Some years back, I dabbled in full-on book collecting: seeking out first editions, looking for gorgeous hardcovers in mylar-protected dust jackets that truly were "F/F." Soon after moving to New York I'd found my way to The Strand and, better yet, The Strand Annex (now just a memory), and eventually the online treasure troves of AbeBooks.com and Half.com. And then there was the excitement of finding something special on eBay -- something no one else seemed to have cottoned onto the specialness of -- and holding out till the last few seconds to swoop in with a winning bid. A cache of autographed Richard Ford hardcovers, with an "old" paperback of The Sportswriter thrown in "just for fun" as "an extra bonus" (but which turned out to be a first edition in sparklingly nice condition!) was the pinnacle of my auction-going days.
But more often, I found that the first editions I would have loved to own -- Catch-22, say, or Slaughterhouse Five -- were way beyond my financial reach, since of course who wouldn't love to own them? And then, too, if I did own one of them, what would I do with it? I couldn't read it! As it was, I wound up with both my "collector's copies" and then also secondhand paperback "reading copies" -- since not only could you not read the collectible copies, but these few books that were both within my reach and seemed worth collecting were also books I would want to reread. (My wife has always found this duplicate copies business simultaneously baffling and hilarious.)
Eventually, I took some good advice and focused on collecting first editions of contemporary novelists and short story writers -- mostly people around my own age who'd only published a book or two. Investment collecting, you could call this, with these writers' works being the penny stocks of the book collecting world. I've found I like the feeling of placing my bets on these writers and their work, believing as a collector that books by Aleksandar Hemon, Lan Samantha Chang and Dean Bakopoulos, for instance, will someday be collectibles. Of course I first spent plenty of wonderful time betting on them as a reader.
(As an avid reader of contemporary poetry, I also collect first editions of poets' books -- by default, really, since so few of us are fortunate enough to see our books go into second printings.)
These days, though, I've given up eBay and quit scouring The Strand and AbeBooks.com with the fervor I once had. But this makes the occasional chance discovery that much more exciting. Most recently at The Strand -- to finally make the connection to that photo above -- I happened upon a (paperback) first edition of Marianne Boruch's first book, View from the Gazebo: a clean unwrinkled copy, surprisingly crisp more than 25 years after it was published.
My other odd pleasure these days (that sound you hear is my wife laughing in the doorway) is picking up "withdrawn" library copies of otherwise unaffordable (or just un-locate-able) books of poems. Also shown above is my copy of Marianne Boruch's second book, Descendant, once part of the Wright State University Library's collection.
Regrettably, its dust jacket was removed long ago, but otherwise it's in great shape. It hardly looks checked out, with its "Date Due" slip pasted on the front end paper unmarked since first being stamped "APR 2 3 '92". This reminds me of the bittersweet feeling I once had reading the seller's description of a book of poems available on Half.com: "Like new. Only read once, not all the way through."