Book recommendations come about in the oddest of ways! This particular volume was mentioned by legendary rock writer Ian Penman (@pawboy2) in a conversation on Twitter and I liked the sound of it; then I remembered I’d read about it on Simon’s blog here, so getting a copy was a no-brainer.
As a bookaholic, books about books are a particular kind of pleasure. Bonnet is a book obsessive par excellence, owning a personal library of thousands of volumes. “Phantoms” is a slim work which contemplates the pleasures books bring; what motivates us to amass and keep our own collections; and muses on the thoughts of others about owning large numbers of books.
… reading expands indefinitely our perforce limited experience of reality, giving access to distant ages, foreign customs, hearts and minds, human motivations, and everything else. How can you stop, once you have found the doorway offering the chance of escape from an inevitably constricted environment?
“Phantoms” is divided into chapters, each of which focus on a particular aspect of our relationships with books; thus there are sections entitled “Bibliomania”, “Organizing the bookshelves” and “Real people, fictional characters”, for example. This gives a nuanced look at humans and books, enabling us to really consider what it is we get from them. And from the quotes Bonnet features it seems that this is a question that’s vexed us for a long time!
Luckily, Bonnet’s thinking about books chimes in with my own often; and so, for example, it was a relief to find that I’m not the only one who can read, love and recall the pleasure of a particular book without being able to bring any specifics to mind! 🙂
Even when the book really has been read and absorbed well enough to have a specific place in our minds, what we recall is often a memory of the emotion we felt while reading it, rather than anything precise about its contents.
Oddly enough, this was also a phenomenon mentioned by Patti Smith in her “M Train” which I read and reviewed recently; it seems that many of us live through our books without necessarily consciously absorbing them.
Of course, “Phantoms” being a book about books, there are an awful lot of authors, works and quotes scattered throughout, which is very, very dangerous to your wishlist… And the fact that there is a little bibliography at the end doesn’t help (although the fact that many were in French is perhaps a slight relief!)
In the end the book was both and enjoyable and revealing, if perhaps a little anticlimactic. I expected a little more in the way of, well, a conclusion really. Bonnet shared his thoughts and obsessions and tales of collectors and collecting, but I wasn’t convinced I actually knew any more about what drives someone to collect books than I knew before. That aside, I do feel a lot more reassured about my modest library which hasn’t as yet taken over the house…!