Sunday, August 3, 2008

Pierre Berès, 1913-2008

I occasionally peruse the obit section of the New York Times, and I was intrigued by this one on Pierre Berès, a book collector and seller. He died last Monday at the age of 95.
“We have lost a legendary figure in the world of art, collecting and publishing,” said the French culture minister, Christine Albanel.

Mr. Berès had already staged a memorable exit from the world of books in 2005. Closing the store he had run since the late 1930s on the Avenue Friedland, near the Arc de Triomphe, he put his collection of 12,000 books up for sale. In a series of six sales at Drouet, the auction house, spaced out over two years, records fell as bidders lined up for treasures like the first edition of Rimbaud’s “Season in Hell,” inscribed by the author to Verlaine.

The sale realized more than 35 million euros. Mr. Berès headed off to retirement in his modern villa in St. Tropez, but not before making a final grand gesture. Unexpectedly, he removed from the sale and donated to the French nation an edition of “The Charterhouse of Parma” that included Stendhal’s revisions, undertaken after he read Balzac’s criticisms of the novel’s opening pages.

I've always been intrigued with the idea of owning a bookshop. Berès excelled in acquiring and selling desirable rare books. I guess if you're going to retire from the bookshop world, 35 million euros is a good number to live on.
Mr. Berès excelled at creating a personal mystique. “I do not seek, I find,” he once proclaimed, cryptically, about his uncanny knack for turning up rare editions.
What's your personal mystique? If you have one, would other people say it is "excellent?" If you're going to live a life, you might as well make it an interesting one.

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