The Paper House got me thinking… I know that Stuck-in-a-Book readers buy a lot of books, that’s a given (yes Mum, Dad, Colin, Dark Puss – you are the exceptions!) but what sort of books do we buy? I’m considering everything about a book except its contents… so, not which authors or genres you buy, but how old are they and (if I may make so bold) how valuable?
In The Paper House, Carlos Brauer is very excited about all sorts of books, but particularly old, valuable ones – and the word ‘incunable‘ seems to be nothing more nor less than magical for him. And, outside of this novel, there seems to be an unwritten rule that to be a book collector, one must seek valuable books – first editions, rare editions, old editions.
Well. I would class myself as a book collector, because I have a collection of books… and I love having my scattered library, and think of the collection as being some sort of whole. It’s unlikely that any other individual has owned the exact same books that I do – even the Bodleian doesn’t have all the books I have, cos I had to buy one or two of them when they weren’t available there. If I weren’t a book collector, then surely I wouldn’t think of my books with such affection, or be such a completist or completionist or whatever word means I want everything an author wrote to be on my shelves….
But I don’t like fancy editions. They scare me a bit. Even though I never scribble in my books, and feel actual physical pain if I see someone using a biro in a book, I still don’t like the idea of having a book which will loose an enormous amount of value if it falls in the sink. The average value of each of my books is, say, £3… not such an investment issue if I accidentally leave one on a bus.
This all struck me when I was visiting the bookshops in and around Charing Cross Road the other day. Henry Pordes Books was lovely, as was Any Amount of Books – but there are those tiny ones which are hugely imposing to enter. I popped into the ones which looked like they might have books under a grand, and felt like I was being hounded out by the bookseller’s eyes… One of the shops had an entire wall dedicated to expensive editions of PG Wodehouse. Now, if any author would have scorned and mocked the rare book business, it is our Pelham Grenville.
What do you think? Is a love of fine, rare, old books part and parcel of loving books (and I’m missing the point) – or is it an entirely different kettle of fish? And howsabout you – new books, old books, raggedy books, pristine books? Or all of the above, with a side helping of books?