A few weeks later I went out to the local Borders and got a copy of the book, putting it aside to read on a summer vacation. For one week, while my children splashed in a lake, I sat down (for the first time in years) in a beach chair and read relatively uninterrupted. I devoured the thick book, and then went home and immediately bought all of the other books written by Basbanes. When I finished reading those, I wondered to myself, "With a life spent around books, why didn't I know about antiquarian books before?" Though I had never seen an actual antiquarian book, book collecting sounded like a perfect hobby for me. The only problem was that I had few monetary resources to buy loads of antiquarian books. Didn't those cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars? Also, I was a little too intimidated to cross the threshold of a wood-paneled, floor-to-ceiling-shelved antiquarian bookshop to find out more about antiquarian books. How much knowledge would a bookseller expect a customer to have? Could I ask questions, or would that make me appear ignorant? Could I buy a book in such a shop for less than hundreds of dollars?
Fortunately, my discovery of book collecting coincided with my discovery of library and estate sales and with the rise of eBay and internet bookselling. Using money I earned from a small tutoring job, I began to scout books at all of these venues and more, trying to learn along the way about things like points of issue and authenticity. Sure, I made some mistakes, but I found plenty of good antiquarian books at good prices, even some bargains, and I used my mistakes to teach myself to choose more wisely in the future. Eventually, I started buying books outside of my personal collecting interests, wondering if I could someday become knowledgeable enough to become an antiquarian bookseller. If I owned my own business, I theorized, I could be more flexible with my time and more available to my family than I could following the rigid daily schedule of a teacher.
As a preliminary test of my bookselling abilities, I offered two books for auction on eBay. I took care to describe them using appropriate book collector terminology and used lots of photos. As a result, I made enough money to fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles and attend the ABAA Book Fair that year. I stayed with friends in the area, so I had no other real costs. I wandered the aisles of the fair, a spectator, looking at the finest assortment of books ever assembled in one location, feeling lucky just to be in their presence, and I wondered how I could become not just a bookseller but an antiquarian bookseller.
That was in 2006. After continued reading about and study of the antiquarian book trade, I gathered my courage and opened my business, Book Hunter's Holiday, in January 2007. I've fallen deeper in love with antiquarian bookselling every day, and I continue to avail myself of opportunities to learn about the trade. I'm no millionaire, athlete, or celebrity, but I love my job. It's possible to go from just selling books to selling better books - antiquarian books. It takes courage, independence, education, and the willingness to make mistakes and learn from them.
I'll be contributing articles to BookThink and discussing my education as an antiquarian bookseller, from choosing a company name and logo to meeting other booksellers and scouting saleable books. I've spent the past year developing a website, cataloguing my books in a database, becoming educated about antiquarian books, selling books at a book fair, and writing a print catalogue. I'll share my triumphs and my mistakes along the way. Though I'm still a novice, I'm finally living the literary life I'd always envisioned.
*I mentioned reading all of the books by Nicholas Basbanes when I began to become aware of antiquarian books. If, like me, you're new to the world of antiquarian books but want to know more, his books provide a wonderful historical perspective of the field and an overview of where the future may be headed. Here's a complete list:
A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books. Henry Holt, 1995; paperback Owl Books, 1999.
Patience and Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture. HarperCollins, 2001; subtitle varies in paperback Perennial, 2003.
Among the Gently Mad: Strategies and Perspectives for the Book Hunter in the Twenty-First Century. Henry Holt, 2002; paperback Owl Books, 2003.
A Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World. HarperCollins, 2003; paperback Perennial, 2004.
Every Book Its Reader: The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World. HarperCollins, forthcoming in late 2005.
Editions and Impressions: Twenty Years on the Book Beat (available December 10, 2007). Fine Books Press, 2008.
EDITOR'S NOTE: BookThink interviewed Basbanes in 2005.
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