If there’s one thing you can guarantee it’s that the minute you think you’re being smart is the minute before you meet someone much smarter.
One of the reasons I love my job so very, very much is that my minutes of being smart never last long enough to knock my self image out of whack. If I’m not meeting a customer whose breadth of knowledge and devotion has the least admirable parts of me reaching for a pitchfork and a torch then it’s one of my colleagues who is making me wish I could eat their head and consume their wisdom entire.
More often than not though, it’s a book that causes me to sit there in open-mouthed, middle aged un-attractiveness. It just happened to me today actually, I’ll tell you all about it later.
So enough about me, let’s move on to real people.
I have these collectors. They’re amongst my favourite people. I’m not going to get rich off them for a number of years (that’s not what it’s about), but one of them in particular is probably not going to stop short of world domination, so fingers crossed.
They’re all in their early to mid-twenties. They’re all smarter than me. They all know what they’re interested in…predominantly the Victorians, the aesthetic movement (s), Darling Oscar etc. with a chunk of Plath, and bundle of Woolf and the occasional boozy foray into Dylan Thomas… They’re predominantly Anglo-philic and they don’t shy away from Doyle, Kipling or Wells et al.
They buy first editions if they can, they buy good looking reprints if they can’t. They take their time, they soak up the atmosphere, they travel extensively on what appear to be shoestring budgets and they absorb more “culture” during their semi-annual peregrinations than the entirety of the Times Literary Supplement in the course of a decade. They are devoted, they are enthusiastic, they are passionate and they are omnivorous within their fields of desire.
In short they are the kind of young people that the rare book trade is always saying don’t exist. In fact nearly everyone from the Church to the government says they don’t exist…although this may just be a ploy so they don’t have to fund the education of the next generation. This is a separate rant where I put on a Guy Fawkes mask, quote Shakespeare and point out that older people have been saying that about younger people since either state existed and have been consistently wrong every.single.time.
Read the reviews of Richardson’s “Pamela” from 1740…then replace the word “Pamela” with the words “Grand Theft Auto” or “X-Box” and revel in teh stupids.
And these are only the collectors that are unfortunate enough to have washed up on my doorstep. If you are actually a cool book-dealer (or better still actually young!), preferably wearing either a fez or a bow tie, or called Justin Croft (for example; *cough*Time-lord!*cough*), you probably have thousands of such supposedly mythical creatures.
These dearly beloved visitors of mine, as well as being a pleasure to deal with (most of the time) are also constantly in contact with each other all over the world.
They organise trips and meetings and visits on Facebook and Twitter. They post videos of their collections on YouTube and Vimeo, they photograph everything that takes their fancy or moves them and they stick it on Tumblr or Pinterest. They come to see me, and everyone in their network knows that they are coming to see me and it turns into “Oh, and so-and-so wants to know if you’ve got a copy of The Faery Queen, and can you get a first of American Gods for wotsit.” and apart from the “wotsit” bits that’s verbatim…there are people out there reading Edmund Spenser and Neil Gaiman in the same exact lifetime.
A bunch recently organised a visit, a viewing and condition reports for an auction that only two of them could attend…on a social networking site (I’m thinking Facebook), then the ones who could attend bought the books the others had expressed an interest in.
That’s Flashmob book collecting.
Do they enjoy it?
Yes, they seem to love it.
Does it have romance and joy and a sense of satisfaction for them?
Absolutely, they tell me it does.
Is it the way we did it?
No, it’s a bit different…they have more friends than I ever did, they’re more tolerant and broad-minded than I ever was and they’re far more inclined to embrace the new without first deciding that it isn’t as good as the old. They also dress nicer and smell better.
Do they like both worlds that the rare book trade currently has its feet in?
Yes, apparently they do.
Most importantly, do they buy and end up with shelves full of lovely, wonderful books that they enjoy?
Yes. If you like they’ll post you pictures of their bookshelves on Tumblr.