My ADD book collecting habit

I’ll be moderating a panel about book collecting this weekend. The preparation has led me to consider my own book collecting habit, and I wonder if I’m expressing attention deficit disorder in that area of my life. It all began when I decided to collect William Faulkner, but as you can imagine, first editions of his books are pricey, so I took the tack of “what I can afford” Faulkner.  That means I own a first edition of The Sound and the Fury in spanish, published in Buenos Aires.  At least, I think it’s a first. I stopped collecting Faulkner and began collecting Katherine Anne Porter for a while, and then Thomas Pynchon and Shirley Jackson. Oh, and Louis Bromfield, William Styron, Andre Dubus and James Salter.  There are also first edition paperbacks of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels on my bookshelves as well as my Perry Mason collection.

I envy “completists,” who focus on one author or idea, because I think they’ll end up with collections worthy of a library installation or a great sum of money.  A few years ago, I was on a bus with collectors touring libraries in Washington D.C. Everyone introduced themselves and what they collect.  Their answers were so very neat and tidy.  The journals of Arctic explorers. Miniature Bibles. Books published by Thomas B. Mosher.  Alphabet books for children pre-20th Century. My thoughts scurried about as to what I could say. “I seem to like everything” didn’t sound very sophisticated. Someone before me said he collected modern firsts, so I used that. It was close enough. Nobody needed to know about my erratic collecting of bird books.

Here’s something else. I find myself buying the odd one-offs.  Books that fit nowhere into any of my collections.  Like, The Second Funeral of Napoleon in Three Letters to Miss Smith of London and The Chronicle of the Drum published in 1841. William Makepeace Thackeray penned it using Michael Angelo Titmarch as his nom-de-plum. Then there’s this $75 paperback, WeeGee’s Naked City.   What attracted me was the blurb on the cover:  “Weegee photographs that O. Henry might have done if he had worked with a camera.” 

Obviously, I don’t complete, I don’t focus and I can’t afford the top ticket items that would make my collections worthy of a bus announcement,  but book collecting is a thrill for me. Everything — from the search to the surprise-find, from roadtrips to attend book festivals to borrowing from the house maintenance budget to pay for a must-have — figures into that thrill.   And I’ve learned along the way, something I hope the panel communicates to our audience, there are all kinds of ways to collect, and all kinds of collections. Neatly packaged and defined is not a requirement.

This post was updated 10.17.10 with improved images of the books.

4 thoughts on “My ADD book collecting habit

  1. How honest you are! I’ve taken a page out of your book — just picked up a copy of a Pearl Buck published in DUTCH. ($2 at a Friends of the Library sale — NOT ex-library but donated to the sale) The original title was “Of Men and Women” — and the Dutch title is “Halt Amerika! Sexeproblemnen Amerika” or something like that. I’m enjoying these “tangential” copies as much or more as having the originals.


  2. Such a deal! (And here I thought you completed Pearl and moved on to Carl.) Don’t you also have one of Pearl’s books in German?


  3. Just found your blog and was reading this post and wanted to share my compulsion of collecting books. I have a list of all the books to reach #1 on the NYTimes bestseller list since its beginning and I continue with the current Times list every week. I have been trying to get as many of those books as I can. I have an entire room in my house and the shelves are filled with NYTimes Bestsellers (all hardback). I continue to scour library sales, garage sales, ebay, amazon, used book stores and new bookstores for the best deals on these books. My wife thinks I am insane but its fun!


  4. Thanks for sharing your collecting compulsion. I love what you’re doing!


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