Gregg O.

Number of Books: About 3,000

Collecting Since: 1988

First Book: Following the Equator, Mark Twain

Best Bargain: To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Rare Book He'd Like to Own: Cook's Voyages, James Cook

Highest Price Paid for a Book: Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El Medina & Mecca, Richard Burton ($7,500)

Top 3 Books in Collection:

  1. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, New York: Viking 1939
  2. The Moon and Sixpence, W. Somerset Maugham, London: William Heineman 1919
  3. Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El Medina & Mecca, Richard Burton, London: Longman, Brown & Green 1855

In the late 1980s, I had just finished reading Mark Twain's Following the Equator and, as a avid traveler myself, was blown away by Twain's power of observation and his unique approach to describing his surroundings. I was working in Boston at the time and decided one weekend to seek out an old edition of the book. At that time I knew nothing of first editions or book collecting so I opened the Yellow Pages to the heading of used and rare bookstores. There was the Boston Book Company and I was captivated from the moment I walked in. I still remember how helpful and patient Helen Kelly was with a novice book seeker. They happened to have a nice first edition, first issue of Twain’s Equator and I bought it. My girlfriend at that time had a fit that I paid $300 for a book but I was hooked. I started off with a subscription to AB Bookman magazine and began to learn everything I could about the rare and used book world including getting myself on dozens of mailing lists of book dealers for their catalogs. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

I love the feel and the smell and all the knowledge and adventure that old bookstores hold. I love seeking them out and spending time looking through stacks of books for titles I find interesting. I love the thrill of the hunt. Fortunately for me I received some good guidance and focused on acquiring only books that I felt strongly about. I concentrated, at first, mostly on modern first editions of authors that I had read and admired. Modern firsts led to other areas of collecting including 19th century exploration and natural history.

These days, I guess, you could look at my library and say I tend to collect Western writers with a tendency towards environmental themes. My major author collections include Ed Abbey, Richard Ford, Jim Harrison, Peter Matthiessen, Wallace Stegner, John Steinbeck, Robert Stone with lots of stops in between. I also have a large Somerset Maugham collection and a wide and varied 19th century exploration and natural history selection and quite a few shelves of mountaineering books. At the end of the day, I like lots of different books that reflect my interests.

For the past eight years, I’ve been at work on a comprehensive bibliography of Jim Harrison with my friend and fellow collector Beef Torrey. It really has consumed a lot of time and energy that probably would have gone towards collecting, but it seemed a natural step in gathering Harrison’s work for 20 years. At present there are over 850 items in my Harrison collection and it’s sort of taken on a life of its own. The University of Nebraska Press is going to publish the bibliography in spring 2009.