Spring 2022 Books on Roundup Books
The Spring issue’s Editor’s Shelf recommends five new books about books, and I’m adding two to that list in this brief review of new books bibliophiles will especially appreciate.
At Kerri Maher’s The Parisian bookseller (fiction) centers on the life of Sylvia Beach, founder of Shakespeare & Co. bookstore and publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses, in Paris in the inter-war period. Maher does an admirable job with difficult real-life characters – Beach, Joyce, Hemingway and Stein – without losing sight of her engaging narrative, and she should be commended for her attention to detail like the types of paper used to print. Ulysses and what they would have cost. Another thing I liked about it: In the author’s note, Maher says her initial interest in Beach was sparked years ago when she found a copy of the bookseller’s memoir “in the ‘one of the open bins outside the Telegraph Avenue bookstores in Berkeley. .
Peng Shepherd’s sets Cartographers (fiction), will set bookish hearts ablaze: the secret rooms of the Map Department of the New York Public Library and the aisles of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair. Millennial Nell Young, disgraced from her curatorial internship at the NYPL, reluctantly works as a reproduction artist when her father, a distinguished map curator, dies and leaves behind a mysterious road map that sets Nell on a wild chase that becomes violent. Points for creativity, demerits for a few discordant notes.
Those who have worked in a university library will appreciate a novel about the ins and outs of rare books mixed with questionable academic guidelines. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (fiction) by Eva Jurczyk delivers it quite well, even if it sometimes seems exaggerated. Of course, readers will grow attached to Liesl Weiss, the middle-aged librarian who must battle a series of male bosses and colleagues (and her own demons) when a priceless manuscript goes missing.
Index: A Bookish Adventure of Medieval Manuscripts in the Digital Age (non-fiction) by Dennis Duncan is a glorious celebration of the humble index, both a useful textual tool and “a perfectly sized wedge for the deployment of snark” in the hands of some indexers. The advent of the index around 1230, its rival methodologies, and its effect on how readers read may seem arid to some, but Duncan appeals to his readers with clever research and a witty style, which makes Hint a true ‘crossover’ title. Illustrations help.
For collectors of early American picture books, gift books, or literary annuals, Gems of Art on Paper: Illustrated American Fiction and Poetry, 1785-1885 (non-fiction) by Georgia Brady Barnhill will be an invaluable resource. The author, former curator of graphic arts at the American Antiquarian Society and director of the Center for Historic American Visual Culture, offers an in-depth study in four chapters and an appendix on the topics mentioned above.
In The Book of the Most Valuable Substance (fiction), Sara Gran creates one of the most realistic and sympathetic old booksellers of fiction. Lily Albrecht is a former novelist whose life took an unexpected turn when her husband fell ill. Now peddling used books at book fairs – described in great detail – Lily gets a lead on a rare, possibly unique occult manuscript that, if found, could fetch a million dollars. She and her partner follow the trail to California, New Orleans and Paris, spooked by at least two murders in their wake. It’s easily one of the most compelling biblio-novels out there. (Note: if light-hearted erotica is offensive, it’s not for you.)
The library: a fragile history (non-fiction) by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur Der Weduwen is “Nick’s Pick”, as in our columnist Nick Basbanes emailed me in January to say this book was “wonderful” and I simply had to read – and I just kicked off. Nick also arranged to interview Pettegree, so there will be plenty more on that one in our summer issue.
Looking for more recommendations? See our winter list.