“Matthews musters the enthusiasm of the newborn or born-again bibliomaniac while commanding the breadth and knowledge of a seasoned bookman.”
“I read the book… with great enjoyment. Indeed there were moments when I could not put it down. The book is informative and entertaining. It is also philosophical. Matthews’ bookish doings exemplify a way of life. The book teaches the good lesson that interest breeds observation and observation breeds life. The life is wonderfully rich in goods, both material and moral. The voice of the writer is unique and appealing.”
These memoirs are the reminiscences of Jack Matthews: his adventures in seeking out, collecting, and reading old and rare books, along with reflections upon time, memory, and other mysteries. In one piece, he measures the psychological distance from when he first saw Lake Erie at the age of four—the sight of which “took his breath away”—to many decades later, when, as he was flying from Detroit to Cleveland, Lake Erie revealed both shores and gave his breath back, depriving him of the first absolute he can remember. Elsewhere, he ponders upon how strangely our lifespans overlap others, telling about his father driving in his Model T and picking up an old Indian who said he’d been a scout for Custer, surviving Big Horn by hiding under corpses.
Such purviews, Matthews believes, give a sense of mythic reach-much as do the old books and manuscripts he loves to collect. Other pieces in his Memoirs tell of a famous English poet’s last years in a tiny Ohio town; an old frontier medical book that prescribes such medicines as snake root, sawdust, and rye whiskey; an 1863 Unionist Kentucky newspaper advertising a slave auction; and 150 year old jest books, filled with such dreary specimens that one wonders how desperate people were to find mirth in them. In these reflections, old books and human realities are inextricably mingled, providing warm and thoughtful insights by a self-described “philosophical sentimentalist.”
Jack Matthews is Distinguished Professor of English at Ohio University and recipient of numerous writing awards. In addition to his novels, poems, and short story collections, he has published Memoirs of a Bookman (Ohio University Press, 1989), Collecting Rare Books for Fun and Profit (Ohio University Press, 1977, 1981), and Rare Book Lore: Selections from the Letters of Ernest J. Wessen (Ohio University Press, 1992).
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