Sunday, August 14, 2011


There is something about a collector you want to stay away from. I know, I’m one of them. That could be why I have no friends.

Collectors tend to make a fetish of things. They have a heightened sense of the acquisitive as if the next find will confer a power or godliness. And we know what the good book said about worshiping idols. Actually I gave it all up years back and I don’t recall having any golden calves.

I do remember the strange array of collectible items and the odd people that sought them out. Some folks kept an eagle eye for orange juice squeezers or Bakelite baubles. I would never stoop so low. But I did have a thing for whirligigs and presidential buttons. Peggy tracked down early mechanical pencils and old postcards. There is something about old paper, be they play bills, Civil War letters or Polish movie posters.

Our most avid object of desire, beside each other, was for signed, first editions of literary fiction. Crawling around musty, dusty bookshops had a noble ring to it, in my mind. It was the hunt that got us. We loved to brake for bookstores particularly in our travels. Back then second-hand bookstores were as common place as frozen yogurt shops. There was a distinct pleasure coming across an author whose work we admired whose name had not yet become a household word. We would also show up at book fairs and signings competing with other obsessive hunter/gatherers of the written word.

If we valued an author, we wanted everything he/she ever wrote. Their early books, with a small printing were much to be prized. We soon learned that a book was only as valuable as its jacket. To stumble upon a Virginia Woolfe or Fitzgerald first edition with a pristine dust jacket would have been enough to retire on. It never quite happened but we do have a few very special volumes including a signed Joseph Conrad, early Wallace Stevens and the complete works of William Trevor.

Even signed firsts had to be un-marked and not inscribed; only the author’s name signed under his printed name with a line through it would be worthy of a serious collector. If the price on the inside jacket is clipped or a page defaced with wormhole or pencil it is so noted and called, else fine.

Now the hunt is all behind us. Computers have taken away the labor and joy of discovery. We put away our maps and pith helmet. No longer is there a need to thrash through jungles of shelves and stacks. One need only go to the Amazon or ABE website and click.

We were crazed readers as well as driven collectors. We read what we owned. If we were possessed with our possessions so be it. There is a particular pleasure in rediscovering a book unopened for many years, in its physicality; the endpaper, deckled-edge pages, the flourishing font of chapter beginnings and cloth binding none of which Kindle can offer. And then there’s the satisfaction of feeling the weight of a book on my chest as I nod off.
Go find an author to sign a Kindle.

No comments:

Post a Comment