The E-Sylum:  Volume 8, Number 48, November 13, 2005, Article 13


Tom Fort forwarded a recent article from Slate on
book hunting in Britain.  Here are a few excerpts:

“Book collectors are thrill-seekers. It is a vegetarian
hunt to be sure, without much exertion or risk, but the
endorphin rush of the chase and the adrenaline high of
the capture are much the same with first editions as I
imagine they must be in the pursuit of 10-point stags,
largemouth bass, or 20-foot waves at Maverick's.

Speaking only for myself, I can describe four kinds of
book-collecting euphoria. There is, first of all, simply
the kick of a bargain. Despite all the Internet has done
to make prices transparent and bibliographic information
universal, you can still find—at book sales and thrift
shops, auctions and even fancy dealers—unrecognized or
underpriced rarities. Getting something valuable for
cheap is the basic, greedy thrill of book collecting.

The second pleasure is simply that of making a collection—assembling
objects that are related in some way and then filling in holes
and extending from the edges. Book collecting is a largely
solitary, mostly male, and completely absorbing activity.
Nicholas Basbanes' wonderful study A Gentle Madness explores
what has driven the great book collectors. As his title indicates,
it's not necessarily outstanding mental health. But while
"completism" is clearly a form of nuttiness, it is for the most
part a benign one, causing no harm to others and usually little
to oneself.

Next is appreciation of the physical object. Though you might
not take this point away from the best-seller tables at Barnes
& Noble, the book has historically been a beautiful thing. It
is a repository of various arts and crafts, including
illustration, typography, letterpress printing, paper-making,
and binding (not to mention writing). Raised in a house filled
with old books, I'm drawn to them: the dust jackets that call
out a historical moment, the marbled boards, the words pressed
into the page with movable type.

Fourth and finally, there is something that approaches a
literary sensation. Holding in your hands the original
publication of a book or writer who subsequently became
famous rolls back the veils of time and reputation. It
connects you to the moment of original potential, before
appreciation, recognition, and fame complicated everything.
In this way, the first edition has always felt to me like
the literature of original intent. It is the book as it
went out into the world, the work in its purest (if not
necessarily most perfect) form. Of course, there's a negative
side to all this too, which makes me slightly loathe collecting,
and which I'll get back to later. Once acquired, sought-after
rare books become inert trophies, chloroformed butterflies
pinned to a board. It's a bit deathly.”

“We chat about the Internet, which Tindley naturally deplores.
His view is that the Web takes the magic and mystery out of
the book business. Using, which scours listings
for 70 million books from 13,000 dealers around the world,
you can find almost anything you are looking for with
unimaginable ease. But on the Web, you never find what you're
not looking for, which is what invariably happens when you
walk into Tindley and Chapman.

After lunch, we return to the shop and Tindley proves his
point by emerging from the basement with a full run—eight
issues—of a magazine called Polemic, which was published
in England between 1945 and 1947. Little intellectual magazines,
such as Partisan Review and Horizon are a special interest of
mine, and Polemic, with covers designed by the British artist
Ben Nicholson, is one I've never seen before. Almost every
issue has the first publication of one of Orwell's essays,
including "The Prevention of Literature" and "Second Thoughts
on James Burnham." This is something I would have never thought
to look for on Abebooks and probably wouldn't have found if I
had. The price? James makes a gesture that indicates he has no
idea and says £40 ($70). I leave with that, an early V.S.
Naipaul first, and the first collected edition of Hart Crane's

"Nature abhors a vacuum," he tells me, apologizing for the
mess of volumes, papers, and junk covering every available
surface in his office, including the floor. "But a bookshop
really abhors a vacuum."

To read the full article, see: Full Story

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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