Last week I was searching for some information on a science fiction author. The author wrote only one novel but many short stories, so I found a lot of science fiction collections and anthologies along with lists of stories which appeared in various SF digests. Naturally there were links.
One link led me to The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus edited by Brian Aldiss, which, you will remember, was one of the books in my most recent new arrivals post. The book sounded good so I searched for a copy and was pleased to discover one available very nearby, about six miles away, in Tualatin. It was listed as being only in “acceptable” condition, but for a buck that’s fine as all I wanted was a reading copy.
So off I went. I’ve driven by the street that led to the street this place is on many dozens of times but never turned that way and certainly had no idea there was a used book store there! As I approached the address I was surprised to find only small warehouses for tool companies, an outfit selling pottery to nurseries, a paper vendor and the like. Seemed like a strange place for a used book store, but I thought must be cheap rent and crept along looking for River City Books.
I found the address. No sign. A couple of parking places next to a dumpster shared with another business. A No Solicitors sign taped on the front door. I parked and went in.
River City Books is a used book store, but not in the usual sense. I guess the best way to describe it would be that it’s a used book fulfillment center. There was a woman sitting at a cluttered desk about five feet inside the door, looking at a computer screen. To the left were two other people doing the same thing. The rest of the roughly 30×40 foot space was filled with metal shelving, each shelf holding several low-sided cardboard boxes filled with books. A small oblong of paper stuck out from each book, printed with a number at the top and beneath it a bar code. Beyond the room I could see a much larger warehouse to one side and another in another direction, along with stairs leading up. The place hummed with activity. The woman looked up when I entered and said hello.
“Is this mail order only?” I innocently asked, my hopes of buying the single, cheap paperback evaporating.
“Yes.” But she smiled as if waiting for more so I gave it to her.
“I saw a listing for a book on ABE, and realized you’re only a couple of miles from my house, and thought I could just come here and buy it.” I tried to look hopeful.
She sighed. “What is the book?” So I gave her the title, editor and publisher and she looked it up. Her printer spit out another one of those little slips of paper.
She sighed again. “It would have to be all the way at the top,” she said, “I’ll have to try to find a lift, I think one is working.” She gave me a half smile, got up and disappeared through the door in the back, towards the stairs. Meanwhile the rest of the staff kept busy filling boxes with books of all sorts; paperbacks, hard covers, trade paper, you name it. A young guy, probably college age, looked up and said “Now you see what the business is like.”
“It’s not what I expected.” I answered.
Soon the woman came back and handed me the book. I checked the table of contents and copyright pages to make sure it was the one I wanted, as it had a different cover. It was the right book. I asked her if I had to pay the shipping anyway, she shook her head and told me “no, just give me a dollar,” which I did. She stuck the slip of paper into the book and handed it to me.
“I guess next time I need to order on line.” I said.
Well, yes.” She hesitated. “Or you could call me.” she added as she wrote the store phone number down on a slip of paper. “Just remind whoever answers that you’ve been in and bought books before.”