Tag Archives: Max Beerbohm

Book Porn, no.8

Max Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson; William Heinemann, London (1978).

Penguin these days is publishing some very attractive collector’s editions of famous novels.  I was recently in one of the local corporate bookstores and took a copy of Pride and Prejudice from the shelf to admire the cover art.  As lovely as it looked from the outside, however, the quality of the typeface – digitally perfect, utterly regular – was a turn off.

If we’re to fall fatally in love (with a book, with a person), some irregularity of features is needed.  “There is no excellent beauty,” Francis Bacon wrote, “that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”  Consider Zuleika (and Zuleika):

Perhaps it’s hard to tell by the photographs here.  You’ll have to trust that I was instantly smitten with this book.  The flimsy, fading dust jacket and loose binding; the high quality of the paper combined with the smudged, uneven application of ink; the inspired choice of typeface, with the upturned ‘e’ that recalls Zuleika’s own “shapely tilt of the nose” –  it all adds up to something irresistible.

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Marginalia, no.84

Even as Must implants distaste, so does Can’t stir sweet longings…

~ Max Beerbohm, ‘Books Within Books’

A nice capture of that universal law which explains, among other things, why children hate Brussels sprouts and want dessert before dinner, and why the books you’ve been looking for for ages and can never seem to find always sound so much more interesting than those you already own but can’t bring yourself to read.

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Marginalia, no.74

Of the customary modes of acquisition, the one most appropriate to a collector would be the borrowing of a book with its attendant non-returning.

~ Walter Benjamin, Unpacking My Library

Soft theft of this sort lends the book lover a nimbus of glory that only waxes brighter the more prolonged the period of the loan.  How many old widows and codgers have found a late or posthumous fame in six-figure fines earned for the tardy return of library books checked out decades before?  But fines like these are always waived in honor of rare heroic achievement.

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