Monday, 21 May 2018

Review: 'Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places' by Rebecca Rego Barry

My love for books is both my family's pride and the bane of their existence. As a young child my parents would be thrilled to see me reading and infuriated to find my still reading at midnight. No matter where we are, no bookstore can be passed without a visit. And too often I turn pleading eyes onto my family members and beg for 'just 10 more minutes'. I can spend hours in bookstores, especially when they're the kind of bookstores you can get lost in, where the shelves reach to the ceiling, where old meets new, literary fiction meets art history and music theory settles in next to science fiction. So how could I resist Rare Books Uncovered? Thanks to Quatro, Voyageur Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 27/02/2018
Publisher: Quatro, Voyageur Press

Feed your inner bibliophile with this volume on unearthed rare and antiquarian books. 
Few collectors are as passionate or as dogged in the pursuit of their quarry as collectors of rare books. In Rare Books Uncovered, expert on rare and antiquarian books Rebecca Rego Barry recounts the stories of remarkable discoveries from the world of book collecting. 
Read about the family whose discovery in their attic of a copy of Action Comics No. 1--the first appearance of Superman-saved their home from foreclosure. Or the Salt Lake City bookseller who volunteered for a local fundraiser--and came across a 500-year-old copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Or the collector who, while browsing his local thrift shop, found a collectible copy of Calvary in China--inscribed by the author to the collector's grandfather. These tales and many others will entertain and inspire casual collectors and hardcore bibliomaniacs alike.
My obsession with antique books is really my family's fault. I think it started when my granddad one day decided that since I liked history I could help him riffle through a chest (I'm not kidding!) of old papers, photos and books that had been there for who knows how long. Not only did we discover we're related to George Friedrich Handel (again, I'M NOT KIDDING! It was an exciting day!), but we also unearthed a centuries old Latin copy of Julius Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico. We went to the local library the next day to have it assessed and almost 8 years later my grandfather gifted it to me. That day spent with him lit a fire in me for antique books because I began to appreciate how wonderful those old books are, how they have passed through countless hands and how imbued with history they are. So from then on my trips to bookstores included hunting down books that struck me with that sense of history, books whose plain covers hid fascinating content. It started a passion that hasn't abated and probably never will. I own 7 different editions of Wuthering Heights and have stacks of books waiting at my father's house for me to get my own apartment with actual bookshelves. I may have a problem...

Rare Books Uncovered is the perfect book for bibliophiles and collectors like myself. Barry fills the book with short chapters dedicated to extraordinary finds, whether it's superhero comics or Dali's Alice. For someone who delights in boxes of books and dusty bookstores, these chapters are a delight. I found myself excited by these finds, laughing at the sheer serendipity of most of them, and inspired by the collectors' clear passion for books of whatever kind. Not each find pulls at me equally. I'm much less interested in driving manuals than in Frankenstein, and yet each chapter held something of interest for me. The chapter that struck me most was 'Scarce Scottish Imprint Hiding in the Stacks' in which Barry describes a surprising find in the St. Andrews Rare Books library. The library began a program called 'Lighting the Past' in which they started working their way through their backlog. While doing my Master's Degree in Medieval English at St. Andrews I actually spent time myself helping dig through the Rare Books and cataloguing them, comparing them to other copies in WorldCat and other collections. The work done on 'Lighting the Past' happened in the room next door. I loved the mornings I spent there, surrounded by books, and I felt a surge of pride reading about it in Rare Books Uncovered.

Rare Books Uncovered could easily be a dry and boring book. After all, it is simply a collection of book titles, dates, names and prices. But Rebecca Rego Barry brings these stories to life. Each chapter feels like a mini mystery, and the interviews she has done with the collectors and discoverers brings a personal touch to their stories. There is a love for books in Rare Books Uncovered and it is a love that is shared by Barry, the people she interviews and us, the readers. One thing I especially adored were the little asides in the book that explained certain lingo like 'provenance', 'ephemera' or 'marginalia'. It makes the world of book collectors a little bit more accessible and, in my case, gives me the vocabulary to describe some of the things I have found in my years of book collecting. Rare Books Uncovered is probably not for every reader. If you love reading but don't feel the need to collect them then this book will perhaps not fill you with the same sense of recognition as it did for me. Some of the stories will be interesting and you'll enjoy leafing through it. But if you're like me then this book is close to inspirational. I will have to hunt down a physical copy of Rare Books Uncovered because reading it filled me with joy.


I give this book...

5 Universes!

God I adored this book! Barry has written a book for book collectors, full of anecdotes, surprises and passion. Although book collecting has changed a lot in the last few decades, the spirit remains the same. It's about the joy of knowing anything could be anywhere and that maybe you'll find it. I'd recommend this to anyone who knows how addicting book collecting can be.

No comments:

Post a Comment