For quite some time now (more than 20 years) I have classified myself as a bibliophile. In my mind that means I love books...everything about them fro...moreFor quite some time now (more than 20 years) I have classified myself as a bibliophile. In my mind that means I love books...everything about them from reading them to collecting them and in my dreams I like to write them. So it was with great anticipation that I began to read "A Gentle Madness" by Nicholas A. Basbanes.
The title alone is fantastic. I can think of no better way to describe the often illogical mania people like me have for books. We are, I think mad in many ways and yet it is a non-threatening sort of madness. I have been crazy about books since I was a little boy and used to gaze up at my parents crowded book shelves in the living room. And to this day, when I have a couple of minutes to spare, I love to glance over the titles in my own library at home, reminiscing about past reads and anticipating future adventures. A gentle madness indeed.
Mr Basbanes does a fantastic job of cataloguing most of the famous and infamous bibliomaniacs in history. He describes the famous historical collectors as well as modern examples. He discusses what they do and how they do it and somehow is able to get into their psyches and examine why they do it. Of course not all are the same but they all do seem to share the same indescribable love for books. Some collect for the benefit of mankind while others do it for their own bragging rights. I enjoyed reading about the collections that 19th and 20th century collectors put together, fantasizing about what it would be like to be rich enough to build the kind of library they could. But I think I preferred reading about the more common person who put aside other pleasures of life in order to pursue their passion on a more modest basis. I guess I identify more with them. I also enjoyed the story of Stephen Blumberg, known as the most successful book thief of the 20th century. He had stolen more than $20 million dollars worth of books from libraries all over North America before being arrested in Riverside California in the early 1990s. In his mind he was accumulating a collection and preferred to think of the books as on an inter-library loan. This was definitely a gentle madman.
If you love to read or to collect books and would like to know more about others who do so...grab this one and don't let go! (less)
All right, I admit that I bought this book for the "Booklover" premise, being a true bibliophile myself. However, I read over 100 novels each year, ma...moreAll right, I admit that I bought this book for the "Booklover" premise, being a true bibliophile myself. However, I read over 100 novels each year, many of them mysteries and so I have learned never to judge a book by its cover (or the printed endorsements on the back). So it was with some trepidation that I began reading.
In short, I was astounded! I found the main character to be quite entertaining, bringing a common man's attitudes to an unusual life situation. Not only does he know the Prime Minister by his first name, and is able to carry on an overseas romance successfully, we find out even more interesting aspects of his ancestors in this volume. The other characters are all intersting as well.
I always admire authors who can mix genres together and come up with a great novel. This book is a perfect example. Not only are all of the classic mystery elements here, but she also mixes in a fair amount of thriller action ala James Bond or Dirk Pitt. Our hero is even reported to be a mirror image of Pierce Brosnan. I admit that some of the action sequences are a little far fetched, but somehow, that just adds to the enjoyment of the roller coaster ride. Contrary to another review below, I did not see any strings left untied, except for the cliffhanger ending, which is sort of like the Lady or the Tiger variety.
All in all, mystery readers, thriller readers, book lovers, and just about everybody else will enjoy this installment of the "Un-books" (less)
I confess, I was first attracted to this novel because of the title. I had not read an Edith Skom book before but am interested in Dickens as well as...moreI confess, I was first attracted to this novel because of the title. I had not read an Edith Skom book before but am interested in Dickens as well as mysteries. I am very glad I picked it up and can see now I will have to go back and purchase the other two novels by Skom.
The narrative skips about in time some as we spend the first half of the novel living the story of the past (where/when the murder takes place) and then spend the second half with the protagonist as she attempts to solve the mystery. The skipping around in time was not difficult to follow and was actually a refreshing approach to telling the tale.
The characters were realistic and the plot was not at all predictable. At one point, one of the characters compares their situation with the plot of Agatha Christie's classic "Ten Little Indians" (also called "And Then There Were None"). Coincidentally, I had read that book, as well, only last month and thought the comparisons valid.(less)
The full name of this book is "Among the Gently Mad: Strategies and Perspectives for the Book Hunter in the 21st Century". I read this one for my morn...moreThe full name of this book is "Among the Gently Mad: Strategies and Perspectives for the Book Hunter in the 21st Century". I read this one for my morning reading program, where I read a book every workday morning for about 20-30 minutes before I drive to work. These usually tend to be non-fiction as it's easier to read those in little doses without losing the thread of a plot line or character motivation, etc. This book, by Nicholas Basbanes is a sort of follow-up to his lengthy but amazing 1999 book, "A Gentle Madness," where he goes through the history of bibliofilia and provides numerous examples of book collectors throughout history.
This time, the book is much shorter but no less interesting as Mr Basbanes focuses a bit more on how to collect books, emphasizing that book collecting is not just about finding and collecting rare and valuable books but also about accumulating that which interests any particular collector. In other words, for every book afficianado out there that is looking for a quality first edition of "Catcher in the Rye" there is also a collector of pop-up children's books through history or a collector of all books with the name "Billy" in the title. He sprinkles numerous anecdotes about the collectors themselves, many of whom he had interviewed for the first book and also offers lots of tips for how to go about starting a collection of your own. He examines book fairs, auctions, catalogues, etc. and also provides a thorough discussion on the pros and cons of the impact of the internet on modern book collecting.
Just as when I read the first book, I found myself wondering if I am a book collector at all. I am first and foremost a book reader and consequently I tend to accumulate lots of books but I can't say I've ever searched for a book based on its monetary value and I probably never will. It would be fun to do so, especially for some area I really like, perhaps the early pulp fiction era, but I suspect I'm too frugal to spend the kind of money I would need to do so. I certainly don't mind if others choose to collect books that they have no intention of reading but that's just not me. After I read a particular book, I do tend to cherish it and I love looking at my book shelves, reminiscing about the memories. I suppose I could categorize myself as a collector of "books I like to read" but that seems rather silly, even though I own and catalog over 7,000 books in my house. (Yes, I fit the description of a "gently mad" person). I think it's pretty good that I only have ~300 still unread although I can't seem to get that number much lower.
Anyway, I very much enjoy Mr Basbanes' books; they leave me with a deep sense of satisfaction and I always love books about books or book people. He has more published so I hope to add them to my "collection" one day. (less)
I confess. I'm not a big fan of "literary" fiction. I often find it pretentious, the author trying to sound smart, or conversely, trying to make the r...moreI confess. I'm not a big fan of "literary" fiction. I often find it pretentious, the author trying to sound smart, or conversely, trying to make the reader feel stupid or at least uneducated. Either goal, of course, makes for a poor author but I'm convinced they're out there and they're supported by similarly pretentious editors and publishers.
Nevertheless, I keep trying them in an effort to prove myself wrong. Surely there are authors that write masterfully in the English language while at the same time, can tell a darn fine story. Well, I've found one in Michael Gruber. The Book of Air and Shadows is a fantastic fictional story, a thriller of sorts involving the discovery of a long lost unknown Shakespeare play. The book has all of the elements I love including a fascinating plot, intrigue galore, cool settings, and complete characterization. But, this is truly a "literary" novel in that Mr Gruber has produced a genuine work of art. He does not stoop to the devices of lesser (although perhaps best selling) literary authors such as I refered to in the first paragraph. He does not use a large word where a smaller one will do just fine, merely for the sake of using a larger word. He doesn't lose the reader in a maze of prose, forcing them to re-read sections to try and figure out what the author is trying to say. This book is not boring in any sense but rather vibrant. It's like the difference between a black and white photograph and full color.
This novel is one of the best I've read all year. I checked out Mr Gruber's website and paid special attention to one of his essays, "Writing Life: A Short Guide". I often look up authors of books I enjoy, attempting to glean tips on how to improve my own writing and Mr Gruber summarizes much of what I've read elsewhere. For example, most authors say a good writer is first, a good reader. Mr Gruber puts it this way: "Read both stuff you like and difficult stuff that people you respect have told you is great." That's what I try to do and the main reason I read what are considered to be the great classics as well as those books that are classified as "literary" novels. Thank-you Michael Gruber for a great book, and the will to keep trying those other "literary" books. (less)
If you haven't yet discovered The Teaching Company, I urge you to check them out. They offer a wide variety of lecture series on DVDs or CDs, everythi...moreIf you haven't yet discovered The Teaching Company, I urge you to check them out. They offer a wide variety of lecture series on DVDs or CDs, everything from history, to political thought, to the fine arts. Typically, the lectures are 30 minutes long, a perfect amount of time to provide interesting insights yet not long enough to seem like a boring college lecture. Don't let the initial prices turn you off because they are always (and I mean always) running sales with huge discounts (like 75% off).
I actually began listening to this lecture series only reluctantly because I didn't want to experience the typical elitist college English professor approach to dissecting a classic work of fiction and telling me what the author "is really saying here". I can't stand that sort of thing and so I am pleased to say that there is very little of that here. We are treated to author bios, and the impact of the book on society (Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Jungle) but without the "you should be reading this or else you are not a real reader" mentality. I was also pleased to hear the lecturer speak of today's popular fiction as worthwhile. He even takes the time to walk us through the history of bestsellers, from Colonial days all the way through Oprah's Book Club.
I'm very happy to recommend this lecture series to anyone interested in the world behind the books we read.(less)