Film biographer Baxter (Woody Allen, 1999, etc.) reveals another true love in this entertaining account of his admittedly nerdy life.
The author is a near-rabid bibliomaniac who has chased first editions across several continents and now lives happily with the cream of his collection in the same Paris building where Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Co. once hosted Joyce, Hemingway, et al. Baxter, who grew up in Australia, dates the conception of his obsession to 1951, when, at 11, he acquired a copy of The Poems of Rupert Brooke. Thereafter, he chased Graham Greene’s ouevre (a collection he eventually sold once he’d acquired just about all there was), works about the cinema, books somehow related to the place where he happened to be living, and volumes by Edward Gorey, Lafcadio Hearn (!), and others. His tenet was “anything can be anywhere,” and, indeed, he did find amazing things in unlikely places. At a Virginia “swap-meet” in the mid-1970s, he discovered a 1927 issue of Sylvia Beach’s periodical transition in a box of what was otherwise rubbish. For that item (and two others) he paid a total of 25 cents. Baxter showers us with anecdotes and bons mots, a majority of them amusing (“Most librarians don’t like books any more than butchers like lamb chops”), but also finds time to trace the history of the dust jacket. He identifies the best cinematic sex scene in a bookshop (The Big Sleep), explains proofs and galleys and limited editions, and tells us why unsuccessful authors sometimes resent signing first editions of their failed books (no profit for them!). Baxter describes the devastating effect of the Internet on ye ole bookshoppes (scads of which have folded) and examines the primitive book trade that now exists on eBay. Like all nerd memoirs, this one features sexual conquests too, but the passages about his love life aren’t as interesting as those voicing his passion for books.
Tasty junk food for book lovers.