in search of a hard cover book

After finishing the second volume of Connie Willis’s time-travel epic, “All Clear,” I felt a driving need to re-read another Willis novel, “To Say Nothing Of The Dog.” I checked a copy out of our local library when I read it for the first time many years ago, so I paused as I was reading the final chapters of “All Clear” long enough to order a hardbound copy of “To Say Nothing Of The Dog” through Amazon, which arrived in the mail the next day.

Although the book’s cover was technically what I would have to admit is hard, what I was thinking of when I ordered it was a full-size book with a stitched binding. What I got was a small paperback book with a hard cover grafted on to it, the way libraries used to (still do?) recover paperbacks to give them a second lease on life.  I sealed it back up in the box, called up Amazon’s web site and marked my purchase “returned,” then started a new search for a full-size hardbound copy, slightly used.

I have a memory (maybe false; my memory’s kinda dodgy these days) of scrolling through long lists of used books on Amazon.  If it’s not a false memory, then apparently you can’t do that any longer, or at least I couldn’t figure out how.  I tried searching with Google, thinking that might take me to the lists I remember through some back door, but no luck that way, either.  I could choose new or used, I could choose hard-bound or paperback, but no matter what I checked, I didn’t get a list, just the option to purchase and no way of knowing that I wasn’t going to end up with another dinky paperback strapped to a hard cover.

So I hopped in the car and hit the streets.  The number of book stores in my area has been steadily decreasing, more’s the pity, but there are still a few worth driving to.  First, I went to the Half Price Books store on the west side of town.  They usually have a pretty good selection of science fiction, and they even had a full-sized hardcover copy of “All Clear” (the copy I have is a trade paperback) for just eight bucks, which went home with me.  Sometimes you don’t get the Connie Willis you’re looking for, but you still get the Connie Willis you need.  Pretty happy with that find, although now I’ll be trolling the shelves looking for a matching copy of “Blackout” for months, maybe years to come.

Back in the car, I cut through town to get to the Half Price Books on the east side, stopping off for a quick look through A Room Of One’s Own to see if I could score a copy there.  No luck on the shelves, and the woman at the desk very helpfully did a computer search of their inventory of used books but had to report they had no copies in stock.  Worth a try.

Saint Vinnie’s on Willy Street used to have one of the best selections of used books in the city.  I brought home armloads of books every weekend back in the day, but their book section has been on the decline for years and now I rarely bother to even look.  I stopped today anyway because I was going up Willy Street anyway and Saint Vinnie’s is one block over from the grocery store, where I stopped to pick up a few things for supper, then crossed the street and ducked in, fingers crossed.  The science fiction section is just sad.  It doesn’t even fill the shelves of one book case.  And no Connie Willis at all.

I couldn’t find “To Say Nothing Of The Dog” at the Half Price Books on the east side, either, but did snag a copy of Gardner Dozois’s 10th Annual collection of science fiction which coincidentally included the Connie Willis short story, “Even The Queen,” a laugh-out-loud gem that I read as soon as I got home.  Another example of finding the Connie Willis you need.

In the end, I had to order a copy of “To Say Nothing Of The Dog” through the web site Alibris, which not only let me browse through a long list of used books, it even provided descriptions of the books: which printing, what condition they were in, whether or not they were signed by the author.  I got a first printing, signed, in good condition, for just eighteen dollars.  Gonna hold my breath until it comes in the mail to see if I really get that.

In the meantime, I snagged a paperback copy at Barnes & Noble because I can’t wait to start reading until the hardbound copy arrives.  Cracked it open and got through the first chapter and halfway into the second chapter before I had to turn out the lights last night.

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