Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Passion for Books

That is the title of a book I'm currently reading by Lawrence Clark Powell (World Publishing, Cleveland, 1958). My copy states further on what would normally be the half-title page:


A Passion for Books




Christmas 1958

I liked the right justification for the text alignment, so I duplicated it above.

I had started reading this book a few weeks ago while trying to prepare for a book show, so I didn't get very far. I did find a passage early on that I wanted to repeat here. As I've resumed reading and am about finished, I find myself wanting to post here just about everything I read in the book! Mr. Powell's passion is contagious. I also liked the woodcut by Antonio Frasconi on the title page and learning something about his life and art work.

By one of the greater coincidences I've had in a long while, I obtained a Lawrence Clark Powell broadside at the book show in Austin and met the man who designed it--William R. Holman. The story about that is on the Bibliophemera blog, but an image of the broadside is appropriate for this post.

Back to the book... The first essay of Part One is titled, My Favorite Four-Letter Word; Or, How I feel about the B--K. Powell has some interesting thoughts that are still pertinent 50 years after he published them in this book. To wit:
I view with alarm the invasion of the book world by barbarians who neither believe in books for their totality of being, their fusion of form and content, nor have any sentimental feelings toward the book as a thing-in-itself.

There is no way of communicating with people who, by an imbalance of thinking over feeling, do not respond to the wedding of form and content...

It is proper to confer about the future of "the book," even to ask is the book obsolete, but when library school prospectuses are issued which run to thousands of words without once mentioning the word "book," then the bounds of propriety have been exceeded. The appeal is to would-be housekeepers, analysts, probers, and planners, to unsocial scientists who can be led to literature but not made to read and who long to de-emphasize books, mechanize the library, and change the name to "Materials Center," a term more properly applied by anatomists to the dissecting room.

Books are to be used as instruments in binding men closer in thoughtful good will...

Machines can do much for us in controlling the flood of "firmed up but not finalized" near-print, off-print, or un-print material, but machines cannot communicate--at least not yet--by what Lester Asheim aptly calls "a kind of poetic shorthand." This simple act of reading is universal, transcending time and place...

I believe that books--those beautiful blends of form and spirit--have a future fully as glorious as their past; that to disbelieve is an act of faithlessness, is dangerous, and could lead to the downfall of the kind of librarianship in which the book is central and basic. I know that I am not alone in my belief, my faith, my love, and I call on booklovers everywhere to close ranks, face the invaders, and give them the works--preferrably in elephant folio.
There's so much more to quote, but I'll stop here for now. I don't know what was going on in the 1950s to raise these kind of concerns, but these thoughts seem to prophesize what's happening today with digital readers gaining popularity and even a library getting rid of its books.

I wonder what Mr. Powell would say about a library with no books?

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