By CHRISTINE HAUSER
Patricia Jean Wagner, author of The Bloomsbury Review Booklover's Guide: A Collection of Tips, Techniques, Anecdotes, Controversies & Suggestions for the Home Library (1996), began her talk by questioning the audience about their relationship to books and continued with an account of her multiple careers in the book world and the surprises she encountered while researching her book.
John Y. Cole, director of the Center for the Book, reminded the guests that Ms. Wagner's presentation was part of the series "Books and Beyond," created by the Center for the Book to bring to the Library speakers who have published a book with relevance to the Library's collections or programs. The Washington chapter of the Women's National Book Association co-sponsored the July 21 event.
Ms. Wagner describes herself as having "a checkered career as a poet, printer, publisher, bookstore clerk, library clerk, author, small-press advocate, bookstore co-founder, writer, book designer, book art show organizer and typography junkie" and is now a contributing editor to the nonfiction book review section of The Bloomsbury Review, a literary journal published in Denver.
The idea for the book took root when Ms. Wagner received enormous response to her column on weeding out a home library in The Bloomsbury Review. While researching the book, she made a surprising discovery.
"If you drew a line in the world, one end of that line would be the people who care about content, and at the other end of that line would be the people who care about the book as a physical object," she said. Ms. Wagner, who likes to read in the bathtub, believes that her habit is indicative of the two camps: Content-lovers know they can always buy another copy if the book gets wet or dog-eared, while artifact-lovers wouldn't think of reading in the bathtub. One gentleman interviewed for this story admitted he frequently buys only to collect, not to read. An informal survey revealed him to be in the minority; 90 percent said they care primarily about content.
The speaker reported that "a fact we have to face about this thing called the book, is that most of us have too many books. One of the things we had fun with was talking with people about weeding and what to do with books when you die." If you want people to read your books, you may want to sell them to a book dealer. She told of a man who "every day goes into his library and chooses a number of books that he loves, and he's spending the last years of his life, an hour or two a day, giving away his books."
Although Ms. Wagner joked that Washington is one of the areas of the country that, because of the high heat and humidity, should remain book-free, she encouraged a member of the audience to use the resources of the Library of Congress and its popular Preservation Awareness Workshops to determine how to care properly for the 8,000 volumes stored in his basement.
Acknowledging the book community's continuing dialogue about the future of traditional publishing vs. electronic publishing, Ms. Wagner said, "To me, one of the magic things about being on the cusp of two conflicting technologies is knowing that we can capture information, and the voices of those authors don't have to be lost. For all of you in the room who are horrified by computers and the electronic book, [remember that] there are so many fine publishers going down the drain because the cost of publishing a book ... is enormous. Electronics "may free us from dumping our books in landfills because we can't take care of them."
Saying that she's "working constantly" on a new edition of the book, Ms. Wagner invited the audience to contact her if anyone has "contributions to make about his or her love of books and home libraries. We had over 200 contributors to this book, and of course we couldn't pay anybody. ...But they got a copy of the book, and that seemed to please them. After all, they're easy -- they're book lovers."