As everyone knows, books make a great Christmas gift: they’re portable, don’t require 12 AAA batteries, and you don’t have to stay up all night putting them together. There is no limit to the choices you have, either. From coffee table books to a favorite athlete’s biography to the history of the Boer War, there’s something for every taste and interest.
For the serious book collector on your list the choice of gifts is equally wide open, but you’ll need to work a little harder. While your 17-year-old nephew may be satisfied with the new autobiography from Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, your bibliophile aunt probably won’t, even if she did rock out to “Sympathy for the Devil” at Altamont back in ’69.
What follows are a few ideas sure to warm the heart of the book collector on your list. Some are truly collectibles, while some are simply books any bibliophile would likely enjoy.One thing worth noting is that for books to be collectible you should always get first printings of first editions, and if they are signed by the author the value only goes up; for these copies check AbeBooks, Biblio, or Alibris.
The Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1 by Mark Twain. This is the first in a planned three-volume set that, following Twain’s wishes, was not to be released until 100 years after his death. Unlike a typical biography, this one meanders and rabbit-trails back and forth through the periods of Twain’s life, with both humorous and insightful results. A must for any Twain fan.
Book Finds: How to Find, Buy, and Sell Used and Rare Books (3rd Edition) by Ian C. Ellis. This is the one time a later edition is better than an early one. Book Finds is a crash-course on book collecting that is valuable to novices and seasoned collectors alike. It covers everything from how to identify a first edition to grading the condition of a book. It also gives sound advice on both buying and selling and includes a list of what the author believes are the 1000 most collectible books as of the time of the 3rd Edition’s release in 2006. The best thing about Book Finds is that it is written in a very readable style, in spite of the technical aspect of some of the information.
Subterranean Press Limited Editions. For the collector who loves the horror or fantasy genres, the specialty publishing house Subterranean Press has high quality signed limited editions of popular titles by well-known authors (from Jim Butcher to Ray Bradbury) at an affordable price. These are not to be confused with true first editions of these titles, but they are highly sought after by collectors nonetheless.
Heart-Shaped Box (signed) by Joe Hill. Unless you’ve been hibernating for the past couple of years, you know that Joe Hill’s real name is Joe Hill King, son of Stephen King, and if his first few releases are any indication, he should have a run of success that will eventually rival his dad’s. Signed first editions of Heart-Shaped Box are already selling for $70 at the low end, and when you consider that the average price of Stephen King’s first novel Carrie in a signed first edition is $3000 and up, $70 will look like a great investment a few years from now. And just for the record, Heart-Shaped Box is a great read.
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee. The San Francisco author who started as a clerk at a San Jose bookstore during his freshman year of college and continued in either book selling or as a publisher’s sales rep for the next thirty years gives us a glimpse into the world of the bookseller that few knew existed. The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop takes the reader on a fascinating journey from the first papyrus scrolls and the great Library of Alexandria through the e-book and mega-chains like Borders and Barnes and Noble. Mixed throughout this 3000-year odyssey are Buzbee’s own journey, his love of books, and some laugh-out-loud moments. By the time you finish the book, you will definitely want to sneak a peek into the back room of your local bookstore, hoping to see some of the things he has seen.
Booked to Die by John Dunning. All of the books in the mystery series featuring Denver cop-turned- rare book dealer Cliff Janeway are wonderful, but the first is still the best. It is a rare combination of murder-mystery and real-world information on books and book collecting. This is one you can give in paperback as a stocking-stuffer if your book-crazy loved one has never read it. But if you want to go the extra mile for a signed first edition, be prepared to pay. The first print run was only 6,500 copies (compared, for example, to the 12 million first run of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), so the book was scarce right out of the gate in 1992. A signed copy will cost anywhere from $700 up to $2500 depending on condition. Feel free to buy two and have Santa bring me one of them.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I will recommend this book until the day I die, and then I’ll be buried with a copy. It touches on such diverse topics as forbidden love, the Spanish Civil War, and the innate need we have for books. It layers all of these things on the mystery of why a disfigured man is burning all of the copies of books by Julian Carax, an obscure author whose novel, The Shadow of the Wind, was discovered by main character Daniel Sempere when he was 10 years old. But be sure you have a lot of free time when you start this one; I stayed up all night reading the last 250 pages. Signed first editions can be found for around $200, but this is one book that every collector needs to have, signed or not.
If none of these choices sound quite right for your collector’s Christmas stocking, you can always pick up a nice first printing of The Sun Also Rises for around $20,000 or a signed The Great Gatsby for $17,000. It’s easily worth the price to (carefully) hold a piece of literary history in your hands. Just don’t be upset when you only get socks or mittens in return; Christmas is about giving, after all.