Phantoms on the Bookshelves
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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful
This book has a very specific audience - bibliophiles with their own library, to which they devote their life reading, organizing, and maintaining. And within that select group, it is targeted not to collectors of rare books but rather to those who actually read and use their books (or might want to read and use a book in the future, which is why they buy it even though they don't really have room for it). If you are one of that breed, I predict that PHANTOMS ON THE BOOKSHELVES will be an enjoyable five-star read. If not, you can safely pass on it.

Jacques Bonnet is a French publisher, translator, and author. For forty years he has been acquiring books, so that, as of the time of writing this slim book, he had a private library of more than forty thousand volumes. It is "a working library, the kind where you don't hesitate to write on your books, or read them in the bath; a library that results from keeping everything you have ever read - including paperbacks and perhaps several editions of the same title - as well as the ones you mean to read one day. A non-specialist library, or rather one specialized in so many areas that it becomes a general one."

Much of the book is devoted to problems of classification and organization. That might sound staggeringly dull, except to those of us who have encountered those sometimes vexing problems and are curious about how others address them - and for the likes of us, Bonnet's discussion is thorough and thoughtful, yet light and witty and anything but dull. The point of organization, of course, is to be able to readily retrieve a specific book when one thinks one needs it. With Bonnet, as with the rest of us, "I can only find my way around because I have personally placed each book in its position, one by one, down the years, and any changes were thought about long enough at the time to enable me to remember them." Still, there are occasions when the system - the coordination of physical reality and our mental mapping - fails. "Sometimes I spend time looking for a book for which the logical place has been overtaken by events. Or failing to find a book that I know I have somewhere. Have I mis-shelved it or is it lost? I cannot always answer that question, or else it is answered too late, when I have already bought another copy. When that happens, should I keep both of them? And if not, then which one?"

Bonnet recognizes that he and his ilk may be among the last of the Mohicans. In particular, the internet has changed, and continues to change, not only how and what people read, but also the need for a personal library amongst the small tribe of obsessive-compulsive readers. "Would I ever have put together the same library if I had been born into the internet generation? Almost certainly not." So, PHANTOMS ON THE BOOKSHELVES may soon be a work of history, akin to a monograph on how library card catalogues worked.

Bonnet of course is French, and therefore much of his library - and many of the specific examples he cites - are French publications. But his interests are remarkably broad and cosmopolitan, and I sense that he chose his examples with an international audience in mind, such that I, who neither know French nor am particularly steeped in French culture and literature, never felt like an outsider looking in.

The book is generously sprinkled with anecdotes and quotations about those who love to read -- or, perhaps more precisely, live to read. For example, there was "a man sentenced to death during the revolutionary Terror [who] read a book in the tumbril taking him to the scaffold, and turned down the page he had reached before climbing up to the guillotine."

Finally, one last excerpt to entice you: Bonnet confesses that he marks his books as he reads them, sometimes in pencil, but also with felt pens or ballpoints, whatever is at hand. "The tens of thousands of books with their underlinings and marginalia, which have absorbed a large proportion of the money I have earned in my working life, are therefore now of no commercial value. This makes a kind of sense, since I have always considered them as a sort of mental and material extension of myself, destined to go out of existence when I do * * *."
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2012
Speaking as a retired Librarian, I enjoyed this book immensely. The author's description of his library: books read over and over again; books read once; books to be read; books which probably never will be read, but still... The practical problems of storing all those books. I don't share the author's mania. But it was a lot of fun reading (!) about it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2013
Phantoms on the Bookshelves by Jacques Bonnet is a slim book (133 pages) and smallish so it fits comfortably in your hand, just right for reading in bed.

I was enchanted by the subject...people who can count their personal libraries in the tens of thousands and their idiosyncrasies. While I'm only halfway to my first ten thousand, I felt Bonnet was speaking directly to me about book collecting and the whys and wherefores of acquiring a book - you like the cover art, someone recommended it, the book had an interesting title. And the downside, they cost a lot of money are aren't worth much in resale. He especially hit home with the comment that even if the book is terrible, it's hard to get rid of. Once part of the library, always part of the library.

The upside, of course, is the pleasure of knowing the books are there waiting for the right time to be read or re-read or just thumbed through for favorite passages. Then there is the obsession of collecting itself and the hunt through used book shops looking for the one volume you're missing.

There is even a chapter on how to organize your collection and a bibliography of the books from his own collection that he discusses in the book.

A charming book fo anyone who loves books.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2011
This 123-page book was translated from the French language by Sian Reynolds, a translator of Fred Vargas novels, and she herself has written about French culture, but I have not read her other work so I am not sure if the dry, pedantic style was that of the author's or the translator's. The references to books were mostly to French books, but that does not detract from the substance of this book. It read like a short memoir of a book collector, explaining why people collect books and giving his own reasons - the influence of his father's library and a desire to read all the books in the world to gain knowledge. Jacques Bonnet writes about his encounters with other book collectors, libraries, book shops, and inquisitive questions posed to owners of large libraries - "Have you read all these books?" - and the subject of people, places, and things in books, and the habit of reading. Unless you too have a love for reading and books, this book may not interest you, and a rating of three stars may be a more accurate one for this book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2013
A bit erudite for me but still delightful, light and clean prose. Because he's French many of the books and authors were unfamiliar to me, but his love for books, his helplessness as they take over the house any reader will appreciate and relate to. Though he is an intellectual and writing superior, the shared life with books is a bond that makes him a soul mate. I loved it.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2013
I enjoyed reading about other people who build large libraries, since I read it on my Kindle I now need to buy a physical copy :)
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on March 8, 2015
Oh my word! No really, his word or words as it were. This was delightful!!!! I only have a mere thousand or so books, but I feel very validated with our relationships now. :) All the great words for this one, smart, funny, insightful, charming, informative, educational, feel-good, curious, thought-provoking and oh, very well written! From Phantoms to Tennessee Williams and Ludovico Zorzi. Thank you Jacques Bonnet :)

ENJOY
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2013
It's easy to read for an non-English reader.
以輕鬆的方式把許多愛書人的模糊地帶做出說明,包括收集書的方式,擺書的方式,有趣的一本談書的書!good one, easy to read and fun. Good ! Good! Good! Funny!
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on April 20, 2015
Lovely read for book lovers.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2013
Very interesting content. Love the Dust Jacket. Arrived in time for Christmas gift giving. Will order one for myself as well.
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