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Monday, October 02, 2017

The Groove Book Report - The Library - A Catalogue of Wonders - by Stuart Kells (The Text Publishing Company) $40.00

The Library - A Catalogue of Wonders
 - by Stuart Kells
Libraries are filled with magic. From the Bodleian, the Folger and the Smithsonian to the fabled libraries of middle earth, Umberto Eco’s medieval library labyrinth and libraries dreamed up by John Donne, Jorge Luis Borges and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Stuart Kells explores the bookish places, real and fictitious, that continue to capture our imaginations.

This is a fascinating, engaging and really enjoyable exploration of libraries as places of beauty and wonder. It’s a celebration of books as objects and an account of the deeply personal nature of these hallowed spaces by one of Australia’s leading bibliophiles.

My 8 year old daughter thinks that Kells, She is herself, a book worm.  Her library is already threatening to eat our house.  My collection nearly has!  A leading Australian bibliophile, has THE DREAM JOB.  Starting at a young age he buys and sells rare books and first editions.  His collection puts him in touch with some of the most fascinating libraries, book shops and traders in the world.

For this book Kells goes on a tour of thousands of libraries. The result isn’t a punchline but in fact a book that mixes love with history and facts.  This volume draws together his scholarly essays on a range of different topics related to the storage of books, reading in general and different methods of communication through history and is an intriguing skip through the history books.  Along the way we discover places that are so much more than a mere storeroom.  They are shrines to the written word and publishing.  For many people libraries possess a heart and soul and are a delightful sanctuary, a solace and comfort.  They ARE civilization.

I always find it fascinating that despite the presence of Google and the internet Libraries and books still rock on. Libraries might suck up a good proportion of our rates but woe betide the Councillor that tries to reduce their budgets.  They are the heart and soul of the community.  As Neil Gaiman says 'A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it. That includes health information. And mental health information. It's a community space. It's a place of safety, a haven from the world."  Mind you, Frank Zappa has a slightly different view: "If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library."

The Bodleian
Kells begins his book by tracing the oral traditions of native tribes and how their members shared their stories and handed these down through the generations. From here, there were original methods to record and write things down. This was done on materials like tablets, the paper-like papyrus and codices made of animal skins. Fast forward through history and we would eventually get books as we know them- printed on a mass scale, made from paper and featuring illustrations. We would also get ones that were ultimately bound with covers to enable the book to be easily located.

This book is meticulously researched and is full of interesting anecdotes and snapshots from history. Kells is obviously very passionate about books (no one will question his bibliophile status after reading this) and his joy and love is apparent to the reader. Kells’ enthusiasm is also something that can be shared by the reader as they come to learn so much and gain a new understanding of the value of books and literature. This is particularly important in this digital age when kindles, e-books and the internet pose a big threat to physical books and libraries.

The Folger Shakespearean Library  
This book is also a celebration of different cultures and has examples of how libraries have influenced different people and how they have been used as the settings in films and novels. Included are delightful anecdotes like the story of writer, Jeanette Winterson hiding books under her mattress and on her person in order to read these on the loo because she was forbidden to read non-religious texts by her strict, Pentecostal step-mother. We also get a description of the lengths that some bibliophiles will go to in order to curate and source that elusive or rare book.

This book is, ultimately, an engaging and well-written volume by a knowledgeable expert and passionate fan of the subject matter. The result is almost like poetry, a rich ode to all things books and everything we love about them.  You totally feel his enjoyment and engagement.  I love bibliophiles and love spending time in their company.  So for me, this was a real treat.  If you're not a book person, then you ma find this book a bit dense, after a while.  But let's face it.  You would rather vege out on Game of Thrones or some Netflix box set.  And so we don't really care what you think.  For every book lover out there - go buy this puppy.  Period!

Stuart Kells is an author and book-trade historian. His 2015 book, Penguin and the Lane Brothers, won the Ashurst Business Literature Prize.
An authority on rare books, he has written and published on many aspects of print culture and the book world.  Stuart lives in Melbourne with his family.  He is now writing a book about Shakespeare’s library.

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Many thanks to for this book

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