Bright Young Things: Amir Naghib

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Amir Naghib, proprietor of Captain Ahab's Rare Books in Miami.

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NP: How did you get started in rare books?


AN: I think the first time I realized that books were special and had value was in my grandfather's study as a child.  There were floor-to-ceiling shelves, all of them filled with books on every imaginable subject, and my grandfather was very specific about how important those books were.  I made my first rare book purchase while in college (an early jacketed set of The Lord of the Rings trilogy), and I was more or less hooked after that.  Regardless of where I lived around the country, I'd haunt bookshops, library sales, and just about anywhere else I could scout for books.  I became a collector and a periodic seller of books, selling off books I scouted up in order to purchase volumes I really cared about.  Most of my education took place in large open shops, the types of places you could easily spend a day getting lost in.  Thankfully I was fortunate enough to establish good relationships with several dealers who offered sound advice regarding condition, scarcity and the like, and a number of these people had a hand in shaping the bookseller I am today.

NP: When did you open Captain Ahab's and what do you specialize in?

AN: Between 2009 and 2010 I was working at a job I absolutely hated, and decided that working 60-70 hours a week and being miserable wasn't for me.  I left my job, and a few months later I found myself at the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, courtesy of a scholarship by Bibliopolis.  I figured setting up shop as "Amir Naghib Rare Books" would sound too self-involved, so in September of 2010 I started Captain Ahab's Rare Books.  My first year was successful in many ways, and this year has exceeded my expectations thus far.  I focus on offering the things that interest me: literature, the Beats and counterculture material, crime fiction, important pulps, and science fiction.  I find myself buying more and more literature in Spanish and French.  Mostly, an item has to interest me for me to buy it, so I will often purchase material outside my focus area if I find it engaging or significant in some way.   

NP: Favorite or most interesting book (or etc) that you've handled?

AN: Lately it's been a lot more 'etc.' that I've been handling.  Over the last six months I've handled some wonderful pieces of illustration art related to important books.  The cover paintings for Charles Willeford's Honey Gal and High Priest of California were both stunning, and it was a real treat to have those pass through my hands.  I recently purchased the original dustjacket artwork for the U.K. edition of Calvino's The Path to the Nest of Spiders, and a recent consignment has brought us the painting for James Avati's very first paperback cover (Worth Tuttle Hedden's The Other Room).  In addition to being a stunning painting, it's historically significant, as it's also the first interracial cover painting in American publishing history.

NP: What do you personally collect?

AN: I stopped collecting when I decided to do this full-force.  There are certain books I keep for myself that were given to me as gifts, or that I have a strong emotional attachment to.  Since I largely purchase the sort of material I would want to collect anyway, I don't really feel the need to hang on to things anymore.  I've also learned to be content with nice jacketed reprints of titles I want to keep; they're a fraction of the price a First would cost me, and I'm able to justify keeping it.

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

AN: I love that on a daily basis I am able to handle some of the coolest stuff on earth.  I'm interested in nearly everything that passes through my hands, and the research that goes into cataloging is always intellectually stimulating.  There's something gratifying about connecting with a customer who has overlapping interests, and being able to place something significant in proper and appreciative hands.  Mostly though, I'd say that my colleagues are the best part of the book trade.  Unlike nearly every other field I've worked in, I've found members of the trade to be a pleasant lot.  I'm constantly amazed at their willingness to lend a hand, whether it's sharing knowledge or their experiences, or connecting you with a particular item or customer.  

NP: I see on your "About" page that you are also an avid reader.  What are some of your favorite texts?

AN: Since the first time I read it, I've always felt that The Count of Monte Cristo is more or less the most perfect novel ever written.  Some of my more contemporary favorites are Bukowski's Post Office and Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.  I recently finished Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo, and am currently working through Mickey Spillane's early novels.

NP: Thoughts on the future of the rare book trade?

AN: Generally optimistic.  Judging by the growing number of younger dealers, I'd say the trade is steadily solidifying it's future.  I've also been surprised by the growing number of younger collectors, and by what they choose to collect.  I think developing relationships with customers of all ages and being able to engage them and connect them with material they care about is a large part of what will continue to help our trade thrive.

NP: If you could live inside the pages of any rare book, which would you choose?

AN: Either The Hobbit by Tolkien or Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are.  I've always love the epic sense of adventure in Tolkien's books, and since I have a three year old wild thing at home, I've developed a new-found appreciation for the wild rumpus.

NP: Do you have a catalogue coming up soon?  How does one get on your mailing list?  (Will you be exhibiting at any upcoming book fairs?)

AN: The St. Petersburg Antiquarian Book Fair this past March was the first fair I exhibited at, and while we don't have any other fair appearances planned for this year (wrapping up a Masters program and baby #2 on the way) we hope to exhibit more in the future.  I hope to have our first print catalogue out before the end of this year.  We do issue an E-List periodically, and anyone interested in receiving communication from us can contact us directly at captainahabsrarebooks@hotmail.com.  For anyone interested in specific subject areas, we have a Topic Notifier they can use through our website.


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