Paging all booklovers! (Get it? Paging? Books?) Here are some ... books for booklovers. Among the Gently Mad (Henry Holt, hardcover), by Nicholas A. Basbanes, is a history of bibliomania (a word, coined in 1750 by the fourth Earl of Chesterfield, used to describe the hobby of book collecting) and a deeply revealing look at collectors: their obsessions, their passions, their collecting styles. We're introduced to a few of history's great book hunters, and we meet some of today's most avid collectors. The novice collector will positively salivate for a book like this, with its wealth of collecting tips and tricks. Absolutely wonderful.
So, too, is Nicholson Baker's Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper (Vintage, paperback), a heartfelt condemnation of the way libraries -- those institutions charged with the preservation of the written word -- destroy historic old newspapers, books, and magazines by the truckload, replacing them with shoddy microfilm copies. Entire runs of newspapers have been destroyed, converted to microfilm; the actual newspapers are gone forever. Destruction in the name of preservation is a disastrous notion, as Baker thoroughly demonstrates in this extremely passionate appeal for restraint -- restraint, before there's nothing left.
On a similar theme, take a peek at The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New: A Simple Repair Manual for Book Lovers (Thomas Dunne, hardcover), by Margot Rosenberg and Bern Marcowitz. As the authors point out, most advice on taking care of books is aimed at professionals; it's about time somebody wrote a book for the amateur, for someone like me, someone who loves his small collection of old books and wants to protect them from mishap. Here are tips on using common household cleaning products; ways of repairing a torn or ragged dust jacket; and suchlike. For a bibliophile, an indispensable book, and a most welcome gift.
Here's an interesting book: Anthony Arthur's Literary Feuds (Thomas Dunne, hardcover), a compendium of notable quarrels between some famous writers. People like Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, who were quite chummy until a parody in a short novel, and (later) some unkind remarks came between them. People like Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, two young writers whose difference of opinion about a prominent American political family led to a bitter and rather ludicrous acrimony. A fascinating book, a veritable feast of ego and pettiness and self-obsession.
If someone on your list is a devoted book-review reader (bless him, or her), give 'em The Collection: Journalism, Reviews, Essays, Short Stories, Lectures (Vintage, paperback), a vibrant anthology of Peter Ackroyd's short works. Ackroyd, best known these days as the author of big books like London: The Biography and Albion (reviewed elsewhere in this holiday-reading extravaganza), started out, in the early seventies, as a poet; he segued a couple of years later into magazine-writing, settling in at the Spectator as the magazine's literary editor (he continued writing poetry, too). In the early eighties he left the Spectator and began writing reviews and articles for the Times of London and the Sunday Times. This wonderful anthology reprints many of his Spectator and Times pieces, as well as several miscellaneous bits and pieces and three short stories.
Also wonderful is How To Be Alone, an essay collection by Jonathan Franzen. Before his third novel The Corrections took the book-buying world by storm, Franzen was perhaps better known as a journalist, contributing long essays to such publications as The New Yorker, Harper's and Details. How To Be Alone collects fourteen essays, written between 1994 and 2001. The subjects are widely varied -- his father's battle with Alzheimer's, privacy, the postal service -- and the book includes his notorious 1996 rumination on the fate of the American novel, first published under the title Perchance to Dream but now universally known simply as 'the Harper s Essay.' It alone is worth the price of admission, and your favorite bibliophile will be thrilled to find this book under the tree.
Editor's Note: This is one of a series of articles on books, on a variety of subjects, as holiday gifts. Find more suggestions in our Columns.
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