Saturday, November 19, 2005
While I’ve always liked to think of myself as what a Hyde Park bookdealer once called the "blessedly pragmatic" type--in search of a working text instead of a collector’s item--I nevertheless have had a hard time overcoming my aversion to less-than-intact bindings. That’s a remarkably foolish aversion, given my line of work: cheap texts generally feature cheap bindings, and cheap bindings generally survive...cheaply. Let’s not even mention 1880s and 1890s paper, which has a dismaying tendency to (at best) turn autumnal shades of brown and (at worst) crumble into nothingness at the slightest touch. Recently, though, I’ve started acquiring vast quantities of sermons, and Victorian sermons usually come in states of collapse ranging from the nude (no covers) to the discombobulated (no stitching). So much for attractive-looking bookshelves.
My first excursion into the realm of what’s politely called "the reading copy" took place during graduate school, when I acquired my "dilapidated Disraeli." To be more precise, I acquired Edmund Gosse’s deluxe limited edition of Disraeli’s novels. At one point, this was a remarkably pretty set (see here and here); now, alas, poor Dizzy has become spineless. It doesn’t help that the leather is slowly but surely crumbling, producing random showers of colored dust. For many years, this set hosted the only truly decrepit books in my collection, but it is acquiring a multitude of new friends. The sermons, for example. My copy of the British Pulpit, Vol. II, has covers; if only they were attached to the text block. As it now stands, when I’m forced to choose between not having an important text and having one that looks like a special guest corpse on Law & Order, the corpse wins every time. I’m delighted to finally have a decent complete set of John Lingard, even if he seems determined to prove that a book and its binding are soon parted; similarly, I’m pleased to have Neander on my shelves, even if his spines have a nasty habit of falling on the floor. Obviously, a book on the verge of imminent collapse can make for awkward reading experiences--it’s most unnerving to watch one silently disintegrate over the course of an evening. (There are times when "deconstruction" takes on a whole new meaning.) Still, better a book in fragments than no book at all.
[X-posted from The Little Professor.]
I have some of the Storisende Edition of James Branch Cabell’s books, a set published 1927-1930. They are really rather depressing as physical objects. It was a limited edition of 1590, and Cabell actually signed each book, but you can get them for $10-$15 each (at least that’s what I paid) because he’s dropped in popularity so much since his heyday. I vaguely remember Cabell mentioning (in one of his rambling later books) being proud of this edition—you know, finally his books in one uniform binding, with his Kalki rampant-stallion symbol embossed on the front and gilding on the top edge of the pages—but the copies that I got had clearly never been read, since every two pages had been made so that they were joined together on their long edge and needed to be cut in order to be seperated. They were from different sets, too, so the non-reading must have been general. The paper has held up pretty well (although every edge but the top one is rather ragged) but the binding tends to break at certain points when you open the book. Sad, when you think of Cabell’s authorial vanity and his presumably marathon signing sessions (1590 sets times 18 books per set).
Miriam, are any of these texts possible candidates for digitalization? They must be in the public domain. Would they be suitable for something like Streetprint, say? (Streetprint creates digital facsimiles rather than vanilla text versions). The thought of all that crumbling paper is physically painful.
Too many Miriams for this finite mind to handle easily.
I hate a really old edition of the complete Schiller, printed in the old-school Gothic script. I still haven’t satisfactorily determined why I bothered to acquire them, even though it was for free. I printed off a translation guide for Gothic to Latin script, and it just increased my hopelessness.
Oh, you guys should count yourselves lucky, dealing with C19th hardbacks…
I have innumerable books printed only in the past few years in Latin America that already have spines broken, pages falling out, and can never be photocopied… The standard of book production south of the border is, on the whole, really abominable.
By contrast, the C16th documents produced by the Spanish Empire, with which I was working over the summer, have held up remarkably well, all things considered.
It seems odd for a John to complain about the number of Miriams in the world. Me, I say “More Miriams! More!”
Anyway, I’m with Miriam J., but more so. Nowadays whenever I see a spine start to go, my first thought is “Easy scanning!“ It’s turned book mortality into something to celebrate: the spirit of the letter is not dead, brothers and sisters; it has merely broken the earthly bonds which held it to the shelf of my library, and now can roam free through the universe of discourse....
But then it would be nice to be able to rebind it, and rebinding’s awfully expensive, at least for private citizens. Any librarians around to tell us the institutional rates?
And then there are those cases where the cheap binding seems part of the point, like with my treasured Little Leather Library, or some pulps and comic books....
You guys should get into my line of work (ancient paleography)! Stone tablets and triumphal stelas last for millenia! Sure, sometimes the weathering is such that you can’t tell the Digammas from the Archaic Koppas, but at least you don’t have to worry about disintigrating bindings!
"The basic stock of books from my girlhood had been left behind in Russia: our great writers, German and Russian, as well as the books I studied in semisecrecy, some of which (Spinoza for example) I had obtained with some difficulty in exchange for jewelry I’d been given. But the major and annoying reason for the miserable state of my library was the following: that the thickness or weight of books caused me such problems when I was reading them lying down that I made a practice of tearing them into sections, and never bothered to have them rebound. And then I’ve always tended to lose them or give them away too, particularly those that meant the most to me. And I’m afraid there’s a special and somewhat foolish reason for this: a contempt for paperback editions published in the thousands because they are unsuited to their content; as if by all rights the contents should stand before our eyes as an independent intellectual and spiritual entity, with no relationship at all to paper.”
—Lou Andreas-Salome, Looking Back
Lat a thousand Miriams bloom. But they shouldn’t post the first comment on one another’s posts.
Ha! See what you know. We are forming our own group blog: All Miriam, All The Time. So far there are only the two of us, but we hope to drag several others out of the woodwork. I would not be in the least surprised if several prominent pseudonymous bloggers did not turn out to be Miriams.
Or, we could go for a niche market and subtitle it, “a non-judgemental space for book fetishists.”
My first excursion into the realm of what’s politely called “the reading copy” took place during graduate school
I know this as “a working copy,” which you will see is one of the few tags I use in my LibraryThing catalog.
The definition of “a working copy”—learned from the sales catalogs of the late, great natural history dealer Wheldon and Wesley (see item #46 here)—is, “useful for information, but not a pleasure to possess.”
(Who was it who said—O yes Howells, “The mortality of all inanimate things is terrible to me, but that of books most of all.")