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Editions & Impressions: My Twenty Years on the Book Beat

Tekijä: Nicholas A. Basbanes

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
2003133,714 (4.17)2
Collects thirty-three of the author's articles grouped into three sections - Book Culture; People; and, Places. This title includes the essays that include an endnote, telling the behind-the-scenes story about the article.

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näyttää 3/3
This collection of articles from Basbane's columns in BIBLIO and FINE BOOKS & COLLECTIBLES and other sources is an okay read, but not as in depth or detailed as his previous 4 books. A good read for bibliophiles, but its constant referencing back to A GENTLE MADNESS (his 1st and best book) is slighly irritating after a while, as this book becomes more of a sales pitch for those who missed that book 15 years ago. ( )
  SESchend | Sep 6, 2017 |
Nicholas Basbanes' most recent collection of essays, Editions and Impressions: Twenty Years on the Book Beat was published late last year by Fine Books Press, the good folks responsible for the ever-excellent Fine Books & Collections magazine. It consists of a series of essays on books from Boston to Balad (Iraq) and a number of capsule profiles of various bibliophiles Basbanes has encountered over the years (including the Carter Burden, Ann Fadiman, Arthur Jaffe, Robert Sabuda, and the recently-deceased Matthew Bruccoli).

These essays, Basbanes writes in the Introduction, were selected "because they are not replicated in any substantial way in my other published work" (although most of them have appeared in edited form in various newspapers and periodicals in the past). Basbanes' comments on biblio-things (bidding at a high-end book auction, book-breakers, &c.) are always worth reading, and the enthusiastic, contagious joy he feels for his subject just oozes from the pages of these essays.

Nicely-designed, with interesting contents, this slim volume is a must-read for Basbanes fans. A second volume, to be published this fall, will contain excerpts from some of Basbanes' many interviews with authors.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2008/06/book-review-editions-and-impressions.htm... ( )
1 ääni JBD1 | Jun 25, 2008 |
A little over twenty years ago, I stood nervously in front of a young woman who managed a mall bookstore in Boston suburb and told her she should give me a job because “I really love to read.” She shrugged, made sure I could count back change, and hired me. It was a landmark moment. It was the beginning of my career in books.

At the same time, a reporter named Nicholas Basbanes wrote an article called “In Search of Great Books” for Bostonia magazine about the development of some of the great literary archives in the city residents referred to as “the Hub” (“. . . of the universe” being unspoken, but understood). The piece was lengthy for a periodical, although tantalizingly brief for the scope it had set itself—touching on the creation of the Widener, one of ninety-five buildings in Harvard devoted to libraries or archives; the rare-book room at the Boston Public Library; the extremely rarified Boston Athenaeum (which houses, ironically enough, the greatest collection of Confederate papers in the country); the Mugar Memorial Library at Boston University (where I spent many hours studying) and its twentieth-century archives; and even the creation of the John J. Burns Library of rare books at my own alma mater, Boston College. The Bostonia article was a landmark moment. It was the beginning of Basbanes’ career in books.

It would take seven or eight years, but Basbanes eventually expanded that original article into a lengthy, fascinating and gorgeously-designed account of the eccentric world of book collectors and book collecting called A Gentle Madness. The book was an instant hit among book people, and not just for its rich, gold foil-embossed jacket, and made the author almost overnight the acknowledged expert in the subject of books about books. A somewhat rarified pursuit, perhaps, but a gratifying one for the writer, who has gone on to pen thousands of articles and six more books, the most recent of which has just been published: Editions & Impressions: Twenty Years on the Book Beat (Fine Books Press; $27.95)

The John J. Burns Library was dedicated in 1986. I was there by the grace of a work-study program to defray the costs of my tuition. I think I was serving canapés. I suppose Nicholas Basbanes may have been present as well, although he doesn’t say so, so there is no telling whether I may have handed him a hors d’oeuvre. For the next two decades I would float from bookstore to bookstore, selling the newly published, while somewhere else in the world Basbanes would wander from story to story, writing about the pursuit of the very old and out of print.

Editions & Impressions is a collection of some of the pieces Basbanes wrote that have not yet made it into other books. In most cases, they were published in magazines or periodicals, and have been expanded or annotated for this volume. It is meant to be, as the subtitle suggests, an overview of some of the highlights of the author’s life covering stories about books and the people who are so gently mad for them. The book is divided into three parts—Book Culture, Book People, and Book Places. The pieces themselves often only loosely fall into these categories, but as an overall structure, the division seems to work. Book Culture concentrates on the nature of book collecting—the rise of the great American archives and private collections, the tense atmosphere of the auction houses, the casual delights of the community book fair, wherever, really, one might go hunting for books. Book People is a series of portraits and profile pieces; these are about the collectors, not their collections, and about the people who make their living with books—the writing of them (author Tom Wolfe), the designing of them (designer/artist Chip Kidd), the selling of them (Miami bookseller Mitch Kaplan), the reading of them (writer-reader Anne Fadiman), the collecting and even the constructing of them (one of the most interesting portraits being that of Robert Sabuda, the “paper engineer” who designs spectacular pop up books). Book Places is the shortest section with two of the six pieces about New York City—an indulgence that is easily justified.

Taken altogether, the collection is like a sampler platter of a life devoted to books. Each piece offers tantalizing glimpses of miscellanea, from the founding of Harvard’s acclaimed Widener Library by a survivor of the Titanic (in memory of her book-collecting son who was not so fortunate), to the creation and founding of the new library at Camp Anaconda, the sprawling base of operations for the US military in Iraq (and a spot that boasted a movie theater, two swimming pools and a gym before anyone got around to thinking about including a library). Editions & Impressions is a nostalgic book, each article infused with incredible affection for its subject—the collectors, librarians, archivists and bookshop owners all possessed of these literary obsessions. Naturally, book people will love it.

But there is at least one curious gap. This seems like an odd statement to make about what is essentially a casual collection of not even a tithe of the author’s work—I’m sure there are reams of material consigned to the next collection or project. Still, I feel justified in calling the author on it, since he admits to have been, as I have, twenty years “on the book beat.”

The past twenty years I have been a bookseller has seen some of the most dramatic changes in the industry since Gutenberg first invented moveable type. Digital print technology, the migration of the used book business to online sources, the accessibility of research sources and archives on the Internet, the declining profitability of traditional publishing models, e-books, the ever-increasing consolidation of publishing houses, the ever-decreasing “shelf life” of the new release, the much publicized (and contested) decline in reading by the average American. All these changes have been at the forefront of my life as a bookseller in a variety of stores (independent, chain, specialty). Yet they are barely hinted at in Basbanes’ book. I suppose that a career which focuses on high-end collectors and the rarest of the rare would be somewhat insulated from these sea-changes in our book culture. After all, I don’t expect the Gutenberg Bible to show up on eBay. Still, one expects a journalist to be aware of the implications of living in the “information age.” Basbanes is aware, but it doesn’t show in this collection.

I found the collection to be, as I said, a nostalgic one. Which is a polite way of saying that it has a peculiar backwards-focus, with little or no attempt to speculate on the nature and role of these gently mad collectors in an era that is becoming less and less (to borrow a term from Robert Gray of the “Fresh Eyes Now” blog) “fiber-based.” So while Editions & Impressions will undoubtedly appeal to people who have already succumbed to their bibliophilic tendencies, it is questionable whether this book will ever reach beyond its expected audience or lure the unconverted into the library stacks.

What this book does do, and does extremely well, is give the reader many reasons to re-evaluate their own relationship with books. Every single essay—every one—had me pausing at some point to consider the implications of a particular collector’s mania or philosophy in my own life: “Collecting books is often thought of in terms of rarities and landmarks,” Basbanes quotes Sinclair H. Hitchings, keeper of prints at the Boston Public Library. The books Hitchings brings home are those that “bring me encounters with personalities I could know in no other way. It is the human beings I am after, what they can share of their own discoveries in life.”

In this collection I found myself nodding, over and over again, thinking “yes, just so” and “absolutely” and quite often “I feel just like that.” I felt an echo of empathy (although not sympathy) for the famous book thief Stephen Blumberg, convicted of pilfering hundreds of rare books and manuscripts and locking them up in his own cellar (along with thousands of stolen rare Victorian door knobs). I found a kindred spirit in Anne Fadiman, who believes a book is to be read, and dog-ears the pages of her own books unapologetically. I even found myself frequently agreeing with the author Tom Wolfe on the role of stylistic realism in the novel—something that annoyed me because I have been avoiding reading his books for years because I thought he looked silly in those white suits.

The pieces in Editions & Impressions vacillate in their focus, sliding between our tendency as care-takers to own, to preserve, to safeguard for eternity the special and the rare tomes that come into our keeping against our desire to read them, enjoy them, to fall in love with what they actually say.

I think, despite the author’s obvious reverence for the antiquarian and the archivist, it is the latter feeling—the opinion that books are meant to be read—that ultimately comes through the most strongly. The most moving essay in the book is the piece on Kirby Veitch—the only teenager to be profiled. Basbanes met him after his mother called in to talk to the author on a radio show, where the topic was how books can affect people’s lives in times of great stress or trauma. Cynthia Veitch was listening, and called in to speak about her son, suffering from a rare lung disease and about to undergo a second surgery to treat his condition, without which he would die, drowning in the fluid building up in his own lungs. He was afraid. “My son looked at me and didn’t quite know what to do,” she told the author and host, and then the boy started reciting aloud some lines he had memorized from Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky; “Come to my arms my beamish boy,” he mumbled. “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” When the doctor looked at him questioning, he said, “I haven’t read all the books I want to read” and the boy was upset he couldn’t remember all the lines to the poem. So the doctor found a copy on the internet and printed it out for him to read while they prepared him for the surgery that would save his life.

Editions & Impressions is a book about a life spent with books. Generally, it is about the people who try to save the lives of books. But as Kirby Veitch can attest, it is really the books that are doing the saving.
full review here
1 ääni southernbooklady | Apr 20, 2008 |
näyttää 3/3
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Collects thirty-three of the author's articles grouped into three sections - Book Culture; People; and, Places. This title includes the essays that include an endnote, telling the behind-the-scenes story about the article.

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