Jacques Bonnet’s marvellous ode to the book collector’s art was published in the UK in 2010, but has only just been published in America, by Overlook Press. The novelist James Salter contributed an introduction to the volume, and he has written an article in the New Yorker in praise of Bonnet’s book . . .
As Anthony Burgess once commented, there is no better reason for not reading a book than having it, but an exception should be made for Jacques Bonnet’s “Phantoms on the Bookshelves,” just out this month. It appears at a time when books and literature as we have known them are undergoing a great and perhaps catastrophic change. A tide is coming in and the kingdom of books, with their white pages and endpapers, their promise of solitude and discovery, is in danger, after an existence of five hundred years, of being washed away. The physical possession of a book may become of little significance. Access to it will be what matters, and when the book is closed, so to speak, it will disappear into the cyber. It will be like the genie—summonable but unreal. Bonnet’s private library, however, comprised of more than forty thousand volumes, is utterly real. Assembled according to his own interests, idiosyncratic, it came into being more or less incidentally over some four decades through a love of reading and a disinclination to part with a book after it was acquired. Among other things, he might need it some day.
Under the pretense of writing about this library—its origins, contents, and organization—he has written instead this often witty tribute to and perhaps requiem for a life built around reading that summons up all the magical and seductive power of books. You recognize, with a kind of terrible joy, all that you haven’t read and that you would like to read. Titles and names strike what can only be called chords of desire. In these pages, as at a fabulous party, you are introduced to writers who have not been translated into English, or barely.
Read the full article in the New Yorker
Phantoms on the Bookshelves is available in hardback.