The noted scholar, bibliographer, and book collector G. Thomas Tanselle reflects upon his background, education, connections, and the role of books and other physical objects in his life. Illustrated, with index.
This book is both an autobiography and a study of the rationale and practice of book collecting. The theme throughout is the important role that physical objects play in the life of each of us – both through their ability to link us with the past (often our own past) and through their power, as part of our surroundings, to influence our thoughts.
The book begins with two previously published autobiographical essays: “Books in My Life” (1999) and “The Pleasures of Being a Scholar-Collector” (2005). They are followed by a substantial memoir called “The Living Room,” most of which has not been published before, showing how extensively one’s life can be called up by the associations adhering to the objects that have formed one’s private environment. The author considers it a case study illustrating W. G. Sebald’s point that our possessions constitute “the book of our history.” The first section ends with another unpublished essay, “An Ode to Artifacts,” which serves as a coda.
The next part of the book is a gathering of previously published essays on collecting: “A Rationale of Collecting” (1998) , followed by examinations of three categories of books that Tanselle has been particularly concerned with in his own collecting – non-firsts (1979), publishers’ imprints (1970), and association copies (2011). As a coda to this section, Tanselle’s 2014 lecture “A Bibliographer’s Creed”‘ summarizes what he has come to believe, over a period of sixty years, about the crucial significance of the physical book in cultural history and thus the moral obligation to preserve as many examples as possible through the activity of collecting.
The volume ends with a chronology of Tanselle’s professional life and an annotated listing of his published writings.
G. Thomas Tanselle, former vice president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and adjunct professor of English at Columbia University, is currently the textual advisor to the Library of America (on whose board he has served since he helped found the organization in 1979. He is a past president of the Bibliographical Society of America, the Bibliographical Society of University of Virginia, the Grolier Club, the Society for Textual Scholarship, and the Melville Society. His books include Royall Tyler (1967), Guide to the Study of United States Imprints (1971), A Rationale of Textual Criticism (1989), Textual Criticism and Scholarly Editing (1990), The Life and Work of Fredson Bowers (1993), Literature and Artifacts (1998), Textual Criticism since Greg (2005), Bibliographical Analysis (2009), Book-Jackets: Their History, Forms, and Use (2011), Essays in Bibliographical History (2013), Portraits and Reviews (2015), Descriptive Bibliography (2020), and American Publishing History: The Tanselle Collection (2020). He was also co-editor of the fifteen-volume Northwestern-Newberry Edition (1968-2017) of the writings of Herman Melville. In 2015 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Bibliographical Society (London). He lives in the Beekman Place area of midtown Manhattan.
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