“Entertaining, moving, informative, intelligently hopeful: I know of few other books like this one to warm the cockles of a booklover’s heart.” —Alberto Manguel
“For anyone who loves books too well—who lusts after them, lives in them, mainlines them—David Mason’s memoir will be a fix from heaven. Heartful, cantankerous, droll, his tales of honour and obsession in the trade gratify the very book-love they portray. An irresistible read.” —Dennis Lee
“An atmospheric, informative memoir by a Canadian seller of used and rare books … Gossipy, rambling and enchanting, alive with Mason’s love for books of every variety.”—Kirkus Reviews
From his drug-hazy, book-happy years near the Beat Hotel in Paris and throughout his career as antiquarian book dealer, David Mason brings us a storied life. He discovers his love of literature in a bathtub at age eleven, thumbing through stacks of lurid Signet paperbacks. At fifteen he’s expelled from school. For the next decade and a half, he will work odd jobs, buck all authority, buy books more often than food, and float around Europe. He’ll help gild a volume in white morocco for Pope John XXIII. And then, at the age of 30, after returning home to Canada and apprenticing with Joseph Patrick Books, David Mason will find his calling.
Over the course of what is now a legendary international career, Mason shows unerring instincts for the logic of the trade. He makes good money from Canadian editions, both legitimate and pirated (turns out Canadian piracies so incensed Mark Twain that he moved to Montreal for six months to gain copyright protection). He outfoxes the cousins of L.M. Montgomery at auction and blackmails the head of the Royal Ontario Museum. He excoriates the bureaucratic pettiness that obstructs public acquisitions, he trumpets the ingenuity of collectors and scouts, and in archives around the world he appraises history in its unsifted and most moving forms. Above all, however, David Mason boldly campaigns for what he feels is the moral duty of the antiquarian trade: to preserve the history and traditions of all nations, and to assert without compromise that such histories have value.
Sly, sparkling, and endearingly gruff, The Pope’s Bookbinder is an engrossing memoir by a giant in the book trade—whose infectious enthusiasm, human insight, commercial shrewdness, and deadpan humour will delight bibliophiles for decades to come.
Praise for The Pope’s Bookbinder
“David Mason’s absorbing memoir might be summed up by a button I recently acquired: ‘Life? Of course I have a life. It’s a life filled with books’ … Early on in this rambling, easygoing account of his career, Mason mentions three outstanding classics of that tiny subgenre: Charles Everitt’s The Adventures of a Treasure Hunter, David Randall’s Dukedom Large Enough and David Magee’s Infinite Riches. The Pope’s Bookbinder belongs on the same shelf.”—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
“[David] Mason catalogs for posterity a time when books were sold by hand, sought on foot, and priced accordingly … in what may be one of the last great booksellers’ accounts.”—The San Francisco Book Review
“Plain-spoken, sometimes gruff, but always unafraid … the book stands as a monument to what are, or perhaps were, the last great days of traditional shop-based bookselling, a world in which booksellers still educated each other, a world in which the expertise and traditions were handed on, a world in which bookshops brought new collectors into being with beguiling talk and modest initial purchases. It’s a way of life already disappearing: the parting question is, ‘And what will happen to the education of new collectors when there are no used bookstores? Who will teach them what they need to know?’—it’s a question we have to answer.”—Laurence Worms, Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association
“A witty raconteur and compulsive gossip, Mason has written a book that will delight anyone who loves literary scuttlebutt.”—The Globe & Mail
“Mason is a confessed ‘inveterate gossip,’ unafraid to name names or pass stern judgment on various bitter controversies that have rocked the Canadian trade. But his portraits, rarely black and white, are typically affectionate, with page after page displaying his plentiful stock of unusual characters … The Pope’s Bookbinder strikes a fine balance between impressing with insider lore and welcoming the outsider … The chatty digressions and omissions — sometimes hinting at truly salacious tales sealed up for the principals’ lifetimes — invite you to learn more.”—The National Post
“A sweeping tour of the bookselling industry through the eyes of a man who has been at the heart of it for decades.”—The Toronto Star
“Riveting and valuable. No less than a life seen through the lens of a love of books and literature, Toronto antiquarian Mason’s memoir provides eloquent proof that Gutenberg’s descendants are not ready to give up the good fight. Bibliophiles — you know who you are, folks — will find bottomless solace in these pages.”—Montreal Gazette
“Completely charming … His sly humor and passion about the idea of collecting made me see my library as the personal achievement that it is.”—Paper Over Board
“Buy it. Buy it. Buy it.”—The Dusty Bookcase
“Atmospheric, informative memoir by a Canadian seller of used and rare books. Born in 1938, Mason as a kid was more comfortable in pool halls than the Toronto school system and got “permanently suspended” at 15. He wound up bumming around Europe, taking odd jobs and drugs, talking passionately about books with fellow free souls. A brief stint as a bookbinder in Spain … gave him a marketable skill when he returned to Toronto in the late 1960s, but a part-time bookstore job showed him his real talents: talking to people and finding books for them. After a few years’ apprenticeship with Jerry Sherlock, one of the many rare booksellers to whom Mason pays affectionate tribute, he went out on his own. One of his first areas of expertise was Canadian editions of books by foreign authors, a bibliographic area he pioneered in a project for the National Library of Canada, until he broke bitterly with the library and a colleague over what he considered a breach of faith. His memoirs reveal Mason as a good grudge-holder, and his feelings about librarians are mixed; affection for those at local branches who initiate youth into the wonders of books balances disdain for the bureaucrats at major institutions. He wholeheartedly loves anyone who loves books—no matter how eccentric—as we see in a hilarious chapter about private collectors. Mason is a shrewd commercial operator when he needs to be, but his main focus is on the vital role non-chain booksellers play as preservers of our cultural heritage. His burning sense of mission … gives a vivid sense of its author’s idiosyncratic personality. Gossipy, rambling and enchanting, alive with Mason’s love for books of every variety.”—Kirkus Reviews