Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths and Their Shared Passion

Overview

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, remain 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 ...

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Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths and Their Shared Passion

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Overview

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, remain 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 rare honesty and warmth 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. Yet, 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. Above all it is a heart-touching testament to enduring human friendship.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Fifty years is a long time to be friends, let alone business partners, and this joint memoir by Stern and Rostenberg, legends in the antiquarian book scene for most of those years as well as prolific authors, is a treat for rare-book lovers. Devotion to the printed page began young for both. Rostenberg remembers as a child "sniffing the musty odor of books, a smell that was somehow warm and comforting." The authors met at the Hebrew Technical School for Girls in Manhattan and have stayed together ever since. (It is a measure of our age that they feel compelled to assert that speculations about a lesbian relationship are "a misconception.") They started their business in Rostenberg's family home in the Bronx but acquired their stock from dealers around the world. Stern's best-known discovery, made while she was working on her biography of Louisa May Alcott, was of Alcott's pseudonymous and racy writing for 19th-century tabloids. Her find resulted in several published collections of previously unknown Alcott stories. Rostenberg and Stern, now 84 and 87, respectively, here chronicle the thrill and intrigue of book collecting, trails pursued and trophies secured. They have also shared the rewards of friendship, mutual support and delight in each other's company.
Washington Post
Reflecting on the fascinating literary discoveries they have unearthed over the years together, the two rare book dealers write with a sense of humor and a load of wisdom. Old Books, Rare Friends is for everyone who dreams of making a career out of collecting exceptional literature.
NY Times Book Review
Their story is irresistible to anyone in love with books.
San Francisco Chronicle
You'd think a book about antiquarian bookselling wouldn't be loaded with suspense or keep us laughing or make us shake our heads in wonder at the adventures of its 87-year-old authors . . . But Old Books, Rare Friends does that and more . . .
LA Times Book Review
Rostenberg and Stern's book is a retrained, highly intelligent memoir. The authors are by turns modest, amusing and clearly delighted to share their unusual passion for and knowledge of old books. You will never take for granted the crumbly, leather-bound, 18th and 19th century volumes sitting forlornly in forgotten corners of used bookstores. In this techno-crazed age, how splendid to read about bibliophiles.
Christian Science Monitor
As the printed word competes with the Internet, Rostenberg and Stern offer reminders of the enduring importance of ink on paper. No cyberspace words, however brilliantly written, can compare.
Kirkus Reviews
This breezy dual autobiography of two writers and antiquarian- book dealers points up their extraordinary accomplishment in spheres of endeavor long dominated by men. Octogenarian New Yorkers Rostenberg, a historian of early printers and commentator on bibliographical subjects, and Stern, biographer and unmasker of Louisa May Alcott as the unknown writer of "blood-and-thunder" thrillers, have been friends since they were students at Columbia University and Barnard College, respectively. In alternating chapters the two detail their early lives, educations, and experiences as innocents abroad, but their story doesn't really heat up until the young Stern, with the economic freedom of a Guggenheim Foundation grant, begins working with clues from "Little Women" and other sources, as well as some key help from her friend Leona, to lay out the record of Alcott's "deviational narratives," written pseudonymously for the pulp magazines of her day. For Rostenberg, with her academic background in 15th-century books, or incunabula, professional appreciation of vellum, morocco, and calfskin was a natural path. Descriptions of their publications and the growth of their joint business are coupled with firsthand accounts of rare book and pamphlet discoveries abroad and sales to U.S. libraries and academic institutions. Highlights include the sale in the 1960s of several en bloc collections, such as that of the inimitable 16th-century imprint the Aldine Press, Venice, and a marvelous subject collection on Florence with more than 300 works, including Medici family histories, papal bulls, and an illustrated first edition "Vasari Lives of the Artists" (both collections went to the University of Texas). Ofinterest for the Alcott material alone, but the light-handed, nontechnical accounts of the uncommon duo's experiences as women antiquarians also make pleasurable reading for anyone immersed in the world of books.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385485159
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/1/1998
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,427,440
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Table of Contents

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