Monday, November 03, 2014

Charlie Lovett at The Poisoned Pen!

Sunday, October 26, saw me leaving Denis at home to get ready for work all by his lonesome while I headed to my favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen. Everyone was going to be treated to two hours with Charlie Lovett, author of The Bookman's Tale and First Impressions, and I'd been looking forward to it ever since I'd finished reading his second book.

Collecting Books

L to R: Charlie Lovett, Barbara Peters, Patrick Millikin

What made Lovett's appearance so special was the fact that this antiquarian bookseller/author was going to talk about collecting books for an entire hour. Although I don't consider myself a book collector, I'm still interested in the subject, so I didn't want to miss a minute.

Many, many topics were covered in that hour as they tried to answer the question "Why are first printings collectible? Why do we care?" For some collectors, it's all about the binding-- and there are countless types of binding, including human skin. Sometimes it's what was used to pad the boards or underneath the spine. There's been a time or two when the only fragments we have of certain books are the bits of paper found underneath the leather bindings of books. What was waste paper to the binder has turned out to be gold for the collector.

Barbara Peters mentioned the mystery Booked to Die by John Dunning in which the author did a superb job of conveying the thrill of finding a rare first edition. (Any of you crime fiction lovers out there who haven't read Dunning's Cliff Janeway books should really do something about this oversight!) 

Another reason for collecting first editions could be the jacket art-- a certain subject or a certain artist-- but since Gutenberg's day, the first printing was always the best due to the typesetting and inking. When the type had to be  reset (because the printer had to use the type on other jobs), that "reset" became the second edition.  Now with digital printing and huge first runs, a second edition means that there have been significant changes made in the book. (Those huge first printings also mean that a first edition today usually doesn't have a high monetary value.)

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Charlie Lovett collects all things Lewis Carroll, and being in the book business, he's learned that the best way to have an extremely valuable first edition is to be famous and make a mistake. "I'm working on that," he said.

Books didn't have colorful dust jackets for a long, long time. In fact dust jackets were originally just the paper the books were wrapped in when they were shipped to the booksellers. The booksellers would unwrap the books, put them out on the shelves, and use the paper for something else. For a long time, what made books stand out were their beautiful bindings. Today the value of first editions has a lot to do with the condition of the dust jackets. In fact, those who collect Agatha Christie firsts know that it's all about those covers.

The Care and Feeding of Books

  • Standing books upright on the shelf is the best way to preserve them, unless they are extremely heavy, and then it's all right to lay them on their sides. 
  • Don't leave paper (like news print) in the pages of your books because the acids will leech out into the book and cause foxing (spots of discoloration on paper). 
  • Dust your books, and keep them out of direct sunlight. 
  • Bookplates? Do not use them unless you're really famous! 
  • Does having a book personalized for you by the author increase its value? Only if you have a known connection with the author, or if you're famous.
  • If you buy books online, beware of forged signatures. The Poisoned Pen used to give authors black Sharpies with which to sign books but stopped when they learned that books autographed with those types of pens are very easily scanned and used as forgeries by unscrupulous sellers.
  • Don't clip the corner of the book that has the price printed on it-- even if the book is a gift. It will affect the book's value. Those clipped corners can also disguise the fact that it's a book club edition.
  • Beware of remainder marks which also affect a book's value.
  • Another online shopping tip: beware the very old book with a price that's too good to be true. Chances are, it's a book that has been scanned by Google and is an on-demand reprint.
  • If you want your first editions to be valuable, do not write notes all over the margins...unless you're famous, and then it's perfectly all right to scribble all over your books.

What are "association copies"? Books that show an association between two or more people, such as a book the author inscribed to Janet Napolitano before she became the head of Homeland Security-- or the Lewis Carroll book Charlie Lovett found which T.S. Eliot had inscribed to his cousin. 

There was so much information given in this first hour, that I could go on and on, but instead of writing the first half of War and Peace, I'm going to suggest that if any of you want every single pearl of wisdom, please watch the event on Livestream

"That's a whole different ballgame!"

L to R: Charlie Lovett and Barbara Peters

The second hour began, and talk turned to Charlie and the two books he's written. In The Bookman's Tale, one of the questions was in what case would the second edition of a book be more valuable than the first edition, and this actually led Lovett to the subject of his second book, First Impressions. The Bookman's Tale is a literary mystery that centers around an artifact that seems to contain marginalia written by William Shakespeare. "At one point we were thinking of calling the book First Folio, which is that great volume of Shakespeare's plays printed in 1623, in which many of them were printed for the first time," Lovett said. "I didn't really like the title for that book, but I thought if that's the first folio then my next book could be the second something. That in turn made me wonder about second editions. What if there were a book which, in its first printing, was a worthless piece of junk, but in its second printing was absolutely priceless? How could that be? You'll find that out when you read First Impressions!"

Charlie Lovett
Lovett then gave us a brief synopsis of his second book, in which Jane Austen plays a very large part. In First Impressions, Jane becomes great friends with an elderly clergyman, Richard Mansfield. Mansfield has written a small book of allegorical stories meant to be an aid in preaching. Mansfield may not be much of a writer, but in Jane Austen, he sees the seeds of genius, and thus a wonderful friendship is begun. (Lovett showed us a 1797 copy of The Selector, the book he used as the basis for Mansfield's little book of allegories.)

The full title of First Impressions mentions "unexpected love." Lovett was curious and googled the word "love"-- cautioning us to turn our filters on if we wanted to try doing the same thing. He got page after page of images of hearts, flowers, candy, twentysomethings walking hand in hand on a beach at sunset... our modern pictorial version of love. He wanted something different for his book. Although First Impressions does have a more conventional romance within its pages, the two main relationships are not romantic or sexual. One is the relationship between Jane and the Reverend Mansfield. The second is between Sophie Collingwood and her Uncle Bertram "to be played in the film-- if there is one-- by Stephen Fry who I think would be perfect," said Lovett. Sophie is introduced to the world of books by her Uncle Bertram, and it's a world with which she immediately falls in love. "I just wanted to say that there's more to love than beaches and sunsets," Charlie told us.

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"With The Bookman's Tale, I was just trying-- once again-- to write a book that some agent might read. With First Impressions, I was sitting down trying to write a novel for my editor, who's the president of Penguin Books-- and it's a whole different ballgame!"

Barbara Peters then steered Lovett toward talking about Hay-on-Wye, the book capital of the United Kingdom-- one of the settings of The Bookman's Tale. (Since I spent a day in Hay-on-Wye, that's one reason for me to read his first book!)

The Bookman's Tale is deliberately set in 1995 when "antiquarian bookselling was still done in basements, dimly lit backrooms, bookshops, and dusty, musty places" before everything started moving online.

"The whole idea of a signed book being worth more than an unsigned one is an odd thing," Lovett said, "and I think it goes back to this desire we have to be close to the author, to make some kind of personal connection with the author.  And so if we know that the author actually held the book in his hand, we should feel one step closer. It's all about wanting to feel close to the author."

Being an Author in 2014

Charlie Lovett
"I've talked a lot about this on this tour. A lot of people have said that this is a lousy time to be an author because the publishing industry is doing such strange things, and Amazon's being a big meanie, and it's hard to be heard among all the other voices in the world

"What I think is so great about being an author in 2014 is that we can get close to readers, we can connect with readers in a way that we've never been able to before. I get emails from all over the world. Some of them are 'I liked your book,' some of them are 'Here's some stuff you got wrong'-- which I'm fine with-- and some of them are 'You changed my life.' I received emails from two different people that said 'I was in library school and I couldn't make up my mind what I was going to do. Then I read The Bookman's Tale, and I decided to specialize in rare books.' And I think it's so cool that for the rest of their lives those two people are going to be able to say, 'If it wasn't for Charlie Lovett, I could be making a decent living.'"

Several fan questions followed, mostly about book collecting, and since I'm still trying to keep this post to a reasonable length, I will refer you again to the red Livestream link in the section labeled "The Care and Feeding of Books." 

This was certainly one of the most informative author events I've ever attended, and I would've loved to have learned even more-- as long as there was a fifteen minute break first so we walk away from the folding chairs for a few!

Just how interesting-- and just how much fun-- was this event? I'm still itching to read The Bookman's Tale, and I will as soon as I finish reading a stack of advance readers copies that I have!


  1. What a great visit, Cathy! As always, thanks for sharing. And those tips for taking care of books are fantastic. Now I have to go over all of them and make sure I'm taking care of my rarer books (not that I have many) as well as I can.

    1. I don't have many books that I would consider rare, but I certainly appreciated those tips, too!


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