All posts by chris

CALIFORNIA AUTOGRAPH BILL SIGNED INTO LAW!

Both as President of IOBA (Independent Online Booksellers Association) and as a bookseller who specializes in selling signed and inscribed books, I was pleased to post the following announcement:

“From IOBA and ABAA member Marc Kuritz, Churchill Book Collector –

“On Thursday, 12 October, California’s Governor signed into law California State Assembly Bill 228, amending California’s disastrously onerous autograph law to totally exempt books, manuscripts, and correspondence, as well as ephemera not related to sports or entertainment media. Because AB 228 was an “Urgency Statute” it goes into law immediately. As already. As in “Whew!””

Marc mentions that there was a lot of heavy lifting involved, as well as significant negotiations between competing AB and Senate bills, and more – but in the end, booksellers got the results, in large part because of the efforts of Marc, Laurelle Swan and others in both IOBA and the ABAA. The efforts of the ABAA in general, from first raising awareness of the unintended consequences of the original bill to hiring a lobbyist to support the legislative fight, were essential to this successful outcome and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.

Thanks are also due to all those involved in writing about the bill, and those who took the time to sign the change.org petition and to promote this issue and support Todd Gloria, who agreed to author this bill in the Assembly.”

AB 228 removes the “unintended consequences” for booksellers in last year’s AB 1570, but still preserves consumer protection in the areas where it is most needed.

Movement to repeal California AB 1570

For those not familiar with this bill,  it revised an earlier section of California’s civil code which governed the sale of autographed sports collectibles by removing the word “sports” and substituting “all” autographed items priced over $5.00 – and all of a sudden a very limited law applies not just to all booksellers, auction houses, book shows, art and autograph dealers in California, but also to sellers who might participate in California events, and possibly even to sellers from outside the state.   The bookkeeping requirements are onerous (a very detailed certificate must be issued, and a copy kept by the dealer for 7 years) but even more significantly, it requires dealers to disclose the name and address of the person from whom they acquired the signed book – which is a violation of their right to privacy (a right which  is also protected by law in California).  Booksellers were unaware of this bill until after it was actually signed into law – to go into effect on Jan 1, 2017.   In October, in an editorial calling for its repeal or revision, The Los Angeles Times called this the worst bill of the year!

There is a petition requesting that the California legislature repeal this bill and I hope that everyone who reads this will sign the petition. It got almost 500 signatures in just the first day, but we would like to see 5000 signatures or more!

Petition to repeal AB 1570

There have already been some unintended consequences of what was probably a well-meaning, but poorly written bill.   Easton Press is no longer shipping signed books to California, and some sellers have withdrawn from the most significant antiquarian book fair held in California annually – the ABAA fair in Oakland on Feb 10 to 12.

We very strongly support consumer protection, but unfortunately this bill, which only offers consumers the option to sue, does not really protect them.

We give an unequivocal guarantee on all autographed books – if ever there is even a question about the authenticity of the signature, we will give a full refund upon return of the item.   There is no time limit on this guarantee.  We obtain many of the signatures in our books personally – other books are purchased from longtime and knowledgeable collectors.    We are members of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and we are bound by their stringent code of ethics.

Good old-fashioned bookstores?

Years ago, in the early and mid-1990s, when I was a new bookseller, we used to make frequent trips towards the coast of California north of San Francisco – to Marin and Sonoma counties – and we could easily spend a day scouting in the used bookstores we found there, and return with a carload of boxes.  As the years went on most of those stores closed – and not much came along to replace them.   Much as I love buying and selling on the internet, it is not quite the same thing.

I still miss those bookhunting trips, so this month, driven by nostalgia (and a desire to forget the present) we  hit the road again.  We live further away now, so it became a three day trip,  with a great stay in a lovely little airbnb apartment in Lucas Valley,  complete with a Bruce Johnson large wood sculpture in the courtyard and a welcoming bottle of wine.

Despite the pleasant accommodations,  in our first full day of searching, good books –  books worth buying –  were pretty hard to find.  We even came up empty in several thrift stores.  Mystery hardcovers at the  Friends of the Library store in Novato were only $1 each, but there were none we could use, although I did find a few books in other sections of the store (one of the advantages of having several specialties means that if one doesn’t work out, another might.)

The weather was perfect – 70 and sunny with a light breeze – the kind of autumn day that makes you glad to be living in California.  Point Reyes National Seashore was just a few miles down the road, through the redwoods and rolling hills.  Lunch in town consisted of  oysters on the half shell,  artisan pizza and local beer on the patio – it doesn’t get much better than that, even if we only had one small bag of books in the car so far.

Rebound Books opened in San Rafael in 2005, after most of the other stores had closed,  but a newly opened (or even a 12 year old)  store  – with maybe 10% of the space –  just cannot replace a store like Hal Bertram’s  old Mandrake Bookshop with its high shelves, and enough inventory to be nicknamed “the Strand of Marin County.”  Still Rebound does have a pretty eclectic selection in a fairly small space, reasonable prices (I found a couple of juvenile series books here)  and very friendly and helpful owners (it is also conveniently located next door to The WhipperSnapper, a very good Caribbean fusion restaurant) .

The next day we headed to Santa Rosa, where there is still a survivor of the “good old days” – Treehorn Books on 4th St in downtown.  Founded in 1979, it always had a good selection of children’s books but now it has lots more books than it used to, including  just about the biggest selection of poetry books you will find in a used bookstore.   Trehorn has shelves going all the way up to their 12 foot ceilings (or are they 14 ft?),  and lots and lots of the shelves are packed with double rows of books, so browsing is challenging.  They list a very small selection of their books online,  but even though very few are online, and their prices are reasonable, they really know their books so those prices 68528 reflect the current market pretty closely.

Nevertheless, I found a couple of items irresistible – the first was a small die-cut children’s book, published early in the 20th century by a printing company founded in Scotland in 1851 – a retelling of The Three Bears.  Valentine & Sons, the publisher of a series of shaped books for children, became the largest printer of postcards in Scotland. Although it was later sold to Hallmark, this little book stands as testimony to its work over 100 years ago.

The second book was a signed copy of Howard Pease’s The Secret Cargo – just a reprint, unfortunately  – but in a d68595-1ust jacket – and quite uncommon signed.    But it wasn’t the book alone that attracted me – it was the laid in mimeographed program for “Howard Pease Day” in 1961 (the same date as the book was signed) complete with lyrics for a song to be sung to the tune of “Farmer in the Dell. ”   For me, it is these kind of connections that make a copy of a book really special.

Some Celebration, Some Sadness – Beatty, Kelly and Tepper

Yesterday brought some good news with the announcement that African American writer Paul Beatty, known for his sarcastic and penetrating novels which skewer some of our attitudes towards  race in the United States,  was the first writer from the United States to wi53602n the Man/Booker Award for his fourth  novel The Sellout. Before this novel won the Booker, it had already won the National Book Critic Circles Award here in the US and been named one of the best novels of the year by the New York Times .   In addition to his three earlier novels – White Boy Shuffle, Tuff and Slumberland, Beatty  edited,  appropriately considering his own writing,  an anthology of African American humor – Hokum .

But I also read of the deaths of two very different writers, both of whose works  I appreciated and  loved – poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly and science fiction, eco-feminist novelist Sheri S. Tepper.

68100Kelly’s first book To the Place of Trumpets won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize and she went on to win almost every poetry prize out there – the Guggenheim, NEA, National Book Critics Circle, Lamont.  Her second collection, Song, was the Lamont Poetry Selection, and her third book, Orchard, was a finalist for the Pulitzer, among other awards.

Sheri Tepper started writing later in her life, and her first novels – the True Game series – have become enduring fantasy classics 33680– but her most important and influential books are the ones which create a feminist vision of the future – notably The Gate to Women’s Country and  Grass58022

In addition to science fiction, Tepper also wrote enjoyable mystery stories under the pseudonyms of B. J. Oliphant and A. J. Orde.  But one of my favorite novels by Tepper is her delightful The Family Tree which begins with police officer Dora Henry investigating three apparently motiveless murders whose victims were all leading geneticists and segues into a surprising fantasy.

We can look forward to more books from Paul Beatty, but all three of these authors will continue to connect with their readers.

Paths in Book Collecting #1

Last year, one of our customers, a dedicated collector and just an all around great guy announced that he was donating his science fiction collection to the University of IOWA.  His collection included almost 18,000 books with over 30,000 author signatures in them!  But he built this collection one book at a time – because he loved doing it –

This is a pretty extraordinary example, and one that most of us will not even begin to come close to. You could have a book collection that fits on one shelf (in fact, if you collect miniature books, they could fit in a small box) – so  what makes a collection, if it not the size of it?

What is the difference between book buying and book collecting?

There are probably as many answers to that as there are people, but I’ll throw out a few.  I read – a lot!  and I prefer to read books I own. I like to read them on my own schedule, and not have to worry about returning them to the library.  If I only have a few books to read, that is almost as bad as having none.  I became a reader long before the days of e-readers, but if they had existed back then, I would have been in heaven.  Instead I got hooked on “print” and I still am.  Anyhow I bought hundreds and thousands of books – some of them got left behind in various moves, but they were quickly replaced.  I would check to see if a book was a first edition, but that didn’t make me a collector. I was buying books primarily because I thought I wanted to read them – even though I acquired far more than I could actually read.

So there is one difference:  a book buyer is focused primarily on the content.  The content is also important to most collectors, but in addition to the content, a collector is looking at the book as an object. A jar might be a great container for flowers, but a hand-blown glass vase is not only a container for flowers, it can be gorgeous by itself  (admittedly with books, sometimes “ beauty” is just in the beholder’s eye, but that is another issue).

Another way to define collection is that the sum of the objects is greater – or more interesting – than the individual items.  A shelf full of books that were selected just because you wanted to read them is just a bunch of books – but if some of those books were also chosen because they are modern first editions signed by the author, or because they tell the story of women in the West, or disasters at sea, then that is the nucleus of a collection.   We purchased part of a collection from a woman who was moving across the country and downsizing – it was pretty obvious that one of her interests was fiction by Southern writers, but there were quite a few books that didn’t seem to fit in, so I asked her about them.  She was also collecting books with dust jackets designed by one woman.

The first rule of collecting has been stated so many times, in so many places, that is has become a cliche – but that doesn’t make it less true.  Pick something you really love: an author, a subject area or genre, an era, a series, a publisher, an illustrator — the possibilities are endless. Chances are very good, if you’re anything like me, that you’ll already have at least a few related books on your shelves, and that you’ll have read them. These books, and the existing knowledge you’ve gotten from them, are more than enough of a foundation on which to begin building a collection. The most important driving force for the assembly of any collection isn’t money — it’s passion. And if you lose interest in the topic, just move on… happens all the time!

A collection can be as focused as seeking out  every single edition of one title, or every book and publication of a single author, or it can simply be signed copies of books by authors you want to read.  64337The focus can be on the design of the book – like the lovely early 20th century art deco bindings of designers like the Thayers or Margaret Armstrong  – or the striking covers on vintage paperbacks of the 1940s and 1950s.  It can be related to your career – like architecture or oceanography – or to an avocation like photography or reflect a love of the outdoors.  One woman I knew was collecting Weekly Reader editions of children’s books, not just out of nostalgia, but because they influenced a whole generation of children and no one has really looked at them seriously.

There are no rules for collecting – each collector decides for herself or himself what is important, and that can change as you  delve deeper.  There was a time (in the English speaking world at least) when book collecting was dominated by older (and often wealthier) white men,  and the price guides and books on collecting from that era reflect that bias.  But that is no longer true, due at least in part to the revolutionary power of the internet.