Do Not Sell At Any Price

Do Not Sell At Any Price by Amanda Petrusich (2014) Subtitled: “The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the Word's Rarest 78 rpm Records” sounds like the thing a publisher would slap on (why does “non-fiction” have to have the subtitles, but not novels?) in order to generate excitement, but that's unnecessary, because this is an exiting book—and especially toward the end, I found myself saying, “yes” out loud to parts. Most fresh in my mind is the last part where she really gets into examining the personality of the 78 collector, but more in general, the collector, the archivist, the obsessive, the hoarder (pretty much all of the men I know fall into those categories). Even if you have no interest in the music most of this book is about (though you might easily become interested, to some degree, by reading this and searching it out), the intimate portraits of her subjects are really enjoyable. It seems like most of those prominent record collectors are crusty, older, white guys, and Amanda Petrusich is a young woman (and an experienced music writer—I just noticed she did one of those 33 1/3 books, on Pink Moon), and she seems in the high end of the spectrum for passion about music in general, and obviously had an interest in this music, and during the course of the writing was discovering and becoming more obsessed with the music in question (mostly, but not all, 1920s and 1930s recordings, preserved on 78 rpm records). I suppose during the research and travel and dealing with the people, she became considerably more crusty herself, on the road, sweating, and eating diner food, and most severely, scuba-diving in the Milwaukee River. That was my favorite part of the book, close as it is geographically to me—her research of Paramount Records and the Wisconsin Chair Company, where many 78s were pressed, which was the first I've heard about this. I personally “discovered” Grafton, Wisconsin because it was the furthest I was able to ride my bike from Milwaukee and still make it back. I stopped for coffee, with no idea of its storied early 78 rpm record history, until I read this later. Yes, she donned scuba gear and mucked around the bottom of the river where supposedly the pressing plant just dumped the overstock. She was unsuccessful at finding any, but totally successful at proving she is pretty hardcore, and also has a sense of humor about it all.