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Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths and Their Shared Passion Paperback – June 1, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • Publisher: Main Street Books (June 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385485158
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385485159
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,257,834 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Like 84, Charing Cross Road, Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern's charming bibliocentric memoir is as much about relationships as it is about books. Charing Cross chronicled the decades-long epistolary friendship between American book lover Helene Hanff and Frank Doel, the equally devoted British bookseller in the London shop from whom she bought many of her treasures. Rostenberg and Stern's book once again proves how a passion for great literature can make for fast friends. And in their case, these two octogenarians occupy the same geographical space, sharing both their professional and private lives.

In their introduction, Rostenberg and Stern write: "Several readers inferred ... that our relationship was a Lesbian one. This was a misconception. The 'deep, deep love' that existed and exists between us ... has no bearing upon sex." With that out of the way early on, the two recount the stories of their lives in alternating sections. And oh, what lives they've had! From identifying some of Louisa May Alcott's previously anonymous early writings to traveling the world in search of rare volumes and pamphlets, they have done and seen it all. Successful antiquarian book dealers Rostenberg and Stern undoubtedly are, but as this memoir makes clear, their greatest accomplishment just might be that rarer commodity of friendship that lasts a lifetime. --Alix Wilber

From Booklist

This small volume is so rich in anecdote, so warm with a loving friendship of many decades, so precise in its evocative descriptions of the rare-book trade from the 1930s to the present, that it is hard to imagine any reader who would not find pleasure in it. Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern, who are the firm of Leona Rostenberg Rare Books, are now in their 80s, but their elegant writing and limpid descriptions of growing up in Manhattan and the Bronx, studying at Barnard, NYU, and Columbia, and touring Europe as young women show no signs of age. It is to Stern's scholarship that we owe the current rage for the non^-Little Women writings of Louisa May Alcott; it is to Rostenberg that we owe the notion that early printer-publishers influenced scholarship. Her adviser at Columbia had rejected her dissertation upon that topic: she was only granted her degree 30 years later. Their individual voices make both harmony and counterpoint in this joint autobiography; we are wiser and more blessed for the words and journeys they have shared. GraceAnne A. DeCandido --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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I read this when it was first published, but wanted to own it so I could re-read it from time to time.
Dale C. Storms
As a bookseller, and a lover of books, I enjoyed sharing the stories of Leona and Madeleine, and only wish I had been able to meet them.
Coneflower Books
I read some of the earlier pages six or seven times because I kept falling asleep and losing my place.
E. A. Lovitt

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Brown on May 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Given to me as a birthday present on a misty Northwest beach,the whimsical allure of these charmingly self-possessed women residingin one of the toughest cities in the world, drew me into its first pages even as the rest of my party sat around on logs, barbecuing fine local viands & feeding the camp dogs. From their student years, surviving the Depression & WWII; to studying & getting published through the exciting times of starting a company & their book-hunting jaunts to musty basements in faraway places this is a lively, lovely duet by two voices weaving a deeply evocative memoir...
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Onno de Zwart (steffens@bart.nl) on August 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
For everyone loving books, history and detectives this book is a great pleasure to read. With great enthusiasm Leona & Madeleine write about their lives and the books which they bought and sold. It makes one jealous of times when rare books could still be found under piles of dust instead of being sold for fortunes. So stop reading the reviews and start reading this book now.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By E. A. Lovitt HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on October 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
Sometimes I will fall in love with an author's life as perceived through her books, and read all of her works for other glimpses into her private paradise. Authors such as Will and Ariel Durant, Edwin Way Teale, Stephen Jay Gould, and Oliver Sacks have shared their curiosity, astonishment, and joy with me. These authors are endlessly inquisitive. Each new discovery in their world, whether it is a fern, a skull, or an anecdote about a long-dead king is greeted with joy and eagerly shared with the reader.

Now in the dusty corner of bibliomania, I have found two more authors who are willing to share their joy of discovery with me. They even have a name for it: 'Finger-Spitzengefühl'--"the electrifying alertness to what is unusual or important in an early printed book. When 'Finger-Spitzengefühl' is coupled with serendipity, the gates of paradise open for the dealer in old and rare [books]."

Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern share their "thrill of the chase and the joy of the find," as well as a seven-decade-long partnership in life--"the partnership of 'Faithful Friends' who share 'a deep, deep love.'"

I have to admit I had trouble getting into this book. I read some of the earlier pages six or seven times because I kept falling asleep and losing my place. However, once the authors were out of childhood recollections and into the chase--first of all for the works that Louisa May Alcott had published under a pseudonym--then I was hooked.

These authors have illuminated many once-obscure corners of history through their curiosity and devotion. They deplore collectors who pursue rare books as an investment, much as I would deplore a physician who is in practice 'only for the money.' Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern have devoted their lives to the search for the old and rare, and their love, curiosity, and wisdom show through on almost every page of this book.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 15, 1998
Format: Paperback
I didn't expect to be so enthralled by this fast moving and engrossing joint autobiography by original thinkers and literary sleuths/feminists who were drawn together by a devotion to literature, the printed word, and a thirst for adventure.
I expected to be interested, and was rewarded with a page turner that I was reluctant to put down. The dedication with which the authors pursued lost works of the printers' art, and unravelled conundrums of history make marvellous reading.
If you love literature, as I suspect most Amazon book customers do, than you'll enjoy this most unusual duo.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By M. Stewart (stewartm@pnn.com on December 26, 1997
Format: Hardcover
The two elderly women, who are pictured on the book jacket of Old Books, Rare Friends, are both prolific writers who have also been
active in the antiquarian book trade for fifty
years. They are true friends, who grew to love
and respect each other as they grew in their
knowledge of old books and in their abilities to
find them. They wrote this book together, but
retained their separate identities by each
writing her own story until their stories became
the same. Thus we get Leona's history from
childhood until her dramatic failure to win her
Doctorate from Columbia, and Mady's story
through her Masters degree and first biography
of the early feminist, Margaret Fuller.
p
At this point, the two have met and realize that
they share a love of books and a lack of interest
in marriage, although both have been courted
by many. They are both devoted to their
families, but Mady gives Leona the necessary
nudge that forces her to hang out her "shingle"
as "Leona Rostenberg-Rare Books". Both
women show a rare independence of spirit and
interest and because they each write with
verve and enthusiasm, all this personal history
reads like a good novel.
p
Now the business is launched and the rest of
the book is happily spent recounting their
sleuthing adventures in old book stores in
Europe and American, founding and enjoying
the American Association of Antiquarian
Booksellers and generally having a wonderful
time supplying books to universities and
collectors. They make is sound very easy to
find a sixteenth century book that no one
recognizes, buy it for $2.
Read more ›
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