Friday, August 31, 2012

Reading Writing and Collecting Books

Reading Writing and Collecting Books

My favorite bookstore, I Love a Mystery, has gone out of business. I was tempted to say for good but there is nothing good about it.  It teetered on the razor’s edge of disappearing once before and, after a hiatus, it sprang back to life. I don’t think that will happen again. 

The staff has been wonderfully supportive of me as a writer and I want to thank them all.  The store has been home to Sisters in Crime Border Crimes chapter, which has been a great resource and a fun group to attend.  It has sponsored authors’ signings for many talented writers promoting new books.   I’ve had the chance to hear authors I admire. Along with many other patons, I will miss the store and the staff.

With the store going out of business and putting its stock on sale, I found myself looking at the books through three sets of lenses, i.e., as a reader, as a writer and as a collector.  As a reader, I wanted to pick up volumes from authors I enjoy, I wanted to try out authors I have only heard about and I wanted to audition authors I don’t know at all. Unfortunately, not having a store of my own, I could not buy the entire stock.

Being a writer I wanted to buy books from authors with skill sets I can study. Sue Grafton’s characters are deftly drawn.  Ann Perry calls the past to life. Carl Hiaasen writes with surrealistic passion. Lee Child never lets up in pacing. Nancy Pickard draws the reader in from the opening paragraph. Scott Turow, and John Lescroart make we wish I had been a lawyer. Carolyn Hart and Adrian McKinty show how the craft of writing can rise to an art form. 

The most difficult point of view for me was to evaluate books as a collector.  First edition, first printing books are the usually the most collectable, especially when signed by the author.  But indicators that a book is a first edition and first printing vary between publishers and some publishers have changed over time how they designate edition and print run number.  Some book have preorders that exceed the initial print run so there may be a second print run for books before the release date.  A book initially published by one publisher may have a second first edition when printed by a second publisher. 

Like with coins, stamps and historic weapons, condition of an item is very important and hard for the non-professional to judge.  What a professional buyer will pay for a book is a percentage of what he or she will sell it for.  How long it will probably take for re-sale, storage cost, upkeep and profit margin all lower the how much a professional will shell out for a book. 

Rare books are not necessarily valuable books.  If I type and print out one copy of pages nineteen through thirty of the phone book, I will have a very rare document. However, due to the lack of demand, the document would be worth less than the value of the paper it is printed on. 

Putting the owner’s name on the flyleaf, an author’s endorsement to a specific person (unless that person is famous), torn or faded covers, shelf wear, clipping off the price, or any other “imperfection” reduces the desirability of a book.  As a collector, one of the worst things you can do is to read the pristine book you just bought. Don’t even think about snacking or drinking coffee while reading.

In my role as a reader and a writer I have read beloved books until they fell apart. I have folded pages, underlined passages, spilled on pages and even (shudder) loaned books out to others.  Needless to say, my collector lens constantly needs polishing.

Note: I will be on vacation when this blog comes out so I may not respond to comments but I will read them.


  1. I can understand wanting to buy the entire stock, as a reader and a writer. But I've never focused on collecting, mainly because most of the finer points of collecting aren't on the writing. A book's collectible value is usually determined not only by the writer's skill, but the publishing data and materials used. I don't pay attention to that. The books that are still on my bookshelf are those that changed me, taught me and I've loved--for the writing, not the monetary value. But, if for that aspect alone, print books are still published--great!

  2. Warren, excellent discussion of collecting books versus buying them to read. I'm not a book collector (though my book-clogged house would beg to differ). Like Elaine, the value of a book for me is the writing with the added value of knowing and liking the writer. Over the years, I have come to be friends with an astonishing array of writers.

    As a publisher, my husband is more in tune with your collector's view. Anymore, the first thing he does with a new book is weigh how well it's designed, what level of quality is involved in the cover or dust jacket, the weight and quality of the paper pages inside. He's become much more concerned with book-as-object since he's been involved as a maker of books.

  3. I can go through a clothing store or just about any other kind of store and not be tempted to buy anything. (Well maybe not at garden centers) Not so a book store or a book sale. My criteria for buying is much like yours, Warren; an author I like, someone new I've heard about and would like to try, or an interesting blurb on the back and a good first page.

    One of my fantasies if I win the lottery - never mind that I rarely buy even a $1.00 ticket - is to open an independent bookstore. I don't want to run one, but I want to have some say in how it's run and how it's stocked. I miss the indie book stores.

    My brother-in-law is an astute collector of books and knows what he's doing. One of his interests is buying and selling books as well as collecting them He has even more books than I do and that means an incredible amount of books. My brother used to be first in line at library sales and then gradually sneak bags of books in the house when it was wife wasn't looking. We're a family of readers and lovers of books.