Friday, February 22, 2013

On the Hunt

I've been reading a lot of books recently about book collecting. While I don't collect in a traditional sense, with one eye on price tag, I buy books that I love or that interest me. And I could see myself eventually becoming a collector. I certainly understand the urge. I'd collect picture books, and perhaps versions of Alice in Wonderland or The Wind and the Willows. That might be inexhaustible.

I don't often pay attention to cost of books but there are a few that are on my radar that amaze me with their prices. A decade ago I spent $80 or so to buy a children's book for my sister called The Sugar Mouse Cake. This sweet tale by Gene Zion is about a boy who gets help from a mouse to bake the most beautiful cake in the kingdom for the king. I've read it a couple times but it was one of my sister's favorites. It's also incredibly rare and valuable. Currently prices range from $70 for an old library copy to $480 for a decent worn but unmarked one. I've only seen ex-library copies. That year my sister wound up with two.
The second book I've been looking for is purely for nostalgic purposes but so far its rarity has made it a tough find. As a kid I liked mysteries and none were more loved than the Detective Mole series by Robert Quackenbush. My favorite of those was Detective Mole and the Secret Clues, where our deerhunter-capped, trenchcoat-wearing main character has to find the clues that will help the duck family inherit their uncle's mansion. The house had a dumbwaiter and secret passages. It, like another series I just read, had a very important sugar bowl. I loved this book. There are three used copies on Amazon right now, none for under $300. Abebooks, my favorite place to shop used rare books, has a couple copies but most are pretty worn sounding, at least the ones in my price range.

 And I could do more to shop online but for me that takes some of the fun away. Half of the fun is the hunt. I remember hunting for years for a copy of The Hungry Thing by Jan Slepian. When I finally found it, I grabbed the book out of the dusty box and clutched it to my chest. Of all the books I came home with that day, that was the one I treasured the most. The search had made the book even sweeter. I read it occasionally but I think most of my desire was to own it, to find it. I'm sure that the others will be the same way. Hunting is much better than just buying. For all you collectors out there, happy hunting.

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