The role of printed books in Western civilization recounted in diverting essays that recapitulate some significant events in the annals of bibliomania.
The Romneys—Rebecca is the rare-book expert on the History Channel’s Pawn Stars; J.P. is a writer and historical researcher—tell the secrets of paper and ink, publishing and buying, selling and collecting printed books. The authors offer bright character sketches of the book world’s saints and sinners, heroes and losers, savants and simple dopes. They reveal the ineluctable power of the printing press and the odd peccadilloes of antiquarian book people. They also include obligatory discussions of Gutenberg’s Bible and Shakespeare’s First Folio, which holds a certain “curse” in that “most of those who participated in the creation of Shakespeare’s Folio were dead within four years.” The drollery among the dusty bookshelves will attract general readers to the innocuous pleasures of bibliomania. Within the entertaining passages, the authors define terms like “incunabula,” “colophon,” and “ISBN” for the uninitiated, and they pay homage to renowned publishers across the years. Along with favorites of the bookish folk, the Romneys introduce characters like Marino Massimo De Caro, the talented rare-book forger; T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, who built and destroyed what has been called the most beautiful type font ever; and monastic Johannes Trithemius, defender of the art of handwriting against the advance of the new technology of the printing press. Here, too, is Mercator mapping the globe, Dickens pleading for royalties from America, and Mary Wollstonecraft serving as the model of a modern liberated lady. The authors’ description of the printing and dissemination of Western literature, mythology, and science employs a vocabulary beyond the usual antiquarian lingo, employing occasional double-entendres and mildly naughty words for a contemporary readership—some of the snarky parenthetical asides should amuse bibliomaniacal newbies.
A spritely visit to the land of rare books.