Balanc­ing the books

WHEN SHE RE­ALISED THAT COL­LEC­TIONS OF RARE LIT­ER­ARY WORKS ARE DOM­I­NATED BY MALE AU­THORS, AN DEV­ERS SET ABOUT REDRESSING THE BAL­ANCE

The Simple Things - - LIVING - By LUCY PURDY

“They are as close to per­fect ob­jects as ex­ist in the world,” smiles AN Dev­ers, de­scrib­ing her favourite sub­ject – books. Five years ago, she was work­ing as an arts jour­nal­ist in New York City when oc­ca­sion­ally buy­ing a signed first edi­tion by a favourite writer turned into a more se­ri­ous habit. Dev­ers started go­ing to rare book fairs and quickly no­ticed a price dis­crep­ancy in mod­ern first edi­tions by men, and those writ­ten by women.

“I knew that the rare book world was con­sid­ered rather old-fash­ioned, but I hadn’t re­alised there were so few women book col­lec­tors or deal­ers com­pared to the num­ber of men who sell and col­lect,” she says.

Not long after, Dev­ers was struck by the idea for The Sec­ond Shelf: a rare book busi­ness fo­cused on books by and about women. The col­lec­tor trade is part of a sup­ply chain, she ex­plains, one that leads to read­ers’ book­shelves, uni­ver­si­ties, ar­chives and li­braries. His­tor­i­cally dom­i­nated by white, Western ‘book­men’, women – par­tic­u­larly women of colour – have sim­ply been deemed less col­lectable.

“I put it down to the gen­der bias that plagues nearly all fields,” she says. “Women’s con­tri­bu­tions are typ­i­cally un­der­val­ued across all ar­eas of our life and pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence.”

The only book she has given her­self per­mis­sion to keep “that I could – and should – sell” is a first edi­tion of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Writ­ten un­der the pseu­do­nym of Vic­to­ria Lu­cas, it’s a work that Dev­ers calls “tremen­dous and un­der­rated”.

Ear­lier this year, Dev­ers also launched a Kick­starter crowd­fund­ing cam­paign. It was a way to com­mu­ni­cate the gen­der im­bal­ance is­sue and also to raise funds for her bur­geon­ing busi­ness. She used the pro­ceeds – 608 back­ers pledged £32,000 – to launch an on­line book shop. And she now also prints a quar­terly pub­li­ca­tion: a mag­a­zine and rare book cat­a­logue hy­brid for peo­ple who share her pas­sion.

AN Dev­ers and some of her favourite books at Sec­ond Shelf (thesec­ond­shelf.com)

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