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A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World - Nicholas A. Basbanes Photobucket
Beautiful, ornate edition of "A Gentle Madness"

This is the third volume in the bibliophile trilogy that began with [b:A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books|791098|A Gentle Madness Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books|Nicholas A. Basbanes|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328053950s/791098.jpg|777083], continued [b:Patience & Fortitude: Wherein a Colorful Cast of Determined Book Collectors, Dealers, and Librarians Go About the Quixotic Task of Preserving a Legacy|492197|Patience & Fortitude Wherein a Colorful Cast of Determined Book Collectors, Dealers, and Librarians Go About the Quixotic Task of Preserving a Legacy|Nicholas A. Basbanes|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348199030s/492197.jpg|1281241], and finishes with A Splendor of Letters. The scholarship that was necessary to pull together these stories is simply astounding. The boulder that chases Indiana Jones out of the cave at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark is a good representation of Nicholas Basbanes's knowledge of the book world; in comparison, my accumulated knowledge would be represented by one of the pebbles kicked out of the way as the boulder crashes through the opening. I can say after reading Basbanes's books my pebble of knowledge has become bigger. I think of it now as more of a rock that David might have picked up to hurl at Goliath. Fanciful? Yes indeed.

I found myself reading pieces of almost every page out loud to my wife. I finally desisted simply because the poor woman couldn't get any of her work done. I jotted down notes of what I felt would be important to share with my goodreads friends. A jumble of page numbers and notations on pieces of paper stuck in the binding of the book, good lord, it looks like I'm back in college about to tackle a term paper. To keep this review to a comfortable length I will be frugal keeping what I share to the highlights of the highlights.

Michael Servetus, despite the best efforts of the fire, his work survives.

Through out our sordid human history there are many cases of writing deemed heretical by the church. "Certainly one of the most egregious instances involved the Spanish physician Michael Servetus (1511-1553), a brilliant thinker who made the grave mistake of locking theological horns with John Calvin, the French-born lawyer-turned-Protestant reformer whose strict interpretation of Christian doctrine allowed little patience for the contrary views of an intellectual regarded today as a spiritual forebear of the Unitarian church." For writing his book Christianismi Restitutio Servetus was condemned. He was burned at the stake using the 1,000 copies (well 997) of his book as fuel for the fire. Only three of his book managed to survive to the present day. "In an extraordinary twist of circumstances, one of these turned out to be John Calvin's own annotated copy."

Painting of Walter Mehring by George Grosz

A German Jewish journalist, Walter Mehring, living in Berlin was condemned by the Nazis and was forced to flee. It turned into seven years of flight and the whole time his desire was to be safe and reunited with his Father's library. Through friends and "devious means" he managed to have his father's books sent to him in Austria. As Mehring said, "I was not so much interested in individual books as in the unique historical, aesthetic and philosophical configurations in my father's library." When finally his books arrived he was able to "restore the original mosaic of the library" relying heavily on his memory of where volumes had once been located in his father's library he covered three walls of his flat in Vienna. "Returning late at night and switching on the floor lamp, I felt that the books formed a magical pentagram and other necromataic patterns, producing an atmosphere that was both homelike and eerie, and bringing the dead to life. At that point he began to read madly, morning, noon and night. A man can become as addicted to reading as any other intoxicant."

Basbanes makes a good case through out the book of the association that we have with a book that goes beyond just the experience with the thoughts and words conveyed by the writer. Mehring could have replaced all of the books in his father's library, but he would not have been able to have the same experience with replacement copies. Every book is unique and this collection was assembled piece by piece by his father. Mehring certainly would not have been happy with the digital versions of the books in his father's library. His experience with an e-reader would have been, but a pale imitation of the intimate reunion he had with the books and the atmosphere that they brought with them.

First edition of Ulysses. The first thing I would do is pick this book up and inhale that wonderful old book smell.

A good example of the tactile experience that goes with a book is the collection of Ulysses books at the University of Texas. They have twenty-seven first editions in their collection. Richard W. Oram, the university librarian explains. "The copy I like to take out and show to people is the one that belonged to T.E. Lawrence, because after all these years, it still smells strongly of his pipe tobacco. That's something I don't think you will ever get from a digitized copy."

Gladstone's Library a slice of heaven.

I love tracking the stats on my goodreads book page. The most books I've ever read in a year is 125 and I don't foresee that high water mark changing any time in the near future. Sir William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), prime minister of England, a "towering intellect" averaged reading 250 books a year for every year of his adult life. He discussed in detail in his meticulous kept diary over twenty thousand books. How in the world he managed to squeeze that much time out of his day considering his responsibilities is truly staggering. I will admit I watch some television and an occasionally movie and do actually interact with my family, but even if you removed all those distractions I'm still not sure I could get to 250 books read a year. Gladstone was truly a dedicated reader and I am curious to learn more about him.

Nicholas Basbanes a man intent on preserving our book legacy.

If you truly love books and want to learn more about the history of the book, the collectors, and the great readers of history than certainly pick these books up and take a walk with Basbanes through the corridors of bibliomania. One final thought that I hadn't really considered until I read this book is how vulnerable our culture legacy is because more and more of it is being put into a digitized format, our emails, our tweets, our books, our magazines and newspapers are all drifting away from a more permanent structure that would insure that some of it would survive long after we disappear. One of the librarians in this book suggested that maybe we should be baking a version of our best books into clay tablets and burying them deep into the earth so that someday some semblance of our culture would still be left behind to be found.

It's hard to conceive that the world we know today could change so drastically that our monuments to ourselves would be in jeopardy, but Indiana Jones, fictional though he is, spends his days digging up what is left of civilizations that no longer exist. A future archaeologist can not dig this Apple computer out of the sand and resurrect, well this review, or my jocular emails to friends, or my inane Facebook posts or my amazing half completed novels. They will be lost and in my case that is probably a good thing, but there are brilliant people with thoughts and observations that should be preserved.