I have blogged before about my problematic love for books, especially the need to own books, to have them around me as a I live and move and have my being. It’s okay: I am working through it. And confederates in my recovery would be proud in the restraint I showed recently.
I am going through Walter Hooper’s monumental 3 Volume Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis. I picked up the first two volumes in softcover for about $20 last year. Since they covered almost 3000 pages of material, I was not in a big hurry to track down that third volume. When the time finally came this spring that I needed a copy, I balked at the $40 price. I got the ePub instead and lived in my happy universe, one book lighter than it might have been.
As I am finishing up a couple of papers to submit to journals, however, I’ve realized that I really need a paper copy of that third volume. So, breaking my book fast, I popped online to pick up a copy of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy. I was pretty excited to finally order it–coffee lovers know what I was feeling, I think, as the room fills with the aroma of a dark roast–and was hoping that the softcover was finally released or the price had come down a bit. My normal vendor was sold out, so I skipped over to Amazon.
This is what I saw:
7 new from $485.90 10 used from $350.
What? A book printed in 2007? An essential volume of one of the world’s most popular authors by one of the world’s largest publishers? Really?
And those are the cheapest prices I’ve seen. One vendor had it for over $800, blithely commenting in the description that it was a 1st edition. Of course it is. It’s only been around for 5 years!
As it turns out, the libraries did not have it. I was stuck: I needed this volume for my work, sooner or later, and it is ten times the cost it was a couple of months earlier–back when I thought it was a little two pricey.
It’s amazing what a couple of months can mean.
I emailed a friend who I suspected had it to see if I could borrow his copy, and he reminded me of the used bookstore downtown. “The Bookman” is a lovely Charlottetown used and rare store, but it is extremely pricey. So I am more of a browser there, and only buy things occasionally. They do make interesting purchases, however, and I had seen a hardcover copy of The Letters a couple of months earlier.
So I trekked downtown before class, only to discover The Bookman wasn’t open yet. On the slim chance I would get lucky, I popped into The Bookmark, Charlottetown’s independent bookseller. The guy behind the counter checked the system and confirmed that it was for sale from none of his vendors, but offered to bring it in for my for $450. I politely declined. Then he went a step further: He called HarperCollins, the publisher. Within two minutes he had determined that it was indeed out of print, and there were no plans to reprint it or offer a new version.
So that’s it. The end of Volume 3.
I went to class, and then returned to The Bookman in the late afternoon. They have a great C.S. Lewis section, and I beelined straight for the hallowed shelf. When I got there, I slumped in disappointment. It wasn’t there. I checked between the shelves and in the piles of books on the floor, but there were none of Lewis’ letters.
As I was getting ready to leave, I thought I would ask the shopkeeper. She asked me if I was “Brenton Dickieson,” and I said I was. This is Prince Edward Island, so it isn’t fame she is chasing down, but relational connections. She read an article I wrote about the area where I grew up, and she was from the same place. We traded pleasantries of shared geography and mixed families, but all the while I was hoping she would pull a magic copy of Volume 3 out of her desk, tucked away in case some non-famous fellow from back home walked in.
She did not, in fact, have this copy. But she did think there was a volume of Letters to Children in the literature section. She took me there, and in a hodgepodge of Poe’s works and Austen’s novels and other Penguin classics was a copy of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, edited by Walter Hooper. Without hesitation I took it to the counter and pulled out my wallet.
She charged me $39, taxes in.
I told my wife this story when I got home, and for the first time in our lives together she was thrilled that I paid 39 bucks for a book. It’s amazing what difference a couple of months makes to one’s perspective.
Now, to finish that paper….