by Pamela Palmer

#42, 9 May 2005

Celebrating the Book
An Interview with Nicholas Basbanes

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When Nicholas Basbanes' new title comes out this fall, it will mark his fifth celebration of the book. His earlier works have all been winners and his latest promises to be the same. The publication of A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books in 1995, established his credentials a bookman. It was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and is now in its 16th printing. Since then he's written four other successful books, each of which takes a different perspective on books and the people who buy, collect, and sell them.

Starting his publishing career as an investigative reporter, Basbanes was literary editor for the Worcester Sunday Telegram from 1978 to 1991 and started a syndicated column on books and authors before he wrote A Gentle Madness. Currently he writes a bi-monthly column for Fine Books and Collections.

BookThink: Were you sure of success when you started writing A Gentle Madness?

Basbanes: Naively I did not have any doubts about writing books when I began. I was a reporter, a journalist, and found the great book stories of our time and told them.

BookThink: Your new book is Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World. How did you decided on that topic?

Basbanes: There have been many books on the subject, to be sure, but this is my take on it. It just seemed, for me, the next logical book. There's a quote in Splendor of Letters that I have on my website, to wit:

"I am obsessed with books in every imaginable sense and nuance of the word. I am fascinated by their history and composition, by the many shapes and forms they have assumed over time. I want to know everything I can about the people who write them, make them, preserve them, sell them, covet them, collect them, fear them, ban them, destroy them, and most of all, about those who are moved, entertained, instructed, awed, and inspired by them."

BookThink: How is this book like and unlike your others?

Basbanes: After having written about the book as object--having attempted to celebrate it in every imaginable facet of its existence--I felt it was time to do something with readers, but to do it my way, which is to tell stories. Structurally, I think it comes closest to A Gentle Madness than anything I have written since, with a lot of anecdotal things from the past balanced with strong profiles of people I interviewed for this book - David McCullough, Robert Fagles, Helen Vendler, Elaine Pagels, Harold Bloom, Robert Coles, Christopher Ricks most notably among them. People I regard as some of the most brilliant "readers" alive, in other words. I also write at length about books that have "made things happen" through history (quite pointedly avoiding the suggestion that these books have "changed the world," a phrase that has become something of a cliche).

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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