Morris, Jerry. 2023. The 7 Book Blogs of Jerry Morris: Selected Posts. Edited by Charles Brown. St. Petersburg: The Florida Bibliophile Society.
By Rebecca Rego Barry
Jerry Morris was an exceptionally welcoming figure in the world of book collecting. I know this from personal experience, having begun a correspondence with him in 2014 that prompted an invite a year later to a Florida Bibliophile Society (FBS) meeting while I was visiting family nearby. Then a nudge to attend the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, and yet another invite to discuss my current research project during the Covid-era Zoom boom. He consistently reached out to fellow bibliophiles, and, in turn, was incredibly approachable to those who contacted him. Not only did he keep up with dozens of bookish correspondents, he found the time to write 250 blog posts about his experiences and adventures in books, all of which exude that same congeniality, curiosity, and, perhaps most importantly, sense of fellowship.
It is, therefore, bittersweet to sit with The 7 Book Blogs of Jerry Morris, a collection of his posts published by the FBS, more than a year after his death. With each reading, and sometimes rereading of each of these posts, I miss Jerry all the more. Yet his voice can be heard on every page; he is here, and it gladdens my heart to have his ‘best of’ put between covers.
One of the most striking takeaways from experiencing Jerry’s posts in this format is how they form a snapshot of twenty-first-century book collecting: online sleuthing, email exchanges, buying from the likes of eBay and ABE, and creating digital catalogs. In other words, all of the elements of the new book collecting, which some of us have adopted kicking and screaming. Jerry embraced it. The earliest posts in his “Biblio-Connecting” series (long before the word blog existed) were published decades ago in various early web formats. His other six blogs include: “My Sentimental Library,” “The Displaced Book Collector,” “Biblio-Researching,” “Bibliophiles in My Library,” “Contemplations of MoiBibliomaniac,” and “The Early Editions of The Elements of Style.”
Jerry interacted online with some giants of the book trade, including curator and librarian Gabriel Austin, bookseller Ian Jackson, and collector Madeline Kripke, all of whom shared his passion for books. Their digital correspondence offers a peek at Jerry’s dogged approach to research; if he was hunting down a name or title, he extended a digital hand and was warmly received.
Some of his collaborations led to multi-year cataloging projects that are awe-inspiring. In his post, “Cataloguing Dead People’s Books” from 2009, Jerry begins the story of how, with a little help from friends, he cataloged the libraries of Samuel Johnson, Charles Lamb, and James Boswell on LibraryThing. He obviously relished the research, poring over various lists, letters, and any materials his team could get their hands on in order to complete a catalog of the highest quality and detail. “Samuel Johnson,” he wrote, “shared at least 163 books with Thomas Jefferson, 69 books with John Adams, and six books with me.” Incredible, right? He continues to amaze: “Charles Lamb shared at least 10 books with Samuel Johnson, 22 books with Thomas Jefferson, 8 books with John Adams, and 8 books with me…. James Boswell shared at least 84 books with Thomas Jefferson. I say ‘at least’ because we just finished cataloging our first 1,000 books and have another 2,000 to go. Boswell shared 30 books with John Adams, 44 books with Samuel Johnson, 18 books with Charles Lamb, and 8 books with me” This intense cataloging and recataloging – he termed it catalogitis – is a bequest in and of itself.
In doing this work, Jerry found his bibliobliss, a word that may not be a word as far as Merriam-Webster is concerned, but his writing imparts it nonetheless. He had a special affinity for association copies, particularly Johnsoniana formerly owned by Johnson scholars and collectors. “When I hold a book they formerly owned, I feel I am sharing in their enjoyment,” he wrote.
In the book collecting world, it is not difficult to be wowed by the million-dollar buys, the wealthiest collectors, and the untouchable collections. It can be equally easy, though, to underestimate the other side of this page, and the people who inhabit it. Retired from the Air Force and the U.S. Postal Service, Jerry didn’t have the “considerable resources” of, say, his collecting idol, Mary Hyde Eccles. But he went all in when it came to meticulously and patiently building collections of books, as evidenced in his popular 2022 post, “Twenty Years of Collecting and Writing about the Early Editions of William Strunk’s Little Book, The Elements of Style.”
I found Jerry’s post about the “Demise of Lindmark’s Book Shop, Poughkeepsie, New York” a delightfully quirky tale. I had never heard of this legendary bookstore whose owner was evicted, resulting in the incineration of $3 million worth of books, in the 1960s. Jerry tracked down this story simply because he bought a book (a deluxe edition of Trivia by Logan Pearsall Smith, 1917) branded with the blindstamp of Lindmark’s and containing a historic postcard illustrating its impressive structure. Down the rabbit hole Jerry went, and I, for one, am grateful.
This volume of Jerry’s blog posts, lovingly selected, curated, and printed by his colleagues at the FBS, under the editorial eye of Charles Brown, is a worthy addition to any book collector’s library. In the digital realm, these stories run the risk of loss; on paper, they have a greater chance of surviving to be shared and enjoyed for centuries, a perfect epitaph for Jerry Morris.
Rebecca Rego Barry is author of the forthcoming book, The Vanishing of Carolyn Wells: Investigations into a Forgotten Mystery Author (2024). The former editor of Fine Books & Collections, she is now the director of communications at The Raab Collection.