholy"). Whereas I get the sense that Burton's style more reflects his natural state of being. What a difference a few decades makes, to be sure.
Vicky's post reminded me of the scene in Shirley Jackson's Raising Demons, in which a realtor is visiting her house:

"In the study she nodded to my husband, turned completely around once, and then remarked that we seemed to be making no practical use of the space in our house. 'This room would be _much_ larger,' she said, 'if you took out all those books.' Mrs. ferrier thought the maste bedroom should have faced west, and she barely put her head inside the smaller bedrooms. 'They would be much larger,' I told her, 'if we took out the beds.' "

Hey Dan - I think in Paul Collins's "Sixpence House" he and his wife are selling their place in San Francisco and a realtor tells them that houses with a lot of books on display are very hard to sell (or is it apartments with books are hard to rent?). It's not like we bookish people have The Black Plague, for god's sake...
That's right, I'd forgotten Paul Collins talks about that.

Okay, I have to type one of my two favorite opening paragraphs to books. (The other is Charles Thayer's "Bears in the Caviar".) This is the start of Shirley Jackson's "Raising Demons".

"Our house is old, and noisy, and full. When we moved into it we had two children and about five thousand books; I expect that when we finally overflow and move out again we will have perhaps twenty children and easily half a million books; we also own assorted beds and tables and chairs and rocking horses and lamps and doll dresses and ship models and paint brushes and literally thousands of socks. This is the way of life my husband and I have fallen into, inadvertently, as though we had fallen into a well and decided that since there was no way out we might as well stay there and set up a chair and a desk and a light of some kind; even though this is our way of life, and the only one we know, it is occasionally bewildering, and perhaps even inexplicable to the sort of person who does not have that swift, accurate conviction that he is going to step on a broken celluloid doll in the dark. I cannot think of a preferable way of life, except one without children and without books, going on soundlessly in an apartment hotel where they do the cleaning for you and send up your meals and all you have to do is lie on a couch and- as I say, I cannot think of a preferable way of life, but then I have had to make a good many compromises, all told.

God, Shirley Jackson is so terrific. I had a beautiful first edition in jacket once, years ago, of "The Haunting of Hill House." Sold it, shoulda kept it. (Can't keep everything. CAN'T. TRIED.)

What the heck is "Bears in the Caviar" - I can't believe I have absolutely no idea, but there it is, I don't. But I will now...
Bears in the Caviar is the name of the memoirs of Charles Thayer, dealing with his career as a diplomat in out of the way places. You might enjoy it, given your liking of travel books. It's been awhile since I stumbled on it in the library stacks and I don't even remember the beginning, but I do know I loved the opening sentences.

Thayer also wrote a popular book, Muzzy, about hi ssocialite mother. I've never read it, but I think it got more attention than Bears.

I picked up a copy of Raising Demons today. Thank you Dan and Sarah!
I hope you enjoy it, Vicky.

Thanks again for the comments - I came back from my day off and my inbox was full of them - making me feel missed and very happy to maintain a blog about books, with a life of its own, about - among other things - sharing the love of great books, or merely good ones for that matter. Re "Bears in the Caviar" - interesting, my great-grandmother was nicknamed Muzzy. She wasn't a socialite per se, but did move in society somewhat. This demands further research...
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