In Jorge Luis Borges’ 1941 story "The Library of Babel", he describes an infinite library containing volumes that feature every possible combination of symbols. At one point, some of the inhabitants of this library go on a rampage, wantonly destroying many of the unique, unread books. While many of their fellow denizens are outraged that works with no copies have been expunged forever, they eventually reason that if the books really are infinite, then any particular destroyed volume will have an accompanying volume that is almost completely identical, and that, really, no harm can be done. I’m not sure whether that should make us feel better or worse when we think about all of the lost and destroyed works of art throughout the literary millennia, but in honor of World Poetry Day, let’s take a look at some works of poetry that we’ll never be able to read.
Self-publishing has its detractors, and not without reason. For every success story like Andy Weir’s The Martian (2011) (now a major motion picture starring Matt Damon) or Sergio De La Pava’s PEN Debut Fiction-winning debut, A Naked Singularity (2008) (a sprawling postmodern masterpiece that was picked up by The University of Chicago Press four years after De La Pava’s wife convinced him to self-publish), there are thousands of self-published authors who will languish forever in obscurity. On the other hand, most of the works being published today by major presses will eventually go on to languish forever in their own slightly more prestigious obscurity. Both great and terrible works of literature can (and do) come from anywhere, and there’s no way to know what’s still going to be read a hundred years from now. For proof, here are four famous self-published debuts from literary history.
As book collectors and rare book enthusiasts, we understand your need for clear content and simplified resources. In an effort to continue to provide you, our fabulous readership, with the best possible book buying, collecting, and reading experience, we thought we’d take some time to update you on the latest happenings here at Books Tell You Why.
Are you traveling to Italy and planning to add to your book collection? The number of cities in Italy with rare and antiquarian bookstores is overwhelming. Indeed, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) lists 110 booksellers in the country. As such, we’ve limited this particular article to rare and antiquarian shops in Central Italy, focusing primarily on stores in Rome and Florence.
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” It’s a tired cliche, but when it comes to collecting rare or vintage books, there is perhaps no truer sentiment. Illustrations in rare book collecting, while not necessarily the first element that jumps to mind for a would-be collector, can be a significant driver in terms of the value and rarity of a given volume. Because illustrations have long been a part of literature in a variety of forms—everything from supplementing a narrative to depicting important scenes to enhancing the overall texture or theme of a story—illustrations are a critical element in helping experts place value on certain volumes within a given canon, but also making a determination regarding a book’s place in the rare book landscape.
Ever since Alexandria, the library has been an institution engineered for the public good. Most major libraries belong to communities and to universities, places where one large group or another may borrow books and read them. But there are, of course, some spectacular libraries in private hands. Places where knowledge, and the sharing of it, are highly valued by the person who filled the shelves.
The concept of rarity in book collecting is tricky. While many novice collectors might believe rarity is the most important element in assessing a book’s value or worth, seasoned collectors understand rarity is in fact one of the more insignificant elements in judging what a volume is worth or its place in the landscape of rare books. The murky nature of rarity in book collecting stems to some degree from the ill defined character of the term. Essentially, rarity is too nebulous and relative a term for book sellers and collectors to base any substantive, concrete value.
However, because the idea of rarity has a certain cache or currency in book collecting, a number of myths have arisen and been propagated throughout the book collecting industry about the intrinsic value of rarity and its influence on accurately judging a volume’s value. These myths can be quite detrimental to the book collecting experience and can lead collectors down hazardous paths in their book collecting journey.
Condition. Binding. Completeness. These are all relatively easy to understand concepts in the rare book world when judging the value of a piece. But what about provenance? What is provenance? Why is it so important? Why does it impact the value of a book in such a significant way? These are the questions rare book enthusiasts need to ask as they come across rare or unique volumes where the term provenance is bandied about as a crucial indicator as to why a book is valued in such a way. And confusing though it can be, once understood, provenance adds an interesting layer of complexity to a volume’s value and place in the rare book landscape.
There is never a wrong time to think about the effects of moisture and humidity on rare books. Just as too much sun can damage your rare books, so can too much moisture. And we're not just talking about direct moisture, such as liquid spills. The relative humidity of the air is also a concern. Excess humidity (usually relative humidity above 75%) can encourage the growth of fungi and mildew, which can lead to foxing. If foxing occurs, what are the best ways to reverse it? Better yet, how can you prevent foxing in your rare books?