I’m an unapologetic packrat. So, a few years ago, I decided to resolve that problem by stipulating in my will that my executor get rid of all my stuff at an estate sale. It’s a form of recycling and nobody who cares about me or my stuff will have to sort through it and figure it out. Don’t worry for them, the potassium cyanide is clearly labelled.
Back in the 1990s I had a huge house and a gigantic library occupying the space over a 3-car garage. It was completely full of book cases, and had 2 comfy chairs, a sideboard with vintage port, nuts, and a coffee machine with a refrigerator and half and half. I won’t say my life was perfect, at that time (in fact it was a very unhappy and upset life) but I was profoundly appreciative of my great good luck and took full advantage of it. Je ne regrette rien.
I think it was reading Perez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas,[wc] which is about book collectors and how obsessed they get, and it occurred to me that I could collect a few books. I started to scour Ebay for 1st editions of my favorites. It’s been a habit ever since. And, like the characters in The Club Dumas I have my stories of “the big one that got away” and my regrets that I bought a big house instead of a big pile of books (but then I’d have noplace to put them). When I moved to the farm in 2002, I unloaded nearly a semitrailer-load of books on local libraries. My small library here is the distillation (and the beautiful oak bookcases) of the best of my collection. I have the top of one case devoted to my special books – my Voltaire encyclopedia, Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, a fair edition of Rousseau, a signed copy of The Phantom
Toolbooth Tollbooth, a publisher’s review pre-print of 1984 and the US Army War College’s first mimeographed translation of Mao on Guerilla Warfare. That sounds really tony, but it’s not: most of these books were acquired on the cheap, through patience and mastering Ebay’s search engine (hint: you can search for “book, 1st, buy it now” and just load up titles) A lot of these are books that show up and I snap them up before anyone else even realizes they are gone. Ebay’s odd: nobody will forge a book at those prices, scammers stay toward laptops and iPhones, and less well-known writers (e.g.: Voltaire) (no, really, no shit) crop up with ridiculously low prices, often. I paid $19 for my 1st edition of Voltaire’s Encyclopedie – it cost more to ship them. The edition of Paine was $175. I kid you not, I have seen autographed 1sts by Steven King fetch much more than Voltaire. Horreur!
Sometimes the book you want is rare in a 1st edition, and collectible. Then you content yourself with not having it and letting some 1% of the 1% have it. A few years ago Histoire D’O – 1st edition – showed up for $45,000. Then there was the signed edition of Nabokov’s Pale Fire that sold for $16,000. And the signed 1st of Mark Twain’s Eve’s Diary that went for $4,500 while I was in transit home from the Persian Gulf.
Anyhow, I was looking at Voyager’s book cover series over at Affinity, and having fond thoughts about some editions of Crowley (Crowley is eminently affordable and giftable) and I punched in a search for Baudelaire’s Fleur Du Mal. Ow.
I will not be bidding on this. But, damn. That’s close as I come to a “holy object”! Writers like Alfred Jarry and Baudelaire did not do large editions, and they are instantly rare and collectible.
About 10 years ago I discovered that one’s death is one’s final performance and the manner of it can have a tremendous impact on others. I don’t plan to die soon but I do dangerous things with chemicals and propane and machine tools and I drive a lot in deer country – it might happen. Anyway, I am not sure if it’d be interesting to you all if I post a few things about my process for clearing the decks when the wheels fall of the crazy train that is me. I feel like I am already self-referential enough, I worry about getting too much into the weeds of myself. But, I promise you I will never go so far as to post “sex wanted” ads here. So there’s that.
If you like detective fiction with exquisite English, I recommend the Perez Reverte book. [wc] His books are consistently good and you are likely to enjoy any of them you pick up, but The Club Dumas and The Flanders Panel are something you can completely lose yourself in. “5 stars”
Here’s another story by me about books [stderr] if you want a true white-knuckled tale of bibliophilia.
I noticed that queen Elizabeth gave Trump a copy of Churchill’s history of WWII. That’ll be a nice addition for the Trump presidential library. Right now I am picturing a gaudy gold-covered ticky tack hotel room with a portrait of Trump screwing Stormy Daniels, by Jeff Koons, and a book-case with a single, lonely, book on it.
johnson catman says
He would probably include that “Forbes” magazine that Stormy used to spank him, and maybe that fake “Time” magazine with him on the cover.
Dunno, that doesn’t sound too practical.
Have you checked your mailbox yet (still not time to get worried, but sometimes I do anyway)?
I would love to be a professional bibliophile, but alas, those kinds of funds do not grow on trees and I’m not cutthroat enough to acquire those funds by other means. I content myself with buying new, enjoying the good and discarding the bad, and making sure the bookshelves have the best ones available for that day in the future when the kids decide to look beyond the internet.
Giving Trump a book is like giving Stevie Wonder a fishtank.
Y’know, the Royal Family isn’t good for much. But one thing they do really, really well is insult other heads of state. Not in ways that start wars, not even in ways to which said HoS can easily respond in kind, but instead in ways so subtle and underhanded that all you can do is think “ooh, burn” and be glad you have nothing to do with those people in real life, because their dinner parties must SUCK.
Make no mistake, giving Donald Trump a book as a gift is an insult.
And best of all, it’s an insult that Trump won’t even realise is one, even if someone tells him so to his face in short words. You can’t cram the idea of that kind of subtlety into a worldview like his.
Marcus Ranum says
Trump would like the Baudelaire – it has pictures.
What about giving Stevie Wonder a musiquarium?
A booth that holds phantom tools sounds eminently practical. Just think: a hammer that is physical enough to hit nails but swishes right through your thumb; a saw that only cuts wood but has no effect on flesh; locking pliers that can never give a nasty pinch to actual skin. It would be brilliant and safe!
But maybe the problem is that the booth itself disappears at inconvenient times, just when you need a phantom left-handed monkey wrench. Dang.
Marcus Ranum says
It’s a really weird but playful surrealistic children’s book that I loved as a child.
Phantom tools would be great! Especially the selective saw. What’d be cool would be a selective sword that doesn’t hurt people, it merely chops up their clothes and whatever they are carrying, “touche!” (your opponent is pantsed)
[Edit: Oh! I see, Tpyos took control of my keyboard and made me spell that wrong. Thanks – and fixed]
Yeah, it’s Phantom Toolbooth, not Phantomtool Booth. :( I like your interpretation much better. Very practical!
The name of the book, “Les fleurs du mal”, reminds me of Caine, but the book itself I probably would not value much. I learned about it at school and thus I know It is poetry. And about 99% poetry that I have ever met is completely incomprehensible gibberish to me or at the best a very convoluted way of saying very simple things. Usually, the only emotion poetry invokes in me is very intensive befuddlement.
I do have a modest library, though. Over 500 books on the last count, although I did not read all of them, because I inherited some and never got interested in reading them. But I can confidently say that I have read most.
Unfortunately a few years ago I stopped reading books and from my usual 1-3 books per month I went down to 1 book per year at the most. I am unsure why it is so, but I have trouble concentrating on reading these last few years.
So, you collect rare books? Do you also solve crimes alongside your faithful “gentleman’s gentleman”? Or do you maybe spend about five novels pursuing the reluctant woman of your dreams who you saved from a false murder accusation but now won’t marry you because reasons?
What’d be cool would be a selective sword that doesn’t hurt people, it merely chops up their clothes and whatever they are carrying, “touche!” (your opponent is pantsed)
In the remarkably good Twenty Palaces series by Harry Connolly, a “ghost knife” is a specific spell reified into a physical object which acts like such a selective sword. That is, it will slice neatly through any physical object, and pass through any living thing without physical effect. It does have a spiritual effect, though: a ghost knife cuts through ghosts, including the ones that haven’t died yet.
I recommend all of Harry’s books.
I know this is silly, but I stil mourn the carved chinese chess set. I inherited an ivory puzzle ball and the idea of a whole chess set of them really captured my imagination.
Jazzlet @13: My great aunt had one of those puzzle balls, which amazed and fascinated me. I have no idea what happened to it when she died.
John Morales says
Well, the contents matter more to me than the specific medium, and of a given class of medium, good quality and durability matters more to me than its form or decoration.
Essentially, if information is the thing, if the actual text is the thing, then a first edition is no different to a latter edition unless it’s been corrupted.
(Obs, signatures are an irrelevance, they add nothing to the content)
BTW, this comment is more a response to the post title than anything else, but it refers to the subject at hand.
John Morales says
Arguably, a latter edition with updates and corrections is superior and thus preferable to an earlier unimproved edition of a work.
(The binding may not be as fine, I grant, but I’m more concerned with the content than the medium, as I noted)
“Arguably, a latter edition with updates and corrections is superior”
Not necessarily. Han shot first.
John Morales says
Dunc, clearly not, to collectors. And to such as you, apparently.
Marcus Ranum says
John Morales – are there data collectors? Other than specific attempts to make a certain piece of data scarce (control information) once it has been accessed it can be copied nearly infinitely. It does not seem to have unique value.
Books and scrolls – not USB sticks – are artworks to some of us, and have value in those terms. I guess that’s also a scarcity play: a Shakespeare folio is rare and unique and valuable whereas a used copy of a popular novel is less valuable than a new copy of the same book. The author’s signature is also (presumably) rare, again a scarcity value proposition.
Andreas Avester says
Some books (in general, the older ones) are very pretty and I see them as artworks. Such beautiful books would be highly desirable and more valuable for me.
Author’s signature or the simple fact that some book edition is rare, on the other hand, wouldn’t make it more valuable for me. I don’t care about rarity as such, and usually a signature doesn’t have any sentimental value for me.
John Morales says
Yeah, I get that. But, too often, those of you who find art important don’t get those of us who don’t. I mean, I like art and all that, but I surely wouldn’t pay extra for it.
I believe some people would pay $$$ more for an item that is to them indistinguishable from another, so long as they are assured it is an original and not a copy. Weird thinking, methinks.
(Something to do with monkey-status, I think)
I think beautiful, old books are a wonderful type of art. They’re sensual and interactive. You can pick them up and see/touch/smell/hear them. Provenance and rarity add appeal for me because they tickle my imagination and connect me to a larger experience and a different time. It isn’t about status. It’s about a personal experience. The book itself becomes an objet d’art.
Most of my books are ordinary editions bought to read, but I do have several old books that I’ve inherited and I treasure them.
John Morales says
[just gotta say it]
… books and scrolls and incunabula.
(Beautiful word, plural of incunabulum. Me, I am bereft of such, alas)
That’s all well and good, but is it labelled “Potassium cyanide” or “KCN” or “Poison! Do not ingest!”? The first two are technically more accurate, but the last one is probably more likely to actually help a random person.