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A world between the covers

books Updated: Oct 29, 2010 23:24 IST
Rajiv Arora
Rajiv Arora
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The Groaning Shelf
Pradeep Sebastian
Hachette
Rs395 n PP296

What differentiates a booklover from, say, a movie buff or a music aficionado is that unlike them, he uses the medium (books) to praise, criticise or pay homage to the medium itself. Over the years, bibliophiles like Walter Benjamin, Alberto Manguel, Geoff Dyer etc have authored many books on different aspects of, er, books. After having written a multitude of articles on his avocation in English dailies, Pradeep Sebastian, a well-known bibliophile, follows in their footsteps with The Groaning Shelf.

The simple dust jacket is praiseworthy. It is as clear and straightforward as the author's nonchalant attempt at laying bare his and other bibliophiles' remarkable experiences in the world of books. With each turn of the page of this 'meta book', we learn in great detail about these experiences (and Sebastian's takes) on a range of aspects like the art of borrowing books and (not) returning them, book thieving, rare titles, cover art, master collectors, movies based on books (and vice versa), the perfect place to read a book and a bibliophile's dream bookshop among many others.

Sebastian amply quotes various authors and bibliophiles to emphasise his own views and diversify the scope of his work. The anecdotal accounts of 'book quests' ("First Edition Fever' is how Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone describe the hunt for first editions… a first edition of Gulliver's Travels, they discover, is $40,000") or fascinating observations ("Any veteran browser can tell you that nothing spoils the pleasure of spending time in a bookshop than finding a book too quickly"), peppered throughout the book, are engrossing for even those who like reading books but may not be into collecting them.

The author also uses these observations to highlight some pertinent issues. Like the disappearance of libraries or the emergence of e-books (and how easy it has become to track rare titles on the Web).

Some chapters may seem repetitive to those who regularly read Sebastian's articles. But in no way does it make delving deep into the overlapping worlds of this bibliophile cum "bibliojournalist" cum "bibliographer" less entertaining.

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A book of books: Do not just read books, but also look at them. Abelardo Morell's impressive collection of pictures of books in various 'poses'.

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