Search Search Google
Volume XVII, Issue 7 - February 12 - February 18, 2009
Home \\ Correspondence \\ Letter from the Editor \\ This Week's Features \\ Classifieds \\ Dining Guide \\
Home & Garden Guide \\
Archives \\ Distribution Locations

The Packrat’s Reward

There’s a fortune resting on my laden library shelves

Child! Do not throw this book about;
Refrain from the unholy pleasure
Of cutting all the pictures out!
Preserve it as your chiefest treasure

–Hilaire Belloc: A Bad Child’s Book 0f Beasts, 1896

To my everlasting dismay, I have learned the hard way that Hilaire Belloc’s advice applies to all: young, old or in-between.

A book just might well be your chiefest treasure. Or could have been had you not cut out a picture, a page, or perhaps highlighted or underlined passages for future reference. The primary value of a book is the words between its covers, but its worth is not necessarily confined to those words.

A book can be a financial as well as a literary treasure. Yet its owner may never realize when that is applicable until too late.

Within the past weeks, I have learned this truth by experience with my library, which contains perhaps a couple thousand volumes. (I have never even considered counting them — or even the many shelves upon which they rest.)

My long life has been that of a writer. I read much for the pleasure of the written word. But primarily my books are mine because of the background, offbeat and little known facts as well as general information they contain, which can be put to good use in my writing. They are reference books.

Then, too, there are the biographies, autobiographies, the poetry and the better of the better novels (usually of long past), whose words are so artfully put together they are worth saving for a different kind of reference. They are fascinating to re-read, and a writer is always learning. Much of what is learned — how to best use a string of words — comes from reading and studying the words of others.

My volumes are tools of my trade, and I have treated then as such, highlighting, underlining, making notations and, yes, sometimes snipping illustrations, photos and passages to be copied and filed for fast reference.

I now pay the price for my lack of reverence. Or, to put it more plainly and painfully, I now lose much of the price of books that I have treated irreverently over the years.

I confess this only in hopes that I can save readers from the pitfalls of judging a book by its cover.

Cleaning Out; Cleaning Up

I’ve written in this space of cleaning house, ridding the Burton homestead of many of my packrat possessions. Recently I have endeavored to do more than write. Among my priorities were the books shelved and stacked everywhere. Why leave them for someone else to sort?

Cleaning the library, I gave priority to books applicable for donation to a nature-, environmental- and natural-history research center named in my honor at Gibson Island Country School. As I sorted, I came upon a copy of the Further Adventures of the One-Eyed Poacher. Certainly it was not an appropriate selection for the school, but I recalled that when given to me 45 years ago, I was told it could be valuable.

Out of curiosity I asked daughter Liz to look it up via computer (the book search Alibris). Soon I heard her screech. The publication I was about to put in a box for a flea market was worth several hundred bucks depending on condition. Mine was mint; I hadn’t scribbled in it. Nor had I made any notations in Ed Zern’s To Hell with Hunting, a 100-page humorous outlook on shooting sports that sold for $2.50 in ’49 and I had tagged for a buck at flea market. Via Alibris, its worth was listed at $450.

Liz and I, with wife Lois chipping in, first checked out other books destined for quick sale. More than a few were worth more than $100, many at least $50 — and those were just would-be discards. Schoger’s 1966 Wild Turkey would have been worth $150 had I not made notations in it; Roger Latham’s autographed Wild Turkey — also defaced by me many times over the years — would have been even more valuable.

Billy Westmorland’s 1979 Largemouths, a paperback given me and autographed as a souvenir when we fished a Florida lake 40 years ago, was valued at $175. Some old, battered and well-read classics I found at flea markets or boxed by my grandfather in the woodshed of the family farm in New England are valued from $50 to several hundred bucks. When no one wanted them, Aunt Caroline gave them to me many years ago as we cleaned out the woodshed’s attic.

I Can Top That

I don’t even recall how I came across a copy of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a big, thick brittle-paged book by T.E. Lawrence — who as Lawrence of Arabia was a childhood hero of mine. I had always intended to read it, but I never got around to it. At times in hot weather before air conditioning, I used it as a doorstop. Sister Ruth of Connecticut likes to talk of her metal Little Red Riding Hood doorstop; because it also has the big bad wolf adorning it, it’s worth $1,250. I can top that.

My Seven Pillars of Wisdom and sometimes doorstop, according to Alibris, is worth close to $7,000. Had I read it, undoubtedly I would have scribbled notations to lessen its value appreciably. Contrary to what I’ve always said and written, it pays to procrastinate. Seeing that I have come across at latest count (with many, many more waiting) well over a hundred books valued at $75 or more, I say it also pays to be a packrat. Take heed.

Enough said.


© COPYRIGHT 2009 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.