I’ve written here a few times about my adventures as a bookseller. Like that time a buyer found a rare Harry Dresden first edition in our $1 box at the 2010 World Fantasy Convention. Or when I sold Jo Walton an Eric Frank Russell paperback she never knew existed. Or the weekend Howard Andrew Jones, James Enge, Donald Crankshaw, Peadar Ó Guilín, Rich Horton, and I sold books together at the World Science Fiction convention
Or what happened when an attractive young woman picked up a copy of a Philip K. Dick paperback at Dragon*Con, and I stupidly said “Hey there — are you a fan of Dick?”
But despite all those years selling vintage SF paperbacks, I’m still very much a newbie. Especially compared to the legendary Bud Webster, who has made a vocation of buying and selling SF and fantasy books for decades, at conventions all over the country.
He’s collected anecdotes from a lifetime of selling SF, and packaged them up with excellent advice to aspiring booksellers on things like Managing Your Stock, Obtaining Stock, and When to Sell, in a single extremely useful and highly entertaining volume: The Joy of Booking, published in 2011.
Full exposure: Bud was the poetry editor for Black Gate, back when we had a print edition, and he’s also written a few articles for us on (what else?) bookselling and vintage books, such as “Selling Your Books Ain’t as Easy as it Looks,” “What I Do and Why I Do It,” “What I Do It With,” “Holding History,” and “Talk to Any Squids Lately? In Space, I Mean?.”
He’s also the author of the well-known Past Masters columns on the greatest SF & Fantasy writers of the 20th Century, which have appeared in Helix magazine, Baen’s Universe, and even in Black Gate 15. These terrific articles were eventually collected into the book Past Masters and Other Bookish Natterings, published by Merry Blacksmith Press in June 2013.
While the advice Bud gives out to aspiring booksellers in The Joy of Booking is invaluable, my favorite parts of the book are the moments when he shares tales of his encounters with very special books and the impact each had on him. Such as this gem from the Foreword:
Somehow in the early 1960s the main branch of the Roanoke, Virginia, Public Library was tapped to house — however briefly — a copy of the Gutenberg Bible. Even while in elementary school, I understood how important this book was…
I recall walking downstairs to the library’s vault, cool and still. I recall the librarian opening the cage with a ring of keys that made a sound I’d never heard before, an overture of sorts to an opera of truly biblical proportions. I recall her putting on a pair of white cotton gloves, walking me softly into the vault, speaking to me in quiet tones…
And there it was. My eyes filled with the sheer enormity of it; I could smell the leather binding and the vellum pages, the very creaking of that binding and the music the pages made as she slowly and gently turned them rang in my ears in a way nothing else had, ever before. I was more than captivated, I was ensorcelled… I knew — I knew — deep in my innards that here was the single object that had made it possible for me to read about Tom Corbett, and Charlotte and Wilbur, and Alice and the Mad Hatter, and Mrs. Whatsit, and Huck and Tom, and the wonderful mushroom planet, and the Cat in th Hat, and Toad of Toad Hall, and and and…
Those of us who read (and write) science fiction and fantasy are well-acquainted with the true sixth sense, that of Wonder. I thought I’d known Wonder before that afternoon in that cool, silent basement, but I’d only known wonder. The day I came face-to-face with it in its fully capitalized form, a book made by a man who’d been gone from the skin of this planet for more than twice the number of years America had even existed.
The slender volume is divided up into chapters on how to find, care for, and sell books, as well as great advice on shipping, packing, and some of the more mundane aspects of bookselling. While I’m sure certain individuals who sell books will find useful advice within, it’s really focused on part-time bookselling, selling books as a hobby rather than a profession, chiefly at places at SF conventions and local book fairs.
Bud Webster is well known in the American SF scene. He won the 2012 Service to SFWA Award and has also written Past Masters and Anthopology 101: Reflections, Inspections and Dissections of SF Anthologies.
The Joy of Booking was published in 2011 by The Merry Blacksmith Press. It is 83 pages, priced at $10 in trade paperback and $2.99 for the digital edition. Order copies directly from Merry Blacksmith.