BookThink: What was your starting point?
Basbanes: I begin with the Printing and Mind of Man exhibition, held in London in 1963, arguably the greatest exhibition of books ever held, the idea being that these 440 books helped shape Western civilization in significant ways. I then have a couple of really neat chapters on interesting and important people and their libraries, Henry James, John Locke, Isaac Newton, Edward Gibbon, Coleridge, etc., also stuff on marginalia and commonplace books. But all of it, once again, driven by narrative. Don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.
The chapters on readers do have a pattern: nonfiction, poetry, works in translation, Robert Coles talking about his pioneering work in teaching literature to medical students, the idea being that better, more sensitive readers are better, more sensitive doctors. And there is a terrific profile of Dr. Perri Klass, the pediatrician in Boston who is president and medical director of Reach Out and Read, which makes reading a regular, systematic part of primary health care for kids aged six months to five years old (and focuses on kids from inner city areas, etc.).
BookThink: How many books ahead do you plan?
Basbanes: I have a couple planned now. I've been asked to write a centennial history of Yale University Press and have tentatively accepted. That will be my first book for a university press. I have great affection for Yale University Press and especially for their art books. I think they are the best without exception. And I have another book in mind.
Read more about Nicholas Basbanes and his books on NicholasBasbanes.com.
Brief Market Analysis
Nicholas Basbanes' books are listed at high prices on abebooks.com. A signed first edition of A Gentle Madness published by Henry Holt and inscribed by the author tops the list. It is listed for $425 and is described as "Laid in are two ALSs from the author to the recipient of the book's inscription. Fine in fine dust jacket.... Provenance is available on request."
On abebooks.com, four books are listed at or above $400. Three of these are Basbanes' first book, A Gentle Madness, and the fourth is Among the Gently Mad, inscribed by the author for Bill and Hillary Clinton and "very fine with fine dust jacket." Sixteen are listed at or above $100, including at least one of each of this title except Patience and Fortitude. A Gentle Madness appears most often in the highest price ranges. With one exception, those priced at $200 or above are listed as signed/inscribed and in fine/fine or very fine/fine condition.
On eBay, recent auctions show lower prices. Top price was $25 for a signed first edition of Patience and Fortitude, followed by a copy of A Gentle Madness for $15.50.
Patience and Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture. HarperCollins, 2001; subtitle varies in paperback Perennial, 2003.
Among the Gently Mad: Strategies and Perspectives for the Book Hunter in the Twenty-First Century. Henry Holt, 2002; paperback Owl Books, 2003.
A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World. HarperCollins, 2003; paperback Perennial, 2004.
Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World. HarperCollins, forthcoming in late 2005.
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