Book Collecting

Robert Sanger rsanger at
Thu Jan 10 02:58:59 EST 2002

On the subject of whether or not a collector reads the books s/he collects:

I was thinking by analogy to those who collect vintage sports cars or fine
wines.  Certainly there are collectors of sports cars who drive their finest
automobiles only for the few yards required to qualify them for the showing
at the concours d'elegance.  And those who collect bottles of fine wines, by
definition, cannot drink the wine of any bottle they wish to retain in their

But the true sports car collector or collector of fine wines generally
partakes of and savors as much of his or her own collection, and that of
everyone else, as possible.  Sports car enthusiasts have a "daily driver"
for work or a Sunday car for recreation in addition to the show cars garaged
and trailered to events.  They take advantage of every opportunity to take
the wheel of anyone else's sports car who will let them drive it.  Wine
collectors are generally connoisseurs who travel to the regions to taste the
wine and who drink interesting wines with their dinner meals.

Looking at the Modern Library collection this way, what makes it most
interesting is the eclectic but largely intellectual content of the
collection.  It is something to be partaken of and savored as a reader.  It
seems to me that, for the most part, the Modern Library is not collected for
fine examples of the bookbinder's art or for the exquisite use of paper, ink
or art work.  It is a sturdy collection that was widely distributed and
published originally for the express purpose of getting interesting and
important literature to the masses.

In essence, it is a collection of books to be read.  Of course, a first
edition of an early Boni Liveright in Fine/Fine condition is to be preserved
and, perhaps, that copy may remain further unread.  However, most of what
most of us have, including FMLEd's, can bear one more careful reading.
Those few -- or, among the most elite collectors, the few dozen -- which
cannot bear one more reading are certainly replicated in later printings.
The collection of duplicate later editions that inevitably fill the bottom
shelves are there for no other reason than to be read.

Like the throaty sound of the Bugatti engine or the bouquet of a fine
cabernet, it is the content of these books that makes collecting them
meaningful.  There is something about reading, in a close to contemporary
edition, Christopher Morley's Parnassus on Wheels (about a woman who finds
meaning in life by leaving her brother's farm and buying a horse drawn book
wagon) or Irving Stone's Lust for Life (the historical novel about Vincent
Van Gough's tortured existence).  They may not be on the required reading
list at the university, though many ML titles obviously are.  But, if
nothing else other than the fact of their inclusion in the Modern Library,
they are part of the one time shared literature of the American culture.

We can look to a Modern Library title: A. Edward Newton, Amenities of Book
Collecting (1918, FMLEd. 1935).  Newton quotes Bacon as saying, "Some books
are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and
digested."  Newton says, self-deprecatingly, that he opts for collecting
particularly old and rare books not necessarily to be read.  Nevertheless he
is obviously well read and, one would have to suspect, the ML collection
would be among his reading library more than his collection of trophies.  As
for Bacon -- who, as we recall, envisioned a literary project for England
which may have culminated in the committee ghost-writing of "Shakespeare's"
prolific works -- one would expect that he would have found the ML would be
worthy of more swallowing, chewing and digesting than tasting, and,
certainly, tasting more than mere collecting.

Anyway, just some thoughts on the subject.

Best regards,

Bob Sanger

-----Original Message-----
From: GOODBOOKS at [mailto:GOODBOOKS at]
Sent: Wednesday, January 09, 2002 7:36 PM
To: modlib at
Subject: Re: Book Collecting

Yes,after 10,000 email,you have all driven me to the point where I don't
know what I am saying (if I ever did)) ...I shall say no more.



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