Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How intolerable life would be without books and bookshops
Now the literary festival season is in full swing, we should recognise that the real worth of dusty tomes is sensual, not financial
Andrew Marr writing in he Observer, Sunday 24 May 2009

I love a beautiful book, but its market price is what interests me least. The monetary importance of a first as against a second edition leaves me cold.Yet I'd claim to be a raving bibliomane.
In literature, politics, science and art, the most valuable things I have acquired in 50 years of being alive include my books. I've got a few paintings. There are, now I think about it, a scatter of warm-blooded human beings - relatives, that sort of thing, a friend or two - to whom I owe some kind of allegiance. But the books, racked, stacked, ordered, disordered - are at the heart of being me.
What makes a valuable book? Let's assume to begin with that the book must be well written or, at the minimum, usefully informative. Let's take that as read. The next essential is that it must be legible. I've inherited a beautifully bound Edwardian set of Ruskin, in light blue leather and gold covers, which I never open and don't very much care for because the print is too small and dense.
This rules out quite a lot of paperbacks, particularly as they age. Cheap paperbacks can still be little caskets of value in a different way if they represent the first time one came across, say, Turgenev or Hesse as a teenager. They become memory aides. I'd give up every school photo, every report card, every letter for the crumble-spined, faded paperbacks that set me on fire at school.
The principles of sturdiness, legibility and a cracking read apply to earlier books too. I recently finished a three-part film project for the BBC about the history of Darwinism and at the party we had to celebrate, I was presented by the wonderful team with a John Murray three-volume edition of Darwin's Life and Letters, from 1888. I have no idea of how valuable they are and I don't want to know, because I want to be able to carry them with me on to the tube or into pubs and carry on reading.
Read Andrew Marr's full essay here.

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