Review of ‘The Bibliomaniacs: Tales from a Tel Aviv Bookseller’
Down an alleyway on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv there is a bookstore described as “probably the biggest collection of used English books in the country”. This very real bookstore, opened in 1991, is the setting for the short stories of The Bibliomaniacs: Tales from a Tel Aviv Bookseller by J.C. Halper (Locus Publishing House, December 2022).
“One hears a lot of stories in a place where stories are sold,” the protagonist of the collection says in the opening story. “I am often a good listener and encourage people, especially paying customers.” This storyteller, an undisguised characterization of the author, is intrigued by stories of bibliomania, the obsessive-compulsive urge to hoard books, and these are the stories he shares with visitors to his fictional, based-on-fact, bookstore.
His customers include Kenny Gold, an American-born Paratroopers veteran working at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. About to participate in the Jerusalem Marathon, Gold is called away at the last minute to handle a private task for his boss, Minister Moshe Sulimani. Angry after being assigned to send out the Bar Mitzvah invitations for Yaron, his boss’s son, he instead papercuts them into snowflakes and flowers. Gold is saved from being sacked when the minister runs into personal problems of his own.
Sulimani and his son appear in another of the book’s stories. Yaron escapes his father’s political misconducts by changing his last name to Solan. After writing a book of poetry and a novella that was praised in Haaretz but mocked by his infamous father, Yaron takes refuge in a Bedouin encampment in the Negev. “Another shameful scandal for the Sulimanis,” the tabloid headlines scream.
Hanan Meir, a famous writer, visits the bookstore on a monthly basis in search of books he himself has written, questioning why books he had inscribed or dedicated to readers had ended up in second-hand bookstores. Meir mentions meeting a professor, a frequent bookstore customer who had been caught pilfering valuable British Mandate period literature collectibles. “Murder, I would even murder to get a book I must have,” the professor declares.
Customers to the fictional bookstore in The Bibliomaniacs, or to the very real bookstore on Tel Aviv’s Allenby Street, probably won’t kill anyone for books, but they will find genuine value in the “book gossip” told in the short stories of this highly enjoyable collection.
J. C. Halper was born in Newark and raised in Springfield, New Jersey. He studied history at George Washington University and at Yeshiva University. He moved to Israel in 1983 and was soon drafted into the Infantry. He opened his bookstore on Allenby Street in downtown Tel Aviv in 1991. When not buying and selling books, he tries to read them.