Saturday, January 18, 2014

Booking, 2014.

Contemplating the goings-on in New York this weekend, my memory turns back to one of my favorite past-times during that event: shopping for books. A trip to the Mysterious Bookshop, Murder Ink, the Strand bookstore . . . one inevitably came home with a mass of books, some even having large boxes shipped to save transporting them on their flights.

But that was another time, before Amazon and alibris, before e-books and Kindles.

New books from small presses like Gasogene Books or BSJ Publishing get debuted on Holmes's birthday weekend in NYC, to be sure, but buying them there isn't a rare opportunity as it once might have been.

The world of books and how we interact with them is changing, no news to anybody, but it will be especially interesting to see how those changes affect the Sherlockian landscape over time. Or if they will.

A hobby with roots in the Victorian era, where emulating a certain Victorian sitting room's furnishings is common, will probably embraced the printed book long after mainstream society lets it go. And the very core of Sherlock Holmes fandom will never be so large a number that a small print run of specialty books made just for the pleasure of holding them in one's hands as Holmes and Watson did won't be a suitable celebration of the two.

I am not, at this point in my life, one of those naive souls who proclaims, "One can never have too many books!" One can, especially in an age where the big book sellers will market crap books that are only printed for someone to buy as a gift for someone else -- not to actually be read. Or faddish books that pop up and go out of fancy almost immediately -- will anyone give two shakes about "Duck Dynasty" in ten years, or even two? Not enough to read a book on the subject. Local used book sales seem to end with more and more books unable to find a home, every single year.

There are those sorts of books that will do well as an e-book. Ephemeral things of the moment, catching readers at a flare-up of interest and then going away. Thanks to e-books, we won't have to fill dumpsters or landfills with the waste by-products of moving thoughts from head to head if those thoughts aren't worth everyone holding a personal reference copy.

Sherlock Holmes, however, has proven his worth over time, and how having just that right old book on the shelf to pull down can be a joyous exercise. Were we a part of a more profitable past-time, all of our lore might be on the internet for a quick Google search, but it's not . . . at least not yet. If Sherlock keeps working its magic, who knows?

But for now, Sherlockian book-love abides.

And, luckily, nobody was headed for New York just for the books, after all, were they?


  1. Brad

    Interesting post. As an antiquarian book dealer specializing in first editions of the Sherlock Holmes books, I have observed a rapidly developing trend over the past decade.

    The true Sherlockian book collector tends now to be 60 to 70 years of age or older. They are no longer actively buying books and, in fact, are attempting to sell their collections. However, there are fewer and fewer people who are interested in book collecting and, as a result, the market for collectible books is rapidly declining.

    Additionally, there have emerged on eBay and ABE books a number of large British book dealers who have access to the Holmes first editions in England and who are, essentially, "dumping" them into the U.S. at significantly low prices. They seem to be making their mark-up on shipping costs. As an example, a first edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes has historically sold for over $1,000 for an example in fine condition. Today, you can find them for $400 or even less. The condition may not be pristine, but the book serves for those individuals who want a first edition.

    With the demise of the genuine and discerning book collector, the flooding of the market with British book dealer sales, and the younger generation's turning away from book collecting in general, there are fewer and fewer people buying first editions and, consequently, fewer and fewer selling them.

    The recent loss of one of the greatest--and last--bookmen, Mr Vincent Brosnan, known by all as Sherlock in L.A., points to this passing era. Vinnie handled some of the great Sherlockian collections over the years and was an impeccable book dealer of the highest integrity and standards. In one of his last phone conversations, he told me "There's nobody left to sell books to anymore." And, I think he summed up the Sherlockian book collecting trend quite succinctly with his observation.

    There will always be a few first edition collectors. But, I think they will become--like the books they seek--rarer and rarer. The "Salad Days" of book collecting seem to be over.

    Best regards and thank you for your thoughtful topics.

    Yours faithfully,

    Don Libey
    Libey Books

  2. I will probably be stoned in the marketplace for my heresy, but I never liked old books. Sorry. But the thought of who might have touched them with washed or unwashed hands, might have sneezed /coughed into them etc. is not one I like to dwell on.

    So, new books it is for me, please. And since the advent of eBook readers - I have a Kindle now and was one of the first buyers of the rocket eBook fourteen years ago - I have bought less and less paper books and have also started to get rid of the ones I already posess.

    I understand that it is a sad thing to see beautifully crafted books vanish into the past, but I personally have never been interested in antiques. For me a book is all about the content, not the medium. And my online content is already far bigger than I would be able to stow away if it came in paper format.

    That's why I cheerfully wave at the paper book as it goes the way of the dodo and collect exclusively online nowadays.

  3. I've always LOVED old books, but then I love antiques, stories of times past, aged wine, and mature people. My husband gave me a Kindle for Christmas a couple of years ago because he didn't want to build another bookcase, and I just can't get used to it. I love the feel of books, especially old ones, and I'm one of those people who is sorry to see the printed word dying.

    1. I'm with you re the wine - the others... not so much. ;-)

  4. Brad, I wish you an excellent evening viewing Sherlock tonight and am most curious what you will have to tell us tomorrow!