ephemera: Tell me about collecting book inscriptions.
Raviv: In 2002, I was in an underground New York bar, hanging out and playing pool with some friends. In between games I was browsing the bookshelves—I love it when bars and restaurants have bookshelves—and picked up a pretty beaten-up book called The Road to Human Destiny. On the inside cover there was an amazing message:
Joey, I love you so much! You have surpassed the definition for all. I will always cherish our orgasmic moments. love + resistance. Mark
It's an obscure book about a scientist who was shunned by the scientific community because he professed his belief in god. I can't imagine I ever would have read it if not for that message. But it was a great read. And I'll never forget that inscription.
ephemera: Thanks for providing a scan of that inscription (click the image above to enlarge). I can see how that might lead to a search for more spine-tingling inscriptions. What challenges or obstacles do you encounter in collecting? How do you overcome these challenges?
Raviv: Every time I find an inscription, it's a surprise, and every time I think it will be the last one I find. Sometimes I'll look through almost an entire store or sale and find nothing particularly memorable. And other days I can look through twenty books and find five amazing messages. I really just look for the oldest books on the shelves and let luck take me the rest of the way.
One obstacle is keeping new inscriptions coming. If anyone out there has a great inscription, please send it to me.
ephemera: What are your favorite items in your collection, and how do they inspire you?
Raviv: I have a few favorites. Certainly the one I mentioned earlier From Joey to Mark is one of them.
A reader sent in an inscription that was a message from a child to his or her mom, explaining that she was leaving--where I don't know--because Debbie is insane and she doesn't want to be in her condition. Who is Debbie and why is she insane? How can her insanity spread? I have a million questions about that message, and that makes it very special.
ephemera: I've stumbled across a similar it stinks inscription in a book I acquired at a tag sale. It was left by someone who didn't like the book, and called into question the credibility of the author with whom the inscriber seemed to have had some sort of relationship. I was bowled over by it. What's your advice for achieving success as a collector?
Raviv: For anyone else looking to find book inscriptions, I'd say don't spend a lot of money...a couple bucks at most per book...look for the oldest books on the shelf, and be patient. And don't forget to check the inside back cover. I once found the entire lyrics to a Doors' song in the back of a copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare.
ephemera: Good tip, Shaun. What resources and tools do you recommend?
Raviv: The one site I use pretty often is booksalefinder.com. Whenever I feel like spending a full day at an enormous sale I go there and see when the next one in my area is coming up.
ephemera: There are worse ways to spend a day... like working. Thanks for sharing your collection. It's the type of thing that is liable to inspire other collectors to take up the challenge of finding and saving inscriptions.
Search Abebooks for the books listed in this interview.