The Art of Book Hunting

There are book collectors, then there are amateur book collectors, and then there’s me. I’m like an amateur amateur. That said, I’ve read quite a number of books about book collecting and am happy to share those, and other resources I’ve found useful, here.

But first, a favorite comic:

A comic that lovingly mocks collectors of physical books

Comic by David Malki at (thanks for letting me use it!)


Book hunting comes with its own language. To learn it, I (and seemingly everybody in the book hunting world) recommend:

  • ABC for Book Collectors 

Nicholas Basbanes has written a number of absolutely wonderful books about book collecting and book collectors. There hasn’t been one I haven’t loved.

  • A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books 
  • Among the Gently Mad: Strategies and Perspectives for the Book Hunter in the 21st Century
  • Patience and Fortitude: Wherein a Colorful Cast of Determined Book Collectors, Dealers, and Librarians Go About the Quixotic Task of Preserving a Legacy 
  • On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History (this book traces the history of paper, but if you are interested in books-as-objects, my guess is you’ll love this, too)

Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine Stern were rare book dealers and best friends. Individually and together they’ve written a variety of books, including some books about books that are real gems.

  • Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths and Their Shared Passion [my short review]

If you’re interested in the history of books in the United States (a topic I’m just getting into myself), I recommend

  • When Books Went to War [my short review] (about the books published specifically for soldiers during WWII)


  • The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA). Part of the fun of book hunting is establishing relationships with other bibliophiles, especially dealers who specialize in your areas of interest. To find reputable dealers near you (or not — I’ve worked with dealers in other states that specialize in science fiction), check here.
  • AbeBooks, a subsidiary of Amazon, is an online marketplace that’s particularly strong in used and rare books. It has the functionality to let you specifically search for first editions, signed first editions, etc. That said, unless you know what to look for and/or know the dealer, be leery of buying collectible books online.


  • The Rare Book School [website] (you can get the recommended reading list for all the classes!)

Events I’ve Attended 

  • Chicago Lit Fest & Rare Book Fair (June 2016)
  • 53rd Chicago Book & Paper Fair (Oct. 11, 2014)
  • 38th Annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair (Nov. 14-16, 2014) (event website here) (see my blog posts about the event here)

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