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Collecting Rare Books and First Editions - OenoLit and The Private Library

Given that the first book printed from moveable type in Western Europe, the Gutenberg Bible, contains numerous references to wine, and given that the technology for printing that first book may itself have been modeled upon the screw press used to extract wine from grapes, this writer has always found it puzzling that the cultivation, processing, distribution and consumption of wine is rarely a major thematic element in works of fiction.
Published on 24 Sept. 2018
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By L.D. Mitchell


Given that the first book printed from moveable type in Western Europe, the Gutenberg Bible, contains numerous references to wine, and given that the technology for printing that first book may itself have been modeled upon the screw press used to extract wine from grapes, this writer has always found it puzzling that the cultivation, processing, distribution and consumption of wine is rarely a major thematic element in works of fiction.

(I should note that this post is concerned only with wine made from grapes, and the fiction associated with same. For a more encompassing view of wine -- including rice wine -- visit Cerebral Boinkfest. In the absence of a better signifier -- VinoLit having already been spoken for by Mike Madigan's YouTube show -- I have coined the term OenoLit to refer to all such fiction.)

The non-fiction titles that have been penned about such matters constitute an enormous body of literature. In fact, many such works were among the earliest titles printed in Western Europe.

These non-fiction titles cover virtually every aspect of the world of wine, and range from the virtually non-collectable (unless you have very deep pockets) to the mostly virtual (and inexpensive). [The 1495 German edition of Crescenzi's Opus ruralium commodorum is via Washington University:)

The above notwithstanding, fictional depictions of the world of vineyards and wineries and oenophiles represent but a teeny, tiny part of the literary largess.

(Poetry has celebrated "all things oeno" for thousands of years. The poem below, for example, was penned by China's renowned Song Dynasty poet Su Shi in the 11th century CE. It (and many similar examples) can be seen at Ridge Vineyards' excellent blog, 4488:

I raise my cup and invite
The moon to come down from the
Sky. I hope she will accept
Me. I raise my cup and ask
The branches, heavy with flowers,
To drink with me. I wish them
Long life and promise never
To pick them. In company
With the moon and the flowers,
I get drunk, and none of us
Ever worries about good
Or bad. How many people
Can comprehend our joy? I
Have wine and moon and flowers.

Who else do I want for drinking companions?
Numerous poetic traditions celebrate the world of wine, and many of these traditions pre-date (by several centuries) the advent of the printed book.

Admittedly, folks have been composing poetry a lot longer than they have been composing prose works like novels, novellas and short stories. Even so, a recent search on OCLC using variations of keywords like "wine fiction" reveals a mere handful of titles (at most, a few hundred) wherein the world of wine is a major thematic element.

Fortunately for the average book collector, much of this fiction is genre fiction -- often by well-known writers -- which means that it is both readily available and (perhaps more important) affordable.

Because the cultivation, processing, distribution and consumption of wine often requires, and attracts, a substantial amount of money, it probably comes as no surprise that much OenoLit is focused on murder and mayhem:

Only occasionally does OenoLit attract the attention of the general public, most typically when an OenoLit title gets turned into a movie. For the most part, OenoLit seems to be appreciated only by the rare book collector who specializes in this type of fiction (or who includes such fiction as part of a more encompassing selection of literature about the noble grape and its lesser siblings:)

Like other food- and drink-themed fiction -- e.g., ChocoLit and Coffeehouse Mysteries -- it appears that the publishing potential of OenoLit has yet to be fully realized....

For many years L.D. Mitchell's blog The Private Library showed collectors that it is possible to build a collection without the benefit of much money. He published numerous articles on every imaginable subject of book collecting, he wrote about the most beautiful, the most important, the most common, the most attractive, the most unusual, the most interesting, the most extraordinary, the most amazing ... books one could read, buy, collect and simply enjoy. The Private Library has become an irreplaceable resource for all booklovers. Since April 2012, it is a static archive. L. D. Mitchell will no longer post new original content. ILAB is very grateful that he has given permission to publish some of his best articles and collecting tips from The Private Library on the ILAB website. Thank you very much, L.D.
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