Rare Books and Pumpkin Muffins

You are probably not supposed to eat pumpkin applesauce muffins for dinner…but it’s cold and raining, it’s been a bit of a strange week or two, so I find myself under a fuzzy blanket with a cup of tea, reading Stone Butch Blues and eating homemade muffins for dinner. It’s comforting.

The mass shooting in Pittsburgh has cast a bit of a pall on life here since it occurred. While we are no strangers to mass shootings in this country, the fact of it happening in a synagogue during worship, and the appalling anti-Semitic nature of the attack, was and continues to be shocking. I have no good, smart things to say about it – I wish that I did. But it is devastating, and I have joined with people around the country in mourning those who were lost.

So I’ve been doing a lot of what I usually do when such things happen – hiking in the woods near my house, drinking tea, and reading. Evidently, also eating muffins for dinner. And buying books! Every time I swear that I’m not going to buy another book until I get caught up with reading a few more, I somehow lose all self-control and come home with a bag filled with books. I don’t know how it happens.

A while ago, Brian was eyeing the dog-eared paperback copies I had bought on the cheap someplace and asked me if I’d ever considered investing in higher quality used books – rare, first editions, or at least hardcovers? Honestly, at the time, I had not. What mattered to me was having the words on a printed page, and if those words were printed in a cheap, falling-apart paperback copy with water damage, who cared?! As long as I could read it, right?

But then a friend of mine sent me a podcast that changed my mind a bit: https://theamericanscholar.org/the-future-is-feminist-book-collecting/#.W-EAy5NKhPY. I am usually pretty bad at listening to podcasts or talk radio – I try so hard, but I have a really hard time following along without a visual component to go along with what I’m hearing. I am an overwhelmingly visual learner, it would seem. But this was an interesting enough topic that I took notes and worked my way through it!

In it, A.N. Devers talked about how feminist rare book collectors can often impact the demand for (and prices of) women authors. We often think of the value coming first (as she puts it, Leonardo da Vinci wrote this, so therefore it is valuable), but in fact often those values are skewed by the fact that the world of rare and antiquarian book collecting is often dominated by male collectors and their own interests, artificially driving the value of women authors down.

I found this fascinating. I have to admit, the few first edition and quality hardcovers that I have in my collection really do improve the overall library. Wouldn’t it be nice to have more? But then again, I don’t know the first thing about rare book collecting. So I did what your mother does when she hears slang she doesn’t know, or what your cousin does when he pretends to know more about his venture capitalism job than he actually understands: I googled!

I found that there are a couple of databases for antiquarian associations that you can use to look for rare books that you’re on the hunt for. I started looking for books that I’d had a hard time finding for the library. I started with The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson, which won the Pulitzer for Fiction. How much does a first edition of that go for? Fifteen hundred dollars. Eesh. Well, that wasn’t a good start.

But, I kept plugging away, looking for books I’d been interested in but had trouble finding in person. Maybe the internet had them! And maybe I could find some nicer copies. Then I visited a local antique mall and sifted through their books. Now that I knew what to look for and how to compare internet prices for antique copies, I could see if I was getting something good or not.

I found myself a nice edition of an English translation of Colette’s Claudine in Paris (translated by Antonia White, a favorite author of mine!). The copy had a bit of damage, but it was well priced. I also found a first edition of Eudora Welty’s The Ponder Heart – not exactly a first edition of Delta Wedding, but a good start!

All this good research led me to finding some good deals online – books I knew to be undervalued by their sellers. I came home from work to find a hardcover of The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford (another Pulitzer winner), The Collected Stories of Caroline Gordon, and Ivy Compton-Burnett’s A Heritage and Its History waiting for me.

I don’t think I have the time or the wallet to be a serious collector, but I like the idea that my collecting books can have an impact on the overall demand for women’s novels. A little ripple in the pond…

Whatever you are doing this week – tea drinking, rare book collecting, baked-goods-for-dinner eating, under-a-fuzzy-blanket-hiding – peace to you and yours.



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