A Booking Story

It’s always a lot of fun to go booking, to browse through one or more used book stores. It doesn’t matter the weather or the time of day, wandering around in a used book store is just good for the soul. One of the things I love about used book stores is that aroma of old books. You can smell it as soon as you walk in, as I did in a store here in Portland recently. I took a moment to enjoy that smell of old paper, then headed back into the stacks for my favorite sections: mystery and science fiction. I was happy to find a few things I’d been looking for, and a few I didn’t know I wanted until I saw them. But this particular trip had a twist ending I didn’t see coming.

After getting an armload of books I was on my way to the cash register when I passed a locked end case. I hadn’t noticed it before, having started on another side of the store, and I paused to take a look. What I saw held me rooted to the spot. In it were three volumes in the series The New Adventures of Tom Swift Jr. They were all in dust jacket and appeared to be in really excellent condition. I looked closer and saw the small sign: “complete set”.

Swift Jr set

this is not the set I saw, but is an example

What? A complete set in that good condition? I’d thought a few times about buying one or two of these books, which I’d loved as a kid, to try them again, but had never done it. The ones on eBay or elsewhere were terribly beat up and awfully expensive. And here was a complete set in – judging from the three books in the case – really, really good condition. The only problem was the price tag. It was a lot  of money, more than I was willing to spend. I sighed and went to buy the books I was holding.

That afternoon I told my wife about the Tom Swift Jr. set I’d seen. I told her how much I liked the few I’d read when young, and how I’d thought about buying a few of them but never did. When she asked me how much the set cost, and I told her, she didn’t bat an eye, just said “You should get them.” That floored me, but she convinced me she meant it, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought I’d go ahead and get them. So the next morning I called the store and talked to an employee who said he’d hold them until the end of business the following day, when I was going to be in the area so it would be convenient for me to stop by.

The next morning, I got to the store about a half hour after they opened and went to the clerk at the counter and told him I was there to examine and if satisfied pick up the set. I gave him my name and he replied “Oh, I know who you are. You need to go speak to the store manager.” I thought that was odd, but went to the woman he’d indicated, again identifying myself and the purpose of the visit to the store. She looked at me uncomfortably and said she was sorry, but the set was sold. I said, yes, I’m the buyer.

“No,” she said, “the set of books is already sold,” she told me, “It was sold yesterday.” When I told her I had called, made sure it was available, put it on hold she sighed. She told me it had already been sold when I called, had in fact been sold before I even went into the store two days before, but while the set had been marked “sold” in the back room, the three books and the sign had mistakenly been left in the end case. The books had been paid for and picked up the previous afternoon. Only then had they discovered the problem. The clerk I’d talked to on the phone had made a mistake. She said that since I hadn’t left a phone number, they’d no way to call me. Sorry, but…

So after deciding not to buy them, then deciding I would, then tossing and turning all night about the cost, then deciding again, calling to put them on hold and finally driving to the store, it was all for naught. They’d been sold before I ever saw them in the first place.

My wife, who had come with me to pick up the books, was great about it. “That’s too bad,” she said, “but now you have the money to buy something else.” I think she knew it would probably be books.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
This entry was posted in At Home in Portland, books and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to A Booking Story

  1. Oh too bad.

    The mantra you mentioned is one I always subscribed to and book buyers may never experience again. Finding that book completely out of the blue and snapping it up. Finding books on the internet is easy these days, but only what you know you want. That book “you didn’t know you wanted until you found it” is one of the joys of book browsing. In my younger days I was incapable of passing a book store without stopping in and browsing. I could be dead broke, out of time, but I couldn’t pass that store.

  2. Richard says:

    You’re right, Randy. I went out booking with a friend looking for some Perry Mason and Mike Shayne novels I was missing, and I got some. These were a bolt from the blue. But it’s for the best, as I probably would have read some of them once and some never and have spent all that dough. Barbara was great about it all.

  3. John says:

    I know the feeling. I have spied certain titles, looked at the price and thought to myself a bit too much, I’ll come back another time and get it. And of course it’s gone when I have the money and I’m ready to buy it. That you have a wife who truly understands your joy for books is something to be cherished. My partner has a love/hate relationship with my bibliomania. It’s not as consistent or true as Barbara’s attitude seems to be. Count your blessings, Rick, and not the books you missed out on.

  4. Richard says:

    John, believe me, I do count my blessings, Barbara first among them. When it all comes down to it, as the phrase runs, books are just things. Things I like very much and often desire very much, but things, nevertheless. With these, I did think that by calling the very next day I would get them. Too bad the shop hadn’t just taken them from the case when they were initially sold.

  5. macavityabc says:

    I know the empty feeling of disappointment when something like that happens. Sure, books are just things, but they’re wonderful things. I’ll bet you’ll think about this now and then for a long time. I know I would. Barbara, like Judy, is an enabler when it comes to books. We’re lucky guys!

  6. Richard says:

    I fixed it, Bill.

    Yes, we’re lucky. The truth here is after the reaction wore off; surprise, a little anger, disappointment, some relief at not spending that wad of dough, I came away feeling glad about the way things turned out. Let’s face it, I sure didn’t need those books, I just wanted them. Thinking about what I’d do with them, where they’d go, when I’d read them, well it’s just as well, I guess. I will think about it for a long time, but mostly how it went down, not the not getting part.

  7. That’s a gut punch, for sure. I’ve had similar experiences.

    My wife and I have a term for that, when you stumble by something you aren’t intending to buy; we call it being “end-capped.” As in, stores put things in the end cap of an aisle to catch your eye. Could be a particular book or magazine, or a new flavor of a favorite brand of ice cream. Or even a big, fresh roll of duct tape. Those wily marketing bastards, anyway. . . .

  8. Richard says:

    Yep, Chris, that’s it. And of course these were in an end cap…

  9. Certainly sounds like one of those “it wasn’t meant to be” stories. I’m only sorry it took you the extra trip to do so, but it will be fun to see how else you decide to spend the money.

    You are correct in that book shopping is good for the soul. I was just telling one of my coworkers today about how my best friend and I can spend hours in bookstore after bookstore just pouring over the covers, talking about the authors and the cover art, etc. And often we’ll leave empty-handed or with just a few purchases and feel that we’ve had a worthwhile day.

  10. Richard says:

    Carl, it probably wasn’t meant to be. I agree on book stores, used and new, being a great place to spend time. I come away with things more often, these days, in the used ones.

  11. Art Scott says:

    I was following your narrative, smiling in anticipation of the happy ending, then suddenly Norman Bates pulls back the shower curtain and wields the knife. You have my condolences, and my compliments to Barbara. Closest thing to this story for me, I was in a used record store in LA many years ago, and spotted, on a high shelf, a complete set of Records in Review, a series of 27 volumes I’d been picking up whenever I saw them, one or two at a time; I probably had about a dozen of them at the time, typically priced at $5 or thereabouts. I assumed the owner kept them for reference, but I asked if they were for sale, and he quoted a price of, I think, $1500. Seemed way too much at the time, so I passed, but have since regretted not jumping at it, since 15-20 years of searching later, I’m still short 2 volumes.

  12. Richard says:

    Art, yes, that’s it. I’ve seen a few things in record stores that I wanted but passed on, and they never came to light again. I just have to remind myself that I really do have more than I need already.

  13. I’m with John. You’re a lucky guy to have a partner as understanding as Barbara. And Art’s story of Records in Review is all too familiar. When I sold books in the Dealers’ Room at the BOUCHERCON in Toronto, I put up signs that read YOU ALWAYS REGRET THE BOOKS YOU DIDN’T BUY. A number of customers told me my signs haunted them until they came back and bought the book they initially passed on.

  14. Redhead says:

    Beautiful story. I was in a used bookstore as well, earlier today. Having learned from past experiences, I simply grabbed everything I thought I might want, and audited the stack when I got to the counter. Luckily, my store credit covered half of my purchases, so I did really well. This wasn’t the kind of store that has special editions, or sets, or anything like that to tempt me.

    When I’m shopping with my husband at bookstores, if i see him trying to decide if he wants something (he does want it, it’s just really expensive), i make him buy it. Cuz people deserve special treats like that, you know?

    If every bookstore had George Kelley‘s sign of YOU ALWAYS REGRET THE BOOKS YOU DIDN’T BUY, I’d be completely broke.

  15. Evan Lewis says:

    Now that’s a SAD story. I hadn’t heard that sequel to our booklooking trip. Those were at Powell’s on Hawthorne, weren’t they? I’m still confused, though. The books we saw, like those in your photo, had yellow spines, while the ones I had as a kid were blue. And did those books really have dust jackets? I thought the art was simply imprinted on the covers.

  16. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Bummer. Been there, done that.

    We were in England buying books to sell and were up north somewhere in Yorkshire. Of course I was looking for mysteries for resale (and maybe something for me) when I spotted a series of trade paperbacks of the Randolph Churchill/Martin Gilbert “authorized” biography of Winston Churchill in a bookstore’s window. I had read the first four volumes (covering 1874-1922) from the library but here were the six volumes (I’m not sure how many there were in the end but there were six then) all together. I was only looking for book five but…Jackie encouraged me to buy them but I talked myself out of it. I had the car already packed with books, I only wanted that one volume, I’d just pick up the individual volume when we got to London, ….

    Needless to say, I never saw another copy of the book or any of the others and I’m not about to pay the hardback price on ABE, and my library doesn’t have volume 5.

    Ever since then I’ve subscribed to George’s theory. If I see something and want it I buy it, at once.

  17. Ouch. that brought a little pain into my heart. The set that got away. I can empathize entirely.

  18. Richard says:

    Red, yes I know, and I like special treats just fine, believe me. This store doesn’t usually have things like this. Matter of fact I have NEVER seen a complete set like this, which may be why it sold before I even got there the first day. Still, I’ll live without the books and have been spending the money on other stuff. (note: the events described happened six or seven weeks ago.)

  19. Richard says:

    Evan, the Swift Jr. books were printed in several formats, the original vol. 1-17 had DJs, they had two colors, some were printed with color printed boards instead of DJs. There are websites explaining all that. These were the early, real deal in outstanding condition.

  20. Richard says:

    Jeff, even so, I’d probably not have bought many duplicates, if I’d already had some of them.

    Charles, yes, the set got away, but there will always be something else to tempt me.

  21. Cap'n Bob says:

    I’m sure you can still buy that set now on eBay for triple the price.

  22. Richard says:

    Bob, I’ve never seen a complete set, let alone one in this condition with DJ, on eBay, ABE or anywhere else. Ever, and I’d had my eye out for a while.

  23. Okay, Rick, who are the Seahawks going to draft? They don’t have many picks after that trade with the Minnesota Vikings.

  24. Richard says:

    I have no idea, George. If they hadn’t gotten an excellent wide receiver from Minnesota, I would have said I hope they take Robert Woods from USC, but they need defense more at this point. Perhaps the best Safety or CB on the board. I just don’t know who will be there.

  25. Patti Abbott says:

    This is heart-breaking. Okay, maybe not heart-breaking given the world we live in but sad. Phil still talks about a book he passed up twenty years ago and never saw again. Something about monastery gardens. You only regret the things you don’t buy they say. That may be true with books but not furniture. I have regretted plenty of pieces of furniture I bought on a whim.

  26. Richard says:

    Patti, the thing here is that the books were gone before I ever saw them, but I didn’t know it. It’s not a huge loss, but it would have been a lot of fun to have and occasionally read them.

  27. Richard, I often walk away from vintage books these days because I have no place to keep them, not until I read the ones I already have. Now I am trying to be less of a hoarder, as I have been all these years, and more of a reader. Last year, I bought a pile of JDMs and McBains for Rs.10 each (less than 20 cents) and so far I have read only two of each, the thinking being that at least I have them in my collection. It has been my experience that a book I didn’t buy at some point has almost always turned up elsewhere and often cheaper too.

  28. Richard says:

    I understand, Prashant, but in this case these aren’t likely to appear as a complete set again any time soon.

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