Without consulting the database, I can safely say I have about 1650 real paper books stashed here in the house. It’s an approximately equal division between what I’ve read and what remains in the to be read stack. By the time you pass 800 volumes, calling it a to be read “pile” feels somehow dishonest.
I pulled my copy of Flight of the Intruder by Stephen Coonts off the stack last night. Second edition. Nice clean jacket. And for some reason a strongly penned “x” right there on the half-title page. It’s the kind of thing that makes me wonder what the previous owner was thinking when he did it.
With a handful of exceptions, I don’t tend to have pristine first editions that look precisely as they did when published. I’ve got loads of firsts. Most of them show various and sundry problems. Creased jackets. Bumped boards. Maybe even a bit of water staining for some of the harder to find books. Even so, they’re delightful objects, but often the $20 version of a $200 true first in “like new” condition.
Sometimes I have to remind myself I’m not building a showpiece. I’m building with the intent of actually reading what ends up on my shelves. A library to be used and not just observed. More power to the people who put those together. I don’t have the budget to justify being a collector at that level. A bunch of near fines that I’m not afraid to touch is my sweet spot.
At best I’ve got 25-30 books that should fetch enough to make it worth hauling all the rest away when the time comes. If you’re not approaching the semi-professional or elite levels of collecting, having the whole thing pay for itself is probably just about as good a return as one can reasonably expect – especially when most of my high points have come out of the $2 bin. rather than an auction catalog. I’m sure I still have a few big scores left in me as I paw through thrift shops, charity sales, and the occasional proper antiquarian bookshop if they have something I can’t resist even at full retail.
The three years of COVID slowed me down a bit. So many used book sales were cancelled or postponed never to rise again. Shop schedules shifted to make them harder to get to or closed up altogether. The desire to not deal with the general public in large or small groups was even stronger than usual. Slow rolling my acquisition process isn’t something you’d notice from looking in the stacks. Books have been coming in more or less at the same pace I’ve been reading, so it has been a kind of homeostasis. Next week is the first round of my long awaited summer buying binge, so all bets are off once that gets underway. If the pre-COVID past is prologue, it’s the kind of thing that happens immediately before I start complaining about needing to lay on some new bookcases.
I’m cautiously optimistic that this will be the real summer of “back to normal” for me. I am, of course, using the word “normal” here very loosely.