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Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78rpm Records Hardcover – July 8, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This book constitutes, in effect, an obsession about an obsession. Author Petrusich has written about music before, but the present volume is less about music or musicians than it is about collecting (primarily jazz and blues 78s) and collectors. Record collectors, unlike performers, are less creative than compulsive and less public than, often, reclusive. Petrusich has, however, come to know them well, or as well as they allow. She labors throughout under the handicap that music, especially the largely unknown music dealt with here, cannot really be described evocatively and will not be familiar to more than a very few. This book goes well beyond Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson. Her speculations toward the end of the book about collecting and its parallels with obsessive-compulsive personality disorders, while interesting, seem to come out of the blue. Her own obsession, which at one point includes learning to scuba dive so she can salvage old 78s and masters that may or may not have been Frisbeed into the Milwaukee River decades ago, may sum up the whole enterprise more than she realizes. --Mark Levine


“One of the best things I've read about that inexplicably, but endlessly, fascinating group of people, the so-called Serious Collectors of 78s. Petrusich burrows into not just their personalities but the hunger that unites and drives their obsessions. She writes elegantly, and makes you think, and most important,manages to hang onto her skepticism in the midst of her own collecting quest.” (John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of "Pulphead")

“This is an adventure story: Amanda in the Land of MagicalShellac. Petrusich, a warm and witty writer and longtime music journalist,encounters the eccentric, soulful characters who've devoted their lives thearcane practice of hunting old records, shares stories of great lost musicians,and ponders the philosophical issues that make collecting more than just afancy version of hoarding. Readers will be delighted to become her confidanteson this life-changing journey.” (Ann Powers, author of "Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America")

"I don't know hillbilly from Blind Willie, but I loved Amanda Petrusich's archaeology of an almost-lost world of American music. Do Not Sell at Any Price is like a well-loved 78: it pops, it crackles, it seduces utterly." (Ken Jennings, author of "Maphead")

“This is American history as the tale of an American obsession—the record collectors, be they scholars, scroungers, hoarders, or heroes. In this brilliant book, Petrusich hits the road with these junk-shop blues Ahabs around the country—she makes you feel the frenzy of the chase, on a crazed, loving quest to rescue lost music from oblivion.” (Rob Sheffield, author of "Love Is a Mix Tape" and "Turn Around Bright Eyes")

"Amanda Petrusich’s fascinating and insightful journey into the arcane netherworld of 78 records and its bring-‘em-back-alive collectors brims with the joy and passion of discovery, along with a heartfelt affection for those who keep alight the flame of our musical heritage." (Lenny Kaye, guitarist, "Nuggets" anthologist, author "You Call It Madness")

“Petrusich enters the dusty realms of 78 rpm record junkies, and like Rolling Stones chronicler Stanley Booth, catches her subjects' disease. But she's mostly interested in the emotional heart of things, and the old music's strange power. An entertaining road tale and moving self-interrogation that dives deep for answers, sometimes literally.” (Will Hermes, author of "Love Goes to Buildings on Fire")

“Do Not Sell at Any Price tracks generations of obsessive collectors who dedicated their lives to the holy grail of blues and country music—78rpm records. Inspired by collectors like R. Crumb and Harry Smith, Amanda Petrusich wants each record ‘to keep playing forever, from somewhere deep inside my skull.’ Her book is essential reading for all who love American music.” (William Ferris, author of "Blues from the Delta" and "The Storied South")

"An engaging and deeply personal journey, for both the writer and her subjects, and an adroit disquisition on the nature of this distinctly American form of insatiable lust." (Kirkus Reviews)

“[A] thoughtful, entertaining history of obsessed music collectors and their quest for rare early 78 rpm records…Fascinating.” (Los Angeles Times)

“Ms. Petrusich goes on a pilgrimage to see and hear firsthand the legendary holdings of the top collectors…[she] brings a discerning eye to her profiles.” (Wall Street Journal)

“[Petrusich] weaves her interviews with personalobservations and just the right amount of dry humor to make us feel as if we’relooking (and listening) over her shoulder as she travels up and down the EastCoast…a propulsive read." (Denver Post)

“Do Not Sell enticingly chronicles [Petrusich’s] immersion in a subset of record collectors…Her compelling, finely drawn portraits such as James McKune and Harry Smith amount to a rich study.” (Entertainment Weekly)

“Captivating…Whether you’re already a 78 aficionado, a casual record collector, a crate-digger, or just someone like me who enjoys listening to music, you’re going to love this book…Elegant and witty.” (Slate)

"Do Not Sell at Any Price is full of little epiphanies ... [Petrusich's] persistence pays off in the form of stories and observations that humanize the collectors and their pursuit ... [Petrusich] effectively uses the prism of her personal experience to analyze the aesthetics of collecting, consuming and enjoying music." (New York Times)

"A profound rumination on the idea of recording, asking what it means to capture sound, to be moved by it, and ultimately, to obsess over it. With “Do Not Sell at Any Price,” we have an astounding new writer not of musical criticism but of longform narrative prose. When Petrusich writes about music, she is akin Keats writing about a Greek vase: She is telling us what it means to be human beings adrift in time." (Baltimore City Paper)

"In this entertaining book about the finite universe of oddballs who scrounge frantically to collect the shellac fossils the rest of us consider worthless, you get all the joy of discovery without having to grub through boxes at garage sales.... Petrusich proves an engaging, frequently funny tour guide." (The Boston Globe)

"Full of strange, even beautiful, tales of obsession....Even someone who knows little or nothing about 78s will find Petrusich's book an incredibly enjoyable read." (Fine Books Magazine)

"A wise, entertaining study of 78 rpm collectors.... Petrusich writes beautifully." (The Wire Magazine)

"Exquisitely offbeat experiment in embedded journalism." (Chicago Tribune)

“Petrusich’s personal journey through the lives and legacies of the ‘Blues Mafia’ reshuffles their twice-told stories and makes of them something new…excellent.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

"This book is so alive to its subject, to the grail of the music.... Petrusich will make you desperate not only to hear the records she’s writing about...but to feel the way they make her feel, to feel the mask dissolve on your own face. (Greil Marcus The Believer)

“Petrusich wisely and insightfully goes beyond just documenting these collectors’ peculiarities, as she also traces the history of early American recordings and their legacy in contemporary music. Perhaps most powerfully, the book serves as a treatise on the act of collecting itself, probing the psychological, social, and cultural implications arising from these pursuits of passion.” (Los Angeles Review of Books)

"A travelogue into the most beautiful corners of obsession. Petrusich is a top-flight music writer—meticulous, generous, and deeply informed. But she’s also a terrific curator of human subjects, from the lovesick collectors who make up the bulk of her narrative to the towering, still-shadowy names that grace these circular hunks of shellac... Do Not Sell At Any Price is as idiosyncratic, alluring and totally alive as the scratchy sides that consume it." (Slate)

"Lively and entertaining." (Buzzfeed)

Best Books of the Month
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Want to know our Editors' picks for the best books of the month? Browse Best Books of the Month, featuring our favorite new books in more than a dozen categories.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (July 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451667051
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451667059
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Amanda Petrusich is the author of "It Still Moves: Lost Songs, Lost Highways, and the Search for the Next American Music" and "Pink Moon," an installment in Continuum/Bloomsbury's acclaimed 33 1/3 series. She is a contributing writer for Pitchfork and a contributing editor at The Oxford American, and her music and culture writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Spin, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. She has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing from Columbia University and presently teaches music criticism at NYU's Gallatin School. She lives in Brooklyn.

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Bryan Case on July 11, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very interesting book about the cabal-like world of 78rpm collectors, the records they collect, and the music that obsesses them.

The author, Amanda Petrusich, is an engaging and capable writer. Had I not been interested in the subject, her enthusiasm would likely have sparked my interest.

As an inveterate collector and listener of 78s, I was particularly intrigued by this book. I also love reading about collectors - so it's the perfect book, right? Well, almost (more below). Although I was largely familiar with the cast of characters and a fair number of the stories, I still found her retellings interesting. I discovered many little nuggets of information I was heretofore unaware, and a few clarifications that were very helpful.

However, I do have a couple small gripes. There were a few personal digressions that added little to the narrative and sometimes got in the way. In particular, the section about her journey to troll the Milwaukee River to find long discarded 78s from the Paramount Records pressing plant in Grafton, Wisconsin. The idea was clever - sort of George Plimptonesque - but there was too much of a narrative detour, especially considering she came up empty. I found myself skimming/skipping several pages until the story got back on track. There's a trend I've noticed among some younger writers, to occasionally insert too much of themselves in the story. A little adds context and a personal touch to the story, but too much is a distraction.

Also - I was hoping to hear more biographical detail from members of the so-called blues mafia, particularly Bernard Klatzko and Pete Whelan (whose 78 Quarterly was a wonderful publication). She did a fantastic job with James McKune, however.

So, should you buy this book?
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Jefferson TOP 100 REVIEWER on July 31, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you like the "old, weird" music from an America now long gone--like Harry Smith's "The Anthology of American Folk Music", "The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" (plus the sequel "The Return Of..."), and all the various box sets collecting early country blues and other then contemporary music--you will find this book of interest.

It's simply one person's attempt to search out and begin to understand why (and who are) these people who collect old 78 RPM records with a detective's zeal and sometimes deep pockets. You'll come across collectors who are pure collectors--never paying much for a dirty, dusty, easily breakable shellac covered piece of history. Or others who buy low and sell high. But they all have one thing in common, to find these records before they disappear forever. What information the author gleans from her subjects is told in a witty, easy to read style.

The book isn't perfect. The portion where the author, Amanda Petrusich, learns to scuba dive in order to search a river for old metal stampers or records themselves takes up too much space. But it's when she talks about going on a hunt with a longtime collector to a dirty, greasy swap meet in search of 78 RPM treasures where the book becomes interesting. Or her descriptions of some of the more (relatively) notable collectors (a difficult feat), the artists, the record labels, and her descriptions of hearing some of these long lost recordings for the first time that makes this book eminently readable. Some of these collectors are very private, "quirky", and sometimes suspicious of other collectors or anyone interested in what they collect. But Petrusich goes behind the surface and gives the reader at least some idea of why these people do what they do with such a fervent passion.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Carol Peckham on August 4, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The best way to read Amanda Petrusich's wonderful book Do not Sell at Any Price is with a computer or smart device at your side, open to YouTube. Without this, the experience may not be as deep or rich and most likely you might not fully understand the emotional layers involved in the arcane activity of collecting 78 rpms, those dark shellacked discs, preceding LPs and 45s, which changed forever the way that people listened to music. When I was kid, we had a wind-up Victrola and I guess more than one 78, but all I remember was "Italian Spring Song" on the first side and "Tales from Hoffman" on the flip. Even then, the recording was old and the voices scratchy but haunting, weirdly high and flat, like musical ghosts circling the room, urging attention from the living. My sister and I must have played this record a hundred times. So I was already willing to accompany Petrusich while she explored this medium, its history, its eccentric community of collectors, and above all the jazz and blues artists of the late 20s and early 30s who sang and strummed into microphones for exploitive businessmen in crude early recording studios and for earnest folklorists on their own porches.
I started listening to the songs she noted in the book when she was interviewing Chris King, a 78 collector and one of her best sources of knowledge on this subject. He played Geeshie Wiley's "Last Kind Words Blues" and Blind Uncle Gaspard's "Sur le Borde de l'Eau", which the author described as "arguably two of the saddest, strangest songs ever recorded." I knew I had to listen to these songs, and although the YouTube experience is not that of a 78, I bought into Petrusich's response (and also bought both on ITunes).
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