Stop The Presses!

Stop The Presses! is Robert Goldsborough’s latest addition to the Nero Wolfe series and I was eagerly counting the days till its release last week.

Stop The Presses

Here’s what it’s about:
Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are tasked with protecting the most hated columnist in New York City.
There are few people Nero Wolfe respects, and Lon Cohen of the New York Gazette is one of them. So when Cohen asks for a favor, the famously brilliant—and notoriously lazy—detective is inclined to listen. According to Cohen, someone wants to kill the Gazette’s gossip columnist, Cameron Clay. Death threats are a regular hazard for Clay, who’s hurled insults and accusations at every bold-faced name in the five boroughs. But the latest threats have carried a more sinister tone.

The columnist has narrowed his potential killers down to five people: an egomaniacal developer, a disgraced cop, a corrupt councilman, a sleazy lawyer, and his ex-wife. But when Clay turns up dead, the cops deem it a suicide. The bigwigs at the Gazette don’t agree, so they retain Wolfe and his indefatigable assistant, Archie Goodwin, to figure out which of the suspects had the mettle to pull the trigger.

I finished this in about three days and really enjoyed the trip back into Nero Wolfe’s world.  But I’d have to say this is probably my least favorite of his Wolfe books.  I had a hard time staying interested in the mystery and I think it was the middle part of the book that did it to me. It was pretty repetitive: Archie would find a way to get one of the suspects to come to the brownstone, Wolfe would question them (after they were supplied with their favorite drink), the suspect left and Archie asked Wolfe what he thought about them… the same thing happened with all five suspects. And I know in an investigation that’s probably how it would actually happen but a little bit of variety would have helped.

For some reason, Fritz and Lily both bothered me in this as well.  They seemed a little off from the original books… but it could just be me remembering them wrong.

With that being said, I loved the ending!  It was different and I really didn’t expect it. And as I was still smiling from the big reveal in the office, we got another great part with Inspector Cramer and Wolfe at the end.  That may just be one of my favorite parts between the two of them from any of the books, Stout’s included.  (It’s scenes like this that really make me miss the A&E Nero Wolfe TV series. They would have done a great job with it!)

Wolfe

I started re-reading the Nero Wolfe series last year but I only made it up to The Red Box.  I’ll have to get back at it and hopefully we’ll have another book to look forward to from Robert Goldsborough.  Despite the issues I had with parts of Stop The Presses! it’s far outweighed by how much I enjoy getting new cases for some of my favorite characters to solve.

If you’ve read Stop The Presses! or any other of Goldsborough’s Nero Wolfe books I’d love to know what you thought about them!

This Edition: Paperback published by Mysterious Press/Open Road Integrated Media (2016)

Other Nero Wolfe books by Robert Goldsborough: Murder In E Minor, Death On A Deadline, The Bloodied Ivy, The Last Coincidence, Fade To Black, Silver Spire, The Missing Chapter, Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, Murder In The Ball Park, Archie In The Crosshairs

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Queen Lucia

“Something of the consciousness of her sovereignty was in her mind, as she turned the last hot corner of the road and came in sight of the village street that constituted her kingdom.  Indeed it belonged to her, as treasure trove belongs to the Crown, for it was she who had been the first to begin the transformation of this remote Elizabethan village into the palace of culture that was now reared on the spot where ten years ago an agricultural population had led bovine and unilluminated lives in their cottages of grey stone or brick and timber.” (page 5)

It’s not easy to keep a kingdom running smoothly – Lucia can attest to that!  There’s potential problems lurking around every corner in the small, English town she presides over.  But the biggest problem of all?  Neighbors who think they can do a better job of it than you!  There’s a struggle for the throne going on in E.F. Benson’s Queen Lucia, and it’s a lot fun watching it all unfold.

101

“Lucia had not determined on this declaration of war without anxious consideration.  But it was quite obvious to her that the enemy was daily gaining strength, and therefore the sooner she came to open hostilities, the better; for it was equally obvious to her mind that Olga was a pretender to the throne she had occupied for so long.” (page 234)

It has been a few years since I’ve read the Make Way For Lucia series but I certainly remember them well.  As Lucia and her faithful husband Peppino deal with each new problem in this first book, they find themselves in some pretty interesting situations. And the characters in this are hard to forget (especially with names like Piggy and Goosie Antrobus)! There are a lot of great English satirical series but this one is definitely near the top!

From The Cover: England between the wars was a paradise of utter calm and leisure for the very, very rich.  But into this enclave is born Mrs. Emmeline Lucas – La Lucia, as she is known – a woman determined to lead a life quite different from the pomp and the subdued hushed nature of her class.  With her cohort, Georgie Pillson, and her husband, Peppino, she upends the greats of high society: the imperious Lady Ambermere and her equally imperious dog, Puck; the odious Piggy and Goosie Antrobus; the Christian Scientist Daisy Quantrock, with her penchant for the foreign; and all the rest of Riseholme itself, the small English town just outside London that the British rich call their country home.  Beset on all sides by pretenders to her social throne, Lucia rules her kingdom from the Hurst, Riseholme’s greatest mansion, bringing culture, the fine arts, and a great deal of excitement and intrigue into this cloistered realm.

Just One More Thing: “The amount of malice, envy, and all uncharitableness which Lucia managed to put into this quite unrehearsed speech was positively amazing.  She had not thought it over beforehand for a moment; it came out with the august spontaneity of lightning leaping from a cloud.” (page 276)

This Edition: Paperback published by Perennial Library (1987)

Other Books In This Series: Lucia In London, Miss Mapp, Mapp And Lucia, The Worshipful Lucia, Trouble For Lucia; Miss Mapp also appears in the title story from Desirable Residences and Other Stories

You Might Also Like: Sam The Sudden by P.G. Wodehouse

Miss Hargreaves

“We were silent for a little while.  I think we were impressed with ourselves and each other; but most especially we were impressed by Miss Hargreaves.” (page 20)

I’ve often heard writers talk about how the characters in their stories can take on a life of their own.  How they might have started with one idea but ended up with something completely different as the characters developed.  Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker kind of takes this to a whole other level.

miss hargreaves

One day, while they are taking shelter from a storm in a church, Norman Huntley and Henry Beddow end up creating a character… Miss Connie Hargreaves.  An eccentric, elderly woman who loves music, writing poetry and traveling with her own bath.  Innocent enough, but then they take it a step further by writing a letter to their creation.  They certainly weren’t expecting what happened next!

“As she continued to pour out her torrent of talk, the hideousness of the situation came home to me.  I had accepted her.  Over and over again I began to tell her that she was making some ghastly mistake; that I didn’t know her, that my letter had been a foolish joke.  But the devil of it was I couldn’t convince myself.  It seemed to me that I did know her.” (page 62)

When a Miss Connie Hargreaves not only answers their letter but shows up for a visit, Norman in particular is in for a rough time.  He has to find a way to explain who she is to his family and friends, and he is also desperately trying to figure out what is going on and what, if anything, can be done about it.

I absolutely loved this book!  It was a pretty quick read with excellent characters (especially Miss Hargreaves) and a lot of humor.  I couldn’t help but think as I was reading this – it would have made for a great episode of Twilight Zone!

Twilight Zone-01

From The Cover: When, on the spur of a moment, Norman Huntley and his friend Henry invent an eighty-three-year-old woman called Miss Hargreaves, they are inspired to mail a letter to their new fictional friend.  It is only meant to be a silly, harmless game-until she arrives on their doorstep.  She is, to Norman’s utter disbelief, exactly as he had imagined her: eccentric and endlessly astounding.  He hadn’t imagined, however, how much havoc an imaginary octogenarian could wreak on his sleepy Buckinghamshire town.  Norman has some explaining to do, but how will he begin to explain to his friends, family, and girlfriend where Miss Hargreaves came from when he hasn’t the faintest clue himself?  Will his once-ordinary, once-peaceful life ever be the same again? And, what’s more, does he want it to be?

Just One More Thing: “Destructive thought destroys.  But it had failed to destroy.  What I realized was this; it is a thousand times more difficult to destroy than to create.  You will laugh and say I am mad; that destroying is far easier.  But it isn’t so.  Try to destroy anything – try to annihilate it.  Burn it and consider the ashes.  Then consider how easily you create.  Every time you open your mouth you create something.” (page 246)

This Edition: Paperback published by Bloomsbury (2010)

Other Books By Frank Baker: The Twisted Tree, The Birds, Allanayr, Sweet Chariot, Playing With Punch, Mr. Allenby Loses The Way, Before I Go Hence, Embers, The Downs So Free, My Friend The Enemy, Blessed Are They, Lease Of Life, Talk Of The Devil, Teresa: A Journey Out Of TimeNon-Fiction: The Road Was Free, I Follow But Myself, Call Of Cornwall

You Might Also Like: Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson

Starlight

“Transfixed, they stared.  His inspection did not last longer than a few minutes but there was something chilling, something impersonal yet intent about it, that was frightening.” (page 31)

I really didn’t know much about Starlight before I started reading it.  I’d read Stella Gibbon’s Cold Comfort Farm and really liked it so I was looking forward to this one.

starlight

The story starts out with two sisters, Gladys and Annie Barnes, who are elderly and impoverished but quite content with their life in the cottage they share with other lodgers.  Their life takes an interesting turn though as their home is bought and the new landlord, Mr. Pearson, plans to move his wife into part of the cottage.  He hopes the new environment will help lift her spirits but the other tenants quickly start to wonder what other sort of spirits might be lurking about.

“They had all been getting on so nicely.  And now everything was upset.  I can’t never feel safe again, not after this, she thought.” (page 202)

There are a lot of quirky characters in this book but I think my favorite has to be Mr. Fisher – the old man who lives upstairs and goes by a different name each month.  There were a few slow parts for me but, overall, I ended up liking Starlight better than Cold Comfort Farm.  The ending really surprised me.  I’m not sure what I was expecting but that certainly wasn’t it!

I’m definitely going to have read some more of Stella Gibbon’s books!

From The Cover: Gladys and Annie Barnes are impoverished sisters who have seen better times.  They live in a modest cottage in the backstreets of Highgate with Mr. Fisher, a mild but eccentric old man living secretly in the attic above them.  Their quiet lives are thrown into confusion when a new landlord takes over; a dreaded and unscrupulous ‘rackman’.  He installs his wife in part of the cottage in the hope that there she will recover from an unspecified malady.  With a mounting sense of fear, Gladys and Annie become convinced she is possessed by an evil spirit…

Just One More Thing: “Gerald had listened with sensations that were quite unfamiliar to him.  It was the chill emanating from the shut door on the landing that reinforced each word of Gladys’s, loading them; colouring them ominously.  He could feel it on his face and hands now, and through the thick old clothes he had put on for the burning of the papers.  It was as if he were standing in a steady wind that was streaming off a glacier.” (page 308)

This Edition: Paperback published by Vintage (2011)

Other Books By Stella Gibbons: Cold Comfort Farm, Bassett, Enbury Heath, Miss Linsey and Pa, Nightingale Wood, My American, The Rich House, Ticky, The Bachelor, Westwood, The Matchmaker, Conference at Cold Comfort Farm, The Swiss Summer, Fort of the Bear, The Shadow of a Sorcerer, Here Be Dragons, White Sand and Grey Sand, A Pink Front Door, The Weather at Tregulla, The Wolves Were in the Sledge, The Charmers, The Snow Woman, The Woods In WinterShort StoriesRoaring Tower and Other Stories, Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm and Other Stories, Beside the Pearly Water

You Might Also Like: Love’s Shadow by Ada Leverson

The Oath

“He looked out the bathroom window toward the mountains, the south-facing slopes with their countless regiments of pine and fir awash in the afternoon sun.  A beautiful sight, but it brought only one thought: Night was coming.

They say it always happens at night.” (pages 27-28)

Sticking with the theme of mysterious killers, we’re moving on to Frank Peretti’s The Oath.  Peretti mainly writes Christian fiction that deals with the supernatural although this one could certainly be called a horror story too.  After reading This Present Darkness and Piercing The Darkness I had high expectations going into this and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

the-oath

“What are they afraid of?”

“Oh, ghosts, spirits of the dead, all that stuff.  They think the place is haunted.” He looked down at the rock he was sitting on.  “Some say the devil lives here, and they talk about how this is the gateway where evil comes into the world.” (page 158)

On the surface, The Oath is an excellent read full of action and suspense.  The pace of the book is good and even though it’s over 500 pages I finished it pretty quick because I really wanted to know how it was all going to end.  But more than that it offers an interesting perspective on sin and how it can destroy lives.

Even if you don’t typically read Christian fiction, but like a good suspense/horror story, this book is worth a try. I certainly wouldn’t mind reading this one again but with all the other books I’ve got to read (and reread) I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to it.

From The Cover: Something sinister is at work in Hyde River, an isolated old mining town in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest.
Something evil.
Under the cover of darkness, it strikes without warning, taking life in the most chilling and savage fashion.  The latest victim, nature photographer Cliff Benson, was brutally killed while camping in the mountains.
With little evidence to go on, Sheriff Les Collins closes the case, chalking it up to the work of a rogue bear – just like so many other unsolvable deaths and disappearances that have plagued Hyde River over the years.
But wildlife biologist refuses to let the cause of his brother’s death remain a mystery.  He is joined in his investigation by attractive, auburn-haired Sheriff’s Deputy Tracy Ellis.  She has grown up in Hyde River.  She’s seen enough things swept under the rug by local law enforcement to know that something’s amiss.
The harder townsfolk are pressed for information, the more they close ranks, as if sworn to secrecy.  It is only when Steve gains access to old letters and diaries of the town’s forefathers that he begins to peel away the layers of mystery surrounding Hyde River.  Steve and Tracy are drawn closer to each other and to the town’s terrible secret.  What they discover is a predator more terrifying than anything they had imagined and a town in the grip of unspeakable evil.
Once again best-selling author Frank Peretti has crafted a spellbinding novel filled with tension and suspense crescendoing to a peak of raw-edged terror that will keep you breathless.  This is masterful storytelling at its very best.

Just One More Thing: “You weren’t crazy, old buddy. You had your quirks, but one thing you had that nobody else had was peace.  That says a lot.” (page 547)

This Edition: Paperback published by Word (1995)

Other Books By Frank Peretti: Fiction – Tilly, This Present Darkness, Piercing The Darkness, Prophet, The Visitation, Monster, Illusion, House (with Ted Dekker), Harbingers Novella Series (contributor) – Children’s Fiction – The Cooper Kids Adventure Series, The Veritas Project Series, All Is Well: The Miracle Of Christmas In July – Non-Fiction – The Wounded Spirit, No More Victims, No More Bullies

You Might Also Like: Three by Ted Dekker

 

Relic

“Something wasn’t right back here.  Something wasn’t right at all.” (page 14)

I was wandering around Borders once looking for something new to read when the books by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child caught my eye.  I didn’t know anything about them and I don’t usually read thrillers but I decided to give the Pendergast series a try. I’m glad I did!

Relic

The first book in the series, Relic, offers up museum trouble of a different kind.  The New York Museum of Natural History is about to open an exhibit but before the big day arrives people start being brutally killed in the museum. The police handle the investigation at first but it doesn’t take long for Special Agent Pendergast to arrive on the scene.

“There are many problems, as you are no doubt aware,” said Pendergast.  “But I’m not really here to brief you on the case.  It’s enough if I remind you simply that a dangerous serial killer remains loose in the Museum.  We have no reason to believe he has stopped killing.” (page 220)

As Pendergast investigates the crime, with the help of researcher Margo Greene and Lieutenant D’Agosta, the suspense for the reader continues to build as you wonder who or what is committing the crimes.  The main bulk of the action takes place on the opening night of the exhibit, a little more than halfway through the book, and I just couldn’t put it down from that part on.  The end is exciting and certainly lives up to the build-up from the rest of the book.

I’ve read Relic three times already and I know I’m going to be reading it again.  And even though I know what’s going to happen it still keeps me hooked all the way to the end.

From The Cover: Just days before a massive exhibition opens at the popular New York Museum of Natural History, visitors are being savagely murdered in the museum’s dark hallways and secret rooms.  Autopsies indicate that the killer cannot be human…

But the museum director’s plan to go ahead with a big bash to celebrate the new exhibition, in spite of the murders.

Museum researcher Margo Green must find out who-or what-is doing the killing.  But can she do it in time to stop the massacre?

Just One More Thing: “As they turned to enter the storeroom, Margo heard a distant drumming, like slow thunder. She froze, listening intently.  The thunder seemed to have a voice; crying or shouting, she wasn’t sure which.” (page 353)

This Edition: Paperback published by Tor (1996)

Other Books In This Series: Reliquary, The Cabinet of Curiosities, Still Life With Crows, Brimstone, Dance of Death, The Book of the Dead, The Wheel of Darkness, Cemetery Dance, Fever Dream, Cold Vengeance, Two Graves, White Fire, Blue Labyrinth

You Might Also Like: The Straw Men by Michael Marshall

Provenance

“On his way home on the train, Myatt reflected on what had been a very good first meeting.  It dawned on him that he had been suffering from an insidious form of low-level isolation and loneliness, and that in some profound sense he’d taken leave of the real world.  The work he was doing for Drewe might be a way back.” (page 14)

We’re moving on from book thefts to art fraud.  I don’t know a lot about the art world and even less about art forgery. But I fell in love with the show White Collar and it motivated me to do a little reading.  One of the books I picked up was Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo.  

provenance

This non-fiction book tells the story of how two men, a down on his luck artist and a highly-skilled con artist, worked together to pull off some major art frauds.  The artist, John Myatt, was a reluctant participant at first but his partner John Drewe was a master manipulator and knew how to string him along.

“It hit Myatt that Drewe had already sold the piece. He could no longer deny what he had suspected, that Drewe was passing off his works as genuine.  He had already painted fifteen or twenty pieces for the good professor, and Drewe wanted more.  

Myatt took the cash and realized that with that one small gesture he had crossed the line.” (page 37)

The lengths that Drewe went to in order to pass off these forgeries as the real deal is incredible.  He began to create fake documentations to establish a provenance for their works and even managed to get them into the Tate Gallery’s archives.  But Drewe wasn’t satisfied with just a few well-crafted forgeries… he was always looking for the next scheme to pull off.

“It occurred to him that Drewe was addicted to the con, that every sale was like a junkie’s rush to him.  The money wasn’t the object, it was the scam itself.  Drewe had begun to believe in his imaginary status as a collector and to speak about the paintings as if they were authentic.  Like every bad drug run, this would all come to a dreadful end. The market simply could not absorb the number of fakes they were producing.  If they continued as usual, they would almost certainly get pinched.” (page 165)

Provenance is a well-researched book and very enjoyable to read.  It didn’t take me long to get through it the first time and I’m pretty sure I’ll be reading it again.

From The Cover: Filled with extraordinary characters and told at a break-neck speed, Provenance is the astonishing true story of one of the most far-reaching and elaborate cons in the history of art forgery.  Stretching from London to Paris to New York, investigative reporters Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo recount the tale of infamous con man and unforgettable villain John Drewe and his accomplice, the affable artist and vulnerable single dad John Myatt. Together they exploited the archives of the upper echelons of the British art world to irrevocably legitimize the hundreds of pieces they forged, many of which are still considered genuine and hang in prominent museums and private collections today.

Just One More Thing: “For his part, Drewe never let the facts get in the way of a good story, particularly one that could help him sell more fakes.” (page 53)

This Edition: Paperback published by Penguin (2010)

Other Books by Laney Salisbury: The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against and Epidemic (with Gay Salisbury)

You Might Also Like: Priceless: How I Went Undercover To Rescue The World’s Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

“To Gilkey, having a book like The Mayor of Casterbridge – old and fine, a piece of literary history – in his hands, felt deeply satisfying.  There was nothing like it.  He held it, knowing that it was worth something, that ‘everyone wanted it,’ but that he was the only one who owned it.  It was thrilling.” (page 124)

In A Gentle Madness, Nicholas Basbanes wrote about the great lengths some book lovers went to in order to build their collections.  Many of them had the money and means to pursue their dream collections but he opened the book with a story about Stephen Blumberg… the man who stole from libraries to build his own personal library. Allison Hoover Bartlett’s The Man Who Loved Books Too Much tells a similar story.

the man who loved books too much

“What would you do for the love of a good book?  For John Charles Gilkey, the answer is: go to prison.”  This story focuses on two men who are both obsessed with books, just in very different ways.  John Gilkey’s dream was to own rare books and he decided to make that dream a reality, even though it meant turning to theft.  Ken Sanders is a rare book dealer who took on the extra job of catching book thieves.  Bartlett keeps the story moving at a good pace, switching back and forth between Gilkey going about the thefts and Sanders setting up a network to help catch him.

“I began to sense that the urge to collect is not born all of a sudden, but gains momentum after, say, one or two purchases.  I wondered, if I bought a few first editions of books that had inspired me in my own writing, whether I might feel what collectors felt: I might actually become one of them.” (page 128)

There is a third part to the book though and that is Bartlett’s interactions with the two men. As she works to understand what motivates both of them, she’s also learning about the book industry as a whole and just what it takes to make someone an obsessive collector.

From The Cover: Unrepentant book thief Gilkey has stolen a fortune in rare books from around the country.  Yet unlike most thieves, who steal for profit, Gilkey steals for love – the love of books.  Perhaps equally obsessive, though, is Ken Sanders, the self-appointed “bibliodick” driven to catch him.  Sanders, a lifelong rare book collector and dealer turned amateur detective, will stop at nothing to catch the thief plaguing his trade.

In following both of these eccentric characters, journalist Allison Hoover Bartlett plunged deep into a world of fanatical book lust, and ultimately found herself caught between the many people interested in finding Gilkey’s stolen treasure, and the man who wanted to keep it hidden: the thief himself.

With a mixture of suspense, insight, and humor, Bartlett has woven this cat-and-mouse chase into a narrative that not only reveals how Gilkey pulled off his crimes and how Sanders eventually caught him, but also explores the romance of books, the lure to collect them, and the temptation to steal them.  All collectors have stories of what first made them fall in love, and Gilkey and Sanders are no different.  Bartlett puts their stories into the larger context of book passion, collection, and theft through the ages.

Immersing the reader in a rich, wide world of literary obsession, The Man Who Loved Books Too Much exposes the profound role books play in all our lives, the reverence in which these everyday objects are still held, and the craving that makes some people willing to stop at nothing to possess the books they love.

Just One More Thing: “‘Too few people seem to realize that books have feelings,’ wrote collector Eugene Field, who wrote The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac in 1896. ‘But if I know one thing better than another I know this, that my books know me and love me.  When of a morning I awaken I cast my eyes about my room to see how fare my beloved treasures, and as I cry cheerily to them, ‘Good-day to you, sweet friends!’ how lovingly they beam upon me, and how glad they are that my repose has been unbroken.'” (pages 75-76)

This Edition: Hardcover published by Riverhead Books (2009)

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A Gentle Madness

“With thought, patience, and discrimination, book passion becomes the signature of a person’s character.  When out of control and indulged to excess, it lets loose a fury of bizarre behavior.  ‘The bibliophile is the master of his books, the bibliomaniac their slave,’ the German bibliographer Hanns Bohatta steadfastly maintained, though the dividing line can be too blurry to discern.” (page 9)

There is something comforting about reading a book about books.  Whether they are focusing on books in general or more specifically about their history or book collectors and their collections, I can’t seem to get enough of them.  This is a fairly new area of interest for me though.  About 8 years ago someone had given me a gift certificate for Amazon and I was trying to decide which book to buy when I stumbled across several that were about books.  After reading the descriptions and reviews for a few of them I remember thinking, “How did I not know about these before?”  And the book I ended up buying, my introduction to books about books, was certainly a good place to start!

a gentle madness

A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomaniacs, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas Basbanes will take you on a wonderful journey through the history of book collecting.  The book opens with a story about Stephen Blumberg, “the most enterprising biblioklept of the twentieth century,” who stole over 23,000 books from 268 libraries across North America. (Blumberg’s story is picked up again towards the end of the book.)  From there Basbanes highlights collectors throughout history and the lengths they went to in order to build their collections.

“Exactly when a person becomes a book collector has been debated often through the decades, usually without any consensus being reached.  One theory holds that the defining moment occurs when a person buys a book with the prior certainty that he will never read it, though other views are less cynical. ‘So subtile [sic] and so infectious is this grand passion that one is hardly aware of its presence before it has complete possession of him,’ Eugene Field explained a century ago, which suggests that he had no idea whatsoever when he crossed the line.” (page 444)

While most of us will never have the money to invest in a collection like some of the ones highlighted in the book, that same passion is what drives us to build our own unique ones.  And even if our books are not worth millions of dollars, if they mean something to you they are just as valuable in their own way.  That’s what makes A Gentle Madness such an enjoyable read.  The desire to own as many books as possible (and maybe even a few more) is something that I can easily relate to and it’s always comforting to know that I am not alone in feeling this way!

I think this is a must read for anyone who really loves books!  I bet Charles-Valentin Alkan would give it his stamp of approval!

charlie & the chocolate factory-01

From The Cover: The passion to possess books has never been more widespread than it is today; indeed, obsessive book collecting remains the only hobby to have a disease named after it.  A Gentle Madness is an adventure among the afflicted. Richly anecdotal and fully documented, it combines the perspective of historical research with immediacy of investigative journalism.  Above all, it is a celebration of books and the people who have revered, gathered, and preserved them over the centuries.

Author Nicholas Basbanes, a dedicated bibliophile himself, begins his book 2,200 years ago in Alexandria, when a commitment was made to gather all the world’s knowledge beneath one roof.  In a series of lively chapters, the continuum then passes through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to the twentieth century, with a special emphasis on book lore and book culture in Great Britain and North America.

In the second half of A Gentle Madness, Basbanes offers a gallery of revealing profiles of living collectors and presents exclusive examinations of the great contemporary stories – the rare-book thefts of Stephen Blumberg; “institutional bibliomania” at the University of Texas; the mystery man who used $17 million of another person’s money to gain recognition as the greatest book collector alive.  These are just a few of the stores detailed for the first time.  The book also includes the most comprehensive bibliography on book collecting compiled in more than a quarter century.

Just One More Thing: “Inside, everything was precise and tasteful.  Yet somehow, something seemed missing, something that became apparent only after I had followed my host to his impressive book room, an area quite separate from the family library and detached from the living quarters.

There were no pictures on the walls.

‘You noticed,’ Holtzman replied, obviously pleased.  ‘Good.  I’m glad.  If you understand nothing else, you must understand that this is a house of books.  We have some wonderful pictures, but they are not framed and hanging on the walls.  I’ve thought this through quite thoroughly.  There can be no competition in this house between books and art.'” (page 308)

This Edition: Hardcover published by Henry Holt (1995)

Other Books By Nicholas Basbanes: Every Book It’s Reader, Among The Gently Mad, Patience & Fortitude, A Splendor Of Letters, Editions & Impressions, About The Author, A World Of Letters, On Paper

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Phantoms On The Bookshelves

“Any person who owns several tens of thousands of books is faced with an inescapable problem: their classification.  For if the comfortable chaos of a few hundred books does not prevent their owner (and their owner alone!) from finding his or her way around them, the ordering of ten or twenty thousand books requires one to have a retrieval system.” (page 32)

I’ve accumulated a lot of books over the years.  While I certainly don’t have anywhere near tens of thousands of books it is a pretty substantial collection.  I’ve tried several times to put together a catalog but I’ve never made it very far.  In my latest attempt I’ve reached about 200 and that is barely scratching the surface.  While part of the problem is struggling to figure out the best category a particular book should belong in, I think deep down I don’t really want to know how many I actually have.

In the Phantoms On The Bookshelves, Jacques Bonnet talks about his issues with categorizing his tens of thousands of books.

Phantoms On The Bookshelves

Just 133 pages, this is a quick read but one that is full of wonderful information.  He gives examples of some of the books and authors that have given him trouble and reviews different types of classification systems.  But like any other good book about books this also about his love for books and reading.

“But what lies behind this disturbing ‘reading fever’?  The primal scene – of which naturally I have no memory – no doubt lies in that magical moment when one learns to read, and the infinite horizon that opens up when you decipher something written down.” (page 28)

There are some great stories about personal libraries and a ton of literary recommendations.  The book I am most interested in checking out after reading about it in Phantoms On The Bookshelves is The Paper House by Carlos Dominguez.

This little book is one I will definitely be reading again!

From The Cover: This enthralling study on the art of living with books considers how our personal libraries reveal our true natures: far more than merely crowded shelves, they are living labyrinths of our innermost feelings.

The author, a lifelong accumulator of books ancient and modern, lives in a house large enough to accommodate his many thousands of volumes, as well as overspill from the libraries of his friends.  While his musings on the habits of collectors from the earliest known libraries are learned, amusing and instructive, his advice on cataloguing may even save lives.

Phantoms on the Bookshelves ranges from classical Greece to contemporary Iceland, from Balzac to Moby-Dick and Google, spiced with anecdotes along the way.  This volume, rich with wit and wisdom, will be a lasting delight to specialist collectors, librarians, bibliophiles and to all those who treasure books.

Just  One More Thing: “Only the wall above my bed has always been spared from bookshelves, as the consequence of an ancient trauma.  I learnt, long ago, the circumstances of the death of the composer Charles-Valentin Alkan, sometimes described as the “Berlioz of the piano”, who was found on 30 March, 1888 crushed to death by his own bookshelves.  Every craft guild used to have its patron saint and martyr, so Alkan the elder, the virtuoso pianist whom Liszt admired, and who inherited Chopin’s pupils from him, must surely be the patron saint of demented book collectors.” (pages 12-13)

This Edition: Hardcover published by MacLehose Press (2010) – Translated by Sian Reynolds

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