Thursday, May 23, 2013


book lovers have more fun

Reading about reading, books about books.  Whenever I don't know what to read next (not like this is a common problem, ahem), I circle back to books on this beloved subject.  One such, Housekeeping vs. The Dirt by Nick Hornby (Believer Books 2006), lingered on my bedside table for a long time this winter.  Essays about books purchased and read, or not read as the case may be.  I see from paging back through my journal that I did read it again a few months ago, and meant to share a few bits of it with you, here.  So, forthwith:

"I would like my personal reading map to resemble a map of the British Empire circa 1900; I'd like people to look at it and think, How the hell did he end up right over there?  As it is, I make only tiny little incursions into the territory of my own ignorance - every year, another classic novel conquered here, a couple of new literary biographies beaten down there.  To be honest, I'm not sure that I can spare the troops for conquests further afield: they're needed to quell all the rebellions and escape attempts at home." (p.51)

I love that, although in reading as in life I tend to think in terms of peaceful resolution, if not out-and-out white-flag-waving surrender, rather than conquest.

But back to the book - besides being wry and entertaining, Hornby is also very quotable:

"...the great thing about books is that you'll read anything that a good writer wants you to read." (p.78)

And just one more:

"There comes a point in life, it seems to me, where you have to decide whether you're a Person of Letters or merely someone who loves books, and I'm beginning to see that the book lovers have more fun.  Persons of Letters have to read things like Candide or they're a few letters short of the whole alphabet; book lovers, meanwhile, can read whatever they fancy." (p.88)

I don't mind being a few letters short.  When I had my bookshop, I remember many many people assuming that I was an English major, simply because they saw me surrounded by books.  But no, I was not.  And there are so many classics I have never read and never intend to read.  I remain free to read what I want, not what I should - I remain endlessly curious about the places and things and people that I myself am endlessly curious about - with no apologies.  Speaking of which, Samuel Johnson and Benjamin Franklin are still fraternizing on my bedside table - volumes of their Letters are half read and patiently sitting back-to-back and have been for months now, and recent arrivals have covered them over like the rising tide.  Yet they endure.  Anchors, or even better, ballast.  I know I'll return to them at some point.  Right now I'm too busy being a mere book lover.

Books about books are quite easy to love for anyone who has even the slightest symptom of bibliomania. Thanks to your list of favorites over the years, I have added quite a few to my own collection--there are SO many! There are not only books about books, but bibliographies of books about books, and bibliographies OF bibliographies of books about books!I love these books because they so often allow a glimpse into a world long past or of books I will never see or handle in person.
I just finished a wonderfully entertaining book about books: "The Times Deceased:The Rare Book Department of the Times Book Shop in the 1960's" by Timothy D'Arch Smith. Wow! Talk about a journey into the weird and recondite...The book is full of anecdotes about the writer's time specializing in truly bizarre books and his interactions with very eccentric characters--from rock stars to book scouts on the fringe of society. I do not collect any of the genres mentioned in the book--never heard of most of them, honestly--but what a tale for the lover of book lore.
Just thought I would pass that along. It isn't the easiest book to find, but well worth the effort for an inter-library loan request or purchase from a bookseller.
Thanks, always glad to know about a bookshop-book I have not even heard of, much less read! Another great thing about the world of books - the promise of veins yet to be mined. This keeps me looking in shops, and then reading previously unbeknownst gold nuggets.
I'm not a whole alphabet either, but who cares? You're talking books about books which is my favorite genre. I am most anxious to find the one you mention and also the one in the comment above. Meanwhile I highly recommend Seeing Shelley Plain, Memories of New York's Legendary Phoenix Book Shop by Robert Wilson. It's something of a sleeper, but I can't understand why. It's got everything going for it -- great stories, famous people, a long lost manuscript found on Fire Island and books, books, books, including a series printed by his book shop which I would love to collect. This was a great post! Thanks.
Hi Tess, always good to see you here! I do not have "Seeing Shelley Plain" but I do have one of the items printed by the Phoenix Book Shop - a wall map of the world with locations mapped out for the places and voyages mentioned in Joseph Conrad's novels. My husband spotted this in a local antiques shop years ago - it was being sold for its nice frame and I seem to remember paying eighteen bucks for it. The map is hand-numbered 154, and is called "Conradia." It's black and white, and quite lovely. We have it hanging up here at home (I used to have it up at the bookshop, when I had a bookshop). Now I wonder what else they printed. And I will of course look for the memoir you mention! Thanks.
You are most welcome! I didn't know about the map -- just these little booklets he putout every year. Some of them are not too expensive, but others cost the earth -- and of course those are ones I want! :-) Sorry you will be gone for awhile on the blog. I am trying to improve and be on mine more than I have been. But I will keep watching for you for return.

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