How the collector becomes The Bookman

The Odd Shelf Of A Common Read by Noel P Wilkins

THERE ARE an infinite number of reasons why people buy books, but at the risk of generalisation, two reasons stand out: people who buy books to read them and those who buy books to collect them. While the former will most certainly read their purchases, the latter will probably not read theirs.

It is only when the collector reads all the books he has purchased does he becomes the Bookman. The Bookman is a rare breed. He never makes an entrance into a bookshop, he slinks in. He can be in the bookshop for an hour or two before the bookseller realises he is there. It is often only when he approaches the counter with a volume that the bookseller becomes aware of his presence.

Almost certainly the volume presented has been unearthed from one of the more obscure corners of the shop, not been visited by the bookseller for a long time. When the bookseller opens the volume s/he realises the Bookman has done it again - he has found a gem of a book at an extraordinarily low price. Packing the book and admiring the Bookman’s astuteness, the bookseller will congratulate him on his purchase and the Bookman leaves the shop a happy man. What the bookseller really feels is quite another matter.

Such a customer is Noel P Wilkins , Emeritus Professor of Zoology in NUI Galway, and gatherer of the most extraordinary, and varied, collection of odd volumes covering a myriad of subjects, and purchased for the most serendipitous of reasons, at prices ranging downward rather than upward. He probably knows more about the stock in every bookshop in Ireland than the booksellers do. He is driven by a tremendous hunger for knowledge and his deep respect for the written word and the books in which they are found.

As with all collectors, Wilkins loves to share his enthusiasm with the world at large and recently he published a delightful little volume of essays entitled The Odd Shelf Of A Common Read.

At the beginning of the first essay he writes: “Collecting books is a hobby too, in my opinion the prince of hobbies. Like most of the nicest princes, it can start out as a frog. Needing only some TLC to make the necessary princely transformation...it can be shrouded in mystique, arcane jargon, saucy prices, and a quite definite aura of superiority, all features that are encouraged by the unscrupulous to confound the inexperienced and the unwary. But really, there is far less to it than that."

And over 18 delightful essays, he does just that. A personal favourite is 'A Life on the Margins', in which a family’s annotations on the family Bible track the career of a son of the house during the World War I. For anybody who loves the odd, the wonderful, and the book bargain, this book is more than a delight, it is an education.

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