Archive for the 'bibliophilia' Category


Book Dealings

According to the Myers-Briggs personality test, I am suited to be a bookstore owner. Incidentally, I have recently found myself thinking a lot about working in the book trade, or any profession revolving around books for that matter, and decided to volunteer at the Housing Works bookstore café.

Obviously, whoever wants to run a bookstore these days has to come to terms with the fact that buying a book is no longer as much about browsing shelves as browsing the internet. Online sales pose a great challenge to traditional bookstores, and one can hardly overestimate the extent to which the world wide web has changed the nature of book dealing. I must confess I purchased a book online only once and know next to nothing about online book trading. However, I assume that the basic principles of supply and demand and the dynamics of collecting still apply, and that the classical virtues of the book dealer — a keen eye for value, entrepreneurship, networking, a practical business sense coupled with a passion for books, etc. — continue to be essential, and so I listened with interest to an interview by Nigel Beale with Robert Rulan-Miller, an antiquarian book dealer who has been in the book dealing business for quite some time and has to offer some first-hand experience as well as some hints for the young collector.


Inauguration Book Report

Attending the inauguration was a fantastic experience, and me and my companion were among the fortunate few (or many, rather) who had no ticket and consequently didn’t have to put up with security, lines or purple tunnels of doom. The performance of John Williams “Air and a Simple Gifts” was beautiful, and witnessing the reaction of the crowd as various people walked onto the stage, and seeing and listening to them cheer and jubilate when Obama took the oath of office was wonderful, but the most moving moment for me was a passage from Obama’s inaugural address:

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth. And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

The speech may have been short on substantial solutions, but that was not what was called for: what we needed was a vision, a vision of a world based on an enlightened, humanist world view, and a sense of urgency that we must unite, pull ourselves together and get to work, as well as a promise that if we find the determination, we will also find the strength and the means to pave the way for a better future. It was the quintessential American speech, hammered down with unmatched rhetorical splendor to a crowd who was not only thirsting for a president capable of inspiring people with his words, but willing to begin a new chapter. Let’s hope the spirit of that speech will carry on to inspire the American people, their president and the global community.

Of course, the inauguration also provided a nice excuse to visit Washington’s monuments and museums  and embark on a book-buying spree in the capital’s bookstore scene. Truth be told, after spending quite some time at bookstores, we managed to visit only one museum — the National Gallery of Art — which featured an astonishing range of paintings and sculptures of readers and books, as for instance Georges de la Tour’s repentant Magdalene:

For Washington book-browsing, we paid a visit to Second Story Books and Capitol Hill Books (highly recommended! On a Saturday, you get 10% off and free wine & cheese!) . At Capitol Hill, I got a manual of reading comprehension in exchange for replacing a light-bulb, and at Second Story I purchased a host of “books on books” , including a copy of This Book Collecting Game by A. Edward Norton and the ABC for Book-Collectors by John Carter.

I am still in two minds about book collecting. I have recently read Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World, which is an easy-to-read narrative introduction to book-collecting, quite informative on occasion,  though at times frustratingly meandering, irrelevant and callow (not to say downright moronic), and I have read several of Nicholas Basbanes’s books on bibliophilia; I even own a couple of rare books myself, and yet I have never pursued book-collecting in earnest. What I would need is a topic for a collection that is specific enough to make the hunt worthwhile and exciting, and at the same time interesting enough to make the collection in some sense “practical”. I abstain from buying books merely for aesthetic or sentimental purposes, even though I am very fond of a book’s physical attributes and immensely enjoy reading about the history of book-making. In order for me to buy a book, there has to be some kind of thematic thread, an intellecual stimulus, an incentive above and beyond mere beauty or scarcity, and until I find a collection topic that satisfies these criteria, I shall contend myself with the hunt of cheap and decent reading copies.