“Book Collecting in Slovenia:” My Lecture for the Florida Bibliophile Society

Your blogger has always preferred the written word to the spoken one: as the Latins used to say, verba volant, scripta manent. I was never tempted to make videos or podcasts for The Fate of Books, and even if I wanted to produce them, they probably wouldn’t be very good. I’m not that talented at multimedia. Several people have told me I’m good at writing, though. And what better way there is to celebrate books and the written word than to write about them.

Nonetheless, I also enjoy talking about books. Last autumn, fellow blogger Jerry Morris from the Florida Bibliophile Society (FBS) invited me to talk about books as a guest speaker at their society meeting, which was scheduled for March 20, 2022. Most of their speakers are local (especially before Covid, when the meetings would be held in person), but the pandemic has brought about the shift to Zoom and with it, exotic guests like myself. The FBS leadership told me I was welcome to speak about anything, as long as it had to do with books and book collecting in Slovenia.

My lecture ended up consisting of three parts. The first one was a brief outline of the history of Slovenian language and literature – a soporific topic, but I tried to make it less so by focusing on the funny and quirky episodes of our story. In the second part, I then talked about what it’s like to collect books in a small place like Slovenia, and how I think it compares to the experience of an American collector.

In the third part, I discussed Slovene American publishing, focusing on some items from my own collection. Not only is this a topic I felt American listeners would be interested in, it’s also very close to the subject matter of my blog. Fewer and fewer descendants of Slovenian immigrants to the USA still speak the language, which means that interest in Slovenian books is declining as well. Once nobody in the neighborhood can read a certain book anymore and no second hand store is interested in taking it, it’s not hard to guess the most likely fate of that book. So, as I told my listeners last month – if anyone across the pond encounters a pile of old Slovenian books and doesn’t know what to do with them, you’re more than welcome to contact me.

One of the cutest pieces from my collection is this pocket dictionary, one of the first Slovenian-English dictionaries ever published. Not only is it old and very rare, it’s also comically bad, sometimes approaching English as She Is Spoke levels of badness.

The recording of the lecture has now been made available online here. Check it out yourself for a rare opportunity to see how your blogger looks and sounds like. And thanks again to the FBS team for inviting me over!

Update: I learned recently that Jerry Morris, who had invited me to hold the lecture and who chaired the actual Zoom session, passed away on April 3 – two weeks after I spoke at the FBS meeting and just one day after I brought out the above post. Jerry was not only a passionate collector, he was also the most prolific blogger I knew in this niche area of ours, having founded and run 7 different book-collecting blogs over the course of more than a decade. His in-depth descriptions, adorned with numerous photos, of the gems of his collection easily put my own hastily written blog posts to shame.

When I discussed the topic of my lecture with Jerry in advance, I raised doubts whether an American audience would care much about the minutiae of Slovenian collecting. He replied that I shouldn’t fret about it: book collecting was an international language. From now on, whenever someone asks me about the usefulness of collecting foreign-language books, or operating a blog in English, I will happily retort with Jerry’s phrase.

I considered writing an obituary, but I felt it would be presumptuous to write about someone I had only met online on a few occasions, and about whom I honestly didn’t know that much. Instead, I can direct my readers to the obituary posted at Fine Books & Collections, one of the world’s largest news sites about rare books and book collecting.

Jerry in his natural element. I hope the big library in the sky can compare with the impressive one he had built for himself over the decades.

Update #2: The new issue of the FBS newsletter has just come out. Inside is another obituary of Jerry Morris, as well as a detailed, illustrated summary of my lecture. Thanks to Gary Simons, who took the time to convert my 45-minute rambling into a highly readable article!

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