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These enjoyable memoirs by the curator of the Humanities Research Center in Austin, Texas, describe a bibliophile's passion for collecting rare books and research materials on modern French literature. Lake's (In Quest of Dali, 1969) collection, now housed in the Univ. of Texas, is considered by experts to be the finest on the subject outside of Paris, and includes original manuscripts by Ravel, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cocteau, ValÉry, Satie, and CÉline. How he got them provides an absorbing look into this bizarre, rarely glimpsed world where priceless manuscripts are hunted and fought over with religious zeal. The author has many fascinating stories to tell--most being either about the collector's personality, or about the way fortune, as well as a good poker-sense, brought him into contact with an important buy. His dealings with Henri Lefebvre, an artful Paris bookseller, illustrate Lake's gifts as a buyer and storyteller. It seems that Lefebvre had got hold of an important and hefty collection of Cocteau manuscript material that he was pressured to sell because of bad business dealings. The collection was in such disarray that Lake proposed that they put a price on how much material they daily investigated. The bookseller turned him down, suspiciously sensing that Lake wished only to buy the important items in the collection. Lake was forced to bide his time patiently until Lefebvre died, then buying the collection from a relative at half the price. His most important purchase, an extensive Ravel collection, was similarly concluded by waiting out the competition--and the asking price of three million. Lake's stories about Gertrude Stein and Henri-Pierre RochÉ, not to mention Toulouse-Lautrec and mother Adele, are equally mind-boggling. A rich collection of book-lore, gossip, financial skullduggery, and scholarly high jinks. For book collectors of any size, this is a sophisticated treat.

Pub Date: June 29th, 1990
Publisher: New Directions