I’ve been listening to the delightful podcast “Witch, Please,” in which two professors lovingly and critically dissect the Harry Potter books and films. In Episode 3 (The Chamber of Spoilers), Hannah McGregor treats us with this image of a true bibliophile:
I’m very hard on my books, and I really like reading in the bath. So most books that I have enjoyed in my life are in really bad condition. They also often have blood on them, ’cause I… Never mind.
I am reminded of Anne Fadiman’s wonderful essay “Never do that to a book,” in which she distinguishes between two types of bibliophiles — those who feel courtly love toward books, and those who feel carnal love. I think we know what kind of book-lover Professor McGregor is. Me too!
The image is from the Witch, Please podcast, which I strongly recommend.
The mother of book-lover books is, in my opinion, Anne Fadiman’s essay collection Ex Libris. Fadiman also edited an essay collection called Rereadings, in which writers re-read a book that they had read as a youth. [Here’s a funny story about ReWatching movies Too Much, from The Moviegoer’s Companion.] I really enjoyed it. Nick Hornby’s The Polysyllabic Spree is a collection of essays about what he’s been reading, and it’s a blast, written with Hornby’s characteristic wit. I’m most of the way through it, reading it aloud with my wife, and he has two more volumes of the same: Housekeeping vs the Dirt and Shakespeare Wrote for Money.
I read Nelson’s So Many Books, So Little Time a few years ago and didn’t love it. Ex Libris Lite, as a friend said. Stick with Fadiman. or Fadiman. or Hornby.
What am I missing that you recommend?
I hadn’t necessarily expected to read every word of the Lowell biography, but … it’s one of those books you thrust on your partner with an incredulous cry of “This is me!” [Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree, p16-17]
That is exactly how I feel about many passages in this journal of Hornby’s own reading, and I’ve only read the first ten pages! (I’ve read several Hornby books and haven’t been disappointed: About a Boy, How to Be Good, A Long Way Down. Good was the least good, but even that had value.)