Bitching Brew

Monday, June 05, 2006

Second-hand books.

Bottom line: they have a tendency toward malodorous auras.

Four to six weeks ago, I came home with a bag full of books from a second-hand book sale at college. I haven't had time to root through them until today, though I picked one off the top last evening and began reading it. After exploring the bag, I concede that, despite the urge to wash my hands, my €16.50 outlay was a steal.

  • H.J. Blackham: Six Existentialist Thinkers (I've just started reading this. Its previous owner was a philosophy professor, so the margins are littered with helpful musings!)
  • Samuel Butler: Erewhon and Erewhon Revisited (this is a 1932 Everyman edition, and it irritates the nostrils)
  • Robert Browning: Poems and Plays, Volume 5 (also smells)
  • Norman Porter: Rethinking Unionism (in excellent condition, probably because it’s the newest book in the pile)
  • Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward: All The President’s Men (a very yellowed paperback)
  • William Stevenson: The Bormann Brotherhood (I don’t know whether this is fiction or speculative reporting – I suppose I’ll find out if and when I ever open it.)
  • E.W.F. Tomlin: The Great Philosophers: The Eastern World (another stinker, though I'm sure the contents will enlighten)
  • Graham Greene: The Heart of the Matter (browned beyond belief, but a surprisingly modest whiff)
  • George Eliot: Silas Marner
  • Henry James: The Portrait of a Lady
  • James Joyce: Dubliners (aging paperback)
  • Gotthold Lessing: Sara and Minna Von Barnhelm (20 years old, but printed on good paper – makes all the difference.)
  • Katharine Jones: Heroines of Dixie: Spring of High Hopes (I have no idea why I picked this thing up. Probably for the novelty factor and the 20 cent tag.)
  • Henrik Ibsen: Ghosts and Two Other Plays (a 1923 Everyman; given its age, the musty odour is surprisingly mild!)

Leafing through old books, whether in a library, a shop or a sale, makes me appreciate how critical the quality of an edition is. The paper quality is the top priority - that old acidic paper is dreadful. The bindings matter too. If I had the money, I'd go for hardbacks wherever possible. Some paperbacks are made to high standards (the Modern Library Classics, for instance), but seldom the mass-market editions. And ever since wasting a note on a copy of the Nicomachean Ethics that read like typescript, the final factor to consider has been the font used, and also its size. Some fonts are horrible on the eye.

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