The Thrill of the Hunt

“I have been looking for this book MY WHOLE LIFE!”

A lot of customers will sympathize with this buyer, even if he was only about six years old. There are plenty of people who come to the Book Fair looking for their Holy Grail, from the woman who burst into tears as she was showing me a New York Times Cookbook in her price range to the woman who barreled into the fiction area declaring “I would KILL for Stephen king in hardcover!” (I believed her, and got out of her way.)

It doesn’t even have to be that One Special Book, or Holy Grail. It can be a chance encounter with a book you didn’t expect would matter to you. One woman carried off five novels she didn’t intend to read, simply because she remembered her grandmother reading Grace Livingston Hill. Another took an armful of paperbacks because her mother was always going to garage sales looking for Betty Neels. “I wonder if she’s any good,” she said, “And at this price I can afford to find out.”

Some people shopping in the children’s section will admit they’re buying the books for themselves.  “I know I read The Velvet Room when I was eleven, and I loved it,” said one shopper.  “But I can’t for the life of me remember how it came out.”  And there’s a lot of “I didn’t know that was a novel before it was a movie.  I wonder what how much alike they are.”

People are thrilled to find travel books about the places where their parents met, or old textbooks they didn’t use but which have the name of their old elementary school stamped in the front.  I myself once opened a two volume Greek-English lexicon of the 1890s to find its original owner lived in my hometown in Iowa. It’s a nice town, but I wouldn’t expect to find many Greek-English dictionaries there. (And I didn’t; it had to go to Chicago before I saw it.)

One woman dropped by to chat one day and picked up a cookbook that was sitting on a table. “I had a copy of this but I lent it to somebody,” she said. “There was an apple crisp recipe on page….” She opened the book and fell silent.

Her name was written on the flyleaf. The person she’d lent the book to thirty years earlier had moved out of town and donated a load of books on the way. She bought it, of course.  I was glad to be part of the reunion (though she never dropped off any apple crisp.)

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