If I Was Rich I’d Collect Books

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, April 3, 2018

I’ve never hankered after riches. Owning fancy cars or mansions seems like too much work. Bookworms don’t need much money, we just need time. Now that I’m retired I’m rich in time. But for some reason, I now want to collect books as beautiful objects. Before, I bought books to read. I gave them away when I finished. Often I bought more books than I could read, and after several years of not reading them, I gave them away too.

For some reason that I don’t understand, I’ve developed an attraction to certain books. But only to editions with covers I like. I’ve made a few indulgent purchases lately of hardbacks with dust jackets I admire. I love getting them in the mail, especially when they are in fine shape, protected by a Brodart mylar jacket. So far my purchases have been few, and always under $20. The books I really want cost a good deal more.

I’ve never really valued paperbacks until recently. When I was young they were all I could afford.  After I went to work I bought hardbacks. I have bad eyes and hardbacks are easier to read. Since the invention of the ebook, I actually prefer to read Kindle books. But for a psychological reason I can’t understand, I now enjoy buying old paperbacks because of their covers. I don’t know why I want to collect them because old paperbacks are fragile and deteriorating. To read one requires great care not to damage them.

I can easily order most paperbacks for under $5 from ABEBooks.com. However, the dealers who sell them for that price are not accurate with their condition descriptions, plus they have a nasty habit of putting barcode labels right on the beautiful covers. Pisses me off no end. It generally requires spending a good deal more to get paperbacks in very good to fine condition. Evidently, dealers who charge more are kinder to what they sell and don’t put barcodes on their merchandise. Quite often they ship paperbacks in protective plastic sleeves.

Here are series of books from Ballantine I’d love to collect. I won’t let myself spend the money, so I’ll post the covers here to admire. They’ll look especially great when I view this page on my iPhone. Maybe I like these covers because the artists have illustrated short stories I know. I don’t feel modern cover artists illustrate stories like these old artists did.

The Best of C. L. Moore

The Best of Fredric Brown

The Best of C. M. Kornbluth

The Best of Cordwainer Smith

The Best of Fritz Leiber

The Best of Henry Kuttner

The Best of Edmond Hamilton

The Best of Eric Frank Russell

The Best of Frederik Pohl

The Best of Robert Bloch

The Best of Hal Clement

The Best of Jack Williamson

The Best of James Blish

The Best of John W. Campbell

The Best of L. Sprague de Camp

The Best of Leigh Brackett

The Best of Murray Leinster

The Best of Philip K. Dick

The Best of Raymond Z. Gallum

The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum

The Best of John Brunner







20 thoughts on “If I Was Rich I’d Collect Books”

    1. Becky, I collect digital copies of the covers and use them for computer wallpaper. I have my computer change the wallpaper every 30 minutes. I’m also on a Facebook group, Space Opera Pulp where we upload covers to share and like. It’s a very popular group with over eleven thousand members. People love old science fiction book and magazine covers.

  1. That Ballantine “Best of” series also has volumes for Harry Kuttner, Fredric Brown, Fritz Leiber and Robert Bloch. There was also a Ballantine “The Best of John Brunner” from 1988. I’ve read a few of these over the years, after collecting them about 20 years ago. They certainly seem harder to find today, but that can be said for a lot of vintage SF.

    Pocket books also put out a paperback “Best of” series, and those volumes are even scarcer in my experience. Well worth picking up if you can spot them.

    1. Thanks, Pete. I thought I downloaded those covers. I’ll upload them soon. I can’t believe I left the Fredric Brown off, because it was my favorite. I just reread “The Star Mouse.”

  2. That Del Rey/Ballantine series is to drool over! I have only the Weinbaum and the Bloch, though.

    I’m a bit like Jim—I’m starting to cherish books as physical objects as well. I’m very attracted to hardcovers these days. My greatest indulgence in this regard was when I ordered the limited edition of Ray Bradbury’s DARK CARNIVAL, his first book, in 2001 (or 2002; I forget). It cost $220, which I could afford in those days (and remember, I have to pay in a very weak currency). About eight years later I ordered a slipcase for it, which cost me another $50 or thereabouts, including shipping.

    I very much agree with the notion of books living around the house as cherished works of art. They are a store of memories and associations in a way that ebooks can never be.

    Coincidentally, last night I opened storage box containing some books I’d hurriedly saved when my parents cleared out their last house in 2005. I was so happy to renew my aquaintance with POOR NO MORE, by Robert Ruark, I book I’ve never read and probably never will. But all through my childhood, it was there on the bookshelf with its memorable spine artwork: a candle burning at both ends. I was actually hoping to find Errol Flynn’s autobiography, but I’ll never forget that candle burning at both ends. It was part of the wallpaper of my formative years.

    Even if I never read it!

    1. Piet, have you talked to your wife about what to do with your books when you pass on? I’m sure if I kicked the bucket my wife would haul all my books down to Goodwill. Do you have kids that love your books?

  3. As Agent Smith said, “It’s the smell”… but I mean it in a good way. There is nothing better than opening a book (new or old) and getting that “smell” of the paper, the binding, and even a hint of the ink. That is one of the reasons I still visit bookstores, as well as ordering from Glamazon. I live in a backwater when it comes to internet access; no chance of getting anything faster than 3mbp down and 1.5 mbp up, unless I join Speculum. Won’t happen. I’ll move first.
    So, I still buy books, both online and from local bookstores (few though they may be).

    And I find that the tactile and sensual (stop that, that’s not what I mean) effect of a book is a major part of the joy of reading it. At my age, perhaps I’m just incapable of changing.
    And why should I?

  4. Like you, I love older books. They had a style and panache that many contemporary books lack (especially the covers!). Our Library Book Sale season starts in a few weeks. If I find some of the books your covet, I’ll send them to you (I love finding books for other people!).

    1. Thanks, George. You better be careful, I’m sure hordes of people would love for you to book hunt for them. Have you ever thought of becoming a book dealer on ABEBooks?

      1. I’ve searched for books for friends for decades. It’s “The Thrill of the Hunt.” Finding a couple of those BEST OF books for you would thrill me as much as it would thrill you when you received them. There used to be a profession called “a book scout” where individuals would root around in bookstores searching for books. I’m guess that enterprise is defunct in a age of the Internet.

  5. Jim, I’m not married and never had kids. I do live with a woman, but we’re just housemates. As for my book collection, there’s no special provision for what might happen to it after I croak. Only three or four books are actually valuable, and the rest is for people with the same interests as me, and I’ve never actually met someone like that! I’ll just tell everyone they must use their heads and see that my SF books go to someone who’ll appreciate them. I’d have them shipped to the USA if it were affordable, but of course it’s not. And anyway, my SF library is nothing special by your standards. People around here sure don’t have that many books with SF short stories, but that’s because nobody’s interested!

    1. Piet, I donated 30,000 books to the State University of New York at Buffalo. I received a nice tax deduction. You would be surprised at how much books can be valued!

      1. Oh I know it! Unfortunately my thousands of books are mostly worth nothing because, #1. they just aren’t and #2. the good ones are covered in marginalia. So I’m donating most of them to the local land fill and letting my kids dump the most special 200 or so I can’t do that to. But until then, it’s a huge personal pleasure to see the books, hard-cover, paperback, slender tomes and door-stoppers, lining the walls of my rooms collecting dust.

    2. Piet, I don’t have that many books anymore either. I’d guess around 400-500 printed books, 1,200 audiobooks, and about a 1,000 ebooks. I’ve given away thousands of books. I don’t like to own too many at once. Several times I’ve sold my science fiction collection. I met up with an old friend at a science fiction convention recently, and he told me about several friends that had died, and what happened to their book collections. He inherited one collection. A couple very large collections dissipated when the families couldn’t find universities to take them.

      I’m going to tell my wife to just give my collection to the library. Hopefully, if I have anything valuable it will make someone happy at a Friends of the Library book sale.

      Here’s my reading area. It’s messy since I’m rearranging my shelves.

      Book shelves

  6. Piet, many Americans are “dumping” their book and music CD collections. Since so many used bookstores have closed, books and CDs show up at Library Book Sales and thrift stores. At the same time, University Libraries are eager to accept donations of “Popular Culture” items like paperbacks (that they ignored) and digest magazines (which they also ignored). So I buy books and music CDs at these sales, enjoy them, then donate them (and get a nice tax deduction).

  7. Does the cover of the Cordwainer Smith book represent an actual story? If so, I’d love to read that.

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