Real Books and Why We Love Them

antiquarian_booksIOBA member Suzanne Mantell (Warwick Books) recently contributed a piece to the Los Angeles Editors and Writers Group in which she answers the rhetorical question “Who wouldn’t want to lose 1000 pounds of books in favor of a Kindle?” Her article is reprinted here with her permission:

“Real” Books and Why We Love Them
Suzanne Mantell

“A recent ad for the Kindle Paperwhite, which allows reading even in bright sunlight, touts that the device will hold up to 1,100 books. That sounds like a lot, but for serious readers, a library of 1,100 books is not so large. Book lovers find it really easy to accumulate books—usually they find it hard not to. So, like an overweight person shedding body fat, an overstuffed householder who can lessen his or her bulk by offloading everything onto an electronic reader has reason to rejoice. Even if the books downloaded onto the Kindle Paperwhite are thin ones, weighing in at less than a pound (a standard hardcover book weighs anywhere from 12 to 32 ounces), the equivalent poundage of the Kindle load in real-life material would be at least 1000 pounds. Who wouldn’t like to be that much lighter?

Well, actually, lots of people. True, mass market paperbacks are having a hard time of it, losing ground to e-books every year, and popular fiction in hardcover is floundering too. But not all books are in trouble. What follows are a few observations based not on Nielsen scans or publishers’ reports but solely on the experiences of a seller of used, secondhand—mostly “collectible”—books. I own an online bookstore, and business is strong and growing. Here is what I’ve discovered.

I can’t say who exactly “they” are, but the people out there who love owning books buy them daily—expensive ones, too. First editions are especially prized. Why will a collector pay dearly for a first of, say, Lolita or Charlotte’s Web? It takes a while to understand the thrill of the first appearance in print of an important book or a beloved author, but once you catch on, it’s really exciting: This—what I’m holding in my hand—is what the book looked like before it was reviewed, reviled, reprinted, revered. This is the real thing. This is the future not yet unspooled. The acclaim hadn’t yet happened. The history hadn’t yet accumulated. The writing is finished, the editor has signed off on the manuscript, the jacket art has been decided on, the print run has been set. All of this took place at the time this object in my hand was published. There is an innocence to a first edition that later issues do not have. (Think of Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling, before it became known that the author was J.K. Rowling, and the book went back to press with her name attached to it.) This specialness is a cultivated taste, like opera or fine wine. Once people develop it they are hooked.

Signed books give a similar thrill. A signed book attests to a meeting of creator with creation, and this convergence gives the signed book a special significance. I, like many book fans, am beguiled by signed books, no matter the fame or obscurity of the writer, because the signature personalizes the book—dresses it up, puts on the finishing touch. When signatures are accompanied by little drawings or warm inscriptions to a friend or colleague, they are especially meaningful. Never pass up the chance to sign your book if asked, and never pass up the chance to get an author to sign his or her book for you.

Books with tipped-in maps that fold out to any number of sizes allow a world to open up parallel to the text. People who read history especially like books with maps. The maps are worlds in themselves, but because they are part of the book they are a world within a world. They imply too a generosity on the part of the publisher: “Readers deserve this extra effort,” the maps say. “They can look at me and understand better what’s being described, so everything will fall into place.”

Art books whose illustrations require a big field are often given foldout pages, or “gatefolds,” which appeal to readers by allowing them to see a picture that is suddenly larger than the book they hold in their hands. Another valued feature is a book with tipped-in (glued in along one edge) plates. Though it isn’t always true that tipped-in plates are better visually—with higher resolution or brighter imagery than other illustrations—they look good and emphasize the importance of the picture. Books on laid (textured) paper and books that predate electronic typesetting (early to mid-1970s)—have a tactile appeal that’s mostly lost in more recently published books. It’s quite a challenge to hold a well-made book from the nineteenth century (or earlier) and not be impressed with the quality of the paper, the impression of the type, the overall care and artistry that went into its creation.

And speaking of artistry, leather bindings—even newer ones prepared especially for collectors and often sold in sets—are seductive. Usually enshrining classic texts, both fiction and nonfiction, they shout out “Look at me, I am important!” Serious readers may not be attracted to leather-bound books, but there is definitely a market appeal to them. With gilt titles and gilt decorations, they do indeed look important.

Pop-up and other forms of “movable” books, which for reasons I don’t understand used to be considered déclassé, have progressed to become wondrous specialty items for adults as well as kids. Artist/writers such as Robert Sabuda, Matthew Reinhart, and David A. Carter have figured out how to create intricate fantasies in paper that twist and turn and sometimes even shimmer. These books aren’t “important” except insofar as they bring someone else’s imagination home with a bang and elicit admiration for the creator’s ingenuity and skill.

E-books have their own kind of special resources—compactness is certainly one of them—but they are often digressive. “Tap here” and a new world will indeed unfold, but it is not necessarily the world you started in or the one you wanted to stick with. You wander off on tangents and the integrity of the primary experience is watered down, if not shattered.

Books for Kindles and other e-readers are lightweight and efficient at delivering content. They help you meander and mark your place, but they lose the special elements many book aficionados look for. E-readers don’t provide the emotional resonance, tactile experience, or triggers for the imagination that old-fashioned paper books do. They are expansive in a way, but not nearly as expansive as a “real” book.

Copyright (c) 2013 Suzanne Mantell. Please contact the author at or for permission to reprint.

Jason Rovito is the newest “Bright Young Thing”

BYT_rovitoIOBA member Jason Rovito (Paper Books in Toronto) is the newest “Bright Young Thing” from Fine Books & Collections. In his interview, Bright Young Things: Jason Rovito, he answers, among other questions, this intriguingly open-ended one:

“What do you love about the book trade?”

“Its ethics. It doesn’t always happen (by a long stretch), but it’s possible that a single deal in the book trade can bring value to everyone involved: the creators, the created, the sellers, the buyers, and the dealers. And I don’t mean that in a high-horse kind of way; ethics can be really pleasurable. The friendships that emerge at CABS are great examples of what’s possible from a trade that (at its best) doesn’t involve zero sum games; where a part of the profits can be shared, especially through meals, drinks, and conversations. In 2013, I’m not sure that many other jobs can offer the same health benefits.”

Read more here.

Churchill Book Collector Featured by AbeBooks

Churchill_Book_CollectorIOBA member Churchill Book Collector was recently featured as AbeBooks’s Bookseller of the Week. Owners Marc Kuritz & Paul Shelley answer the following questions in the interview:

§ What are the origins of your business?

§ Where are the majority of Churchill book collectors?

§ What’s the rarest Churchill book that you currently offer?

§ Is there a Churchill book that all collectors desire?

§ What’s the most expensive Churchill book that you have sold?

§ Why is there such a strong interest in the writing of Churchill?

§ Is there much collectible ephemera associated with Churchill?

§ Churchill was a prolific writer – is there a bibliography you recommend to people interested in his work?

§ What biographies of Churchill do you recommend?

The Xenia Relief Project

bluejacketbooksshopIt began as a disaster, but ended with celebration. Read IOBA member Zhenya Dzhavgova’s (ZH Books) tribute to how collegial camaraderie, friendship, and true appreciation for books transmuted despair into triumph when IOBA members and the local community launched “The Xenia Relief Project” to aid Dr. Lawrence Hammar, proprieter of Blue Jacket Books, when half of his inventory was destroyed by a burst pipe.

The Xenia Relief Project

IOBA’s New Members in 2012

Gregory Gibson, Membership Chair, and his Committee were happy to welcome the following new members to IOBA in 2012. They come from 20 US states, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Belgium, and Japan. Why not browse their website offerings and get to “know” a new member?


Diversity Books Archer, Anne Langwarrin Victoria, AU
Garry R Austin Austin, Garry R Wilmington VT, USA
Quaint Book Shop Baker, J Wesley Springfield OH, USA
Old Bag Lady Books Blom, Madlyn Sun City Center FL, USA
Prairie Creek Books & Tea Bond, Michael Torrington WY, USA
Chardonmedia Bryce, Charleen Boulder City NV, USA
Old Florida Book Shop Chrisant, William Hollywood FL, USA
Central Street Books Coleman, John Knoxville TN, USA
Paladin Fine Books Coorsh, Robert Toronto ON, Canada
ZH BOOKS Dzhavgova, Zhenya Fremont CA, USA
Old New York Book Shop Graubart, Cliff Atlanta GA, USA
Ariel Books Harcus, Deborah & Ron Auckland, NZ
Commandant’s Cottage Hoekstra, Sandra College Station TX, USA
The Book Lady Ltd Jansen, Janna Waiheke Island, NZ
Lux Mentis, Booksellers Kahn, Ian J. Portland ME, USA
First Place Books Kinley, Kevin Walkersville MD, USA
J. Lawton Booksellers Lawton, James Readville MA, USA
The M.A.D. House Artists Lillie, Candace & Dennis Eucha OK, USA
McInBooks McIntyre, Marvin Farmington NM, USA McKenna, John East Northport NY, USA
Attic Books and Treasures Metzer, Tina Mathias WV, USA
Robinson Street Books Moran, Rhett Binghamton NY, USA
Underground Books Niesse, Josh Carrollton GA, USA
Harvest Book Company LLC Okamoto, Eugene Fort Washington PA, USA
Bibliodditiques Piper, Michael Bradford ON, CA
Richard C. Ramer Ramer, Richard C. New York NY, USA
Good Books In The Woods Rohfritch, Jay Spring TX, USA
Paper Books Rovito, Jason Toronto ON, CA
H&R SALERNO Salerno, Henry Hauppauge NY, USA
First Class Used Books Sampson, Ronald L. Rockaway Beach MO, USA
Caliban Book Shop Schulman, John Pittsburgh PA, USA Smith, Mike Palm Harbor FL, USA
Jeff Stark Books Stark, Jeff Barstow CA, USA
Moonlighting Librarian Thornton, Mary Highland IN, USA
Revere Books Varane, Kenneth Valley Forge PA, USA
LJ’s Books Verderame, Laura Cody WY, USA
The Land of Nod Vincke, Christine Oostende, Belgium
Books Watanabe de Tokyo Watanabe, Naoshi Tokyo-to, Japan
Empire Books Wingfield, Mark Greensboro NC, USA


An Interview with IOBA Member (and ILAB President) Tom Congalton

“Book collecting is a vibrant, exciting and engaging pastime”An interview with ILAB President Tom Congalton

Tom is the owner of Between the Covers Rare Books LLC, which has one of the most fun and vibrant websites around. Through his work with the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, Rare Book School, the ABAA, and ILAB, as well as his presence at book fairs, he has done a tremndous amount to nurture newer book sellers, and to keep the trade alive and relevant.


Read the whole interview, and take heart from the closing Q & A. Although Tom speaks for ILAB, the same sentiments may apply to IOBA:

“What do you think about the future of our business?”

Everyday I meet people, both young and old, who are fascinated by what we do for a living. Rare book collectors have always been a very narrow slice of the population. I think the Internet has broadened our market and that market will develop greatly over the next decade or two. Booksellers will have to learn new tricks, develop new specialties, and utilize technology to broaden their markets. Collectors will develop as they always have – perhaps encountering a random book or object that attracts their attention, looking into it further, and eventually pursuing the objects of their desire – in some cases objects that they hadn’t even known existed.

I’m really very optimistic over the future of book collecting, although those who want it to function in the exact same way that has in the past couple centuries are probably going to be disappointed.

Here, ILAB can do a lot. We can continue to preserve the ethics and professionalism of our members – the things that make us the obvious portals for objects of rarity to collectors, libraries, and scholars. We can encourage the collegiality that allows our members to network with each other in order to help build collections that enhance our knowledge of both the past and the future. We can challenge ourselves and our collectors to use our imaginations to expand the boundaries of traditional book collecting. Some of my colleagues are selling archives of authors and scholars that consist almost entirely of computer data!

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Motte & Bailey: Staying on the page in the digital age

IOBA Member Gene Alloway, Motte & Bailey Used and Rare Books, was recently profiled by The Michigan Daily in Ann Arbor. Perhaps this excellent coverage will inspire a student or two to pursue a career in the trade. “I want to be a bookseller,” he told [the reporter] one afternoon last April, with gumption. “I want to sell all the best books, whether they’re new or used or rare.” Read the complete and well-illustrated interview here.

Congratulations to Tom Congalton, New ILAB President!

IOBA member Tom Congalton (Between the Covers) has been elected President of ILAB, the International Association of Antiquarian Bookdealers. Outgoing President Arnoud Gerits recognized him with these words: “Tom Congalton, over a long period of time, has shown his great commitment to the League and his concise, short but always accurate comments on various topics, his impartial but clever and clear judgements, and his capacity to quickly see and understand the essence of a problem, make him the perfect new President of ILAB. He has been a wonderful Vice-President and I owe him a lot of thanks for his unfailing commitment, support and intelligent contributions to our discussions. To continue the metaphor coined by Adrian Harrington in 2010: the Ship of ILAB is safe in the good hands of Tom.”

On Curation: Musings by IOBAns Past and Present

Former IOBA President Maria Bustillos contributed What George Orwell, Henry Miller, and John Waters Taught Me About What to Read Next to The New Yorker’s Page Turner book blog:

“There’s been a lot of handwringing lately about “curation” (the original meaning of the word has morphed into something else entirely; maybe we still lack a needed word). It has come to signify sifting through the ever-increasing avalanche of “content” in order to identify the things that are worthiest of our attention, and bringing those things to an interested audience. In fact, there should be no question about this at all; with our time and attention being limited as they are, it’s crucial that we have skilled cultural guides.”

Her musings on curation led IOBA member Lorne Bair to post his own thoughts on the fine distinction between “curation” and “merchandizing” on his Minivan of the Revolution blog. Here’s a brief excerpt, to whet your curiosity:

“I make my living buying and selling rare books, documents, and manuscripts. To the extent that I succeed at these tasks, I eat. I’ve been accused on more than one occasion of plying my trade in a “curatorial” manner — by which is meant, I suppose, that I lavish somewhat more care upon the description and presentation of the items I sell than has, perhaps, been traditional in my business (though I don’t believe this really to be true). It might also mean that I’ve spent much of my career selling things for which there has traditionally been only a very small audience, or no audience at all; and that I’ve succeeded because, through persistence and care, I’ve managed to make that audience bigger (I don’t believe this to be true, either). Or maybe it means that, by choosing a narrow field of knowledge and learning as much as I can about it, I’ve made myself into an acknowledged expert in my specialty (I know this not to be true, not even close).  But whatever is meant, there’s this certainty: when I fail at my primary task, which is to sell something for more than what I paid for it, there’s no consolation in knowing that I did so in a curatorial manner.”