The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New, Margot Rosenberg & Bern Marcowitz

St. Martin’s, 2002, 190 pages, C$32.95 hc, ISBN 0-312-30067-0

I love books. I really do. I could go on and on about how many books I read and own and cherish and how I once almost went over a table to stop someone from dog-earing a book, but just take my word for it; I love books.

The first time I saw The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New in bookstores, I knew it was something I had to get. Sagacious advice about cleaning, keeping and repairing books? Hey, I need this stuff. What Rosenberg and Marcowitz have put together is nothing short of a manifesto for serious bibliophiles. Inside its delightfully retro-looking dust jacket, there is enough advice to allow any book-lover to put his or her own library back into shape.

These two booksellers have plenty of real-world experience and their delightfully practical wisdom amply demonstrates it. Wrapped in a commonsense prose, reading this is a lot like spending a few hours with two quirky librarians with a lot of stories to tell. Take notes, because you won’t find this advice anywhere else. Most of it is simple common sense, but the rest is illuminating. This is a Complete Idiot’s Guide to Book Stewardship by another name.

This is a book that goes well beyond simple how-to advice. Some its best passages are simply about books. What they mean, what they can do, why we love them so much and why someone who is not kind to books is someone who doesn’t deserve any pity. Serious bibliophiles will read this book and feel their spirits soar through the roof of their library; it’s nothing short of a love letter to their favourite subject. There’s plenty of quotable material here, and twice as many passages to reflect upon. Expect to re-read passages every so often.

The best complaint anyone can make about this book is that it’s not long enough. It’s a shame to see it end. What’s more serious, though, is the lack of illustrations. It would have been useful to be shown some of the repair methods explained here, compare before-and-after images and quickly associate specialized terms with their visual equivalents. The authors spend so much time extolling the visual, odoriferous and tactile pleasures of books, it’s a shame to see at least the visual aspect given short thrift.

I must also confess that, as a cat-person (or, more accurately, a no-pets kind of person), the authors’ constant references to dogs, dogs and more dogs got a bit tiresome. Granted, their “real” job is selling dog books (go visit them at www.dogbooks.com). It is also true that this is, in fact, their own book (if I’m not happy, I just have to write my own). Still, it gets somewhat ironic to see them grumble against ill-mannered book handlers while scrupulously avoiding any mention of volume-chewing dogs. I have no doubts that their own dogs are particularly well-trained in this regard… but such is not the case with all pets and kids. On the other hand, this eccentricity gradually becomes charming, reinforcing the very human aspect of this book.

And ultimately, this is what The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New is all about; the connection between books and humans (canines not excluded). Beyond the cleaning-up of books, the careful storage of volumes and the ethics of book-lending, this is about the happy life of bibliophiles, the peace of reading, the beauty of written thoughts and the satisfaction of communicating. In short, it’s an essential purchase for anyone who loves books.

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