Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Book Searches

I ended up neither writing nor reading on my rainy afternoon. I did some updating to my web site. Now, for your convenience, I've compiled all my blog posts on character archetypes and put them on my web site (with some editing so they'll make sense outside the blog context).

I had an absolutely wonderful find at a used bookstore last weekend. As an author, I have a kind of love/hate relationship with used bookstores. On the one hand, I know that books sold there don't count, so the author gets no money and the publisher doesn't see that sale, so it's not taken into consideration as a measure of an author's popularity or profitability for the company, and that means it could kill an author's career if too many people are buying their books used. On the other hand, as an author who isn't wildly successful, I'm poor and have a huge book habit to support. I generally limit my used book purchases to books by dead authors, out-of-print books, or huge bestsellers where the book is already wildly successful before I buy a used copy of it.

But where I really love used bookstores is when I can find a book that's otherwise disappeared off the face of the earth. I'm a big library user, and sometimes when I really love a book I get from the library, I want to own a copy, but then I get frustrated when the book is out of print and I can't buy it. Then it goes on my mental list to check for every time I hit a used bookstore. I've had some success with that over the years. One of my best finds was my favorite book in seventh grade, a World War II spy story published in 1948 that was in my school library in Germany. I kept that book checked out most of the year, re-reading it over and over again because I figured the odds weren't great of me ever finding it again. But then when we moved back to the States, I actually found a paperback copy of it in a used bookstore. I may need to put that one back on my search list, since my copy is disintegrating and it seems like they've done occasional reprints since 1952 (the printing date on that paperback). Then there was The Boyfriend School by Sarah Bird, which I got from the library and loved, only to find out it was out of print. I found a mass market paperback at a used bookstore and actually did a happy dance in the store. Since then, it has been reissued, and now I have a nice trade paperback copy that's even been autographed.

My find this weekend was a book I've been looking for since I was in high school. It was one of the few "normal life" young adult books I really liked. I did read young adult books, but not too many that were about normal teenage life, going to the prom, dating, etc. I was more likely to read historical adventures, fantasy, science fiction or mysteries. If I read books that were just about going to school without something else going on, they would be about British boarding schools. But the summer before I started high school, I decided to mentally prepare myself by reading every teen book I could find that was about high school. I'm not sure why I thought this would help, since I suspect it raised unrealistic expectations, and besides, few of the ones in the library were very current, so they were outdated views of teen life. The one book out of all this reading that really caught my imagination was The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations by Ellen Conford. It had an interesting structure, with each chapter headed by a fragment from the school rule book, and then the chapter showing how that worked in reality (which was usually the opposite of what the rule book laid out). It was very funny, and it wasn't overly focused on who the heroine would date or if she would get a date to the prom. It was more about just dealing with all the wackiness of friends and school bureaucracy.

But I never could find this book in a store or in any library other than the base library at Fort Bliss. I looked off and on over the years, then really went searching for it back in the 90s when I wanted to use a similar structure for a novel. My local library didn't even have it. One of my Silhouette romances, Dateless in Dallas, was somewhat inspired by this book, with each chapter starting with an excerpt from a book about how to meet the perfect match, and then the chapter being about how that actually worked in real life. I've still habitually checked for this book every time I've gone to a used bookstore. And then on Saturday, I found it! There was a bit of squealing in the bookstore, and fortunately the young adult section was tucked off in a corner so I didn't draw too much attention. I was a little worried I'd no longer like it, but I read it Saturday afternoon, and it's still as cute and funny as it was when I first read it. It's a little more dated, as it takes place in the mid-70s, which didn't seem so different when I was reading it in 1982 but which now seems like a lifetime ago.

Now I don't think there's anything urgent on my search list, unless I start looking for a less battered copy of that one book. But I have found a new used bookstore that's worth exploring every so often.

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