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September 22, 1998

Book Collecting

by Dee Entrekin

Questions And Answers

What makes a book collectible?

A collection is born from the reader's fascination with the books he or she reads. Sometimes a new author's book generates much publicity, which results in many sales. First editions of the book may be touted as collectible, commanding inflated prices, before it descends into obscurity. Only an ardent reader should collect books, and the more books read, the more selective one becomes. Many of such a reader's books will inevitably become collectible.

Great books are found in all categories and can be classified as outstanding literature, whether they concern fishing, history, science, or otherwise. Izaak Walton's Complete Angler and The History of the Decline and Fall of the Human Empire by Edward Gibbon comes to mind. Many of us, readers that we are, may not know what actually draws us to such books, even though there are characteristics common to all.

Literature is art, and as a painting or sculpture is not great because of the subject matter but because of the artist's portrayal of it, so too is literature. There are parameters within which all good writing conforms. Grammatical correctness, clearness, and appropriateness of style are evident in all good writing. The great writer's character somehow is transformed into words, which is not easily defined yet evident in all his writing. It has been said of all great art that it records the soul of the artist.

How does one decide which authors to read?

Lists abound for readers to follow if so inclined. Even so, browsing through books in a bookstore or library allows one to sample a writer's work before deciding to read the book in its entirety. Reading several pages throughout the book helps the reader to become familiar with the author's style. The way to appreciate good literature is to read many books. The reader eventually comes to appreciate that which has stood the test of time.

Why can't I get the valued price for a book I want to sell?

You may find an individual who will pay full market price for a particular book, but a bookseller will not because any business survives by making a profit. Several factors determine what a bookseller will pay for a particular book, including condition, edition, desirability, and availability.

Can the bookdealer sell the book? Is there a customer looking for it right now or will it sit on the shelf for a while? Can the book be marked up enough to clean it, protect the dust jacket, store it, catalog it, advertise it, or take it to a book fair?

Your book may be a current hot seller, and you have seen it catalogued for several times the original price, yet the bookseller is not interested. Just because books are advertised at certain prices does not mean that they are selling at all or being sold at that price. Many books that are less than ten years old fall into this category. Even books much older that were widely collected often fall from grace. It bears repeating that you should buy books that you love, and if they increase in value, your judgment and satisfaction is justified.

Why do you not have a section for African-American fiction?

Most general bookstores have sections delegated to African-American history. Fiction is categorized according to genre, such as mystery, fantasy, adventure, and general. Unless the author is well-known, it would be difficult to determine whether the author was African-American, or otherwise. There are, however, bookstores that specialize in African-American material.

Dee Entrekin owns Entrekin Book Center.