On the nature of collecting.

I have spent the last three months closing down a shop that bought and sold 'slightly used books'. Some of you may have been customers or perhaps just casual visitors; waiting for kebabs, looking at houses and walking in - 'just browsing thanks'!

At the same time I was directing Going West Books and Writers Festival at the War Memorial Hall and presenting the work of about 32 authors to my audience. Of course, as I had the wonderful Unity Books on site, I was encouraging the audience to buy the books that were at the heart of the conversations I presented. I was stuck in the middle. On one hand trying to get rid of books; the other encouraging the purchasing of new books.

I learnt that some people will never have enough space to keep all their books. Rather than reduce the size of their collection they will squeeze in another bookcase. The thought of disposing of old books is an anathema, a failure of moral rigour. To me the reduction of my own stock from about 3000 books to around 300 was a miserable exercise confirming, as I suspected, the value of books has slumped in the last 5 years to the extent that I was effectively giving them away. So! How does buying a book or two become an addiction.You may start off collecting a few titles by one author; writing that has the ability to offer an 'intimate immersion' as simple, elegant story telling always must. That sense of special emotional response from something a simple as a book is a rare charm among the sophistication of screen sourced text.

But at this stage you can see the incipient 'completist' emerging like a bloom. 'If I have all the Aubury/Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brian then what about the rest of his fiction.' This is when book cases become an issue because you now have all these neat paperback novels, but you like the hardback editions and you need to house them too as well as texts from uni or poly that you may need for future study. Yeah. Right!

To move from completist to collector is a big step; moving from a bookcase to several - pause and you have a library, you're buying at auction or scouring garage sales (no used bookshops out here) and you are a collector. This can be very cool but the pay is not great. Insuring your library is another sign of collectivism.

From here on the emotional plane tilts a little. The nature of ownership is one that encourages an assumption of possession; the shift from 'intimate immersion' to one of 'immersing intimacy'. This is where that hint of obsession may poke its fin above the waves. Other media are involved: audio books, DVD's, film and record may all round out the experience. Fictional autobiographies make links to an imagined reality. You may now live a world of imagined lives based on the word.

Having insured your books you have now monetised them, made up databases and become something of an authority on whatever. Buying and selling on the internet is so easy. Your library aquires more than sells. Your role is now one of saving and you become an archivist, assuming responsibility for keeping the database online and making a succession plan for the eventual transfer of the stuff of books. This is where it comes close to the bone.

For many people discarding books has the air of sacrilege. As I emptied my old shop I was resigned to having to dump books at the recycle station. The ideas remain, the text is always available in a library or online. To keep books just in case they may be needed is a prevarication that can only lead to depression. In the end I accepted that much of my stock was unsaleble and even ungivable. The archivers would have been not only depressed but mortified by my dimissive attitude to the text I discarded.

My community is well represented by that generation who inherited their parents books from the 30', 40's &c. These were the people who felt that books could help overcome any deficiencies of birth or education. They were right and so were the children of that generation growing up in the 50's, and 60's. Used bookshops are flooded with these books; once essential reading for any family but now a bit like old newspapers in that they are repurposed within a sustainable economy. And then there was the set of encyclopaedias and Readers Digest condensed books!

I am so glad to see e-books taking over mass market publishing – several million less paperbacks to be pulped every month. Only a few electrons will be disturbed by their electronic pulping and maybe online content providers will save you trouble and just withdraw your text and let you know by texting.

I have now retired and will concentrate on reducing 300 titles to 100 – all able to fit in half a dozen boxes. Then I will start buying more books; just in case I might need them. You never know if the libraries will be disestablished as a common good, when the whole webby net thing may be hacked to death or the power may fail for a week or two.

Murray Gray. gonewestbooks.com
Programme Director. Going West Books & Writers.

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Gone West Slightly Used Books is a tiny shop in the heart of Titirangi Village, gateway to the famed Waitakere Ranges, sheltering Auckland City from the north west weather.

The shop offers a wide range of used books and also stocks some new titles, especially those relating to the local landscape and community.

There is a small collection of signed first editions, including titles by Maurice Gee, whose novel Gone West inspired the name of the shop.

My main business is the locating and sourcing titles as specific orders for customers and so I do a lot of trading on the Internet - especially Abebooks . I offer estimates of value on specific titles and can also give an idea of worth of collections and estates libraries.

Suggestions on restoration can be given and binding arranged.

The shop is open from Tuesday to Sunday from noon to five pm, although over the Summer hours may be extended. I am also the programme director of the Going West Books and Writers Festival which has been running for 16 years in Titirangi. There is a link to the website for this event on this page as well as to some of my stock on Abebooks.

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Feel free to contact us:

Gone West Books
423 Titirangi Road
Waitakere, Auckland

P O Box 60-413,
Titirangi, Auckland 0642.

Hours: Tue - Sun: 12:00 - 18:00

Phone : +64 9 817 3236

Email: murray@gonewestbooks.com


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