Wednesday, October 08, 2008


In honor of National Book Month in October, we list here
tales true and not so true about people whose love of books, and quest for finding rarities leads them to mayhem, mystery and much musing.

Memoirs of a book snake : 40 years of seeking and saving old books by David Meyer.
Anecdotes from the life of a book scout, or "book snake," a mistaken term for book worm that a friend of his used once. Tales from a life devoted to seeking out the rare find among dusty bins and auction boxes, and where they take him around the country.

Sixpence House: lost in a town of books by Paul Collins
Paul Collins and his family abandoned the hills of San Francisco to move to the Welsh countryside-to move, in fact, to the little cobblestone village of Hay-on-Wye, the 'Town of Books' that boasts fifteen hundred inhabitants-and forty bookstores. Antiquarian bookstores, no less.

Hay's newest citizens accordingly take up residence in a sixteenth-century apartment over a bookstore, meeting the village's large population of misfits and bibliomaniacs by working for world-class eccentric Richard Booth-the self-declared King of Hay, owner of the local castle, and proprietor of the world's largest and most chaotic used book warren. A useless clerk, Paul delights in shifting dusty stacks of books around and sifting them for ancient gems like Robinson Crusoe in Words of One Syllable, Confessions of an Author's Wife, and I Was Hitler's Maid. He also duly fulfills his new duty as a citizen by simultaneously applying to be a Peer in the House of Lords and attempting to buy Sixpence House, a beautiful and neglected old tumbledown pub for sale in the town's center.

Books : a memoir by Larry McMurtry
Yes, that Larry McMurtry, Pulitzer Prize winning and bestselling author, whose books have been turned into films, like Lonesome Dove, and Terms of Endearment, the Last Picture Show.
In this work of extraordinary charm, grace, and good humor, McMurtry recounts his life as both a reader and a writer, how the countless books he has read worked to form his literary tastes, while giving us a lively look at the eccentrics who collect, sell, or simply lust after rare volumes. Books: A Memoir is like the best kind of diary -- full of McMurtry's wonderful anecdotes, amazing characters, engaging gossip, and shrewd observations about authors, book people, literature, and the author himself. At once chatty, revealing, and deeply satisfying, Books is, like McMurtry, erudite, life loving, and filled with excellent stories. It is a book to be savored and enjoyed again and again.

Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: reflections at 60 and beyond is his musing from 10 years earlier about similar topics.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
Inspired by the process of creating a library for his fifteenth-century home near the Loire, in France, Alberto Manguel, the acclaimed writer on books and reading, has taken up the subject of libraries. “Libraries,” he says, “have always seemed to me pleasantly mad places, and for as long as I can remember I’ve been seduced by their labyrinthine logic.” In this personal, deliberately unsystematic, and wide-ranging book, he offers a captivating meditation on the meaning of libraries.

Manguel, a guide of irrepressible enthusiasm, conducts a unique library tour that extends from his childhood bookshelves to the “complete” libraries of the Internet, from Ancient Egypt and Greece to the Arab world, from China and Rome to Google. He ponders the doomed library of Alexandria as well as the personal libraries of Charles Dickens, Jorge Luis Borges, and others. He recounts stories of people who have struggled against tyranny to preserve freedom of thought—the Polish librarian who smuggled books to safety as the Nazis began their destruction of Jewish libraries; the Afghani bookseller who kept his store open through decades of unrest. Oral “memory libraries” kept alive by prisoners, libraries of banned books, the imaginary library of Count Dracula, the library of books never written—Manguel illuminates the mysteries of libraries as no other writer could. With scores of wonderful images throughout, The Library at Night is a fascinating voyage through Manguel’s mind, memory, and vast knowledge of books and civilizations.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff
An oldie but a goodie.
In 1949,(before the Internet) this tells the saga of a 20-year correspondence between a New Yorker seeking obscure titles and a London antiquarian bookseller. It covers the post-war years in England and the coronation of the Queen, and what was happening with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
It was eventually turned into a play and later a movie with the same title, starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.