Tuesday, August 04, 2009

One Thing I Miss About the Old Days


Most book lovers I know have at least some rather obscure writers they read, and obscure works they’d like to own. There’s no doubt that the internet has made it easier to scratch that itch. And except for the hit to one’s pocketbook that’s a good thing. In most ways.

Using the internet in the past few years has led to a substantial increase in book buying for me. A lot of those books have been just the kind of obscure works in SF and fantasy that I so love. A lot of them have been books that I read when I was a kid and have wanted to own and reread ever since. And, I’ve also been able to discover series that I had never heard of but which were right down my alley. I’ve found a lot of good reading via the net. These are good things

But… (You knew a “but” was coming didn’t you?), there’s one thing I miss about the old book hunting days. To channel for a moment my inner nerd, I remember the thrill of finding an unknown used bookstore and going in to browse the shelves for the first time. I had a list of books I wanted, although I didn’t generally have to carry the list with me. I knew in my head what I was looking for. I’d scan along the rows of colorful spines, checking for an obscure Robert E. Howard book here, searching out an Alan Burt Akers volume there. And OH the excitement when I found something I’d wanted but didn’t have. I generally didn’t ‘kiss’ the covers. Not physically anyway. But it was like finding a gold nugget in a pan of dross.

I still remember with absolute clarity one of my favorite moments in personal book hunting history. In high school I’d borrowed a book from my brother-in-law called Meat on the Hoof, about college football at the University of Texas. The book stayed with me, and when I was in my early thirties I began searching for it in used bookstores everywhere I went. Although I remembered the title and the cover, I had no idea who had written it. But I wanted that book. I even called my brother-in-law but he no longer had the copy. I couldn’t find it anywhere else either.

Then, one day, my ex-wife and I were shopping for furniture. No matter where I’ve ever gone, I’ve paid attention to the books that were in that place. So on this day I stopped to glance at a set of books being used as ‘props’ with furniture. And there lay Meat on the Hoof. I immediately took it up to the salesman and asked to buy it. He had no idea of a price for it. They sold furniture. So he just laughed and told me I could have it. I know exactly where it is on my shelves right now. And I remember almost every detail of that ‘find.”

Would it have been the same if I’d been able to search it out on the net? I know from other experiences of finding books via the net that it would not have been. Oh, I still get a sense of excitement and pleasure, but it’s like having a glass or two of wine with dinner as opposed to the buzz of those first couple of pitchers of beer on a lazy afternoon in a darkened bar when you’ve got Friday night ahead of you.

Sometimes I miss the old days. How about you?
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35 comments:

David Cranmer said...

I can't seem to let go of the old days. Recently I was in Maine, a state crawling with used book stores and I believe I hit every last one. But like you I love the internet and the access I have to very rare gems.

Lauren said...

Back in high school I used to work for a small book chain that focused on relgious books, but would/could order any book in print, and many out of print titles. I used to love helping client locate random little books. I never really got into searching for old books. I was an early internet adopter.

Scott Parker said...

Oh, yeah, I miss those days. Well, I recently had one, in Whitney, TX, where I found an old A. A. Fair book (Erle Stanley Gardner's pen name) and the Longarm title written by James Reasoner. When it comes to book hunts, I know I could just log onto the 'net, find the books I'm missing, order them, and be happy within a week. I don't do that, however. The hunt is more than half the fun. And besides: if I'm hunting for a book in a used book store, it's likely the author is dead. Thus, the number of books I have to read are finite. That I continue to haunt used bookstores is testament to the fun of the hunt as well as drawing out that inevitable, sad day: no more books to read by said author. Thus, the hunt continues...

Elise said...

Yep, me too

pattinase (abbott) said...

I really miss the old days. Now if I want anything interesting I can only get it online. Where's the fun in that?

Cloudia said...

Love those good old days: spending hours in used bookstores, finding treasures!

Aloha-

Comfort Spiral

ivan said...

Racial memory on a full moon:

I am at that age when I can not only remember the movies like Satyricon, but an actual Saturnalia at about the time of the fall of Rome, when I was just a lad, when the centaurs would come down from the mounttains and make complete asses of thimselves, as if in a Fellini movie; shaggy Teutons would chase elephants around the Circus Maximus. Christians torm apart by crazed baboons.
Ah I'm afraid the good old days are gone forever.

Randy Johnson said...

We're two of a kind, Charles. I love the internet for it's allowed me to fill in many holes I've looked for for years.
At the same time, there's nothing like digging through old book stores and tumbling across those "valuable" finds. The internet can't do that. You can find anything you know about, but not that special book you never knew you wanted until you ran across it.
My disability doesn't allow me to jump in my car and drive the forty miles to a town with several book stores, new and used, anymore. There were such cities in four directions from my small home town(which has no book stores of any kind).
(sigh)I miss those prospecting days.

Charles Gramlich said...

David Cranmer, Oh I still cling as well. Whenever I'm in a new place I check out the used book stores. But I don't visit the ones around me nearly as much anymore. And I do so enjoy being able to find out about books that I didn't know about from the net.

Lauren, I've sometimes believed my 'first best destiny' was to work in a used bookstore. I love helping folks find books they want as well.

Scott Parker, we've got a new used bookstore that just opened near us so I plan to haunt it pretty regularly. I remember when we were in Austin I did that for every store I could find.

Elise, I suppose new book lovers coming up now, if there are any, won't even know what we're talking about in a few years.

pattinase, there's definitely something to be said for delay of gratification!

Cloudia, when I was a kid, if my parents went shopping I just had them leave me at the bookstore. They knew I'd be there when they came back, and I'd be so busy picking just the couple of books I'd get to buy out of the many many I wanted.

ivan, I once had a dream in which I was an Australopithicine. It was tres cool.

Randy Johnson, yes, I remember many times stumbling on a book by an author I liked but which I had not known about before. What a thrill. The prospecting metaphor seems very apt.

Steve Malley said...

The other day I was in a used bookstore, lovely, old and dusty, a high narrow room with shelves packed with obscure titles.

The owner said something about how nice it was to have someone actually browse. I raised one eyebrow.

'We do most of our business on the website,' he said.

Wil said...

"Meat On The Hoof", that was my third porno movie.

FYI - My first two were, "Slitty Lickers" and "Rear Admiral".

Wil Harrison.com

Erik Donald France said...

Yeah, it's still a lot of fun to poke around any place with books, even furniture stores! "Going manual," like driving without GPS or book-hunting in a real space, no internet cribbing.

Travis said...

I don't have a list of those kinds of books, but I do know what you mean. I've spent some happy hours just browsing through second hand book stores. Things catch my eye and bring back memories I didn't know I had.

The internet doesn't provide that. But it does provide some immediate gratification when a title pops into my head and there's no time for a physical search.

Sidney said...

We have one really good used book store near us, the kind where you can still browse the shelves and find something like you're talking about, a book you've never heard of from way back. More and more I'm finding used book stores just have bestsellers from a couple of years back, not the forgotten works from the late 60s. Another simple pleasure taken away by time.

jodi said...

Charles, Oh, there is nothing better than culling out a treasured book from a garage sale or thrift store. I love it, and get very little thrill buying online or brand new. Except of course, YOUR new book!

Rick said...

Now I feel bad. I just hung around bookstores- old and new- to meet girls who read books.

the walking man said...

Not to go off topic Charles but we had our nominating elections here in Detroit yesterday and you got at least one write in vote for the Detroit Public School Board of Education. How is that for obscure things?

Mariana Soffer said...

I missed buying books a lot, specially when I used to travel to the state and got the latest scientific stuff that I could not get in my country. But what I missed even more is when I used to earns lots of money and spend a good part of it buying all kind of cd s, either rock, glamm, heavy, funk, jazz, electronic, tango and so on... that was so nice, you buy it with the beautifull case and you could go to the cool store and check what was new at a time

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

The good old days are still here. Turn off the machine - walk out the door. Head to the nearest, still existent used book shop. Or good will. Or yard sale or library sale.

I used to book scout to supplement a paltry income. Once found a copy of Jim Carroll's first poetry book in a retirement home (later met him and he signed it and he said where did you ever find this - I just smiled). A copy of Wendell Berry's first novel I found in a Good Will. Paid a quarter for it over 20 years ago. Back then, it was worth 100 bucks. I kept it, though. Soon after, I met the woman who was to become my wife.

Turned out she was a huge Wendell Berry fan. It made one of the most delightful gifts I've ever given ...

Sam said...

No, I don't miss the old days at all - and I've been able, like you, to hunt down a lot of old sci-fi and fantasy books that are out of print and are now out as e-books (Ariel, for example).
And I regularly search through the used books piles and hunt for library sales.
:-)

Demon Hunter said...

Yes, those were the days. I remember the book mobile driving around my hometown during the summer, offering books to everyone. Even though I went to the library on my own, I always thought that was a great thing for them to do for folks who didn't have transportation, but had a love for reading.

Greg Schwartz said...

i know exactly what you mean, Charles. it must have been really cool finding that book. i still get a thrill every time i see a used bookstore i've never been in. it's more satisfying finding something there than finding it online.

BernardL said...

I remember reading a Travis McGee novel by John D. McDonald overseas and losing it when I was right in the middle. It took me a year and a half to run across 'Dress Her in Indigo' again. It was traumatic. :)

laughingwolf said...

i still get lost for hours in used bookstores, kinda cramped now i have the puppy, and only spend minutes in stores with new books... magazines are a different story

some prices are great, others way too high....

sage said...

in the pre-internet days--I'd have a list and when I was in a city, I'd look and shop the bookstores-although I've been able to find most all books via the internet these days, I still love rambling in old bookstores.

Charles Gramlich said...

Steve Malley, a sign of the times, I guess. I still do love to browse, even though I don’t do it as much as I used to.

Wil, you know, I believe you. You’re the first actor I’ve ever met. Or were you a prop? ;)

Erik Donald France, I like that, Going manual. I’m gonna borrow that phrase.

Travis, yeah, that’s a nice bonus to browsing too, seeing something that brings back memories, that you hadn’t thought of in a long time.

Sidney, that’s also true. I noticed a bookstore I went in not long ago was mostly bestsellers and big titles from recent years, not the kind of stuff I really look for.

jodi, oooh yes, garage sales books. I recently found some very nice stuff at an Abita springs garage sale. And well, of course, with ‘my’ books it’s all different. :)

Rick, imagine the song Tommy, imagine the lyrics, imagine me singing this to you: “I’ll just hand my book nerd crown t him…”

Mark, lol. Hell, if elected I might serve.

Mariana Soffer, I’ve bought quite a lot of heavy metal in my day, although I don’t buy as much these days as I once did. I miss album size art though.

Don, Great story. Cool. I did find a few nice Niven books and nonfiction at a recent garage sale series in Abita Springs. I hit them regularly when I see them. Part of it, too, is that I don’t have as many “treasures” to find anymore. I’ve found a lot of them already.

Sam, this past year marked the first year in probably ten where I didn’t go to the annual big library book sale down here. I’m kind of ashamed of myself.

Demon Hunter, I loved the idea of a bookmobile. We didn’t have one in rural Arkansas but I would have taken big advantage of it. Better than the ice cream truck. Which we also didn’t have in rural Arkansas.

Greg Schwartz, it definitely is. And I typically won’t pass up a new store. New to me that is.

Bernardl, oh and that is a good one. That’s my favorite JDM title.

laughingwolf, I don’t spend as much time in stores as I used to. Partly it’s harder for me to bend and squat and all of that physical effort involved in hunting the low shelves.

sage, I eventually starting keeping my list in a big binder that I carried in my car, although I wouldn’t always have it with me just when I needed it.

Mary Witzl said...

This post really resonates with me: there are times I miss the old days desperately. Being able to find books effortlessly is wonderful, but it's a little sad too. It's like having money when you've been poor all your life: finding a $5 bill in your pocket no longer gives you the wonderful rush it used to.

Charles Gramlich said...

Mary, that's a good analogy about the money. It's the same about going and eating a really good meal. When you have steak a lot, a trip to the steakhouse is no longer special.

Danette Haworth said...

Charles,

A long time ago, a guy I knew was reading this weird looking book with a dinosaur on the cover. Having zero interest in dinosaurs, I was nevertheless captured and asked him if it was a good book. His eyes lit up. I randomly read a few pages from the middle. This dinosaur book was exciting!

A few days later, I passed the storefront of a used bookstore and there was that book, featured right in the window. I hurried in and bought it--Jurassic Park.

That was an excellent find!

Charles Gramlich said...

Danette, that's a good book too!

JR's Thumbprints said...

For some reason your post has triggered memories of the movie "Serendipity." You and "Meat on the Hoof" were meant to be together. Strange indeed.

Sarah Hina said...

I miss going to Half Price Books and just staying for an hour or more, browsing the bookshelves. I will admit to going the Amazon and Kindle route lately.

But the hunt yielded more surprises, and a greater sense of satisfaction, I think. I guess I've gotten lazy.

Charles Gramlich said...

JR, it does seem rather serendipitious. Not the only such experience I've had with books.

Sarah Hina, me too. I spent so many hours in Half Priced books when I was in Austin. I miss it.

cs harris said...

That's one of the things I love about the library book sales. Searching and searching the tables and then, that wonderful thrilling zing of joy when i find a hardcover copy of a book I've always wanted as a "keeper." Of course, that used to be more common the first few years I went to the sales. I think the libraries have completely purged their shelves of all their old books by now.

Charles Gramlich said...

Candy, I know what you mean. I'm sorry I missed the sale this year, but, like you, I find fewer thrilling finds. Some is the libraries not having as many older books, and some is that I now have more.