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Between the Covers

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Views, anecdotes and insights into the world of antiquarian books.

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Journalism

Some books by journalists and newspaper people...

on rare books...

Articles by our staff and guests on all aspects of the rare book world.

What the hell kind of website is this anyway?

I spent the first twenty years of my life loitering in bookshops, apparently buying enough not to be thrown out. I've spent the past twenty years of my life working in and running them. My idea of what a bookstore can be and should be is informed by all the real bookstores I've been in and loved over the years. When the time came to create a website for Between the Covers, we strove to recreate the qualities that I look for in a real "live" bookstore.

The result, I realize, is more than a little overwhelming. Even "busy," I'll concede. Perhaps not unlike the first time you ever set foot in a well-stocked bookstore. And that's the key to enjoying this site. If you want to run in, check for a particular book, and dash out again, we have a top-notch search engine to help you out. But we hope you'll relax, take some time, and rediscover what it is to actually browse in an antiquarian bookstore. You know, that almost-extinct kind of place where you expected to get lost, because that was why you came. The kind of place where you never know what serendipitous discoveries you'll make. The kind of place that makes collecting fun. So calm down, pull up a chair, breathe into a paper bag if necessary, and explore. If you ever need help, there's a site map and help link at the top of every page. They might be useless, but we put them there anyway.

It starts with the book

What makes a reader into a book collector? The appreciation of books as physical objects. Call it a hobby, call it a fetish, call it an addiction (just please don't call it quits) -- book collectors need to hold the books in their hands, to have them on their shelves. This is one aspect of book collecting in which the Internet has failed up to this point. There is a world of difference between reading a list of books for sale, and visiting a book fair or a great bookstore. The gap between the two experiences will never be bridged in full, but here at least you can see all the books, and even hold over a thousand in your virtual, hot little hands (and you don't even need to wash those grubby mitts first). What does the topstain look like? How faded is the spine? How much foxing is on the foredge? How long is the tear on the rear panel? We've developed a 3-D book display system that lets you answer many of these questions for yourself. The Internet has been around for more than a decade -- it's time for book collectors to expect more than what they've been used to seeing on-line.

Serendipity

Book collecting should be a journey of self-discovery, not just a matter of checking off titles on a list. And that's another aspect of collecting in which the Internet has failed the collector miserably. Search engines have changed our lives and made it possible to find in two minutes a book that you had previously spent a decade searching for. Don't get me wrong, that's a good thing. But in that decade of doing it the old-fashioned way, how many interesting and exciting books did you discover along the way? The joy of collecting isn't merely in finding what you want, but in constantly redefining yourself by what you learn in the pursuit. To me, a real bookstore isn't a place where I would go to the front desk, ask if they had a particular title, and immediately walk out if they didn't. Or just buy it quickly and walk out if they did. A real bookstore is a place where for every one book I already knew I wanted, there are ten more next to it on the shelf just as enticing. A real bookstore is a place where the accidental finds are more exciting than the deliberate ones. A real bookstore is a place I leave with regret and revisit often. So, in our virtual bookstore, as you search for books and browse the shelves, we hope many new titles will catch your eye and expand your horizons.

Learning

Part of the fun of visiting an ABAA/ILAB book fair is in seeing under one roof all the best books for sale in the world and in meeting, under that same roof, so many experts about them. A great fair, according to some collectors, is one from which they come away both poorer in the pocketbook and richer in knowledge. Whether it's finding out what a particular first edition jacket should look like, figuring out issue points, or just getting general tips on collecting, there is no reason to come away from a book fair empty handed (especially with all those free catalogs being handed out like Halloween candy). We were very amused a few years ago when a young staffer at a large, used-book-Internet-widget-factory which shall here go unnamed, declared complacently in an interview, "I've been here almost a year, so I've seen every book there is to see." Compare this with the bookseller of forty years who reaches underneath the display case with a twinkle in his eye and says, "Here's something... I've never seen one of these before." We've built tools into this website to share with you thoughts about the book world, collecting tips, issue points, and photos from our vast archive of rare book images. In the rush to get this site launched, we've only had time to show just the tip of the iceberg in reference material. But we hope you'll bookmark our site and revisit often to see what's new from us and from our guest contributors.

Fun

Whether it's our T-shirts, our Classic Book Card sets, or our Tom Bloom-illustrated catalogs, we've always believed book collectors should have as much fun collecting as we have selling. At the very first planning session for our new website "literary games" was on the list, and I'm happy that we've been able to launch the site with a particularly fun one which will test your knowledge of literature by quizzing you on famous opening lines. This game will change and evolve over time (so don't think you can just learn all the answers and then handily whup your well-read friends), and additional games are already under construction. So even if you buy nothing from us, enjoy yourself. Oh, and buy something from us, will ya? Remember, if book collecting isn't fun for you, why are you doing it?

That's all great, but your site is still too cluttered

We've been told studies show that the average web user gives a website twelve seconds before moving on to their next destination. Perhaps this is because the average web-user has been trained by the Internet itself to expect only crap, not real content. Our site is cluttered and distracting because our favorite bookstores are a bit cluttered and distracting. We wouldn't have it any other way.