What you see: Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places by Rebecca Rego Barry. * $19.99, Voyageur Press.
Does it fit in my purse? Yes, but with difficulty.
Cut to the chase. Should I buy this book? Yes.
Fair warning: I’m a complete sucker for books like this. It is The Sort Of Thing I Like, And I Like That Sort of Thing. Rare Books Uncovered is a perfect example of a book I’d put on my wish list and end up buying for myself less than 20 minutes later because I couldn’t hold out until my birthday or Christmas to read it.
This book made me happy. Every page of it. Am I biased? I suppose, but if Rare Books Uncovered had been poorly written, it would have made me sad, and I would not hold back from detailing exactly how it saddened me. Make of that what you will.
I do not have the book-collecting affliction, but I empathize with and celebrate those who do. Rare Books Uncovered is a 254-page celebration of them and those who enable them.
All the stories in the book take place between 1976 and 2014. All feature tales of the hunt–finding or rediscovering treasures that lurked across the country and the world.
I devoured the book methodically in one straight shot. Reading it was like emptying the bonbons from an oversize assortment one by one, but without the guilt.
Rare Books Uncovered avoids hyper-focusing on the priciest scores. Some of the items described have mostly or only sentimental value. Others are delights I had no idea existed. I am forever jealous of the person who found a copy of a Jorge Luis Borges book illustrated by Sol LeWitt.
Readers of Rare Books Uncovered will meet Martin Stone, a rare book hunter who ought to have his own hour-long TV procedural [Book Hunter, Crime Solver! Based on the life of Martin Stone, coming soon to ABC!]. You’ll encounter a family Bible that’s actually worth something, and you’ll learn why so many are not.
You’ll stumble upon books from the library of Mark Twain, inexplicably stored in barrels. You’ll thrill to the tale of the discovery of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster.
You’ll follow along as the copy of Frankenstein that author Mary Shelley inscribed and gave to Lord Byron emerges from the shadows. You’ll contemplate the author’s own find, a first edition of Death of a Salesman that might have belong to Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Shirer.
Munch, munch, munch until all the bonbons are gone. They are tasty, and they go fast.
The stories have more substance than bonbons, though. The author snuck in fiber in the form of capsule anecdotes, asides that define book-world terms, and by making sure the parade of chapters aren’t just about the score. You see the struggle, You glimpse the tedium, and you confront ethical questions, too.
Worth buying new, for full price.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Rebecca Rego Barry.
* I received Rare Books Uncovered as a review copy, but I’d had it on my wish list for a while before the offer was made.
Rare Books Uncovered was first published in Winter 2015.
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