• Over the years, I've noticed that there are certain myths or misconceptions that people have when they are selling their books to a bookseller. After conferring with my partner, Lisa Morton, we've come up with five of the most common ones. In fact, just yesterday someone on the phone used one of them. In the interests of the mental health of booksellers, please read this list and the next time you are selling books ask yourself if your comment is on the list.

    1. It's a really old book, so it must be worth a lot of money, right?

    -We probably hear this one more than any other, which is why it is number one. It's not the age of a book that determines it's value, but it's rarity. A book can be published 100 years ago and not be as valuable as a book published a year ago. Why? Because one is more rare than the other. If you publish tens of thousands of copies of the 100 year old book and only 100 of the year old book, the former will be more rare. Old is usually defined as "antique" or around 100 years old. Rare means "scarce" or "few copies in existence". One of the rarist of books is the first printing of "The Good Earth" in paperback in the U.S. Out of a print run of about 100,000 there are only 5 known copies in existence with the original dust jacked (yes, some early paperbacks had dust jackets). So, just because the book is old doesn't mean it is valuable.

    2. But, I'm positive this book is a first edition.

    -this misunderstanding is more foregivable because sometimes the book will actually say it's a "first edition". Of course, the same book can also say "book club edition' as well. And when we point this out, the person will invariably say, "It's a first edition of the book club edition". Nope. Sorry. Book clubs are reprint edition. It says first edition because the book club publisher used the same plates to print the book. Determining whether a book is a first edition is not always easy. Especially for books printed before WWII. In the last several decades book publishers have started to use a relatively uniform system to identify the edition of a book they have published, however, before WWII each publisher determined their own method of identifying editions. Some stated first edition, some did not, but identified reprints. Some had no information at all. There is a large book devoted to all of these publishers criteria. It is called "First Editions, a Guide to Identification" by Edward Zempel and Linda Verkler. We use it frequently at the bookstore. But even then, some books are notorious for lack of information. I think there is a Faulkner first where you have to turn to a certain page and if a sentence has a word misspelled its a first.

    3. Why can't you tell me what it's worth over the phone?

    - this one is just stupid. How many times have I ventured a guess at a price over the phone only to find that when the customer brings the book in it's a) not a first edition and b) not the condition they described (see number 5 below). And when I tell them that the book is not worth anything, or only a fraction of the price I quoted, they say, "But you told me it was worth $. I've learned never to quote over the phone because people always tell you what they imagine the book is and not what it really is. Plus, it's just not good business.

    4. I looked the book up on the internet and it's worth a lot of money

    - the book you found on the internet is not the book you have in your hand. Or, if it is the condition is not the same. Your book is falling apart, missing a dust-jacket and is not a first edition. The book listed is in fine condition, has a dust jacket and is a first. Books are unique. You have to know something about them and how to identify them in order to be sure that the book being quoted at a book site on the net is the same as the one in your hand. Interestingly, you can learn most of this in about an hour of study at the library. Look for "Book Collecting: a Comprehensive Guide" by Allen Ahear (referred to as the "Ahearn" in the book business). Aside from being just a well-researched, well-written book, there is a complete introduction on how to identify firsts, grading condition of books and a general introduction to book buying. Plus, there is a list of famous books and their relative values. This book is updated every year, so be sure to look for the current version (2005). You can also go to our website for a basic intro. Knowing this kind of information will save you plenty of time when you try to sell your books at a used bookstore. Plus, it's just interesting stuff.

    5. Oh, yes, the book is in perfect condition.

    -the second most common phrase we hear. Of course, the book is not in that condition when they bring it in. It's covered with silverfish, cobwebs, the pages are loose, no dust jacket, the corners are bumped and the color plates are missing, but otherwise it's in pefect condition. There three grades of book condition. 1-Fine - the book is in perfect condition. no flaws. 2. Very Good - slight problems, minor scuffing, etc., 3- Good - major flaws, but still readable. 4-Fair - book is in very bad shape, but still readable. There are sites on the net where you can get good descriptions of each condition. heres one: Link

    A general rule about selling books expect to get about a quarter to a half of what the bookseller is going to sell the book for, not what the price is on the dust jacket of the book. Some books are more valuable to differnet booksellers. If you have a valuable book, it pays to shop the book around (not by phone, see number 4 above). There are certain books that we put on our 2 dollar table even though they are more valuable at other stores. It all depends upon each stores buying practicies and store theme.

    Lastly, books are unique, but some books are more unique than others. It's these books that demand a high price because you can't find them easily and because the information they have is unique and unusual. Common books (usually best sellers) are not worth much to re-sell because there are so many of them out there.

    Selling your books to a used bookstore doesn't have to be a mystifying experience. Most problems are due to ignorance and high-expectations. If you do some homework on your books before you sell them, you will have a better idea of what they are worth. And you can always call the bookstore you are going to sell to and ask them what kind of books they are buying. Better yet, go there and take a look at the books on their shelves. Fifteen minutes of browsing will give you a good idea of what kind of books the store is going to buy.

    Additional Links:


    Iliad Bookshop Book Grading

    Guide to Identifying First Editions
  • Comic books were an enormous influence on me as a young boy. I was a Marvel Comic's kid and right at the time I needed to understand how to deal with the world around me Peter Parker and Ben Grimm were dealing with the same issues. Since my narcissitic parents paid little attention to their responsibilites of raising a child, I was left to find my answers in the pages of Fantastic Four, Dr. Strange and Spider Man (to name a few). My feelings of guilt, anger and confusion were what Marvel comics characters were dealing with as well. They were my daily companions and advisors. Plus, they got to save the world, which was a wonderful fantasy for me. Even Stan Lee's "nuff said" gruff style became my personal tick that probably annoyed the hell out of my schoolmates. Comic characters were my friends in ways that real people couldn't be. The entrance of Galactus in the Fantastic Four made me worry for the safety of the Silver Surfer for days. It was like my own father intruding on the pages of my private world. This was my first inkling of something called the "Epic" style. And like the great poet and essayist, W.H. Auden, who had no distinction between "high" and "low" art, I am still influenced today by those brilliant images and stories. Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby are as much a part of my imagination as Dore and Edward Hopper.

    All of this is by way of introducing what has taken the place of comics for me now that I am fifty: graphic novels. As I grew older, college and theater became my obsessions and I was content to pick up the occasional comic, but I just couldn't find them as interesting now that I was an adult. Chekov and Kafka had edged out Thor and the Dread Dormammu. All of that changed when I read an excerpt from "Maus" in Raw Magazine. I was so impresseed that I went right out and bought this new "graphic novel" and spent the rest of the day immersed in this strange and beautiful world. I didn't know it at the time, but "Maus" was the first masterpiece of a form I have come to love in the same way as I did comics: the graphic novel. And I have been reading them with hunger for the last 10 years. We are in a renaissance of sorts for the graphic novel. I'd like to review two recent examples of the form that I think are wonderful.

    Yoshihiro Tatsumi is the grandfather of Japanese underground comics. He started writing and drawing more adult themed stores as far back as the 1950's when most of the manga art of the time was garish and overblown. According to the excellent introduction by Adrian Tomine (himself a great graphic novelist), Mr. Tatsumi is a prolific artist who currently runs a bookstore and continues to create short illustrated stories that reflect his ambivalence about people and modern life. Amazingly, "The Push Man and Other Stories" is the first official English language collection to appear in the States. The 16 stories that make up this brilliant collection were all composed around 1969, but you wouldn't know it from this simplicity of his writing. Instead of aliens and monsters fighting high school kids, we have everyday people trying to make sense of their dead-end jobs and their philandering lovers. The "Push Man" of the title story is a young man who "pushes" the crowd into a packed subway car. His sexual fantasies of "pushing" young women are realized by a woman who, after getting drunk and having sex with the young man, invites her girlfriends over to "push back". In the end the young man is pushed into his own subway car and can't get out. The slightly cartoonish characters set against a highly realistic background are mesmerizing. Each panel is a small work of art that pulls you in to a world of hope and despair; boredom and violence.

    Reading "Projectionist" is stomach-turning, but not because of anything that is shown on the page, but for what the story suggests is being seen. The projectionist of the story charges high class businessmen and their call-girls for an evening of "special" pornography that both disgust and arouse the viewers, but leave the projectionist unmoved. His loneliness and despair are depicted in the brilliant panels of him walking through cities in the cold wind with his briefcase full of hellsex in hand. The careful detail in creating the man's facial expressions lend pathos to the suprise and ironic ending. In fact, in reading the stories I'm struck over and over again with the variety and beauty of Mr. Tatsumi's characters. They behave in suprising and shocking ways; sudden violence or cruelty coming from repressed rage and desire; quiet desperation and an endless desire for some sort of connection to another human being. Sex is a major element in all of his stories. But it doesn't seem to appease the deeper longing inside of his characters. These are urban horror stories are told with the simplicity of Raymond Carver, but with the twist of a writer like David Lynch or Jonathan Carroll. The art of the graphic novel has never been more obvious than with this collection of stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, a writer I hope you will read. Fortunately, Mr. Toumine is hoping to bring out a whole series of this writer's works beginning with he present volume. Drawn & Quarterly, a Canadian publisher distributed in the U.S. by Farrar, Strauss, is to be contragulated for publishing this wonderful book and for desiging and edition that the author would be proud of. Let's hope this book is successful enough to continue the series.

    Thomas Ott is another amazing cartoonist that has caught my eye recently. "Cinema Panopticum" is a completely wordless collection of stories all organized around a young girl who visits the Carnival, but doesn't have enough money to enjoy the rides or any of the booths. She is very sad as she starts to leave the park, but tucked away in the corner is a small tent with the words "Panopticum" on a sign over the entrance. She enters and finds 5 old-fashioned movie viewers with titles like "The Experiment" and "The Hotel" written above them. To her delight, she finds that she has just enough money to use all of the "panopticum viewers". Each movie she views is told as a seperate story in Ott's book. The little girls view becomes ours.

    While Thomas Ott is not as subtle an artist as Tatsumi, his visual style and attention to detail is superb. Using a high contrast Black & White palette, carefully scratches each sliver of his characters so exactly that it is a marvel to behold. And this almost overly detailed style matches pefectly with the strange, supernatural themes of his stories. The detail makes the gruesome morbidness of his world seem real and believable. His characters are unusual and, at times, grotesque. Much like the garish world of the Carnival itself. In one panopticum story, "The Champion", a mexican wrestler has to wrestle with death himself when there is a prophecy of death in his family. Of course, there is a twist ending which the young girl in the Panopticum tent finds astonishing (and so do we). Antother story features a homeless man who discovers that the "end is near" and attempts to tell everyone. But no one listens and the world is destroyed. My favorite story is the last one called "The Little Girl". You can imagine how our young girl responds to it. The last panel of this wonderful graphic novel is of the young girls leg disappearing as she runs in terror fromt he tent.

    There is certainly a good deal of horror fiction in Thomas Ott's writing, along with Twilight Zone and Stephen King, but Ott's style is so uniquely his own that he gives new life to old themes. Mr. Ott is Swiss and is the lead singer in the band called "The Playboys". Fantagraphics is publishing his work in America in beautiful hardcover editions with illustrated boards. This publisher seems to be at the fore-front of the graphic novel movement. A quick look at their website and you'll see many outstanding artists represented. I've begun to collect Thomas Ott. He's a remarkable artist who, in addition to his graphic novels and stories, also does political cartoons and cartoons for several newspapers.

    If you have never read a graphic novel, now is the time to go out and buy one. We are in a highly creative era of this art form. Along with the two artists I have reviewed here, let me suggest a few others for you to consider.

    The Black Hole
    by Charles Burns (The single best graphic novel I have ever read!)
    The Watchmen by Alan Miller
    Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron by Daniel Clowes
    Maus by Art Spiegelman
    Berlin: City of Stones by Jason Lutes
    Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District by Ben Katchor (and you thought "Death of a Salesman" was a good story? This graphic novel kicks it's ass)

  • Say hello to our new store cat: Zola! Since our previous store cats find it hard to travel from their home to our new bookstore location, we have been on the look-out for a live-in kitty to guard our store every night and to keep an eye out for book mice. Our friend, Christa Faust, works with animal rescue here in the Valley and she told us about a one-eyed cat she rescued from an abusive situation. We very much wanted to meet this cat and one day Christa brought her to the store (her vet is in the neighborhood) and everyone instantly fell in love with "Zola" (including all of the customers in the store at that time). It tooks some time to convince Dan, the owner of our store, that we needed a new store cat, but Lisa and I worked our special juju and just last week Christa brought Zola to stay for good.

    In the picture you can see her licking her chops from all of the special food we are giving her to fatten this little kitty up! She's about 2 years old and still has a tremor in her leg from the mistreatment she received, but she loves to play and is very affectionate to everyone who comes into the store. She's been at the Iliad for about a week now and has her own bed and play toys. She runs and runs down the long open stretch that goes down the middle of the store. Then in the afternoon she sleeps it off.

    We are so happy to have Zola with us. In spite of the abuse she has received, she's not shy at all. She's so curious and full of fun. I just love her. I call her "Zo".

    Isn't she wonderful!
  • So sorry for the lack of posts here recently, I've been up to my ears reviewing a new 3d animation software called IClone. You see, I've been involved in something called "machinima" (machine + cinema) for the last few years. Machinima is a kind-of poor man's Pixar animation. We can't afford the cost of creating top of the line 3d animation like "Shrek" and so we use PC Games as our tools and shoot our movies inside of the games. It's got an underground following that's slowly breaking out into the mainstream with shows like the History channel using the PC game "Rome" to illustrate a documentary on famous battles. MTV has been using machinima to do all kinds of spots. The game companies are starting to get behind this form of filmmaking by providing all kinds of free tools to create films inside of their games. And one game in particular (The Movies) has as part of playing the game, the ability to create your own films.

    Anyway, I've been doing mostly sound and acting for several films over the last year. When the opportunity to review this new software came up, I jumped on it. I've spent the better part of the last month learning the software and creating three short films as part of the learning process. I think that you can best understand how a creative tool works by actually creating something with it. That way when you are in the middle of production you can easily see what works and what doesn't with the program. IClone is basically a beginner's program for 3d animation and modelling. And it's pretty good, too.

    So what does this have to do with books? Well, I decided to try the sister program to IClone which is called "Crazy Talk". This program let's you animate in 3d any digital image. So, when I was looking around for something to animate, I happen to look at a recent vintage paperback I'd picked up called "Hell Cat". There was a juicy picture of a femme-fatale on the cover. It suddenly occured to me that I could animate the face of the woman and have speak a sentence or two of dialogue. After a week or so of experimenting, I actually created a short film showing this animated cover. I also found several B&W pictures of mobsters in a Mafia history book that was in the free box at the Iliad Bookshop and animated one of them as well.

    What's so interesting about both of these programs is that they stimulate my imagination and give me ideas about how to use book covers and book illustrations as sources for characters and backgrounds in machinima filmmaking. Imagine taking a Durer drawing and using it as the basis for a short film; or a Schiele painting; or an old Children's illustrated tale. Stitching the illustrations together and adding dialogue or sound effects would be a fascinating experiment. All of this is possible for a beginner like me using these two programs.

    Here are the two short films I created to accompany my IClone review:

    Hell Cat

    The Mobster

    and the final short film I created with IClone is here:

    The Skip Heller Show

    If you are interested in learning more about machinima head over to this site:

    Machinima Premiere

    Some recent IClone films can be seen here:
    You Tube Iclone