“Writing is hard. I’d rather do yard work than write. But this memoir was the least onerous writing I’ve done.”
The great publisher, editor, anthologizer, retailer and collector of crime fiction, Otto Penzler, joins the show to talk about his wonderful new book, Mysterious Obsession: Memoirs of a Compulsive Collector (Mysterious Bookshop), and his decision to auction off the world’s greatest collection of crime fiction (think ~60,000 first editions). We get into his instant regret about that decision, how it inspired this amazing memoir, and how he’s getting by without all those books (especially because he designed his house to accommodate an even larger collection). We discuss the changes in his Mysterious Bookshop and his other Mysterious pursuits (see links below) as the internet has warped book and retail culture, the camaraderie and friendships that he built over a lifetime of collecting, the mania that can strike during auctions, and the difference between collecting and reading. And we talk about how he learned to edit major writers for his anthologies (including a near-disaster with Joyce Carol Oates), the farthest he’s traveled to acquire a single book, the moment he realized he had a writing style and how that unlocked him as a writer, how he had to choose between Sherlock Holmes and the rest of crime fiction, the vagaries of fame and literary reputation as reflected in book collecting, and why he characterizes himself as a parasite in the mystery world (having done everything but writing a mystery novel of his own). Give it a listen! And go buy Mysterious Obsession: Memoirs of a Compulsive Collector!
“I came up with one word — MYSTERIOUS — and my creativity was finished.”
“This is an era of short attention spans, but collecting is not something you should be doing in a rush.”
“I don’t know what it is that keeps some authors or books highly regarded today, as opposed to others that have been totally forgotten.”
“If I can edit Joyce Carol Oates, I can edit anybody.”
About our Guest
Otto Penzler is the founder of the publishing companies Mysterious Press, Otto Penzler Books, the Armchair Detective Library, Penzler Publishers, mysteriouspress.com, and Scarlet. He opened New York’s Mysterious Bookshop in 1979. He has written or edited more than 60 books, winning the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards for the Encyclopedia of Mystery & Detection and The Lineup. His library of nearly 60,000 first editions of mystery fiction went to auction in late 2018. His new book is Mysterious Obsession: Memoirs of a Compulsive Collector.
Here are the links to all the ways to keep up with Otto and his Mysterious Empire:
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at The Mysterious Bookshop on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mr. Penzler by me. It’s on my instagram.