N. John Hall’s Bibliophilia is a book you can scarcely believe even exists, by which I mean that someone actually took the time, trouble and money to publish, under the assumption that other human beings would actually want to buy a copy. An “epistolary” novel (that is, one that entirely consists of letters back and forth between people), it’s the story of a fussy sixty-something New Yorker luddite who recently came into a large amount of money, and has decided for the first time to start collecting books; the entire rest of the book, then, is essentially a series of emails back and forth between him and the equally fussy luddites who are giving him advice about what kinds of books to buy, the “novel” containing not even a bit of a three-act plot but rather existing as a cleverly presented textbook about the finer points of book collecting, the early history of The New Yorker magazine and the Modernist writers who were published in it, a detailed guide to how the publishing of novels changed in the 1800s from the three-volume standard to the monthly serials invented by Charles Dickens, and all kinds of other erudite little mini-Wikipedia entries that make you think, “Is there anyone out there who would actually want to sit down and read a book like this?”#NJohnHall's #Bibliophilia is a charming book but barely qualifies as a narrative novel Click To Tweet
The irony, of course, is that I actually kind of loved it, because I’m a rare-book collector myself; but even my tolerance was stretched thin by this manuscript that barely qualifies as a narrative novel, a tolerance that I suspect will be completely shattered among anyone who’s not an obsessive collector of rare books, i.e. the 95 percent of the population besides me and my little nerdy friends. It’s for that reason that I can’t in good conscience give this book a high score — I mean, seriously, don’t even bother picking this up if you’re not into 5,000-word essays about Harold Ross or the McBride Guide to First Editions — but do be aware that it’s a curiously charming little book for those who are into those subjects, a rare fiction title from a celebrated academe that feels almost like the result of a bet that he couldn’t get a book like this published. You’ve been warned!
Out of 10: 7.0, but 9.5 for collectors of rare books