Spring 2020 Books about Books Roundup

Courtesy of Thames & Hudson

So you’re “stuck” at home reading? Here’s a shortlist of new & soon-to-be-released books of interest to bibliophiles.

Pictured above is the new illustrated introduction to the Book of Kells, Ireland’s iconic illuminated manuscript, which will be published on May 5 by Thames & Hudson. Written by Bernard Meehan, formerly head of research collections and keeper of manuscripts at Trinity College, in Dublin, where the Book of Kells is on permanent exhibition, this 96-page guide is a handy reference that covers the manuscript’s historical background, structure, decoration, and the scribes and artists associated with it. A sturdy paperback with vivid and intricately detailed color reproductions, this book will prove a pleasure to those who have already beheld the original and wish to know more, and those who are planning to make the pilgrimage one day.

Here are two books on similar terrain: Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe by Kathy Peiss (Oxford University Press) and A Bookshop in Berlin: The Rediscovered Memoir of One Woman’s Harrowing Escape from the Nazis by Francoise Frenkel (Atria Books). Information Hunters in an erudite cultural history of those who sought to recover the rare books and art hidden by the Nazis in cellars and caves. Bookseller and FB&C contributor Ernest Hilbert, who reviewed it for the Wall Street Journal, called it “a fascinating, and until now little-known, story.” Along the same lines, Frenkel’s engaging book, quietly published in French in 1945 and rediscovered nearly sixty years later, relays her history as a young Jewish bookseller who opens Berlin’s first French bookshop in 1921. Chased out by Nazis in 1939, she stays one step ahead of her assailants as she attempts to find safety in France and Switzerland. 

Courtesy of Turner Publishing

Some of you may recall the 2018 film, American Animals, based on the real-life rare book theft from Kentucky’s Transylvania University in 2004. Now, the book on which it was based, written by one of the four young men involved in the attempted robbery of the university’s Birds of America double elephant folio, has been reissued. It’s a grim and gut-wrenching tale — they Tasered and tied up the special collections librarian during the heist — that will hit very close to home for those who love rare books and the institutions and people who safeguard them. Author Eric Borsuk, who served seven years for the crime, offers his dark, evocative story for us to judge, and judging by the writing alone, his talent shines through.   

Finally, aficionados of controversial fin-de-siècle illustrator Aubrey Beardsley may be interested to know that a new illustrated book, Aubrey Beardsley: Decadence & Desire, by Jan Marsh will be published on April 14. Full of the artist’s trademark black-and-white illustrations for journals and books, the book is beautifully designed and features a decorative (unjacketed) cover.