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the Complete Review
the complete review - reading / books

Phantoms on the Bookshelves

Jacques Bonnet

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To purchase Phantoms on the Bookshelves

Title: Phantoms on the Bookshelves
Author: Jacques Bonnet
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 123 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Phantoms on the Bookshelves - US
Phantoms on the Bookshelves - UK
Phantoms on the Bookshelves - Canada
Des bibliothèques pleines de fantômes - Canada
Phantoms on the Bookshelves - India
Des bibliothèques pleines de fantômes - France
Meine vielseitigen Geliebten - Deutschland
I fantasmi delle biblioteche - Italia
Bibliotecas llenas de fantasmas - España
  • French title: Des bibliothèques pleines de fantômes
  • Translated by Siân Reynolds
  • With an Introduction by James Salter

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Our Assessment:

B : agreeable little work on being book- and reading-obsessed

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Spectator . 13/11/2010 Gary Dexter
TLS . 23/2/2011 Paul Duguid
The Washington Post . 25/7/2012 Michael Dirda

  From the Reviews:
  • "From vaunting arguments about how books furnish the democratic mind, it is a relief to turn to Jacques Bonnet's wittily written and elegantly translated reminder that, as Anthony Powell told us, they also furnish a room. It is tempting to call works like this 'charming', but that would misrepresent the enjoyably sharp edges in Bonnet's account. A bibliomaniac rather than a bibliophile, he recognizes that his 'monstrous' obsession is indefensible (while casting around broadly to find other obsessives in fact and fiction) and that reading may be no more than a means to keep tedium at bay." - Paul Duguid, Times Literary Supplement

  • "In general, Bonnet’s own style is pithy rather than expansive. (...) Immensely enjoyable, Phantoms on the Bookshelves pays concise tribute to the pleasures and rewards of -- to borrow James Salter’s phrase -- "a life built around reading."" - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Jacques Bonnet has a decent-sized private library -- over 40,000 volumes, apparently -- and Phantoms on the Bookshelves is a slim work in which he consider his (and others') book-obsession. His is not a 'bibliophile library' "containing works so valuable that their owner never opens them for fear of damaging them", but rather one where the books are valued not simply as objects -- a living, reader's library:

a working library, the kind where you don't hesitate to write on your books, or read them in the bath; a library that results from keeping everything you have ever read -- including paperbacks and perhaps several editions of the same title -- as well as the ones you mean to read one day.
       Bibliomania of the proportions Bonnet is talking about is about more than just actually reading the books too: once over the ten-thousand-volume mark it's only the rare (and particularly dedicated) reader who could make his way through them all even over the course of a long lifetime; by the 40K mark a collection inevitably contains many volumes that the owner won't ever get to -- put he still values and revels in their potentiality. But it's reading, and the possibility of reading, that is central: these personal libraries live, the owner constantly interacting with (diving into !) his collection -- and:
Whereas a collector frets obsessively about the books he does not yet possess, the fanatical reader worries about no longer owning those books -- traces of his past or hopes for the future -- which he has read once and may read again some day.
       Phantoms on the Bookshelves considers a variety of aspects of such bibliomania, from the difficulty of (sensibly) arranging and categorizing such large collections, to that of appropriately housing them (particularly difficult in this age of expensive urban real estate), to how the collections are built and put together. Bonnet's perspective is that of a reader, and so most of what he presents considers these books from the point of view of consumer (rather than simply purchaser, for example) -- though he notes that it's not just about the texts-proper and information: after all, the internet provides ready access to even more but there, he finds: "there's something missing: that touch of the divine".
       Bonnet offers many examples and anecdotes, and mentions a wide range of books (helpfully re-listed in a nine-page Bibliography; surprisingly many of them are also under review at the complete review), but it's a shame he doesn't devote even more space to the act and experience of reading itself, as he's obviously a 'good' (and wonderfully wide-ranging) reader. Among his best observations is:
The important thing is not so much to read fast, as to read each book at the speed it deserves. It is as regrettable to spend too much time on some books as it is to read others too quickly.
       A very nice -- if rather small -- book for book-lovers (of the reading sort, not mere collectors).

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 April 2013

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Phantoms on the Bookshelves: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Jacques Bonnet was born in 1949.

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© 2013-2021 the complete review

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