NZ Booklovers chats with Warwick Jordan, the founder of Hard To Find Books, which has a store in Onehunga, Auckland, another in Dunedin (which is currently doubling in size), as well as an online store at hardtofind.co.nz.
Tell us a little about the history of Hard To Find Books.
I began the original shop in the early 1980s, opening as an official business on April 1, 1984 (seemed an appropriate date to go into this kind of business and still does). It grew out of an interest in handcraft printing and publishing which needed supplementary income from sales of my personal book collection. The bookselling/buying took over. At one stage we had nine shops in five cities (my empire-building phase) but that took me away from personally buying the books, and I didn’t take to being an administrator so shrank it back down to the more hands-on enterprise we have today. Having said that we have close to half a million books in two shops and an internet business, and I obsessively keep buying more for as long as funds allow, so it keeps me occupied.
How is the doubling of the Dunedin store going so far?
I am really enjoying it – getting back to the roots of creating what I hope is an interesting quality store I like in a place I love. I’m finding that Dunedin is a very literary-conscious city and they seem to appreciate what we are doing.
What are your thoughts on e-books?
I don’t think about them. They have their uses. Anyone who values them above real books is living in a different reality to me. I prefer mine. If someone is waving a shotgun around I’d rather have a big stack of books in front of me than an e-reader.
How has Hard To Find Books coped with the surge of digital books, and the online purchasing of books?
We have no interest in digital books and people who want them as a first choice are not our customers. Online purchasing is okay (we are an internet business too) but people should remember if they don’t support their local bookstores they will share the responsibility when they lose them, and browsing online just isn’t the same as cruising a real store.
Are physical bookshops still economically feasible (when compared to online versions)?
Marginally – it is not a get-rich-quick (or at all) business, it is a calling. I love what I do, but it is a perpetual struggle rewarded by mountains of books but little else. It still works for the landlords, but as they get greedier more shops will close.
Do you only sell books that are ‘hard to find’, or do you sell second hand copies of more common books too?
We stock a huge range from books that sell for $2 each, to books selling for $10,000. I try to cater to almost all tastes, interests and pockets but with an emphasis on quality books on whatever area of interest. We try to be a one-stop shop.
Why the decision to keep books sold online completely different from those in store?
Because with the stock level we have online a misplaced book would be impossible to find again and that could be very annoying for online purchasers. There is also the risk that someone may damage a book, and they have specific descriptions to assist online customers where viable.
What is the most expensive rare book you have in stock?
Currently a unique copy of “House of Leaves” by Mark Danielewski signed with all three of the variations of his signature- $10,000.
What is your most exciting find of a rare book or collection?
Too many to mention – I love buying collections, the larger the better. Overall they excite me more than the individual books – meeting the people involved, learning the history behind the collection (and the collector), assessing and sorting and buying the books, processing them and directing them to appreciative readers… that’s the buzz. I have had a great time buying collections that interest me personally, but also ones where there is no personal interest for me but I can see there are books that are going to be really appreciated by others.
If someone had some old books, is there any way for them to tell if it is “rare”?
There is no simple answer to this. Even checking on line can be hugely misleading as not everyone online is an expert, quoted prices are often just wishful thinking, and it is easy to mis-identify or over-rate the book you have in hand. Bear in mind that “rare”, “old” and “valuable” are not necessarily related.
True or false: books are better than chocolate.
They are best combined with Cognac or a single malt for the trifecta…. That combination is ALMOST better than sex (although that might depend on the partner).
If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I’d struggle to choose – depending on the day I’d pick: Moby Dick; The Brothers Karamazov; Bleak House; Catch 22; Crime and Punishment; The Arabian Nights (unexpurgated Richard Burton translation).
Have you got a particular book that you have always wanted to find a copy of, but haven’t managed to (so far)?
I have books I dream of finding… but my fantasy runs more to someone calling me out to a wonderful book collection (on pretty much any topic) and then saying “ we don’t care about the money, in fact you can just have them and find them a good home… and oh, here’s a case of cognac we found in the basement you might like to go with it”. An even better dream would be “Hey you’ve just inherited a wonderful old house with a great library in it”… somewhat unlikely given that I have no prospect of any of this whatsoever but its nice to dream!