So, today I received what I thought was going to be one of the cornerstones of my book collection- a signed copy of Bukowski’s novel Hollywood, limited to 150 copies (copies that are hand-bound with special touches that only matter to me and 8 other people in the world). It was the most I’ve spent on an individual book – $350 – and I had to sell some books I really liked in order to afford it. I knew it wasn’t in perfect condition (this one sells for $650-$750 in “fine” condition) but I wasn’t quite prepared for what was in the envelope… bottom line, the book was gross. It smelled like it had been sitting in a smoky den for the 18 years since it was published, and it looked that way too… it looked sickly, with a yellow patina, and little brown stains on the back (affectionately termed “foxing” by booksellers) that happen when a book sits in a high-humidity environment. I was mad, and I emailed the seller demanding $150 of my money back. I didn’t think he’d go for that, and I was ready to send the book back to him, but to my surprise, he took my offer. I felt like it was worth $200, but I still wasn’t “proud” of it, if that makes any sense.
The lovely and talented Rubyred had shown me a website about book preservation that recommended using a “dry cleaning pad” to remove stains from books, so I swung by my local art supply store after work and picked one up. I am in love with it. It’s basically a mesh fabric bag filled with eraser crumbs, and it allows you to erase paper without abrading it at all. I wore out my forearms cleaning off both the front and back covers of the book, and I stripped away years of cigarette smoke residue (gross). Now, the book isn’t in perfect shape- it’s still yellowed along the top and bottom of the boards, but it is pretty bright on both the front and back covers. Huge improvement. Then, I switched out the cloudy, yellowed dustjacket (most Bukowski hardcover books come with clear unprinted dustjackets) with a pristine one I had on another book, and it looked even better. Next, I’m going to seal it up with some “Book Deodorizer Granules” that I bought to get the cigarette smell out. When I’m done, I think I can legitimately claim it to be in “Very Good” condition (again using those arcane bookseller terms), whereas when I got it, I think it would probably be described as “Good” (which means “bad”, whereas “acceptable” means “acceptable for wiping your ass with”). So, NOW I think it is worth the $350 that I paid for it… good thing I only paid $200!
I sold a pristine copy of the standard first edition of this book (pictured to the right) to a friend in order to afford this copy, and I was a little disappointed at first that I dumped a super clean copy in exchange for this. But, in addition to having always wanted signed copies of my 2 favorite Bukowski novels (this and Ham on Rye), I do like the fact that this has some history… see, when the bookseller agreed to my refund request, he told me he could because he got the book “very cheap.” Which leads me to believe that he picked it up at an estate sale for $25 or so… and I started thinking about the crusty old chainsmoker who had this book sitting on his shelf while he puffed away and drank scotch until he croaked. Part of me feels like that’s a better place for a Bukowski book to live than a climate-controlled shrine to anal-retentiveness (or at least that some of the books in my personal climate-controlled shrine to anal-retentiveness should have come from these types of places). Of course, I wouldn’t feel this way if I couldn’t at least clean the book up a little bit, which is why I’m grateful to my little rubbery-smelling crumbly pillow of joy.
When I was done with Hollywood, I started going after some other books I had with smudges on them, and I have to say, the $7 I paid for the dry cleaning pad has probably paid for itself 20 times over just in terms of value I’ve added to my books. It doesn’t do much for yellowing or foxing, but it takes care of soiling incredibly well. There’s a magazine I bought for the lovely and talented Rubyred that I got a nasty smudge on a ways back before I sent it to her… when she brings it back to me, it’s getting the treatment, and I can’t wait (well, that’s fairly low on the list of things I can’t wait for relative to Rubyred’s arrival here, but still…).
I’m about to shut down the computer for the night and read this book (that’s one of my rules of book collecting: no owning “reading copies” of expensive books… books are meant to be read, and I’m going to read them, even if it means worrying incessantly about whatever damage I might be doing to them), after playing with it all evening, and I’m finally proud to own it. Thanks, dry cleaning pad. Some may think you’re just a mesh bag filled with eraser crumbs, but to me, you’re the sun and the moon, the oceans, and the night sky (or at least what I’d use if there were smudges on the sun and the moon, the oceans, and the night sky).