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Off the shelf 

Though he often deals with book dealers and bookstores, Charles Robinove really acquires books from just about anywhere.

"I have been known to go out on garage sales on Saturday morning, and come back with 3,000 books," he says.

Many walls of his Monument home are lined with shelves packed with volumes of all sizes, subjects and ages. They're the spoils of 30 years Robinove has spent as a connoisseur of all things textual. And much more than simple vessels for science fiction stories or illuminated manuscripts, they themselves represent a history worth preserving and a passion worth promulgating.

"You could pull any book off the shelf," he says, "and I could tell you a story about that book."

A retired geologist, Robinove started seriously collecting and dealing in books as a hobby in 1979. When he moved to Colorado 25 years ago, he wanted to cut the cost of moving, so he sold off half his science fiction titles, which amounted to about 7,000. "But I kept the good stuff," he says.

At the peak of his collecting, Robinove had about 10,000 books, but now he estimates that the number he owns hovers somewhere just above 3,000. He's read most of them. And within his haul are two specific collections: books written by Lin Yutang, his favorite author, and editions of Don Quixote by Cervantes, "the greatest novel ever written," of which he has at least 70 copies in English, French, German, Hebrew and, of course, Spanish.

At this point, the 79-year-old doesn't consider books old "unless they're from before 1700." In fact, his oldest book is a 1555 copy of The Decameron, an influential collection of allegorical tales by Giovanni Boccaccio.

But Robinove swears that you don't need to get hung up on historical significance to become a book collector.

"They don't have to be important, they don't have to be valuable," he says. "Collect them because you like them. Collect them because you want to learn something about them."

And don't worry about e-readers; Robinove feels the subject of his longtime hobby is safe from electronic advances. "They'll have their place," he says, "but they're not going to replace books."

The future of electronic reading, in his opinion, lies in reference books, textbooks and travel. "If I was traveling, I wouldn't want to carry a stack of books," he says. "But other than that, I wouldn't bother with them. If you want something for entertainment, you want something to hold in your hand — get a real book.

"It is a physical artifact — I'm holding a thing, I'm not holding a representation of a thing. It's versatile and it's personal. It just feels good to be able to read a book."

Like his copy of Gulliver's Travels, which was published in 1819, but re-bound in leather with an onlay of the compass rose in the 1960s. Robinove pulls it off the shelf with an almost giddy insistence that he'll only bring out one more. He sits down to tell its story, in no hurry to rush details.

"There's some books that you want to read and some that you want to display," Robinove says, "but this book you want to hold in your hand because it feels so good. It was fairly expensive, I didn't need it, and I couldn't afford it — so here it is."

jenny@csindy.com

  • Local book connoisseur Charles Robinove celebrates the stories behind the stories.

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