Since roughly age 11, I've had an incorrigible attraction to books. My father's Heritage Club selections; my mother's hardback Harper mysteries. In my teenage years, the first thing I bought with my first paycheck, for running various errands around New York City on my first big-time summer job, for American Oil Company, in 1957, was, of course, a book: The Wapshot Chronicle, the recently-published, award-winning novel by The New Yorker magazine's John Cheever. Of course, I had a devil of a time understanding its true meaning, but I was mighty proud that I'd read it at all. And I'd paid for it with my own money.
In those golden days of yore -- and they were plentiful -- you could buy a new novel for $3.95. (Before the War, it'd been $2.50). But prices soon lifted off into the stratosphere, and haven't yet returned to Earth. The last novel I bought, for instance, a hardback edition of Jane Smiley's Good Faith cost $26. The book I'm currently reading for the purpose of writing a review for Library Journal is a very heavy 1084-page study (It's not subway-reading.) of the uses to which European writers put the Roman poet Virgil during the Middle Ages. It costs $100.
It's no secret: we're graduating functional illiterates from our high schools and even a lot of our colleges. So, maybe now's not the best time to raise the price of books across the board, agreed?
Well, there's always that magnificent civic institution called the public library, whether New York's lion-flanked beauty, at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, or Nevada's, at 218 West Walnut (telephone (417) 448-2770). Before I started reading any self-respecting hardback book, as a child, one or both my parents used to ask me if I'd washed my hands. I always had, and I still do. Moreover, I still hesitate to write in a hardback, even in pencil, or turn down an upper corner of pages, and I assume you do, too. I think it's a conditioned reflex, don't you?
I know you shouldn't write in or fold pages in a library book or in a friend's book. Still, making notes or underlining passages are well-nigh irresistible temptations when I'm reading my own books. So, as a result, I'm always on the lookout for used or sale-price books in which I can feel comfortable pursuing these peculiar habits.
When my family drive to Joplin, I always spend a few minutes (actually, half an hour or more) perusing the on-sale hardbound books in Hastings or the on-sale paperbacks across Range Line, in Books-a-Million. If I can't find anything I like there, I can drive home and turn to the pages of the latest DAEDALUS catalog. I learned about this DAEDALUS outfit from my friend and colleague Marjorie Goss many years ago, and I've stayed faithful to them largely because I like the selection and discounts they offer.
In their Winter 2008 catalog, for example, they offer Roger Angell's Let Me Finish, a collection of essays on the members of his illustrious family, an essay on his becoming an ardent Yankee fan in the days of Ruth, Gehrig, and the young Dimaggio, published at $25 by Harcourt, but offered by DAEDALUS for only $5.95. They also offer Paul Fussell's The Boys' Crusade -- American GIs in Europe: Chaos and Fear in World War Two, an import available for $5.98. I've read two other books on World War Two by Paul Fussell, and have become a Fussell fan. DAEDALUS sells CDs, too, and the current catalog offers Eric Clapton: Complete Clapton, originally selling for $25.95, but available from DAEDALUS for $15.95.
What they sell is not "used" books or "pre-played" CDs, but new-minted books and fresh CDs. What I like about this catalog is that it's highly selective, the book and CD selections are described by knowing readers and listeners; pertinent remarks by other readers and listeners are quoted; number of pages, price, and time-length are listed.
If you should want a DAEDALUS catalog, phone them at (800) 395-2665, weekdays, 9a.m.-8 p.m. (Eastern Time), or write them at DAEDALUS BOOKS, PO Box 6000, Columbia, MD 21045-6000.
Wife Ginny, who, in fact, used to work in the New York Public Library, at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, has discovered two outfits that traffic in "previously read" books. The first is BookMooch (www.BookMooch.com), whose self-described purpose is to "Give books away. Get books you want." This is a site where readers trade their old books for new. Their business card lists the four steps you take to help others and yourself get the books desired:
"1) Type in books you want to give away;
2) Receive requests from others for your books;
3) Mail your books and receive points;
4) Ask for books from others with your points." There is no charge for the service other than the postage to ship the books.
The second is bookcrossing.com,a fun site that enables book-lovers to follow the adventures of their liberated books. The bookplate for which depicts a panda sitting beneath a tree, and reading a book. It reads, "I'm a very special book. You see, I'm traveling around the world making new friends. I hope I've made another one in you. If so, please go to www.bookcrossing.com, where you can make a brief journal entry with my BCID number (below). You will see where I've been , and my old friends will be happy to know I'm safe here in your hands. Then help keep my dream alive -- READ AND RELEASE me!" In the lower part of the bookmark is room for the Book Crossing ID, below which is a line for "First Registered by." And below that is a line for "When and Where."
The organization's slogan is "If you love your books, set them free."
Readers are encouraged to trade their books, give them away, leave them on park benches for others to read. etc., etc. , to "help make the whole world a library and share the joy of literacy." The most traveled shared book (Dan Brown's Angels and Demons), by the way, has so far had 1,473 readers.
What a wonderful, money-saving, and space-efficient idea!