In The Simpsons Treehouse Of Horror VIII, The Homega Man, Comic Book Guy walks down the street reading a comic book. "But Aquaman, you cannot marry a woman without gills, you're from two different worlds," he says.
He spots a missile approaching, and says, "Oh, I've wasted my life."
To a minor degree, that's how I feel today. Only without the humor.
See, over at the Collectors Society, delekkerste started a thread about a first edition hardcover copy of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged he recently purchased. He tells the story of how important the book is to him, and how he not only purchased one copy, but he also picked up an upgrade because the first wasn't pristine enough.
I quickly threw a couple of comments into the mix, mostly about my growing collection of modern first editions. Two things happened not long after: The conversation turned to how modern firsts are practically worthless, and then I admitted to "collecting" Jodi Picoult.
Good Lord, I've wasted my life.
Don't get me wrong, my moderns bring me plenty of joy and I don't care too much about their value on the secondary market (after all, books are meant to be read, not collected, right?). I've always been content watching my collection grow one $25 book after another, but seeing the pictures of the Rand books was enough to make me second guess myself.
I've been reading and buying first editions for almost 15 years, and I've always wanted to own a first edition copy of one of the great classics, like Catcher in the Rye, or In Cold Blood. Hell, even a first edition of Ender's Game would be a special treat (especially since I have 20 or more of Card's other, lesser known and less expensive novels). So what the hell is keeping me from making one of those larger purchases? What's keeping me from becoming a true book collector who researches old volumes before making an informed purchase?
Is the power of instant gratification really so overwhelming that I can't save the money? I mean, think about it. On just one shelf of the bookcase behind me, I have 12 first editions I've never read. One shelf. I don't even want to count the others because my guess is I've read less than 40% of the books I've purchased in the last 10 years. Assuming I bought them at some sort of discount, the books on that one shelf cost me at least $200 not to read.
Don't get me wrong. I know that $200 won't pay for many of the books I'm interested in (the Salinger book sells for $10,000+), but wouldn't that $200 be better served as a down payment to something...bigger? Something more important than a modern book I can find at any used book store?
For example, what about those Barsoom books I've always wanted? My love of Edgar Rice Burroughs is no secret, so why not start a serious collection of Burroughs books instead of spending my money on Jodi Picoult or those damn Star Wars novels I don't even like?
At this point all I have is questions I don't know the answer to. I've asked myself these questions before, and nothing ever comes of it. My guess is tomorrow I'll surf some online book shops, research costs on a few books, and get as far as emailing a bookseller about a particular book's condition. After that, I'll go back to buying something inexpensive I won't read, then I'll BroDart the cover for its protection.
After that, as I'm putting the new book where it belongs on the shelf, I'll question my reasons for making the purchase. And because the answer is too elusive, I'll smile at the new book's spine and just shrug.