Number Five: I Hate That I Love My E-Reader, Part One

I love books. A lot.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always had a book in my hand. Early on I was crazy for the Hardy Boys series. I’d go to our local library, enter, hook a left toward the children’s area, and walk straight to the last aisle on the left. And there, lined up in all their blue-spined glory, were Franklin W. Dixon’s classic books about two teenage investigators — Frank and Joe Hardy — and their bumbling friend Chet (owner of a jalopy the boys drove around in). I loved the pulp-artish covers and the black-and-white interior drawings, and the stories were pretty fun for a young boy just beginning to read novels.

When I was a teenager and looking for my first job, the place I wanted to work was obvious: the local bookstore. I applied and got the job, making a whopping $4.25 per hour…woot! But the money wasn’t as important as being surrounded by books. I have wonderful memories of finding new authors to read, starting to purchase my own books (as a kid I loved the public library; by teenage-hood, the spilled food, smeared fingerprints, and God-knows-what-substance-is-keeping-those-two-pages-stuck-together had lost their luster), opening the massive boxes of new inventory to peruse the store’s weekly purchases, and maybe most important of all, scanning the distributors’ microfiche film.

Sorry if I just lost our younger viewers. Microfiche readers are old school. Here are pictures of the reader and the film in case you’ve never seen them.

(Oooooooooh)

(Ahhhhhhhhh)

Where was I? Oh, yes, scanning distributors’ microfiche film. Every so often we’d get updated microfiche film that would list a distributor’s catalogue. I spent soooooo much time looking up my favorite authors to get the inside scoop on forthcoming titles (keeping in mind the Internet didn’t exist in its current state, so widely available news was nonexistent). I remember a time in mid-1993 like it was yesterday, scrolling through Stephen King’s titles and finding an entry that read something like this:

King, Stephen. Wizard & Glass (DT4). 01/94.

Dear Lord in Heaven, you’d think I just won the lottery. The fourth installment of King’s Dark Tower series was coming out in January 1994! I ran out and told other DT-reading friends the good news, and counted down the days until its release.

And kept counting, and counting, and counting…

Future microfiche film showed the publication date had been pushed back to late 1994, then into 1995, and then I graduated high school and couldn’t scan for news anymore (let the record show that I had to wait until November 1997 for said book to make its appearance, almost four years later than I originally saw. Gah!)

My next evolutionary step came in the early 2000’s. I was out of college, making good money, and quickly growing one helluva book collection. One day I was poking around for Stephen King news (yes, I was obviously in love with King, and have no qualms admitting it) and stumbled across something that would change the game for at least a decade thereafter: the world of high-end, small-press publishing.

The book I found was a deluxe edition of From a Buick 8, published by a place called Cemetery Dance Publications and containing cover/interior art by the inimitable Bernie Wrightson. The book came in three different states — an unsigned, slipcased edition for $75 (only 1750 copies); a traycased edition with King’s signature in the book for $250 (only 750 copies); and the uber-fancy, deluxe, give-up-your-firstborn-child edition with a handmade box, goatskin spine, marbled endpapers, purple silk book marker, and King’s signature for $1500 (only 52 copies).

Intrigued, but also a little nervous over the larger-than-normal expenditure, I plunked down $75 for the “cheap” edition and awaited its arrival.

And folks, that book was a *beauty*. I mean, like a work of art you get to experience while you’re reading. Full-color interior art. High quality paper. I want to say it may have been oversized dimensionally, which was a new one for me. It had a protective slipcase to slide the book into for safekeeping. It was hard to even read it for fear of ruining such an amazing book.

I’m pretty sure my wallet cried that day, and it had reason to. The small press was thriving, creating books that had to be seen to be believed. Authors signing in blood, traycases with hidden slots and drawers that contained goodies, books being published with variant covers (causing the completists to wail and gnash teeth because they had to buy multiple copies of the same book). I didn’t partake in the deluxe editions as much as I might have liked to. First, the main thing I wanted was the story, and second, while I made good money there’s no way I could have kept up with books that were thousands of dollars apiece. That being said, I still bought plenty of the lower-priced trade editions, and by the time the 2000’s were closing I had a library that would make many readers jealous.

At the same time I was doing a lot of prospecting in stores that sold used books, as well as purchasing forthcoming books that I felt would turn a nice profit. The former was a way to find books I wanted to read (especially ones that were out of print) for far less than I could get them other places; the latter was a way to bring in more money to buy more books. During the 2000’s, book prices were incredibly high in some cases, so I found some diamonds in the rough along the way. The best used-book example I have was when I bumbled across a signed, limited edition of Douglas Clegg’s Purity, a novella published by the aforementioned Cemetery Dance Publications. It was a hardcover, limited to 450 copies, and originally sold for $35. That being said, it had been out of print for years, so it was catching a nice price on the secondary market. The copy I found was marked down to $20, and it was in *mint* condition. Not believing my luck, I plunked down my Andrew Jackson and virtually ran out of the store lest they figure out what they’d had and track me down. I read it that night and soon after put it on eBay, where I sold it for $220.

A nice profit, to be sure, but nothing like a pre-order I bought with hopes it might be worth something down the road. My biggest flip was Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts, a collection of short stories that was originally published by PS Publishing. At the time the book was announced, Joe Hill was a relative newcomer but had been garnering attention for his short stories. PS Publishing had three editions they were doing — a trade edition that was around $20, a signed edition at around $50, and a signed slipcased edition limited to something like 100 copies for $90. I threw caution to the wind and ordered the $50 signed edition, having never read a word by the man. Between the time I ordered the book and its release, I read a novella by Hill called Voluntary Committal and fell in love with it. At that point it had been one of the best novellas I’d read in years, so I contacted the bookseller I had ordered 20th Century Ghosts from and told him to bump me up to the $90 deluxe edition (only paying $81 because of a 10% discount). Eventually the book came out, I read and loved it, then set it on the shelf and waited for Hill’s debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box, to come out. In the interim, lady luck shown her light on me. News came out that Joe Hill was Stephen King’s son, and suddenly people were clamoring for every Joe Hill book they could find, driving the prices astronomically high. Knowing I had 20th Century Ghosts in my collection, I put it on eBay to see what I could fetch. Imagine my surprise when my $81 purchase fetched me $1300+ when the auction closed! I still shake my head over that one.

There’s my lonnnnnnng-winded way of stating what I wrote so succinctly in this post’s opening.

I love books. A lot.

(To be continued in Part 2 of “I Hate That I Love My E-Reader,” which is coming soon. Stop back to read the exciting conclusion, or better yet, follow this page so you never miss out on the nonstop frivolity. Wheeee!)

Until we meet again…

Andy

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