Friday, April 10, 2009

A Gentle Madness

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 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. This has been my morning reading book (the one I read for 30 minutes or so before I head off to work each day) for the past couple of months. It has been a fantastic read for me and always puts me in a good mood first thing in the morning.

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.

This book gave me an interesting perspective. First, it's nice to know I am not the only one out there with my "disease". But secondly it helps clarify the purpose of my own library collection. You see I don't collect books just to have books. I don't collect books because they might be valuable someday. I collect books in order to read them and so I think I am slightly different than most of the people discussed in this book. I guess I am a collector of "reading experiences" more than of books. Although I rarely depart with a book that I own, even after reading it and even if it is unlikely I will ever read it again. I love to see it on the shelf and remember the time I spent with it. So I guess I am still mad...but gently so.

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Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire