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Nicholas A. Basbanes

October 2010

by Noah Sheola

[Nicholas Basbanes in China conducting research for his upcoming book Common Bond: Stories of a World Awash in Paper]. Photograph courtesy of Nicholas Basbanes.Nicholas Basbanes is the author of eight books about books and those who collect them, write them, sell them, and care for them.  His 1995 debut, A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books, became a New York Times notable book of the year and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction.  His subsequent works have enjoyed similar success, to the chagrin of those publishers who deemed bibliography too esoteric a topic for popular nonfiction. 

Basbanes’ subjects range from the reading habits of Alexander the Great to the stranger-than-fiction crimes of notorious book thief Stephen Blumberg.  Equal parts raconteur and historian, Basbanes excels at crafting coherent narratives from disparate episodes of bibliographical lore and history.  In his more recent works Basbanes has reported on the future of printed books in the age of electronic media and documented the reactions of librarians, booksellers, readers, and collectors to the changing literary landscape. 

A Massachusetts native, Basbanes graduated from Bates College in 1965 and later completed a master of arts from Pennsylvania State University while serving as a naval officer in the Tonkin Gulf.  As literary editor of the Worcester Sunday Telegram and Gazette from 1978 until 1991, Basbanes held the enviable assignment of interviewing many of the world’s greatest living authors.  His most recent work, About the Author: Inside the Creative Process, gathers forty interviews from this period, including conversations with Margaret Atwood, Joseph Heller, Alice Walker, John Updike, Doris Lessing, and Kurt Vonnegut. 

Mr. Basbanes has been a member of the Boston Athenæum for twenty years.  In a recent email he wrote:

My Athenæum membership is one of my most treasured affiliations, essential to my work as an      independent scholar – I can’t imagine doing what I do without it—and with the ability now to  search such databases as JSTOR, Project Muse, and Early English Books from my home, truly indispensable.

It should be said that Mr. Basbanes’ holds in equally high regard the Athenæum’s unique collection of non-electronic resources, that is, books.  In the prologue to Patience & Fortitude Basbanes recounts the time he visited the Athenæum to consult a scarce book on the library of Samuel Pepys, the citation of which he needed to complete the manuscript for A Gentle Madness.  At the circulation desk Basbanes noticed from the blank card tucked in the rear pocket that he would be the first person to borrow this book which had sat on the shelves, apparently untouched, for over eighty years.  “You wonder who they bought these books for anyway,” remarked Basbanes to circulation librarian James P. Feeney.  “We got them for you, Mr. Basbanes,” Feeney replied. 

A 2008 recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, Nicholas Basbanes is currently putting the finishing touches on his latest book, a cultural history of paper and paper-making, to be published by Knopf.  The book is tentatively titled Common Bond: Stories of a World Awash in Paper.

Selected columns, essays, and author profiles by Nicholas Basbanes, as well as news and a travelogue, can be read at www.nicholasbasbanes.com.

Bibliography

All call numbers are Library of Congress (LC)

About the Author: Inside the Creative Process
Durham, NC:  Fine Books Press, 2010
PN452 .B35 2010
Temporarily Shelved at New Book Shelves

Editions & Impressions: Twenty Years on the Book Beat
Durham, N.C.:  Fine Books Press, 2007
Z4 .B393 2007

Every Book its Reader:  The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World
New York: HarperCollins, 2005
Z1035.A1 B15 2005

A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books
New York: H. Holt and Co., 1995
Z992 .B34 1995

Patience & Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture
New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
Z4 .B395 2001

A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World
New York: HarperCollins, 2003
Z4 .B395 2003

A World of Letters: Yale University Press, 1908-2008
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008
Z473.Y32 B37 2008

References

Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2010. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2010.