A reader first and collector second, Jacques Bonnet’s Phantom on the Bookshelves is a witty homage to the thrill of reading, and tribulations of owning a monstrous personal library – “not one of those bibliophile libraries containing works so valuable that their owner never opens them for fear of damaging them, no I’m talking about a working library, the kind where you don’t hesitate to write on your books, or read them in the bath; a library that results from keeping everything you have ever read [..]”
As an enthusiastic reader of Alberto Manguel’s (Bonnet quotes Manguel several times) books on similar themes, I lapped up Phantom on the Bookshelves. Bonnet writes of the origin of his reading fever and why he came to own a library comprising tens of thousands of books. He obsesses about the problem of organisation and classification, and what inspires him to acquire books.
Full of anecdotes and wit, Bonnet’s book also provides insight; there is a brilliant chapter where he makes the case that fictional characters are more real than their creators:
[..] we carry on believing what we read in biographies. (Curiosity is too strong: I have masses of biographies in my library!) They are simply imaginary reconstructions based on the necessarily fragmentary elements left by someone now dead, whether long ago or in the recent past. And as for autobiography, it is no more than a pernicious variant of romantic fiction.
If you’ve enjoyed Manguel’s Library at Night, A History of Reading or Julien Gracq’s Reading Writing, you will find Phantom on the Bookshelvesequally rewarding. A warning though, each of these books associate with and discuss the merits of other books. They lead to further book buying.