Saturday, November 5, 2011

A gentle introduction to the gentle madness


This week, I have the pleasure of guest blogging over at GoneReading, a site for people who love books. I've especially enjoyed the series A Dude Reads Jane Austen. Also, GoneReading has a great store with bookish gifts and things and proceeds support libraries and literacy. Pretty great stuff.

So, here it is:

It’s interesting so many people love books, but so few people claim to be book collectors.  Is it because it sounds like claiming to be a breeder of polo ponies?  Perhaps.

I collect books.  I do not own a yacht.  I’m not embarrassed by either fact.  I even seek out others who collect books too, so maybe we can be friends.  (The Mrs. says I need people-friends too, not just book-friends.)  In my quest to find kindred collectors of books, I’ve found quite a few proto-collectors.  Proto-collectors are people who are very nearly collecting but can’t quite claim full book collector status for themselves.  They seem to be charmingly unaware how a quest has come upon them, consuming money, energy, and precious time-- but still they claim to not be book collectors.  I’m the first to admit, it’s hard to say when exuberant Bibliophilia become full-blown Bibliomania.  But the first step is certainly to admit there are stronger forces at work than the love of a tale well told.  

Not everyone who owns a lot of books is a book collector.  Granted.  I wear pants most days, and own many pairs, yet don’t think of myself as a pants connoisseur.  Book collectors are the same way.  A book collection has a purpose beyond accumulating, beyond, even, reading.  A book collection has a purpose.  What should the focus be?  That’s the beauty of it.  It can be anything.  Anything at all.  And though book collectors have been carefully forming collections for centuries, the most interesting book collections are yet to be formed.

Collections often focus on a particular author, a particular illustrator, publisher, series, a style of bookbinding, a particular subject (like books of made-up words, or pants-wearing polo ponies).  Not long ago a short article was circulating about a collector of books that use human blood in their production or signed in the stuff.  I was surprised at the variety of books that fit into the collection.  Another great way to see what’s new in collecting is to review the entries for the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest sponsored by the ABAA (The Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America).  Nearly all of these entries demonstrate what amazing collections can be assembled on a college student’s budget.  

Another thing to do is get to know other collectors.  They may not be on your street, or at your 8-to-5, but there’s a big beautiful blogosphere pulsing with the thoughts and purchases of serious bibliophiles.  I have over 250 blogs in my RSS reader dedicated to bibliophilia, and I know I don’t follow everyone.  I’m constantly finding new ones.  And people find me through my own blog.  There are also several clubs, societies, and other organizations for book collectors, many of which can be found at the website of the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies.  There may also be sites dedicated to your preferred objects of book love-- a great example is Collecting the Modern Library, a site dedicated to the Modern Library series of 1917-1970, compiled by collectors over many years and still growing.  I wish there were many more like it.

If you love books, you’ve likely heard booksellers bemoan the unliterate age of the e-panopticon we live in today.  Publishers are even worse.  The moaning has its merits, but the moaners are overreacting.  Historically, booksellers considered the end of books with the emergence of radio and television too.  The great thing about the internet is it has largely removed one of the biggest barriers of book lovers: geography.  Historically, book collecting has largely been a past-time for urbanites, but that is no longer true.  The internet has also caused what were once thought to be rare books into a wider market place to be outed as actually fairly common.  But books are finite, and I think we’re currently living in what will be “the good ol’ days” of book collecting.  A time we’ll look back on fondly when nearly everything was available and most of it cheap.

There is still frontiers to be explored and treasures to be found in book collecting.  

1 comment:

Brad Wirz said...

Thanks so much for writing the post Benjamin! Let's stay in touch...