One of Jacques Bonnet’s Outhouses

Eleven months ago I wrote about Jacques Bonnet’s Phantoms on the Bookshelves (via This Space). Today I discovered a photograph illustrating that Bonnet is no fictional bibliophile. The caption on Q-blog (Quercus) describes this as “one of his outhouses”, and repeats the picture with Bonnet’s presence.

Monsieur Bonnet, is a publisher, translator and the author of novels and works of art history, including a monograph on the artist Lorenzo Lotto. And, as you can see from this wonderful photograph (taken by Guillaume Bonnier), when we say he is a collector of books, we really mean it…

Phantoms on the Bookshelves by Jacques Bonnet

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.

The Turned Page

More to come on Jacques Bonnet’s witty Phantoms on the Bookshelves. In the meantime I must share this possibly apocryphal anecdote:

I read somewhere that a man sentenced to death during the revolutionary Terror read a book in the tumbril taking him to the scaffold, and turned down the page he had reached before climbing up to the guillotine.