By Matthew Budman
New York: House of Collectibles, 2004
Paper back: ISBN: 0-375-72054-5 Price: $12.95
Recently, a friend was asked for advice on how to start collecting books. Although he has collected for many years, he was struck dumb by the question, his head filled with a jumble of thoughts about issues, states, original boards, and a hundred other bits of book arcana. Matthew Budman, a magazine editor by trade, helps answer the question with what may be the first true beginner’s handbook for book collectors.
The tall, narrow guide—part of Random House’s Instant Expert series—includes all the basic information about collecting, helpfully illustrated with photographs on nearly every page. This ground has been covered before, but rarely with such enthusiasm and passion for books of all kinds.
The book starts out with the common dictum, “Collect what you like.” Budman, however, actually means it. He dispatches the profit motive early on. “I want to strongly discourage your taking the step of becoming a professional or semipro book scout,” he writes. “Nothing sucks the fun out of book collecting like looking at it as a business.” He is also undeterred by generations of disdain for “uncollectable” books. Budman encourages collections of business books, political memoirs, diet books, bestsellers, and even reprint editions. He bolsters novices who are nervous about collecting in unfashionable genres with the promise that they are not alone: “If you think your choice of focus is overly insular or idiosyncratic or, well, kooky, I assure you it’s not.”
Budman is right to encourage non-traditional paths. Many beginners feel daunted by high prices in well-trod avenues of collecting and are discouraged by repeating what someone else with more money has already done better. As an enthusiastic accumulator with 12,000 books in his library, it is perhaps no surprise that Budman’s guide doesn’t explain how to take a general interest and turn it into a focused collection. Political memoirs may have the shelf life of cottage cheese, but a set of every memoir by every member of Congress would have considerable value and would not cost much. A comprehensive collection of diet books could fill many warehouses, but the history of vegetarianism would prove very interesting. Still, that quibble and a few minor factual errors do not detract from what is the essential book for any beginning collector.