Bright Young Booksellers: Obadiah Baird
How did you get started in rare books?
My parents opened The Book Bin location in Corvallis, OR approximately 35 years ago and I have spent my whole life, with the exception of a decade spent in Portland, around books. My father for most of his career has specialized in books on the Pacific Islands while also running open general interest shops. When I came back into the business after a hiatus for college I worked at our buying counter, learning the trade and it became clear to me fairly quickly that rare and collectible books are far more fun to work with than common paperbacks. About eight years ago an opportunity came along to buy a truly stunning collection of rare Science Fiction, I used that as a springboard to begin specializing in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror and I have been building my knowledge and customer base ever since.
What is your role at The Book Bin?
My parents have just retired and my wife, my sister, and myself all split the duties of running the business. Along with rare and antiquarian books we have two large open shops which sell new and used books and we employ roughly thirty five people. I deal mostly with the bill paying, HR, used book buying and fortunately for my sanity the online and rare book selling. I try to balance the stressful aspects of running a business with the enjoyable aspects of buying and selling rare books but it can be quite a balancing act and there are definitely tasks that fall by the wayside at times. Fortunately we have amazing managers and a great staff who help keep everything running as smoothly as can be reasonably expected.
What do you love about the book trade?
As someone who grew up in our bookstore in the community of Corvallis, OR I have had the opportunity to see first hand what an independent bookstore can be. Friends and strangers have told me what our bookstore meant to them and how reading the books they bought from us helped shape their lives. It is a unique vantage point from which to watch both individuals and our communities grow and it affords me an opportunity to help guide that growth. On the rare book side of things, I am absolutely in love with the sense of connection that books as objects can give us. I sell mainly signed modern firsts of SF, Fantasy and Horror, and that moment when a reader picks up a book that they love and sees that it is signed by the author - that spark of understanding and excitement, that moment when a passionate reader becomes a collector makes my day every time.
Describe a typical day for you:
I'm not sure I have any typical days anymore. My week is broken up into days for dealing with various aspects of the business but even that much organization usually gets torpedoed by circumstance. I travel a lot for book fairs and trade shows, there is almost always at least one emergency to be dealt with and my attempts to plan often meet with mixed results. It is not uncommon for my work with the rare books and ephemera to occur at home in the evening and I have an excellent cataloger who requires minimal management. I always try to devote Thursdays to our rare book and online sales, contacting customers, buying stock and chasing down collections. Most of my research happens in the evening and on weekends, as I am passionate about the genres I sell and would be learning as much as I can about it even if I wasn't a dealer.
Favorite rare book (or ephemera) that you've handled?
Not long ago I got and sold a first edition of The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers with a signed letter from Chambers relating to the work laid in. The King in Yellow is an extremely important pre-Lovecraftian work of weird fiction and has been extremely influential not only on Lovecraft himself but also on the genre today as a whole. To have the chance to handle a one of a kind association copy of this title has been a high point of my career thus far. Of all the books I have sold that one was the hardest to let go.
What do you collect?
I collect a lot of signed first editions of contemporary SF, Fantasy and Horror authors. Along with dealing in the genre I read it extensively and go to author events and conventions when I have the opportunity. I tend to collect books by authors whose work I enjoy as they are released and am building a collection that I hope will be significant in fifty years. As far as older authors go I really pick my spots. I have a small and growing collection of books by the poet and weird fiction author Clark Ashton Smith, including a couple of rare signed books and two pieces of original art by him. I also have a small but growing collection of works by Lord Dunsany who was another important influence on H.P. Lovecraft along with being a fine fantasist in his own right.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I publish a magazine called The Audient Void: A Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy in my spare time and have a great time doing it. We publish fiction and poetry in a weird or horrific vein. We have published three issues so far and it feels great to create a venue for some talented writers, poets and artists who may not have been published elsewhere. I read a lot and spend time studying the history of Science Fiction. I also try to leave my house occasionally to have dinner or drinks with friends.
Thoughts on the present state and/or future of the rare book trade?
To be honest, I am a bit bothered by the lack of diversity in the rare book trade. I have had colleagues claim that it is due to lack of interest or the business not being lucrative enough but the rare book community seems to lag behind even the bookselling world at large and I don't believe for a minute that it is because minority groups are simply not interested in bookselling. I would love to see scholarships aimed at supporting rare book education for minorities and mentorship programs aimed at building minority membership in the ABAA.
Any upcoming fairs or catalogues?
Our next fair will be the Rose City Book and Paper Fair June 16-17 and after that we do not have another until Seattle in the fall. I send out a monthly new arrivals list that ends up being bi-monthly most of the time. Anyone who would like to be added to our mailing list can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Image courtesy of Obadiah Baird]