Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World

“The idea that books had stories associated with them that had nothing to do with the stories inside them was new to us. We had always valued the history, the world of ideas contained between the covers of a book or, as in the case of The Night Visitor, some special personal significance. Now, for the first time, we began to appreciate that there was a history and a world of ideas embodied by the books themselves.”

A few months ago I read and thoroughly enjoyed Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone’s Slightly Chipped, which weaves anecdotes of their book collecting experience with stories about authors, their books, and the art of collecting them. Feeling the need for some nonfiction I turned to their first book, Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World.

Here the couple, lifelong literature lovers, share their gradual introduction the world of collecting. It begins with the shift from new books to those at used stores, then the friendly lessons from those around them on topics such as first editions, dust jackets, and points of issue. They share the first time they paid more than ten dollars for a used book, and their shock the first time they paid more than a hundred. Most importantly, though, they share the true value of books through personal experience.

The Goldstones are appealing to me primarily because they view books as treasures rather than commodities. A nineteenth century Dickens volume is meaningful because of the artistry of the binding, and the history of all the people it has been passed though. But a beat-up short story collection they first read at an inn while on vacation has worth too, because of the personal memories. In the end, their ultimate goal is a physical book they can love just as much as the words inside.

Personally I don’t collect valuable books (mostly for financial reasons), even though I love reading about them and I love old books in general. But already knowing some of the “facts” about collecting in no way lessened my enjoyment; the knowledge is shared a little at a time and mostly through examples. In some ways this makes reading Used and Rare a vicarious experience. As the Goldstones describe all the unique books they have seen in others’ collections, like the copy of Davenant’s works Melville annotated when writing Moby Dick, it’s almost as if we too are witnessing these volumes.

I loved all the trivia the Goldstones share about various books and authors, and kept bookmarking things to mention. For example, to this day (or at least 1995) no one knows the true identity of B. Traven, who wrote The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Fitzgerald added the famous billboard to The Great Gatsby only after seeing the cover proof, and dictated that that image should appear on every single edition of the book. Edith Wharton was once a more popular author with book clubs than Jane Austen. (If that had stayed true, would we now have House of Mirth and Zombies…?) And influential horror writer H.P. Lovecraft had virtually no one interested in his work until after he died. (Lovecraft was mentioned in a SAT passage where I tutor, and I was pleased to find out more about him here).

I believe the Goldstones have written at least one more volume on book collecting, but as much as I look forward to it I’ll savor it more if I wait a bit.

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Published in: on October 7, 2009 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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