The book collecting bug crept up on John Krisilas over time.
“There’s just something inside that makes you complete a collection. You have to have all the books of a certain author or of a certain category. It becomes a challenge, and you’re always searching for just the right book, which never ends,” said Krisilas, 67, a Northridge book dealer.
A retired space engineer, Krisilas became interested in books as a child, when he was fascinated with naval history. “I read anything I could about naval battles and developed a small collection of books on warfare,” he said.
His 4,000-volume library includes rare art books, first editions, history texts and a collection of unique leaf books, which are made when a publisher takes an actual page or leaf from an early book from the 15th or 16th Century and binds it with essays regarding the history of the text it came from, he said.
He has read his paperback editions, but not the other books he collects. “I want them to be in as good condition as possible; that includes putting a Mylar wrapper around them to protect them,” he said.
During the Northridge earthquake, some of his books fell and the dust jackets, which can be the most valuable part of a choice book, were damaged. “A collector wants a book that looks as close to new as he can find, and since the jacket is often torn or dirty, he wants the newest-looking jacket available. There’s only one first-edition Sherlock Holmes book with a dust jacket in the world, and it’s worth $30,000 to $40,000.”
Krisilas said many dealers become book collectors after “they buy a cheap used book and find it’s worth a lot more. Then they think this would be a great way to make a living. Unfortunately, that kind of thing happens only once or twice in a lifetime.”
For Herb Yellin of Northridge, the yearn to collect books followed his passion for reading. In the early 1960s, when he learned about a new book by one of his favorite authors, he would rush to the nearest bookstore.
“The store owner would say, ‘So, you got here quickly to get a first edition,’ and I’d say, ‘No, I just wanted to read the book.’ ”
As his reading habits were leading him to a new hobby, Yellin began learning more about first editions, which are part of a publisher’s initial printing. There are often a limited number of first editions if the publisher is unsure how popular the book will be.
Yellin’s collection of about 6,000 books is a varied assortment of signed first editions by such authors as Ray Bradbury, Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates and John Updike. His interest in collecting has also led him to a career as publisher of St. John’s Press, which prints limited signed editions of books by famous authors.
“This is a great place for a collector like me to live,” Yellin said. “The Times Book Review section regularly publishes when and where an author will be appearing and signing books, which has given me a chance to meet and work with many of my favorite writers. You can’t do that in a small town in Iowa.”
Yellin, 59, also collects presidential documents and movie memorabilia, but it’s his library that gets most of his attention. “I’ve been acquiring foreign-language editions of Ray Bradbury’s books. That’s when you know you’re over the edge, when you start collecting foreign editions.”
Lisa Morton knew that she was over the edge at an early age. “I used to save my school lunch money and put it away to buy books,” she said.
The North Hollywood writer now has more than 1,700 tomes on shelves from her kitchen to the bedroom. The books fell during the earthquake but survived with minimal damage.
Morton, 35, specializes in science fiction and fantasy novels, especially those by Philip K. Dick, who wrote the stories behind the movies “Blade Runner” and “Total Recall.” “He became popular around the same time as Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov, but his work is more character-oriented, which appeals to me,” she said.
She works at the Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood, which deals in used and rare books.
While Morton has read and enjoyed most of the books in her library, she has bought some just for the sake of collecting.
‘ “Jurassic Park’ really isn’t a very good book, but because of its popularity and the movie, I got a first edition,” she said. “You used to be able to find a good used hardback of it for $15; now it’s up to $75.”