Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sell a Set for Sixpence (Roughly Adjusted for Current Market Conditions)

Some books stay on our Recent Arrivals shelves longer than others. It's nothing to do with price usually, and everything to do with hesitating to send them to their new homes in the sections on the floor. Some, I know, will be questioned and or sent to a different category than that from which I am convinced the books will sell -- damn it. Others are just fragile enough I hesitate to expose them to the knockabout of life in the gen. pop. And some are the sets, always dear to my heart, (and no one else's,) specifically the sets not rare enough to be expensive and kept at the desk or in a case.

George Bernard Shaw: Complete Plays with Prefaces, in 6 volumes, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1963 is actually a book club promotion; ugly brown covers with no dustjackets, and on offer for only $18.99. Why should we even stock it? Because, I own this very set myself and despite its unimpressive look, it is a genuinely grand thing; every play with its preface, in order, indexed, clearly printed. The books are uniformly bound and well made. If I find the illustration on the endpapers a little hideous, reproducing the index of titles there is a real help to the reader. I have been reading in my set for ten years now. Nothing other than the Holroyd biography has done as much to make me love Shaw (an emotion with which the gentleman himself had, I'm convinced, no direct experience, though that dissuades me not at all.)

Now GBS sat for two weeks on Recent Arrivals. A disgraceful breach of purpose, as most books cycle through that display in a week or less. But I was sure someone could be convinced to take the old darling home. And just today, after being thumbed by two different customers, before my very eyes, a gentleman asked the price and learning that that exceptionally reasonable number was, indeed, for all six books, he went to fetch his wife. I lived in anticipation until at last they came back and the wife agreed. The husband, wreathed in smiles, lugged dear GBS away and the wife looked, at worst, bemused.

I send my best blessing after them all.

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