Friends of the Library

Monday of this week was the annual meeting of the Friends of the Somerville Public Library. There was a guest speaker, Kenneth Gloss, the proprietor of the Brattle Book Shop in Boston. I have been there once – last summer a friend and I made a project of visiting all the used book shops we could find in Boston and Cambridge – and can vouch that it is an excellent place to poke around.

Gloss brought some “show and tell” objects: a 14th-century manuscript page (which has held up better than cheap novels printed much more recently); a cookbook from the 1790s that included a recipe for “how to cook eel, the common way”; and a facsimile of Poe’s Tamerlane. “Almost anything you can think of out there, people are interested,” he said.

For those who are interested in valuable/rare books, here are a few things to check for:

  • Is it a first edition?
  • Does it have an intact dust jacket (for hardcovers)?
  • Is it in good condition?
  • Is it signed by the author?
  • Is it an association copy? That is, has the author inscribed it to someone in particular?

And for those who are wondering about how to store old books properly, a good rule of thumb is “if you’re comfortable, the books are comfortable” – it shouldn’t be too hot or too cold, too dry or too humid. Keep the books out of direct sunlight, and don’t pack them too tightly on the shelf (or so loosely that they lean over).

For the book collectors out there, I also recommend Allison Hoover Bartlett’s excellent and enthralling The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession.

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