Sunday, November 16, 2008


I saw an ad for rare books recently in the back of The New York Times Book Review which included for sale a signed copy of THE PHILOSOPHY OF ANDY WARHOL with a drawing of a Campbell’s soup can on the same page as the signature. They were asking 6,000 bucks for it. I have one exactly like that on my bookshelves.

I used to collect books pretty regularly, (at used book prices or now and then newly published prices, like the Warhol), not for resale value, or even rarity bragging rights, but just because I love to read these particular authors and in certain editions (first editions are usually the most gratifying, not necessarily because of the value but because they look and feel like originals, have the presence of a work of art, at least for me).

At the same time I was constantly getting rid of books, selling them to bookstores (there used to be more that bought them for resale or for collectors than there are now) (in fact I helped feed my two oldest kids and me on bags of books sold at The Phoenix Book Shop in Greenwich Village or The Strand over near Union Square).

These days there are only a handful of authors (out of what used to be hundreds) whose books I still collect because anything they write interests me (or books about a few people whose lives or art also makes me want to own every book written about them). I made a list of them last night to help me get back to sleep (just the dead ones to keep it simple) which turned out to come to 33, or eleven triplets that seem to go together (be interesting to see if you can figure out what the three in each triplet have in common, at last in my mind):

Laurence Sterne
James Joyce
Samuel Beckett

Walt Whitman
William Carlos Williams
William Saroyan

Rainer Maria Rilke
Blaise Cendrars
Roberto Bolano

Jean Rhys
Lee Miller
Martha Gelhorn

Charles Reznikoff
Louis Zukofsky
George Oppen

Henry Miller
Henry Roth
Hubert Selby Jr.

Francis Picabia
Francis Ponge
Larry Eigner

Dylan Thomas
Brendan Behan
Jack Kerouac

David Smith
Eva Hesse
B. J. Kitaj

Christopher Isherwood
Irene Nemirovsky
James Schuyler

Frank O’Hara
Ted Berrigan
Joe Brainard

There are plenty more whose books I still keep, but not their entire output, having let go of some books of theirs I know I’ll never reread again nor even look into (like some of W. B. Yeats’ books, or Gertrude Stein’s, or Turgenev’s or Pound’s or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s or Zora Neale Hurston’s or Thomas Merton’s, etc.).

And there are those who I may start collecting (as I recently have Bolano) and some in the above list who I may soon stop collecting. It’s an always changing marker of my developing literary taste or appetite. I used to say, looking at what was on a person’s bookshelves was like reading a graph of their minds. I guess the above is the core of mine these days.

[PS: Can't believe I left off these dear friends whose books I continue to collect since they passed:



Anonymous said...

Great post on book collecting! I constantly move/sell/rearrange/box up/give away/books and have a revolving collection, although, like you, have shelves of collectible books that have a permanent home.

I did not discern the triplet link, but it may be because my own collecting interests are mainly of 19th century or earlier authors, although there are the exceptions: G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, and a few other "readers."


rdeming said...

Is there a story with your signed 1st of the Warhol? Why did he draw the can?

Can I put a plug in for a terrific place to sell/buy and keep the modern/contemporary collectible book economy going? Troubaudor Books in North Hatfield MA. Worth the trip.

Interesting note: the famed collector of modern/contemp 1sts Roland Comstock died last year and his collection is showing various places, including 2nd Story in yr old town of D.C. It's a rare occasion when the collector also is worth collecting solely for his being a collector.

RJ Eskow said...

I'm not collecting much of anything these days, but I used to be compelled to collect prose writings by poets.

Also nonfiction by writers known for fiction.

I don't know why - I just had to it. To use a saying (which I also like for reasons I can't fathom): Go figure.

Jamie Rose said...

OK. OK. When I visit I will keep my water glass away from the stack of books on your nightstand!

(For those of you with sneaky minds--Lals and I DO NOT sleep together when I visit! He is a gent. He gives me his room).