“I don’t sell books. I buy books.” I was speaking to a friend who had been kind enough to make a stop on his way to Kansas City to pick up a boxed set of books for me. A few days before, Jim had opened the door for the favor with his question. “I’m headed to KC. Do you need anything from up there?” I’m guessing it was a rhetorical question, since he plainly did not anticipate an affirmative answer. But I did want something from up that way.
A couple of months earlier, the Lovely Lady and I had made the three hour trek up Highway 71 for a weekend away from the rat race. After a couple of days of antique shops, museums, and shopping malls, she was relaxed and ready to get home. I, on the other hand hadn’t completely satisfied my pawn shop itch, but since it was Sunday afternoon, had to be happy with the occasional junk shop and flea market on the road home. About halfway between the city and our small town, we found it. The curious little shop was just off the highway and after a cursory scan of the contents, we were about to be on our way again, when I saw something I just had to have. The sixty-year old, two-volume set of books was beautiful, and in mint condition. Mark Twain’s “Adventures Of Tom Sawyer” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in hardback, with the original display box, and with illustrations by none other than Norman Rockwell!
I had never seen the set before, but I immediately thought, “How appropriate is that?” The classic stories of two distinctly American boys and classic illustrations by the consummate artist/interpreter of American life! I love both the stories and the artist, and I didn’t want to leave the shop without those books! However, I am by nature a cheapskate, so the price tag was a deal breaker for me. Those highway robbers wanted $75.00 for the set of books. Seventy-five dollars! For a 60-year old set of musty old books! It’s amazing how fast my opinion of the condition of the set changed when presented with the hard facts of its cost. Well, the shop-owner wasn’t budging from the price, so reluctantly, the Lovely Lady and I turned away. I, much more reluctantly than she, truth be told.
After we arrived home, I did a little research into the books, finding them to be difficult to locate. I kicked myself for weeks about missing the opportunity to buy the set, but then Jim asked the question. I jumped at the renewed possibility to purchase the books, which had grown more attractive to me with the passing of time. It seems that absence does make the heart grow fonder. So, with instructions on finding the shop and the location of the books in hand, he headed to Kansas City, also with a bit of my cash in his pocket. I wasn’t sure they would still be there, but he was able to purchase the books on the way north. Since he had some spare time in his motel room, he spent some of it searching the Internet to find the value. He knew that I usually won’t buy something unless I’m convinced it’s a bargain and he wanted to know how much of a bargain it was.
The one listing Jim found for the books was from an online bookstore which specialized in locating volumes for collectors. They had a set for which they were asking five hundred dollars. I had seen this listing earlier, but from experience, I know that asking and getting are two different things when it comes to selling anything. In the absence of a price guide and seeing that they hadn’t sold the set, I assumed that the actual value was something well under their asking price, but I wanted the set regardless. He, though, was astounded and told me so when he returned! “$500! Paul, you can sell this set for a 400% profit!” He went on for a few minutes before I let him down with the statement I started with earlier. You see, I don’t buy books to make a profit. They’re not investments, as least not in the sense that a businessman makes them. Books are like old friends to me. You enjoy them, you spend time with them, and you keep them around. You don’t get rid of them to move up in the world. What good are dirty, greasy old dollar bills, when you compare them to the joy of a great book, with a story to tell, and a different world to show you? And this set of books! Not only two great stories, but wonderful illustrations to boot! I intend to enjoy these for many, many years to come and then pass them on to someone I love, who will in turn care for them and hopefully, acquire great joy from them, as I have.
I mentioned that my books are not an investment. That wasn’t completely truthful, since the word literally means: “A covering.” In the sense that we consistently use the word in our culture, the covering is money or cash value, but these books which I enjoy are indeed an investment, only with the implication that there is a covering of contentment, of enjoyment, of a wealth far greater than that achieved by amassing cold, heartless cash in a bank vault somewhere. Indeed, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” and some joys are too valuable to put a price on.
“When you are old and gray and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire, take down this book and slowly read, and dream of the soft look your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.“
(William Butler Yeats)