Sunday, 18 October 2009

Something Old, Something New...

The Paper House got me thinking... I know that Stuck-in-a-Book readers buy a lot of books, that's a given (yes Mum, Dad, Colin, Dark Puss - you are the exceptions!) but what sort of books do we buy? I'm considering everything about a book except its contents... so, not which authors or genres you buy, but how old are they and (if I may make so bold) how valuable?

In The Paper House, Carlos Brauer is very excited about all sorts of books, but particularly old, valuable ones - and the word 'incunable' seems to be nothing more nor less than magical for him. And, outside of this novel, there seems to be an unwritten rule that to be a book collector, one must seek valuable books - first editions, rare editions, old editions.

Well. I would class myself as a book collector, because I have a collection of books... and I love having my scattered library, and think of the collection as being some sort of whole. It's unlikely that any other individual has owned the exact same books that I do - even the Bodleian doesn't have all the books I have, cos I had to buy one or two of them when they weren't available there. If I weren't a book collector, then surely I wouldn't think of my books with such affection, or be such a completist or completionist or whatever word means I want everything an author wrote to be on my shelves....

But I don't like fancy editions. They scare me a bit. Even though I never scribble in my books, and feel actual physical pain if I see so
meone using a biro in a book, I still don't like the idea of having a book which will loose an enormous amount of value if it falls in the sink. The average value of each of my books is, say, £3... not such an investment issue if I accidentally leave one on a bus.

This all struck me when I was visiting the bookshops in and around Charing Cross Road the other day. Henry Pordes Books was lovely, as was Any Amount of Books - but there are those tiny ones which are hugely imposing to enter. I popped into the ones which looked like they might have books under a grand, and felt like I was being hounded out by the bookseller's eyes... One of the shops had an entire wall dedicated to expensive editions of PG Wodehouse. Now, if any author would have scorned and mocked the rare book business, it is our Pelham Grenville.

What do you think? Is a love of fine, rare, old books part and parcel of loving books (and I'm missing the point) - or is it an entirely different kettle of fish? And howsabout you - new books, old books, raggedy books, pristine books? Or all of the above, with a side helping of books?


  1. All of the above. I'm not picky about the type of book. It's the book itself I'm concerned with. Being in possession of any edition of a book I'm madly in love with the idea of possessing is gift enough for me.

  2. If I want to read a book, I don't particularly care if it's new or old or written in or whatever, as long as it's holding together and doesn't smell. But I do like owning nice (not rare and valuable) editions of favorite books. I'm currently trying to upgrade my editions of some of my favorites. I'm gradually getting Everyman's editions of all the Austens--they look nice and aren't expensive--and I just got a full set of Folio Society Brontes on ebay for a very good price. (Folio Society editions are pretty but too pricy for me to buy new.)

  3. Like Teresa I love having beautiful editions of my favourite books - I like them with pretty bindings. I'll always take an old book in any condition over a new paperback just because I prefer the look and history of old books. I feel exactly the same when I go in the scary small shops down Cecil Court - I don't see the point in being snobby about first editions etc - I happen to have loads of first editions of modern books, but I've bought every one of them from charity shops! I would never seek out a first edition and spend loads of money on them because I know how cheaply they can be found if you are prepared to spend years hunting them down - I can't resist the thrill of the chase!

  4. I am shamelessly unpicky about the quality of most the books I read. I have a penchant for old Fitzgerald editions and L.Frank Baum, but other than that, I'm fine with whatever edition of soft or hardcover.
    May I also mention that I am very jealous you were in shops on Charing Cross Road? I recently read 84, Charing Cross Road and think some of the charm that comes along with hunting down a book is now lost due to ebay and that sort of thing.

  5. I like "a good, clean copy" other than that, unless the illustrations are something special, it's the content that interests me rather than the form.--Joy

  6. I am not too interested in rare or expensive books. For the most part I like to own reading copies. But that doesn't keep me from acquiring books that are unique and special for reasons other than their market value. Or sometimes just because the cover has aesthetic appeal. Even then, however, I still stick to books I actually want to read or have already read and liked. I love them as possessions but the contents still have to appeal to me.

    My other half has a bit of a penchant for antiquarian books that look nice. But I discourage him from getting those for me since I have little interest. He did, however, get me a fabulous limited edition of Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, one of my favorite authors, with illustrations by Grant Wood, one of my favorite American artists. That book is spectacular and I treasure it.

    But, for the most part I prefer second hand to new or antiquarian.

  7. Oh, and I agree with Rachel, coming across modern firsts in unlikely places (and for little money) is far more fun than going to a dealer.

  8. I do agree with Joy - the uptight Anglosaxon in me does prefer a good clean copy. Grubby/tatty/damaged books are a last resort.

    However here in Australia there is certainly less choice, fewer bookshops, fewer Oxfams, no local Amazon and sometimes I do have to settle for a really tatty copy as this may be the only way I will ever obtain or afford to read the often out of print English 20's and 30's books I so love. Having matching sets, books by one author all from the same publisher etc is just not realistic. (Unless I had a very fat bank account.) For instance I love Barbara Pym and to satisfy my desire to read all of her books I have here a really rag tag line up of different Pym publishers, editions, cleanliness of copies. It would be nice if Australia could be towed a bit closer to England. And of course there is always the 'upgrade' if you find yourself with some spare cash...or the exchange rate is particularly good!

    In another life collecting first editions would be utterly gorgeous, but it would be more of an aesthetic thing and entirely seperate from my book reading needs.

  9. I have a few nice 19th century editions but only because I needed those books for research and they had not been republished. Otherwise I am with Rachel about th thrill of the chase -- I've got a few 20th century 1st editions, several of which I bought in a street market in France for 1 euro each -- goodness knows what they were doing there -- but would never spend a fortune on them or anything else. I really don't mind all that much what state books are in as long as I can read them.

  10. I just like books! As long as they aren't actually falling apart I have no problem with them. I DO love my Folio books - Teresa is right they are pricey, but the 4 a year is my treat to myself, and the price comparative to standard books has come down over the years.
    I have got a few first editions - like Rachel picked up in charity shops or acquired from relatives, but I wouldn't pay silly prices for them. If I want to read a book 10th edition is as good as 1st (and I believe that serious collectors of 1st editions don't read them, as that devalues them. What's the point of a book you cant read?)

  11. I ran across a comment on Tripadvisor by a man who had been on Charing Cross Road and was amazed that he was able to browse through a first edition Dickens...without putting on a pair of white gloves first. I like that.

    When given the choice of copy in a bookshop, I choose the best one. In a second-hand shop I'll take just about anything if I want it badly enough. For me, the value of the book is in the content not the condition.

  12. I do like a nice condition book - whatever its format or edition, and where possible like to have matching sets.
    I admit to loving Folio Soc books though - with the unique illustrations they're works of art as well as lovely things to hold.
    Ultimately though, it's what's on the page that matters.

  13. It's funny I should be reading this post as my ten month old daughter just happened to have pulled one of my favourite hard copy books off the coffee table, not expensive but lots of sentimental value. I caught her just before she was about to tear the jacket off. I love scouring old book stores for classics but won't buy anything I am afraid of damaging.
    I really enjoy your posts and admire your dedication to "Stuck In A Book." You always have something interesting. I am a newbie book blogger. Check out Westcoast Reader at Keep up the great blogging!

  14. I think official book collectors are quite different than reading book collectors are...if that makes any sense. Different goals, different pleasures, and, in the end, different books.
    And I'll take all of the above as well. :)

  15. I somewhat resent the picture you give of our family being one that doesn't acquire books - well, OK maybe not so much fiction as you - but OV keeps adding to the non-fiction library. As for me - I couldn't justify the expense whilst there such things as libraries around.... and now I have full range of the Honey Pot's shelves as payment for my labours... wonderful!(+ your Somerset collection!)
    As for the nature of the books themselves - you witnessed me squirrelling away my multiple copies of Jane and Henry James, when OV wasn't looking, during the Great Library Purge of 09 (He doesn't read these does he? My secret would be out!)
    Remember that 'man does not live by bread alone' kinda suggests that bread is in there somewhere, so don't spend up!

  16. I agree with you - I am not attracted to fancy books and I would say that I accumulated books rather than collected them!

    I simply want to read the words in a book and the only reason I keep books once I've read them is to pass on to friends (as I don't re-read)

    I sell books, so have a lot of expensive ones in the house. I struggle to understand why people spends £100s for a book which is identical in every way to another one, but happens to be a first edition - it is weird to me, but I'm happy to profit from the madness of others!!

  17. I love all books but I do collect first edition Iris Murdoch's - I love hunting them down and as Rachel says you can get things cheaply if you are prepared to spend time looking.

  18. One thing I've recently decided is that I won't ever buy a signed edition of a book that has a living author. There's no meaning to it if there's no experience accompanying it. If I am lucky and meet an author and can get an inscription, then that book gains value for me.

    Would I spend money on a signed edition of a beloved past author? Perhaps in a rare or special situation.

  19. I love beautiful editions of books, but I enjoy hearing about the finds of my friends (one of whom is a Folio Society lover), but I don't make any effort to find first editions. The ones I have are either happy accidents or were inherited.

    Having said that, I spent a happy afternoon last year at Marchpane with a friend. It's a good thing I live so far away - I could go mad with desire in there! Such a wonderful store.

  20. I like my books cheap and cheerfull. Pretty covers are good, but the less expensive and smaller the better,as long as the type is decent. I do have (litrally 2) a couple of books which are valuable but don't feel very comfortable with them. (they weren't valuable when I got them)Collectable books don't invite reading so I don't think they're really for me.

  21. I go for second hand everytime. When it comes to covers, it's not quality...


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