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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Chapter Forty-Five, in which your Bibliothecary is revealed to be a Gambler

When is a book seller like a gambler? When he doesn't have a list of specific wants.

Your Bibliothecary attends a book sale with a list in hand of books his clients are looking for: Dean Koontz's first novel, for instance. If, along the way, he decides this client, or someone as yet unknown, might also be interested in the Lever biography of the marquis de Sade, and so acquires that book, he is engaging in pure speculation.

A good bookseller will study his clients. He will learn their interests, their habits, their shopping frequency. He will know if they have the stamina to make it through 800 pages, or if they start to give out after 200. And he will also keep track of previous results, know the records of authors and plots, and watch for their reappearance. He looks at all the odds--"What are the odds someone will want this book?"--and if the odds are good, he places his bet. The book is acquired. The book is placed upon the shelf. Now your Bibliothecary waits for his horse to come in.

The odds are usually good his bet will bring some return. But to do this one needs patience. A horse race is over in less than two minutes. A book may not sell for two years. Ocassionally one may not even make it to the finish line. But even those losers can be donated, so some good can come from a bad bet.

Doesn't one of the thrills of the book hunt come from finding a hidden gem for fifty cents and selling it a few days later for fifty dollars? How is that different from stalking a table until finding three queens and two aces in your hand and then cashing them in for several stacks of chips? Why do gamblers have a bad reputation and a support group, but book sellers don't? And then, why do gamblers have a popular show on ESPN, but book sellers don't?


  1. And also, I am curious how you feel about public libraries.

  2. I appreciate the "fascinating" comment, Julie. My one hope is that I can post something that makes one go "Hmmmmm."

    I try to keep up with my clients as best I can, but I think my characterisation is of the ideal bookseller--Roger Mifflin, perhaps.

    I feel libraries are a great thing, I think. Are you going to catch me in a contradiction? I used to live in a sprawling urbanopolis with a variety of huge libraries, and now that I live in a tiny bump in the interstate, my personal collection is larger than the collection of my public library. That's one ammenity I miss.

  3. Oh no, I'm not trying to catch you in a contradiction. I was just thinking about the fact that libraries and booksellers seem to have a conflict of interest. ???

  4. What do you see is the conflict? Both booksellers and librarians want to see people reading, and both try to have on hand the books in demand. I believe a good book makes people want to read more. Even if they get one on loan from the library, they may eventually want to find another book the library doesn't have, or to own the book they just finished reading. In this way libraries can function as great free samples that cost a bookstore nothing.