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by Leona Rostenberg, Madeleine B. Stern

The rare book dealers who delighted readers with the history of their bookselling days in Old Books, Rare Friends now offer the other side of their story — an intimate look at the joys of a relationship that has lasted more than half a century. When their friendship and business partnership began in the 1940s, Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern were


The rare book dealers who delighted readers with the history of their bookselling days in Old Books, Rare Friends now offer the other side of their story — an intimate look at the joys of a relationship that has lasted more than half a century. When their friendship and business partnership began in the 1940s, Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern were pioneers in a man's world. Now approaching their nineties, the duo, who — among their many discoveries — unearthed Louisa May Alcott's pseudonymous blood-and-thunder stories, remains a vibrant institution in the rare book trade, even as the Internet changes their field — and their community — forever.

After publishing Old Books, Rare Friends, Rostenberg and Stern received a flood of fan mail asking about their personal lives, and they have responded with poignant honesty and the warmth for which they are famous, as they reflect on their lives and their remarkable partnership. Bookends recounts their fascinating histories: family backgrounds, business adventures, the men they did not marry, and their approach to the bittersweet trials of aging. More than just a dual memoir, Bookends is also a chronicle of the cultural changes of twentieth-century American life and a loving farewell to the golden age of book collecting. Filled with wisdom and humor, this volume is a tribute to Rostenberg and Stern's passion for the written word — and for life itself.

Catching us off guard with their candor, they offer their insights regarding their business, their way of life, and their worldview. Above all, they present the story of a special relationship. At a time when people find it increasingly difficult to connect, here we have the seamless story of a shared life. It is the unique product of an earlier time, yet it is a timeless reflection on the very nature of friendship. Though their fantastic partnership is un-reproducible, the ideal they have established, for the integration of one life so completely with another, contains lessons for all of us.

Without husband or children they created a loving home when this was uncharted territory for women. They nurtured a business and life partnership that has lasted more than half a century and has only gotten stronger with time. When the passing years began to claim one's hearing and the other's sight, they became each other's eyes and ears. A meditation on aging and togetherness, this book is also the narrative of two pioneering single, Jewish women making their way in tandem through a world largely organized to keep them in their place. It is a gentle, wise story, told in their inimitable style, sparse, unadorned, and honest. Their affirmations supersede their uncertainties. As they write, "Bookends support books and come in pairs...If the word encapsulates our past, it looks also to the future, and to the books — lived together, written together — that will follow." They confront the challenges of aging in a no-nonsense tone, and, in facing them, give us an ideal of enduring human friendship that can't help but touch the heart.

Editorial Reviews

"Bookends support each other and come in pairs." So have the rare book dealers Rostenberg and Stern, who share their German- Jewish backgrounds, 50-year personal and professional relationship, and thoughts on the changing book world and aging. Rostenberg is a past president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association. Includes photos. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
A sweet reminiscence of two women, now 87 and 90 years old, whose lives came together in college and whose personal and professional friendship has continued to today. Best known generally for unearthing the melodramatic tabloid stories published by the young Louisa May Alcott, Rostenberg and Stern are also noted in the circles of books lovers for their memoir of a half-century as rare-book dealers (Old Books, Rare Friends, 1997). This volume covers some of the same territory, but expands on their backgrounds growing up in the tightly knit New York Jewish community before WWII, on the flowering of their friendship and of their business, of their early beaux, and even of their parade of dogs. Alternating sections, Rostenberg and Stern describe their early childhoods—both with loving parents who encouraged their education and independence—and did not try to force them into marriage. Trips to Europe were part of their upbringing and continued in their careers as they scoured the continent for rare manuscripts. Pioneers as woman entrepreneurs, they also sought out women's writings and stories, going back as far as the fourth century. The last several chapters, which describe how they established a home and business together and reflect on the changes that have come to their city and their lives, are written in one voice. So, too, are the reflections on growing older—and uncomfortable with the shift of rare-book collectors from the beautifully bound and printed editions of earlier centuries to the first editions of 20th-century American authors (and with less intimate ways of doing business). Still, they have adapted to the physical limitations of age, working together tocompensate for Madeleine's diminished hearing and Leona's failing vision, making "aging a feasible, even an acceptable process." Best for bibliophiles who have encountered the two via their catalogues or books, but also for a glimpse of growing old gracefully.

Product Details

Free Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.83(w) x 7.82(h) x 0.92(d)

Read an Excerpt


We were always pioneers, we were told — at first alone and then together. In one way or another we explored what had not been explored — as children walking unfamiliar streets, as women researching the unstudied, thinking independently, living differently.

We were pioneers in a century that survived many radical transformations. In its beginning it was shadowed, embraced by the affirmations and certainties of the nineteenth century. Our century lost its certitude and yielded to the naysayers early and suddenly when a tragedy at sea taught it that nothing is invincible, nothing is indestructible, nothing is "unsinkable." Two wars and a Holocaust shaped the first half of our century, and in the seesaw of doubt and hope that followed, it was doubt that often prevailed. Against such a background we two walked together and fashioned our lives a bit ahead of established custom and accepted convention — walked, they said, as pioneers.

That century has ended now, and with it our place in the vanguard. We are no longer explorers, no longer pioneers. The world we once explored is on its way to oblivion, its landmarks lost in mist.

The landscape is no longer familiar. Its streets have lost their identity for us. Its clothing is not ours. Even its language is foreign, pervaded by phrases we cannot translate — dot com or dot org....We who were once pioneers have been thrown off course; "new-ness" manipulated by interlopers is metamorphosing our lives. But perhaps if we meet these challenges head-on, face-to-face, the intruders will lose their hold and we will regain our way, forging it as we go, out of the old century and into the new. And, in the process, reclaim for ourselves our role as pioneers.

Some day soon, we shall try to find our way through the computer world. We shall walk the web to a paradise of information retrieval. We shall enroll in an Internet student program and develop an Internet Web site presence. We shall learn a new language and participate in a new ideology. Moreover, into that realm, still strange to us, we shall carry the Age of the Book, which we know so well. We shall pioneer by linking the two great discoveries, the two great eras of our millennium. Some day soon.

This we can and will do. What we cannot do is accept another and quite different event that afflicts us all, but that looms especially with increasing years. We cannot accept, we can scarcely face, we can barely contemplate the ending of life. We who are advancing toward that end must first experience the end of those we loved. There is no compromise here, and often no satisfactory explanation of why we cannot live forever. All we can do toward acceptance of the ineluctible is remember, recall those we have loved, restore their beginnings, reanimate the past, and so live it again. This we propose to do.

Copyright © 2001 by Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern

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