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I am a sucker for books about books, so when I happen upon one I buy it, almost without exception.  I was in Montreal yesterday and visited the delightful Nicholas Hoare bookshop [on Greene St], and found the newly released Reading Matters: Five Centuries of Discovering Books by Margaret Willes.  Yale University Press, 2008.  Here is the first paragraph:

This book sets out to examine how people bought and acquired books over the past five hundred years, thus combining two of my favorite activities, shopping and reading.  It is important to remember that books have until very recently been luxury items – and some indeed remain so.  Therefore literate men and women who could not afford to buy books have had to borrow, share, acquire second-hand, inherit.  Those who were not literate simply had no access apart from the oral tradition.

Willes then goes on to discuss the books and libraries of Bess of Hardwick and the Cavendish Family;  the books of Samuel Pepys, Thomas Jefferson, Sir John Sloane, Charles Winn, and Denis and Edna Healey; and chapters on provincial libraries, fact and fiction in Georgian Britain (when I first picked up the book it opened to this page ~ wondered if this was some sort of plan!); books for working men and women, as well as an extensive bibliography and numerous illustrations throughout.

reading-matters-cover

[cover illustration courtesy of the Advertising Archives]

 

Here is the review from Publisher’s Weekly:

Book collectors are an eccentric but persistent lot, as Willes shows in this history of the buying and selling of books. With an emphasis on Great Britain (one chapter is devoted to Thomas Jefferson), Willes, former publisher of the National Trust, tackles her subject with considerable learning and with a gusto atypical of a scholarly volume. Of especial interest are insights on Samuel Pepys’s diary entries on books acquired; the first memoir of an English bookseller in 1705, The Life and Errors of John Dunton; the significance of the spread of coffee houses in Britain during the 18th century (not unlike the Starbucks effect on the Internet generation); the 16th-century origins of the Frankfurt Book Fair and the paperback and bookstore-chain revolutions of the 20th century. The role of women as collectors and disseminators, from Bess of Hardwick in the 16th century to Oprah Winfrey, is notable. There’s a wealth of information here, though some chapters cohere more successfully than others, and a somewhat breathless final chapter surprisingly omits Amazon and e-books as they relate to collecting. 90 illus. (Nov.)

So a great winter read!

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