Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Another little treasure

Still plundering the bookshelf at home for little books about books. Here's another favorite - though I must admit I haven't read it through, and in fact many of the pages remain uncut, so I'm not the only one. Bibliophily, or Book-Love by James F. Willis (Houghton Mifflin 1921). Measures just over six by four inches, bound in a green cloth spine and patterned paper covers, a nice paper label on the spine. This copy was at some time exposed to the elements - the front board has a stain and is slightly warped, but is still holding up nicely (one might say the same about me, I suppose):

The short chapters are sermon-like in their fervor and devotion to books and reading, and include Booklove, Book-Gathering, Book-Reading, and Book-Making. A sample from within:

"By their very occupation, booklovers as well as booksellers are broad-minded: their constant companionship with books gives them a liberality through which they view clearly and dispassionately every phase of life and every dispensation of Providence; they are not always what the world knows as practical, for spiritual development seldom produces dexterity in the baser organs." (pp.2-3)

As fine an explanation, or even a defense, perhaps, of those of us obsessed with books as I've ever read. No, we're not practical, no, not as such. A bit more, about reading:

"We are told that some readers are like jelly-bags; they let all pass that is good, and retain only the impure and the refuse: that some are like sponges; they suck up all and give it back, only a little dirtier: that some are like the sands of the hour-glass; their reading runs in and out, and leaves no trace behind it: that just a few are like the workers in the Golconda Mines; they retain the gold and gems, and cast aside the dirt and dross." (p.55)

Besides finally understanding how to use a colon and when to use a semicolon, I like this passage, and the metaphor in particular, because I've always thought of reading as digging for ore, mining for gold, and, with some discernment, striking it rich more often than not. However, I must note that our author borrowed these phrases directly from Coleridge ("We are told BY COLERIDGE..." this passage should begin), which makes me wonder how much more of the book was assembled from other sources. Ah well, it's still a sweet little book. I may even cut the rest of its pages someday and read the whole thing.

I am glad to know that as a booklover and bookseller I "view clearly and dispassionately every phase of life..." And I was just thinking what a muddle it all is!
Yes, I thought you'd like that. Good to know, isn't it, that we are all eternal founts of even-handed wisdom...
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