There is no joy akin to two bibliophiles finding each other. First, you see the sudden sharp look in the eye upon the suspicion that they may have found another of their own. Then the coded test, as one – affecting nonchalance – drops the name Pérez-Reverte. A lightning bolt links the eyes of both. Everyone else is cut out of the conversation. The two fairly resurrect in their own world that would-if-it-could-but-it-can’t have room for you.
Jacques Bonnet’s Phantoms On The Bookshelves, is a love letter to bibliophiles everywhere and anyone who needs their own library, even if that library has but a single, treasured book. Bonnet divides “bibliomaniacs” into two basic categories: collectors and manic readers. Sometimes they overlap.
For the bibliomaniac, “the book is the precious material expression of a past emotion, or the chance of having one in years to come, and to get rid of it would bring the risk of a serious sense of loss. 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 someday.”
Books grant an internal freedom. They enable one’s mind to travel, learn, and experience limitlessly. How can one be away from the very object that contains this magic? (Hello, my name is Marilyn and I am a bibliomaniac – Hi, Marilyn!)
Bonnet has a chapter devoted solely to the question that few bibliomaniacs ever feel totally satisfied with – Organizing The Bookshelves. By alphabet? By Color? By Genre? And there are some proximities that simply cannot be! What if your Vargas Llosa found itself next to your Garcia Marquez after the former blackened the eye of the latter for the way he found his good friend ‘consoling’ his wife after a marital spat? You could very well have a book brawl on your hands.
Bonnet understands the feeling of leafing through a book from your younger days and wondering, What the hell was I thinking? He never would have imagined that upon a re-reading of Anna Karenina, he would feel more touched by the plight of Anna’s cuckolded husband than by the passion of her feeling for Vronsky. The angels sang when someone else articulated what I felt when revisiting Tom Robbins’ Another Roadside Attraction that was my go-to book in college. And I was appalled at what my snarky younger self had said about Virginia Wolfe that got me thrown out of Perry Meisel’s class in NYU (although in all fairness, Perry Meisel had snark running through his veins and I secretly think he didn’t like when one of us spoiled brats gave it back to him).
Phantoms is quite simply, a gem of a book. And it is sure to give any true bibliophile the warm fuzzies by finding a kindred soul in Jacques Bonnet.
A word on Pérez-Reverte, the secret code of bibliomaniacs. Read Dumas’ The Three Musketeers first. Or if you want to cheat, check out Johnny Depp in The Ninth Gate.
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