A bibliophile’s dream is a room full of books. Books from floor to the ceiling, the smell of paper, some light to read, if you think that is all they need, you may not be right. They can go to any extent to collect books that they need, sometimes even criminal. How about a book about book? If you love books, you would probably look forward to one. Till I got my hands on this book, I was not aware of the fact that there is genre of books on books about books.

Groaning Shelf is a compilation of essays around books, books about books, book shelves, book covers and dust jackets, titles, the elusive first editions, the rare book stores, bibliophiles, authors, collectors, libraries and just about anything that you can think about books. The author has to be a big bibliophile to indulge in this kind of research about books. He seems to have gone quite a few places in search of books, chased a few authors and many a first editions that formed the basis of this book, and gave a certain intimacy to the narration.

I simply loved the chapters about book thieves and the innovative ways that they used to steal books that they wanted. I learnt about the classification of book thieves, those who steal for the love of the book or for the urge to possess the book and those who steal to sell it in the rare book market. And book lovers feel that it’s the earlier that are more dangerous for the books as these books just go out of public circulation and you never know when they will again become accessible. Anyone who collects books would know the feeling when a guest comes and tries to borrow or steal books from your bookshelf. I always have this dilemma when choosing a bookshelf. I do not like closed book shelves that can be locked as they create a distance between my books and me and at the same time open bookshelves are an open invitation to people who want to pick up books. Books are something that are most often borrowed and least often returned.

The section on writers is an interesting collection of essays on various writers and their take on books. This section is more personal as the author beings about his relationship with few books and their authors. And I always feel that it is when the author puts himself in his writing that the writing becomes most enjoyable. You may or may not agree with what he says but you would enjoy reading this intimate relationship of his with some works and their craftsmen. Other chapters that I enjoyed were Sherlock Holmes rewrites and the one on titles.

As this is a collection of various essays written elsewhere over a period of time, you would not find a linking thread, and may feel disconnected here and there. It takes a first few essays to get to know the author, if you have not read him earlier and you start enjoying him towards the end. Author’s focus of books is limited to classical fiction and their first edition, books on books, niche books like comics and art books. All other genres of books are not even mentioned. So if you read non-fiction, philosophy, history, poetry (it is mentioned in passing though), you may suddenly feel left out and wonder if you fall in author’s definition of Bibliophile or not.

For me reading this book was an initiation into a genre. It has also given me a long list of books that I need to read. This is one of those books that you can not read in one go, as it has lot of repetition on author’s favorite subjects like Salinger. This would be best read as a side book, along with another book.

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