Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Book Fool

Nicholas A. Basbanes is an author and former book review editor for The Sunday Telegram in Worcester, 
Massachusetts. He spoke with Brian Lamb in a 1995 interview on Booknotes about his book, A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books. The following quote comes from Booknotes: America's Finest Authors on Reading, Writing, and the Power of Ideas and explains the books title:

I coined the title myself, actually. It was a description made of Isaiah Thomas, a great nineteenth-century American bibliophile and collector. When he died, his grandson Benjamin Franklin Thomas, said, "Grandfather was afflicted from the earliest age with the gentlest of infirmities: He was a bibliomaniac." And when I saw that description of him, I said, "There's my title."

On the cover of the book, it is, in fact, a woodcut - a very famous one. It's 500 years old. It was executed by Albrecht Dürer. It's called The Book Fool and it was in Das Narrenschiff, the original Ship of Fools. And the first fool of the whole story, the fool at the helm, was the bibliomane, the book fool. And I've always loved that particular engraving, and I chose it for the dust jacket.

His title, A Gentle Madness, could be used to describe a condition that afflicts many of us. I have not read any of Mr. Basbanes' nine books that cover authors, libraries, and book-collectors. His latest is On Paper: The Everything of Its Two Thousand Year History, by a Self-Confirmed Bibliophiliac.

I best be updating my To Be Read list!

Are you acquainted with Mr. Basbanes and his bibliomania?


  1. I read A Gentle Madness in February 1997 and a note on my index card says that I heard him speak at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair the previous fall. I remember his presentation and was delighted with his bookish stories. It's always reassuring to know there are crazier book people than I am. I thought I had read another of his books, but I haven't got a card on it so I guess I haven't. You've put him back on my radar.

    1. Joan, I am so impressed that you have all that information at your fingertips. I love seeing and hearing authors at events. An Antiquarian Book Fair sounds delightful. You must have picked up some treasures there!

  2. I have not read this book, but will add it to my list of books about books and reading. That list is getting quite long...

    1. I know what you mean about the ever-growing TBR list, Kathy, but I do love a book about books!