A Cabinet Of Curiosities: The Literature Of Collecting

What does the recent scholarship on book collecting reveal about human obsessions and cultural habits?

01 July 2010
‘The Bookworm,’ 1850. Oil on canvas by Carl Spitzweg.
‘The Bookworm,’ 1850. Oil on canvas by Carl Spitzweg.

“When a valued, cultured and elegant friend sent me his new book and I was about to open it, I caught myself in the act of straightening my tie.”

Walter Benjamin, One-Way Street

IBEGAN TO REALLY LOOK AT BOOKS when I stopped reading them. I became a lapsed reader. (For a bibliophile who occasionally wrote a book column or two this posed a problem, but I cunningly resolved it and you will soon see how.) But books were an old and compulsive habit with me, so I routinely stopped at bookstores and bought them. Or borrowed from friends and libraries. At home, I would pick up the book at hand, read a little, stop, and instead notice the cover or the way the paper felt or the binding. If I continued reading, it was the title page verso or the colophon that I read.

Pradeep Sebastian PRADEEP SEBASTIAN is a literary columnist for The Hindu.

Keywords: books Book collecting Pradeep Sebastian The Volcano Lover Tibor Fischer The Collector anthropology The Aspern Papers Baudrillard the Gigantic the Souvenir the Collection (1984)