Phantoms on the Bookshelves Hardcover – 28 Oct 2010
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'This is a charming book full of erudition and wit, and is very nicely translated' John Sutherland, Literary Review. (Literary Review)
'Part cataloguing manual, part homage to books, adventure story and autobiography, this Borgesian account is a promise of happiness' Jérôme Garcin, Nouvel Observateur. (Nouvel Observateur)
From the Inside Flap
This enthralling study on the art of living with books considers how our personal libraries reveal our true natures: far more than merely crowded shelves, they are living labyrinths of our innermost feelings.
The author, a lifelong accumulator of books ancient and modern, lives in a house large enough to accommodate his many thousands of volumes, as well as overspill from the libraries of his friends. While his musings on the habits of collectors from the earliest known libraries are learned, amusing and instructive, his advice on cataloguing may even save lives.
Phantoms on the Bookshelves ranges from classical Greece to contemporary Iceland, from Balzac to Moby Dick and Google, spiced with anecdotes along the way. This volume, rich with wit and wisdom, will be a lasting delight to specialist collectors, librarians, bibliophiles and to all those who treasure books.
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Top Customer Reviews
Also, being a French book, there are a lot of references to French books that I'm not sure many English speaking readers will be familiar with.
I'm not sure either that, although he keeps telling us he has several tens of thousands of books, he actually has. When I see the amount of space my mere 1200 take up his appartment would have to be huge!
This book isn't as good as 'The Library at Night' by Alberto Manguel though it is in a similar vein. Manguel is a better writer and ranges more widely through books and reading in general rather than just describing his collection.
It's probably better that this book is quite short and for the price, I would say it's worth a read.
As a confirmed bibliophile myself, I was eager to read of another's journey through the world of books.
Jacques certainly has some tales to tell of the many ways he has come across books, and the best ways in which to catalogue an enormous personal library, and I did find myself chuckling along at moments, recognising my own personal struggles with how best to organise my overflowing bookshelves.
However, other than the odd charming anecdote, and amusing little quotes about the perils of book collecting, I didn't find much else to engage me, through no fault of the author, and merely due to the fact that, as a French book translated into English, there wasn't enough common ground to hold my interest.
The French titles (although accompanied by the translation) went over my head, and I'd never heard of the majority of the books mentioned (most of them far too high brow for my mostly popular fiction reading brain) which left me feeling rather lost for the majority of the book.
For a high brow French literature fan, there's a lot to love here, I did really want to love it, and it is a charming little tale, but it just went too far over my head.
As you can probably tell, I loved this book. I read it within a few hours of opening the package, despite decidedly more pressing matters to attend to. It's not necessarily written for the casual reader, who reads their book and then sells it, or simply gives it away, but I would suggest that such a person could surely still derive a great deal of enjoyment from it. Beautifully written, excellently translated, funny, interesting, and at times even moving, I really cannot find fault with this book - except that, maybe, I might be inclined to advise the sane against this reading book, lest this mania, this charming madness of "bibliophilia" (as Bonnet calls it) spread, silently dismantling the nuts and bolts of a carefree, obsession-less life.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Jacques Bonnet is a French publisher, translator, and author. For forty years he has been acquiring books, so that, as of the time of writing this slim book, he had a private library of more than forty thousand volumes. It is "a working library, the kind where you don't hesitate to write on your books, or read them in the bath; a library that results from keeping everything you have ever read - including paperbacks and perhaps several editions of the same title - as well as the ones you mean to read one day. A non-specialist library, or rather one specialized in so many areas that it becomes a general one."
Much of the book is devoted to problems of classification and organization. That might sound staggeringly dull, except to those of us who have encountered those sometimes vexing problems and are curious about how others address them - and for the likes of us, Bonnet's discussion is thorough and thoughtful, yet light and witty and anything but dull. The point of organization, of course, is to be able to readily retrieve a specific book when one thinks one needs it. With Bonnet, as with the rest of us, "I can only find my way around because I have personally placed each book in its position, one by one, down the years, and any changes were thought about long enough at the time to enable me to remember them." Still, there are occasions when the system - the coordination of physical reality and our mental mapping - fails. "Sometimes I spend time looking for a book for which the logical place has been overtaken by events. Or failing to find a book that I know I have somewhere. Have I mis-shelved it or is it lost? I cannot always answer that question, or else it is answered too late, when I have already bought another copy. When that happens, should I keep both of them? And if not, then which one?"
Bonnet recognizes that he and his ilk may be among the last of the Mohicans. In particular, the internet has changed, and continues to change, not only how and what people read, but also the need for a personal library amongst the small tribe of obsessive-compulsive readers. "Would I ever have put together the same library if I had been born into the internet generation? Almost certainly not." So, PHANTOMS ON THE BOOKSHELVES may soon be a work of history, akin to a monograph on how library card catalogues worked.
Bonnet of course is French, and therefore much of his library - and many of the specific examples he cites - are French publications. But his interests are remarkably broad and cosmopolitan, and I sense that he chose his examples with an international audience in mind, such that I, who neither know French nor am particularly steeped in French culture and literature, never felt like an outsider looking in.
The book is generously sprinkled with anecdotes and quotations about those who love to read -- or, perhaps more precisely, live to read. For example, there was "a man sentenced to death during the revolutionary Terror [who] read a book in the tumbril taking him to the scaffold, and turned down the page he had reached before climbing up to the guillotine."
Finally, one last excerpt to entice you: Bonnet confesses that he marks his books as he reads them, sometimes in pencil, but also with felt pens or ballpoints, whatever is at hand. "The tens of thousands of books with their underlinings and marginalia, which have absorbed a large proportion of the money I have earned in my working life, are therefore now of no commercial value. This makes a kind of sense, since I have always considered them as a sort of mental and material extension of myself, destined to go out of existence when I do * * *."
I was enchanted by the subject...people who can count their personal libraries in the tens of thousands and their idiosyncrasies. While I'm only halfway to my first ten thousand, I felt Bonnet was speaking directly to me about book collecting and the whys and wherefores of acquiring a book - you like the cover art, someone recommended it, the book had an interesting title. And the downside, they cost a lot of money are aren't worth much in resale. He especially hit home with the comment that even if the book is terrible, it's hard to get rid of. Once part of the library, always part of the library.
The upside, of course, is the pleasure of knowing the books are there waiting for the right time to be read or re-read or just thumbed through for favorite passages. Then there is the obsession of collecting itself and the hunt through used book shops looking for the one volume you're missing.
There is even a chapter on how to organize your collection and a bibliography of the books from his own collection that he discusses in the book.
A charming book fo anyone who loves books.