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Featured Bookseller: Roger Gozdecki

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biography

Roger Gozdecki Roger Gozdecki has been employed in the second hand and antiquarian book business since 1981 and is a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB). He is the proprietor of The Book Shop in Covina, California, which specializes in 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. Located about twenty miles east of Los Angeles in southern California's picturesque San Gabriel Valley, The Book Shop may be occasionally glimpsed in scenes on the WB television series Roswell, because the producers of the teen-alien drama found downtown Covina to be a convenient and scenic substitute for the small town in eastern New Mexico.


q & a

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
Phone: 800-507-7323
Fax: 818-967-1888
E-mail: Bookshop@compuserve.com
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.

article

A Guide to Book Collecting in the 21st Century—Join book expert Roger Gozdecki as he explains the details of collecting in this eight-part series. Whether you’re a beginning collector or a lifelong bibliophile, Roger will enlighten you with his insights.

recommendations
 

I'm always a little hesitant to recommend specific books because on the most basic level, I believe that anything that gets someone's nose out from in front of the TV or the computer monitor and between the pages of a book has some merit— regardless of its content. However, for really discriminating readers, I recommend the following.

Darconville's Cat by Alexander Theroux Darconville's Cat by Alexander Theroux - Recommended because it is quite simply the most extraordinary novel that I've ever read. It's the novel that anyone who ever hoped to profit from having loved too much wishes they could have written. Speaking of love, for young women who've grown tired of the bodice-ripper romances, I always recommend the novels of Jane Austen, because they demonstrate how women and men can deal with romance in a grown-up way.

Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana - I recommend it to anyone who enjoys travel literature, if they've never read it. This is a book that's never been out of print in 160 years, containing some of the best passages ever written about the experience of being at sea under full sail, along with some incredibly insightful observations about life in California during the days of the Spanish ranchos. Moreover, in the subsequent editions, which include Dana's account of his return to California twenty years later, one comes to appreciate the dramatic changes that occurred both in California and in Dana himself in the span of a generation.

I also try to encourage people to read more good poetry, E. E. Cummings, of course, along with Dylan Thomas and W. B. Yeats. The sonnets of Shakespeare along with those by Edna St. Vincent Millay are also good places to start. We've been exposed to so much bad poetry that many of us have lost our appreciation for the power of really charged poetic language to move us and to express what is otherwise inexpressible in our own lives.

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