book love

Talking about used books with Rachel reminded me of a phenomenon which interests me greatly, in part because I participate to a limited degree. There’s a species of book collector who specializes in one book or set of books alone, but tries to find as many editions as possible. I’m not talking here about somebody who’s obsessed with Catcher in the Rye and has an apartment filled with thumbed paperbacks of the same edition. I’m referring to people who collect Alice in Wonderland or the works of Jane Austen or the Oz books. Because these are well loved books and out of print, any old publisher can come along and put together a new edition. Mostly what you get are very cheap efforts (you know that table at Barnes & Noble that proclaims Classics! Get your Classics, Three for Twelve Dollars! — poor paper, worse binding, and the damn thing will fall apart on you probably before you make it to the middle) but many publishers do try to put together an attractive new edition in the hopes that they’ll catch the eye of the casual reader who decides that they really should have a copy of Sense and Sensibiity on their shelves, and isn’t that a nice picture on the cover? This is from an on-line auction, a lot of three different editions of Alice in Wonderland up for grabs:

Alice in Wonderland

THREE COLLECTIBLE BOOKS by Lewis Carroll, “Alice in Wonderland”: the first illus. by W.H. Walker with 8 in color, 42 in black & white, London: John Lane The Bodley Head, illus. blue cloth cover, dust jacket. Second, illus. by Harry Riley, first edition thus, London: Arthur Barry, 1945, dust jacket; third, 28 illus. & colored frontispiece by Thomas Maybank, London & N.Y.

I’m not talking here about true first editions for the simple reason that if you could find (for example) a first edition of Pride and Prejudice from the year 1813, you’d pay a minimum of $15,000 for it. This is more about the book itself, its design, the cover art, the workmanship that went into making a package for a particular well loved novel.

Someone gave me an edition of Sense and Sensibility (or maybe it was Persuasion; I can’t find it just now, of course, although when I went off searching I found a few other books that had been eluding me. I’m convinced that my books hold meetings in the middle of the night to predict which one I’ll need next and thus, whose turn it is to hide)… but the point is, this particular edition, paperback, really struck me for its artwork: a close up, detailed painting of the sweep of a highly embroidered skirt. When I do run across this book, I always think I have to look to see what publisher put it out and go see if the other Austen books are done in the same style.

I don’t read these editions I collect for their physical selves; when I do sit down to re-read, I always go back to the same hardcover critical edition, which is full of bits of paper and stcky notes.

Enough, I think, of obsessing about books, for the moment.