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Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths and Their Shared Passion

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  324 ratings  ·  40 reviews
Louisa May Alcott once wrote that she had taken her pen for a bridegroom. Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern, friends and business partners for fifty years, have in many ways taken up their pens and passion for literature much in the same way. The "Holmes & Watson" of the rare book business, Rostenberg and Stern are renowned for unlocking the hidden secret of Louisa ...more
Paperback, 292 pages
Published June 1st 1998 by Main Street Books (first published 1997)
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3.86  · 
Rating details
 ·  324 ratings  ·  40 reviews

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Lenora Good
Jun 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a book about old and rare books, and the two women who spent their adult lives finding them and bringing them to the modern world. This is a book about enduring friendship, formed in college, and growing throughout their lives. This is a book about Life lived the way it should be—not as a book sleuth, but doing whatever it is you want to do.

The biggest problem with this book is that I didn't want it to end. I thoroughly enjoyed it from page one to page last. Early into the book, I decide
Sep 11, 2013 rated it liked it
I wanted to read this book as extension of my study of Louisa May Alcott. I expected the discovery of Alcott's sensational stories to have a bigger place in the book. I had read Madeleine Stern's biography of LMC. Most other LMC biographies are at least partially based on hers.

Leona and Madeleine switch off telling their story. At times I got confused about who did what. After they start their book business most of the stories are about how they found certain obscure rare books. In the beginning
Angie Head
Jul 25, 2016 rated it did not like it
I couldn't stick it out all the way through. I read 11 out of 14 chapters and the epilogue. The epilogue gave me what I needed to be at peace with not completing the whole book. The first half of the book had very little to do with books at all, it was primarily autobiographies of the two authors. I kept waiting for the wonders of book finding missions but I had to wade through the deep waters of feminism and humanism to get a taste. The clearly stated worlview of the authors was something I int ...more
Mar 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Much to love about this book. Two women share a life together buying, selling, and writing books. It is unusual to read about a close platonic friendship. I enjoyed hearing about their buying trips to Europe where they bought 17th century pamphlets for little over a dollar! They became eminent book dealers in Manhattan and sold books to numerous libraries' special collections. Lorena Rostenberg was interested in the influence that 16th-17th printers had on the books they published and her disser ...more
Feb 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is my second reading of this book. I am trying to purge our bookshelves but I think this one will remain a keeper. I'm not sure why. I really am not interested in all the rare books they describe in some detail, but the thrill of the find makes for a good read. Plus I very much admire two strong women who have made a career for themselves and seemed to have enjoyed their lives together very much.

I will quote just one of many, many examples of their searches for treasures.

When we first ent
May 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
You know it's a rare book when you don't want it to end.

I loved this joint memoir by Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern: how they found true friendship and shared passions that led to remarkable careers in book dealing, literary research, and authorship. They were trailblazers in so many ways: pursuing advanced degrees, choosing professions over marriage, becoming leaders in the male-dominated field of book dealership, uncovering the critical historical role of early printer/publishers, disco
Aug 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Charming, insightful, and delightfully engrossing. The reading of this memoir harkens back to mmy own memories of cozy chats with family and friends where topics ranged from music, politics, art, literature, and more over hot tea and biscuits or shortbread. A must read for any book hunter, or for readers whose love of books is simply "because they must".
Jul 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an inspiring memoir that documents the friendship of two women, who shared a passion for books and research. The chapters on the discovery of Louisa May Alcott's pseudonym and the writings she published as A.M. Barnard, are of particular interest to Alcott fans and scholars. The memoir is written with wit, humor, and insightful humanity; a pleasure
Cheryl Ruhl
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
I loved this inspiring story of impeccable scholarship, historical sleuthing, and abiding friendship.
Alli P
May 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Read this years ago. I forget most of the details yet remember whizzing through it and being endeared by the characters.
Apr 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010
This dual-memoir took a little while to get rolling, but once it did I was thoroughly invested in the lives of these life-long friends and business partners (incidentally, they deny lesbianism in the book's prologue, which is fine if it's true, but I truly hope they didn't feel the need to keep any aspect of their relationship a secret or that they, worse, felt the need to deny each other this sort of companionship if it was something they desired). Madeline Stern and Leona Rostenberg, both born ...more
This book promised more than it delivered. It was written by two women who had been friends since girlhood in the early 1900's. Now in their 80's, they began their dual memoir by describing (in alternating chapters) their families, their childhood, and how they met. The reader learns how they became interested in the rare book business, and how that business operated then and now. In addition to the many rare books uncovered in dusty bookshops, attics, and barns, one of them discovers that the h ...more
Dec 22, 2011 added it
I was attracted to the cover of this book at the Friends of Arlington (VA) Library book sale this past fall. Both authors are seated on a small couch with shelves of old books in the background, their dachshund between them. The book delivered on sleuthing for rare books and about the life-long relationship and individual lives of two "best friends" then in their 80's when they wrote this book. Loving "sleuthing" through others' possessions in search of antiques and special uniques, my daughter ...more
Cindy Dyson Eitelman
Feb 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013-15
Another long anticipated book that turned out to be not nearly as good as expected. Some parts were gripping, like the search for A. M. Barnard...but that occurred halfway through the book. Both the early sections and the later ones turned out to be slightly dry-ish details of their bookbound lives, their discoveries and disappointments--much of the former and very few of the latter.

I don't know exactly why this shared biography didn't "come alive" for me--it may simply be that I read it while p
Oct 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Antiquities, detecting & buying, sleuthing, writing & cataloging, building & selling collections.
Informative, but dry (compared to Jack Matthew's entertaining writings on booking)

87 & 84 yrs old in 1997 present of letterhead paper
158..170...july 1947, visited postwar London, Paris, Strasbourg, Hague
183..not all detection is fruitful...series of disappointments
193..Luther bible, 14" x 16", $300 in late 50's
1995..ABAA..antiquarian booksellers assoc of america
Feb 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
A biography of two real characters! I would never have imagined that I would find a book about two old ladies who I had never heard of so unputdownable. I enjoyed this book about books so much that I started searching out the author's other books and found not all of them so well written or enjoyable as this one. I couldn't even slog through the first chapter of The Life of Margaret Fuller: A Revised, Second Edition.
M. D.  Hudson
Mar 02, 2009 rated it liked it
I really enjoyed this book, but probably for often merely personal reasons (an obsession with old books)... the prose is pretty bad sometimes. But despite some awkwardness, an interesting tale from two interesting women I really wish I'd met. Their triumphs in the old boys' club of rare books in the 30s and 40s in especially remarkable given how nice they both seem to have been. They made a lot of friends. Their approach to old books is very refreshing as well: rather than focusing on rarity, th ...more
Allyson Faith
Jun 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. The working friendship of two fascinating, erudite women intrigued me greatly (harking back to my decades-long interest in that between Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby). I enjoyed the descriptions of their childhood and growing up in NYC in the early 20th century, as well as being young women during the years before and during WWII. Although my love of books does not extend to collecting centuries-old treasures, I was happy to also learn about an aspect of the book world pre ...more
Apr 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a charming joint autobiography of two women who found their way into being lifelong friends and business partners. Their stories range from the frustrations of academic life at Columbia and school teaching, through the exciting, but frightening world of Strasbourg just before WWII through to the excitement of discovering important and valuable books in unlikely places and using those discoveries to build a great rare book dealership. This is a lovely story, especially for people who are ...more
Jul 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book was excellent in so many ways. I think it should be required reading in 7th grade. These two women tell their story and give us a real guide on how to make a good life and career from the ground up. The confidence, the ability to overcome educational obstacles (the short sighted university), building friendships and problem solving. I wish I had a book like this this before I went to college or joined the workforce. And I am so glad I have it to give my to my daughter. It relit my pass ...more
Julia Allen
Jan 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A follow-up volume to the earlier Old & Rare by the same authors, two women who became rare book dealers in New York during the second half of the twentieth century. This book describes in detail their own writing and the positions they held in professional organizations. Both are excellent story-tellers & the book is great fun to read.
Apr 13, 2010 rated it liked it
If I hadn't read this memoir by two partners in the rare and antiquated book business (and in life), I wouldn't know that "Little Women" author Louisa May Alcott wrote under a pseudonym a string of noirish stories about sex, violence, and opium addiction.
Delightful reading on a subject close to any Constant Reader's heart -- books and reading and those who share that love of the written word. Also an exploration of a long-enduring friendship of two people -- one of whom wrote one of the best biographies of Lousia May Alcott that I ever read.
Jul 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
A delightful joint autobiography of the two rare book dealers who discovered Louisa May Alcott's pseudonym and many of the sensationalist stories she wrote for the "penny dreadfuls." It is also a testament to perseverance and doing what you love.
Deborah Black
Feb 22, 2010 marked it as to-read
While I haven't read it yet, I was introduced to this tempting read by Kerry Clare in her blog Pickle Me This! at
Shonna Froebel
Interesting. Some of the biblio stuff a little dry.
Gave my copy away
Dec 29, 2009 marked it as to-read
After seeing Rostenberg & Stern interviewed in the new Louisa May Alcott bio that aired on PBS last night, I want to know more about them and their literary sleuthing!
Sam Berner
Mar 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: i-own
An amazing story that made me envious.. what a friendship!! They are both gone now, and I am sure where ever that was, they have some rare books to research and each other to eternally share with..
Mar 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
these 2 broads had an amazing life and partnership collecting, appreciating, and selling books about books, the art of books, and had a kick ass time doing it.
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Although she traveled widely, Madeleine B. Stern remained a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker. She was a graduate of Barnard College, a member of Phi Beta Kappa and had a Master's Degree from Columbia University.

She began to write at the age of eight when the children on her block wanted to act out an original play. After that came many articles, stories and poems during her high school and college yea
“To librarians, booksellers, and collectors there is nothing limited in the subject of books about books.” 4 likes
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