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Authors, readers, critics, media — and booksellers.



"One's life is more formed, I sometimes think, by books than by human beings; it is out of books one learns about love and pain at second hand."
—Graham Greene, Travels with My Aunt

I've been thinking about the great reading experiences I've enjoyed in the last few months. What makes a reader?What makes a reader? Is it the ability to sit quietly and fall completely into a narrative? Is it the genuine enthusiasm that we feel when we hand a book to a friend and say, "You've got to read this!"?

What makes a book collector? Love of the reading experience, love of a particular author, love of a single title? A bit of madness can't hurt. Surely the answer has more to do with emotions — desire, yearning, delight — one usually associates with sex or food. It is not a surfeit of money or shelf space that compels us.

I've been thinking also of the generation growing up with eBooks, with the Kindle and iPhone and online gaming and the social network of Facebook. Most likely, most will grow to find real friends beyond the portal of computer screens and text messages; how many will discover the book?

There have been many memorable partings in history and in literature. Some were melodramatic, some overwrought, and a precious few that were perfect. This is my last bi-weekly posting on the subject of rare books for the "pages" of Thanks for reading.

÷ ÷ ÷

Kirsten Berg has worked as a used book buyer for Powell's for more than 10 years. She is experienced with technical and general reading material, and enjoys working with out-of-print and rare material the most.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. The End of the Affair (Penguin Classics) Used Trade Paper $7.95
  2. Romeo and Juliet (Folger Shakespeare...
    Used Trade Paper $4.00
  3. Gone with the Wind Used Trade Paper $6.00
  4. Travels with My Aunt (Penguin...
    Used Trade Paper $7.50
  5. A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles,... Used Hardcover $19.50

17 Responses to "Finis"

    dotdotdot May 5th, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Aw, shucks.

    Amy May 5th, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Where are you going? We'll miss you.

    Kurt May 5th, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Far too brief a run for such an uncommon and intriguing feature. Again and again I have wondered at how the volumes described here came into Powell's inventory. Do books assert a kind of biblio-gravity, like calling to like as in alchemy? I suspect it has more to do with engaged and passionate book buyer/lovers like yourself, Ms Berg, than with science or philosophy. It has been a great pleasure to read this column and it is ending too soon for me.

    Maggie the Cat May 5th, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    This column has brought me great joy over the many months I've been reading it. Such wonderful insight. And what a fantastic sense of humor you have! The kind usually accompanied with a sly wink or a sagacious nod, and warmly so, to suggest the reader is smart enough to be in on the joke with you. Perfectly delightful.

    Thank you for sharing your wit and knowledge with us. You'll be missed.

    beth May 6th, 2010 at 8:49 am

    Nooooooo! Say it ain't so!!!!! I love your blog posts. Would you reconsider?

    adrienne May 6th, 2010 at 9:45 am

    We all love your blogs, Kirsten. I will really miss
    them! Maggie's right, your humor comes through in your writing, as it does when speaking to you in person. And your knowledge of rare books is amazing!
    No one wants you to stop!

    Aziz Inan May 6th, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Hi Kirsten,

    I always enjoyed reading your bi-weekly rare book blog and am really sad to find out that this posting is your last one. I see rare books as time machines, once you get your attention to them, they have the power and the potential to take you on imaginary journeys traveling back in time and offer you the opportunity to meet people who lived in the past, visit places from the past, and discover people's experiences, relationships, friendships, emotions, joys, sufferings, successes and failures, obsessions, mistakes, you name it, from the past. Most of the time, it is a fascinating experience for me and I have to admit, your research and writings about rare books that appeared in your blog introduced me to many rare books that I didn't even know they existed. I hope that you will continue your rare book blog because I sincerely believe that your blog is unique and special and educational for many of us who love books in general.

    Thanks for all your efforts and again hope that you will soon start writing more about rare books,


    Aziz Inan
    University of Portland

    barb May 6th, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    I'm sad... Your writing is so incredibly intriquing. I suddenly find myself wanting to buy a $1,000 book! We hope you will make intermittent guest appearances?

    Miss Gretchen May 6th, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Kirsten, your posts were filled not only with information about rare books, and wonderful photos, but the true "sense" of them -- very welcome to me, since I am at the moment far from my beloved bookstores of Manhattan. Thank you for your efforts. Just to let you know, my niece (whose mother shares your name) not only desperately wants an e-reader, but she also cherishes a flaking and falling apart copy of "The Treasure of the Humble" by Maeterlinck, pub 1924 and inscribed by the late actress Sarah Burton (who worked with Orson Welles.) The love of books will never die.

    salemite May 6th, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    I'm so sorry this blog is going away! Boo!

    Lisa K May 7th, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Please come back!
    How sad it is to see an independent store I respect so much lose a voice that makes it special. Your exploration of rare books builds a valuable connection with customers who love reading. Even if we cannot afford each book you describe, we want to buy from a company that loves books as much as we do. You have represented that identity so well for Powell's - why must it end? Thank you, and always keep writing!

    Curtis Jacobson May 7th, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    What? You can't go! I'm so confused and saddened, and a little angry too. This column has become the main reason I visit (although sometimes I surf around and buy books).

    I can't tell you how many times I've mentioned your blog to my book-loving friends. Your enthusiasm has encouraged me to build my own library and to explore/collect more esoteric titles. Now I feel like Powells is turning its back on us.

    Kirsten, I hope there's a good side to this story that you're not telling us. Are you moving this blog to somewhere you'll have a bigger audience and more frequent essays? Taking it to a "real" magazine perhaps? I really hope you'll keep writing. I'll be Google-ing your name and expecting great things!

    Carlam May 7th, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    I will miss this blog too.. It's always been one of my greatest pleasures to discover a new post from you.. "Sigh"

    Ali May 8th, 2010 at 9:48 am

    I'm sorry, but this is unacceptable.

    Kirsten obviously has enormous passion and knowledge for her job. I can't imagine this being her decision to suddenly quit writing the blog. I'm wondering if this is a marketing decision for the following reasons:

    Rare books take time. Time = research + effort. Research & effort mean the books are going to be higher priced. Higher prices = slower sales. Slower sales are enough to justify 1) stopping the company purchase of rare books, & 2) stopping a blog that may or may not be linked to the sales of rare books.

    I'd like to ask marketing a question: is there research to support anyone else's blogs at Powells being directly linked to an increase in sales?

    I'd really like to know this.

    If it's true, I'll shut my mouth. If it's false, there's no reason Kirsten should stop her blog. It's entertaining and she has quite a following, even if her followers don't always comment to let Powells know of their presence. Look at it this way, marketing: at least people are flocking to to read her blog. No blog = less flocking to = less traffic to the website = lower sales. Lower sales in a capitalist economy during a recession = well, you guys are smart enough to understand what I'm saying.

    Bring back this blog. It's the only one interesting enough to subscribe to anyway.

    Juliet May 8th, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Sorry your blog got canceled! Miss you!

    Paige May 9th, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    What the? No! Your words are such a unique and essential part of the Powell's blog, Kirsten. I loved your bi-weekly posts. Reminded me of why Powell's is a cut above the rest...that they value all the fascinating intricacies of books and employ people whose love of books has an appreciated outlet. Come back!

    Jesse May 13th, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    How disappointing! Your writing was always a good reminder that there is more to these old tomes than leather and paper. I'll miss your blog!

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