Book Report: A Pound of Paper by John Baxter (2003)

Book coverIf I had found this book in time for the 2024 Winter Reading Challenge, perhaps I would have stretched the Library/Bookstore Setting category enough to include this book. Although it is not specifically set in a book store, it’s a book that is part biography of the author, but it does center an awful lot on his book collecting.

When I opened the book, it smelled as though it was a new book, and I thought I might have bought it at Barnes and Noble as part of gift card spending at one point, but as it turns out, I ordered it from ABC Books in March 2020 when the government prohibited my going in person. Almost four years ago. The book is in cherry shape, though, so one wonders if I am the first person to have read it. Probably so.

So who is John Baxter? He is an Australian who grew up in Australia in the middle part of the 20th century. He grew up liking science fiction and attended some science fiction meetups of the time, started a fan newsletter (the zine of its time, although “zine” is a pretty dated word itself in the 21st century), worked for the railroad, and when he discovered he could write things that would get published, took his ten-year bonus from the railroad and quit to become a writer.

He wrote some screenplays and some biographies, I think, but most importantly, he lived in London, and he lived in the U.S., and he eventually lived in France, and everywhere he went, he collected books. So we get lots of stories about street book fairs in London, about visiting estates as they’re being sold but not estate sales, and various elements of book collecting, not just book accumulation.

A fascinating book that takes one to different times and places–Australia in the early 1960s, London in the late 1970s, and Paris in the 21st Century–and it splits time between being an autobiography and being a book collector. Of course, I recognized some elements of my own activities in his anecdotes. Browsing through a seedy room of adult magazines to get a copy of Gallery magazine with Robert B. Parker’s “The Surrogate” in it for $1 (I went through the room clockwise, and the magazine was on one of the shelves near the door to the right–is that why I have ever since done estate sales going to the right first?). He also worked as a runner, finding books to sell later, and that, too resonated with me. Finding a first edition of Dune (not a first printing) at a garage sale for $1. Buying a Playboy collection for $300 and selling it in pieces on’s custom auction site for, what, $3000?–not to mention vintage ads on Ebay after. And so on.

You know, I don’t really collect books–up until soon after the turn of the century, I did collect Robert B. Parker books, mostly from Ebay, but not so much these days. I do pick up late 19th century collections of poetry when I can find them inexpensively, but I’m not a collector in that regard….

At any rate, a nice read both as a memoir of a writer from an odd corner of the world and of a book collector.

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