Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Adventures in the book world

There are books that tell readers how to go about collecting rare books, but Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone's Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World shows you how to do it. The disadvantage is that there is no index at the end to help one later find specific information, but the advantage is that you can follow along as two complete novices find their way into the somewhat exclusive world of book collectors.

How exclusive is it? The Goldstones tell us about about dealers who don't have signs on their doors, often because they operate their businesses out of their own homes, or who want to know how you found them, never mind that their numbers and addresses are in the phone book. The couple makes repeated visits to one bookshop and each time are denied access to the rare book room with one lame excuse or another. The authors name names, both those of the businesses and the people who work there. If names were changed to protect the guilty, we are not told.

The Goldstones convey information while at the same telling interesting, often humorous, stories about their travels from their Connecticut home to shops in surrounding states. They describe book auctions, conversations with dealers, both the helpful and unhelpful ones, and answer questions, like how does one tell if a book is really a first edition, that other beginning collectors are going to ask.

Unlike many collectors, the Goldstones are interested mainly in books they want to read or have read and want attractive copies on their shelves. They lack the resources to spend thousands of dollars on a single rare book, yet still want to build a collection that will be valuable to them. "The more we thought about it," they conclude, "the more we came back to our original view. You don't really need first editions at all. They are just affectations, excuses for dealers to run up the price on you, charge you a lot of money for something that doesn't read any better than any other edition."

As enjoyable as Used and Rare is, it can be annoying at times, as when these two people seem to think with a single mind. We find the sentence, "'We have this in paperback, but these stories are terrific,' one of us commented to the other." These writers have the ability to repeat entire conversations word for word, but they can't remember which of them made that statement? I don't mind that the Goldstones never argue, but do they always want to buy the same books and are they always willing to pay the same price? One gets the impression that one of these two people isn't really necessary. Or maybe hiring the babysitter wasn't really necessary. One of them could have just stayed home.

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