NOTA BENE BOOKS BLOG

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Archive for July 8th, 2009

July 8th, 2009 • Posted in On Book Collecting

Preserving Book Culture, Promoting Book Collecting

Met yesterday afternoon with Terry Belanger, founding [and outgoing] director of The Rare Book School (Michael Suarez will be taking over in September) in Charlottesville, VA. He gave me a tour of the place. Highlights included demonstration of how a Linotype machine works (magically) and a tour of the underground stacks where books and newspapers that instructors use to illustrate facets of the book-making process are stored. Although condition is a concern, illustrative utility is the primary acquisition criteria here. Terry has himself, over the past quarter century, had the pleasure of buying a lot of these books, many for a pittance: $10-$40.
This

for example, Prose Fancies by Richard le Gallienne, with illustrations and cover design by C.S. Ricketts, cost $35. So did an original copy of the front page of The Times (London) newspaper from the 1860s printed for the first time ever with steam cylinder press technology.
 
After the dungeon tour we enjoyed lunch together – sitting at a genuine long-lasting library-donated wooden table – during which I heard about the hundreds of experts – many of them former Belanger students – who have lectured at the school over the years on every imaginable aspect of book history, construction, design, illustration, printing, binding, typesetting, paper-making…
 
What Terry has done with the School resonated with me. He has fashioned a comprehensive program of five day courses that preserve tradition, provide valuable, practical training, and convey and stimulate book knowledge and culture to and among professionals and ‘amateurs’ alike.
 
After food and a brief history of the School, Terry gave me a copy of a directory that contains the names and contact information for every instructor, attendee and ABAA member ever to have participated in the program. Given my mission statement, you can imagine the value of this book to me.
 
Speaking of missions, one of my ambitions in launching this site was to share a love of books with like-minded enthusiasts…and to encourage others to join the affair, notably by writing about content which interests me, and the joys of book collecting: because the more collectors there are, the less likely it is that used and antiquarian bookstores will disappear completely from our city and townscapes.
 
Terry’s RBS collection should then hopefully provide some inspiration. By focusing on aspects of the book other than plain authorship, you too can amass an extraordinary collection without draining the tank.
 
I’ve in fact been doing something similar during the past year or two with Iris Murdoch. Not because of what she wrote, although I’m looking forward to reading The Bell, but because of the beautifully illustrated dust jackets that wrap around what she has written. Most have been acquired for under that magical $35 mark. Only three or four to go now out of about twenty. From here I may well focus on one
or two of the designers who I like the most, and go after their extra-Murdoch oeuvre.
 
Maybe there’s such a thing as a collecting gene…maybe some acquire the habit early and cultivate it – or simply crave the hunt in ways others don’t; regardless of the origin of this species, most book collectors have a lot of fun, encounter many fascinating people along the way and get major satisfaction from chasing down, capturing, preserving and presenting their quarry to others. Why not join the party? A good place to start would be at The Rare Book School housed on the campus of Virginia University.
July 8th, 2009 • Posted in Authors and Books

Too Many Publishers, Too Many Books, Too many indiscriminate Book Buyers

"About publicity…it should not be difficult  – you may suppose – to achieve the simple feat of telling a few thousand intelligent people that Mr. A’s book has been published, is worth reading, and costs seven and six. But it is difficult…and becomes more difficult every year…According to the English Catalogue of books…in the year 1923 there were 7,992 new books published in England – something over 150 a week. That was bad enough. Ten years later, in 1933…the number had risen to 9,905 – or 190 a week…Of this total, by the way, fiction accounts for 1,950. Every week, therefore, on the average throughout last year, there were something like 40 new novels and 100 new books of more or less general interest competing for the attention of the public…

The most valuable publicity that a book can have is  – talk; one reader’s enthusiastic recommendations are worth weveral inches of newspaper advertisement….Next to talk, in the publicity scale, probably ranks reviews. Here again, the publisher’s influence is small. he can sometimes draw the attention of a literary editor or a reviewer to a particular book; but that is about all that it is prudent for him to attempt…Theoretically, the publisher’s influence should be nil. Actually, it is not quite that. His reputation goes for something. If it is good, books bearing his imprint will stand a better chance of serious attention…

There remains, however, one form of publicity which the publisher can influence and which is of very real value – the distribution of his books in the bookshops…The wise publisher will take every opportunity of making friends with those who sell his books; not only because, if he as well as his travellers is known and liked and trusted by the trade, the trade will do its best to give his books a good showing; but alos because he can learn a great deal from the intelligent bookseller, who stands in a far closer relationship than himself to his ultimate customers…

All is, in fact, very far from being well with publishing…What is wrong with publishing is that there are too many publishers, and far too many books. 

If every intelligent man and woman in this country could be made to realize that the responsibility for the future of English letters is ultimately his or hers, the whole outlook would be completely changed. It is the scantiness of intelligent, sympathetic, discriminating response on the part of the public which compels publishers to cheapen their ideals. If, instead of borrowing books you would buy them; if you would, especially, buy the books of unknown authors; if you would buy books speculatively – not for a possible first-edition value but on the chance of their containing something of value; if you would use your own judgment and discrimination, instead of going with the herd – why, then the face of publishing would be changed…the future of English literature depends on the private buyer of books. All that publishers can do in the long run is to give the private buyer the opportunity of exercising his judgment…Perhaps some energetic member of the Oxford University English Club will be moved to start an Anti-Best-Seller League. If so, I, for one, should be delighted to become a subscribing member."

          Excerpts from "Are Publishers Any Use?" A paper read by Geoffrey Faber to the Oxford University English Club, February 15, 1934. Published in A Publisher Speaking (Faber & Faber, 1934).

Wikipedia reports that there were 206,000 new books published in the United Kingdom in 2005.