[ModLib] a question

Scot Kamins kamins at modernlib.com
Thu Feb 21 12:06:15 EST 2013

On Feb 21, 2013, at 7:02 AM, Bryan Tinkle wrote:

> So a follow up question what was your first ML book that got you started? 

I love telling this story, so thanks for the opportunity. I have this on the website already, but here it is again. WARNING: Much Text Ahead!

One day in late November of 1993 I walked into a bookshop on San Francisco's Castro Street looking for a copy of William James' Varieties of Religious Experience. The proprietor, a scholarly looking middle-aged man, told me in a British accent that he had a copy in the Modern Library edition.

"Modern Library? What's that?" I asked skeptically, expecting him to steer me to some absurdly expensive leather-bound tome, when a Penguin paperback would do me nicely. I had just rejected a new copy I found in the Crown Books chain a few doors down that would have set me back $13.95—for a bloody PAPERBACK, for Gawd's sake, plus San Francisco's ruinous 8.5% sales tax. I'd be damned if I'd pay even more in a USED bookstore. (Up to this time I had rejected the concept of buying used books, not wanting who-knows-whose eyetracks cootieing up my books. But I just wanted the James for a quick-and-dirty research project, and $13.95 for a PAPERBACK, well, that just was over the top!)

He pointed to a wall opposite his checkout desk. "About the middle of the wall," he qualified," next to his brother," indicating the neighboring six titles by Henry James. He went back to his paperwork.

The wall was his Modern Library section. It held several hundred copies of books 6 1/2 to 8" tall, most with some variation of a running torchbearer on their spines. There was something familiar about these things, something nostalgic and friendly and strangely attractive.

I took down the James. About seven inches tall and five wide, it fit comfortably in my hands. "This is a nice book," I thought as I    leafed through it, noticing the readable type and -- well -- the substantial nature of the thing. It felt like it could last a while -- not something I usually notice or care about.

The price printed on the front flap was $1.65, but written in light pencil on the half-title page was $7.95. "Hrumph," I muttered. "Quite a markup, and it's used at that. Damned booksellers. Worse than coin dealers. It's cheaper than that ripoff paperback, though."

I started to bring the James to the counter when it struck me. These books that were so familiar -- I remembered them from school! I turned back to look at the shelves and was struck by the variety. Novels, short stories, poetry, drama, biography, philosophy, history, politics, essays, art, music, sociology, psychology, religion, and more--nearly the entire gamut of human knowledge.

I turned the James over and read the legend "The Best of the World's Best Books". These were the books I used to buy in prep school and college because they were so cheap. Hard back books at paperback prices. 

I handed the book to the proprietor. "These are becoming quite collectable, you know." No, I didn't know, I said, but I could see how collecting them would make a nice hobby. "I think so," he said, smiling for the first time. "I've written a little book about them," and pointed down to the small pile of privately printed paperbacks in front of the cash register. "The Modern Library Price Guide By Henry Toledano" graced the cover.

I bought the James but passed on the Guide. A week later I bought the guide and spent an additional $75 in Henry Toledano's store on nine more Modern Library books. I was hooked for sure.

Scot Kamins
It's all sandcastles ... 

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