Defective shoppers

By some happenstance, I often find myself in the company of booksellers and book buyers. It is only human to prefer some to others, yet recently I found myself developing a more than human dislike for one book buyer in particular. He was, and to an ill-chosen audience, boasting of his negotiating skills. Apparently he had managed to get the price of some once-valuable tomes knocked down to laughable levels, and was expressing his glee. It struck me that the (young, inexperienced) bookseller in this anecdote had been suckered. He did not know that the books in question were in fact still valuable.

Now, as a man who has driven some fairly hard bargains in my time (and been hard-bargained in return), there must be a limit to my moral unction in this case. Too, I must confess a bias, for I am generally in favour of high book prices. This is in my personal interest, though to understand why requires a bit of explanation. For I am not a bookseller myself. I am however searching for specific books, and while I rejoice when I am able to afford them, and will haggle as much as I can, I am less likely to find them at all if they are too cheap. People who know nothing, or care little, are more likely to snap them up at low prices. A higher price keeps the book for which I am searching on the booksellers’ shelf until I get to it. It also keeps the bookseller in business.

This in turn reveals, I’m afraid, my shockingly unmercenary values in the used book trade which, thanks be to God, still tends to reward such behaviour, notwithstanding such post-modern catastrophes as the invention of pulp paperbacks, and the Internet. New (freshly published) books are a meat market like any other, but the economics of the used book trade defy plausible economic thinking. The relations between supply and demand are too strange and wonderful.

And by his thuggish breach of the unwritten rules, the gentleman mentioned above powerfully annoyed me. His whole attitude was appalling. He is not a reader, as his conversation made plain; rather a “book collector.” As such, he is indulging in sumptuary acts which any advanced civilization must discourage. I hardly mind if titled Lords and Ladies keep or collect libraries of this sort — in which the leather bindings form a kind of wallpaper within an ancient and decaying, palatial house. The contents of the books hardly matter, if the titles on the spines are gilded prettily. But for a person of no title and low class to be building such a library, for his suburban home, is obnoxious to reason. And people like him are driving prices down!

I could go on. It has been too hot to go on, these last few weeks. Let me skip a few paragraphs in which I would only further disburden myself of my views on book buyers of this sort, and as the Americans say, skip to the chase. We need sumptuary laws.