The Super Fun Kids' Graphic Novel Sale

Special Offers see all

Enter to WIN a $100 Credit

Subscribe to
for a chance to win.
Privacy Policy

Visit our stores


Authors, readers, critics, media — and booksellers.


What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

Today I looked up "collecting" on Wikipedia. Collecting is defined as "seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloging, displaying, storing and maintaining" the items of interest to the collector.

The wiki on collecting is thoughtful, nicely organized, and much of it pertains to the world of books. Of the five types of limited editions mentioned (these seemed directed at glass and porcelain collectors) the first two certainly apply :

Limited by announced quantity, with each item numbered:

For example, this copy of Les Liasons Dangereuses is number 498 of 1,000 numbered copies.

Limited by announced quantity, with items not numbered:

This Book Club of California publication is limited, but not numbered.

Other subcategories discussed:

Decorating with Collectibles — bookcases against every wall cuts down on the need for wallpaper, paint, or framed pictures.

Cataloging a Collection — knowing what you already own is helpful if you shop a lot, or buy impulsively.

Insuring a Collection — to fully insure a valuable collection, it must be catalogued and appraised by a professional. Appraisers are usually paid by the hour.

The Secondary Market — "The retail price of a collectible is valid only at the moment it was purchased." How very true. I might buy a hyper-modern first edition at $200.00 only to find that in three years the market will bear only $20.00 for the same book. Recent notable examples in this category are Snow Falling on Cedars, and The Bridges of Madison County.

Other modern first editions that have been feeling the indomitable pull of gravity include Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient and Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain. Perhaps the movies are to blame.

But don't despair. There is a redeeming factor at play in the rough and tumble world of book collecting — love. Buy Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in each color dust jacket (black, red, white) if that speaks to you. This is what we talk about when we talk about love. Collect what you love and don't look back.

Here's a photo of Beth, with the copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell that makes her so happy!

What might make me that happy? A pristine copy of the first edition of The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. This literary modern first is holding up very well in the collector's market.

Or perhaps the signed copy of Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

The wiki article lists many other collectible items, including fireplaces, airsickness bags, sugar packets, and televisions.

Airsickness bags? I'm sticking with books.

Be knowledgeable, educate yourself about books and the language used to describe them, talk to other collectors about their experiences with dealers and learn which ones are trustworthy — especially when buying from dealers that list only on the internet.

÷ ÷ ÷

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. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
    Used Hardcover $9.95

3 Responses to "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love"

    Beth August 31st, 2007 at 8:58 am

    I had a friend in college who collected business cards. What's the point in that? You can't read and re-read business cards! I like to feel like I'm the first to read a book, so I'm trying to grow my advanced reader collection. My newest addition -- Richard K Morgan. A great sci-fi writer!

    Carla September 1st, 2007 at 1:16 am

    People do collect some pretty strange stuff, but for me it's always been books.. Well at least since my freshman year of high school .. And Kirsten's right collect what you love.. Maybe someday the books will be worth more than you paid for 'em.. In the mean time my collection is priceless for the enjoyment I've gotten..

    PS..Lonnie (my Husband) found a really old business card in a wall.. does that count??

    Lucas December 20th, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    Ms. Berg,
    I was wondering if you could answer me a question? My wife got me a first edition of Carver's "What We Talk About..." and I am wondering if it is a first printing? How do I tell?


Post a comment:

Get Your Gravatar

  1. Please note:
  2. All comments require moderation by staff.
  3. Comments submitted on weekends might take until Monday to appear.
PowellsBooks.Blog uses Gravatar to allow you to personalize the icon that appears beside your name when you post. If you don't have one already, get your Gravatar today!
  • back to top


Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at