Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
I love to talk books. On email. On the phone. In bars. On the front stoop. There is nothing better than shooting the shit with a bibliophile about book stuff. Even better if they are also Burroughs fans. When talking about books, the question always arises, “Buy anything good lately?” For over a decade the Bunker has been an answer to that question. I find that in recent years I have been buying less and less. The focus of my collection is rather, well, focused and I have resisted the urge to expand its boundaries too broadly. At its core, my collection consists of Burroughs periodical appearances from 1957-1965. Not as narrow as you might think, but pretty curated all the same. I am getting close to having the lion’s share of those publications as well as a nice slice of Mimeo Revolution publications from that same period. My collection has matured. I am no longer in the stage of wild accumulation and building. I am now filling in details. Sadly if I am not buying as much, I also find myself not looking around as much either, which is a shame, because I love looking for and at books. It is a great pleasure. I find myself missing it. And missing things as well.
I used to go to the annual NY book fair religiously. A pilgrimage to be sure. Yet I have not gone the last two years. I find myself going to the NY Art Book Fair in the fall instead. I am getting more involved in zines and those who make them. As a magazine collector, I thought it would be fun to actually practice what I collected. And being a DIY publisher is I must say pretty fucking fun. But so is collecting. Well, this year I should have gone to the Fair because Ken Lopez had an incredible archive of photographs of William Burroughs. The archive was far beyond my means but the wonderful thing about the NY book fair is that you can handle all the items for sale up close. I would have loved to spend an hour with those photographs at Ken’s booth and even better talk to Ken about them. You can never stop looking. You might not buy but you have to always look. The moment you stop looking and searching as a collector you are officially out of the game.
Game on. What I hope to do in the Bunker is write a series of short pieces about items I come across as I am looking around. From eBay. From Abebooks. From book catalogs. From bookstores. From book fairs. I am not sure what I am looking for or what I will find. Probably Burroughs-related but who knows. Now I understand this is a totally self-serving exercise. I find that I am much more productive and active on something if I document it. But as with everything on the Bunker there is always the hope that somebody out there will read it and return the favor by telling me about what caught their eye. As I said there is nothing more enjoyable than talking about books. Even if you find you are talking to yourself.