Friday, August 28, 2009

Book 'im, Folio!

This post dedicated to all the faithful fans and curious customers of MisterE Books...

I became a bookseller by default 20 years ago. See, I had always argued (initially placating my first wife almost 50 years ago) that I could always resell the books and records I was regularly ekeing out the funds to buy. But for decades, married or unmarried, I kept buying.

Then, back home again after the two-year world adventure in the mid-Eighties (recounted in many previous blog posts), when I couldn't find a solid writing job or generate enough freelance income, I unexpectedly had the chance to work in a bookstore--and soon had the opportunity to buy it. No need to revisit all that subsequent history, except to observe that I suddenly had to disconnect my gotta-have-it collector mentality and learn to part with stuff old and new.

One aspect of that was my membership in The Folio Society, England's premier source of elegant, literate, specially produced books. I had joined to buy what I wanted for myself, but then had to change my thinking to focus on what good'uns I could get at a cheap enough price to resell thereafter through the new and wonderful MisterE Books (a definite trick on the dollar front given Folio's often deluxe prices).

Now every late summer I have to decide once more if I'm staying in the Society, which requires buying four new selections that I must also hope to resell. Over the years I've accumulated 20 or 30 volumes that are collectable first printings of Folio's beautifully illustrated editions but which have failed to find a buyer, at least at the (barebones-profit) price I'm asking.

So what to do? The latest catalog arrived a day or two back, and was then buttressed by email, and as usual there are at least four new editions that are calling out to me: LeCarre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Kerouac's On the Road, Chatwin's classic The Songlines, Watson's fascinating story of The Double Helix, maybe Peter Hopkirk's India/Afghan history of colonial incursions, The Great Game... But who am I kidding? Really there are up to a dozen worth owning/selling--new editions of Lord of the Flies, The Age of Innocence, William Trevor stories, gardening books by Vita Sackville-West, Xenophon's The Persian Expedition, a special Folio poetry anthology, a history of Robin Hood, and more.

The trick this year in particular is the, er, unreadable commercial marketplace. Books continue to sell, including collector editions, as dedicated readers continue to read even in this time of Grim Regression. (In contrast, sales of LP records on eBay are way down.) But the Folio volumes cost enough that they continue to pile up, however slowly.

I had just about decided to skip renewing this time around, but then I got a $60 order just this morning, someone wanting a Bill Bryson book. If Bryson can sell, well, what about my great unread copies of Ackroyd's biography of William Blake, Joyce's Dubliner stories, O'Brian's Master and Commander, Ford Maddox Ford's near-forgotten classic The Good Soldier, plus Anne of Green Gables, The Pink Fairy Book, Shakespeare's First Folio, beautiful box sets of Durrell's Alexandria Quartet and A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell, not to mention the really expensive deluxe limited editions of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary and Grahame's Wind in the Willows? Surely someone will want those too.

If I sell just two more good ones, I'll have made enough to buy some brilliant four from this year's new offerings. And so what if they stick around for a year or three? As I said 40 years ago, "I can always resell them."


No comments: