I’ve been very much enjoying by Sasha Abramsky. It’s a memoir of his grandfather Chimen Abramsky, the son of a famous Lithuanian rabbi, who ended up in North London as one of the social centres of post-war left-wing intellectual life. Chimen was a book dealer and seller, as well as a noted historian of socialist and Jewish history. Although he had no degree himself, he became a professor of Jewish studies at UCL and an expert on rare documents for Sotheby’s.
[amazon_image id=”190555964X” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The House of Twenty Thousand Books[/amazon_image]
The book conveys a wonderful atmosphere of emotional warmth and practical chaos, sociable meals and long, late-night discussions of ideas. It made me try to estimate how many books there are in my house – fewer than 3,000 I reckon, and I’ve been thinking I need to do a big clear-out this holiday.
Still, it underlines again the importance of physical books – 20,000 on a Kindle would be meaningless. You couldn’t have read the notes Karl Marx wrote in the margins of his reading material if he’d been a Kindle-user. Needless to say, I was delighted to read yesterday this fabulous article by Tim Parks on why you need to read a paper book with a pen in hand to scribble on it – it makes it more likely that you will engage with the words, the ideas, if you interact physically with the book. It’s like shouting back at the radio: you have to have a book in your hand to shout at.