Rebecca Rego Barry: Five Books for Bibliomaniacs

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This week, Rebecca Rego Barry, BN Review contributor and author of Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places, offers us a list of inspiring reading for those whose love of books goes beyond the contents between covers.

“There are so many excellent books about book collecting, from handy reference guides like ABC for Book Collectors to novels featuring nefarious collectors and antiquarian booksellers — and they are often nefarious! (Think Johnny Depp as the shady rare-book dealer in the film The Ninth Gate, an adaptation of the 1993 novel The Club Dumas.) The following five are, however, outstanding in the field and will appeal to both casual readers and diehard bibliophiles alike.”




A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Old Books
By Nicholas A. Basbanes

“This is truly the book that introduced rare-book collecting to the mainstream, and it is as good a read today as when it was first published in 1995. It is a comprehensive look at incredible collections and collectors, from seventeenth-century diarist Samuel Pepys to banker J. P. Morgan to actor John Larroquette. No other book about book lovers or collectors comes close to Basbanes’s account of this group of eccentrics (though his follow-ups are terrific reads, too).”


Cadillac Jack
By Larry McMurtry

“In doing the interviews and research for my book about fantastic book ‘finds,’ the same optimistic mantra was repeated over and over again by booksellers and book collectors: ‘Anything can be anywhere.’ It’s a quote from McMurtry’s 1982 novel about an antiques scout who traverses the country in a pearl-colored Cadillac, hunting for flea market treasure. So it’s a must on this list. Winner of a Pulitzer Prize and an Academy Award for his writing, McMurtry has also long been an antiquarian bookseller and book collector, which he chronicles in his Books: A Memoir.”


By A. S. Byatt

“If I could name just one novel that I wish I could read for the first time all over again, it would be this one, in which two modern scholars unravel a mystery surrounding a pair of Victorian writers. A search leads them to uncover hidden letters, diaries, and poems, all the while with a grave-robbing American collector at their heels. It’s such a rich novel and reveals so much about our mania for collecting and our obsession with historical ‘discoveries.'”


Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books
By Michael Dirda

Dirda is a bibliophile par excellence. In his reviews, essays, and books, his enthusiasm for volumes both old and new is infectious. This is his newest collection of essays, first published in The American Scholar, and it offers charming literary musings (and lists of books bought) as Dirda scours readers’ conventions, used book sales, and thrift shops in pursuit of the long forgotten and underappreciated. ‘Book collecting is, hands down, the greatest pastime in the world,’ he writes. I couldn’t agree more.”

Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books
By Paul Collins

“I’ll happily read anything by ‘Literary detective’ Paul Collins, but this book is particularly special for its setting: Hay-on-Wye, Wales, the original “book town.” While Collins awaited the publication of his first book, Banvard’s Folly, he and his family moved to the Welsh countryside and embedded themselves in a book lover’s paradise. Collins, a witty and engaging writer, even took a turn working for secondhand book dealer and self-proclaimed King of Hay, Richard Booth.”