Book Collecting As Popular As Ever


Book collecting appears to be alive and well, sustained in part by the very same people who are driving adoption of smartphones, tablets, and e-readers.

Dealers such as Strand Bookstore near New York’s Union Square and Freebird Books on the Brooklyn waterfront are counting on passionate collectors, as the rise of digital media and higher commercial real-estate prices decimate other corners of the bookselling business.

Strand, an 88-year-old purveyor of new and used books, says business has been good lately, helped in part by the popularity of its rare-book room, where a signed first edition of “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle can be had for $5,000 and where a book edited and signed by Jackie Kennedy recently sold for $900.

Last year “was one of the strongest years in Strand history,” says Strand marketing manager Brianne Sperber, 25, who insists it’s “wrong” to think people in their 20s and 30s don’t want to switch back and forth between digital and print. “I know a lot of people my age who read the way I do,” she says.

Sperber says demand for rare and collectible books has been more or less stable over the past few years, an assessment echoed by Freebird owner Peter Miller, whose specialty is books about New York, and Thomas A. Goldwasser, a veteran rare-book dealer in San Francisco.

“I don’t think demand for rare books has diminished as a result of digital platforms,” says Mr. Goldwasser, 62, whose office houses more than 4,000 rare volumes. At the same time, Mr. Goldwasser says he hasn’t noticed prices appreciating greatly over the past 10 years or so, either.

Annette Campbell-White, the founder of a California venture-capital firm says collectors should be driven by their interest in books, not by the prospect of financial gain. “I wouldn’t encourage anyone looking for a quick profit to turn to book collecting,” she says. “If you make money, it is incidental.” Campbell-White says she got hooked on book collecting in 1973 when she was 25 and over the years amassed collections of poetry from the World War I era, as well as copies of books included in literary critic Cyril Connelly’s “The Modern Movement, 100 Key Books from England, France and America, 1880-1950.” She sold two-thirds of her Modern Movement collection in a private auction at Sotheby’s in 2007. “Yes, I made money, about a 40% profit over 30 years,” she says. “Not a good investment.”

Darren Sutherland, manager of the rare-book room at Strand, advises collectors to “always buy the best combination of condition and edition that you can afford, and buy what you love, not because you have a suspicion it might go up in value.” First editions can command higher prices, as can books with unusual inscriptions by the author. Original manuscripts are often valuable, too.

Like everything else, he says, book values are “driven by supply, which is largely stationary, and demand. So on a smaller scale, some prices can be affected in the short term by cultural events, the death of an author, a new biography or film. But in the longer term, the demand will be set by larger forces, a long-standing cultural reassessment of an author’s work and their effect on our history, or a cultural shift in terms of what we consider to be important.”

Dealers note that a book doesn’t have to be old to be collectible. Honey & Wax Booksellers, an online dealer founded by Strand veteran Heather O’Donnell, offers a 1990 edition of Maira Kalman’s “Max Makes A Million” for $125. The popularity of the author and the book, as well as the quality of the art and production, can drive the value of newer works. Says Mr. Goldwasser: “Many younger collectors are drawn to books for their decorative or atmospheric quality.” Illustrated books and graphic novels are popular today, he says, while demand for photography books has leveled off.

Prices for collectible books can fall, too—sometimes significantly. The first editions of books by some late 20th century authors went through a bubble in the late 1990s, only to fall some 50% from their peak a few years later, Mr. Goldwasser says.

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The year’s notable fiction, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.
ALL OUR NAMES. By Dinaw Mengestu. With great sadness and much hard truth, Mengestu’s novel looks at a relationship of shared dependencies between a Midwestern social worker and a bereft African immigrant.
ALL THE BIRDS, SINGING. By Evie Wyld. An emotionally wrenching novel traces a solitary sheep farmer’s attempt to outrun her past on a remote British island.
ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE. By Anthony Doerr. The paths of a blind French girl and an orphaned German boy converge in this novel, set around the time of World War II.
AMERICAN INNOVATIONS. By Rivka Galchen. Stories offer variations on a particular sort of woman: in her 30s, urban, emotionally adrift.
THE ASSASSINATION OF MARGARET THATCHER: Stories. By Hilary Mantel. One has the sense that Mantel is working with some complex private material in these suavely stylish, contemporary fables.
THE BALLAD OF A SMALL PLAYER. By Lawrence Osborne. In Osborne’s feverish novel, the playing is done on the gambling tables of Macau by a tortured embezzler on the run.
BARK: Stories. By Lorrie Moore. Moore’s first collection in 16 years allows each story the chance it deserves for leisurely appreciation, and lets the reader savor just what makes her work unique.
THE BLAZING WORLD. By Siri Hust¬vedt. A multifaceted portrait of a creative titan whose career and reputation have been blighted by the art establishment’s ingrained sexism.
THE BONE CLOCKS. By David Mitchell. In this latest head-¬spinning flight into other dimensions from the author of “Cloud Atlas,” all borders between pubby England and the machinations of the undead begin to blur.
THE BOOK OF STRANGE NEW THINGS. By Michel Faber. A pastor from Earth is picked to satisfy an alien planet’s mysterious yen for religious instruction.
THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS. By Cristina Henríquez. Latino immigrant characters face the challenges of assimilation.
BOY, SNOW, BIRD. By Helen Oyeyemi. Taking “Snow White” as a cultural touchstone, Oyeyemi’s novel offers up a cautionary tale on post-race ideology, racial limbos and the politics of passing.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS. By Marlon James. Revolving around the assassination attempt on Bob Marley in 1976, this mesmerizingly powerful novel addresses politics, class, race and violence in ¬Jamaica.
CAN’T AND WON’T. By Lydia Davis. In these stories, the mundane and the fathomless appear together on the same street, and calamity is always close at hand.
THE COLD SONG. By Linn Ullmann. A guilt-ridden Norwegian family is set in motion by a nanny’s murder.
COLORLESS TSUKURU TAZAKI AND HIS YEARS OF PILGRIMAGE. By Haruki Murakami. A novel of a man’s traumatic entrance into adulthood and the shadowy passages he must then ¬negotiate.
DEPT. OF SPECULATION. By Jenny Offill. Building its story from fragments, observations, meditations and different points of view, Offill’s cannily paced second novel charts the course of a marriage.
THE DOG. By Joseph O’Neill. In O’Neill’s disturbing, elegant novel, his first since “Netherland,” a lost and tormented New York lawyer recognizes more darkness within himself than in the iniquitous place he works, Dubai.
EUPHORIA. By Lily King. King’s novel turns an episode in the life of Margaret Mead into a taut tale of competing egos and desires in a landscape of exotic menace.
EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU. By Celeste Ng. Tragedy tears away at a mixed-race family in 1970s Ohio.
F. By Daniel Kehlmann. Deserted by their enigmatic father, three brothers struggle with life in this sly tragicomedy.
FAMILY LIFE. By Akhil Sharma. Deeply unnerving and tender at the core, the novel charts a young man’s struggles to grow within a family shattered by tragedy and disoriented by its move from India.
FOURTH OF JULY CREEK. By Smith Henderson. An overburdened social worker becomes involved with a near-feral boy and his survivalist father in 1980 Montana.
A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING. By Eimear McBride. An Irish writer’s odd, energetic first novel.
I PITY THE POOR IMMIGRANT. By Zachary Lazar. A Brilliant novel of spiritual discovery features Meyer Lansky, an American journalist and an Israeli poet’s murder.
THE LAUGHING MONSTERS. By Denis Johnson. A cheerfully nihilistic novel about two scammers and rogue spies in Africa derives much of its situation from several of his early journalistic pieces.
LENA FINKLE’S MAGIC BARREL. Written and illustrated by Anya Ulinich. Ulinich’s graphic novel traces the marital and romantic adventures of her immigrant heroine.
LET ME BE FRANK WITH YOU: A Frank Bascombe Book. By Richard Ford. In four linked stories, Ford’s aging Everyman surveys life after Hurricane Sandy batters New ¬Jersey.
LILA. By Marilynne Robinson. A young woman with a past of hardship and suffering makes a new start in Robinson’s fictional town of Gilead, Iowa.
LOVERS AT THE CHAMELEON CLUB, PARIS 1932. By Francine Prose. Prose, a subtle psychologist, has created a genuinely evil character in Lou Villars, a cross-dressing French racecar driver and Nazi collaborator.
THE MAGICIAN’S LAND. By Lev Grossman. In the strong final installment of a trilogy, an exiled magician attempts a risky heist.
THE MOOR’S ACCOUNT. By Laila La¬lami. Estebanico, the first black explorer of America, narrates this fictional memoir.
MY STRUGGLE. Book 3: Boyhood. By Karl Ove Knausgaard. The third installment of Knausgaard’s Proustian six-volume autobiographical novel.
THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH. By Richard Flanagan. A frail humanity survives the unspeakable in this novel of the Burma-¬Thailand Railway of World War II.
NORA WEBSTER. By Colm Toibin. In Toibin’s luminous, elliptical novel, set in the late 1960s and early ’70s, an Irishwoman struggles toward independence after her husband’s unexpected death.
PANIC IN A SUITCASE. By Yelena Akhtiorskaya. As a Ukrainian family adapts to life in Brooklyn, old-country memories linger.
THE PAYING GUESTS. By Sarah Waters. Hard times, forbidden love, murder and justice are the themes of this nevertheless comic novel, set in London after World War I.
REDEPLOYMENT. By Phil Klay. Twelve stories by a former Marine who served in Iraq capture on an intimate scale the ways in which the war there evoked a unique array of emotion, predicament and heartbreak.
REMEMBER ME LIKE THIS. By Bret Anthony Johnston. A skillful and enthralling debut novel, a family is reunited after an abducted son comes home.
A REPLACEMENT LIFE. By Boris Fishman. In Fishman’s bold and wickedly smart first novel, a Soviet émigré writer in New York becomes disturbingly adept at forging applications for Holocaust reparations.
SONG OF THE SHANK. By Jeffery Renard Allen. Allen’s masterly novel blends the personal story of the enslaved autistic piano prodigy Thomas Wiggins with the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
10:04. By Ben Lerner. A Brooklyn-based narrator preoccupied with identity decides to help his best friend have a child in this brilliant second novel.
THIRTY GIRLS. By Susan Minot. The atrocities wrought by a murderous African rebel army with candor yet without sensationalism.
THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY: Book 3, The Neapolitan Novels: “Middle Time.” By Elena Ferrante. The third novel in Ferrante’s series, which tracks a long and complicated friendship.
THE WALLCREEPER. By Nell Zink. A heady, rambunctious debut is an environmental novel, if a totally surprising and irreverent one.
WE ARE NOT OURSELVES. By Matthew Thomas. A gorgeous family epic follows three Irish-American generations.
WHEN MYSTICAL CREATURES ATTACK! By Kathleen Founds. This dark, rich little novel in stories shows Founds as a talented moralist of nearly Russian ferocity.

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“Mein Kampf,” Hitler’s 1925 quasi memoir and manifesto on the “the Jewish peril,” has become a full-fledged e-book chart-topper. Across platforms like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes, the book is wiping up the floor with more contemporary political authors.

In an effort to make sense of this, observers speculate the reason for the e-book success is because you need not go to a store and ask for it. You don’t have to conspicuously pull it out on the commuter train – it’s hidden by a Kindle cover.

But as one reporter from the UK’s Guardian points out, “The privacy electronic readers are availing themselves of isn’t exactly private. The person opposite you on the train may not know you’re following der Führer on your Kindle, but Amazon knows.”

For more astonishing book news, tune into my show The Book Report.

Book Stores ~ James Patterson

Bestselling author James Patterson is putting his money where his heart is, pledging $1 million to independent bookstores in the next year.

He comments, “We’re making this transition to e-books, and that’s fine and good and terrific and wonderful, but we’re not doing it in an organized, sane, civilized way. So what’s happening right now is a lot of bookstores are disappearing,” Patterson says he hopes the funds will support everything from raises for staff to larger projects. What’s essential is that the bookstores have a viable business model and that their shops include a children’s section. Bookstores interested in learning more can fill out a form on Patterson’s website.

Kudos to those who care about our bookstores. Keep current on literary news by checking my website,


Hold on to your hardcovers for this e-book biz update.

In a new report, Morgan Stanley estimates Amazon will sell $4.5 billion dollars worth of Kindle e-readers and tablets this year, up 26 percent from 2012. Growth may slow next year, when estimates predict the business will do $5 billion in sales. Amazon has recently slashed the price of its seven-inch Kindle Fire HD tablet. Of course, Amazon is willing to lose money on Kindle sales to spur demand for its digital content business. Morgan Stanley estimates Amazon will do $3.8 billion in digital media revenue this year, and that the business will generate more revenue than device sales next year — with an estimated $5.7 billion in revenue. Those are some page-turning numbers.

For more trends in the book world, tune into my show The Book Report.


Local libraries are going full speed ahead into the digital age.

The state of Massachusetts is going big and bold into e-books. Last week, the state’s Library System put out a Request for Proposal for a new statewide library e-book program. This pilot will launch in June of this year in selected libraries. If successful, the program will then roll out to all Mass Libraries that chose to participate – potentially 1700 libraries in a state with 6.6 million people. It’s a brave new world for books.

The book world is ever evolving. To keep up, check my website, And tune into my show, The Book Report.

Planning summer travel?

If you’re about to start planning summer travel, you’ll want to read this.

Google has ceased production and publication of printed guidebooks bearing the Frommer’s brand name. Google had purchased Frommer’s Travel and Unofficial Guides in August of last year for $22 million. The search giant would not comment on the present or future of the travel brand name, in print, or its digital assets.

Typically the Frommer’s catalog contains over a hundred titles in multiple series, including its incredibly popular European editions. Competitor Fodor’s already has its covers and pre-orders available on online bookstores.

To keep current on the world of books, check my website, And tune into my show The Book Report.

Travel Show July 6 & 7, 2013

A show to get you dreaming of far-flung locales, to feed the need for travel and fuel your wanderlust.


Paris: The Novel” by Edward Rutherfurd
Istanbul: Memories and the City” by Orhan Pamuk
“Ranger Confidential: Living, Working and Dying in the National Parks” by Andrea Lankford
“Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality” by Jacob Tomsky
“Africa Trek, Volume 1” by Alexandre and Sonia Poussin
Peking to Paris: Life and Love on a Short Drive Around Half the World” by Dina Bennett
Shadow of the Silk Road” by Colin Thubron
To Dakar and Back: 21 Days Across North Africa by Motorcycle” by Lawrence Hacking and Wil De Clerq

Terri Peterson Smith, Author of “Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways”




Book lovers, rejoice…stats point to a resurgence of independent bookstores.

Indie bookstores were supposed to go the way of the stone tablet – done in first by national chains, then Amazon, and finally e-books. But, a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral.

While beloved bookstores still close down each year, sales at indie bookstores overall are rising. Owners credit the modest increases to everything from the shuttering of Borders, to the rise of the “buy local” movement, social media, and a get-‘er-done outlook. If Indies have to sell cheesecake or run a summer camp to survive, they do it.

For more news from the world of books, check my website, And tune into my radio show, The Book Report.