Thursday, August 30, 2007

Book Review: "Among the Gently Mad"

Nicholas Basbanes' 2002 book Among the Gently Mad: Strategies and Perspectives for the Book Hunter in the Twenty-First Century offers a good short introduction into the Basbanes canon; as it repeats and in some cases expands upon topics treated in the magnificent A Gentle Madness and Patience & Fortitude, it would make a good springboard into those works. For those who've read Basbanes' earlier books, the repetition is more than offset by the new material here.

In this book, Basbanes offers his thoughts on how the world of book collecting has been changed in recent years by the omnipresence of the Internet. He also tells us a bit more about his own personal collecting interests, habits and strategies while offering a few takeaway points for those who find themselves happily afflicted with his 'gentle madness.'

As the world of bookselling and book-buying continues to change rapidly, some of the specifics offered in Among the Gently Mad may already be behind the times. But I think the first principles hold true, and will continue to do so: err on the side of caution (pg. 19), keep an open mind (pg. 94), and, most importanly, learn about whatever fields you choose as your own. "You can devour all the primers in the world for advice on such fundamental concepts as taste and technique, but unless you are willing to do your homework - to become conversant with the literature in your chosen field, to learn the rudiments of bibliography, to read, for goodness sake - you are doomed to mediocrity" (pg. 137).

Mr. Basbanes and his wife recently spent a day at MHS looking at materials for a forthcoming book; knowing he was coming in I took my copies of his books in with me in case he had a spare moment to sign them. Not only did he sign them, but he wrote wonderful personal inscriptions in each, and thanked me several times for bringing them. A simple action, but sufficient to make books I've enjoyed very much even more meaningful to me.