The hunting season that never ends
Lots of people have lots of different reasons for visiting Printed Page -- or any other used or antiquarian bookstore, for that matter. Some are just looking for a copy of a book they want to read. Others seek the thrill that comes with finding something they never thought they'd find, or finding something valuable for a fraction of its worth. Truth be known, if you twisted booksellers' arms, they'd tell you that the the most fun they have in the bookselling business is not the selling of books, but rather the excitement of the hunt in finding them.
And, like the fisherman who's landed a lunker or the hunter who's bagged a 10-point deer, booksellers like to brag about their triumphs. There's quite a bit of that in a fun new book by Rebecca Rego Barry, "Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Fiends in Unlikely Places." Barry is the editor of Fine Books and Collections magazine.
She occasionally cites the words of a character from Larry McMurtry's novel, "Cadillac Jack," that "anything is anywhere." Fantastic books can be found in the usual places -- book stores, library sales, flea-markets -- but they are also found in dumpsters, basements, online and in dear-departed Uncle Walter's closet.
We asked Rebecca about how much of book-collecting is fueled by the adrenaline rush of finding something special. She said, "I suspect that getting a bargain of any kind gives you a zing, but I wonder if, in books, it's more of a smoldering feeling. Because you see the volume -- at an estate sale or a thrift shop or wherever -- and you pause, you consider, you wonder if it's really the book you think it is. Then, if you splurge on it, you take it home for a closer look. Only then do you know if you have what you think you have! So many of those I interviewed for my book told me it was having that happen just once in a while that kept them in the game."
As with fishing or hunting, luck alone isn't enough. Success hunting books also means knowing a little more than the next guy -- and Barry's book (and our experience) bears this out. Knowing how to identify a first edition, knowing that the books of an obscure author (like our new favorite, Jim Tully) are highly collectible, thoroughly knowing your own specialty -- those are the things that lead to great finds and great stories. One bookseller we know referred to bookscouting as "urban fishing." As with fishing, you need BOTH luck and skill.
We'd love to hear your story of a great book find. And we're happy to tell you ours!