Cover image for The library : a catalogue of wonders / Stuart Kells.
Title:
The library : a catalogue of wonders / Stuart Kells.
ISBN:
9781640090200
Edition:
First Counterpoint hardcover edition.
Publication Information:
Berkeley, CA : Counterpoint, 2018.

©2017
Physical Description:
xvi, 269 pages ; 24 cm
Contents:
A library with no books: oral traditions and the songlines -- The pleasure of books -- The last days of Alexandria: ancient books and their storage -- Books in bed -- In pursuit of perfection: the rise of the codex -- Fools in love -- "A damned sewerful of men": Renaissance rediscoveries -- Mean-spirited collectors -- Free for all: the abundance of books in the printing era -- Curiosities -- "What the barbarians did not do": the Vatican Library -- Delicacies -- Secret histories: tricks and treasures in library design -- Found -- Keepers of books: the best and worst librarians in history -- Vandals -- The quintessence of debauchery: Heber, Byron, and Barry -- Writers' libraries -- Execration upon Vulcan: libraries destroyed by fire and war -- Library fauna -- The Count: book looters and thieves -- Book wheels and machines -- "The interior of a library should whisper": the Pierpont Morgan Library -- When disaster strikes -- For the glory: the Folger Shakespeare Library -- Birth -- Killing a monk: fantasy libraries -- Death -- A love letter: libraries for the future -- Afterlife.
Abstract:
"Libraries are much more than mere collections of volumes. The best are magical, fabled places whose fame has become part of the cultural wealth they are designed to preserve. Some still exist today; some are lost, like those of Herculaneum and Alexandria; some have been sold or dispersed; and some never existed, such as those libraries imagined by J.R.R Tolkien, Umberto Eco, and Jorge Luis Borges, among others. Ancient libraries, grand baroque libraries, scientific libraries, memorial libraries, personal libraries, clandestine libraries: Stuart Kells tells the stories of their creators, their prizes, their secrets and their fate. To research this book, Kells traveled around the world with his young family like modern day 'Library Tourists.' Kells discovered that all the world's libraries are connected in beautiful and complex ways, that in the history of libraries, fascinating patterns are created and repeated over centuries. More importantly, he learned that stories about libraries are stories about people, containing every possible human drama. The Library is a fascinating and engaging exploration of libraries as places of beauty and wonder. It's a celebration of books as objects, a celebration of the anthropology and physicality of books and bookish space, and an account of the human side of these hallowed spaces by a leading and passionate bibliophile." -- Provided by publisher.
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Summary

Summary

"Excellent . . . Tracks the history of that greatest of all cultural institutions." -- The Washington Post

Libraries are much more than mere collections of volumes. The best are magical, fabled places whose fame has become part of the cultural wealth they are designed to preserve. Some still exist today; some are lost, like those of Herculaneum and Alexandria; some have been sold or dispersed; and some never existed, such as those libraries imagined by J.R.R. Tolkien, Umberto Eco, and Jorge Luis Borges, among others.

Ancient libraries, grand baroque libraries, scientific libraries, memorial libraries, personal libraries, clandestine libraries: Stuart Kells tells the stories of their creators, their prizes, their secrets, and their fate. To research this book, Kells traveled around the world with his young family like modern-day "Library Tourists." Kells discovered that all the world's libraries are connected in beautiful and complex ways, that in the history of libraries, fascinating patterns arecreated and repeated over centuries. More important, he learned that stories about libraries are stories about people, containing every possible human drama.

The Library is a fascinating and engaging exploration of libraries as places of beauty and wonder. It's a celebration of books as objects, a celebration of the anthropology and physicality of books and bookish space, and an account of the human side of these hallowed spaces by a leading and passionate bibliophile.


Author Notes

Stuart Kells is an author based in Australia. He has a PhD from Monash University. He is also an antiquarian books authority and runs Books of Kells which issues fine and rare book catalogues and exhibits at book fairs. His own books include Rare: A life among antiquarian books and Penguin and the Lane Brothers: The Untold Story of a Publishing Revolution. He has a PhD from Monash University.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Book-trade historian Kells (Penguin and the Lane Brothers) blends scholarly expertise with sharp wit in this enjoyable history of libraries. From the ancient oral libraries of the Arrente people of Australia to the digitized collections of today, Kells consistently proves that "libraries are full of stories." He takes the reader inside some of the most famous libraries in the world, such as the Vatican Library, the Pierpont Morgan Library, and the Folger Shakespeare Library. In addition to exposing a trove of secret doors, hidden staircases, and disappearing ladders tucked away in these libraries, Kells unmasks centuries-old tales of crimes (stolen books, modified dust jackets, spurious blurbs), forgeries (like the corset at the Folger Library once believed to have belonged to Queen Elizabeth I), and spicy tales of erotica (the Russian State Library stockpiled thousands of erotic works in storage during the Cold War). He enriches this cultural history by linking the evolution of libraries to the history of book design and the expansion of literacy among social classes. Kells's passion for this subject suffuses this pleasurable book, calling readers to understand the importance of the library's role preserving humanity's history and why libraries are still relevant today. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

TO GET THROUGH times like these, I recommend drinking alcohol and making use of libraries. (Just not at the same time and, for best results, not in that order.) Library holdings have helped reassure me that values associated with reason, intellect and art really do tend to survive dark ages of various kinds. A space devoted to quiet reflection on the written word is also just so much nicer than, say, an echo chamber of negative covfefe. It was therefore a pleasure to sit down among the stacks and read a new book about the history of this very subject: "The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders," by Stuart Kells. Kells, an Australian author who in the past has written chiefly about the book business, here broadens his scope considerably: He begins by asking readers to think of libraries as arrangements of knowledge, and includes in his discussion the "immaterial libraries" that have been preserved through oral tradition by indigenous peoples. He takes on not only the physical development of the book - from the tablet and scroll to the codex - and the structures that were designed to house those texts, but the behavior of the human beings who have tended to hang around them. Even nonhumans, such as bookworms (so called) and silverfish, that lurk around inside them are given consideration. As the subtitle of Kell's survey suggests, the structure imitates that of a catalog or collection, one that includes many pamphletlength treats. Open the book and you may learn that the original statutes of the Bodleian Library at Oxford required that the librarian be unmarried - because "marriage is too full of domestical impeachements." Or you may learn why old books have that distinctive smell (the breakdown of chemical compounds in paper releases vanilla, almond and floral notes). Or how, when growing up, the novelist Jeanette Winterson Md her books from her Pentecostal evangelist parents. As Kells quotes her, "anyone with a single bed, standard size, and paperbacks, standard size, will discover that 77 can be accommodated per layer under the mattress." "The Library" lends itself to browsing, but a sequential reading reveals a larger theme. "The people of Alexandria and Athens knew the value of books for scholarship and culture and civil society," Kells writes. "In large part, the history of libraries is the history of how that value was forgotten, then rediscovered, then forgotten again." We are reminded of the frequency with which certain kinds of texts have been prohibited, if not destroyed, on religious, political or moral grounds; libraries have often not just protected their holdings, but kept them from everyday readers. Until recently, of course, books existed only as physical objects, and in a sense Kells, a rare-book expert, has written a chronicle of what it means to possess them. "The Library" abounds in fascinating tales of lost codices and found manuscripts, and the sometimes unscrupulous schemes by which people have conspired to obtain or amass valuable volumes. All this attention to private collections and ownership only underscores the importance of availability and access, and hints at the challenges faced by libraries now functioning in both physical and digital modes. Although Kells concedes that digitization has been a boon to researchers and general readers, he complains that "an encounter with an old book is miserably dimmed-down" if it takes place on a screen. This attachment to beautiful old books and beautiful old libraries is completely understandable (see my advice above). But it's helpful to remember that the bindings and the buildings are ultimately just delivery mechanisms for the actual stuff, the content that diverts, subverts, stimulates and enlightens. JOHN glassie is the author of "A Man of Misconceptions," a biography of the baroque polymath Athanasius Kirchen


Library Journal Review

What is a library? Book trade historian Kells describes libraries as an "act of faith." Libraries cover many areas of human existence: being integral to education, offering solace and discovery, and providing a social connection. Interesting facts abound. Want to learn more about "bookworms," or Dermestes lardarius? What vellum is made from the skin of bovine fetuses? Each chapter follows a general theme, such as oral traditions, ancient books, design, and war. Interspersed after each chapter are brief stories on topics such as accidental physical items found in books and historical accounts of book vandalism. Kells also covers the development of both real (the Folger Shakespeare Library) and fantasy (J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings) institutions. The author ends with his own "love letter" to libraries, seeing them as something sacred, magical, and hard to quantify. Verdict This work takes readers on what can only be described as a labyrinth of traditions, facts, and vignettes that will whet the appetite of any bibliophile or lectiophile. It will appeal mostly to those who are attracted to the minutiae of libraries (although this is not an exhaustive history.)-Maria Bagshaw, Elgin Community Coll. Lib., IL © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

PREFACE More than twenty years ago, when I was a young academic working glumly at a social research institute, one of the university colleges held a lunchtime book-sale. As soon as I arrived I found a smallish, squarish volume, handsomely printed in old-fashioned type. The binding was distinctively English: dark-blue, straight-grained morocco (a type of goatskin), the spine boldly gilded and segmented with raised bands in the style of Charles Lewis, the great nineteenth-century bookbinder. The title page revealed the publication date, 1814, and identified the book as Pieces of Ancient Poetry from Unpublished Manuscripts and Scarce Books . I knew 'ancient' meant the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, and 'poetry' covered a breadth of ballads and verse. Otherwise, the book was a little mystery. Just two letters appeared where the author's name should have been: 'NY'. Nor was the publisher identified. A footnote revealed ninety-six copies had been printed, plus six 'specials' on blue paper. The book in my hands was one of the six. I turned to the back and read the 'Disposition of the copies'. Though the book kept secret its author and publisher, it named Sheepshanks, Peckover, Pople and the other subscribers who had agreed in advance to buy a copy. Several of the listed men were Roxburghers, members of the world's most illustrious and exclusive bibliophile society: Sir Mark Masterman Sykes (a blue copy and a white copy), Sir Francis Freeling, Archdeacon Francis Wrangham, and (enjoying another book purchase before his imminent bankruptcy) George Spencer-Churchill, Marquess of Blandford. Here, then, in pristine condition and with exceptional pedigree, was a beautifully made and exceptionally scarce collection of rare texts from the time of Shakespeare. In some quarters, leather-bound books are out of fashion. They are 'brown books' to go with 'brown furniture'. But finding Pieces was a perfect life moment, the kind of discovery that explains why bibliophiles spend much of their lives at flea markets, book stalls, car boots and garage sales. Walking home that day, I looked forward to showing the prize to my fiancé Fiona. We were living in a tower block that used to be a hotel; our apartment still had a minibar-fridge and a wall-mounted hairdryer. Fiona and I grappled with how best to accommodate our VIP guest. Archival box? Shelf to breathe? Would steam from the kitchenette bother the morocco? Over the following weeks I researched Pieces, consulting in the Baillieu Library the Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature and a nineteenth-century edition of the Dictionary of National Biography . 'NY', it turned out, was John Fry, a young bookseller from Bristol: N and Y are the terminal letters of his first and last names, a common device of ceremonial anonymity. (Fry's final book was even less anonymous: it identified its editor as 'J-N F-Y'.) Fiona and I saved our money and searched for other Fries. Soon, in our tiny flat, we had the world's best John Fry collection (the Folger Shakespeare Library contained his other works but not Pieces) and we were beginning to appreciate fully our book-sale find. In strictly monetary terms, Pieces was the most valuable thing we owned. But it was more than an asset we could liquidate if we had to. It became for us a talisman. We had found the nucleus of our future library. Pieces was also a treasure map, and a portal into multiple strands of a bookish life. John Fry admitted Fiona and I into the circle of gentlemen who, during the reign of King George III, preserved rare books and documents from centuries past. He tutored us on the pillars of good bibliographical method, and exposed us to the most sublime forms of bibliomania. He introduced us to black-letter men, gilt toppers, rough edgers, tall copyists, broadsiders, Aldusians, Elzevirians, Grangerites, pasquinaders and tawny moroccoites. He initiated us into Elizabethanism and invited us to celebrate the edgy side of Shakespeare's work. And he enlisted us into the search for Shakespeare's missing library. The discovery sparked an epiphany somewhere between On the Road and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance . I became a student again, determined to learn everything I needed to become a bookman. Nearby universities offered no degrees in vocational bookmanship. Inspired by Fry and his circle, I improvised my own course, plucking units from literature, psychology, philosophy, art, commerce, curatorship, history, law, logic, mathematics - a mixture that made no sense to anyone but Fiona and me. When eventually I graduated, I walked away with a book about bookselling, a masters in book auctions, a doctorate in law, the untidiest transcript in Christendom, and a bespoke qualification in bibliophilia. On weekends I started 'running' books: driving around with a car full mostly of paperbacks, wholesaling them between bookshops. Fiona and I issued catalogues of highlights from our stock. Every book we bought to sell was a puzzle, a judgement to be backed. We relished the chance to work with objects, not just ideas. For Fiona and I, this was the beginning of a career in books that saw us working side by side in a publishing house, and issuing with delight a series of books about books. We exhibited at bookfairs, and sold books to venerated libraries such as the Bodleian, whose users must swear not to remove or deface the objects therein, nor to set them on fire. In the course of our work we visited hundreds of libraries. Libraries tidy and chaotic, dry and damp, fragrant and malodorous, welcoming and dangerous, containing nearly every kind of book: loved and neglected, meritorious and meretricious, read and unread. We explored national libraries, working men's libraries, subscription libraries, scholarly libraries, corporate libraries, club libraries, plush private libraries and very modest ones, like the collection of 'found' books amassed by a demolition man in the course of his labours, every volume methodically catalogued and lovingly preserved. We ventured 'off-catalogue' to make exhilarating discoveries on library shelves, like mislaid pamphlets, overlooked signatures, legendary variants, extra-illustrated rarities and hidden fore-edge paintings. We explored restricted spaces inside libraries, like the exquisite Shakespeare Room in the State Library of New South Wales; the super-tight spiral staircases deep inside the State Library of Victoria; and the panopticon cavity above the vaulted glass dome of the nearby parliamentary library, modelled on the original Reichstag. We studied the crimes of book owners, such as the farmers who stored in a woolshed a priceless set (forty-one elephant-folio volumes) of John Gould's marvellous zoological illustrations; and the farmers' town cousins who stored a unique collection of books and manuscripts in a fireplace. We called on the hoarder who cut an indoor pathway to his bathtub, where his most prized possessions were kept. And we swooned over medieval libraries with books shelved spine-inward and attached to chains to prevent escape. We learnt that libraries are much more than mere accumulations of books. Every library has an atmosphere, even a spirit. Every visit to a library is an encounter with the ethereal phenomena of coherence, beauty and taste. But libraries are not Platonic abstractions or sterile, hyperbaric chambers. They are human places into which humans cry tears, moult hair, slough skin, sneeze snot and deposit oil from their hands - incidentally the best sustenance for old leather bindings. How much of themselves did Shakespeare, Donne, Hemingway and Woolf leave behind in their libraries? And how much of their personalities is discernible from their books? Creating a library is a psychically loaded enterprise. In gathering their bounty, booklovers have displayed anxiety, avarice, envy, fastidiousness, obsession, lust, pride, pretension, narcissism and agoraphobia - indeed every Biblical sin and most of the pathologies from the American Psychiatric Association manual. When visitors called on the seventeenth-century Welsh bibliophile Sir William Boothby, he wished they would hurry up and leave. 'My company is gone, so that now I hope to enjoy my selfe and books againe, which are the true pleasures of my life, all else is but vanity and noyse'. John Hill Burton described a book collector whose nervous temperament was so sensitive that he could not tolerate an alien book in proximity to his library; 'the existence within his dwelling-place of any book not of his own special kind, would impart to him the sort of feeling of uneasy horror which a bee is said to feel when an earwig comes into its cell.' Collectors, having acquired and arranged their books through whichever means and by whatever schema, have used every kind of simile to describe their beloved possessions. Garden flowers, verdant leaves, precious fruit, flowing fountains. Ships, houses, bricks, doors, nails, bullets, daggers, windows, voices, songs, chapters, memories, scents, elixirs, cogs, coins, countries, toys, birds, worlds, meteorites, gems, friends, offspring, prisoners, tenants, soldiers, lovers, wraiths, devils, bones, eyes, teeth. John Baxter imagined the books in his Graham Greene collection rustling and rubbing against each other every night like a colony of insects. Libraries provide ideal habitats for real insects, which are attracted to quiet, darkish, starchy places. Fiona and I have seen whole shelves of books destroyed by burrowing worms. For me now, the mounds and trails they left behind are the stuff of genuinely horrifying nightmares. We've also seen whole collections ruined by grazing silverfish, the bibliophile's nemesis. Those monsters relish pulpy paper and the crunchy starch in book glue and book cloth. Seemingly preferring richer inks, they devastate dust-jackets with tracks that look fiendishly deliberative. From our visits to libraries we've also learnt much about the integrity of shelves. Smooth, strong and open are best. Sagging shelves deform books into painful, non-Euclidean shapes. Abrasive shelves wear away at leather bindings. Books behind glass get sick from breathing their own air. Excerpted from The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders by Stuart Kells All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
Infinityp. xiv
Chapter 1 A Library with No Books Oral Traditions And The Songlinesp. 3
The pleasure of booksp. 14
Chapter 2 The Last Days of Alexandria Ancient Books And Their Storagep. 18
Booths in bedp. 34
Chapter 3 In Pursuit of Perfection The Rise Of The Codexp. 37
Fools in lovep. 49
Chapter 4 "A damned sewerful of men" Renaissance Rediscoveriesp. 52
Mean-spirited collectorsp. 77
Chapter 5 Free for All The Abundance Of Books In The Printing Erap. 79
Curiositiesp. 94
Chapter 6 "What the Barbarians did not do" The Vatican Libraryp. 96
Delicaciesp. 108
Chapter 7 Secret Histories Tricks And Treasures In Library Designp. 110
Foundp. 129
Chapter 8 Keepers of Books The Best And Worst Librarians In Historyp. 131
Vandalsp. 138
Chapter 9 The Quintessence of Debauchery Heber, Byron, And Barryp. 141
Writers' librariesp. 153
Chapter 10 Execration upon Vulcan Libraries Destroyed By Fire And Warp. 156
Library faunap. 176
Chapter 11 The Count Book Looters And Thievesp. 182
Book wheels and machinesp. 197
Chapter 12 "The interior of a library should whisper" The Pierpont Morgan Libraryp. 199
When disaster stridesp. 209
Chapter 13 For the Glory The Folger Shakespeare Libraryp. 211
Birthp. 230
Chapter 14 Killing a Monk Fantasy Librariesp. 231
Deathp. 250
Chapter 15 A Love Letter Libraries For The Futurep. 252
Afterlifep. 263
Acknowledgmentsp. 265