Monday, Jul 22, 2019

Good morning booklovers, a quick Book of the Week today as I have to get ready for the Berkshire Antiquarian Book Fair this weekend in Great Barrington, MA.  Here is a link to the details if you are interested in going.  

Today, a quick word about Books About Books.   I know; to the non-collector, it sounds kind of odd that there would be a whole genre of collecting dedicated to the collection itself.   But, since the first codices were scratched into papyrus, man has been writing books about other books. 

Now to be fair, Books About Books now covers a lot more than just other books.  The term now refers to any non-fiction work, (not confusing Biblio-Mysteries I discussed a few weeks back), that talks about books, book history, book collections, book collectors, book sellers, even printing history, typefaces, papermaking,,…you get the idea.   Sometimes the boundaries of the genre are stretched to include author biographies, literary criticism, even reading lists.  “The 1000 Books You Must Read Before You Die” is an example that comes to mind.  But whatever is included, you can see just how rich this area is for reading and collecting.

For today though, one of my favorite authors who wrote Books About Books is the venerable A. Edward Newton, and if you love books, and enjoy reading about a time gone by, then you will find him extremely enjoyable to read; not to mention laugh-out-loud funny.

Alfred Edward Newton (1864—1940) was one of the foremost book collectors of the early 20th century, amassing a huge collection of some 10,000 volumes, housed in his library at his home, which he called Oak Knoll, in Pennsylvania.  He got his notoriety from writing about books in a regular column in Atlantic Monthly magazine.  Besides writing about specific books and authors and his collection, Newton wrote humorously about his book-buying adventures around the world.  He realized that he had so much material from his column over the years that he started to publish books with compilations of the articles though always sprinkling in new essays.

His first book, and best, in my opinion, is “The Amenities of Book Collecting”, first published in 1918 though it was so popular it was reprinted many times over the next decade or so.     Always self-deprecating in his writing, and never taking himself too seriously, Newton writes in “Amenities” about collecting at home and abroad, authors such as Oscar Wilde and James Boswell,  as well as other topics that he calls “Kindred Affections” of book collecting.

Along with Christopher Morley’s “Parnassus on Wheels”, (a topic in and of itself), Newton’s “Amenities” help cement my already bourgeoning passion for books.  Evidently, this worked for the general public as well back when it was first published.  Newton’s writing, in this book and several subsequent titles, rekindled interest in out of fashion 19th century authors and helped spark new craze in book collecting. 

There are lots of reprints out there and not for a lot of money.  Even the later printings of the First Edition, can be had for about 10 bucks or so at a second-hand bookshop if condition is unimportant. 

Embarrassingly, I currently have 7 copies for sale, including the uncommon first Modern Library edition, as well as the quite scarce 1st Edition,  2nd State Dustwrapper on an inscribed true First Trade Edition. All yours, if you just hit a winner on a scratch-off ticket.  (Megabucks size lottery not needed for this one).

Click here if you would like to see all copies of “The Amenities of Book Collecting”  Though still needing a lot of pictures, here is a link to the 100 or so Books About Books currently for sale.

Thanks much for looking.