21 Comments


  • I’ve read The Fountainhead and liked it. I didn’t love it, but I liked it. I read it as fiction rather than philosophy and I think I came out unscathed . I think. I hope you will still like me anyway!

    Having said that, I agree that 16,000 is exorbitant and so is 850. Does it offend you that people are, seemingly, making a fetish of ideas and thereby missing the point entirely , or do you find all “collecting” impulses equally disturbing? Do you have protective instincts regarding other things you own, ones that might be considered odd? No statues you dust over and over and lock away from Zoot? No comic books or….oil lamps… or anything like that?

    Just askin’

    Oh, and of Of Mice and Men , inscribed by Steinbeck, is selling for 11,000- which might mean that the price discrepancy between Lee and Rand might be due to some other factors than their perceived literary merit. Not to argue your point- just to make you feel better. ๐Ÿ™‚

    November 09, 2004
  • I’ve read The Fountainhead and liked it. I didn’t love it, but I liked it. I read it as fiction rather than philosophy and I think I came out unscathed . I think. I hope you will still like me anyway!

    I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged when I was in my early twenties, and I loved them, too. I didn’t discover Emerson until I was in my mid-thirties. I knew when I wrote what I did about Rand that some people’s feelings might be bruised. I come off as horribly snobbish and superior. But I did qualify my disregard for Rand adherents with past a certain age, and my scorn is really for her Objectivist disciples, rather than casual readers of her books.

    Does it offend you that people are, seemingly, making a fetish of ideas and thereby missing the point entirely…

    Oh, I don’t think they’re making a fetish of the ideas: I think the ideas are often irrelevant; that’s what irritates me most. If the ideas were what was attracting people, then a $6.95 paperback copy of Animal Farm would be just as valuable as a signed, leather-bound first edition.

    About nice things. I have some, books included. I have a houseful of stuff, in fact: much more than I need. If you get the impression from the essay that I’m this ascetic, spiritual soul, then I’m sending the wrong signal. I completely understand the impulse to collect things, and I have it to some degree myself. The book fetish is a particular annoyance to me, especially people who collect signed or rare editions of books they’d never actually read. I can understand the appeal of having a signed work by a beloved author, even if I don’t much care about it myself.

    …which might mean that the price discrepancy between Lee and Rand might be due to some other factors than their perceived literary merit.

    Oh, I’m sure the discrepancies in price have NOTHING to do with literary merit in most cases. That’s actually part of my point: that market value and merit are often divorced from one-another.

    November 09, 2004
  • First off, I don’t think you should read that much into the price of rare books. Demand figures into it, but so does supply. That price is so outrageous I suspect that either Ayn Rand didn’t sign books as often as Kipling or Harper Lee or the first edition of that book was so tiny that they’re hard to find.

    I do admit to enjoying autographed copies of books, but more as a memento of a brief meeting; I waited on line for hours to get David Bowie to sign an album for me, but I wouldn’t spend $50 for one on eBay. Mainly, every time I see it, I think of when I handed him the LP to sign (Changesonebowie, the first of his albums I ever bought) and he laughed out loud and said “An actual record! Don’t see many of those nowadays.” I also enjoy marginalia and original manuscripts but I’d be just as happy with a reproduction as the original; I’m more interested to know what the author was thinking than knowing I have the book he or she wrote on.

    In general I spend outrageous amounts of money on books or records only if they’re otherwise not available. I would rather have my CD reissues of old blues and country music than the original 78s, which sound terrible, are very easy to break, and can only be played on special turntables. But if there were a song by, say, Cannon’s Jug Stompers that you could only get on 78, I’d chase it down and spend the money, but because I wanted to hear the music, not because I wanted to own the record.

    I’ve spent big bucks on albums by Area Code 615, which was issued on CD only briefly in Europe, and on the original English version of the second Public Image Ltd album, known here as Second Edition and in the UK as “Metal Box” because in its original form it was three 12-inch 45 RPM records in a round metal box that looked like a film canister. It was only recently issued on CD, and the UK original was legendary for having been mastered so hot, and with such powerful bass, that it would make cheap turntables skip. And it is, indeed, a different and much better listening experience than either the CD reissue or the US double LP version. So that was worth $50 to me, but most of my other original LPs I bought when they were new, and I keep them as much as mementos as anything else.

    November 09, 2004
  • And I should add, I play and/or read everything I own. Otherwise, what’s the point? I was thrilled to find a paperback first edition of Nelson Algren’s The Man With the Golden Arm for a few dollars in a used bookstore in Flagstaff (much more satisfying than spending $75 for it on Bookfinder) but I read it on the plane home. (Though I did keep it in the plastic bag to protect the dust jacket — and yes, in the very early years paperbacks had dust jackets.)

    November 09, 2004
  • I confess to having a certain fondness for rare books, but only the really extraordinary ones. I was once allowed to touch the first copy — not first edition, but first copy off the press — of Huckleberry Finn, inscribed by Mr. Clemens himself to his wife Livy, and I would have burst into tears for the experience of touching something he had once touched, except that the book dealer would have killed me on the spot had I gotten a tear stain on his treasure.

    November 09, 2004
  • Anonymous

    evil costs more

    I seem to remember that autographs of Hitler are worth thousands of times what autographs of Gandhi will fetch. No, I don’t think that’s what’s happening with the expensive first edition of Ayn Rand. But the literary or even the moral value of a book isn’t what determines the price of an old edition. I’m not sure what does determine it — probably rarity, but there may be other factors.

    As to Rand herself, I enjoyed reading her diatribes-disguised-as-fiction, but that doesn’t mean I approved of them. It probably means I was pretty young when I read them and that they were interesting and original in an infuriatingly wrong-headed way. I considered her a science fiction writer (and maybe she’d be horrified at that) who had a soap box but could tell a story. I didn’t have a lot to compare with. I hadn’t read a lot of female SF writers and I thought it was neat that a woman was allowed in print to be so — well, so political.

    The mind-boggling chutzbah of charging people to use an elevator is my ultimate symbol of what Ayn Rand stood for. Only recently has it occurred to me that people who own and live at the top of buildings with pay elevators may miss some really wonderful visitors.

    One comment in Rand’s defense: I came out of a culture where women were supposed to be utterly and unselfishly at the disposal of their families. Rand posited that women should be selfish. I kind of liked that. Maybe it was a misinterpretation of her message — darned if I plan to reread those tomes to clarify — but it seemed inspiring when I was 18.

    Godzzila

    November 09, 2004
  • First off, I don’t think you should read that much into the price of rare books. Demand figures into it, but so does supply…

    As I said to Laurie: that’s part of the point. What drives the price of these books isn’t the content, nor even (in many cases) the fame or notoriety of the author, but mundane realities like print runs and paper quality (better quality paper means more copies of older books will be extant, driving down the price).

    As to the rest of it, I admit to being the odd man out among book lovers: I’m not particularly interested in meeting authors whose work I admire—sometimes they give interesting readings and lectures, sometimes they’re much less interesting than their books. I also don’t own a single vinyl record, and more than half of my music collection exists only on my computer hard drive and iPod, as opposed to CDs.

    November 09, 2004
  • And I should add, I play and/or read everything I own. Otherwise, what’s the point?

    Well, exactly. Of course keeping books in little plastic slipcovers does remind one of maiden aunts and their perfectly protected 1950s-era upholstery.

    November 09, 2004
  • As I said above, I know I’m the odd man out among book lovers. But the Clemens book also approaches historical artifact. Samuel Clemens actually held this VERY book in his hand! It’s a little like going to Pompeii and standing where Roman citizens stood.

    November 09, 2004
  • Re: evil costs more

    We need to make tee-shirts with Evil Costs More printed on them.

    I don’t recall the pay elevators at all in Rand’s work: I’ve mercifully blocked it. As you point out, she was ahead of the curve when it came to women having their own lives. By the time she died she considered herself a philosopher, so I suspect you’re right in that she’d be horrified to be called a science fiction writer. But I’ve also thought her her as a kind of distaff Heinlein, in his most self-absorbed and pompous books.

    November 09, 2004
  • I do that with records more than books, given the damaging effects of dust. But I don’t ask my guests to sit on them in the summer (I’d prefer that they didn’t, in fact).

    And by the way, didn’t you introduce me to those B&N book covers?

    November 09, 2004
  • I don’t normally like to merely chime in with “Dude! I’m totally there!”…but, well, yeah. Ditto on both RWE and Ms Rand, and ditto on the true value of books!

    Thanks for posting something positive. I’ll try and muster something non-invective-wise myself…

    November 09, 2004
  • Fine post, Bob, for numerous reasons. Thanks. And there’s never a bad time to quote Emerson.

    One science fiction movie a Randian should not watch for relaxing enjoyment: Things to Come, which conflates Progress with a forced-conformity society (among its other simplicities). Or perhaps there’s entertainment value in watching the movie with a Randian, just to observe the seething and the quaking.

    November 09, 2004
  • Thanks as always.

    Me, I tend to collect books and strive for the older or nicer copies, just ’cause I like to have books around me, and a nicer copy of something I loved reading is better than the dog-eared paperback I read.

    Ah, the gap between the ideal (no stuff) and reality (too much stuff); I suspect that you, like me, have this weird two-sided nature of wanting to be ascetic and ending up collecting stuff.

    Sigh.

    Chris

    November 09, 2004
  • Oh, yeah! That would be an entertaining thing to inflict on a Randian. Heh.

    Chris

    November 09, 2004
  • And by the way, didn’t you introduce me to those B&N book covers?

    Yes, but I doubt one’s maiden aunts carried their furniture around outside in blustery weather.

    November 10, 2004
  • Dude! I’m totally there! is the mot juste, in this case. I’m glad you liked it.

    November 10, 2004
  • Ah, praise from the praiseworthy. Thank you.

    Another Randian-Unsafe movie is Robocop: mercantilism run to its logical extreme.

    November 10, 2004
  • Ah, the gap between the ideal (no stuff) and reality (too much stuff); I suspect that you, like me, have this weird two-sided nature of wanting to be ascetic and ending up collecting stuff.

    To a degree, yes: I want nice things, but I hate wanting nice things. And I love the freedom of a blank slate, but I can’t resist scribbling all over it. That’s probably the human condition. On the other hand, I really have no desire to collect autographed books or first editions—I never did. It’s not like I do it and feel ambivalent about it; I just don’t care about them. I don’t know why.

    November 10, 2004
  • This makes me want to stab people in the eye.

    It also makes me covet that edition of “Just So Stories” . . . *looks wistful and poverty-stricken*

    Not so much for its “collectible” status as for its provenance . . . I like handling books that are pieces of history, that have passed through many hands, with love and reverence (and irreverence — one of my treasured possessions is a used college biology book in which the previous owner had drawn a number of witty cartoons in the margins) . . . I’ve saved my childhood books, and passed them on to Kira. It’s something about *continuity* . . . I like the idea of a book having achieved a kind of generational immortality by having been read by people over the years.

    However, I wouldn’t pay extra for a *signed* book (I have some signed copies, but they’re ones that I stood in line for myself, and value as mementoes of the experience of meeting the authors), or one that was merely *old* . . . I would, however, pay extra for beautiful illustrations and bindings, because I’m an artist and I value those things aesthetically.

    I’m still sticking my tongue out at anyone who would pay more for Rand than for Kipling, though ๐Ÿ˜›

    — A <3

    November 17, 2004
  • This makes me want to stab people in the eye.

    *laughing*

    Boy, that’s the fucking truth. “Here’s your objectivism, you selfish bint!” <stab stab>

    I don’t know if I’d feel differently about books if I had kids (or planned to) to whom I’d hand them down. As it is my cats have shown a remarkable indifference to the printed word. You know what I wish I had? The Houghton Mifflin edition of Lord of the Rings with Tolkien’s own artwork. That’s my guilty secret. That and wanting to see Laura Bush and Lynne Cheney fight to the death with cocktail forks.

    November 18, 2004

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