Nicholas Basbanes, who lives in North Grafton, Mass., is the author of two previous works: A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes and the Eternal Passion for Books (1999), a finalist for the National Book Critics Award, and Patience & Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Cultures (2001).
Basbanes now adds a "Madness Redux" to his exploration of the world of books and to that species of human beings dubbed "the gently mad," the bibliophiles and bibliomaniacs who would sell their shirts to buy nicely bound volumes.
Among the Gently Mad is not for everyone. It is not for those who wonder why a person spends two weeks reading a book rather than watching a two-hour movie.
If, however, you delight in frequenting yard sales, flea markets, book fairs, library sales, book stores, trade shows, antique shops, and thrift stores in search of printed treasures, then you will love Basbane's work.
To be sure, serious book collecting can be frightfully expensive and often out of one's financial league, as, for example, the $6.16 million dollars that was paid for the 1623 edition of William Shakespeare's dramatic works, commonly known as the First Folio, one that bore the prior ownership signature of the poet John Dryden.
Somewhat less expensive was a first-issue copy of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone that recently sold for $15,000.
However, one does not need to own a Gutenberg Bible (1454-55), the first work printed in Europe from movable type, or the Bay Psalm Book (1639), to be an avid book collector.
Bibliophiles sometimes meet a tragic end, as related by an anecdote from chap. 9: "Homer and Langley Collyer of New York City, two reclusive brothers, quite literally died under the collapsing weight of their various hoards in 1947, with one of them remaining buried for two and a half week before firefighters could locate his body beneath what was estimated to be 150 tons [300,000 pounds!] of newspapers, magazines, books, and assorted doodads."
In a letter to John Adams (June 10, 1815), Thomas Jefferson wrote: "I cannot live without books." Basbanes subscribes to this sentiment; his work testifies to an in-depth knowledge of and experience in the world of books. He speaks with authority as one who intimately and expertly navigates his chosen field.
While Basbanes believes there is no substitute for a tactile, "hands-on" (one might even say erotic) examination of books, he shows how the Internet can be used to aid and abet one's obsession. ...
Among the Gently Mad is a virtual "Who's Who" of booksellers and book collectors. Throughtout the work, the author scatters helpful hints of do's and don'ts. Numerous vignettes illustrate the truth of the principles inculcated. Whether one is a nascent bibliophile or an incorrigible bibliomanic, this guide will prove to be a invaluable resource.