Maureen Stanton's Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market America is just the sort of nonfiction I enjoy. It's on a subject I find interesting (antiques), although I would never go searching for or browse the shelves on that subject. It's investigative--Stanton spent years getting to know an antiques dealer named Curt Avery, even helping him set up his booth and sell (as well as watching him buy) at numerous antique shows. It's an interesting little book.
Avery's been a dealer for thirty years (he started before he was a teenager), and Stanton describes his struggle to make it out of the middle leagues of dealers and join the big players at the most prestigious sales. What's truly humbling about this narrative is how good Avery is at his work--how much he knows about both history and the objects he buys and sells--and how hard it still is for him to make a living. (His wife works a job that covers their health insurance--of course; the only way anyone can make it America, make sure at least one spouse has a job with insurance benefits). The book is both an interesting treatise on buying and selling, and a good character profile of a dealer who seems both honest and principled (two characteristics which also often seem to conspire to keep him from getting rich).
Jessa Crispin at Bookslut didn't seem to like the book much, and I'm not sure why. We found it quite a good read around here (Mr. CR read the whole thing too, and wanted to talk about it--a very rare confluence of events for Mr. CR and nonfiction). I do think at least part of the appeal of the story was watching someone do what they love, even if wasn't lucrative:
"Once, I asked Curt Avery if, after nearly twenty years, he was still having fun selling antiques. 'It seems like you are,' I said. After a long pause, he replied, 'Jeepers. It's a hard question because it's yes and no. Part of the reason I do this is because I love the stuff.' He paused. "There are days when everything is for sale, and the next day you want to jump off a bridge, but I can't imagine getting out of it. I'm too obsessed with it, to be honest with you.'" (p. 269.)
Know anyone who compulsively watches Antiques Roadshow? They might enjoy this book.