I think if there were ever a service you could hire to deliver bad news that you didn’t want to deliver, booksellers would be naturals for that kind of assignment.
Books mean a lot to lots of people, and they value them in ways the market doesn’t. To their owners, their books are cherished, valuable objects. To the bookseller and the market, they aren’t. Today was an example of that.
A woman called me last week to come to her 91-year-old father’s apartment. He was going into assisted living. His biggest concern was his books — and who would buy them so they could avoid being thrown out or given to someone who didn’t appreciate them. What little she could tell me about the books wasn’t promising, but I agreed to come out. If nothing else, I could show some respect for the guy. And bring him donuts.
Anyway, the daughter showed me the books, and they were largely mass market paperbacks: Techno-thrillers, well-worn mysteries, romances… I explained to her that I couldn’t do anything with any of them, and told her why. “Will you explain that to my dad?” she asked. And I said yes.
I told him that even in the best of times, his paperbacks would have little value, but these weren’t the best of times: Covid flooded the book market, local used bookstores have liquidated, people have downsized, and all of that has made booksellers like me become increasingly reserved about what we buy.
He tried to say something to me, but I couldn’t make it out. I think he was missing his dentures. I suggested to him and his daughter that the library at the assisted living place would be a good place for his books. They’d still be nearby, and others could enjoy them. They thought that was a good idea.
I left a little saddened. It wasn’t so much missing out on a good book collection — the apartment house was where my mother lived before strokes took her. I hadn’t been there since. But I take no joy in delivering disappointing news. And to top it off, he didn’t even want a donut.