I’m not a book collector.
Well, I am in the sense that I have hundreds of books on my shelf, and that I love to possess books that are important to me in beautiful editions. But I’m certainly not the kind of person who cares whether a book is a first edition, first state copy with the missing semicolon on page 59. I prefer to have a nice copy I can read than a million dollar edition from 1814 (if you’re going to give me a gift, however, please send the million dollar edition… I’ll buy my own nice copy and keep the change after the auction).
So, perhaps I am not the target consumer for a magazine entitled Fine Books & Collections. And yet, I look forward to its arrival every quarter more than anything else I subscribe to.
Why? I suppose it’s because the magazine is much more than just about collectible books. It’s about books in general, especially old ones, the history of the book, artwork, maps, covers, typesetting and pretty much anything else that might have the most remote connection to books. It’s the most culturally interesting publication I’ve seen that doesn’t fall over the edge into specialist reading that requires either thirty years of accumulated knowledge to enjoy. Anyone can pick it up and fall in love.
So perhaps there’s a reason I enjoy this one, but why did I love the book A Gentle Madness, written by the magazine’s editor, Nick Basbanes, so much? On the surface, it seems like something for the true collectors: a detailed look at some of history’s major bibliophiles and the story of how their collections came to be. If someone pitched that at me in an elevator, I’d say… So, a book about a bunch of boring rich old guys?
Well, many of them were both rich and old, but this book was anything but boring. The passion (obsession?) driving the creation of some of the world’s foremost collections, and the… let’s say eccentricity… of the principals makes this one an absolutely riveting read. I couldn’t put it down, something that doesn’t often happen to me with nonfiction titles. There’s everything in here from magnates to thieves, and it should appeal to basically anyone who’s ever coveted a book.
And if you’re anything like me, you’ll enjoy knowing that there’s at least one hobby that turns normal people into madmen that you haven’t fallen victim to.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer. He is currently writing a book that takes place in the same universe as his novel Outside.