Books on Books: Thoughts on Book Collecting

I started out my reading life as a serious bookworm in pigtails, who spent a lot of time at her public library. Over the past many years, this bookworm has turned into a serious bibliophile. Is it enough for me to read and collect books? No!


Renée - The Book Adventurer

8/11/20203 min read

a collection of books and bookshelves on a table
a collection of books and bookshelves on a table

I started out my reading life as a serious bookworm in pigtails, who spent a lot of time at her public library. Over the past many years, this bookworm has turned into a serious bibliophile. Is it enough for me to read and collect books? No! I also read and collect books about books. Exhibit A – some of the non-fiction books from my collection to prove my point. In a previous blog, I wrote about my book buying philosophy. My recent reading of Rare Books Uncovered by Rebecca Rego Barry (Minneapolis: Voyageur Press, 2018, ISBN 978-0-7603-6157-3)) has inspired me to share my thoughts and books on book collecting.

I will admit to purchasing one of those books pictured above by accident. I bought ABC of Bookbinding by Jane Greenfield (New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2002, ISBN 978-1-884718-41-0), when I really meant to buy ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter. Please don’t judge me – mistakes happen! Although I still have not purchased Carter’s book, all is not lost regarding Greenfield’s book. I find book binding fascinating even though I won’t be putting any knowledge from this book into practice. This fascination has spilled over into my fiction reading. Kate Carlisle writes the Bibliophile Mystery series, which is a favorite of mine. In this series, Brooklyn Wainwright is a bookbinder and restorer, who always finds herself in the midst of a murder mystery. In each book, Brooklyn describes to us a book she is restoring – it’s like a mini course on bookbinding! In June 2020, book #14 in the series, The Grim Reader, was released. For more information on Carlisle’s books, click here:

As you can see from the picture above, I not only enjoy my book collection, I also like to see other people’s collections and how they arrange and display their books. I guess I like to look at books as well as to read them! If you walk into my home, you cannot avoid seeing my library as it is the first room in the front of the house. I try to be mindful about not getting too cluttered with my stacks of books on the shelves, tables, and book carts. Do I have any thoughts on style? In general, I say do what you like and what works for you. Several years ago, someone told me I had too many books on my shelves. GASP!! She said I needed to arrange them more artistically…maybe get rid of some of the books on the shelves and add some artwork to break up the look. Clearly, she did not understand that my bookshelves are not for decorating – they are for books! (I will admit to placing a few book inspired gifts in front of my books, but not in place of them.)

For the most part, my collection is a reading library, therefore nothing fancy. I have an archival spirit though, so I purchased Care of Fine Books by Jane Greenfield (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978-1-60239-078-2) in order to learn how to keep my collection in good condition. I even have books relating to the public library as I work in one. I so loved my public library when I was younger that I now own a section of the card catalog removed from it when they transitioned to an online catalog system.

To round out my collection of books on books, I also have books about book collecting. If you’re interested in starting out as a book collector, I recommend Modern Book Collecting: A Basic Guide to All Aspects of Book Collecting: What to Collect, Who to Buy from, Auctions, Bibliographies, Care, Fakes, Investments, Donations, Definitions, and More by Robert A. Wilson (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2015, ISBN 978-1629147918). Another good book to read (that I’ve read but do not have in my own collection) if you’re starting out as a book collector is Book Finds: How to Find, Buy, and Sell Used and Rare Books by Ian C. Ellis (New York: Penguin Random House, 2006, ISBN 9780399532382). This book is a little older and as far as I know the 3rd edition is the latest. I’m hoping that Ellis will come out with a 4th edition soon as an update.

Anyone interested in books about books should definitely check out those by Nicholas Basbanes, who is the book master in my humble opinion. Basbanes is a seasoned journalist, critic, and author. Two of my favorite books written by Basbanes (pictured just above) are: A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995, ISBN 0-8050-3653-9) and Among the Gently Mad: Strategies and Perspectives for the Book Hunter in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2002, ISBN 0-8050-5159-7). One of the subjects in A Gentle Madness is Stephen Blumberg, who had such a strong desire to collect books that he stole over 23,000 books from libraries in the United States and Canada. Many of the institutions from which he stole books didn’t even know the books were missing until there was a federal case brought against him! For more information about Basbanes and his books, click here: