Saturday, May 5, 2007

Old Books, Rare Friends - Book Review

Old Books, Rare Friends - Two Literary Sleuths and their Shared Passion. (1997)
By Leona Rostenberg & Madeleine Stern.

Finally I know what I want to do with my life. I want to be a rare bookseller and discover old and rare book treasures. And write bibliographies. I only wish I had figured this out 25 years ago when I first left school. Maybe its not too late to start, I'm only 40 something. Oh yeah - today is May 5th. Happy Birthday to me, I'm getting old at forty three.

No but seriously, I truely wish I had discovered these two ladies twenty years ago. I know I would have been compelled to go back to school and do that History degree - the one I have always regretted not doing. Then maybe I could have done an MLS, and got to work in a Rare Books room at a library, learning all about Old and Rare Books.

This book is about two forthright women who shared a passion for literature and who knew the true meaning of a lifelong friendship.

Rostenberg & Stern are two ladies from New York City who met at College during the Depression years. They discovered that they shared a love for old books. During the war, one lady worked as a high school teacher while the other worked for a grumpy German Emigre in his bookshop, selling rare books and learning everything she could about the business along the way.

In 1944, they set up shop together as Sellers of Rare Books. Actually it was the front room of their large house - since they did not own a walk-in shop front. Basically, everything was done by mail and telephone. The ladies went on buying trips to Europe, returned home, wrote catalogues (the first catalogue was issued in 1946) and sold their books mostly to Institutions, Universities and Libraries. Very exclusive.

Along the way, they wrote scholarly books, biographies and made exciting discoveries.
Leona Rostenberg wrote 5 scholarly books - one of which I really want to read. It's called The Library of Robert Hooke; The Scientific Book Trade of Restoration England. Leona was also a President of the American Antiquarian Booksellers Association. And it was these two ladies who founded and began what is probably the best known Book Fair in America - The New York Antiquarian Book Fair.

Madeleine Stern wrote several biographies - Margaret Fuller, Mrs Frank Leslie (Miriam Squier), Dr Isabel Barrows, and Stephen Pearl Andrews. But Madeleine will always be remembered as the Biographer of Louisa May Alcott. These two ladies discovered the dark side of Louisa May Alcott. The author whom we all know as the writer of those wholesome family stories - Little Women, Little Men, Eight Cousins and Jo's Boys - also wrote thrillers and horror stories under a pseudonym - A. M. Barnard. Such titles include The Mysterious Key and What It Opened, Pauline's Passion and Punishment, Behind a Mask or a Woman's Power, and several others. Most of which are available for reading online at the Gutenberg Project.

Leona Rostenberg died in March 2005. She was 96 years old. She will always been known as a Rare Book seller, a Literary Detective, a Scholarly Author and a major force in the Antiquarian business of the twentieth century.

Now thats the life I want.


Eileen said...

Sounds like a great book!

Happy Birthday! I'll be 43 this year too (9/28).

Literary Feline said...

I like that term, literary detective. :-) This sounds like an interesting book, especially for a booklover. Thank you for the review. Another one to add to my wish list.

booklogged said...

Happy Birthday from an 'older' lady, but still not as old as the gals on the book. I have a ways to go!

I'm adding this to my TBR list. BTW I've read some of those thrillers of Alcott's. Very good.