The Secret Life of Books by Tom Mole

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

I am a book addict. There I have said it. They seem to consume my life at the moment. I have read more than ever this year, so much so that I am going to finish my Good Reads Challenge a month early this year. I spend lots of time in bookshops and charity shops looking for new things to read and the bargains. I have 12 bookcases around the home, all full to overflowing and ever-increasing tsundoku (piles of books) that my long-suffering wife is now commenting about…

Like Tom, I always look at the books when I visit someone’s home, even if I have been there many times before. Your library is a rare glimpse into your very soul. Shockingly, I have even been to houses where there are no books. NO BOOKS! (Yes this is a real thing). They feel empty and barren. There is much more to a physical book than thin slices of a tree with random marks on. I don’t know quite what it is about books that makes them so appealing. Perhaps it is the heft that you get from a quality hardback, or the detail that goes into binding them or for the price of a couple of coffees you can have an entertaining few hours venturing into another world that someone has created or that you can learn something about our amazing world and the people in it. For me, though I find their presence in my home reassuring, that I can access knowledge and experiences from other people by taking a book off the shelf.

Tom Mole is another fellow obsessive book collector. (It’s not hoarding if it’s books) He works at the University of Edinburgh and is Professor of English Literature and Book History, so he is perfectly placed to write this book about books. Beginning with clay tablets and papyrus he takes us all the way through the scrolls to the codex format that we see all around us today. You will learn about binding errors, how we can become utterly absorbed in the magic that is reading, how some people manage to read their books and leave them utterly pristine and others who pass them on (or horror of horrors back) most foxed and often slightly badgered too. There is a certain amount of pleasure in owning a signed book, even more so if it is dedicated.

Some people develop relationships with their copies of favourite books, scribbling notes, folding the corners of the pages down, leaving splatters from cooking and adding their own unique and distinctive embellishments. There is a chapter on how books can affect people’s lives and two on the future direction and technology of books? Is it kindles? Or apps on a phone? The physical object is resilient to the ravages of time there are books around that are hundreds of years old that can still be read, whereas if you have a novel on a 5 1/4″ floppy disk then you will be extremely lucky if you can ever read that again.

It is a well-researched book stuffed full of interesting anecdotes and facts and Mole has done a great job in not making this feel like a slightly stuffy academic paper. The chapters are short and can be dipped into in no particular order and I liked the brief interludes. If you have the remotest interest in reading or books then I can highly recommend this book. Great stuff.

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  1. Ooooh yes, I’m a fellow obsessive book collector – and this one sounds great! I’ll have to check it out. I’m also a fellow bookshelf perve; if I come into your house, I will immediately start scoping out your shelves, I can’t help myself ?

    • Paul

      I think it is the done thing, Sheree

  2. Liz Dexter

    This looks so very good and right up my street – it’s on my wishlist so fingers crossed it appears soon or I will have to snap it up!

    • Paul

      I’d think you’d love this too, Liz

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