Thursday, November 02, 2006

Books about books and booksellers

Michael Dirda, book critic at the Washington Post, yesterday held another of his online book discussions. Click here to read it.

One exchange:
Minnetonka, Minn.: Michael, I have just finished Infinite Riches by David Magee a book about books and booksellers. Do you have any favorite books about collecting or the book business?

Michael Dirda: That's a lovely book. My two favorite books by book sellers are David Randall's Dukedom Large Enough and Charles Everitt's wonderful Adventures of a Treasure Hunter. The first deals with Scribners Rare Book Shop and the establishment of the Lilly Library; the second with an old time book scout's exploits in the search for Americana. I understand, but haven't read, the recent biography of John Carter, which might also be good. The Rosenbach biography is a bit of a slog. Oh, but H.P. Kraus's A Rare Book Saga is brisk and fun.
My own enthusiastic suggestion: Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop.

Here is the start of Valentine Cunningham's rave in the New York Times:

Penelope Fitzgerald's novel ''The Bookshop'' is a little gem, a vintage narrative -- first published in 1978 -- of parochial English life in the late 1950's, a classic whose force as a piece of physical and moral map making has not merely lasted but has actually improved with the passage of years.

It is 1959. Instant coffee is fresh on the market; ''Lolita'' is just out; the snazziest young women in London are starting to swap their stockings for tights. But damp little Hardborough on the eroded seacoast of Suffolk, locked in the eastern flatlands George Crabbe's poems made famous, with its very odd population of rapping poltergeists and zany proles as well as posher folks who're used to getting their own masterful way, is a place by no means ready for the shock of the new, certainly not in the shape of a bookshop that Florence Green, a widow, has determined to set up in a ruin called ''the Old House.'' ''The Bookshop'' is Florence's sad ''Rake's Progress,'' a tragicomedy of good will and literate courage thwarted, a pained and smarting story of the old exterminating angels of the English class system in full and damaging flight. [click here to read the rest]

--Marshal Zeringue