Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Synchronicity

Just to get this out of the way: Lydia. Please do not refer to me as Mr. Alan. Mr. Alan is how my 1st and 3rd grade Chinese students referred to me, before asking if my goatee was real and then puking watermelon all over the floor. Incidentally, there were no teacher's assistants to help me correct their misappropriation of my name, or the floor's misappropriation of the watermelon. China, while a charming country, has its drawbacks.

On to the actual blog.

Okay. It’s very simple – weird coincidences happen at used bookstores. There’s simply no way around it. About a week ago I received a book recommendation from a German friend of a friend. She told me to look for a copy of “Max und Moritz” by Wilhelm Busch. This happened to be the only week when I was not responsible for putting out new arrivals on Saturday, so I had no idea what might be around the shop. Needless to say, when I came into the store on Monday there was a vintage, German, hand-colored copy of “Max und Moritz” sitting in the new arrivals section. I had been looking online that morning for the book, to no avail. The few copies on abebooks were far too expensive. And the price of our copy, you ask? $15. Yep, hand-colored 100 year old coincidences starting at $15.

The current owner of O’Gara and Wilson, Doug Wilson, has assured me he partakes fairly often of this invigorating synchronicity. Three times in thirty years he has encountered customers who came in to the store and began describing a particularly scarce book, only to realize he was holding precisely that book in his hand when they started speaking.

What does this mean? Well, I’m not exactly sure. But the people who frequent used bookstores know exactly what I’m talking about. They thrive on the energy that has infused used books – four leaf clovers that flutter out from old editions, inscriptions that yield unusual provenance when you check them out on Google, marginal notes that eerily echo your own opinion as you read. These books are alive, in a strange way, and looking for human companions.

Speaking of “alive in a strange way and looking for human companions,” this week’s Collector’s Item is about a gentleman who meets that description to a T. If you can’t afford the tens of thousands it costs for a first edition, this pristine first trade edition of Dracula is well worth your $75. Copies routinely go for more on ebay, and in far worse condition. Ours looks like it just came off the press (though it’s actually about a hundred years old). And there are irresistably cute bats on the spine…

But I’ve gotten away from the synchronicity theme. How to get back. Let’s see… give me an hour or two to wander around the store, looking for some coincidences.

Just back from wandering around the store for an hour and a half, and nothing. Absolutely nothing. Because that’s the thing with synchronicity. You just can’t go looking for it, and I should know that after years of trying to and failing. However. As I was looking through the children’s section I found the following book, which I had never seen before, and will definitely be our Favorite for the week. Published by Let’s Save the Children, Inc. in 1972 (nothing here is a joke), it is a rhyming, twenty page biography of Marvin Gaye with full page pictures, apparently meant for children. The poetic bio includes such gems as “For Marvin is a special man / He has a lot to say. / He’s not just a writer who writes / Of everyday sights / Nor a singer who sings / Of everyday things.” No copies available online, and this one a mere $20! Fantastic collector’s item and a very, very basic description of Marvin Gaye. Very basic. Not for serious research purposes. Perhaps this will be exactly what someone was looking for, and in that case synchronicity, as it always does, will come through the back door.


So just now a customer came in looking for a very scarce play by an obscure playwright. Guess what? I walked right over to our drama section, and couldn’t find it. But we have a large collection of scarce drama in our back storeroom, and Mr. Wilson was kind enough to check and see if it was there. And you know what… it wasn’t. But while I was looking for it, I found this week’s Affordable but Interesting item. If you are like me, then you think Johnny Depp is freaking awesome, in a Platonic way of course. If you are female and like me, you probably just think he’s freaking awesome. Either way, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is coming out on video quite soon, and we have a beautiful copy of the play, complete with dust jacket and dramatic black and white photos of the 1979 production. Expensive? No, this out of print book club edition is an astonishing $7.50, complete with the macabre dust jacket.


Well, here we are at the end of the blog on synchronicity, and nothing crazy happened. In fact, everything went totally normally. But in the process of looking for coincidences, I came across books I didn’t know existed. Very cool books. And that’s the upside of a used bookstore – you can never really lose once you walk in, provided you look hard enough.

4 comments:

Lydia said...

Yes sir, Mr. Alan sir.

chicago pop said...

I want that Dracula book.

o.O said...

hello is anybody still here??
Do you still have the Marvin Gaye children's book?

Lydia said...

I'll check for you to see if we still have the Gaye book. But this is an old post and honestly, chances aren't too high that it's still around.