We all need methods in our lives to separate the worthwhile from the time-wasting, the valuable wheat from the useless chaff.

I’m not suggesting that all other books are chaff-like (I will admit Twilight was a delicious read), but the award winners below are safe bets in an age where 200,000 books are published each year in the United States alone. For reading and collecting.

Mann Booker Prize, open to novels by citizens of the Commonwealth of  Nations, Ireland, and Zimbabwe

National Book Award, open to American authors

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, open to American authors

Sad to say, I haven’t read any of them. I have my eye on The Children’s Book (Byatt is always great) and The Little Stranger (a mystery in postwar Britain seems right up my alley). Let me know what you think of these, or any of the books on the list.

I discovered a great comment that had been marked by wordpress as “spam,” and I fortunately rescued it from oblivion.

Vanessa from the Odyssey Bookshop commented about a fantastic scheme: Odyssey’s Signed First Edition Club. Each month, they send out a first edition that’s been hand-picked by the staff as a club selection, and signed by the author. Check it out:

The Odyssey has become the premier bookstore in Western Massachusetts for author appearances and signings. Odyssey staff read advance copies of books months before their publication, and are keyed in to those books which are likely to make an impact in the publishing world. We also know the books from small publishing houses, and those which will have ‘short press runs.’ This is important, since a book with a first edition printing of 5,000 copies will, all other things equal, likely have greater value down the road that one with 200,000 copies.

Past selections include The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Pulitzer Prize winer) and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and Sea of Poppies (both New York Times’ top ten picks of 2008). And the price? Publisher’s list price plus shipping. I can’t imagine a more rewarding treat to look forward to each month — or a better gift for a friend.


I read once that the dust jacket comprises 80% of a book’s value. It’s a good idea to protect your dust jackets in an archival cover, so that you can read, handle, and display the books without worrying about wear to the jacket.

Brodart is the go-to manufacturer of dust jacket covers for most libraries and rare book dealers. There are lots of different options on the website for covers, and it’s a bit confusing. After researching the different options, I decided to get an assortment package of the Fold-On Archival covers. I figured an assortment pack would be good for me, someone with a small personal library with books of various sizes.

So I purchased the 100-count pack of covers for $33.15, and an 8″ bone folder for $9.45 to make clean folds where size adjustments are necessary. The covers are extremely easy to assemble with the dust jackets and to adjust the size when needed.

A photo of the books I covered today, and my current reads.

0032I recently rearranged the books on my shelves featuring (1) a shelf organized by color, (2) a shelf of creams and blacks, and (3) a shelf of miscellaneous school books. So I decided to post some pictures. Cleary I have been avoiding work. Anyone else need their bookshelves organized?

I have lots more books, but these are most of my first collection hardcovers. I’ve actually been weeding through my paperbacks in order to gather trade-ins to take the used bookstore. When I was in New Orleans, I traded in 15 of my used paperbacks to get a first edition of Louise des Bernieres‘s Corelli’s Mandolin (retail: $45).

I love having books around. They make a room cozy, and the various colors and designs are so pleasing to the eye.


I like the way the black-covered books look grouped together — the titles really pop.

I also think books generally look better in height order (unless you’re grouping them some other way, such as by color), because otherwise books can look like a jumbled mess.

How do you organize your books?

accordioncrimesOver the weekend, I shopped at Books for America‘s amazing sale of used books. I’ll do a profile on Books for America (located in Washington DC) later, but it’s enough now to say that it’s a charity bookstore that has amazing prices.

And those amazing prices were half-off this past weekend. The hardcovers I bought were originally $4, marked down to $2. I bought six books for over $12 with tax! Incredible.

Two of the books weren’t first editions — I just wanted to have them. They were Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt (which I have read before, though a long time ago) and The Dive from Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer, which I want to read eventually (though I might have to schedule that in 2011).

The others I bought because I suspected they might be first editions, and of course because I wanted to read them as well. I never buy books just for the potential value of them, because I’ll likely be wrong that the book’s a first edition and them I’m stuck with a book I don’t want. Those were Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver; Accordion Crimes by Annie Proulx; Leap of Faith by Queen Noor; and The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike.

And of course, I came home and did my requisite Alibris analysis (checking to see what the market prices are for first editions). Alas, Accordion Crimes apparently had a limited edition run of 2500 signed copies, and my copy is not one of those. Who knew?! My copy does have a number line with a “1.” Judging from copies for sale on Alibris, I’d guess my copy is about $15. Pristine copies of the signed limited edition are listed for $200.

The Prodigal Summer is probably worth around $20, Leap of Faith isn’t really worth anything, and The Witches of Eastwick, because of the limited run of 250 printed by the Franklin Library (John Updike always does this), is worth around $10. I take into account the condition of the books when I make these estimations.

Checking the prices is just a fun exercise for me; I have no intention of turning around and trying to sell any books. Not anytime soon, anyway!

from WebUrbanist

Stacks of books everywhere. A jumbled mess of books toppling over on the shelves. There are better ways to display your books!

And there are more options than a traditional, orderly bookcase. I found this great post on WebUrbanist featuring creative ways to store books. Short on space? Make a staircase out of bookshelves! Hang them from hangers! Build a fort of books for your children to live in!

So maybe these examples of creative bookshelving aren’t all the most practical, but they’re pretty awesome. Check them out at WebUrbanist.

from Bookshelf

And while you’re at it, check out another blog entirely devoted to bookshelves, like the one pictured above. That’s right — all bookshelves, all the time. Bookshelf.

TwilightAfter another day of post-holidays sale hunting, a friend and I stopped at a Border’s. It’d been years since we’d really talked about books, and so we showed each other books we’d read lately and talked about what interests us.

I knew she’d seen the movie version of Twilight by Stephenie Meyer because I’d already heard her sigh over the “killer” looks of the male lead. But I found out today that she’d read all the books in the series, plus some other Young Adult books featuring vampires (though, she pointed out, there is a lamentable lack of sex scenes in the genre). Is it the crazed pop culture aspect of Young Adult books that draws her in, or does she just have a thing for vampires?

I didn’t get a definitive answer to that question, but when I came home I thought about the Twilight phenomenon some more. When I surf blog tags related to books and reading, I inevitably come across one or more mentioning Twilight. And the readers, like my friend, graduated from the Young Adult age group long ago.

And then, my Twilight Internet journey led me to… the $2,000 copy of Twilight on Alibris. That’s right. The book was published in 2005, and if the original purchaser is now selling the copy, he or she is apparently hoping for a greater than 10,000% return on investment. Not bad.

I have a few questions: Will anyone pay this? Is there any chance that the copy will be worth near this much, say, 20 years from now? And most importantly, is my friend’s copy a first edition?! I’ll have to inquire.

Since I’m new to collecting books, I have no idea how the values of overly hyped books fare in the long run. I also suspect that this incredibly quick and incredibly high price inflation of first editions with pop-culture significance is a recent phenomenon (perhaps best exemplified by the Harry Potter series).

In any case, if the book is conceivably that valuable… maybe I should read it.

Signed first editions are often worth much more than their unsigned counterparts. Take Cold Mountain, by Jonathan Frazier, for example. One of the first edition points is “man woman” for “mad woman” on page 25.  Unsigned Fine copies are listed on Alibris for around $75-$100. Signed Fine copies are listed from $100 up to around $450 (if the $100 copy is in as good condition as claimed, then that appears to be quite the deal). But you get my point.

How do you get a signed copy? You can keep an eye out for book tours. Your local bookstores likely have an event calendar; check online or call the store to see if they have a mailing. One problem is that if you wait to buy a copy of the book the day of the signing, the copies available likely won’t be First Printings anymore. So make sure that you get a First Printing of the First Edition ahead of time (if you’re purchasing it elsewhere, make sure this is okay with the bookstore).

If you live in an area that doesn’t have a lot of bookstores or authors traipsing through, don’t despair. Websites of large bookstores now allow you to preorder signed copies in connection with their upcoming events. Again, you’ll want to ensure that the copy you’re purchasing is a First Printing, and that might entail calling the store to double check.

Resources for finding signed copies:

Good luck!

Celia GarthI’ve been singing Gwen Bristow’s praises a lot lately; she’s a wonderful historical fiction writer who seems to have slipped from popular recognition. Keep an eye out for her books, published from 1926 to 1980, at garage sales, thrift stores, and used book stores.


Gwen Bristow, a child of the south, got her start as a journalist. Born in Marion, South Carolina, in 1903, she studied journalism at Columbia University in New York and took a job in New Orleans at the Times-Picayune after graduation. Bristow is best known for her historical fiction, and her first work in the genre was the Plantation TrilogyDeep Summer, Handsome Road, and This Side of Glory. The trilogy traces two Louisiana families from pre-Revolutionary War to World War I. Bristow has been profiled in Atlantic Monthly, New York Times Book Review, and Times Literary Supplement. Only two of Bristow’s books are currently in print — Jubilee Trail and Celia Garth.

More, including pricing and a bibliography.

A Cultural History of RussiaMcLaughlin’s Used Books
512 Terry Pkwy.
Terrytown, LA 70056
(504) 367-3754

Okay, so I lied a little bit in the title of this post. McLaughlin’s isn’t actually in New Orleans, it’s on the westbank in Terrytown. But if you’re located in the New Orleans metro area, I highly recommend it.

My mom’s been coming here for a long time to trade her used books for “new” reads. I’ve gone along a few times. This time, I went with an eye to checking out the first edition selection. This is not the place to look for first editions of titles from the 1990s or earlier. The books at McLaughlin’s are largely recent titles. That said, the selection of literature is fantastic, and the books are in consistently excellent condition — the best I’ve seen overall at a bookstore.

So if you buy or trade for books here, you’re probably not going to discover a diamond in the rough anywhere — the books you buy will be worth what you pay for them. But it’s a great place to find interesting reads that look like new, and who knows? — maybe years down the road you’ll see a nice return on your investment.

So having traded in some nice but used paperbacks and making a cash outlay, here’s what I got (you can tell I was in a historical nonfiction kind of mood):

I’m sure you’re wondering, as am I, how I will ever get to all these books I’ve accumulated. The jury’s still out on that one.

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