A sweet reminiscence of two women, now 87 and 90 years old, whose lives came together in college and whose personal and professional friendship has continued to today.
Best known generally for unearthing the melodramatic tabloid stories published by the young Louisa May Alcott, Rostenberg and Stern are also noted in the circles of books lovers for their memoir of a half-century as rare-book dealers (Old Books, Rare Friends, 1997). This volume covers some of the same territory, but expands on their backgrounds growing up in the tightly knit New York Jewish community before WWII, on the flowering of their friendship and of their business, of their early beaux, and even of their parade of dogs. Alternating sections, Rostenberg and Stern describe their early childhoods—both with loving parents who encouraged their education and independence—and did not try to force them into marriage. Trips to Europe were part of their upbringing and continued in their careers as they scoured the continent for rare manuscripts. Pioneers as woman entrepreneurs, they also sought out women’s writings and stories, going back as far as the fourth century. The last several chapters, which describe how they established a home and business together and reflect on the changes that have come to their city and their lives, are written in one voice. So, too, are the reflections on growing older—and uncomfortable with the shift of rare-book collectors from the beautifully bound and printed editions of earlier centuries to the first editions of 20th-century American authors (and with less intimate ways of doing business). Still, they have adapted to the physical limitations of age, working together to compensate for Madeleine’s diminished hearing and Leona’s failing vision, making “aging a feasible, even an acceptable process.”
Best for bibliophiles who have encountered the two via their catalogues or books, but also for a glimpse of growing old gracefully.