One thing most booksellers learn early on is that specificity sells. It may not sell quickly, but when you have something that’s so detailed and esoteric that ninety-nine percent of the population couldn’t care less, that remaining one percent will find it and be forever grateful to the one who preserved it for them.
No one is better at specificity than a writer whose passion for a subject borders on obsession. Like Alice in Wonderland following her nose, one thing leads to another, and before she knows it, a girl who loves botany has compiled an entire field guide on Woodland Carex of the Upper Midwest. (Linda Curtis, Curtis to the Third Productions, 2006.)
We are not speaking of all of the 100+ species of Carex, but only the 63 species in the herb layer (there’s an herb layer?) of woodlands, forests, swampy woods, river and lake woods, and thickets. Those Carex that inhabit sunny bogs, marshes, prairies, fens or open sandy woods will have to find their own obsessive champion.
Delightfully obsessive compilers can be found in many areas of endeavor. Jean Sanford Replinger’s father and mother were the Rusk County Superintendents of Schools from 1925-1931 and 1931-1945 respectively. Ms. Replinger found a box filled with the remnants of an 8th graders’ project suggested by her mother in the 1932 to 1934 years that involved documenting some basic facts about their communities.
From that start grew her own book, History of Rural Schools of Rusk County, Wisconsin. (Rusk County Historical Society: Ladysmith, Wisconsin, 1985.) The book is a compilation of the work of the original 8th graders with new material based on interviews with teachers and others she tracked down. It is illustrated with period photographs of schools and classes from the 1930’s. With more than 70 schools and communities covered, it appears comprehensive.
Of course, none of this is new to booklovers, who are obsessive in their own right. The field is rife with bibliographies, which are nothing more than detailed lists of books of one type or another. I have any number myself, ranging from the relatively slim and specific 180 page Arabian Horse Bibliography (Arabian Horse Trust, 1985) to the massive five volume World Bibliography of Bibliographies, Fourth Edition (Bowman and Littlefield, 1971). Yes, it’s actually a detailed list of books which are themselves lists of books.
And speaking of obsessives, those likely to buy bibliographies — or write them, for that matter — are book collectors themselves. There’s more than one bibliographic forward that announces, with a kind of modest pride, that the compiler owns, or has at least handled, every book listed.
As a bookseller, I love them all, from the obsessive documenters who create those esoteric tomes my customers love to find, to the obsessive bibliography writers that help me find them, to the obsessive customers who must own them once found. Delightful!