Saturday, May 26, 2007


Portrait of a Book collector

Mercy, it's been busy at the shop this week, how I love it. I forget every year that tourists return with the good weather, and they love to browse (they are on vacation, after all) and they often buy books indiscriminately. At one point mid-week, I even had three people lined up at the same time waiting to pay for their books. Sold: Kerouac's Heaven & Other Poems, Chatwin's In Patagonia (reprint, still, I love to handsell this book), some Stephen King books (he lives up the street so lots of folks come here to Bangor for that reason alone), a few Lama Surya Das hardcovers, a fat dictionary of metaphors, two Eric Newby hardcovers, a beautiful little facsimile edition of a medieval book of hours, a Latin-English dictionary, Blueberries for Sal, yet another copy of The Practical Cogitator (the woman who bought it carried it over to my desk and asked, "Do you know anything about this book? Is it any good?" And I grinned and said, "Oh, yes..."), three books on garden flowers, Clavell's King Rat, Pascal's Pensées, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's Householder, Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen, Gibbon's complete Decline & Fall in the Modern Library set, etc. All this has made me realize that I really need to get out and buy some new books for the shop. I skipped a small library sale this morning because I had a few other errands and I didn't want to open the shop late today (hoping for more holiday weekend customers). But really, what was I thinking, I should have gone to the sale. Hindsight is often oppressive.

Enough about the shop. Books, books, books. I can't stop myself from sharing yet another item I picked up in Boston (again at Commonwealth Books, for a measly $3.50), a sewn pamphlet entitled Peiresc & His Books by Pierre Gassendi, published by David Godine, Boston 1970. The pamplet was hiding in the books-about-books section - and serves to remind us that often the best items are the plainest-looking little things, so check every book, check particularly those that have no lettering on the spine or no spine at all, in this case. Here's the title page, sans its wide borders, which my temperamental scanner doesn't wish to reproduce (so please imagine them, those pleasingly spacious and necessary areas of white space):

Really, look at that. Understated elegance. The colophon states that this booklet is "the seventh in the series of poems, tracts & broadsides to be published & printed at the press of David Godine." So, a nice early letterpress (monotype) item of his. Perhaps I will collect them all. But who is Nicolas Claude Fabri de Peiresc, you ask? A book collector, of course, and this booklet contains a very brief excerpt from Gassendi's biography of him. The introduction says he was a French humanist who was born in 1580, and when he died in 1637 in Aix he left 5400 volumes behind (though he had already given many books away before his death). Gassendi was a contemporary of his, and Peiresc willed him 100 books of his choice. The English translation presented here is from the 1657 London edition of the complete book. The main section of this booklet is only six pages long, but it is so charming and so lovingly printed that I had to have it. Much as I'd like the complete book, but that's another story. For beauty's sake, here's the last page of the main text:
More lovely typography from this fine press, which is still going strong today and still publishing great bookish books. The page obviously quotes the typography of the famous Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (scroll down to the bottom to see some of its text forms). This sure must be tricky to pull off when one is setting type! I don't know if Peiresc cared about type per se, but he was obviously a bibliophile of the highest order:

"...his care was exceeding great, to procure plenty and variety of Books.... he bought up printed books at Rome, Venice, Paris, Amsterdam, Antwerp, London, Lions, and other places.... Also, where ever any Libraries were to be sold by out-cry, he took order to have the rarer Books bought up, especially such as were of some neat Edition which he had not. And truly 'tis incredible to tell how great a number of Books he gathered together."

He apparently was well-known for both lending books and giving them away if asked or if he felt they were needed, particularly "such Books as were commonly to be had at the Book-sellers, of them he was wonderfully profuse and lavish." Good man! I like the way the word Book is capitalized throughout. Gives it its proper importance, don't you know. Perhaps we should revive this practice. Back to work - hoping for profuse and lavish buyers. Though one would suffice.

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