How to Start Collecting Rare Books

The rare book world can be intimidating. Walk into a rare book shop, and you suddenly find yourself fingering a $1,000 pile of paper that, quite frankly, doesn’t seem very impressive. Have the guts to ask the shopkeeper why that particular book is worth such an exorbitant sum, and you’re undoubtedly met with a rant filled with names and dates you’ll never remember, as well as words like signature and square that don’t seem to mean what they usually mean.

It can be even worse at a book fair. Booksellers dressed like used car salesmen schmooze with passersby, whom they’ve already met numerous times; at these events, everyone seems to know one another, even if they’re based on different sides of the globe.

The rare book world, in general, just does not come off as the most welcoming place for newcomers. Or for anyone under the age of 35. Or for anyone who is not dressed appropriately. Et cetera. Yes, things are changing, but the gentleman’s club mentality of many booksellers remains strong.

So, dear readers, I have decided to try to lull y’all out of the idea that a solid book collection is an inaccessible goal. I’m going to do this by offering some tips on how to start book collecting. And, to spice things up, I’m going to illustrate my points à la BuzzFeed, with GIFs of some of my favourite things: drag queens.*

Read on, dahling.

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Sunday Book-Thought 5

The moment a book is lent, I begin to miss it. According to T.S Eliot, each new book that is written alters every previous one. In the same way, each absent book alters those that remain on my shelves. The complexion of my library, the delicate gestalt, is spoiled. My mind goes to the gap as one’s tongue goes to a cavity. My security is breached, my balance tipped, my affections confused, my barricades against chaos diminished. Until the book is returned, I feel like a parent waiting up in the small hours for a teenage son or daughter to come home from the dubious party. In Zuckerman Unbound, Zuckerman’s brother marries a girl as the only way to repossess a book he lent her. Some bibliomaniacs would sooner give away a book than suffer the anxiety of lending it.

The most dangerous part of lending books lies in the returning. At such times, friendships hang by a thread. I look for agony or ecstasy, for tears, transfiguration, trembling hands, a broken voice – but what the borrower usually says is, “I enjoyed it.”

I enjoyed it – as if that were what books were for.

Anatole Broyard