Thursday, July 24, 2008

Now THIS Is Good for Its Age!

We live in exciting times indeed. The Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest complete copy of the New Testament, is going up on the Internet.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Ironic Catholic ...

... has a subtitle that is da bomb! It's from one of my favorite authors:

"You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you odd."

-- Flannery O'Connor

Reality Is Overrated

"Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity."

G. K. Chesterton

Across the Pond

My friend Donald runs an bookshop called Clyde Coast Books. He carries a range of academic texts and other literature. I am grateful to him for my newest used book, the British paperback edition of the Discworld Companion.

He's a nice guy, too.

So if you're from the U. K. or just in the market for reasonably priced British books, take a look.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Test of Time

"One should never read the latest books. Instead, wait for a few years and watch most of them disappear into well-deserved oblivion. This eliminates much unnecessary reading." -- Somerset Maugham

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Real Character

William Dalton provides insight into Steven T. Byington, a true eccentric New Englander, over at the Andover Townsman website. He provides some interesting background on one of the odder figures in the world of Watchtower book collecting.

Byington was a New Englander whose main claim to fame among WT collectors is his role as translator of a unique English-language Bible. He himself was a Congregationalist (more on that in the article). His translation was not published during his lifetime, but somehow the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society came across his manuscript. They bought the rights to it because it used the name "Jehovah" extensively throughout the Old Testament.

But even in death Byington had the last word. The terms of sale mandated that his original notes and forward had to be included in any published version. His original spellings and verse notation were kept as well.

More fun facts are to be had at the Townsman. Take a look!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Open Library

Open Library's stated goal is to have "One web page for every book ever published." Not too grandiose, is it? Then again, who'd have thought that Wikipedia would take off the way it did?

The project is in need of contributors who can provide book information, among other things. It promises to be a gold mine of information for collectors of all sorts of books, so head over there and see if you can add to the general store of knowledge.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Discworld Blues

My whole family has been tearing through Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. I have only one more book left to read (aside from the young adult novels and the Science of Discworld books): Small Gods. I have just finished reading Carpe Jugulum ("Seize the Throat"), wherein vampires take up unwelcome residence in the kingdom of Lancre.

I was introduced to Pratchett's novels by other bloggers, especially on Dale Price's Dyspeptic Mutterings blog (see sidebar). I was uninterested until I read a synopsis of Hogfather, a twisted take on Santa Claus. The concept alone was laugh-out-loud hilarious, and the book didn't disappoint.

You see the Hogfather, Discworld's version of Santa, has gone missing. In order to save Hogswatch (Christmas and New Year's Eve all rolled into one) and human belief in intangible things, someone must take over and deliver the presents. That someone is . . . Death:

(From the DVD version of Hogfather )

Before that, though, I read the two introductory novels, The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. They tell the story of Rincewind, a failed wizard, and the Discworld's first-ever tourist, Twoflower.

Those books were recently made into a single TV movie by SkyOne in the U. K. SkyOne wasn't sure when it will be released onto DVD, nor when it will be available in the U. S. The movie stars David Jason, Sean Astin, Tim Curry, and Jeremy Irons:

One of my favorite characters is the Patrician. He's the ruler of the city of Ankh-Morpork, who believes in the concept of "One man, one vote" -- as long as he's the "one man." His character has had some of the most interesting development of any in the series.

But now I've almost run out of Discworld books to read, which is very depressing indeed.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What's Your Story?

If you collect books, what do you collect and what started you off? My personal obsession with Watchtower literature began in the 1970s, when a Witness left The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life at my house. It didn't really take off, though, until I came across a copy of The Harp of God by J. F. Rutherford at a library book sale in the early 1980s.

Feel free to share your stories in the combox.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Good for Its Age

You've seen it before. It's all over eBay, and you can't read five listings on any of the major book search engines before it jumps out at you.

It's a phrase you learn to drop quickly once you've spent any time in the book business. You start to wince when you hear it; it's like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Prospective sellers come up to you, hope in their eyes, and tender for your consideration a tattered, worn, ghost-of-its-former-self book. They utter the horrible words, and expect to be told that indeed, their decrepit volume is a prize. After all, it was printed in the nineteenth century!

You, on the other hand, know that there are at least a hundred copies to be had of that particular title, at least half of which look as if they'd just dropped off the press yesterday.

Age is not equal to value. Condition + scarcity + demand = value. It's true for books, just as it's true for cheese, fine wines, and furniture. Keep any of these in the wrong conditions, and you have fodder for the fireplace, and maybe vinegar for your salad.

For instance:
The Finished Mystery (1917) is much sought-after by collectors of Watchtower/Jehovah's Witness books. It is the posthumous work of Pastor Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Watch Tower Society, and the seventh volume in his Studies in the Scriptures series. Auction prices vary, but an original, intact copy in this binding can retail for over $100 in Fine condition.

This copy has seen better days. The covers are stained, the spine is faded and chipped, the hinges are broken and the super is showing. To boot, the binder made a boo-boo and sewed in a duplicate signature while leaving out the proper one, so that there is a page 417 after page 448.

I'd be lucky to get $25 for this gem.

On the other hand, the copy to the right is in comparatively good shape: You can see a bit of wear along the edges and along the spine, but it's a nice tight copy. This one might go for $75 to $100, depending on the market.
But there are still nicer ones to be had out there, and you wouldn't have to wait too long before one turned up.
When I was in New York in April, I paid a visit to Argosy Books, which has some fine examples of 15th and 16th century books for sale, with beautiful leather bindings and paper that has retained its suppleness and whiteness long after books made with 20th century pulp have crumbled into dust. Even many of these were not priced over a couple of hundred dollars. Why? Demand, for one. Not too many people are interested in theological works in Latin by writers of lesser stature than a Thomas Aquinas.
So when someone says, "It's good for its age," let the buyer beware.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Friday, July 4, 2008

Forgotten Classics

Reader Julie D. has a blog and podcast, Forgotten Classics, wherein she brings attention to authors who are not as well known to the public as, say, J. K. Rowling, but who deserve to be. I was happy to see Rumer Godden mentioned, as well as Terry Pratchett. Take a listen!

Happy 4th!

Happy Independence Day! Have a safe (if not quiet) weekend.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

LibraryThing Rocks!

LibraryThing is a free service for storing information about your personal library. It's the best thing to come along for collectors since the death of the card catalog.

You can download generic information about your books by performing an ISBN search in the "Add Books" section, which draws on book information stored by and libraries from around the world. You can add cover pictures from various uploaded user files or from Amazon. There are spaces for Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal System numbers, just in case you're as obsessive as I am about shelving your books.

The tagging feature allows you to categorize your books your own way, an especially handy feature for collectors. You're not limited to the old standbys like "History" and "Fine Arts"; you can group your books by "Red covers" or "Aunt Muzzy's Legacy," if you like.

You'll also find out how (un)common you are. The books listed also have notes attached telling you who else shares your passion for Jane Austen or books on prunes.

And no, they're not paying me to say this. It's just incredibly useful. I recommend it highly.

Top Ten Reasons Why a Used Book Beats an eBook

10. You won’t short out your book if you spill something on it.
9. Pixels don’t have that same well-read feel.
8. If your kids step on your book, it won't cost hundreds to replace (usually).
7. Have you tried reading your laptop on the beach?
6. How about on public transportation?
5. The batteries won’t die in the middle of a chapter.
4. Trading eBooks isn’t as much fun.
3. You don't have to take it out of your carry-on for inspection.
2. Reading in the tub isn't life-threatening.
1. Who collects eBooks?
--Cathy and Rebecca Koenig