Spring 2018 Books about Books Roundup

In search of a few new books about books to add your library? May we suggest...

paynegreat.JPGGreat Catalogues by Master Booksellers: A Selection of American and English Booksellers’ Catalogues, 19th-21st Century by John R. Payne is a major achievement: a book of depth and heft (literally) that signifies the extraordinary amount of work that went into it, lovingly produced. Those unfamiliar with the antiquarian book trade might ask, ‘what is it?’ Well, it’s an illustrated and annotated list of remarkable booksellers’ catalogues, culled from the author’s decades-long research. The catalogues are singled out for excellent scholarship or famous material, but also, in some cases, for their wit and entertainment value. Obviously, this book was made for a niche audience--in a limited edition--yet it is a book that any book collector will savor. In his introduction, Kurt Zimmerman calls bookseller catalogues “palpable artifacts, records of booksellers’ efforts that, in the toss and whirl of history, will outlast the booksellers themselves.” (Read more on Kurt’s blog, American Book Collecting, which also includes information on how to order.)   

Some of the catalogues that caught my eye include H.P. Kraus’ catalogue no. 100 (1962) that listed for sale the famed Voynich Manuscript; Henry Sotheran & Co.’s 1878 catalogue containing “The Library of Charles Dickens Comprehending his entire Library as existing at his Decease;” Scribner Book Store’s 1938 offering of the Modern Library in First Editions; and no. 1 from the Caveat Book Shop (1946), brought to my attention earlier this year by Joel Silver, director and curator of early books and manuscripts at IU’s Lilly Library, who wrote about this farcical catalogue in our winter 2018 issue. What--and who--else will you find among Payne’s selections? Maggs Bros., Serendipity Books, Gotham Book Mart, Goodspeed’s, Bernard Quaritch, William Reese, and so many others; you will be carried away!  

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 1.49.14 PM.pngA Book of Book Lists, written by Alex Johnson and published by the British Library, is just what it advertises: reading lists, lists of “Unwanted” books, lists of books portrayed on screen, and then some. Ever wondered what books the US Navy loads onto its e-readers? (No Hunt for Red October) Or what David Byrne has in his private music library? (Yes Bound for Glory by Woody Guthrie). This is not the kind of book you read cover to cover in one sitting, rather it is best enjoyed piecemeal; one could even, with the right company, turn it into a parlor game. My favorite lists: Banned Books at Guantanamo Detainee Library, Oscar Wilde’s Reading Gaol bookcase inventory, and poems featured in the 1989 film, Dead Poet’s Society.

The Library copy.jpgThe Library: A Catalogue of Wonders by Stuart Kells--an author who clearly has the right name for his chosen field, and who wrote Penguin and the Lane Brothers and Rare, a biography of former ILAB president Kay Craddock--takes a spirited look at the world’s libraries, private, institutional, even fictional. Especially enjoyable is his rumination on “discoveries” in the stacks, like the Folger Library’s 1984 discovery of an early English manuscript used as binder’s waste inside two sixteenth-century volumes. “Libraries, though curated, are quintessentially places of serendipity,” he writes. With short entr’actes between longer chapters that amuse (“Library fauna” about bookworms) and sometimes baffle (“Birth” about librarians delivering a baby), the book’s idiosyncratic nature may put off persnickety readers of Book History, but most bibliophiles will be unable to resist a book so in line with their adoration of these sacred spaces. A related essay of his in the Paris Review this week is certainly getting lots of love.

If you’re looking for more books about books, don’t miss Book Towns (here’s a Q & A with the author, who also wrote the Book of Book Lists noted above) and Publisher for the Masses, a new biography of publisher Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, the subject of a feature story in our forthcoming summer issue.

Images courtesy of: (top) Kurt Zimmerman; (middle) British Library; and (bottom) Counterpoint Press.

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