I promise I haven’t stopped blogging. The past couple of weeks I’ve been finishing up the most recent draft of my new novel (working title First Impressions). I can’t say too much about it, but I will tell you that if you like Jane Austen, stay tuned. Now that I’m back, I’d like to launch (with your help) a series of blogs about why we collect books. Much of what shows up in this series could probably apply to almost any kind of collecting and I think it will be interesting to explore how motivations are shared by all types of collectors. But I also think that book collectors are different and that there are some motivations that drive us that do not drive (for instance) stamp collectors or collectors of commemorative spoons. There is a line in The Bookman’s Tale that encapsulates the way I feel about my own book collection. “There’s no point in having these things,” says Francis Leland, “if we don’t ever have the pleasure of looking at them.” One of the motivations I’ll explore in this series is my desire to share my book collection with others. (On a side note, yesterday, after finishing a novel in which Jane Austen features prominently, I ‘had the pleasure’ of not just looking at but reading from a first edition of Pride and Prejudice at my local rare book library). All this is a roundabout way of introducing another quote, from my new novel, which sets out an opinion I hold about book collecting—one of two opinions that will shape the discussion in coming entries about why we collect books. It comes from the uncle of our heroine, Bertram Collingwood. Uncle Bertram is a great collector and bibliophile and he has this to say about book collecting:
“That’s the beauty of rare books. If you mail a rare stamp it becomes worthless. If you drink a rare bottle of wine, you’re left with some recycling, but if you read a rare book it’s still there, it’s still valuable, and it’s achieved the full measure of its being. A book is to read, whether it’s worth five pounds or five thousand pounds.”
The other opinion is my own, though I’m sure Uncle Bertram would agree with me. I believe that book collecting presents us with a greater variety than any other kind of mainstream collecting. If you collect something as general as “American Stamps” or “British Coins” your collection is likely to be similar in many ways to other collections of American Stamps and British Coins. But book collections are almost infinitely varied. Even when I visit other Lewis Carroll collections I find massive variations. We each have our own passions, areas of expertise, and budget and the result are collections that are as individual as the collector. I imagine if I sat down with a collector of, say, German gardening books we would have almost nothing in common—but that word almost is so important, for we would both share a love of and respect for books.
So, over the next few weeks, with these twin ideas as a starting point—that even the rarest books can achieve the full measure of their being by being used, and that no two book collections are even close to being the same—I hope to explore our motivations as book collectors. So, tell me why you collect and I’ll tell you why I collect.