Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Row: A Book Nerd's Dream

In Book Row Marvin Mondlin and Roy Meador succeed in conjuring up the idealistic and sheltered haven that once was the cluster of used and rare book stores that for much of the early to mid-twentith century found their home on Manhattan's Fourth Avenue by Union Square.  For most of us modern book lovers, we will have never seen such a literary community of that scale in the United States.  It is only something that we imagine lives on in the elite world of European universities well away from the world of Iphones, laptops and electronics of all kinds.  Even for the most dedicated young readers its hard picture people who spent all their time and energy concentrated on books and were able to resist the temptation of more modern distractions.  But according to Mondlin and Meador, not only did these people exist but for a while they thrived and their memories still live on.  In what is only a moderately nostalgically tinted depiction, Mondlin and Meador do a fabulous job of recounting the long and illustrious past of Fourth Avenue's Book Row from inception to collapse.  Their detailed descriptions bring to life the images of these long ago bookstores with sights and smells that inhabited these dusty shops.  But really best of all are the voices of the characters who made up this place that Mondlin and Meador memorialize.

Their extensive use of interviews infuse character, charm, and life into what could have been a dry and dull historical account of Manhattan's secondhand book trade.  Because it is the people who lived this life who draw in the readers. Not just anyone is going to pick up a book titled Book Row: An Ancedotal and Pictorial History of the Antiquarian Book Trade.  Those who do love book and the book business and will relate strongly to the cast of strange and distinctive characters who populated Book Row over the years.  For many of us book people our passion is not something everyone in our lives can relate to, and this book is filled with stories of not only those who would but who felt that passion strongly enough to base their lives around it.  Essentially these are the romantic starving artists (though there are quite a few of those too scattered throughout book, along with some not so starving artists) of book lovers.  The dream that not quite everyone can commit to living but loves the idea of.  If you get dreamy and caught up in the imaginary past world of books, this book will enthrall you.  If not, it will simply be a book filled with a lot of people and references you know nothing about.

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