Saturday, August 18, 2012

Phantoms on the Bookshelves

After counting a shelf or two of most of our larger bookcases, I estimate that we have between 800 and 1000 books in this house. Many people would regard that as many books, yet after reading Jacques Bonnet's Phantoms on the Bookshelves, I am astonished at our moderation. M. Bonnet had, at the time of writing, about 40,000 books.

I don't know that I've read every word in the book, and certainly I did not read it straight through--doing so would seem contrary to the spirit of the book, which celebrates a library oddly arranged, first by category, then roughly by region of origin, and in which of course not every book has been read. Yet I'm confident that soon I will have browsed my way through anything I might have missed. And when I have shelf space, it will go onto the shelves, probably next to Alberto Manguel's The Library at Night (which is mentioned in it).

Perhaps it helps to have lived by the book trade to acquire so many books. Bonnet mentions a dinner with the Italian novelist Giuseppe Pontigia, who had a library running into the tens of thousands of books. Larry McMurtry, novelist and book dealer, wrote that his library amounted to about 25,000 books. I worked for a while on the edges of the publishing world, as copy editor, proofreader, and eventually techie. Was it my apostasy in becoming a systems administrator and programmer that cost me that order of magnitude in book acquisition? Probably not, for I can afford more books and more expensive ones now than I could then.

I noticed this book on the front shelves of  Reiter's Books at G and 20th Streets NW this week, and happened to have the cash in my pocket for it. Reiter's technical stock has fallen off from what it once was, but there is usually something worth looking at when I stop by. No doubt M. Bonnet would find something to acquire.

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