Wednesday, March 15, 2006


I purchased a first edition hardcover copy of Capote by Gerald Clarke on a while back. I’ve been reading it for the last few days. It’s a great book, but there’s something that’s been bothering me since I received it in the mail. No, it has nothing to do with the writing. Unfortunately, it has to do with the book’s condition. I’ve been trying to accept it and just consider it a reading copy, but that’s just not working and I need to vent. (I know, I know. This isn’t a collectible book, anyway, so why cry? But to me, every book is collectible. Besides, being “not collectible” is no excuse to own a battered book.)

I did my original search on abe and came up with several prospects. From those, I chose three booksellers to email. These three had something in common: they all had detailed descriptions on their book’s condition and they were all selling it for under $25.

Here’s the description from the bookseller I ended up doing business with:

Fine/Near Fine. First Edition. Based on hundreds of hours of interviews the author spent w/Capote and those who knew him, this is a wonderful biography of a complex man. Interspersed w/B&W photos of Capote with other stars of his era. Unprice-clipped DJ has minor bumping to top of spine. No writing, marking, etc. on this 1st edition HC.

In my email, I politely asked for more information on their copy of the book. I often claim that the book is to be a gift for a book collector, but this time I played it straight. Here’s my email inquiry:

I'm very interested in this book. Can you tell me a bit more about the condition? I just want to make sure that there is no remainder mark, that the price isn't crossed out or cut, and that the bumping you mention on the DJ isn't too bad. So any additional information would be greatly appreciated.

Also, can you please verify that this is a first edition, first print?


One of the booksellers never got back to me. Another had recently sold his copy. The third wrote me back with a fairly thorough response, one that was detailed enough to have me send a follow-up. Here’s her initial email:

Hi, James.
No, there isn't any remainder mark, no previous owner's writing and the $22.95 price is on the DJ, not crossed out or cut. The bumping to the top of the spine I should have described it as more crinkled than bumped, as it doesn't affect the book at all. From the middle of 1973, Simon and Schuster began indicating a first edition with a number line on the copyright page, with the number 1 being at the beginning of the line, which this has. This is a first edition, first printing. I hope this helps.

Pretty nice, huh? I particularly liked her knowledge of Simon and Schuster’s copyright page. This showed me she knew her stuff. And if she had that knowledge, I figured she was treating me fair with her description of the book. Still, I had to ask a couple more questions:

Thanks. Last questions: Is the spine tight? And are the pages white and crisp? If so, I'd like to have you hold this book for a day or two so I can make payment (which would beg the next question: what method do you prefer?).

Her response had me salivating:

Hi, James. Spine is tight, and the pages are white and sharp. If you want, you can send payment directly to me, and I'll cover the S&H. I apologize for the delay in answering you. We had a nasty storm yesterday morning, losing power. Electric company just this a.m. got it going again. Let me know what you decide.

Are you kidding? Of course I was going to take the book. With a tight spine, sharp white pages, and free shipping, even I could live with a little rubbing on the top of the dust jacket. What a deal. How could I go wrong?

Oh, let me count the ways.

Actually, what I got would please pretty much every single book reader in the nation, and 80 percent of the book collectors wouldn’t be too critical either. But for me, it was enough to make my shoulders slump, my lips curl, and my head shake in disappointment.

First off, the BroDart application was less than perfect. I’ve seen worse, but it was bubbled and sloppy. Then, upon inspection of the dust jacket, it turned out the “rubbing” or “wrinkling” was a little worse than I had hoped. Not only was it on the top of the spine, it was also along the bottom and top of both the back and front covers. Hell, it was somehow wrinkled in a spot smack dab in the middle of the spine.

Of course, there were also enough dings and scratches and creases on the dust jacket to force you to use the fingers on both hands. Maybe that’s just what you have to accept with a book published 20 years ago.

Even all of that I could live with. Throw on a new BroDart and it’ll be shiny and new (at least at first glance). No, what really got me frustrated were the pages. No, they’re not brown or cream, but the pages certainly aren’t white. More off-white with a hint of yellow. And there’s this brown smudge on the bottom corner of the pages.

To add insult to minor injury, there are three spots where the pages are bent and dinged. It’s apparent that someone’s fingers or other object caught the edge of a few pages and bent/tore them a little. These blemishes stand out like a thin person at a Weight Watchers class.

So much for white, sharp pages.

Oh, but how was the spine? Not too bad, actually. It certainly didn’t have that virginal cracking sound we all love to hear when opening a book for the first time, but it’s not floppy and loose either.

All in all, this experience hasn’t been terrible, but neither has it been up to my standards. The thing that sucks most is that my confidence in abe booksellers took another blow; the third time in as many tries so far this year. That’s not a good track record. Looks like I’ll have to ramp up my efforts when it comes to finding the right copy. At the very least, I’ll have to improve the wording of my emails so it seems imperative that I get a Fine/Fine copy. At worst, I’ll need to start perusing the more costly items and hope that those booksellers are a little more strict when it comes to their grading measures.

From Hawaii, With Love

A bubble envelope from Hawaii greeted me when I got home this afternoon. I knew it held a 2005 Michael Hawkins SP Authentic rookie card numbered 17/25. I had it on my eBay watch list for seven days. I sat in my computer chair for the last half hour of the auction, refreshing my browser every few seconds, watching the price creep up bit by bit, waiting for the right time to make my move. I won. It cost me $12.45 with shipping.

After nine days of waiting, I got the Hawkins card in the mail. I opened the envelope while watching intently for my chance to strike on an auction for a 2005 Aaron Rodgers SP Authentic Sign of the Time gold card.

There were only three minutes left in the Rodgers auction. I refreshed IE and tore open the envelope.

There were only two minutes when I pulled out the card.

There was only one minute left when I glanced at the card to ensure it was the right one.

There were only eight seconds left when I placed my bid.

As time expired, I refreshed one last time. I won. Sixty-two bucks.

I closed IE, picked up the Hawkins card without a glance, and placed in on my bookcase with two other cards to be put into my collection this weekend.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

How Strippers Changed My Collecting Habits

A catastrophic event occurred last weekend, one that will forever change the way I collect. My friend, Kirk, celebrated his 40th birthday. (It should be noted that Kirk, who we call Quirt or Kurt or Kurd, is not a collector. Sure, he has loads of books and DVDs, but he doesn’t have the drive seen in true collectors. For example, Kirk enjoyed all three Lord of the Rings films yet he only has Fellowship of the Ring on his DVD shelf. How someone could own an incomplete set is beyond me, but his attitude is even more incomprehensible. Ask him and he’ll say that he wants the other DVDs, but he’s in no rush to complete the set. How does he look through his DVD collection without cringing? One of these days we’ll have an intervention and force him to decide: either get rid of all the incomplete sets scattered throughout his house or go out and buy the rest.)

Anyway, to celebrate his birthday, Jason, a fellow collector (a fine man, that Jason) decided to take the birthday boy to the local strip club.

I didn’t make it.

Try as I might, I was simply too exhausted; too tired to sit with a beer in my hand and stare as naked girls dance and bounce and twist in front of me. All day I imagined the fun we would have, but even with the forced relaxation and napping, I just couldn’t wake up.

“You’re exhausted, dear,” Stephanie said early Saturday afternoon, a few hours before I’d have to leave if I were to meet up with my buddies in Fort Collins, a town about 90 miles to the North.

“Are you suggesting I don’t go?” I asked.

“No, not at all. I think you’ll have a good time,” she said.

“So I should go then?” I asked. “Even though I can barely keep my eyes open?”

“If you’re that tired, don’t go,” she said. “I’m sure they’d understand.”

“So I shouldn’t go?”

She looked at me with that look. You know, rolling her eyes without rolling her eyes. She had had enough. With a sigh, she turned back to her magazine article.

Although she could only put up with my indecisiveness for so long, I knew she was worried about me. And I loved her for it. Just the day before she had spent a few hours online researching stress exhaustion, a problem I seem to share with many Americans who can’t relax because they instead focus on all the things they need to do.

“How do you suggest I get over this?” I asked, probably a little too quickly from the last exercise in futility.

“Relax,” she said, putting down her magazine to look at me.


“Don’t do anything,” she said. Everything’s so easy for her.

“What do you mean, ‘Don’t do anything’? You mean just sit here?”

“Yeah. Just sit there.”

I was confused. “As in, just sit here,” I said. “And don’t do anything. Just sit here?”


I mulled this over for a minute. “Can I at least read?”

She sighed, gave me her look, and picked up her magazine.

It may sound ridiculous, but I really didn’t understand what she meant. How can someone just sit and do nothing? How can that be relaxing when there are so many other things you can be doing? What about all of those essays I’ve been wanting to write? What about the comic book editing that’s on my plate? I don’t want to put either of those off; it’s now or never. And hell, what about just reading a comic or watching a movie? Are any of those considered “just sitting there”? What about searching eBay for football cards?

I have a stressful job; stressful for me, anyway. I’m a managing editor for a publishing house working in the aviation industry. It’s not my dream job by any means. Sure, I like it for the most part, but at the end of the day, I’m dog tired and ready for my free time. Before I get to the fun stuff, however, I go to the gym and work out. So by 4 p.m., my mind and body are both tired. And if I don’t go to the gym, my body isn’t tired but my mind is working double time because I’ve just added the stress of feeling guilty about my expanding waist line.

So now I’m at home. I’m not completely fulfilled with how I’ve spent the last 10 hours of my life, so I immediately feel this need to do something I truly enjoy. Something I’m doing for only for myself. There are only a few hours before I go to bed, so I need to fill those remaining moments with anything that brings me happiness.

Too busy to change out of my gym clothes, I sit at the computer and start editing a comic script or reading an essay and offering suggestions on how to improve it. And after that, I search my feelings and write down all the weird things I find as I consider my collecting habits.

By now it’s well into the evening. I’ve worked for over eight hours at an unfulfilling job, worked out for another hour, and edited/written for another three. It’s time to relax. Time to unwind. But with only a couple of hours left, I put pressure on myself to squeeze more fun stuff into my day. I can’t just sit there; that’d be wasting time. I have to fill up that empty space, so I pop in a movie or pick up a book or comic.

And just like that, reading and watching movies and collecting football cards are no longer friendly diversions because I feel this need, this urge in the back of my mind, to do something with my free time. So instead of wanting to read, what I really want is to have read. Instead of wanting to watch the movie, I want to be able to say I watched it.

No, I’m not suggesting that my hobbies actually add stress to my life. That’s just plain silly. But what I am suggesting is that they don’t alleviate that stress the way they’re supposed to. Just a few years ago, organizing my football cards helped me escape the doldrums of my day job. Collecting and reading comics helped me forget that I wasn’t fulfilled in my 9-to-5.

Somewhere along the way, that changed. By putting pressure on myself to fill up every moment with something I enjoy has taken away from the enjoyment I was looking for. It’s as if I have an imaginary to-do list that includes all of these fun things, but having the list turns all of these hobbies into tasks. They’re no longer friendly diversions.

As I lay in bed Saturday night, staring at the ceiling and worrying about the things I needed to do the next day, I imagined my friends at the strip club. My buddies were drinking and laughing and dancing with the strippers surrounding them at center stage.

“Where’s your other friend?” a particularly cute, naked brunette was asking Jason.

“He was too tired to make the trip,” Jason said, his eyes glazed over as he stared at the skin in front of him.

“That’s too bad,” the blonde said, wiping the steam off of Kirk’s glasses. “We were all hoping to see him.”

“Well, he’s a collector, so what do you expect?” Kirk said, his eyes darting between the lovely ladies, trying to decide which one to focus on.

As I drifted off to sleep, the strippers turned to me and shook their head in disgust, their judgment already made. And as the blonde reached down to shed more clothes, the brunette put her hand to my mind’s camera lens, and I was left in darkness, the girls’ giggles mixing with my buddies’ laughter as the music echoed in the night.

That image of my friends having a blast with these young ladies greeted me in the morning when I awoke to a new day. As I stretched away the cobwebs, I knew something would have to change. Having fun with friends and family should always be the most important thing on my to-do list. And one way to ensure that I never miss out on the festivities is to make sure my hobbies add to my enjoyment and relaxation, not take away from them.

Sure, I also need to understand that I’m not a bad person if I don’t write every day, or that I’m allowed to hold off on editing for a day or two. But it’s vital that I start getting enjoyment out of the things I love. So from this day forward, I’m making a conscious effort to remove my hobbies from my to-do lists. From now on, I’m only going to organize my cards or hunt on eBay or read a comic because I want to, not because I need to fill up the time.

It sounds like such a simple thing, but for me, it’ll take some effort to find what attracted me to my hobbies in the first place. I think I’m up for the task. And with a support group that consists of my beautiful and caring wife, my good buddies from Fort Collins, and a tantalizing set of strippers, how can I possibly lose?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Proud Parent

After putting my Terrence Murphy SP Authentic rookie card into its final resting place—first into a Pro Mold ultra thick screw down card holder, then into a four-pocket Ultra Pro plastic page, then into a UniKeep hard view case binder—I left the seller some great feedback. After all, it is a sharp card and he did send it fast and well secure.

After posting the feedback, I decided to see how well other Terrence Murphy rookie cards had sold for. In the last month, no one has paid more for a Terrence Murphy SP Authentic rookie card. I paid $9 more than the next highest auction winner and $34 more than the lowest. I’m not sure if I should be depressed about that, or proud.

Oh, hell, what am I talking about? Of course I’m proud. Look at the thing. It’s amazing. The thing is perfect. Three colors, an autograph, and a serial number that ends in 0. What could be better than that? It's moments like these are why I collect football cards.

Would it be weird if I put a picture of it in my wallet?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Killing My Children

I’ve spent the last few days contemplating the importance of that next big purchase and the relative insignificance of the items I already own. Quite frankly, it’s not an easy thing to ponder because my inner collector hates the inevitable debate that comes from such thinking. From where I sit, I can turn my desk chair around and look at the stacks of ugly white cardboard boxes that contain 100s of…things. Look at all that space they take up. Look at how ugly my collection is. It’s a decorator’s worst nightmare; the boxes are overflowing my closet and invading the office floor, the bookcase, the dresser.

Just looking at the boxes makes my inner collector scurry into the shadows. And as I think about all the money, all the time, all the energy I spent hunting down these items only to hide them in plastic and cardboard boxes, my inner collector hides further in the darkness. To me, the items inside those boxes have become insignificant. They’re unimportant because they’re hidden. They’re hidden because they’re unimportant.

So I take the thought one step further. “Maybe it’s time to sell of some of this junk,” I think.

When I get a response, I know the debate has begun. “If it’s the clutter you’re worried about,” my inner collector says in a whisper, “keep in mind that you’ll have room when you move to a bigger house next summer. So don’t fret just yet.”

I nod in understanding. “Yeah, that’s true,” I say, not totally believing the fact, but I’m willing to concede that point. “But why do I need all of this stuff? I’d be better off just getting rid of it all. It’s not like it’s really valuable.”

The inner collector gasps as if from a physical blow. “Oh, but it is,” he says softly. “It is. You’re just not done, yet. The collection is incomplete. Just imagine how much more valuable and how important it’ll be when you’re done.”

I start flipping through a box of comics. Random issues of books I don’t collect. I find two issues I don’t remember buying. “Why did I buy these?” I ask. “I should get rid of ‘em.”

In response, all I hear is, “Check eBay.”

And I do. I do a search on those issues to see how much they generally sell for. And that’s exactly what my little deceiving friend wants me to do. It’s a trap. Because what I find, no matter what issues I type in, is that either they are valuable and thus worth saving, or they’re not selling for enough to make it worth the time and energy it would take to sell them.

So what do I do? I start to hunt for more. What if I added to the set? What if I had the five issues that preceded them? Would that make them more valuable?

His job done, my inner collector moves completely into the shadows. Unaware of his departure, I search for more insignificant comics to add to my already insignificant collection.
Although I have done so in the past, I generally don’t buy anything in that situation. But that wasn’t my friend’s goal. No, he simply wanted to divert my attention. He wanted to avert the danger and ensure that my collection stayed intact.

He’s usually successful. But not always.
Last week I managed to pull out 65 comics written by Ed Brubaker and put them up for sale. It wasn’t an easy task. About two years ago I decided I was going to collect every comic written by Brubaker. And why not? He’s one of the biggest talents in comics today. But as I found more and more reading material I was interested in, I decided buying those old Brubaker books just wasn’t worth it. Still, I kept up with his current books for years. When I didn’t pre-order the Captain America special hitting the stands this month, I knew the Brubaker shipped had sailed, which meant that those books I did buy were part of a collection I’d never finish, and thus they were just taking up space.

Most of the books aren’t even worth cover price, so there’s no need to keep them. But as I stacked them up and made a list, I second guessed myself. Maybe I should keep them after all. What’s the point of getting rid of them? Sure, most I’ve never read. Sure, they’ll never be valuable. And sure, the good ones I have in trade paperback form. But does that mean I really need to sell them?

I hadn’t looked at a single one of these books since I bought them. They’ve been hidden from the harsh light of day in short comic boxes. So why was I struggling when it came time to sell? I’ll never miss them when they’re gone, but holding them in my hands, soaking in those cover images, and feeling the slick Mylar brought back memories of how important they were when I bought them.

Knowing that I was about to sell them so I’d never see them again felt like I was selling my children into slavery. As if I’ve picked out my least favorite children and I was sending them off to be slaughtered.

I sold them to someone on the Collector’s Society forum. A very friendly man named, Bob. I didn’t really know the guy at the time. I just knew he was a comic fan like me. But was he really like me? For all I knew, he was a smoker with eight cats running around, laying on top of his comic boxes. Hell, maybe he reads his comics while eating Big Macs. I couldn’t put my pretties into an environment like that, could I? Not in good conscience anyway. And what if he reads them? What if those perfect spines end up with creases and those perfect covers end up with finger prints or other smudges? The thought made me hesitate; made me want to hide them away again for all eternity.

So as we haggled over a price that worked for both of us, I always felt on the verge of pulling the plug on the deal. They were worthless, but they were worth so much more than the asking price. But in a surge of strength rarely seen, I sent him an email and agreed to the terms: $65 shipped. A dollar a book. (Just admitting that makes my body spasm. What a mistake. I’m probably better off with the money and the space the sale affords me, but inside, I know it was still a mistake.)

I remember what I was thinking as I stood in line at the post office. These were the last few moments I’d get to spend with those comics. I was at the point of no return. Once the clerk put that stamp on the box, those comics would no longer be mine. When I walked out empty handed, my final thought was, “What if those books that are worthless right now actually become valuable? Sure, these comics mean next to nothing now, but what if, now that they’re gone, they become a hot item? How could I live with myself after that?”
This crazy notion that what is worthless today might be very valuable tomorrow started in 1990. A year earlier, I entered a drawing at the local hobby shop, Hob Nob’s, and won a set of 1988-89 Fleer basketball cards. Not caring a bit about basketball or its players, it probably wasn’t the best prize, but it was a prize nonetheless, so I cherished it by hiding it in the bottom dresser drawer.

I held onto the cards for about a year; until the day I noticed a 1990 Ghost Rider #1 displayed on the wall behind the counter. It was gorgeous. It was the hottest book according to Wizard magazine, and it was only going to get more valuable. Everyone wanted it, including me. I had to have it. But unfortunately, I didn’t have the $20 to get it. Or did I?

Every time I went into that shop (which was about once a week), I eyed that comic. I wanted it so bad. It never crossed my mind that I could stop buying the weekly comics for a month and save up for that one issue. No, instead, I’d ring up my comics or baseball card purchase and leave with a sad glance over my shoulder at that comic on the wall.

One day, that all changed. The shop had just received an issue of Beckett Basketball Card Magazine. As I waited to pay for more comics that weren’t that Ghost Rider, I flipped through the price guide and found the 1988-89 Fleer set. It was holding steady at $30. The same value it had when I won it a year earlier. “Heck, if it’s still the same price it’ll never go up,” I thought. “I should trade it for that Ghost Rider. If I don’t do it now, it’ll be more expensive and I’ll never get it.”

I ran home and grabbed the set. Back at the shop a half an hour later, I stood at the counter, pointing to the Ghost Rider. After almost no wheeling and dealing, I made the trade: my cards and $5 for his comic. I was so excited. It was the first time I spent more than ten bucks on a comic. And it was awesome. I would never open the thing, I had to keep it mint and in its bag. But I could enjoy the cover. I knew that it would be well worth the $20 trade. And probably be worth $100 before the summer was over. What a great investment.

I stuffed it in a box.

Time went on.

Less than 90 days later, a new basketball card price guide came out. That Fleer set was now worth $100. The Pippen rookie alone was worth more than that Ghost Rider. That set continued to gain in value, while the comic started to fall. Every time I looked at that comic, I felt a little more disgusted. How could I have made such a colossal mistake? Year later, when I sold a box of 300 comics—of which Ghost Rider #1 was included—for $30, I felt that despair for the last time.
Thinking about Bob enjoying those Brubaker books is no longer a bad thing. Sure, part of me regrets the sell, but I’m happy that another fan is reading those comics and getting some enjoyment out of them. So for now, I’m happy with the transaction. My friend in the shadows might not agree with me, but he knows how to choose his battles, and I’m sure someday, somewhere down the line, we’ll revisit this little sale and debate its merits. I just hope those comics don’t start creeping up the hot list, because if they do, I won’t have a leg to stand on.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


On my drive home from the book store (yes, I bought a couple of books) I saw a sign in front of a church that read:

“This Lent, give up something precious to make yourself a better person.”

I immediately wondered if I should give up collecting comic books. The thought hadn’t even solidified in my mind when I started laughing at the notion.

Eh, maybe I’m a fine person the way I am.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The February Book Tally

I just noticed how tall my stack of new hard covers is getting. I wonder how that stack measures up to the stack of books I actually read this month. Let’s see. I’ll just pop open my handy spreadsheet of books I’ve read this year. (Yes, I have a spreadsheet of the books I’ve read this year, big deal. It validates my spending and helps me appreciate…oh hell, who am I kidding? I have no idea why I do it.)

Here’s what it has to say:

Books Purchased in February
  • The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem (1st ed)

  • Star Wars: The Outbound Project by Timothy Zahn (1st ed)

  • Shadow Men by Jonathon King (1st ed)

  • It’s Superman by Tom De Haven (1st ed)

  • Capote by Gerald Clarke (1st ed)

  • You Don’t Know Much About Mythology by Kenneth C. Davis (1st ed)

  • The Wal-Mart Effect by Charles Fishman (1st ed)

  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (paperback)

  • Hell to Pay by George P. Pelecanos (paperback)

  • Books Read in February
  • The Hungry Years by William Leith (1st ed)

  • Hell to Pay by George P. Pelecanos (paperback)

  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (paperback)

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (paperback)

  • I’m not sure what to make of this. Let’s see if this trend continues in March.