Sunday, July 23, 2006

what I seek in a bibliography

My personal library is partially posted on, and I've had an interesting inquiry about the Gabler Bibliography of English language wine books, Wine Into Words, 2nd Edition. I have given the book a rating of 3 stars in my library, and another lister wanted to know why not higher. I think the Gabler book is a fine book, and there is nothing else out there which approaches its usefulness. Gabler has clearly spent more time with American and English wine books than anyone I am aware of, and deserves praise for that.

If I am reluctant to praise the book higher, it is because it is too inclusive and not selective enough. In my experience, there are two types of bibliographies: one is completely inclusive, and lists every last item which ever existed on its subject (author bibliographies are typically of this sort, and should be); the second type is much more subjective, and typically relects the selections of a long term collector or scholar(s). Bibliographies in this second category might include Howes (American imprints). Printing and the Mind of Man (the history of ideas) or the Roth 101 (the photo book). In these cases the bibliographer guides the reader through a large field, toward the books which are (in the author's opinion) truly important. In both cases the bibliographies have also done much to shape the bookselling and collecting markets in their respective fields. They reflect a true connoiseurship. Gabler, who has done much to improve his book in the second edition, still includes many, many mediocre books in the list, books which serve little purpose for the collector unless one just seeks every last English language book on th subject. To me, this lessens the effect of the valuable comments Gabler has included on many entries, and moves the book toward being a checklist.

That said, the book remains very useful and I recommend it if you don't already have it.

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