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Check It Out

Courier Article by David Locker
Sunday, March 2, 2003

Booksellers on Books Offer Views of Old, New Worlds

There is concern among used and rare book dealers that the very existence of rare bookshops may be in jeopardy. Now that almost every dealer has a Web site, an increasing amount of business is conducted on the Internet. Many sellers no longer produce paper catalogs, and some have closed the doors of their shops and maintain only an online presence.

It would be a shame if the rare bookshop became too hard to find. There is nothing like walking into a shop where you can browse and pick up the books. This is the only way you can really detect the condition and uniqueness of a book.Buying books is like reading them; it is a tactile experience. Though an online search for a title can save you years of shopping, and comparing the prices of online dealers can give you an accurate idea of what a particular book should cost, they are no substitutes for the physical interaction of book and reader.

The following books are by people who love books. They either sell them or buy them, and they write about them in a way that makes their love of books (bibliophily) contagious. In addition, each, in his way, has dealt with the impact of the computer on his world.

Bookends: Two Women, One Enduring Friendship by Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern (2001).

These two ladies, who have lived and worked together since the 1940s, are legends in the rare- book world. You may know them as the discoverers of Louisa May Alcott's "unknown thrillers."

Adapting to the online world has been particularly difficult for them, but now, even in their 90s, they have vowed to adjust.

This is the second memoir the two friends have written about their lives with each other in books. If you've been looking for something in the same vein as Helene Hanff's wonderful memoirs about buying old books, then definitely take a look at this volume, as well as their Old Books, Rare Friends.

Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone (St. Martin's, 1999).

This is the second of three books that the Goldstones have written about their new hobby of buying the authors they like in first editions.

Each is a delight and is characterized by steady good humor and total lack of pretension.

Their first book does not mention the Internet, but it rears its ugly head in its sequels.

I don't know how long the Goldstones can continue writing books describing their trips to quaint New England bookstores and their pilgrimages to great centers of the book, such as the Library of Congress and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, but I hope it's for a long time.

In their later books, they are branching out into the authors of the books they love and about the rare-book business itself, including the technological revolution that is changing the way that this business is done.

They find the huge rare-book search engines and the expansion of the chain bookstores into the area of rare books to be disturbing. They hope the small independent rare-book dealer doesn't meet the same fate as the independent bookseller.

Warmly Inscribed: The New England Forger and Other Book Tales by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone (St. Martin's, 2001).

More of the same from the charming duo, though this time they add a little mystery with the case of the modern-day New England forger who faked the signatures of authors to increase the value of his books.

The ease with which he operated will not ease the mind of any autograph hunter.

Among the Gently Mad: Strategies and Perspectives for the Book Hunter in the Twenty-First Century by Nicholas A Basbanes (Henry Holt, 2002).

Basbanes is a veteran journalist and book reviewer who has branched out into the world of rare books. This is his third book on the subject and is the shortest and easiest to read.

Of the books reviewed here, Basbanes' is the only one to give you some tips on how to go about buying rare books. Included among these, are a listing and explanation of Internet Web sites devoted to the listing and selling of rare books.

Basbanes embraces the new technology enthusiastically, though he, too, fears for the fate of the rare bookshop. What is clear is that there is no stopping now.

David Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.