Rare book dealers have a certain image in pop culture.  They are generally a bit eccentric, standoffish, erudite, and curmudgeonly.  Librarians have a somewhat similar image, but generally are more aimed at facilitating the wide dissemination of knowledge.  The book dealer is much more personal.  They may only share their best material with a special few clients.  Because their books will change hands, permanently, it lends itself to exchanging much more hidden knowledge.  The librarian character may give you background… the book dealer gives you the key that unlocks the grand conspiracy that remakes the world before your eyes.

In fiction or film, the book dealer is often a treasure trove of obscure information and may even drive the plot.  Uncovering some great conspiracy involves pouring through obscure tomes they have gathered over a lifetime… or more if they inherited the shop from someone else.  Somewhere in those dusty stacks lurks the answer to the world’s great mysteries…

Writers and filmmakers love secret knowledge… and love revealing it even more. The book dealer is both treasure hunter and oracle. The archaeologist digs up mysteries from the earth and the hacker seemingly pulls them from thin air.   The book dealer serves much the same function, but for written materials.  His treasure is knowledge.

Treasure hunts always hold a certain appeal with people.  We love a great story of a priceless treasure hidden in plain sight… it just takes the right person to see its worth.

Reality TV is chock full of exactly that sort of thing. Antiques, art, vehicles, collectibles, you name it.   Books and documents also turn up on these shows but usually require a specialist to explain their significance and importance.

It is only a matter of time before someone decides to make a reality show about a rare bookstore.  It plays right into the hottest television trends right now.  All they need is a properly eccentric star and old books will be the hottest thing on TV.   The rise of ebooks makes this even more likely.  You can’t find a hidden masterpiece in a Kindle. What’s lurking on your shelf right now?  Did your grandmother leave you a document that unravels a great historical mystery?  Is that funny looking book that’s propping up the wobbly table in the hall actually a lost masterpiece worth millions? Will the person coming in the door right now be the one that brings in that amazing find?

All these shows fuel the idea there could be a treasure right around the corner.  They are wish fulfillment stories at their core.  But not everyone has a junkyard to look through, or collections of furniture, or old pots, or old storage areas filled with endless surprises.  It’s a rare house that is totally without books.  ANY house could be The One.  Any thrift store display could hold a treasure.  Any library sale could have that amazing book.  Books are everywhere.   And every book dealer has tales of the amazing things they’ve found.  That the media has been increasingly been focusing on how books are “dying” would give it a sense of urgency, that those treasures might vanish.

Would a reality show about rare books signal the end of civilization or just fuel people’s appetites books? It’s almost inevitable at this point as there’s already a reality show about a comic store.  Rare manuscripts can’t be far behind…

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Nora O'Neill

Nora O'Neill

Nora O'Neill

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12 Comments

  1. A fine effort , readable and enjoyable.

    A bromide for the ubiquitous columns mysteriously found as usual business on this site ,the columns that beg the delete button to engage upon viewing the authors name.

    Please send more.

    • Mark, feel free to delete at any time. There’s nothing mysterious about my posting–I happen to be the host of the site–however, that doesn’t mean that you or anyone else who visits need to read what I write.
      I do agree that Nora’s work is very good and she should send more.
      I also believe you could have praised her without sly insults. That being said, traffic is traffic and I’m fine with you passing by, even if you feel the need to vent, however coyly, your disapproval of my work. Please come by and trash anytime, lol.

      • Ms. Plumley,

        Oddly enough , I do find your posts somewhat amusing at times , though not so often informative or high in interesting content.

        That being said , I am quite an aesthete , and my poor long suffering wife considers me a snob.

        Enough dirty laundry.

        Please pay little attention to my comments .

        I am a devil on pins , and my comments are meant as mere observation , not criticism , and certainly I could never imagine myself coy , in fact my snarky reply above is as subtle as a depth charge exploding in a bath tub.

        I love the idea of the bookshop blog , and though I have been writing articles and reviews for varied media for forty years , I can’t imagine stooping so low as to pick up seven dollars for five hundred words after giving away a few articles gratis.

        Perhaps if the level of payment was increased the number of articles would grow and prosper.

        My back hurts enough from the rigors of aging and the rote work associated with book selling on the internet 2012 style , and the seven dollar article was far less than I received for my first sale of a review in 1972.

        As for my mind , I have a bit of a nasty twisted humor lodged in it , and I apologize for any insult taken.

        Your disclaimer of being the site host explains the ubiquity and regular appearance of your posts.

        Given that information , I will assume that in the need to fill space and keep the site interesting you keep posting.

        I do love your use of graphics , and having had the pleasure to own and trade in many illustrated books of a fantastic stripe , appreciate the attention that you give them both in regards to content and drawing attention to them .

        Peace.

        • Mark – thank you for the free content. Wondering if you’ve noticed that things have changed a little since ’72 ? On my collection of web properties I work with about 90 writers. Of those only 20 receive anything at all. That is the nature of publishing on the Net. I decline writers wanting to publish their words (for free) daily, about 4 or 5 requests a day to be precise. As for this site you can expect a new writer to be joining shortly.

          • I do not believe I have ever filed copy with you , if I have please remit some form of funds to me asap. No free content , mere scat and toss off material have I sent to date ..

            My heart bleeds for you to have to work with writers , who are optimistic and virginal in their puerile and nascent states , and easily  motivated with a desire to be acknowledged by their burning desire for recognition among peers and a  desire to have a byline.

            Older writers are cranky , terse , and and could give a good jolly hot damn about a byline , and instead  are happy  to receive proper pay for their efforts , and are happy to get a good and tight  nights sleep , a pair of comfortable shoes , and a warm place to dung  for the money they gather  .

            Earl Butz might agree , if he could speak from beyond the grave.

            In any event , life is akin to a sometimes  murky stream with plenty of deep dark pools to explore , as well as clear gravely patches of stream  where the waters run clear.

            Writers tread among both the high and low water marks of these streams , and I wish that I would have taken advantage of the clear streams of 1972 when a feature paid $ 1.00 per word for 750 words.

            As for your current amount that you pay your writers , which in my measurement is in fractions of pennies per word , I will pass.

            I will continue to look for a place to exchange ideas concerning books and book selling , the more curious and salient corners of a life tuned into the rare and used book market .

            You get what you pay for , and I will be on the lookout for your new ” writer “.
             

          • Mark, your wife is correct, you are a snob. But not just any old snob, you are one who continues to throw barbs, for no other purpose than to throw barbs. “You get what you pay for”? Thank you for that highly original thought. Instead of deciding what we who write on this blog are thinking when doing so, what our motivations may be, perhaps you should ponder why you didn’t take the buck a word back when disco was the vogue. And why by now your byline isn’t recognizable by the multitudes.
            “My heart bleeds for you to have to work with writers , who are optimistic and virginal in their puerile and nascent states , and easily motivated with a desire to be acknowledged by their burning desire for recognition among peers and a desire to have a byline.”
            Oh, you couldn’t be more on the mark, pardon the pun! My optimism knows no bounds, for example, I had believed you wouldn’t be unpleasant again. A pessimist would have known better. Virginal and puerile, hmm, well, since I’ve written a great deal before thebookshopblog, for example, a major TV station’s website, that eliminates virginal. As for puerile, I guess you’re right! I love Mother Goose and children’s lit, so in a manner of speaking I am childish. But not foolish, as I own many valuable titles.
            A desire to be acknowledged by my peers? And the fervent need to have a byline? If you mean peers as in individuals like yourself who view writing as a necessary but unpleasant ordeal, who do it only for the small pay, and a nice place to, um, sit, then no, I don’t care a whit about my peers. And if you are too fine a writer, and are insulted by my insinuating we could be in any way peers, I may have to agree. If this is a sample of your day to day writing your appeal is for the dwindling Noel Coward crowd–Noel Coward on drugs. The witticisms are just a bit off, the comeback a little too obvious, and the references as dated as one of his plays, enjoyable they may be as period pieces.
            The world for better or as bad as you can envision it to be, has moved on.
            As for byline, had I known it would encourage individuals like yourself to take umbrage, I would have tried to find a way within the program to write without credit. Unfortunately for me, I am not young, I don’t burn with any other desire in these articles than to express my experiences, my love of reading, and some opinions concerning what I consider unfair. You don’t like what I write, you don’t think my work is up to whatever standard you imagine, I get that, really, I do. And I’m sure Bruce gets that. Your reiterating it is unnecessary and beneath you. You, a ‘real’ write,r who has the dollars and dimes to prove it.

          • …and I was just going to suggest he ‘changes the channel’.

          • And I was going to suggest that you Bruce are a good example of outlawing head gear for hockey players as a matter of   upgrading our collective IQ’s.

          • I took the money for my articles  and it was good.

            I took the payola  and the drugs as well.

            By the way , Noel Coward was on drugs.

            If you do not like what I write you certainly should not address it so much  and I am a bit touched that you would spend so much time in  refuting my observations .

            I give you points for using quotes .

            I believe that this  post that I commented on  is about the eccentric qualities of rare book sellers  to some degree ?

            You did not connect the dots ?

            My literary life is good , and money is not my only motivation to write.

            Virginal and puerile ?  no , vaginal and puerile yes. ” Pardon the pun”.

             
            I can accept nearly  any act save censorship , so I believe that due to the removal of my earlier post in reply to your comments I will bow out now , never to darken the doorway of the hallowed grounds of the bookshop blog again.

            Promise. ,

          • There was no censorship. Note in an earlier comment that some remarks were lost while I updated the site. A couple of my own comments were lost as well.

          • Remove my helmet eh? Nice thing to say to somebody while you’re visiting his website.

    •  I apologize that some of the more recent comments were lost. It was not intentional. As you can see I spent a bit of time tonight touching up the place. I hope you enjoy it the new look.

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