Books are not only places to find great stories, they're also fascinating objects. I like to read, but I also like to collect books, because I appreciate the history of books, and I like to learn about how they are made. Also, some books have beautiful bindings or dust jackets.

Book collectors, like other collectors, can get far too picky and discriminating in their tastes. A book doesn't have to be a first edition for me to like it and want to buy it; besides, I can't afford many first editions of well-known books. One of my favorite books, for example, is Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon," published in 1930 (when it sold for $2). Right now, on Abe Books, a large online bookseller, first editions of that book in fine condition are selling for $85,000 and up. So I look elsewhere for my collection, like to Crandall library's quarterly book sale.

I've gotten some great books at the library sales, none of them particularly valuable. One of my favorite purchases was a Balzac set -- 20 or 25 books that hold the prolific French author's works. I haven't read any yet, but they look cool across almost a whole shelf in my bookshelves. 

I have shelled out $75 or so for first editions of one of my favorite writers -- Charles Willeford -- many of whose short, bleak, strange novels first appeared in paperback with lurid covers in the 1950s and '60s. Reading Willeford is an unsettling experience that, I suspect, many readers will dislike. For many chapters (or perhaps the whole book), you have the feeling you're reading the work of an amateur with a stilted style. But you may find yourself unable to stop reading, even as you keep wishing the book would end. Afterward, I found, Willeford's books stuck with me like few others, and what I thought of as amateurish I came to see as an intentionally awkward and off-putting style, and what seemed strange and implausible came to seem profound and insightful.

Because Willeford has never become particularly famous, his first editions can be found for affordable prices, and he's accessible even for cash-strapped collectors.

I also like big books that categorize plants and flowers. They're reassuring -- putting everything in its proper place. 

Shelves full of books, no matter their subject, convey that reassuring quality of the ability to grasp and describe and understand things. The only drawback to collecting books is their weight. Butterflies or bottle caps would be much better, from that standpoint.

Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at will@poststar.com and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at

@trafficstatic.

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