Inscribed Books–Which Stay? Which Go?

I’m in the midst of a dilemma. Something most books collectors get into sooner or later. Space. It’s not infinite. As much as I want to pretend I can house every book I have in my possession right now, and any that come in hereafter, physics tells me–it’s not possible. I don’t listen to physics that often, because I’m used to finding ways around that pesky reality, but I’ve come to a standstill. Either some books go, or no more books can come in, and that is unthinkable.

Back when I managed mystery bookstores, and even when I was a moderator for A&E, I received advance reading copies, and review copies of books. Lots of lovely books. And in a futile attempt to emulate one of my bosses, I decided to have each one inscribed, if an author came in for a signing– even if I had to ship books to the author for signatures. Book clubs in the mystery store were big deals back in the 90s, buying just a regular copy of the latest James Patterson wasn’t a good enough reason to pay full price, not when Barnes and Noble would discount considerably. Plus, with first time authors and small print runs, it was believed that these books could increase in value. Customers shelving out money wanted something extra for it. So it was my job to set up signings for as many writers as possible, and if an author was important enough in our opinion, we’d  pack up and ship a number of copies to the author for their signature, to be picked up by UPS and sent back. A slightly risky process, because packing incorrectly or rough riding could damage a book by bumping a corner etc., and that would automatically make the book unsellable to a collector.

So, with receiving many review copies, I would make sure when a new author, such as Janet Evanovich, dropped by for a signing I would place my book till next to last and then ask for a personal inscription, because that’s what the owner had each author do. I knew that by having a personal inscription, it lowered the chance of selling it. If there was a market for the book in question to begin with, that is. Naturally, as the owner of the store my boss getting personal inscriptions from authors was a very different thing–there was an association there–and books inscribed to someone who has an association are more likely to be considered of value, than Joe Schmo getting a ‘with regards from the author’ book inscription.

I must have had either delusions of grandeur, a slightly inflated feeling of self importance, or believed I’d have a warehouse to store all the books in. Because, over the years collecting as many authors’ inscriptions as possible, I have bookcases brimming over. Keeping them in an apartment was suicide–for myself and my husband–nothing causes marital stress to occur more, than lack of space two have to exist in. So, lots of boxes of new crime fiction were moved down to my mother’s house, which in the beginning was bare of bookcases and piles. Other things like furniture need to have room, so I must must must, remove a vast amount of newer fiction from the house, before I become the headline in a paper like the NY Post–Mother Whacks Daughter in Head with One of  Hundreds of Hoarded Books!

But which to keep, which to sell, which to donate? How does one determine which personally inscribed copy of a book that an author believes you will keep forever, should go? And should each book be researched for value? And where to donate, or give away these mylar covered pristine copies of personal ilk?

I wish I had tried and true answers to these questions. I’ve not. I don’t know if Emily Post has written extensively on the proper etiquette in disposing of inscribed books. So, I take each book individually to decide its fate.

Example–“For Diane–It’s never too late to be a cowgirl.” Erlene Fowler. Nice inscription from a lovely woman who writes cosy mysteries involving quilting. However, that inscription is probably one she used to sign all of the copies of that title to all who asked for an inscription. It has the sound of a thought out phrase. Many authors figure out what they want to write and stick to it, for each and every person–and just change the name. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that–saves them time trying to come up with something original and pithy. But as the bookseller who arranged the signing or shipping of the books, my ego demanded more! LOL. Should I or shouldn’t I keep? And if I don’t–sell? No, this book is long after her first, and even though probably not a tremendous print run, it still wouldn’t have increased in value, IMHO. So–the library sale? My mother’s hairdresser’s book exchange?

Another inscription: nonsensical drawing. With an indecipherable signature. Neat, that he thought to express himself this way, but not really all that personal. Thinking about it–probably the library sale–but, it does have charm. Hmm.

What about inscriptions from a somewhat famous person–like an actor who strayed into writing fiction, or a political figure who pens a book? Again, depends on who, whether I read and enjoyed the book, or was a fan of the actor’s work, the political figure’s platform.

Stephen Collins is an actor known for his TV series 7th Heaven. I’m not a rabid fan, but know who he is. I have a very nicely inscribed title of his–do I want to keep it based on the fact he’s an actor? Because of the nice inscription, or do I let it go? He writes, he ‘admires’ me! How can I turn that over to the ladies getting perms?

I’ve a couple of interesting political, music star, inscriptions, including the well known bombastic Bill O’Reilly,  even a former hostage and jailbird– Patricia Hearst. Which do I keep? Judy Collins inscribed a book she wrote for me, and since I grew up loving her music, wouldn’t dream of parting with it. Hearst is an interesting person, and her book is naturally about her grandfather the famous William Randolph Hearst of Hearst Castle and prototype for Citizen Kane. I love that period of Hollywood history, and the characters based on real people–even if she picked the murderer to be the mistress of Hearst-naturally, the family wasn’t pleased that Marion Davies lived with him until his death. An open secret. So, this has too many neato features to let go. As for O’Reilly–what do your think?

A political thriller is not  a favorite theme of mine, and the authors not really my cup of tea. Although one wrote  very personable, nice piece incorporating conversation we must have been having about my pet ferrets. Is the person famous enough to want to save the book? Is the inscription neat enough to keep? We’ll see!

So far, I’ve not read any of the ones pictured. It was almost impossible to read every book of every person who did  a drop in signing. So, I tried to read those that interested me–either then or now. I didn’t read this next book until a few years ago. I enjoyed it–the storyline involved an artist struggling with Bi-Polar disease, which alters moods and behavior. So, considering I enjoyed the book, and his inscription was humorous, is it something to treasure for years? “You were my first” has that coy double meaning–but refers only-to my having him in the store for his first signing. Nice twist.

Nancy Taylor Rosenberg isn’t necessarily someone I’d jump to read, she writes law mysteries, also not a popular genre with me, but she praises my work as a bookseller, and that makes her a big favorite, lol. So, what should I do with her novel? I’d hate to give such a nice complement away, but space is a premium, so what should I do?

Same can be said for The Love of Sarah, by Rita Scotti, writing under the name Angelica Scott. Her inscription is lovely, complimentary, plus in the minute. I used to have M and Ms on my desk for the authors to munch on, and she references this fact. So, how do I handle this one?

Here is one that’s a no brainer–well–first because it’s inscribed to my mother, lol, and then because it’s generic, not personal at all. Dance of the Scarecrows was a nice read, and the author, a very fine fellow. But if an author inscribes a book this way, they may as well just sign it. There just isn’t anything special about it. With a few exceptions. Dick Francis had terrible arthritis in his hands therefore never inscribed–but for me he did add a word or two. Robert Parker signed so many books, his signature had turned into a big squiggle. He also

didn’t inscribe much–I think he added one word, to my books, which was A-Ok–because he was a giant in the crime fiction world, I liked him as a person, and loved his Spenser books.

In Plain Sight by Barbara Block deals with a pet store, and I had many a discussion about those aforementioned pet ferrets, so her inscription is on the money. But, space is not. What to do, what to do? My last example is of a friend’s book–someone I met while working at the store, whose second book had just arrived, and whom I developed a relationship with. She’s a brilliant writer and wonderful person–and her inscription is funny–she is railing on the fact that I always asked her for pithy inscriptions–something that is obviously not easy to do, and probably annoying as well, lol. I have several inscribed copies of different titles in her series, so does this one stay, and another leave? Or this leave plus another? Or all stay? You’ll know when I know!




4 thoughts on “Inscribed Books–Which Stay? Which Go?”

  1. Some of these inscriptions are great. Atkins’ is pretty funny.
    I rarely get books inscribed. I always thought it odd to have the book addressed to me if I only read the writer’s books and hardly knew the person. Plus I usually got signatures only on out of print books so that I could then label it SIGNED IN PERSON! and inflate the price and sell it online. It’s all mercenary, you know.

    I have some inscibed books now because of my blog and I get to “know” writers when I review their books — a rare occurence since most of the books I review are by dead people. But I think I’ll be holding onto my inscribed L.C. Tyler books who not only writes very funny, well plotted books but is a fabulous man with infectious humor and a witty manner.

    • I think the fact that I got to meet, greet and spend an hour or two with each author gave me the idea that having them all inscribed was a swell thing. Plus, some, like Dennis Lehane in his beginning career, wrote hilarious stuff. Colin Dexter wrote divine things, and John Dunning was just a dream. So, those are going no where. As for the others, as much as I may like the inscription or author, I simply can’t house them all. So, the husband came up with the idea of taking photos of each one, saving them, so I can visit them now and again! LOL.

  2. This is a great problem to have isn’t it? I have a lot of signed and inscribed books myself being a book freak and sometimes seller. When my wife and I moved we were forced to get a house that had an older design style due to the number of books we have. And what is this design must-have, walls! So many newer homes in our area were all windows and little rooms. Great to look at but impractical for book collectors when there isn’t enough wall space. I have many signed books that I have just found in my travels that I keep because the authors work means so much to me. Others I sell to further fund the collecting. Three signed book moments I remember well, Anthony Bourdain and I discussing New York punk rock before he signed my book. Cool man, I’ll never get rid of the book. Ian Mcewan signed two of his rare books for me, never sell those! William T. Vollmann signed three books and when he got to his first and rarest book he drew a great cartoon. Of course he then said that a bunch of people were going to get drunk at a bar and wondered if I wanted to go. I didn’t but I still have the book. Some books do have to go though because an author signs so many that their signature offers no monetary value. If the book means nothing to me then I say a fond farewell and push it on to the next collector.

    • Wow, asked to a bar, now that’s pretty cool! Oh, yeah, Anthony Bourdain is a great guy. We hung out with him a bit when he’d come by the store–he was writing his crime novels then, and had just begun with the exposing of conditions in restaurants. He was a chef at a big restaurant, whose name is lost to me. But he’d come by even if not for a signing–very very neat guy.

      I need walls too! My mom’s house where the newer stuff is housed, has no walls really, in the living room–it was built in the late 50s and the mod thing then was to have a few steps up to the living room area, split the room with the upstairs staircase, and have a big picture window facing front–leaving you a wall on the side broken up by a window–and no wall in back because of a window, and then a quarter wall with steps down to the family room! Still, I managed to put in a corner self, one bookcase, and one large antiquey looking thing that holds tons of books. Plus a long shelf above the picture window, above the steps entering, and above the steps to the family room, and in the family room with no walls, I have two large bookcases–and still–not enough space!
      I am keeping all inscribed books whose author is a friend or is someone I admire.

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