I like to look at the back page of the NY Times’ Sunday Book Review. The page is always an ad for Bauman Rare Books and I enjoy looking at the greatly enhanced prices of books that were once commonplace but as years pass few remain. It is that which explains the inflated prices. As an example there is Charles Lindbergh We: The Flier’s Own Story 1927. First edition, boldly signed by Lindbergh (bold by advertiser) $5200. It would seem that enough time has elapsed to erase from the many the memory of the fact that Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer. Being Nazi sympathizers has taken the shine off the erstwhile royals, the Duke and the Duchess of Windsor. Not too many people would now bid for original rolls of toilet paper from the bathroom of their suite in New York City.
No such bad reputation attaches to the literary achievement of Charles Dickens. The ad in Bauman’s Rare Books reads: A Christmas Carol 1843 “The one great Christmas myth of modern literature.” First edition, with four hand-coloured engraved plates, finely bound in full morocco-guilt, $15,000.
I remember passing by Bauman Rare Books in one of my trips to NY City. It is on Madison Avenue. I peeked through the windows and realized that I would have never been allowed entry, in my jeans and longish hair. But I did dream then.
Alas, I no longer dream about going into Bauman Rare Books.
Ernest Hemingway The Old Man and the Sea 1952 “Man is not made for defeat.” First edition of Hemingway’s classic $3500.
I went into one of my lawyer’s book cases in the living room and took out my own personal copy of The Old Man and the Sea. It is a first edition but is worth less because it has no dust jacket and it is signed by its former owner, my neighbour’s son Carter Smith. Hemingway’s book came our way with a 100 year old Chickering baby grand when the Smiths had to move. Mr. Claire Smith was forgetting who he was. I showed the book to Rosemary who said, “We might have to sell it.” At one time I would have been terribly upset — not anymore.
I think I crossed a bookish Rubicon a month ago when I decided I was not going to buy any more books and that I was going to depend solely on the excellent stacks of the Vancouver Public Library. Even before my decision I had already started a campaign of buying fewer books. I bought fewer expensive-just-out books this year and depended more on Chapters’s remainder section. And indication of that is that for the first time in my memory, in the NY Times Book Review annual (today) list of the 10 best books of 2009 there is not one in the list (five non-fiction, five fiction) that I have already read or wish to read. The only possible candidate would have been Raymond Carver — A Writer’s Life by Carol Sklenicka. I have a feeling that this good book would probably depress me as Carver’s life was not a happy one. One thing I do not need now is a book that depresses me.
As I look around my house and the thousands of books I realize that sooner or later many, if not almost all, have to go before I go. My friend, bookmeister Robert Blackwood, who suffered a severe stroke recently, once told me that there are some books that one does not want to read again. He divides his extensive book collection in such a parameter. As much as I loved the books of Tony Hillerman I know I never want to re-read any of them (except his 1971 Fly On the Wall which is a non American Indian themed novel).
I can see getting rid of them. The problem is that few used books stores these days are willing to hand out cash as they themselves are going through troubled times as people switch to flat screen TVs and reality shows. Books are slowly becoming worthless, that is except at Bauman Rare Books. It is important for me to understand that the value that I give to my own books is a value that I can measure by the pleasure they have given me in entertainment and knowledge. Even if I were to fling them into a dumpster their real value would not be diminished. Alive I am proof of it. And, believe it or not, I have been tempted to buy one book (two volumes) from Bauman Rare Books that at one time was almost within my reach. My Vancouver Public Library only has it listed as a Gutenberg Library electronic asset. This means that I can download it to my computer and then print it out in hundreds of pages. I will buy (if I do) from Abe Books. The book in question is as listed by Bauman Rare Books is: Ulysses S. Grant’s Personal Memoirs, first edition. Grant’s classic Civil War autobiography ranks among the greatest military memoirs in history, two volumes in original cloth, $750.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.