Hints for the Hapless

It was, oh, ten years ago that I found a book that fit in with research I was doing. I paid for it, took it home, and started in on it right away. Not until I was two-thirds of the way through did I realize that one of the reasons it fit in so well with my research was that I had read it twenty years earlier. It had provided the basis for some of the most important parts of a book I had already written.

So I feel your pain. But I cannot offer refunds for the books you buy and then find out you already own. My advice is that you develop a circle of friends who will be thrilled if you give them used books. Presumably your friends share some of your tastes, so they ought to find any book you liked enough to buy twice worthwhile.

Then, of course, your problem will be remembering next time you see that book that you already own it AND already gave a copy to your pal Sophronia.

I would like to try to help out those people who confess their terror when I make out their receipt. I sometimes tell them “Now, come back in July and buy that many books so we’ll be even.”

“As long as I don’t buy my own books back,” they say.

Deep in my heart, I don’t care, of course: the money spends just the same no matter what you buy. But in the interest of common humanity, let’s consider some devices you can use to save your money for something you haven’t already read.

Judging by the number of people who cut, rip, and ink out their names when they give a book away, writing your name in the book is not the way to go. I’ve asked the question many’s the time. Why do you care if someone knows you once owned a copy of that book on cat hair craft projects? Okay, bad example. Why do you care if somebody knows you used to own a copy of Joy of Cooking? But apparently you’re sensitive. We recently had a collection of books from someone who stamped his name on the top and bottom of the page block. He doesn’t seem to mind who knew what he owned EXCEPT for that book on growing marijuana for fun and profit. He actually carved away a three-inch chunk from the top and bottom, so his name wouldn’t show. (I don’t want to worry you, Chuck, but did you wipe your fingerprints off? Just asking.)

What you need to do is choose a symbol or a set of initials that will be uniquely your own. Write this in a spot you can remember: just inside the front cover or the back. If you put it on the upper righthand corner of the first white page, there’s a chance it’ll get erased when we price the book, so don’t pick that. It doesn’t have to be a huge symbol or long set of letters, as long as you can remember it. You can even buy a thousand Hello Kitty stickers and put one upside-down on page 39 of each book. Whatever system you use is fine so long as you remember it.

Um, and so it doesn’t lower the price of the book. Yes, you COULD, like a lot of original owners of the 45 records I get in, write your name in indelible marker in letters two inches tall. But generations of future customers will know what name to curse. A nice little pencilled note to yourself is all you need, just a trademark to operate as a little reminder. That’s all it takes to make sure you don’t buy the book when you see it again.

OR, if your significant other reminds you that that was the book you bought together on your second date, it’ll make it easier for you to know which copy to buy back come July. The system works both ways. (If you can work a little heart into your trademark, it might help whatever story you make up about why you got rid of the book in the first place. Just a tip: you can’t buy as many books if you’re paying alimony.)

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