Monday, July 9, 2012

Don't Touch That Book!

Recently I was complaining to a friend about the hazards of having too many books. She said, “Why don’t you have an appraiser come in and tell you which ones are valuable? Keep those, and get rid of the rest?”

Logical, right?

Wrong. Because my idea of valuable and the appraisers may not agree. He’ll be talking monetary value; I’ll be talking sentimental value.

How could I ever get rid of that scuffed volume of “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” illustrated by Nathaniel Wyeth and Jesse Wilcox Smith? The one with the picture of a duck drawn in crayon on the inside back cover, by my mother when she was four years old.

Or… that set of Edgar Allan Poe with the black crinkly binding and silk ribbon bookmarks. Or…the tattered complete set of Dick Francis in paperback, that I know I’ll reread again and again.

Or… all of Dorothy Sayres, Margery Allingham, and Josephine Tey? Or… ”The Long Goodbye,” by Raymond Chandler in which I marked the passage where the hero goes into a hotel bar early and describes the making of a martini as if he were in church watching the priest perform his sacred rituals. Or… the battered copy of “Rebecca” with all the suspense passages marked to be read to my class in mystery writing. Or… I could go on and on.

The trouble is—these books are my friends. And when I go to sleep at night it is a comfort to be surrounded by them.How can I think of getting rid of even one of them?
It’s hopeless.

Robin Hathaway


  1. Hopeless? Or...hopeFUL--that there's something that bound books give us that can't be replaced by electronic. Just try drawing a duck on the inside back cover of "Child's Garden of Verses," Kindle Edition--nothin' doing!

  2. I've got a handful of what appraisers might consider collectible books. The ones most valuable in my mind are the first Scholastic paperbacks that I scrimped and saved for. And my Agatha Christie mass market editions, because they're the 1st works of hers I read. And some of the novels I read in high school, then had long fascinating talks about them with good friends, some of whom I've lost. The memories of the reads and the discussions and the friends are much more valuable than whether the books are first editions.

  3. No fear, Robin, no appraiser will ever visit your shelves. I tried up here in Albany, called as far north as Saratoga, but no luck till yesterday when an Italian from Rome who runs a bookstore-in-his-home in Schenectady came to look over my books. I've passed the point-of-no return, intent on dumping my whole library on three floors...not the Library of America fiction series, of course, nor biographies of the likes of James T. Farrell, Malamud, Charles Willleford, Raymond Chandler, Welty's One Writer's Beginnings, and I must keep the Stories of Irwin Shaw, Isaac Babel, William Trevor, Kafka, Edna O'Brien, Andre Dubus and...I hope he doesn't come back!

  4. When we sold our country house recently, I had to do something with the books. I triaged and took to New York the ones I could not part with and a number I thought were valuable, including ones illustrated by Charles Chandler Christe and Rockwell Kent and the rare books about the Civil War the likes of which were being offered on EBay for $480. My friend Judith who owns Argosy Book Store, came over and looked at them. She took six out of scores, not the Civil War books. She suggested I donate the rest to the Housing Works Book Cafe. I took her advice. The old friends are here, having pushed out the less dear who got sold to the Strand, donated, or, gasp, recycled if they were in really bad condition. There are still twice as many books here as the place can reasonably hold. But I tried.