The other day I was absolutely gobsmacked (as they say here in the U.K.) when I received a Facebook notification from a gentleman named Chuck Richman from Washington, D.C. He very kindly wrote to tell me that his book club had read “Gutenberg’s Apprentice” and enjoyed it very much. What’s the big deal, you may be tempted to think; I’m happy to report that many book clubs have cracked my novel. But people, get this: his book club isn’t any ordinary book club.
It’s the LIBRARY OF CONGRESS BOOK CLUB. Think about that for a minute. America’s national library isn’t only the world’s largest, with more than 32 million volumes in 450 languages, as well as the official depository of everything published in the United States. It has a hugely dedicated staff who—gasp—adore books and have devoted their lives to cataloguing and caring for them. And who, it transpires, are constantly enhancing their own knowledge of their bibliographic treasure trove.
I don’t know how many full-time members The Library of Congress Book Club has, or whether or not they are all docents like Mr Richman, whose job involves showing the public parts of the collection to visitors. But he and his “fellow docents,” Mr Richman informed me, had read and discussed my novel. I’m guessing they did so at least in part because the Library of Congress, of course, has a copy of the Gutenberg Bible.
Their vellum copy is, in fact, considered the most perfect volume of the 48 still in existence. The “St Blasius-St Paul” copy was originally owned by German Benedictines in the Black Forest, and is one of only two copies that is bound in three, instead of two, volumes, in white calfskin. As it happens, this is also the copy of the Bible I consulted most closely, through the fantastic digitized Octavo CD Edition the Library published in 2003. It is beautifully illuminated with blue and red initials; I feel very close to this copy indeed.
Mr Richman’s note informed me that 18 docents had read the book and offered the following report: “Your book has encouraged us along in our ongoing Gutenberg dialogue. It will help us to showcase in our tours the library’s Bible on display here in Washington, D.C. Thanks for helping us along with our lifelong learning project.”
I imagine that “Gutenberg’s Apprentice,” published in the USA in 2014, has a place in the library’s massive storage shelves as well. But having the story of the making of this amazing book on the minds and lips of those who tell visitors about the Bible feels way more important, somehow. As the Octavo edition notes: “Today the Gutenberg Bible is on permanent display in the Great Hall of the Library, and is seen by about one million visitors each year.”