Saturday, April 28, 2007

Among the Gently Mad by Nicholas Basbanes - Book Review

Well I finished the book Among the Gently Mad. Its the first Basbanes book I have actually finished and it was VERY interesting.

All sorts of interesting comments, and tips on how to collect. One thing I agreed with, was the idea that book collecting was an intellectual hobby. I always knew that I was smart (my IQ is around 125) but I made a few bad decisions, one of which was to not stay at college and do the History degree I have always wanted to do. Now I cannot afford to do a degree. And I am not about to go into debt by taking out a student loan.

Another idea that Basbanes mentioned was that it's ok to collect just what you are interested in, not necessarily what you think will be valuable.

My tastes at this time lean towards History of Science, Elizabethan era (especially the Shakespeare authorship debate), Books about Books, and the Byzantine Empire (330-1430). There are a few other smaller areas of interest, but those are my main ones.

I have very little interest in fiction - although I will read some historical and mystery/thriller type novels. There is one fiction series I would like to collect, and that is John Dunning's Bookman series. About a police officer in Colorado who retires and open a rarebook shop. But still finds himself involved in murders & homicides - usually involving books. I have one book in the series, have read 2 others from the library - but would like to collect & own all of them.

Chapter 4 is called Three Little Words. Those words at the beginning are Rarity, Scarcity & Value. None of which I would need to know about since I will never be able to afford those kinds of books - unless I win the lottery. By the end of the chapter, those 3 words had changed to Two Little Words - Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware). These words I will take heed of.

Chapter five mentions the categories of collecting. Now I know most of you probably already know these, but I'm writing these down for the record, and so I can learn them.

A Major works in Books or Pamphlets
B First Appearence in book form of short stories and poems as well as introductions written in other books
C All known work in Newspapers & Magazines (periodicals)
D Published works in translation
E Anthologies containing the authors works
F Published facsimiles of manuscripts & letters (why not try for the originals?)
G Books & Criticism written about the author
H Newspaper & Magazine articles written about the author

Chapter 7 is my favourite. Its theme is Research, Research, Research. I LOVE doing Research. Basbanes says, and I quote, At every opportunity I get, I like to hammer home my considered belief that the best collectors are the people who know their subjects as well or better than anyone else [...] Unless you are willing to do your homework - to become conversant with the literature in your chosen field, to learn the rudiments of bibliography, to read, for goodness sake - you are doomed to mediocrity.

This is why I think book collecting is an intellectual hobby. Because as a book collector, I cannot just mindlessly purchase books, place them on the shelf, and expect to make a nice big profit when I sell them 5 or 10 years later.

I've already been jolted out of this thinking when I decided it was time to sell my Star trek manuals a few weeks ago. I have 6 of them, and I figured the demand for them would be high, and that I might get maybe $80 if I put them up for auction on e-bay. I received quite a shock when I went looking on ebay to find that none of them were selling for more than $10 each, and most of them had a start price of below $5. Also there were lots and lots of them - so the supply seems to be higher than the demand. My spouse placed a 1986 Ford truck repair book up for auction and it went for $5. The shipping costs were $15.

I'm learning as fast as I can.

The Selected Bibiography at the back of this book was 10 pages of books about books and book collecting. Some of which I now really want to get.

The first book I need to get is John Carters ABC for Book Collectors (which I have read is the best beginners book around). Nicholas Basbanes says that the Ahearns (Allen & Patricia) will not even sell their Collected Books - The Guide to Values to anyone who has not done their basic homework.

I better get started. Thanks for the excellent tips Nick.

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