Saturday, February 05, 2011

Beautiful, Beastly Books

I've been collecting books for a while now, and have spent many happy years chasing down numerous out of print titles by my favorite authors in order to build complete collections of their work. I think it's interesting to see how a writer develops and builds and changes over the years -- something you can only follow by reading all their books in order -- plus looking for and finding the titles can be like a lifelong treasure hunt.

I have scored some major finds, like an excellent copy of Penny McMorris's Crazy Quilts, the holy grail of quilters who love crazies because only 5,000 copies were printed, and a first edition of Byron's complete works (which I found in a junk shop for a couple bucks.) I've also inherited some books cherished by family collectors who came before me, too. My grandmother left to my mother a set of Mark Twain's novels, all signed by the author, and Mom decided to split them up among all her kids. I asked for and got A Conneticut Yankee and his Joan of Arc books, which were the ones I most wanted.

There are a few titles that I'd still like to add to my personal library someday. One is Luigi Serafini's Codex Seraphinianus, a massive work of art that uses nonsense language and fantastic art to define and explore, well, no one is still quite sure (you look at this page from it and tell me what you think.) I know it's nothing but made up gibberish, but I've always wanted to see it anyway. The problem with this one is I know where I can get a copy, but I'm not yet willing to pay the beastly asking price, which is usually around $500.00. This book is also the reason I still make the rounds of thrift stores and junk shops; I have a feeling that's where I'm going to find my copy someday.

There are online sites like The Rare Bookroom that provide digital versions of books that have been scanned to make them available to everyone, which I think is great for rare/ancient first editions of books that the public at large might otherwise never be able to see. It may also be the only way we can preserve for future generations books like delicate illuminated medieval manuscripts, which will slowly but surely be destroyed by the ravages of time.

Is there a rare or hard-to-find book out there somewhere that you covet for your collection? Where do you look for hidden book treasures? Let us know in comments.


  1. Gutenberg Bible?

  2. This week, I bought the 1925 Sears & Roebuck catalog from an online antique bookseller. (Got an okay deal on it since the cover is missing.) Mainly, I bought it for research purposes, but it's still just a neat snapshot of what life was like 85 years ago.

  3. I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well.Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.

  4. Nancy Drew started me off collecting when I was a child, and I still find children's books some of the most interesting books to collect. They are rarely in perfect condition, and in fact are often most interesting when they're not. Reading the notes that have been written in the front pages, especially when it is obvious that the book was a rare and precious gift to a child, is something I always find fascinating.

  5. Someday I want a copy of Robin McKinley's Beauty with a very specific cover--I think it's the 1984 edition, and I read it when I was in sixth grade from the school library. It's a beautiful cover, and McKinley was very influential in my writing life. Plus, I read Beauty when I was in my middle-school ugly period, and it gave me hope that someday I wouldn't want to burn every picture taken of me.

  6. I actually had several rare books, first additions and the like and right after we moved in to our first house, while they were all still packed away in boxes waiting for my bookshelves to arrive, our basement flooded and I lost them all. Act of God, they said and wouldn't cover anything. I'd been collecting them for years.

    I've recently started collecting again though I have none I MUST have. As I come across them, I decide if it's something I'd like again. I've probably got 10 or 12 now from the late 1700's to oh...1860 or so. So I'm always on the lookout.

  7. Susanne5:47 PM

    I have been looking for ages for a copy of the The Lord Peter Wimsey Companion by
    Stephan P. Clarke.
    There are books on the market but they are much much to expensive for me (around 250$)...sigh...


  8. I'm always looking for another copy of The Little Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett because I've worn out my copy that my Mother read to me when I was little.

    And I've been trying to track down a specific UK edition of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles for years.

  9. Anonymous9:47 AM

    I'm not hunting for anything specific right now, but I do love poking around at thrift/used stores for older knitting, crochet, quilting and art books - never know what treasure you'll find! Stephenia

  10. @Susan

    The Lord Peter Wimsey Companion is now available online to members of the Dorothy L. Sayers society ( I don't know what plans there are to make it available to non-members by some other form of subscription.


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