Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Book About Books

Just before Christmas, we met up with my lovely sister-in-law and her husband. He'd come to Melbourne to see Wagner's 16-hour opera The Ring. But they'd also come to Melbourne to buy books. Lots and lots of books. 

This bibliophilic vacation is a bi-annual pilgrimage for them. Once we all made a road trip to the annual Clunes Book Fair in search of hard-to-find and vintage titles. (Well worth the drive. Even Malcolm Fraser was there. Although I doubt he was digging through the same boxes as we were.)

Anyhow, although this divine duo are both lawyers, they don't just throw their money at glossy bookshops and front-of-store displays. Oh no. That would be too... easy.

Instead, they search out the dusty old secondhand bookstores with the creaky old floorboards; the places where the sunlight fades the window displays and the elderly gentleman keeps his favourite first editions behind his desk so nobody else buys them; the places where boxes of books (and usually a library ladder – always a sign of a good bookstore) block your way as you're shuffling down the narrow gap between towering timber shelves.

These are the bookstores they love. These are the bookstores they browse the most.

Earlier last year, I called them for some legal advice regarding the Garden Tour. (I eventually had to pay lawyers to keep everyone's money safe in case the travel agency dissolved or was sold, but won't go into that here.) Being family, they generously didn't charge a fee, so I thought I might buy them a book as a thank-you gift. But what you do buy two barristers whose library is so enormous, so much like those glorious old bookstores they frequent, that it's now threatening to push them out onto the street?

Then I found this: a book about books.

Thames & Hudson's sumptuous new release The Library: A World History by James W.P. Campbell and Will Pryce.

The Standard in the UK voted this book as one of The Books of the Year for 2013. And rightly so. Architectural historian James Campbell and photographer Will Pryce traveled the globe together, visiting and documenting over eighty of the world's most magnificent libraries and the result of their travels is not only one of the first books to tell the story of library architecture around the world but one of the most superb books about books ever produced.

NB The Huff Post has a great article here.
And The Telegraph has a great read here.

If you're into books, this is a book to buy. Although many of the libraries are grand designs with priceless titles, their beauty – and their obvious devoted to books – is still apparent. It is one of those books you flick through time and time again, shaking your head at these magnificent tributes to the printed page.

But not all of it is gilded grandeur. This was my favourite photo: a snapshot of a group of bowler-hatted gentlemen browsing a London library after a Blitz bomb had destroyed the roof. 

Don't you just love them? What dedication.

And then there was this: The Tripitaka Koreana of the Haeinsa Temple in South Korea. This is one of the oldest and most remarkable collections in the world. The items on the shelves are not books, but wooden printing blocks – more than 80 000 of them. Set high in the mountains, the library's cool winds have helped to keep these blocks in perfect condition for more than 800 years.

The Baltimore Library was profoundly beautiful too. Don't you love the way it soars to the heavens? It seems to go up and up and up. It's almost an spiritual experience, really. A cathedral of books.

As you can see, it's a very good book. So we've decided to purchase a copy too. If only we could find one. The book was so popular at Christmas, it's virtually sold out. 

Let's hope Thames & Hudson have decided to reprint it.


  1. oh my god how beautiful and evocative are this libraries ? evocative of past era when they are built but beckoning future bibliophiles.

    The Woollahra library in Double Bay where I went with my mother as a child not only had the most gorgeous views and garden but a very particular smell of fresh pages, new books and plastic wrap ..maybe I was a peculiar child but I loved it entree nous I still do

  2. That library sounds wonderful. I love Woollahra.

    I still use our local library. It's a tiny place with a beautiful mezzanine that always has the newest titles on offer. It's also staffed by what seems to be half a dozen old ladies who all love sitting around, having cake and chatting. (Which in itself is hilarious to see/hear.) They're very efficient though. Y'day I absentmindedly put 2 books on the counter to borrow (one of them was The Goldfinch), got distracted, wandered off, came back and they were GONE! "You can't put books down; they're reshelved immediately!" apologised one of the ladies. "I'm sorry, I thought you were having your banana cake," I explained. "Oh, we see everything," she laughed.

    You have to love librarians...

    1. me too i.e. i used my local library ..those women are demons with the dusters I bet the library is dust free to the maxi.

      will be sending you an emial

  3. Adore this and I must say that I am so happy that the Tripitaka library made it in there because I went as a child but was always surprised it never gets any press! The surroundings there are beautiful as well. I would love to do a garden and library tour! I am sure you would get takers for that.


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