On Sunday, a friend and I were volunteering at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, a bookstore cafe (the name is so misleading, isn’t it?) in SoHo. All of their profits go to helping homeless New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS, so not only is it a great space, but the money you spend on books (all of which have been donated) goes to a good cause.
We were browsing around before we started to work, and my friend (let’s call her the Future PhD in Literature) brings me a book. I had already amassed my usual small mountain of paperbacks, but this was something special.
Let’s play “I Spy.” Can you spot it?
Hint: it is not a paperback. (I made a rule for myself: No more hardcovers. This rule was established last April, when I moved into a new apartment. It may or may not be a direct result of having had to lug boxes of books down four flights of steps and up three flights of steps.)
It came in its own box.
It is a 1964 Limited Editions Club edition of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1860). I had never heard of the Limited Editions Club before last Sunday, but after some research, I discovered that it was started up in the 1930s (1929-1930 was its first year) and continued with fair regularity up through the 1990s. The print run was around 1,500; subscribers received about one book per month, beautifully bound, with illustrations – usually with the artist’s signature, and occasionally, when possible, with the author’s. (Lewis Carroll was not on hand, of course, to sign Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but the real Alice signed about 200 herself!)
Victorian fight scene. There is also a terrifying color plate of evil Count Fosco and his little birds.
It just so happened that I was in the middle of reading The Man Who Loved Books Too Much – about a book thief who stole rare books, and the rare book dealers who caught him – at the time that the Future PhD placed this beautiful book in my hands. (We both knew I’d end up buying it.) The Man Who Loved Books Too Much was also about book collecting, and while I do seem to acquire books rather effortlessly, I generally gravitate toward paperbacks. They’re lighter and smaller than hardcovers, and less expensive; they’re easier to carry around and read on the train, in line at the post office, in bed. I love books as objects, but I love them more for what they contain – stories. And while I may experience “book lust” from time to time – a first edition Alice here, a limited edition Gatsby there – I can’t see ever spending hundreds (let alone thousands) of dollars on a book. So I’ll stick with my paperbacks… except on the rare occasion when something like this crosses my path. Then I break my rule.
Recommended for book lovers: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett; People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” -Oscar Wilde
What I’m reading: Bart Yates, The Distance Between Us; A.M. Homes, The Mistress’s Daughter
What I’m listening to: Jimmy Eat World, Singles; Chopin’s Piano Sonata in B Flat Minor; Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise