feel compelled to tell you a little used book story. If you
are an author you may hate that used books are passed around
or bought and sold on a second market.
If you are a reader, you may see this as one
of the great advantages of books over pay TV.
I have one foot in each category and I believe
there is a little truth in both views.
No matter what camp you sleep (or read) in,
you will find something to love or hate in the story I am
about to tell. But before I do, the Small Publishers of North
America*s (SPAN) newsletter, "Connections," reports
that a Book Industry Study Group, Inc. released a study that
says secondhand book sales are here to stay. Most used books
sold are textbooks but access to the Web is helping to increase
numbers across the board where the online market grew by 33%
in 2004 and accounted for 37% of sales. That will make some
of you happy, and make writers wonder if you have a career
ahead of you after all.
I am not telling you this little story (or
giving you these figures) to convince you that used book sales
are second only to the devil*s work or vice versa. You think
what you think and I'll think this: You can rant against them,
hate the stores (both online and the ones on main street)
that sell used books; it will do no good.
Books have always been passed around (which means readers
don't even pay for them secondhand!). Libraries do it. Children
do it. Mothers do it. I occasionally do it. In fact I recently
bought a used book on Amazon
--one of my own -- because I was short on time and Amazon
gets them to me much faster than my publisher and thereon
hinges that story I promised you.
Readers, you can assuage authors and keep
them around if you will only promise to continue to buy a
few good books a year -- new! And to try to buy a book by
one author you've never read before -- just to broaden your
horizons and keep hungry young authors eating -- and if not
eating, well, then...hopeful.
So here's the story about that used book I
Almost two years ago -- when I was cleaning
out my aunt's condo after she died -- I ran across all my
books sitting in her nightstand in a perfectly aligned pile
-- a tower of family memories -- all crisp and new. Aunt Hazel
was blind but she wanted to have my books anyway and when
I visited -- which wasn't often because she lived nearly a
thousand miles from me -- I read to her from them. That wasn't
often enough to curl the pages or tatter the covers.
One of my aunt's relatives on the other side
of her family -- dreadful beasts that these people can be
-- asked for those books. I had stacked them near the front
door so I wouldn't forget them when I locked up for the night.
"Hazel said that she was a character
in one of these books," one of them said.
"We'd love to have them," another
said, running her hand over the cover. I wondered why, if
they were so curious, they hadn't bought one -- used or otherwise.
I only wondered. I kept my mouth shut for I was sure they
would not understand why an author who had been working all
day cleaning stains out of porcelain bowls of every size,
shape and function would be so grumpy.
I wanted to keep the books, of course. I had
signed each one with an inscription very near poetry. I could
feel her soul -- and mine -- in them. But I gave them up anyway.
That's a true gift of love, if not love for the recipients
then passing on the love my aunt had for these others or for
the books themselves.
it. When I ordered this book from the "new and used"
section of Amazon,
it was touted as "pristine condition, autographed."
I figured it would be a bookstore autograph -- something I
could reuse for a review copy.
Nope. It read, "To my loving Aunt Hazel…"
I'll spare you the rest of the sentimental inscription.
Now, the question is, am I more ticked off
at her relatives who conned me out that book or grateful to
the online bookstore that sold it? Do I love or hate the processes
now available for passing books on rather than letting them
grow mold sitting on some basement shelf? Is it the money
these others sold memories for that bothers me or that they
may have needed the money.
I prefer to concentrate on the fact that I
am touched at how the universe sometimes conspires to do the
right thing, that sometimes two wrongs do make a right.