Friday, October 23, 2009

Forgotten Books: AMONG THE GENTLY MAD -- Nicholas Basbanes

Nicholas Basbanes' A Gentle Madness is one of the best books about book collecting ever written. If you haven't read it, you should just stop reading this, find Basbanes' book, and read it right now.

Among the Gently Mad isn't a sequel, but a complementary volume. It appears to be out of print, which amazed me and which I think qualifies it for the Forgotten Books post. Like all Basbanes' books, it's wonderful.

As you might be able to see in the photo on the left, the subtitle is "Perspectives and Strategies for the Book Hunter of the Twenty-First Century." And that's what it is. Every bit of advice in the book seems to me first-rate. Basbanes is not fond of on-line selling, and he's even less fond of eBay, but he loves Google's search engine, and he's fond of any number of my own favorite Internet sites, like

But the book has a lot more than just good advice to offer. One thing I particularly liked was the phrase "a gathering of books." It sounds so much better than "an accumulation." There are wonderful descriptions of book collections Basbanes has seen and of his own collections. There are great book-finding stories. Stories about the collecting habits of many famous and lesser-known book lovers. I found something to like on every single page of this book, and on almost every page felt the shock of recognition.

If you love books, you just can't pass this one up. My highest recommendation.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I love books about books. Thanks.

Richard Robinson said...

I've read A GENTLE MADNESS and another book by him, but not this one, as I could not find it. I should go to ABE and see if there's one, but I'm fearful it will lead to more books in the house, and there's little space for any more...

Bill Crider said...

Richard, there are copies available!

Patti, if you like books about books, you really need to read A Gentle Madness and this one.

Anonymous said...

I recently saw Basbanes do a lecture at the New York Public Library. I thought it would be packed so I arrived early and noticed Basbanes studying a fistful of index cards with his notes on them. He didn't need them at all as he talked without hesitation for a good hour or so, and held the audience spellbound. I almost felt normal after hearing about some of the other booknuts. The audience was comprised of some of the gently mad and a few of the just plain mad thrown in for good measure(this being New York after all). There were a lot of inane questions, the highlight of which was "Why do people collect?" He was very polite with this madness, but by the time I put my hand up, he was probably pretty tired of silly questions, so I might be overreacting a little when I characterize him as being dismissive of my question. I asked if he had ever done any research on the guy in the Guinness Book of Records. At first he seemed puzzled by my question and admittedly I should have said "the guy in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most books." He still didn't seem too interested until I mentioned that the guy had 1.2 million books or so, some of which were under tarps in his back yard, Basbanes seemed a little more interested then. Hopefully he'll get to the bottom of this since I can't find any more info on the Guinness guy. By the way, Basbanes is working on a book about paper which should be out soon ... if he ever finally admits that it's done.
Andy Jaysnovitch

Bill Crider said...

Thanks for the comment, Andy. I'd love to hear Basbanes speak. I could ask him where he gets his ideas.