Book Collecting [1]

I intend to be posting a lot of new content about books here. It's an exciting time!

On that note, in my research these past few weeks, I encountered Honey & Wax Booksellers, an independent bookstore in Brooklyn, NY. In five weeks of work, they are the only rare book shop I've encountered so far run by women. I'm not exaggerating. 

I'm uneasy about the lack of higher-up women collectors, and the shop proprietors seem to share my concern. They have even taken early steps to help correct it! Every year, Honey and Wax offers a prize to fund "the next generation" of women booksellers and book collectors. No sponsorship or experience beyond one's own collecting mettle is required. 


I hope that next year I'll be able to apply in earnest. In the meantime, I had vague intimations of applying this year anyway. I recognize that I wouldn't have won, I couldn't put together all the application materials required yet. 

Also, I see now that I've missed the deadline! Honey and Wax is on east coast time. I'm 40+ minutes late.

Just for the marker of it, mostly for my own warm fuzzies, I'll be sending the booksellers a link. Hello there, if you choose to read! 

In any case, I got excited about the kind of collection I wanted to build and wrote it up. The raw text I typed up on my iPhone in ten minutes, with a few small edits, is below. 

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Book Collection: Flattery & Imitation (when it's good enough & when it's not).

After reading a blog post on a young female collector and how she started, I ran out to a used bookstore to, hopefully, encounter in my blazing good luck an original copy of the famous-marble-paged Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy. Startlingly, in my first attempt, I was not able to find this rare volume. 

Instead, I bought a (much) later, but still early for most modern readers, edition from 1940. It cost just over $6. 

I love it!

Thumbing through it at home, I began to ponder: where exactly do we draw our shades of difference in the importance of a book? More personally, I wondered: what makes a book valuable to me?

The source of joy and value in book collecting, I thought, must be something like the source of joy and value inspired by my other collections. Over the years I've accrued necklaces, stickers, diaries, blankets, matchsticks and candles, plants and bookmarks. I'm not a hoarder. My apartment isn't crowding every corner with junk. Yet I've dragged these silly collections with me through thirteen separate moves over fifteen years, not because I love hauling more stuff than necessary, but because each of the items in my carefully-selected collections has a story. 

I love those stories!

I thought a similar principle should guide my upcoming book collection. 

Although I've yet to build my collection beyond the first volume, and I don't expect I'm eligible yet this year, I am thrilled that this prize exists and overjoyed at getting to start my collection!

If the three things necessary for book collecting are resources, education and freedom, I've always been blessed with the latter two, and lacking the former. Historically, women rarely gained the full set. But as you say, the times they are a-changing. As of five weeks ago, I've begun an apprenticeship to a Rare Books and Manuscripts Dealer, and I finally have the freedom and resources to invest my time in what has always been my passion: the stories behind Stories. 


My collection revolves around those subtle signals, hard to grasp conceptually, that by speech/action indicate one is not in the "in" group. Those small cues that, inextricable to the imitator, present a sharp and moral outrage to one in the know. They indicate, like a slap in the face from one who would have been a brother, that the imposter does not belong. 

Image result for real rare book and fake one

People give themselves away by small differences in their use of terms, the actions they take, the processes they adhere to, and a million other ways every day and every second. These small foibles are the invisible strings that keep human societal strata in line. 

Think of how often, noted silently by only one participant, a line of you-not-me is drawn. Does that coworker use one or two spaces after a period? Do they call it a "machine" or a "computer?" How do they pronouncing Musk's first name -- "Eh-lon" or "Ee-lon?" When they talk, are they simple or complex, crude slang-slingers or anti-hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobists? Ho long do they spend on each task? Each step of each task? Do they whack the back of the bag at the end, or would doing so decrease the life-value of the material? How many centimeters under the bud do they cut? Will they kill the plant? Can I trust them, or is it clear they don't know what they're doing?

Reader, let me ask you: If someone told you, "show me your skill, show my how you do your trade," and you picked up your instruments and went about it, what would you do? In what order? At what pace? How would your colleagues do it? How would those in your role across the world work? By how much would all of your methods and manners differ?  And what are the acceptable bounds of difference?

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I hope to come at the root of these questions for literature by examining the literary greats. My collection will focus on matched sets, with one volume of each being absent, one present: the original, and the imitator.

Confused? Allow me to elaborate.

In each case, first there is the preeminent work. The title that spawned innervating, explosive thought, often globally, which is widely regarded as profound. Whether by prose or novelty or insight or sheer labor, each opus marks a turning point in history and, as a culture, we regard it with esteem.

However, I cannot afford the true historical loci of our culture in their earliest, first editions. Many novice collectors, in the same financial straits as I, would settle for later editions of those revered prints. The power of the book, they would argue, is its message, not its wrappings. 

The experienced antiquarian bookseller will say to that, 


A second edition consistently costs less than the first. A third edition drops even more dramatically, especially for the rarer stuff. The fourth edition's not on the shelf. If it's in the room at all, it's on the floor, holding the door open.

Instead, I aim to find the fakers. The imitators. The writers who, though "talentless," recognize the appeal of a work and try with all their might to copy it for profit. Or glory. Or, possibly, in dangerous disavowal of the influence of others upon one's own fragile psyche, thinking that the ideas of that preeminent volume are a brilliant invention of his or her very own.

I will collect volumes that share this gnat-like, insubstantial similarity with their respective works. The books on my shelf will be the pale imitations or outrageous fakes of renowned great works. I'm excited by the idea of this collection because I'll learn so much more about why these original works are great. Nothing shines light on a champion quite like watching her imitator fail. 

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I have a lot of research to do before I can decide on a preliminary list of books to collect. First I must review what "great" works I want to include as the empty half of the matches, or at the least which I'd consider. 

Then I get to learn about the historical and social events, trends, and opinions at the time of those works' original authors. I may impose a time limit, restricting myself to copies that come out 2-5 years after the original. I may leave the timing open ended. I may look for unusual motivations of the imitator, or for the first imitation that came out in record time, or for an imitation that claimed to be greater than the original, or for the imitation with the most thinly veiled word-for-word matched scenes. 

There are a lot of possibilities to explore, and in so doing, I intend to learn a great deal about the reasons why people imitate literature, what the effect of these imitations are on culture/art/science, how prevalent literary imitation is and in what great range of difference or similarities imitations appear, and whether imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, or largely just a mess.

Thank you for hosting this wonderful competition. I hope next year to be able to submit the progress of my collection. 

With my nose in a book,
Lindsey A. Davis, age 28

One Man's Trash

Today I wrote a lovely little mini-essay on Frank L. Baum's The Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately, mini-essay isn't quite the aesthetic we're aiming toward in the book world. 

Thus do you, my dear book-readers, get to enjoy it instead. 


The Wizard of Oz is a story rich in symbolic and political meaning; a rare delight to adults and children alike. While some fawn over illustrator and political cartoonist Denslow's influence on the tale, more are drawn to its message of individualism. In Baum’s narrative, all but the titular character pursue their individual needs purposefully, and with integrity. Although the events of the book revolve around a set of travelers seeking aid from a Wizard, the story’s end teaches the reader that personal integrity is the only aid that the worthy need identify. The travelers -- Dorothy, a young girl who seeks neither beauty or fame, but only to find a true home; the Scarecrow, who wishes for greater intellect to better understand his circumstances; the Tin Man, who desires a heart so as to impress upon his rationality some human feeling; and the Cowardly Lion who, in chasing after courage with his new friends, builds for himself the very virtue he hopes to find -- demonstrate the virtues that Baum hopes young readers will imbue. The cultivation of individual strength among the populace, Baum suggests, is what will keep American Society of the 20th century from adopting the willful ignorance of the munchkin’s small-minded peoples, or else following the smoke and mirrors of a falsely omnipotent and morally-debased leader.  

Wisdom from television

Tonight, a sitcom character after my own heart professed to write three letters when he began each new job:

  1. an action plan;
  2. a letter to his four-year-old self; and
  3. a resignation letter.

I thought, cool. Cool cool cool. 

Then I wrote those letters for my most recently-acquired role. 

I'll post only a small fragment of the third letter, as abides good taste. Enjoy the brief spats of the others, with luck, as much as I did. 


Three letters for: Assistant Dealer (Rare Books and Manuscripts)

Action Plan

My survey of the first two and a half weeks leads me to use the priority system as my frame. Thus:

Priority 1

- update or master FileMaker to keep up with growing needs

- gain expertise in terms, systems and instincts of all rare book, manuscript, autograph and collections dealings.

- learn to juggle full scope of responsibilities and deadlines (full schedule) with finesse. 

Letter to my Four-Year-Old Self

Hey little stranger. Four is so young. You don’t need someone else to tell you that. You’re learning so much!

When you’re twenty-eight (I know! A gazillion years! Yes, you’ll be that old! and older!!!) you’ll be learning a lot about books. Not just books. The people who wrote the books, too. And the people who liked those books, and how those people made other people like the books, and ways the books affected stuff. It’s a lot about books! You like books, don’t you? I love books. You have so much to learn from them. 

In my (your) job, I research all about these books, writing stuff up and making other people’s writings prettier. Then my team and I (another nice lady and a cool eccentric older man) find people who like the books and things we have. We package all our books up and get them in the hands of people who value them.  It’s neat! People are happy to have their books for a whole bunch of interesting reasons, and we’re happy to explain why these books are interesting, find the books, and get them to nice people who are excited to receive them. 

There’s some boring stuff in the job. Working with tape and scissors (sometimes it knots and it’s frustrating), packaging stuff up to make sure it’s safe while traveling,  rushing around to find things that get lost and pick up things that are too valuable to sit around alone. Mostly you’re happy now, at the old-old age of twenty-eight, to be working with books and so-ci-o-lo-gi-cal markers. No, not the kind that write.

You’ll get it when you learn to read. Love you! Bye. 

Resignation Letter

Dear [employer], 

Thank you for the incredible opportunity. I never dreamed that I would get to work with living historical artifacts, yet this exactly has been my privilege since my first day here. That is why it is with the deepest regret that, as of today, I must tender my ---. 


I trust that this resignation will be received with the good and honest intent with which it was written, and with all my regard. 



11:39 a.m. to 9:07

Luck and conviction. All you needed to do was choose me. Choose me all the time; not sometimes, but all the time. Every time. Really, it wasn't too much. I devalued the hell out of myself thinking it was ok to take a "random survey" of whether you'd choose me on any given day, and you devalued me just the same, maybe worse?, by saying that my sampling wasn't random enough.

Fuck you.

12:35pm (Monday)

Today I saw a girl whisper around a corner. She was small, and alone, and I can't tell you why she caught my eye. Her clothing was eclectic, but not conspicuous. She moved quickly, but not in such a way as to draw attention. By chance I did see her. That's all that can be said. And that was that. Bugger. Some defining moment had just upset my life and here I was, chasing a girl, caught in a drizzle approaching a storm and totally, raptly unaware of my own impending transmutation. 

Ah, well. That's life, then, isn't it?

Stay tuned for Part II: a girl loses a phone.