A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict

A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict

by John Baxter

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In the rural Australia of the fifties where John Baxter grew up, reading books was disregarded with suspicion, owning and collecting them with utter incomprehension. Despite this, by the age of eleven Baxter had 'collected' his first book - The Poems of Rupert Brooke. He'd read the volume often, but now he had to own it. This was the beginning of what would

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In the rural Australia of the fifties where John Baxter grew up, reading books was disregarded with suspicion, owning and collecting them with utter incomprehension. Despite this, by the age of eleven Baxter had 'collected' his first book - The Poems of Rupert Brooke. He'd read the volume often, but now he had to own it. This was the beginning of what would become a major collection and a lifelong obsession.

His book-hunting would take him all over the world, but his first real find was in London in 1978, when he spotted a rare copy of a Graham Greene children's book while browsing on a stall in Swiss Cottage. It was going for 5 pence. This would also, fortuitously, be the day when he first encountered one of the legends of the book-selling world: Martin Stone. At various times pothead, international fugitive from justice, and professional rock musician, he would become John's mentor and friend.

In this brilliantly readable and funny book, John Baxter brings us into contact with such literary greats as Graham Greene, Kingsley Amis, J.G. Ballard and Ray Bradbury. But he also shows us how he penetrated the secret fraternity of 'runners' or book scouts - sleuths who use bluff and guile to hunt down their quarry - and joined them in scouring junk shops, markets, auction rooms and private homes for rarities.

In the comic tradition of Clive James's Unreliable Memoirs, A Pound of Paper describes how a boy from the bush came to be living in a Paris penthouse with a library worth millions. It also explores the exploding market in first editions. What treasures are lying unnoticed in your garage?

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Editorial Reviews

Metro [England]
An addictive romp through the unconventional life of an obsessive . . . . John Baxter may claim books lack sex appeal, but he proves the opposite.
Chicago Tribune
Baxter has written an informative book, and a delightful one, that guides the reader through a specialized and eccentric world with a wink and a smile.
Roanoke Times
A Pound of Paper leads us on a merry chase in pursuit of books, an undertaking as chancy as betting on the lottery. Baxter . . . prov[es] a most erudite and entertaining guide. . . . Essential to any current or prospective collector who wishes to engage in the hunt for a gem that might be worth a fortune or who simply wants to enjoy the pleasures of the game.
Lively and colorful . . . . Baxter tells his stories with humor, suspense and plenty of style.
Time Out New York
Erudite and mirthful . . . told with ornery, self-deprecating wit.
Glasgow Sunday Herald
Of the making of many books there is no end. But who's complaining, especially when something as entertaining as John Baxter's A Pound of Paper comes along? At the outset he quotes Groucho Marx: " 'Outside a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read.'
The London Times
A Pound of Paper—the weight, more or less of a book-is the peg on which Baxter hangs episodes of autobiography . . . the book collectors who buy this particular pound of paper will profit from it in every sense.
Publishers Weekly
As he stooped over a basket full of stuffed animals at a London flea market, Baxter (Robert de Niro; George Lucas) made a discovery that would change his life forever. It was there, in 1978, that he unearthed a children's book by Graham Greene, called The Little Horse Bus, selling for five pence. He snatched it up, then impulsively purchased another Greene novel and one of Greene's African journals as well. Just like that, a book collector was born. Baxter chronicles his growing obsession with books in a way that's utterly infectious, with sharp wit and self-deprecating humor. He flits across Australia, England, the United States and France in pursuit of the perfect collection, always spurred on by the knowledge that book collectors find treasures in the most unlikely places. In his words, "acquiring [books] meant midnight assignations in seedy corners of London, white-knuckle bidding at auctions, speculative drives across England to cities you'd never seen, and nervous knocking on the doors of strangers that, in all probability, would leave you, a minute later, humiliated and empty-handed on the doorstep a hundred miles from home." He takes gleeful pleasure in underpaying those who are ignorant about the worth of their rare books, but he also holds certain texts sacred (like the uncorrected proofs of two James Bond novels given to him by Kingsley Amis). Baxter's memoir will be of great interest to serious book collectors because so much of the book conveys the insider's perspective, but his narrative is truly amusing and rollicking enough to entice book lovers of all kinds. (Dec.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Film biographer Baxter (Woody Allen, 1999, etc.) reveals another true love in this entertaining account of his admittedly nerdy life. The author is a near-rabid bibliomaniac who has chased first editions across several continents and now lives happily with the cream of his collection in the same Paris building where Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Co. once hosted Joyce, Hemingway, et al. Baxter, who grew up in Australia, dates the conception of his obsession to 1951, when, at 11, he acquired a copy of The Poems of Rupert Brooke. Thereafter, he chased Graham Greene’s ouevre (a collection he eventually sold once he’d acquired just about all there was), works about the cinema, books somehow related to the place where he happened to be living, and volumes by Edward Gorey, Lafcadio Hearn (!), and others. His tenet was "anything can be anywhere," and, indeed, he did find amazing things in unlikely places. At a Virginia "swap-meet" in the mid-1970s, he discovered a 1927 issue of Sylvia Beach’s periodical transition in a box of what was otherwise rubbish. For that item (and two others) he paid a total of 25 cents. Baxter showers us with anecdotes and bons mots, a majority of them amusing ("Most librarians don’t like books any more than butchers like lamb chops"), but also finds time to trace the history of the dust jacket. He identifies the best cinematic sex scene in a bookshop (The Big Sleep), explains proofs and galleys and limited editions, and tells us why unsuccessful authors sometimes resent signing first editions of their failed books (no profit for them!). Baxter describes the devastating effect of the Internet on ye ole bookshoppes (scads of which have folded) and examines the primitivebook trade that now exists on eBay. Like all nerd memoirs, this one features sexual conquests too, but the passages about his love life aren’t as interesting as those voicing his passion for books. Tasty junk food for book lovers.

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Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.96(d)

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