2 Nov 2008
Uh oh, you're making me feel like a barbarian. I've given hundreds of books as gifts, but never once inscribed any of them, I guess out of fear of "ruining" them. Nowadays, we give books as gifts with prices-removed "return receipts" so that if the recipient isn't interested, they can exchange the book for something else. As for me, I'd never think to exchange a book somebody has given me...if this is what they felt that I ought to have, then I ought to appreciate that thought and nearly always discover that they were right (if they are true book lovers as I am). You're making me think that even though I am "nobody", I really ought to transcribe my book gifts, with very beautiful hand-writing (written with a fountain pen, of course)!
Did you ever see the touching film, 84 Charing Cross Road, starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins? That's one of my personal favorites, and represents to me "used book store" with much more of the positive and less of the negative that you (and George Orwell) described. Such a store has to be in England, though...or maybe Boston would be okay, too. There was a great used bookstore in the Boston-set 1970s television series, Banacek, where the owner was a genius researcher for the private detective. Okay, I guess I really am a barbarian, having confounded filmed entertainment with used bookstores twice in this one comment.
2 Nov 2008
why don't you read Peter Deusberg Inventing the Aids Virus and give us your thoughts next month.
2 Nov 2008
Thabo Mbeki, the recently deposed President of South Africa, found a site on the internet while browsing that convinced him that AIDS was not caused by a virus, and that therefore treatment of HIV with drugs was harmful...
He would have made a stupid decision even if he hadn't had access to the internet. Stupid people don't get smart just because they have internet access.
I like copies of books inscribed by the author, particularly when dedicated with a message,
I find it kind of sad when I see a book inscribed by the author to his "dear friend so-and-so" -- since obviously his dear friend didn't value the inscribed book enough to keep it, or it wouldn't be in the used bookshop.
3 Nov 2008
In case the author, Mr. Dalrymple, happens to read this comment...
Sir, it would be of much interest to me if you were to publish a list of your favorite books. As you wrote, "Therefore to treasure the treasured possessions of such a man is to do honour to the human spirit." And as quite possibly the most interesting writer alive today (much less the most eloquent), nothing would "honor the human spirit" more than to treasure that which you treasure. Indeed, it was by that very method that I found your writing, having been led to your books by a writer whom I esteemed greatly. So if you perchance find the opportunity to do so, I for one would be quite attentive to such a list (or if you have already done so, if you could draw my attention to it by replying to this comment).
Thanks again, there are still a few of us in the next generation who appreciate good prose and right ideals.
9 Nov 2008
Anyone who loves books, and worries about their fate, should read Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books, by Paul Collins. It's billed as a "Bookworm's answer to A Year in Provence," "funny, informative," and similar blurbs. When I started reading it I thought Hay-on-Wye, the "Town of Books" must be the booklover's happiest place on earth.
I wish now I had never bought the book. It tells the most chilling story. I am haunted by the treatment that books receive who have found themselves in this terrible place.
9 Nov 2008
I for years avoided used - bookshops. This is in part because I loved the look and feel of a fresh new book. However Age and Economy have led me to spend more and more time in used book- stores. There I frequently experience what Theodore Darymplye so winningly describes here, the surprise meeting with books one had never known existed. 'Jerusalem' where I live has a number of excellent used bookstores and in them I almost weekly find treasures.
9 Nov 2008
I always enjoy Theodore Dalrymple's essays, although I confess that I sometimes find the tone of his condemnations of modern folly (which I always agree with in principle) a little rich for my rather left wing digestion. However this article is a wonderful read. I was particularly moved by the verses of Edgell Rickword that he quotes.
I also rather like inscriptions on the flyleaves of books, especially those adressed to children from bookloving relatives. My rage is reserved for the vandals who underline words, sentences and whole paragraphs in books.
My favourite buyer-hating bookseller was the one who asked me my profession (nuclear engineer) and replied that I must be hated as much as he was in his own previous occupation (income tax inspector)
9 Nov 2008
Thank you - beautiful essay. I have thousands of books and have given hundreds throughout my life to my large family. I rarely wrote in them unless ask to do so. In my own volumes I sometimes leave a pencilled check beside a passage that strikes a chord, but felt that to leave anything more was a defacement. Your essay has afforded me a very different point of view and I like it very much. (In a small bookstore many years ago I bought a number of books of interest to me and found that many of them were inscribed with the same "owner's" name. The bookstore must have bought someone's entire library. Always remembered this and wished I had known him.)
10 Nov 2008
Tom: "84 Charing Cross Road" is an account of an American woman who blundered (by post) into a bookshop run by Frank Doerr, in 1949, starting a correspondence that lasted about 20 years, till Doerr died.
I haven't read it in 20 years, but it still gives me goosebumps to think about it.
Mel Brooks (of all people) bought the rights for his wife, Ann Bancroft. She and Anthony Hopkins are absolute perfection in the movie.
It was dismally remade as "You've got Mail", about which, the less said, the better.
Thanks to Mr Dalrymple for an outstanding essay.
11 Nov 2008
D. R. Khashaba
I have found in this touching essay something of a personal appeal.
I am a man of 81. I fell in love with books as a boy. For some time, though I could only very rarely buy a book, still I could find my way to books and read voraciously. Then came a time, spanning decades, when at first I had very little time for reading and later almost no time at all, for reasons that it is not possible to state briefly.
During this period when I read next to nothing, I found solace in buying second-hand books from ‘sour el-Azbakeya’ (the Azbakeya wall) in Cairo (before it was killed by stupid administrative meddling). I found gems and put them by for a better day.
I have by me as I write this The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. There is no publication date that I can find, but the inscription on my copy is dated 7-10-1927, a month and four days after the day I was born. At present I am reading in it Chaucer’s translation of Boethius’s De Consolatione Philosophie – such a rich delight.
The ‘better day’ came at last in the 1990s when I was past sixty. Since then I have published four books and many articles (all in English, all on philosophy), but I will not bother you any more with my personal story. I will only close by saying that, much as I have loved the whole of your essay, I was most deeply touched by your pained utterance: “Power is more important to us than love.” In all my writings I have tried to preach a gospel of love.
D. R. Khashaba
11 Nov 2008
Very much like the article.
I collect old books and old things. The Internet has definitely killed the feeling of serendipity when finding something obscure that you love in an unexpected place. On the other hand, it also allows people to have and hold things they would never have found any other way.
I like finding old books inscribed with names/dates/addresses. I have a (huge) set of cookbooks bought in a California bookstore once owned by a lady who lived at a chi-chi address in South Africa.
Interesting to imagine how they ended up traveling to meet up with me. (My guess is that the end of apartheid had something to do with it.)
Sorry - long, boring story. Anyway, maybe I'll start inscribing books so that (when I croak) someone might wonder about me.
13 Nov 2008
Theodore Dalrymple is my idea of a Renaissance Man. A doctor whose comments on culture and all things literary are so thoughtful and true (true in every sense of the word, from secular to religious) is a rare man who sees the world through a wide lens. I've read all his books of essays and have found little to disagree with. I can't count the times I've read something he wrote and simply thought, "I wish I'd said that." He and the great American essayist Joseph Epstein represent the best--beautifully written common sense.
This essay on books, something I too love, was deeply moving.
Thanks to Mr. Dalrymple (Dr. Daniels) and New English Review.
Ted Smith, Salt Lake City, UT, USA
14 Nov 2008
just some dude
Like most people here, I also enjoy old book stores. We have one close by in Morristown, NJ which is run by a husband and wife team who look like love-children from the 1960's.
You do sense a certain judgementalism of attitude tis true, but people should be secure enough in intellect to realise judgers, like haters or complainers, are usually the ones with the problems.
Though the book topics I enjoy are vastly different than yourself Mr. Dalrymple, I do prefer them with inscriptions; and even better yet, drawings. That's a good idea to inscribe them and i might even do that myself. The motivation might be to help another person, possibly a relative or anyone, get that same wistful and significant feeling of history.
15 Nov 2008
To me it seems contradictory to talk of books as something other than a font of an idea. What book is not the maturity of an intellect expressed?
The true lover of books has to be one who wants to UNDERSTAND someone else. Anything more may be interesting to the reader but so secondary that it is hardly worth of much thought-time.
If I were an author and I found my book heavily inkened and pageless of significant pages, I would feel a small tingle of delight and worth (and richer if the true book-lover bought another to have a full text for future reference).
27 Nov 2008
I've worked at four of the several used bookstores in my small town, and enjoyed this article.
I'll add that it takes a real eye to fill a used bookstore with surprises; each of those I was at had its own personality as the proprietors combed through piles of to select out what would keep their customers coming. When a used bookstore has no discrimination, one discovers how venal book publishing can be. A proper used bookstore cultivates both its buyers and its sellers, and both are needed the shelves to haunt, enliven, rest, else it is a place we go to die.
There is no doubt there is something terribly amiss with used bookstore customers. The most maddening one I worked at the proprietor put a comfortable chair near counter, and it seemed we had a monopoly on the oddest balls in town who needed a friend. One becomes crotchety in self-defense.
Our local university has a center for the book, with masters who take apprentices (the words they use) in paper-making, binding, etc. They restore books whose own materials are destroying them, leaching acids out of the paper, rebinding as to preserve original covers, and so forth. It's an amazing art.
The beauty of a well-designed book can be breathtaking. Paper has textures, stitching can done well or cheaply, the boards covered, embossed tastefully or garishly, typefaces are themselves an art. There are many wonderful suprises on the internet, but there is no substitute for leafing through a book in a shop with nooks filled with the dusty, aging, sometimes brittle, sometimes musty musings of readers and writers idling time quietly both alone and together.
13 Dec 2008
The comment in the article on the inscription 'To my beloved husband, Christmas 1945' brought to mind an inscription in one of my books (the monumental tome of Chaikin and Lubinsky's 'Principles of Condensed Matter Physics'): "To Fred, with great hopes! Genya, Christmas 2004," a Christmas present from my friend and teacher, inscribed in his precise, Cyrillic-derived handwriting.
Somewhere my copy of Peierl's 'Quantum Theory of the Solid State' is similarly inscribed to another person, whose library ended up in one of my favorite used bookstores after his death. This isn't uncommon. We physicists still love our books.
6 Mar 2010
Barton Campbell Downey
This article was a wonderful read. I was brought up with the thought that one defaces books EVER! Well some four decades and four thousand volumes on it still fight this Commandment even with books which have already enscribed on. The best I can do is to use a embosser and I still trying to work up the courage to use pen, This is from one who has jumped from perfectly good military planes, climbed cliffs with no good reason and racing from jump tp jump on the countryside with a horse with a mind of its own which thinks I should meet my earthly end soomewhere on a mud truck to the benefit of all about. Nevertheless I have not apply my pen to a book. Maybe yet I may work courage up to to do this couragous act. No I i have to find a pen worthy of the job, Mont Blanc perhaps or maybe Van Cleef & Arpels?