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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!  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.

Exhibit A
Exhibit A

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:  https://katecarlisle.com/

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: https://www.nicholasbasbanes.com/

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Spotlight: Grace Kelly

I have always enjoyed watching classic movies, and Alfred Hitchcock movies in particular. My top 3 favorite Hitchcock movies are Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), and To Catch a Thief (1955).  Because I lived in Newport, Rhode Island for a few years, another classic favorite (not by Hitchcock but a favorite none-the-less) is High Society (1956).  What do all these movies have in common?  They starred the Oscar winning actress and the (then) future Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly.

Over the years since her tragic death in 1982, I have added two Grace Kelly biographies to my library (see the photo in the title box above).  I purchased The Bridesmaids: Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, and Six Intimate Friends (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989.  ISBN 1-555-84-067-1), written by a close friend of Kelly, Judith Balaban Quine.  My mother-in-law indulged my book collecting habit and gave me a copy of Robert Lacy’s Grace (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1994. ISBN 0399-13872-2).  Both books give a very detailed look into the life and career of Kelly.

More recently, several novels have been published related to the life of Grace Kelly.  In Meet Me in Monaco: A Novel of Grace Kelly’s Royal Wedding, by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb (New York: William Morrow, 2019. ISBN 978-0-06-288536-4), Grace is almost a secondary character and her wedding is more of a backdrop to the main story.  Sophie Duval is a perfumer in the South of France, desperately trying to keep her family business from closing. While hiding Grace from the paparazzi, Sophie meets photographer James Henderson.  This wonderful story spans three decades and reveals the intertwining relationships of friendship, love, and heartbreak (not necessarily in that order!) of these three characters.

These next two novels were published earlier this year.  I was to attend a book event to be held at a local theater, which was going to show To Catch a Thief, and then have a signing and meet and greet with the authors.  Alas, the event was cancelled, but I did receive my copies of the books.  The Girl in White Gloves: A Novel of Grace Kelly, by Kerri Maher (New York: Berkley, 2020. ISBN 978-0-451-49207-4), follows Grace throughout her life and shows how she was determined to win independence from her parents, and at the same time win their approval.  I admit while reading this book I sometimes forgot I was reading a work of fiction. 

The second book from this event was The Grace Kelly Dress:  One Dress, Three Generations of Women. A Lifetime of Love by Brenda Janowtiz (Toronto: Graydon House, 2020.  ISBN: 978-1-525-80459-5).  This very enjoyable book is also less about Grace Kelly and more about the lives of the women who were inspired by Grace’s wedding dress. 

If you like The Grace Kelly Dress, you may want to check out another novel about a different royal wedding dress.  The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson (New York: William Morrow, 2018. ISBN 978-0-06-267-495-1), is historical fiction based on the women who created the wedding gown for Queen Elizabeth II.  I’ve never been disappointed when reading any of her books, as Robson is a superb storyteller. 

I hope you get a chance to read and enjoy these books.  If you’d like more information about the authors of these featured books, please click on the links below:

Hazel Gaynor – https://www.hazelgaynor.com/

Brenda Janowitz – http://www.brendajanowitz.com/

Kerri Maher – http://www.kerrimaher.com/

Heather Webb – http://heatherwebbauthor.com/

Jennifer Robson – http://www.jennifer-robson.com/

If you would like more information about the Princess Grace Foundation, please go to this website – https://pgfusa.org/

For more information on The Principality of Monaco, please visit this website – https://www.monte-carlo.mc/en/

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Spotlight: Winston Churchill

“You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”  Winston S. Churchill

I’ve always been a history lover and I’ve read a lot about the period surrounding World War II.  Maybe because of this, I have been fascinated by Winston Churchill.  One of the events I was to attend this month was a book signing and lecture by Erik Larson, who wrote The Splendid and the Vile:  A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance during the Blitz (New York: Crown Publishing, 2020, ISBN: 978-0-385-34871-3).  Even though the event was cancelled, I still received a copy of the book, which I have read and highly recommend.  The seemingly insurmountable hardships England endured during the war and their grit and determination to survive and conquer keep coming to my mind in light of current events surrounding this deadly virus we are now facing. This biography covers the first year of Churchill being Prime Minister, 1940-1941, beginning just before England entered the War. Larson shares insights of Churchill and his family, key government officials from Churchill’s trusted circle, German and American officials, as well as the ordinary British citizen.  He does an amazing job of presenting facts without being boring or dry.

If you enjoy Larson’s book, I recommend going straight to the source.  The six-volume set The Second World War, was written by Sir Winston S. Churchill and published by Houghton Mifflin Company.  (Pictured in the title box above.) This set contains:  Vol. 1: The Gathering Storm (c1948); Vol. 2: Their Finest Hour (c1949); Vol. 3: The Grand Alliance (c1950); Vol. 4: The Hinge of Fate (c1950); Vol. 5: Closing the Ring (c1951); and Vol. 6: Triumph and Tragedy (c1953).

If you’re looking for a fictional read related to Churchill, may I also recommend The Maggie Hope Mystery Series by Susan Elia MacNeal.  The first in this superb series is Mr. Churchill’s Secretary (New York: Bantam, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-553-59361-7).   This book also begins when England enters World War II and now has nine titles in the collection, which follows the life of Maggie Hope, secretary turned spy.  If you’d like more information on this series, click here.

Additional novels dealing with life during the Blitz that I recommend are:  Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson (New York: William Morrow, 2017, ISBN: 978-0-06-238985-5); Dear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearse (New York: Scribner, 2018, ISBN: 978-1-5011-7006-6); and The Light Over London by Julia Kelly (New York: Gallery Books, 2019, ISBN: 978-1-5011-9641-6).

If you’re interested in reading a novel written from the perspective of Churchill’s wife, you won’t want to miss reading Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict (New York: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2020, ISBN: 978-1-4926-6690-5).  Clementine was every bit as strong in character as her husband.

Would you like to see some of this history in person?  If you’re planning a trip to London, you may want to visit the Churchill War Rooms, located underground in Westminster.  This is where Churchill and his cabinet worked during the War.  For more information, click here.

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Book Finds: What’s Your Book Buying Philosophy?

I’ve read several articles lately on “tsundoku,” the Japanese word that is used to describe a person who buys or owns more books than they can read.  I freely admit that I am a practitioner of buying more than I can read.  I currently have several hundred books in my TBR piles.  In fact, I bought two book carts to store the books I have yet to read (still not enough space).  I usually have every intention of reading the books that I buy, it’s just that I keep discovering new authors and new books that interest me.  If only I could read faster! 

There are those rare instances, though, when I purchase a book knowing full well I won’t read it. There is just something appealing about the book, and I feel I must have it.  For instance, many years ago I purchased Great Truths by Great Authors:  A Dictionary of Aids to Reflection, Quotations of Maxims, Metaphors, Counsels, Cautions, Aphorisms, Proverbs, &c. &c.  (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co. 1853).  I will be completely honest and say I do not care so much about the quotations in this book.  I’m not sure what made me pick it up in the first place as the outside of the book is in rough shape and the spine is cracked.  For some reason, though, I did pick it up and noticed that someone had taken notes in the book.  And had used it to press flowers.  It was well worn, and it spoke to me as a book that someone in the past had cared for a great deal.  So, I bought it and have had it in my collection for at least 20 years now. 

Another example is a book I purchased within the past year.  Birds of America (Garden City, New York: Garden City Books 1936), is a big, heavy book.  I saw it in a thrift shop and picked it up because I like birds.  The outside of the book is nothing remarkable; but I opened it and saw that there were illustrations that I enjoyed.  I made someone’s cash register sing again that day!

My most favorite acquisition of this type occurred just a few weeks ago.  I picked up a faded blue volume of The Golden Apple by Kathlyn Rhodes (London: Hutchinson & Co., undated).  I have no idea what this book is about, and I had not previously heard of this author.  The pages have all yellowed, are somewhat brittle, and the cover is well worn.  Again, for some reason, I picked up this book and flipped it open.  What did I discover?  Someone had hand painted a beautiful village scene on the inside front cover.  Oh. My. Goodness!  The book is now mine.  I would love to know the story of the previous owner of the book and also who painted this lovely picture.  I don’t know if I’ll ever read the story, but I shall treasure this book for the rest of my life.

I admit that I often judge a book by its cover.  These are but a few examples of great finds in my personal library, and they show me that I should never do that!  If I only bought by sight and not instinct, I never would have touched these books or discovered these treasures.  What about you?  Do you ever judge a book by its cover?  What is your book buying philosophy?

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Book Signing – What Happened Next?

I never thought I’d be doing a follow-up to my Book Signing blog, but a few people have asked what I do with all of those signed books.  So, because I am a storyteller like my father (as in talking about people, places, and things I’ve encountered) and because I apparently talk a lot about books (hence this website), I’ve decided to write a Part II of sorts.

Okay, what happened to those Tom Clancy novels?  Several years ago, I was weeding my collection in an attempt to make room for new acquisitions, and I decided that I would part with those books.  I took them to a local charity that has a thrift shop.  When I brought the books in, I told the woman who was accepting the donations that the books were autographed.  Since their regular hardcover books sold for $1.00 each at time, I explained that they should put the Clancy books in a separate place so that they could list them for a higher sale price.  The woman thanked me for the donation.

A few weeks later, I went into the thrift shop and what do I see?  The Clancy books are on the shelf with the $1.00 books.  I removed the books and went to the back of the store.  A different woman was working that day, so I told her the books were signed, they should be in a different place, etc.  She took the books and thanked me, and I went on my way.

Fast forward another couple of weeks … I go into the shop with my husband and daughter.  I see the Clancy books are now marked $10 each and I comment to my husband how happy I am that the shop finally took my advice.  My
daughter, who normally has no interest in books, sees them and tells me she had wanted to keep them for when she got older.  Really?  Sigh.  I took the books off the shelf once again, but this time to purchase them – and at the higher price!  I don’t feel too badly, though.  The organization is a really great one and I know the money I spent was for a good cause.
(If you missed the origin of this story, click here.)

For many years, those Clancy novels were the only signed books I had in my collection.  I did knowingly purchase a few books along the way from bookstores that were selling pre-signed books.  It wasn’t until I bought a cataloging program to catalog my books (yes, I AM a library geek, even at home) that I discovered I had more signed books I’d gotten from used bookstores, thrift shops, or library book sales.  My signed book collection also continues to grow with the help from others.   Ah, there’s nothing so wonderful as having loved ones contribute to my book hoarding, I mean collecting, habit!  My signed books have taken over the bookcase I used for my non-fiction books, and my non-fiction books have now moved into a guest bedroom.  I think I need a large she-shed, or maybe a she-barn, to turn into a library to store all of my book treasures!

I do have one book signing regret.  When I  was in high school in the 1980s, I worked at Doyens Store as a stock person and cashier.  One summer, Danielle Steel came into the store.  I knew who she was because my Mom
read her books.  We didn’t have a bookstore on the Island, but we did have a paperback rack in Doyens.   I wish
now that I had gotten Ms. Steel’s autograph for my mother.  I think she would have liked that.  Alas, I was too shy to ask.  I just stayed behind the counter rang up her purchases.

Well, now you know more about my book collection.  Each book holds not just a place on the shelf, but a place in my memory.  They are more than the wonderful inner story written by the author.  To me, each book represents my story of a place that I have gone, a person that I have met, or an experience that I have lived.  Thank you for allowing me to share my stories with you!