“The covetous foraging for old and rare books,” is how Matthews defines “booking.” It is an act which leads naturally to the pleasures of adding them to one's personal library, then reading them as instruments of light and measure in a murky and chaotic world. The understanding that books are intrinsic to civilized living is wisdom as old as civilization itself; it is affirmed here, in their various ways, by the people who inspire and inhabit these pages: the quasi-literate clerk of the steamboat Science on the Ohio River in 1835; a young fiction writer who got drunk one night and stole the bust of Edgar Allen Poe from the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia; and a guru of the computer age, who writes: “Books have always been important to me and to the people around me.”
Matthews explores the collecting of old dictionaries, whose definitions can be read as a sort of poetry; an 1840's rhyming book once used as a mnemonic tool for small children; and the wildly scrawled annotations of an exuberant painter in a battered copy of Thomas Hart Benton's An Artist in America.
In other essays, Matthews compares booking with Charles Darwin's passion for collecting beetles; follows Nero Wolfe of the Rex Stout novels, who grew tentatively into a vivid and fascinating detective; and celebrates the zealous idealism of 1890s fraternity boys as reflected by some of their century-old publications.
In sharing Matthews's adventures as an implacable bookman, readers will find, not an escape from life, but new entrance ways through old books.
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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