I’ve been asked, on Twitter of all places, about my most precious book. I gave a quick-and-easy answer, because it was a game and Twitter is not a place for complex discussions, but I also thought it would be a good idea for a post on Karavansara.
And the point is, of course, defining “precious”.
Are we talking about the monetary value of the thing, or are we talking something more subtle, like personal value, affection, memories?
Let me see…
In terms of sheer monetary value, I guess that my most precious books are two or three massive books about the Silk Road, that I bought reasonably cheap through circuitous ways about ten years ago, when I was working for the university and had better purchasing power.
I recently saw them on Amazon sold for a pretty stiff figure.
Ditto for a strange little illustrated book about 17th and 18th century British highwaymen (yes, my book collection features a lot of weird books).
But the monetary worth of books is a strange thing, as I discovered after my father’s death – most books cost good money to buy, but when you try to sell them, you’ll be offered a pittance, unless you find some collector.
On the watershed between monetary value and affection there’s two books I consider part of what I am.
The first is a 1930s edition of the Arabian Nights, in Italian, published by Nerbini and illustrated by Galep, a famous artist of the time.
The other is Night’s Black Agents, by Fritz Leiber, in a limited library edition I was able to acquire fifteen years ago through a pretty adventurous chain of contacts and friends.
If we talk about affection, I think I should mention a stack of cheap historical novels that belonged to my mother, and that are the only thing that’s left of hers I own (my father got rid of everything else after her death), and a few books I received as gifts from long lost friends – like my hardback volume of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Trilogy, or the old paperbacks of the Conan stories edited by Karl Edward Wagner.
But there’s also very cheap and forgettable books that I tend to cherish for memory’s sake – like my first Teach Yourself Japanese book, or that old Call of Cthulhu RPG handbook, or my huge annotated edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.
Memory, just as the notion of value, is a strange thing.