February 2012 | Nate Pedersen

Your Book Portfolio

While we are always told not to collect books based on assumptions of future value, all of us make the occasional purchase with an eye to future profit.  Collecting based on your personal interests remains the best policy.  But when you're around old books long enough, you can hardly deny yourself the occasional speculative purchase. And thus buying rare books is similar to buying stocks.

As someone who has dabbled in both speculative book and stock purchases, I enjoyed Jeff O'Neal's piece on "picking literary stocks" over at BookRiot.  O'Neal rated a handful of contemporary authors with Buy, Sell, or Hold ratings.  His judgements:

Buy: Philip Roth, Alan Moore, Suzanne Collins

Sell: Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Safran Foer, Joan Didion

Hold: Toni Morrison, Marilynne Robinson, George R. R. Martin

O'Neal is, of course, discussing the literary futures of each author and not necessarily commenting on their present or future collectability.  (Although the two are often bound up together).  But it's similar to the judgement call that rare book dealers, or even special collections libraries, try to make all the time.  (See the recent article in the Atlantic about this kind of speculation at the Harry Ransom Center). 

LawrenceBettmannCorbis4.jpgA visionary librarian, or collector, would have done well to build a D. H. Lawrence collection, for example, around the time of his death.  Lawrence's reputation was mostly in ruins and his obituaries were borderline hostile, with the notable and lasting exception of E. M. Forster's notice in the Nation.  Forster described Lawrence as "the greatest imaginative novelist of our generation;" comments which would spurn a critical re-evaluation of Lawrence's work and pave the way to his current status as one of the great writers of the 20th century.

In short, you just never know.  But it's fun to play the game.

So, what authors, dead or alive, would you rate as Buy, Sell, or Hold?