Customer Reviews: Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths and Their Shared Passion
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on May 21, 2000
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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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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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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on December 26, 1997
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.
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.
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 $2.90 and then sell their
find for $900 and be praised for the effort. Of
course it is not simple and their knowledge of
history as well as books is impressive .
This is a book that any reader or collector of modern or antiquarian books will relish.
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on October 15, 1998
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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on October 25, 1998
Those who love books and the history of the written word have benefitted from these devoted "literary sleuths" who not only devoted themselves to located lost treasures, but who pioneered the rights of women in academe. A story of how devotede friends could pool their talents to rescue lost arts and discover the literary secrets of groundbreaking authors. A suprisingly exciting read.
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on February 17, 2006
For those of us who lust after books about books, as well as the history of successful booksellers, this book is one of the best. "Old Books, Rare Friends" details the struggles and triumps of two of the most famous women in bookselling during the twentieth century. They include lots of stories about tracking those elusive hidden gems overlooked by other more successful book dealers. They also describe each woman's scholarly adventures, successes and failures. I read this when it was first published, but wanted to own it so I could re-read it from time to time. If you love books you can't go wrong with Madeleine and Leona's story.
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on September 17, 2012
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. They were both brilliant women who carved a niche for themselves in the world of books and book publishing for over fifty years. I like to imagine a conversation I would have begun with them, plying them with all my questions, and begging to accompany them on their next book adventure search.

Their life experiences were rich, rewarding and exciting. Their unique relationship created a synergy that propelled each woman to reach new achievements in rare book collecting and in authorship.

After I finished the book, I knew this was only an introduction for me, and that now I want to track down some of their other books and delve more deeply into their discoveries. I was saddened to learn that both women have now passed. We are all richer for the extensive research legacy they left behind for us to enjoy.
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on February 11, 2014
I loved this book. I have an interest in bookbinding and have done it for 20+ years so this has a special appeal for me. I loved the sleuthing too and finding old treasures and enjoyed the relationship described between Madeleine and Leona and their families.
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on April 19, 2014
This is a book about old and rare books, and the two women who spent their adult lives finding them and bringing them to the light of the modern world. This is a book about enduring friendship, formed in college, and growing throughout their lives. This is a book about Life lived the way it should be—not as a book sleuth, but doing whatever it is you want to do.

The biggest problem with this book is that I didn't want it to end. I thoroughly enjoyed it from page one to page last. Early into the book, I decided to read more slowly, and to only read a couple pages a night to make the book last longer. Didn't work. All of a sudden, I found myself at the end, nights before I wanted to be there!

Their sleuthing of Louisa May Alcott and all "Thunder' stories she wrote under a pseudonym fascinated me. I had no idea she wrote anything beyond the Little Women books I read so many years ago.

Their story is delightfully told. First one tells her story, and then the other tells hers. Now and then, they write a chapter together. Because of these two women, and their love of the printed word, especially way back when, many old manuscripts, pamphlets, and books that very well may have been lost to history, and now in the hands of collectors, libraries, and museums where they are cared for, and shared.

Starting with their first venture into finding, collecting, and selling old and rare books, they enjoyed little more than each other's company and the hunt. And writing their catalogs, articles, and their own books (which I shall now have to hunt, find, and read)

This is a book I not only will keep and treasure, but one I will read again. And possible even again after that.

A delightful story, delightfully told, and perfect to read before turning out the light.

An aside: The woman who gave me the book wrote to them, and they, in turn, wrote back a delightful letter. Both a copy of my friend's letter, and their reply are in my book. Sadly, so are the dates of their deaths, so I cannot also write and tell them how much I enjoyed their book.
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