Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It’s the Weight of a Book

As a lazy bibliophile, I’m sucker for books about book collecting because it’s easier to read than do it. So I read John Baxter’s A Pound of Paper. I think I prefer Larry McMurtry’s Books, but Baxter’s book has a nice light conversational tone and a European/Australian angle that’s worth the reading…if you care about those rectangle things that used to be all the rage with readers.

I say that I’m a lazy lover of books and not just reading. In fact I don’t care much for reading. But books as artifacts never get old. But I’m just not dedicated. One of Baxter’s through-lines is his obsessive search for the works of Graham Greene. I haven’t completed collecting one author. I haven’t went after all the Pulitzer winners or gotten all the books titled starting with the article “The.” But I’ve stumbled onto an 1897 Civil Service Report here and an 1871 six volume set of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire there. But my gem is a first edition/first printing of Emily Dickinson’s Third Series (the first posthumous publication of some of her poetry). Anyway, the point is it’s haphazard.

Much like this group of my favorite tidbits:

“Most librarians don’t like books any more than butchers like lamb chops.” (I don’t agree with this one, but it’s funny to stereotype).

“I’d stumbled on the great rule of science fiction: ninety per cent of it is crap.”

“Still to come was the ritual of ‘shelving’—placing the book with the now-lengthening line of Greene titles, in chronological order, with a lightly penciled note on the flyleaf giving the price paid and the date purchased.”

“In 1937, Greene notoriously reviewed John Ford’s Wee Willie Winkie, making disparaging remarks about Shirley Temple, then just nine years old. Neither Greene nor Night and Day anticipated that Twentieth Century Fox might sue for libel on Temple’s behalf.”

“[Dick] Cavett—or at least his researchers—latched on to the fact that [Edward] Gorey drew the covers for Doubleday’s paperback reissues of Henry James.

‘What do you think of James today?’ Cavett asked.

An expressionless Gorey replied, ‘I loathed every word he wrote.’”

“What the trade calls delicately ‘anthropodermic bindings’ are rare but not unknown, though, for obvious reasons, nobody is in a hurry to admit they own them.”

And one of my favorite parts of the book is an appendix where Baxter asked book people, writers, agents, publishers, etc. to list the book they would save if their house were on fire. There are some great answers but perhaps the best is where Baxter talks about the limited edition of Fahrenheit 451 that was bound in asbestos.

I imagine that I would go for Dickinson in that case, but if time permitted, I would grab in my other hand the Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe with Illustrations by Harry Clarke, which Heather and I bought to celebrate our first wedding anniversary (the paper anniversary after all). See I’m a softy.