“Used and Rare: Travels In the Book World” by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone, St. Martin’s Press, 215 pages.
Lawrence and Nancy Gold-stone developed a passion for old books when she searched for a copy of “War and Peace” for his birthday.
They got hooked slowly, finding beautiful editions of this or that favorite book or novels they’d always meant to read. Their book traces the growth of their appreciation for first editions and volumes whose covers are aesthetically pleasing.
There are some fascinating facts here — first editions of “Tarzan” novels go for incredible prices because so many collectors recall them from their childhoods and that there are wonderful illustrations visible only when the pages of some books are fanned.
But there is much to be desired in this slim volume. For one thing, the Goldstones assume that their readers have never heard of Trollope or Booth Tarkington and give descriptions that sound as if the reader is being patted on the head. Anyone reading a book about books is obviously as much of a bibliophile as these folks are and would recognize the names of all of the writers the Goldstones mention.
Why do they appreciate certain authors? We come away with little idea, just that Dickens is a favorite and that they really want a volume of H.P. Lovecraft because they read it at a rural cabin and it evoked those days.
We learn little about the Goldstones and their own lives other than the fact that they often need a baby-sitter so they can go rummage through used book stores.
They poke fun at people’s accents and work habits, at their houses and book shops and seem to use their descriptions to get back at people such as the librarian whom they didn’t find helpful enough.
They are surprised by well-known facts such as that book club editions aren’t valued by collectors. It didn’t stop them from selling their book to the Book-of-the-Month Club, where I bought it.
Book lovers will recognize some things the Goldstones experienced. Almost any book person recognizes that feeling you get when you catch sight of one of your best-loved books on a shelf. The whole story comes flooding back to you — thoughts about what you learned, images created in your mind.
The Goldstones take the reader to some interesting places such as appointment-only shops with climate controls and books in vaults, volumes that cost $20,000 or more.
They take us to an auction in which someone is buying old leather-bound law books, outdated and virtually useless. We watch, amused, as the buyer fixes pieces of leather to the spines, saying “Complete Works of Shakespeare.” They’ll wind up being sold to interior decorators for the homes of people who want the appearance of having read books without actually having done so.
Despite such amusing anecdotes, I wouldn’t recommend this book. It’s like having to listen to someone talking about what they did on their shopping trips.