What? Too soon?
The OG Learns A New Thing: Human Skin To Bind Books?
Sometimes I confess something comes along that makes me think I've led a relatively sheltered life.
Anthropodermic bibliopegy: using human skin to bind books. I saw this article, and, given the tone of the site, I thought, "Every now and then I bet these guys let in a hoax article, for kicks." (Note the person who commented on the article, "The original Face Book.") I assumed this was a hoax. Then I found out anthropodermic bibliopegy was apparently real, and went on up to the the end of Victoria, around 1900, when dissected corpses had their skin tanned. I read the above linked article and the Wiki and it seems not like a put-on to me, but I'm still letting the idea sink in, as to why this was thought to be a Good Idea. The story is just sitting there, in my stomach, undigested, and making me feel a bit nauseated...The idea of the record of a criminal being bound by that very criminal's skin? Ghastly. But apparently a Neat Idea up to the end of Queen Victoria's reign. You have to read this article and then try to believe it. I guess I sorta believe it, but I'm not happy about it.
If you happen to own an old leather-bound book from between 1700-1900, and it has a "bizarre waxy smell" and different "pore size" compared to cow or pig hide...Let's move on, shall we?
No, not porn-porn, but images of books, people reading, great writers at their desks, ya know: book porn. Check this Tumblr site dedicated to this form of porn, which caters to the bibliomane in, I'm guessing, most of us. (?)
Nathan Myhrvold's Molecular Gastronomy Book
Here''s Myhrvold making an omelette in a way you probably have not, on the morning Today Show, from around a year ago. I wonder about the people who buy this book and actually get really deep into the finer points of molecular gastronomy. I imagine they're either very fun to party with, or not at all fun. The video is about 4 minutes:
Photo by William Hoiles. Wikimedia Commons. I was not
able to determine if any of these were bound using human skin.
Sir Thomas Phillips (1792-1872): Greatest Bibliomaniac Ever?
The illegitimate son of an English textile manufacturer, Phillips inherited a sizable estate, and seems to have devoted most of it in the attempt to acquire every book ever published. One who knew him called Phillips "vain, selfish, dogmatic, obstinate, litigious and bigoted."
Vellum is a very fine parchment made from calf's skin, and, as Phillips learned more about the book trade, his propensity quickly ran toward vellum, and he called himself "a perfect vello-maniac" and "paid any price asked."
Actuated by knowledge of various bibliocausts, Phillips wrote in an early catalog of his collection, "In amassing my collection, I commenced with purchasing everything that lay within my reach, to which I was instigated by reading various accounts of the destruction of valuable manuscripts." He liked the idea of having so many rare books that great scholars would be forced to ask him to use his library. And scholars did indeed use his immense, perpetually-metastasizing collection. I imagine it was a tremendous thrill for Phillips.
Phillips was well aware of great collectors who'd preceded him, but they didn't have some opportunities he'd had, history's vicissitudes throwing some fortune his way with, for example the French Revolution. Phillips: "There must be vast treasures upon the Continent in consequence of the dispersion of Monastic libraries by the French Revolution."
By the end of his life, writes Nicholas Basbanes in A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books, "The collection Sir Thomas Phillips left was so enormous that a full century of inventories, private sales, and auctions was necessary to sort it out. The bad news, for the British Museum at least, was that the man did not have it in him to give his collection to the nation outright; the nation's error was its failure to make a reasonable offer. But collections serve civilization in many ways. The irreplaceable material Phillips rescued can be found today in institutions all over the world where they serve scholarship. This was not his intention, but it was his legacy. Once the Court of Chancery declared in 1885 that his will was too restrictive, dispersal was possible." (p.122)
What was in Phillips' will? When he died he was bitter, confused, cantankerous and illogical. What reader is surprised at this? He willed that his books all stay in the same house (Thirlestaine), that no bookseller or "stranger" ever be allowed to arranged them, that one of his daughters and her husband never be allowed among the collection (Phillips had disapproved of the marriage), and that "no Roman Catholic should ever be admitted" to his library. He had not left enough money for upkeep of his library; his will toward his books was totally unrealistic. His favored son-in-law, the Reverend John Fenwick, said of Phillips after his death, that the man "pleased no one in life, and I expect he has managed to displease everybody in death as well." (p.122, ibid)
"If you want people to read a book, tell them it is overrated." - Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Bed of Procrustes, p.11.
Finally: Time Enough At Last
When I was 12-18 I was obsessed with the old black and white Twilight Zone series on TV, which had its original run from 1959-1964. There's one episode, "Time Enough At Last, in which a meek bibliophile/ardent reader, takes his lunch break in his bank's deep basement vault, where he can read in quiet before going back to work. While down in the depths, a nuclear attack levels the area, and he emerges, like some pathetic rodent, surveying the devastation. The wonderful thing: just as he's about to commit suicide, he realizes the public library's books were not incinerated in the blast (poetic license!), and this meek little guy, played by the illustrious Burgess Meredith, has time enough to read, at last. Here's the ending of the 22 minute episode: