Which books to collect, and what are they worth?

About a year ago, a writer for one of the town’s less-than-everyday papers infamously reported with regret that the Reading Room bookstore at Mandalay Place inside the Mandalay Bay was closing, leaving Las Vegas without any independent booksellers.

Las Vegas was not and still is not without independent booksellers, needless to say, and I’m not merely talking about the Philadelphia based (and markedly upscale) Bauman’s Rare Books, which moved into Sheldon Adelson’s Palazzo last year.

Check out www.usedbookslasvegas.com/Open_Shops.html.

Academy Fine Books, for starters, at 2026 E. Charleston, has always been worth a browse. The shop has not yet reopened following a fire, but promises to do so within a month, “with lots of new stock.”

Those who live so far south that they think the planes at McCarran land right to left may want to check out Ann DeVere’s Plaza Books, 7380 S. Eastern Ave. at Warm Springs.

But the new center of gravity for local seekers of quality pre-owned books now sits between Myrna and Lou Donato’s re-opened Amber Unicorn, in the Trader Joe’s plaza at Decatur and O’Bannon, and Greyhound’s Books, within walking distance of the Unicorn next to Shepler’s Western Wear (still good for pants, though the shirts have gone terribly bland) on the other side of Decatur, still north of Sahara.

The only problem with Greyhound’s is their somewhat limited hours, which seem to run about noon to 4:30. But Phil and Barbara (along with Myrna and Lou, across the street) can actually talk books, as opposed to the average clerk at one of the big new-book chains, these days.

(I spent half an hour looking for Harry Potter hardcovers at Barnes & Noble, some time back. Hidden in the little children’s “castle” at the back, they finally told me. Crawling through the cardboard gate on my hands and knees, I expected to get profiled as a potential child molester. Then there was my search for Umberto Eco’s latest novel, at Borders across the street. Who, they ask? Guy who wrote “The Name of the Rose,” says I. Ah, so his latest novel is called “The Name of the Rose”? asks the young person with the stapled face. Things did not improve from there.)

Ask Phil about C.S. Forester’s Hornblower series, or Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey adventures, and you’ll soon be tested on your knowledge of Dudley Pope’s Ramage efforts (rather pale), in a conversation that’s likely to veer to Bernard Cornwell’s “Richard Sharpe” tales, and from there to the cavalry novels of Allan Mallinson.

Phil has been known to pen 600-word essays, in an occasional series he calls “Books of Worth & Their Values.” I asked him for his recommendations for fiction on the Vietnamese War. (Why do we call it “The Vietnam War”? “Vietnam” is a noun. Do we call it “The Mexico War”?) Phil sojourned to the local Xerox machine and offered:

“The Vietnam War was the most protested war in our history, not because it was the worst war we ever engaged in, but because of the greater numbers of easily-influenced young people of college age, a direct result of post-World War II procreation. All wars have been heavily documented by historians of varying degrees of credibility and many have inspired excellent fictional memoirs: Crane’s ‘Red Badge of Courage’; Remarque’s ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’; Kirst’s Gunner Asch series, et cetera.

“Vietnam also had its fiction, some of which is highly collectible,” Phil continues.

“James Webb, an Annapolis graduate and Marine officer with Delta Company, 1st Battalion, Fifth Marines in Vietnam, and currently United States Senator from Virginia, wrote ‘Fields of Fire,’ a powerful novel of a platoon of tough, young Marines fighting in Southeast Asia during that war.

“Richard Hooker heightened our awareness of the non-combat use of helicopters in war with his ‘M.A.S.H.’ series, but Lane Heath, in CW2, showed us the helicopter at war. Heath served two tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. Stephen Wright’s ‘Meditations in Green, … the chronicle of the corruption and decay of Spec 4 James Griffin under the pressures of an unreal war,’ is yet another first book, as are Webb’s and Heath’s.

“David Halberstam wrote a non-fiction book on Vietnam, ‘The Making of a Quagmire,’ in 1965. His fictional ‘One Very Hot Day’ was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post, and published in book form in 1967.

“These books are heavily collected and quite scarce in collectible condition. Signed or inscribed copies command a considerable premium, perhaps as a result of the reclusiveness of the authors, or the emotions involved in writing such books.

“Whether you’re a Hawk, a Dove, or a Mugwump, these books are all worth a read.

— James Webb, ‘Fields of Fire.’ Prentice Hall, 1978. A fine condition book in a fine condition dust jacket: $125 to $150.

— Lane Heath, ‘CW2,’ William Morrow, 1990. A fine condition book in a fine condition dust jacket: $20 to $50.

— Stephen Wright, ‘Meditations in Green,’ Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1983. A fine condition book in a fine condition dust jacket: $30 to $50.

— David Halberstam, ‘One Very Hot Day,’ Houghton Mifflin, 1968. A fine condition book in a fine condition dust jacket: $75 and up.”

Phil cites prevailing retail prices, mind you — if you seek spending money, a bookseller is likely to pay you 15 to 30 percent of what they hope to sell for — and Phil’s “fine” means “fine,” not “I already patched this up with gaffer’s tape and wiped off most of the peanut butter and jelly.”

These prices would also appear to apply to first printings. Later printings — especially book-club editions — will be worth less.

If you’re going to set aside some first editions in hopes they appreciate, consider learning how to protect the dust jackets with Brodart covers.

My main quibbles with Phil’s abbreviated recommendations are that he omits Phil Caputo’s “Rumor of War,” $20 to $40, and Tim O’Brien’s “If I Die in a Combat Zone,” of which the true American first from Delacorte can run thousands of dollars.

Also note that David Halberstam’s non-fiction is omitted above not for lack of value, but simply because it’s not fiction. A true first of “The Making of a Quagmire” can run over $100; “The Best and the Brightest” closer to $200.

Lots of interesting used books show up in this town, books signed by local authors, even books signed by local authors to other celebrities past and present. Las Vegas has a reputation as a town with no interest in books, and I’ll admit the failure of the UNLV campus to offer such a focus (when compared to Boulder, say, or Cambridge or Berkeley or even Chapel Hill) does hurt.

The fine Nathan Adelson Hospice people, for instance, doubtless footed a hefty rent to place their thrift shop — with book room in the loft — on high-traffic Maryland Parkway right across from the UNLV student union. The first time we visited we found a few valuable first editions, including an Edward Abbey, that appeared to have been sitting there, overlooked, for some time.

But the college kids — and faculty, presumably — stayed away in droves, and the place closed last summer.

I’d be interested in hear if readers would like to read more on bookish topics.

3 Comments to “Which books to collect, and what are they worth?”

  1. Ken May Says:

    Would really like to hear more about the LV book scene, visit there once or twice a year.

  2. Rick Cook Says:

    Good read. How about some other genres like Mysteries, or SF, or dare I say it, Poker?

  3. Chris Says:

    Keep it coming.

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