How did you get started?
Believe me, no one grows up aspiring to become a second-hand and antiquarian bookseller. Most of us find some means of turning our avocation with books into a vocation. In my case, I went to work part time for Charles Jimenez, the gentleman who founded the shop that I now own, when he first opened it in 1981 as a second location. After about six months, when he discovered that he couldn't manage two shops at the same time, he asked me to become the full-time manager of The Book Shop, and I ran the store for five years before I made arrangements to buy it from him.
If you weren't selling books, what would you be doing?
I've been selling books for such a long time that I'm not much good for anything else now. But if I had to consider alternatives, at one time I might have become a struggling elementary school teacher or a starving writer, either one of which, in all likelihood, would be a lot more frustrating than maintaining my small bastion of literacy.
What question do you get asked most often?
"How much is it worth?" To which the most frequent reply, in a word is, "Nothing." One of the first lessons to learn about rare books is that, by definition, they really are rare. The odds against anyone inadvertently possessing a book of real significance from a collectible standpoint are remote. Consequently a significant part of my interactions with the inquiring general public when they present me with books for evaluation involves disappointing them as gently as possible.
What was your best book find, either for price or personal reasons?
You know, as a bookseller during the past twenty years, I've had the privilege of owning some really remarkable books for a short time, some of which have been featured in the Alibris Vault. Just recently, we sold a genuinely historic group of chess books that once belonged to Bobby Fischer, which had been presented to him by the authors with some marvelous inscriptions, around the time that he became the World Chess Champion in 1972. Years ago in a thrift store, I found a fine first American edition in the jacket of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien for twenty-five cents, which when I sold it six months later, helped make up a significant portion of the down payment on our home. Under similar circumstances, we once turned up a disreputable copy of the Grossett and Dunlap reprint of Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck that, upon closer inspection, turned out to contain what in all likelihood, is the longest inscription that Steinbeck ever placed into a book. An entire page, written in dialogue format, between the two principal characters in the novel! That was really memorable, and it makes for a good story whenever I'm asked to supply some exciting bookselling anecdotes. As a collector, I own some significant copies of books associated with E. E. Cummings, but I've had to buy them from other dealers just like any other collector. That includes the original self-portrait in oils by Cummings that now hangs in my study above my desk, which ranks as the most special item in my own personal collection.
Having witnessed so much change in both society and the antiquarian book business during your career as a bookseller, do you have much concern for the welfare of literacy?
Yes, I do. I think we do a pretty good job of teaching children to read if only because print can be such an entrancing medium that most kids will spontaneously begin to unlock its secrets by the time that they reach third grade. On the other hand, as children grow older, they begin to learn from their peers that reading isn't cool. It's a solitary activity, after all. It's difficult to share the experience of an important book with your friends, and as a result, interest in reading for fun or personal enrichment often fades over time, even among well-educated people. As parents and teachers, I believe that we've all got to do a better job of helping children become life-long readers. Reading is as important to the health of your mind as exercise is for your body. Do some every day!
Contact Roger Gozdecki:
The Book Shop
134 N. Citrus
Covina, CA 91723
Specialties: Literary First Editions, books on California and The Southwest, and books on Jazz and the Blues. Featured authors include Edward Abbey, E. E. Cummings, M.F.K. Fisher, George Wharton James, and John Steinbeck.