Biff on Books – An Introduction

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One of my pastimes is to go to used book stores or antique malls or estate sales and look for old books. I am pretty eclectic in my tastes and when I go browsing for books, I’m usually not looking for anything in particular. There isn’t even really a theme to my collection. I primarily buy humorous books, such as humorous essays (Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, S. J. Perelman, etc.), biographies/travelogues (Cornelia Otis Skinner, Margaret Halsey, Betty McDonald, Mrs. Kenneth Horan, etc.), humorous fiction (Mark Twain, James Thurber, E. F. Bennet, P. G. Wodehouse, Joseph C. Lincoln, Mary Lasswell, etc.), nonsense or hard-to-classify writers (Jerome K. Jerome, Max Shulman, Will Cuppy, Bill Nye [not the modern ersatz science guy], etc.), as well as collections of humorous writings such as were published by the likes of Esquire magazine, Bennet Cerf, Irvin S. Cobb, etc.

Often I will just buy a book because I like the way it looks, the heaviness or glossiness of its paper, or even the way it feels (i.e. its weight or what it’s bound in). I have bought such varied books for my collection that range from high school physics or math books from the early 1900s, travelogues from the late 1800s, a book on fonts from the 1920s, sales books for photographic film products from the 1950s, books on homemaking or sewing from the 1930s, or technical books (electrical or mechanical) from the early 1900s. In my estimateion, book publishing before, say, 1950, seemed to be an art form and publishers seemed to take great pride in the quality of the books they published. They used high quality paper (except during the war years), ornate board covers, and lovely drawings or photographs.

We are blessed here in the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area to have a chain of used bookstores called Half Priced Books (HPB). I have been a loyal customer of theirs for as far back as I can remember . . . probably starting in the late 1980s. Their business model is to buy books, CDs, DVDs, etc. from the public, and then resell them for, as their name implies, half the price that it would have cost retail. Their bread and butter, as you might expect, are all of the latest, hottest books, CDs, and DVDs. Fortunately for me, I don’t care anything at all about the latest anything. My interest is in what they call their “nostalgia” books. These are old or interesting books from yesteryear (approximately pre-1970, but can really be anything that is old, unusual, or not easy to categorize). A great deal of the items in this section I have no interest in, but once in a while I will find a gem and will purchase it eagerly, like a squirrel that has just found a particularly tasty nut. I would say 80% of my book collection has come from HPB. And better yet, most of them have cost less than ten dollars, and in a lot of cases less than five dollars.

At any rate, my intent for my “Biff on Books” entries are just to show the “treasures” that I have found on my latest book-buying jaunts. I don’t claim to be a professional literary reviewer, but I just enjoy sharing my treasures with other who may enjoy a love of books.


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