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The library of Babel

Edusp launches a box with two richly illustrated volumes of books by José and Guita Mindlin

ReproductionJuan Miró illustrates Parler seul: poeme, a book by Tristan TzaraReproduction

Not even Ceci loved Peri so much: for 20 years the book lover and ex-industrialist José Mindlin hunted down a first edition of O guarani , by José de Alencar, published in 1857. During the decade of the 1960s, a mysterious Greek offered the book to his friends for US$ 1,000, but to the despair of Mindlin, nobody remembered to tell him about it. Ten years later he requested a London book store to buy an original copy in a sale, but the English firm, believing the book to be too expensive, lost the bid. In the end, in Paris he ended up buying, for a price much higher than the previous ones, the object of his desire. During the flight back home, he slept and let the book fall onto the airplane’s carpet and only became aware of his loss on disembarking. For three days the airline company looked for Peri e Ceci and they found it in Buenos Aires and brought it back to the collector. Napping apart, one cannot accuse the entrepreneur of being undisciplined when the question is books. Yet, the owner of more than 30,000 examples, this son of a Russian immigrant and his wife, Guita (in love with him and his mania), named his prodigious collection that of the Undisciplined Library of Guita and José Mindlin, whose ex-household phrase symptomatically is “Don’t do anything without joy.”

Now he has decided to share his “mild madness” with all readers by way of two beautiful volumes that take as their title the baptismal name of his library, edited in a partnership between FAPESP,  Edusp and the National Library Foundation. Highlights of the Undisciplined Library of Guita and José Mindlin is a visual pleasure, especially the first volume, dedicated to Brasiliana, one of the prides of the Paulista book lover, with the first editions of Orbas (sic) of Claudio Manoel da Costa, of O Uraguay  by Basílio da Gama, the Marilia de Dirceo from 1810, the Phalenas by Machado de Assis, with a dedication by the author, a charm also present in the original editions of Paulicea desvairada by Mário de Andrade, among others. The box with a selection from the Mindlin library even brings the Crônica de Nuremberg from 1493, the Poema em louvor de Santa Cruz, from the 9th century, as well as illustrated works by Miró, Di Cavalcanti, Chagall etc. “It was difficult to make a selection, as books have life and their very own language, in spite of their immobile appearance, and practically all of them, just like rare documents, considered themselves as having the right to be chosen” related book lover Mindlin. In the end, his motto was of value. “The library was not planned. It was growing to the taste of our interests, mine and Guita’s, having as its main objective the reading, and not the desire of collecting. Hence the indiscipline, but relative, since it entered whenever I’m trying to buy works that don’t fit into pigeon holes defined by me” he explained. Finally, as he likes to remember: “The books were made for people and not the idea that people were made for the books.”

The phrase, indeed, almost has a twin sister: “We look for the book and the book looks for us.” Book lover Mindlin underlined that it is the pleasure, not the coveting, that moves him and makes him spend a small fortune to take away a volume to live on his bookshelf (so many that they obliged him to rent another house to guard them as they could not all fit into his home). “There’s a mysterious link between the hunter and the hunted, as if an affinity were to create the attraction of one to the other, in such a manner that the example anxiously sought after during years ends up one day placing itself deliberately in the pathway of whoever’s looking for it” observed his friend Antonio Candido. “Thus, after being brought together, the books appear to form a society with its own life, endowed with coherence that goes on obliging the amateur to follow his line of force. For this reason, said book lover Mindlin, his library kept growing for itself.”

It grew to such a formidable size that various foreign institutions attempted to purchase it from the couple. But they preferred to leave part of the archive, of around 10,000 volumes of Brasiliana, to the University of Sao Paulo, which will dedicate land of 10,000 square meters, with all of the conservation technology necessary, on its campus, to erect a library starting from the donated material. For example, students and researchers will have access to the História geral do Brazil, by Varnhagen, from 1876, or the Viagens de Hans Staden, in an edition dated 1557 (present in the recently launched books).

Has he read them all? “The physical contact with the book is already something pleasurable. If I were to have read all of them in my library, I would have needed at least 300 years and,  even at that, it wouldn’t have helped much. During this time new books would’ve come up and I’d have needed another 300 years” he stated. This passion (“I joke that there is in my love for books a pathological content, but it is a pathology that makes me feel good, although it is incurable” he jested) was born early. An assiduous reader of the Tico-Tico magazine (of which he possesses an almost complete collection), at 13 years of age,  Mindlin bought his first important book, the Discurso sobre a história universal, by Bossuet, in a Portuguese edition of the 18th century. The virus had been inoculated. Today his library of works concerning Brazil is considered larger and better than that of the National Library of Rio de Janeiro.

Metal Leve
Mindlin was a reporter with the O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper for 15 years, he studied law at the Largo Sao Francisco Faculty (where he met Guita, with whom he married in 1938 and who is the official book binder of her husband’s collection.), practiced law for 15 years, defending European immigrants who wanted to enter Brazil during the New State and, in 1950, became an entrepreneur. Some clients approached him to re-write a contract of a limited company for a German pistons factory, but they pulled out of the business, which interested the lawyer. With other partners he mounted and named the company Metal Leve (Light Metal), because of aluminum, the products’ raw material. Com JK and the development boom, the company transformed itself into a powerhouse in the sector of auto parts and reached the level of 6,000 employees. The owner, nonetheless, had not the faintest idea of what was being produced, with his head in books and far from mechanics. In 1996 he sold his shares. Without shame about his technical “ignorance”, he requested that his sons give him the following epitaph: “José Mindlin. Manufactured pistons the greater part of his life, without knowing what they were.” He preferred and prefers to read. He reads between 80 and 100 books per year, including re-reads. The volume only grows, as can be seen in Destaques da Biblioteca InDisciplinada, full of recent ancient treasures. “Money people can recover, but a rare book no.”

A fine motto of a collector who sees such beauty in covers, spines and the words of his volumes. “The book transmits thought, brings emotions, stimulates the imagination and the dream, permits our day to day living to transform itself into a world full of enchantments and seductions, giving to life an intellectual and spiritual sentiment of priceless worth” he advised. Such a love cannot be seen in just any old place. Like that of Ceci for Peri, this is something noble of books. Like these ones.