If you’re anything like me, you carry around with you a list of books that you’re interested in acquiring, whether to read or merely to possess. They may be books found via your comfortable, almost hypnotically meditative browsings of Amazon, or they may be books mentioned by other books (surely one of the great joys of the art of reading, wherein a fine book recommends other books of equal quality, sending you on an inexhaustible journey), or they may be books in which your interest has been piqued by friends or reviews.
In any event, the list. I carry mine around in the back of my Moleskine notebook – a chic accoutrement, I know, but eminently practical and generally delightful – and whenever I come across an unfamiliar bookstore, or a familiar bookstore I have not visited in a while, I enter and turn to the back of my Moleskine, browsing the shelves on the off chance that I will find something. About 70% of the time I will find the book and, having taken the opportunity to read a little, will find that it wasn’t worth all the fuss and bother, and thus it is angrily stricken from the list, never to be mentioned nor thought of again.
29% (these aren’t quantifiable figures, just a rough estimate) of the time I find the book and, after browsing it, decide that it is exactly as good as I predicted it would be, and it is snapped up in an instant, to be savoured at leisure. I have a great pile of just these sorts of books on my desk at home, covering a variety of subjects and styles and, when time and mood permits, I make my way through them gradually.
But that final percent? Those are magical times. Many of the books in which I am interested seem, inevitably, to be either out of print or just generally quite rare. They are difficult to find, and their titles and authors lurk in the back of my Moleskines for months, sometimes years at a time. You hardly find mention of them on the internet, you scour the depths of Amazon and eBay and every other site, to no avail. Scratching through every two-bit bookstore you find, in fact planning entire days of journeying to every corner of the city, into every secondhand bookstore the Yellow Pages makes mention of. Your desperation grows wilder, your enthusiasm morphs into infuriation, and inch by inch you begin to resent every book that is not the one you are seeking, throwing them aside in vile disgust, as though they were all written by Jonathan Franzen. Shopkeepers are harassed and verbally bludgeoned for their stupidity when they raise their eyes heavenwards, scratch at their stupid ears, and mumble that “Yes, that title does sound familiar…I’m sure I’ve seen it about!” Then they lead you to the shelf in question, muttering uselessly and pottering through the volumes before announcing that they were mistaken or, worse: “Ah, yes, now I remember. A young lady came in and bought it last week.” Oh, really? Cunt!
Until, one day, when aforementioned enthusiasm is barely at a smoulder, and, resigned, you grouse your way through those same tired shelves for the thousandth time, there it is. Your eyes, scanning the spines, pass it on the first run, but then a little shot goes off in the back of your head and your eyes snap back like a typewriter’s carriage return. I dare say you even emit a merry “Ding!” as it happens, as I do, constantly. And there stands the title in all its splendour, the pages orange-brown and filled with fossilized food matter decades old, the cover tattered and torn, and you snatch it down, flick through it to be sure it is real – yes, yes, yes! – and shove it furtively under your arm, glancing from side to side lest other searchers emerge wailing from the dark recesses of the store, raking their nails across your face and sinking their teeth into your poor balls.
These discoveries have been made by me precisely three times that I can remember. The first, some time ago, was the termination to my years-long search for The Maze Maker by a certain Michael Ayrton. And not just a ratty, gangrenous softcover, which I would have been more than happy with, but a pristine, hard cover first edition for a criminally low price. I took it home and, fearful, placed it on the shelf. It has not been read since and probably never will be, as I suffered a momentary loss of interest in the subject matter (classical mythology, specifically the Cretan myth of Asterion the minotaur, Daedalus, Icarus, etc.), but the find was just as joyous, and the excitement tangible.
The second was more recently. I had worked myself quickly into a froth over online reviews of The Purple Cloud by one M. P. Shiel. A reconnaissance of the more modern establishments informed me that it was “not on the system”, and so the hunt was on! I searched high, I searched low, having already decided that a certain bookshop opposite Flinders Street Station was “rubbish” and “they’ll never have it”, eventually, almost out of spite, entered said establishment and found the volume instantly, even shelved alphabetically and in the correct section. I about shat myself right there and paid only five dollars for the book, consuming it in a day and finding it better than I had imagined.
The third, today, in
But to you, dear readers of this wee 'umble blog, I submit the question: what are your greatest finds? Not necessarily great books, or beautiful editions, or even something that you will ever read, but the finds that put piss and vinegar into your step and plaster groin-tinglings of happiness across your face. Spill, or be forever damned to do all your book shopping at the local St. Vinnie's.