As the subtitle suggests, a book for a narrow and often eccentric audience, with few more eccentric than the author himself.
In A Gentle Madness (1995) and Patience and Fortitude (2001), critic Basbanes chronicled the history of book-collecting and profiled a number of his peers: collectors like Umberto Eco, who owns around 30,000 volumes. Here, he delivers a how-to guide for the aspiring bibliophile. A writer whose prose would make the most exacting schoolmaster proud, Basbanes thoroughly explores all aspects of his obscure hobby: how you might peruse bins at book shows, which works of reference to purchase, how books should be cared for, how and why you should seek out a mentor bibliophile. Along the way he offers a sort of autobiography of his bibliomania, which takes him across New England and the rest of the country searching for old books. When the author describes his trips around Cape Cod, buying books and eating fried clams, it’s easy to wonder who is being converted here, or at the very least who is the intended audience. But there is something contagious about this harmless, erudite lifestyle. Of paramount important to Basbanes, it seems, is taste. In his opinion, for instance, you shouldn’t seek books just because they are old or expensive. You should grow interested in books of one sort, those that deal with certain writers or the history of science, say, and move on from there, discovering one day that you are, by design or not, among the “gently mad,” as the writer dubs book collectors.
For those literati who want a window into a strange little world, read on. All others should take a pass.