Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Presenting The Pope's Bookbinder

The following ran in yesterday's issue of The Draught
We thought it was fun. 
(Maybe not so much fun as blackmail. We'll have to ask David.)


"Blackmail is Great Fun": An Interview with David Mason

Q. You’ve been a bookseller now for over four decades, and you’ve published short pieces about the trade in journals and magazines, but this is your first full-length book. Tell us about making the switch: how did bookselling prepare you for authorship? And is authorship what you expected it would be?

Nothing prepared me for writing a book. All antiquarian booksellers are aware that there are already way too many books in the world. Many booksellers would consider it a sin to add more. Writing a book was both exhilarating and humiliating, but in the end I loved doing it.
Unfortunately it also seems to be addictive, so I may commit some more sins.

Q. What’s your favourite story that didn’t make it into The Pope’s Bookbinder?
A. We ran out of space for all the stories about thieves. And also for all the tales of eccentric dealers and scouts I’ve known. There’s also a fair number of stories that can only be told if I outlive certain people.

Q. In your book you have advice about scouts, auctions, sleepers, employees, book fairs, and even on blackmail. What advice would you give to the reader who’s holding your book now?

I would advise any reader to take note of all the pleasure one can derive from collecting books, or just owning a library. But I would also advise them not ever consider becoming a dealer. My jokes about the small income a bookseller can look forward to are not really jokes. Many of our clients envy us all the pleasure we get from being booksellers but if they knew what we earned they wouldn’t envy that. I must also add that blackmail is great fun.

Q. The title of your memoir refers to a white morocco volume that you helped to gild before it was presented to Pope John XXIII. Did you ever see that book again? Would you buy it if you could?

I sewed it and covered it too. I presume that book now resides in the Vatican Library. If the current Pope ever finds himself a bit short of cash I’d love to buy it back.

Q. What was the most difficult part of this memoir to write?

A. I sometimes felt – and so did my editor – that I should be nicer, more gentle, with a few of my colleagues, but since I probably won’t be writing another I felt I needed to tell the truth as I saw it, for the record.

Q. Your publisher says you’ve requested a few unbound text blocks of your memoir. Is it possible The Pope’s Bookbinder is going to strike again? Will there be one more David Mason binding in the world?

The Pope’s Bookbinder is retired, I’m afraid. I will commission one or two binders to create bindings for my book since I have a modest collection of design bindings. I never thought of returning to binding myself. I’d actually love to bind a copy myself but binding is a skill that needs incessant practice and I would certainly ruin it if I tried now.

Q. If you could hand-deliver The Pope’s Bookbinder to one person anywhere in the world, who would it be and why?

The person I’d love to deliver a copy of my book to is unfortunately no longer in this world. And that would be my father, the banker, who was certain I would never amount to anything and would end up in the poorhouse. Which I may very well do. But I’d love to be able to hand him a copy so I could say, “See. If I’d listened to you I’d still be selling insurance.”

Q. What book are you sitting on right now that you’d most like to sell?

A bookseller never cares about selling his good books. What I’d really like to sell is about 25,000 of my general books. All I ever wanted to do was buy good books, which I’ve done for forty-five years. Now I have way too many and not enough space to put them in.
I am, in fact, trying right now to sell a few collections I’ve formed over the last thirty or thirty-five years, in particular my huge collection of publisher’s bindings which, I believe, to be the best in the world. But, I collected so passionately that sometimes I fear I’ve priced myself right out of the market.

Q. What do you consider your worst mistake of your career? What do you most regret?

A. Not buying a building. I always bought books instead of a building and now after forty-five years I’m still at the mercy of landlords and the marketplace. And I’ve got too many books.

Q. What’s next for David Mason?

Myself and my publisher are to begin editing a book of essays on bookselling and collecting. Aside from that I’m just going to continue to buy books. And continue to read books.
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1 comment:

krishna Bhatt said...

Classical stuff. This guy seems good with words.