I love used bookstores. With the growth of online book retailers and the shrinking of the independent bookseller in one’s neighborhood, I find comfort in the used dealer whom I can speak with and get to know. I can also find books that I missed out on the first time around, and occasionally I can find a rare edition such as a Truman Capote novel or an early Julia Child cookbook. If it’s an especially good deal, I rush to the counter and casually lay it down, hoping that it hasn’t been mis-marked.
When I moved to my suburban community a year ago, I found a great used bookstore. It’s nestled among a collection of shops that one doesn’t find much these days. Next door, there’s a clock shop where one can purchase old mantle clocks or have antique models repaired. There’s a bakery, a drugstore that’s not part of a national chain, and one may even wander into a toy shop where they sell puzzles, kites and model ships and planes.
Every so often, I feel compelled to walk by, and before I go in, I always look at the cart of reduced price books, which sits on the sidewalk for everyone to see. I once found a history of the Borgias for a dollar, and I’ve found various other books like a later edition of an E.F. Benson novel, which I’m thinking of giving away at some point. I’ve seen Hemingway and Fitzgerald on that cart, but mostly it’s loaded down with things that I’ve never heard of.
Imagine my surprise as I paused in the doorway the other day to scan the titles when my eyes fell upon a familiar book. The binding was instantly recognizable, but it took a second to register. I saw the title, and then the author’s name as a warm feeling came over me. It was Moral Ambiguity written by me! At first I was delighted to see my book in the shop. There it sat, ready for someone to discover it and yet no one would have any idea that I, a pedestrian walking by, was the author who had carefully laid out the story, labored over it for years and finally held the copy in my hands like a first child.
I was delighted that an independent bookstore owner had thought enough of it to stock it and sell it. Then the reality set in. This was a used bookstore, and it was on the markdown cart. I pulled it out to find a red-orange $2.00 price tag staring up at me. Without a second’s hesitation, I opened it up to see if I had inscribed it, and if the inscription had been made out to a friend.
I only know of five copies I’ve distributed in my current town, and thankfully there was no autograph. Everyone here is off the hook, but I was still stinging from the $2.00 price tag. Furthermore, I happen to think that my book is a keeper that no one would ever want to part with, but with the Hemingways, Fitzgeralds and Flauberts filling the shelves, I shouldn’t be surprised that someone would part with a literary masterpiece.
I put the book back on the shelf, and walked inside to say good morning to the owner who was sitting in her usual spot behind the high counter.
“I was amused to find a book on your sale cart outside,” I said.
“Oh? Which one is that?” she asked.
“My book; the one I wrote.”
“What’s the title?” She seemed genuinely interested.
“Moral Ambiguity. It was my first book.”
“Really? How interesting.”
I continued by saying that I was going to take a look around to see what was new, and then I rounded the corner to the literature section to start scanning the shelves in hopes that something I couldn’t live without would pop out. After a few minutes, nothing did, so I moved on to mystery, cooking, philosophy and “new arrivals.”
I wondered when my book had been a new arrival. I hadn’t been in for about three months, but prior to that, I’d never spotted Moral Ambiguity on any shelf. I hadn’t been looking, but I wondered how long they’d kept it before deciding that it was taking up too much space and needed to be cleared out. Additionally, how odd that I happened to stroll by and see it before some thrifty reader snatched it up for that amazing price and sprinted home to dive into the story of Kevin Gregory and Jimmy Standridge.
There were a few books that interested me, but since I’d wandered there on foot, I didn’t think I needed them so badly that I would walk two miles to my home with over ten pounds of books. I headed toward the front of the store and paused for a moment to comment once more on my earlier discovery.
“I must say, you made my day providing a great laugh. I still can’t believe I saw my own book on your sale cart.”
“Mmmm,” she replied with a smile.
Mmmm. My mind jumped immediately to the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s (based on Truman Capote’s novel) when Paul Varjak, played by George Peppard, and Holly Golightly, played by Audrey Hepburn, walk into the New York Public Library to find a copy of his book. Holly convinces him to sign it, and the librarian is furious, even though Holly thinks the library should consider it a wonderful thing to have an autographed copy.
Was I really so taken with myself to think that the bookstore owner should have hurried outside the second I pointed out to her that Moral Ambiguity was on the markdown cart? Did she need to take advantage of the fact that an actual real-life author of one of the books she had in stock had happened by, and get his signature in order to pump up the value? She could explain later to her husband and co-owner that something so fortuitous doesn’t happen every day, and that bag of magic beans they’d tossed out the door was actually potential treasure for them.
She did not make such a request. She didn’t even bother to ask me about the plot. I rounded the corner and headed home. At some point, it occurred to me that one person’s trash is another person’s labor of love—a multi-year project that finally came to fruition with the hope of ending up on millions of bookshelves—and yet another person’s two-dollar sale. At least my book was twice as expensive as that nice history of the Borgias.
© 2015 by Patrick Brown
Visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1 to learn about my books “Moral Ambiguity” and “Tossed Off the Edge.”