A sequel of sorts to Basbanes's earlier A Gentle Madness
(on the manic nature of bookselling and book-collecting), this copious volume takes its title from the formidable lions guarding the entrance to the main branch of the New York Public Library in Manhattan. Opening with the great libraries of the past, from Alexandria to Pergamum and Glastonbury, Basbanes, former literary editor of the Worcester Sunday Telegram, segues into such venerable active libraries as those at the Vatican, Wolfenbüttel and the universities of Durham, Leiden and Oxford. He visits with shrewd, sometimes eccentric book dealers who happily recount tales of bygone bibliophiles, and illustrates a variety of collections, from illuminated medieval manuscripts to volumes more valuable for who owned them than for binding or content. "I absolutely insist on keeping the same crummy look," a bookshop owner tells him proudly. "Every time I make the place too neat, business goes down." But a pathos pervades the book, for despite the huge increase in readers and book buyers, one dealer observes "a radical dismantling of high culture well under way" since the 1930s. The collector in 1939 who bought a rare book about Native American languages "by selling bottles of his own blood" has no latter-day parallel. Basbanes closes with tales of crusty benefactors like Andrew Carnegie, and interviews with librarians faced with the dilemma of too many old books that no one now wants to read. Basbanes's fund of stories will delight readers who value books for more than just a good story, have a yen for second-hand books plucked from dusty shops or look to book catalogs for suspense and excitement. 32 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agents, Glen Hartley and Lynn T. Chu. (Oct.)
Forecast:This will undoubtedly garner much attention in the book pages, as did its predecessor, aided by a six-city author tour, a 15-city NPR campaign and print features.