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Every Book Its Reader

The Power of the Written Word to Stir the World


Nicholas A. Basbanes (View Bio)
Hardcover: HarperCollins, 2005.

"No one writes with more verve and fluency about the history of books and reading than bibliophile Basbanes. In his fifth lively, original, and free-flowing book, Basbanes wonders about what books Shakespeare might have read, and he explicates the source for bowdlerize: Henrietta and Thomas Bowdler published a sanitized, family-safe edition of Shakespeare's plays in 1807. A fascinating survey of writers' libraries, including those of Edward Gibbon and Henry James, leads to a consideration of the practice of keeping ‘commonplace books,’ or notebooks in which writers copy ‘significant excerpts’ from books they read. A conversation with historian and biographer David McCullough engenders discussion of the reading habits of American presidents, while Elaine Pagels offers useful analysis of how people view the Bible, and visits with literary scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli inspire thoughts on the value of collecting writers' artifacts. Basbanes also insightfully profiles passionate book lovers and sages Robert Coles, Helen Vendler, and Harold Bloom. A reader's delight, Basbanes' work testifies to all that literature does for the human spirit." — Booklist

"Nicholas Basbanes has had books and writers running through his veins for most of his lifetime, which makes picking up EVERY BOOK ITS READER the equivalent of browsing through a rare-book store, spending the morning in a public library, and visiting your most literate friend—all in the course of a few hours. Here Basbanes sets out to identify and showcase some of the world's most famous and most forgotten books…. This is a man to choose as a companion through the highways and byways of bookdom." — Brigitte Weeks, The Washington Post

"Basbanes is the Pied Piper of bibliophiles. After A SPLENDOR OF LETTERS, A GENTLE MADNESS, PATIENCE AND FORTITUDE and AMONG THE GENTLY MAD, there is perhaps no other modern American writer who has as thoroughly explored the world of the book. Now, with EVERY BOOK ITS READER, he rounds out his quintet with a work that rummages about for the most dedicated of the ‘gently disturbed,’ burrows into their underground caverns, and pictures them live, up close and personal, rooting for words in the wormholes of history. His latest work honors those acolytes who have chosen the book as their religion…. What a sweet ambrosial tart it will be for those few, those hallowed, those ‘gently mad’ who live and relive that immortal phrase—'In the beginning was the word.'" — Orlando Sentinel

"First-rate reporting in EVERYBOOK ITS READER, the newest title from Nicholas Basbanes. The author, a lover of nearly everything printed and bound, has done an important deed. His fifth book allows us to step away from our myopic fixation on writers and consider the reader. In 12 loose, absorbing chapters, Basbanes explores some of history's epic readers and interviews important contemporary ones…. Soulful, messy and passionate, Basbanes has written for the choir. But, every now and then, it's good to enjoy a hymn. " — Cleveland Plain Dealer

"He lays out his belief that we can learn a lot about historical figures by what they read, then looks at the reading habits of such notable figures as Samuel Johnson, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, Abraham Lincoln and Adolf Hitler. It's a unique and intriguing lens through which to analyze history." — USA Today

"Another sampling of what some will call cultural history, others book chat, from the indefatigably bookish author…. Basbanes considers how books have 'made things happen' and their various effects on readers'—and writers'—lives…. Basbanes's enthusiasm is winning, and he has fresh, valuable things to say about historian Edward Gibbon's lifelong bibliomania and the habit of annotating one's books (perfected by Coleridge, the master of marginalia). He does provide a nifty seminar of sorts on appreciating poetry, featuring the razor-sharp minds of critics Helen Vendler and Christopher Ricks. Their observations are drawn from the interviews that are this book's best feature. Robert Fagles, who has superbly translated both of Homer's epics, woolgathers incisively about his craft's perils and pleasures. Biblical scholar Elaine Pagels proves particularly eloquent on a range of topics, including the church's suppression of 'apocryphal' texts and Dan Brown's iconoclastic bestsellers…. Good words emerge from a lively meeting of minds with that 'most ardent of bibliomaniacs,' teacher-writer-editor-collector Matthew J. Bruccoli, and the resident national intellectual Harold Bloom's plaintive declaration, 'I think I have read all the books. So now I reread all the books.'" — Kirkus Reviews

"He tells wonderful stories about books, the people who create them, and the fervent readers who discover them, but can he convince us--or himself--that books still count for much in the wider society? EVERY BOOK ITS READER is a collection of essays on the impact of particular books on specific readers, which sometimes, improbably, has the pace of a Hollywood thriller." — American Scholar

"Great scholars need to be focused and ordered to get their work done; great readers, by contrast, believe only in whim, serendipity, the passing mood. Bookman Nicholas Basbanes lies somewhere between these two poles. In the past dozen years or so he's published four hefty volumes—hundreds and hundreds of pages—about libraries, collectors, and literary scholarship. In particular, he's chronicled, or rather celebrated, every sort of print-maddened obsessive. Largely made up of profiles, Basbanes's work reflects the brisk thoroughness of a conscientious reporter, as well as the enthusiasm—the 'gentle madness' he has called it—of a fellow bibliophile.... For most readers, this makes Basbanes's reportage (in A SPLENDOR OF LETTERS, PATIENCE AND FORTITUDE, A GENTLE MADNESS) all the more welcome. In his pages, literary theory and arcane scholarship are presented as anecdote-driven, human-interest stories…. Appropriately, Basbanes quotes the passage from Virginia Woolf that describes and honors 'the common reader' who, says Woolf: 'reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole—a portrait of a man, a sketch of an age, a theory of the art of writing. He never ceases, as he reads, to run up some rickety and ramshackle fabric which shall give him the temporary satisfaction of looking sufficiently like the real object to allow of affection, laughter and argument.' Surely, these last—'affection, laughter and argument'—aptly characterize the work of this great contemporary celebrant of the common, and the uncommon, reader, Nicholas Basbanes." — Michael Dirda, The Weekly Standard

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