Money Book

NAOMI HIRAHARA

Before I became a published novelist, I only bought one hardback novel a year.

I’ve always been a trade paperback kind of girl. I like to devour books, take them into the bath (and yes, sometimes even the shower) with me. I’m rough with books.

And there’s always the matter of money. I had little and still continue to have little–if I don’t count my sweet husband’s salary. The library is wonderful–but only one thing, I’m also a little absent-minded. So those fines add up, so it just makes sense to buy paperbacks.

But then I got published, and suddenly my hardback fiction collection exponentially grew. Suddenly I had all these colleagues and friends who were also published, and most of them were getting published in hardback.

My husband has watched helplessly as our living room china cabinet that we use as a bookshelf has continued to get filled with hardbacks. But let me tell you, he’s doing his share with all his sports books (he’s a roundball fanatic–he probably has every biography ever published on an American basketball coach).

Anyway, now I have a bunch of hardbacks, autographed and personalized at that. But I tell myself they are all an investment. I’ve suddenly become a book collector.

I know what you’re thinking. Naomi, personalized books are not as valuable as just autographed books. But again, it all depends who they are signed to–stranger, friend, or colleague. These signatures will tell a story of the relationship between one writer and another.

For instance, why did S.J. Rozan draw a basketball in my copy of her 9/11 novel, ABSENT FRIENDS? I love that bestselling children’s author Ken Mochizuki, a fellow ethnic press editor and reporter, signed his YA novel, BEACON HILLS BOYS, with "Remember when they told us to ‘get a real job’?" Gary Phillips appropriately penned, "Writing is fighting," in my West Coast Crime copy of his mystery debut, VIOLENT SPRING. And of course I’ll always treasure Walter Mosley scribbling, "Good luck with Summer of the Big Bachi," in BLACK BETTY.

My most emotion-laden autographed hardback book is not a novel, but nonfiction–late Iris Chang’s RAPE OF NANKING. It was another dearly departed figure, television newsman Sam Chu Lin, who had encouraged me to attend Iris’s signing at the Santa Monica Borders in January 1998 and I was so glad to have the opportunity to meet her in person before she tragically took her life in November of 2004.

As I write this, I see that books are actually physical footprints, emotional and intellectual markers of my life. My copy of RAPE OF NANKING not only brings to mind Iris Chang, but also the subsequent conversations it engendered and the many related stories on Japanese war crimes I placed in the newspaper I once edited. I also remember my pal Sam and how he mentored and befriended so many of us younger journalists. Perhaps that’s why I don’t think electronic books will ever completely replace actual bound books. There’s magic in those pages.

The book in my collection that is worth the most money is a first edition, first printing of Cynthia Kadohata’s KIRA-KIRA, which garnered the Newbery Award months after it was signed. The Newbery Award is the closest thing to literature’s Oscars, at least for writers for children. Soon after Cynthia received a 4:30 a.m. phone call announcing that she had won, she was whisked away for the Today Show. Now how glamorous is that? Soon Cynthia was deluged with e-mails requesting a first edition, first-printing book. The book was going for $800 at one time, and currently is listed for more than $1,000 for an autographed first-printing copy. And I have a personalized one.

By the way, Cynthia and I will be appearing together at the Torrance Public Library on Wednesday, September 27, at 7 p.m. so all you locals come out and see us. Cynthia will be showing her brilliant PowerPoint presentation, while I’ll be more low-tech with some show-and-tell surprises, nonetheless.

And for those going to the Bouchercon world mystery convention at the end of this month, keep you eye out–not only for current stars, but also for those newbies under the radar who may become stars of tomorrow. Especially those getting published by small presses or having limited print-runs with larger publishers.

And don’t forget about those paperback original writers! Robert Crais’ first book, MONKEY’S RAINCOAT, a mass market paperback original, in mint condition is going for three figures.

No more showers with books for me.

WEDNESDAY’S WORD: okanemochi (SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN, page 86)

Rich person. Pronounced "o-KA-neh-MO-chee." Okane means money and mochi is derived from the infinitive motsu, or to hold onto.

DISORIENTED EXPRESS LEAVES THE STATION: Mystery authors Eric Stone and Colin Cotterill’s joint tour, Disoriented Express, begins tonight at the Mystery Bookstore at 7 p.m. I was hoping to attend, but being the traffic wimp that I am, I’ve decided not to take the trek through downtown L.A. to the westside. But I know that I’m missing out on great, great fun. Asian snacks, beverages, and good company. I am hoping to meet Colin at Book’em Mysteries in South Pasadena tomorrow, however. A much, much saner drive for me personally. BTW, Colin has the best website ever.

EVENT SEASON GEARS UP: Come to the West Hollywood Book Fair this weekend on Sunday, September 17. At 1:15 p.m. I’ll be on a panel, "Who Am I?," with Rochelle Krich, Luis Rodriguez and Victoria Christopher Murray, moderated by Holly Hoffman. It’s going to be on the age-old theme of a writer’s identity. Should be interesting! I’ll also be doing a self-publishing and book distribution workshop in Little Tokyo this Saturday.

12 thoughts on “Money Book

  1. Naomi

    Maryelizabeth:

    Mystery Galaxy will be there at the West Hollywood Book Fair, yes? It’ll be great fun. Rochelle and I this year are not on an exclusively mystery panel; the organizer wanted to mix things up a bit.

    Does anyone else want to share about their collection? In terms of mysteries, I’ve definitely started a Gary Phillips collection. I hope to expand to pulp fiction and detective stories written by Japanese American pioneers such as Milton K. Ozaki from the 1920s through the 1940s! And, of course, I’ll have a Murderati collection as well.

    Reply
  2. Pari

    Naomi,I think your post is wonderful — and if you look at my post at the beginning of the week, they’re tangentially related.

    My husband, like yours, looks with distress on the ever-burgeoning piles on our bookcases. Most of them now are two books deep. So many of these are autographed to me and I treasure them.

    Most of mine aren’t “famous authors.” But I cherish them nonetheless.

    Reply
  3. Naomi

    Yup, Pari, I was thinking that our posts served as good bookends on the subject of book buying.

    I just cleaned my bookcases in my office. I saw on some organizing cable show that you can stack some books horizontally for some visual variety. I did it with my mass-markets and it saves quite a bit of space.

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  4. Carstairs38

    I only want to get books personally autographed. Might not do anything to the value, but I enjoy looking back through my autographed books every so often and seeing what the author put. Sometimes, it’s nothing special. But sometimes it means something to me, even if it will mean less money on resale.

    But I buy the books for me, not as an investment, so I don’t care.

    Mark

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  5. Elaine

    What a timely post – I spent most of yesterday sorting books too! I keep all personally inscribed books as well – great notes and memories of friends to enjoy when I’m an old (older)bag reminiscing. Everything else goes either to the library (God knows they can use the books!) and/or to Meals on Wheels.

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  6. Sue Trowbridge

    Every time I read something about how valuable that Robert Crais PBO is, I feel like weeping. I used to have a signed copy of “The Monkey’s Raincoat,” which I got at one of his very first appearances, at the long-defunct bookstore The Butler Did It in Baltimore. However, I somehow managed to lose it (admittedly, I’ve moved about six times since then). Hardcovers are much easier to keep track of! Probably my most valuable mystery is a signed first of Diane Mott Davidson’s “Catering to Nobody.” I’m not an active collector by any means (I lack the money & the storage space!) but I do cherish the books I’ve held onto through the years.

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  7. JT Ellison

    I love this story, Naomi! I’m new to the “collecting market”, and now have several signed books that I treasure. There’s something about being acknowledged as a writer by your peers — my favorite inscription was signed by a major New York Times author, Your Fellow Writer. Then he drew a smiley face!This was well before any deals, or hopes thereof. It meant the world, and means even more today. A self fulfilling prophesy, perhaps?Great post!

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  8. Naomi

    Sue:

    Oh, don’t you just hate it! I’ve done my share of misplacing and discarding items (Barbie’s, lunch boxes, etc.) that have appreciated in value.

    Those culinary mystery series (Davidson, Fluke, Farmer) are great. I got one of my professor friends hooked on mysteries and now she’s been gobbling down Joanne Fluke’s series. She was so upset that someone had torn out a recipe from a library copy–she made a photocopy of the recipe page and taped it in!

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  9. Beatrice Brooks

    Re: Collecting books. At my first-ever conference signing (Bouchercon/Omaha) a man placed 10 hardcover copies of “Throw Darts at a Cheesecake” in front of me. I grinned from ear to ear (not easy with my cheekbones) and said, “Are these gifts? Do you want me to personalize them?” He smiled back and said, “I’m a collector. Just sign your name, please. I’m banking on these being valuable some day.” Cheesecake sold for $19.95 back them. Today mint condition first-editions are going for around $150.

    Great post, Naomi.

    Hugs,Deni

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  10. Naomi

    Wow, Deni. I don’t know if my fiction will ever be published in hardback. If so, I’ll be sure to stash a box of books in my closet. I’ve saved at least 15 firsts of each mystery, but being TPO, they have much less chance of appreciating in price, unless you achieve the stature of a Crais, Lippman, McInerney, Lahiri, McCall Smith, etc., I imagine.

    I hope Pari has saved a bunch of her hardbacks. With both being nominated for Agathas, they are a part of history!

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  11. M'e

    Yes, Naomi, Mysterious Galaxy will be at WeHo for our first time this weekend! I think we are only taking books for our assigned panels, though, since we aren’t sure of the etiquette and don’t want to step on any other booksellers’ toes, metaphorical or otherwise.

    Reply

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