Books on Books
By Kurt Kuss, SCUA

I enjoy reading about books. Books about books, book shops, book dealers, libraries, librarians, collectors, and collections – these are all perfect candidates for my reading list. The relationship between bookshops, collectors, and libraries is filled with stories of discovery and intrigue, fortune and misfortune, integrity and greed, moral choices everywhere, the sacred and the profane. Consequently, the subject of books, and the various settings of libraries, archives, makes for good fiction too. Here, then, is a short list of good reading with some helpful links.

Rosenbach: A Biography by Edwin Wolf and John Fleming. Z473.R7 W6. A.S.W. Rosenbach was a giant among 20 th century book collectors and book dealers. In 1903, he formed a company with his brother to sell books and prints. The Rosenbach Company went on to help assemble the extensive collections of the Huntington Library and the Folger Shakespeare Library. He also worked for private clients such as J.P. Morgan, Lessing Rosenwald, whose collection was given to the Library of Congress, and Harry Widener. In 1947, Rosenbach presented his own collection of 816 early American children’s books to the Philadelphia Free Library. The collection has now grown to over 13,000 volumes.

Books and Bidders (1927), The Unpublished Memoirs (1917), and A Book Hunter's Holiday (1936) are some of the books written by Rosenbach which may also be of interest.

Infinite Riches: The Adventures of a Rare Book Dealer by David Magee. Z473. M22 A3. Originally from England, Magee was a prominent antiquarian book dealer in San Francisco. Magee worked closely with the Grabhorn Press and compiled an extensive bibliography of the press, published in 1957. He also compiled a bibliography of the California Book Club that was published by the Club in 1958. Magee collected the works of P.G. Wodehouse.

Between Boards : New Thoughts on Old Books by Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine B. Stern. Z987.R83 1978. Rostenberg and Stern owned and operated a bookshop in New York for many years. In 1997, they issued their 160 th catalog. In addition they collaborated on a half-dozen books. Together they were a veritable institution. In addition, Rostenberg was a scholar on English printers and publishers during the Reformation. Stern is a scholar on the writings of Louisa May Alcott.

Other books Rostenberg and Stern wrote together include Old and Rare: Thirty Years in the Book Business (1974), Old Books in the Old World: Reminiscences of Book Buying Abroad (1996), Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths and Their Shared Passion (1997), New World’s in Old Books (1999), and Books Have Their Fates (2001), Fun link:

Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections at Sixty and Beyond by Larry McMurtry. McMurtry, author of more than twenty novels, owned and operated a bookstore for many years in Washington, D.C. In 1987, he opened a shop in Archer City, Texas and shortly afterwards he packed up his D.C. store and moved everything to Archer City. Since then, he’s filled four different buildings in Archer City with more than 400,000 books. Earlier this year he closed up shop, at least temporarily.

This book is about a lot of things, but books are a central theme.

Collections and Collectors
Outwitting History: the Amazing Adventures of a Man who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books, by Aaron Lansky. Z987.L25 2004. Lansky is the Director of the National Yiddish Book Center ( in Amherst, Massachusetts which was established in 1980. This is the story of how it came about and how it evolved. And it truly is amazing!

Collector's progress by Wilmarth S. Lewis. Z989.L4 A3. This is a very interesting book by a very serious collector. Lewis collected one of the most extensive collections of books and manuscripts by and about Horace Walpole.

Bibliophile in the Nursery by William Targ, ed. This is a collection of writings about collecting children’s books from the earliest through the beginning of the 20 th century. Targ also edited two other collections of writings about book collecting: Carrousel for Bibliophiles (1947) and Bouillabaisse for Bibliophiles (1955).

A Passion for Books by Lawrence Clark Powell. Z992.P65. This book begins with an essay entitled: ‘My Favorite Four Letter Word; or, How I Feel about the B—k.’ How can you not enjoy this?!

Lawrence Clark Powell was UCLA’s second Librarian. He wrote numerous books, including several works about the poet Robinson Jeffers. Others are Islands of Books (1951) and Life Goes On (1986). For a nice online exhibit about Powell see

What exactly are bibliomysteries?

John Ballinger, in a short piece called Collecting Bibliomysteries (PN3448.D4 B27 1990), claims to have coined the term ‘Bibliomystery’ while cataloging for Oak Knoll Books. But what exactly is a bibliomystery? According to the

‘Keeper of the Collection’ at Simmons College, bibliomysteries are mysteries in which books, manuscripts, libraries, archives, publishing houses, or bookstores occupy a central role, or in which librarians, archivists, booksellers, etc. are protagonists or antagonists. They are NOT to be confused with the Academic mystery unless, of course, the above criteria applies.

The bibliomystery is quite popular today. A number of bookstores and libraries have begun to identify the Bibliomystery in their catalogs or their web sites. Included in this sub-genre are some classic works like A Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley, Dewey Decimated by Charles Goodrum, a librarian at the Library of Congress, (all of Goodrums’ works take place at the fictitious Werner Bok Library), a number of works by Michael Innes, pseudonym for J.I.M. Stewart, and, as you can imagine, a zillion others.

There are a few websites that are devoted to the bibliomystery. On these you’ll find long lists of books and other useful resources. Enjoy.

Bibliomysteries This is the ‘original’ bibliomystery site. It was created by Marsha McCurley, a librarian at Clemson University, who passed away in 2004. Although the site is no longer maintained the A-Z list of authors is very nice as well as the bibliography.

Bibliomystery Collection This site is maintained by Professor Carolyn Schwartz, Keeper of the Collection, Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

The Fictional World of Archives:

Librarians in Fiction:

Wakefield , MA Public Library: Another good list of bibliomysteries arranged by author.

Academic Mysteries: While not necessarily a bibliomystery, the academic mystery can be a lot of fun too. This is a list of academic mysteries maintained by Clues Unlimited, a mystery bookstore in Tucson, Arizona.