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Review: Phantoms on the Bookshelves by Jaques Bonnet

Phantoms on the Bookshelves - Jacques Bonnet

There's a very fine line between bibliophilia and book hoarding and at time it's difficult to tell which side of the line the people described in this book fall. Ultimately, the book is an ode to a dying age of literature where the print novel reigned supreme, a time before the digital revolution. As someone who wasn't quite present for the period this book was describing, at least not in the capacity that the author was, I felt separated from the wave of nostalgia and merely found the book compelling as a caricature of sorts.


I found the conception in this book of knowledge versus property to be one of the most interesting aspects of the works as a whole. The introduction in my edition by James Salter states the divide as "[t]he physical possession of a book may become of little significance. Access will be what matters..." This entire work can be seen as a question about the changing face of reading. While the author seems interested in the ways that the internet has affected the literary world, both for ability to find rare titles and for the increase in overall production of literature, his interest feels almost mournful of the lost ways of reading where one had to hunt for books that would complete a set. The irony that I read this book in an ebook format wasn't lost on me.


While this book gives a beautiful depiction of the way the author grew into the lover of books that he is today and shows a glimpse of a society that is perhaps fading from the contemporary world, it also acts as an argument that books have value inherently, beyond the knowledge, information, or stories they may contain. At multiple instances the author makes note of the many books he owns but has never touched since shelving them upon purchase. Ultimately, this is what drew me away from the book because it made it feel like an ode to a love of books, not to a love of reading.