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What is a book worth?

What is the value of a book? Maybe in this instance it might be best to ask – how am I defining value.

Worth to an individual ? Absolute intrinsic value of the paper and ink? Hard to say.

Part of what a book’s worth makes me glad to be a bookseller because I look at books and realize the value of particular books to me and realize that I have walked this way and now others coming into my little book store are walking similar ways.

When I was a very young man (still in high school), I read a book in our high school library written by one Rene Descartes in which Descartes postulated the incredible idea that at some point in our lives we should place into doubt everything that we know and seek to prove to ourselves that the things which we believe are correct and true.

This hit me like a piano dropped on my head and made me start to think about why I believed all the things I believed. A fantastic idea – and it came from a book.

Growing older I now compare it to the feeling Keats must have felt upon first reading Chapman’s Homer.

This was an epiphany.

I had been hooked on books way before this, but this book hooked me more and more. It led me to what has now been called “leading an examined life”.

I started testing the things I believed and trying to determine how much of what I believed I believed simply because someone had told me that things were this way or that way and how much I believed because I had honestly and actually found out things on my own. I was appalled at how much I believed without ever having tested that belief.

I could write a book about the experiences that this little book led me to.
Descartes’ s book led me to question the biggies – religion, morality, history, even reality itself.

It led me to question and explore – all from a little book.

What is a book worth – in this case this book has been worth an incalculable amount to me because reading this book opened my mind to possibilities that I had never previously considered.

Many many years later I read the word of one Siddhartha Gautama who is quoted as having said

(more or less)

questionBelieve nothing on the faith of traditions, even though they have been held in honor for many generations and in many places. Do not believe a thing because many people speak of it. …….. Believe what you have tested and found to be reasonable and true.
I wonder if Descartes and The Buddha were reading the same book?

To that end I am glad to be a bookseller. I love books. (that helps) I seem to have have insatiable curiosity (that also helps).

I look out over my shop and wonder what these books are worth. I have a first American Edition of Animal Farm in my case. What is it worth? I can look it up on the internet, but what is it really worth.

It’s an interesting little story and who knows what it’s worth to the right individual. Maybe the right individual upon reading that book will be so changed that they will change themselves and by so doing change the world. In some little way I play a small part.

What are these books worth – to me they are priceless and every customer walking into my store is an unknown, sort of like a book that I’ve never seen before – full of who knows what from who knows where.

Combine that with the right book who knows what might happen.

The meditations of Descartes have had a profound effect on me. They also seemed to have had a profound effect on Descartes. As booksellers we often have the opportunity to have a profound effect upon others in ways that we often don’t imagine – because we deal in something that is more than just paper and ink and dried words on dried wood. If we ever stop thinking of books as something magical – then we have lost something that might be hard to find again.

Oh – you don’t know me – but if you want to know something about me –

read a book by Descartes

or something about the Buddha

or something in between.

I’m in there somewhere!

I am –

John Pollard

JPollard Bookseller

<a Mercersburg, Pa.

Brick and Mortar and on the NET

Perpetual dreamer of dreams, hopeless romantic, writer of poetry and probably related to

Don Quixote as I am constantly tilting at windmills

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  • A very enjoyable, well-written piece, John. I couldn’t have said it better myself!

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  • Excellent post, and I’m not just saying that because you are also from PA.

    Some of my most prized books cost me the least to purchase. Some books are like pictures, they represent us at a period of time in our lives and simply holding them again brings back memories from those times. They remind us of the loved one who gave us the book or who read it to us on so many occasions in our youth.


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  • Nice post, this really made me think back on some of my favorite novels and what i learned from them. @Rhonda, i also like to go through my collection and i do remember some of the things that a certain book helped me through or stuff i was experiencing at the time.

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  • Thank you for your excellent article.
    It is really very true that everybody must believe in what he really believes in by himself. I enjoy reading books, and I read the books five or six times which I find interesting and appealing. What a book is worth can vary from person to person, and this is a relative question. A book that I rate invaluable might be unattractive to someone else.

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  • Excellent piece. Some say that an unexamined life is a wasted life. The value of books is subjective, related to the conten, the reader and the context. Some of the books that I have valued highly can readily be found in the bargain bins at my local bookstore

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