A Gentle Mandness

“The bibliophile is the master of his books, the bibliomaniac their slave.” (Hanns Bhattta, quoted in A Gentle Madness by Nicholas A. Basbanes)

This fascinating history* tells not of The Book itself, but of people who love books – to distraction. To be clear, bibliomanes don’t necessarily read books at all; they simply accrue, amass, and collect them. Yet, I would recommend this book to any modern bibliophile, even if only to put our small-time book collecting into perspective. The history of book collectors manages to tell a, albeit halting, tale of how ancient books were preserved through the middle ages, how they were destroyed and, in many cases, how they came to be disseminated and popularized.

One of the things that I am coming to love about non-fiction is the ability to absolutely immerse yourself in a subject, like learning a foreign language by flying over to the country in question. I am not only absorbed in reading the history of book collectors, but also enrolled in a class entitled The History of the Book; the two of them work together in my head to ensure that I am constantly thinking about The Book and surrounded with interconnecting information. Likewise, when I read A Short History of Nearly Everything while watching the Planet Earth series by BBC, my head was absolutely, and blissfully, stuck in a world that comprised of images and facts about the earth and its inhabitants. It seems like this coinciding of similar topics might be coincidental, but as it keeps happening I am going to hypothesize that once interested in a subject, my mind naturally searches for more ways to connect to it. Either way, I do hope that it keeps happening, for it has been a delightful experience so far. Has anyone else read a non-fiction book while engaging in some other experience in the same subject? What have your results been?

Beverage: As the luxurious cover can attest, this is a book about indulging your passions. Personally, my beverage passion happens to be Tea and so have been indulging in the finest black tea in my possession. But, if you incline more towards the coffee or alcohol end of things, simply pick the best of what you’ve got and you’re on the right track.

Reminds me of… Mark Kurlansky in a way, because it is a history of a rather specific topic, but it is also told in a more reporter-like style (and thus lacks Kurlansky’s particularly insightful clarity of thought).

*By the admission of Nicholas Basbanes himself, the first and second parts of his massive tomb are divided into the historical aspects of bibliomania and the current (1980’s) aspect. For now, the first part is what holds my interest.


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