Monday, June 2, 2014


I've just discovered the month-long "bookaday" conversation currently rocketing around the blogosphere. Every day in June, us bibliophiles (or "fetishists," as we are known to Kindle devotees) are invited to tell a story about the books in our lives. Who could resist?

Today's topic is Best Bargains. I have an unfair advantage in this category since I reviewed books for the SF Chronicle for 13 years, so I got lots of free stuff. (And they paid me too—what a racket!)

One of my biggest scores was a hardcover, first edition (with dust jacket) of Charles Palliser's debut historical novel, The Quincunx. I knew nothing about Palliser or the book at the time (let alone had I any clue what a "quincunx" is), and no doubt I grumbled lustily about its girth: 781 pages, not counting maps, charts, and family trees. But it turned out to be one of my Favorite. Books. Ever. (Here's my review on Goodreads.)

 Also for review purposes, I once received a massive paperbound galley of Edward Rutherford's first historical novel, Sarum, which I also loved.  (My review was so positive, it was quoted—with my name!—in an ad for the book that ran in The New Yorker.)     

A couple of years later, when Rutherford came to the Capitola Book Cafe, I showed him the ad. (Of course I kept it; it's my only chance to say I've been published in The New Yorker!) And he was gracious enough to sign my well-worn dog-eared galley.

I made out like a bandit the year I went to a Historical Novel Society conference and swapped one of my little paperbacks of The Witch for a spanking new hardcover of Broos Campbell's robust seafaring adventure, The War of Knives.

But one of my best bargains ever came out of the Edward R. Hamilton book catalogue, from which I used to feed my fiction habit way back in the day before I had online access.

This catalogue offered thousands of mostly remaindered books at cheapo prices—but with only a scant sentence or two of description, it was always a crapshoot what you'd get!

But some sort of guardian book angel must have been at work the day I ordered a remaindered hardcover historical novel called Playing The Jack, by an author I'd never heard of, Mary Brown. I wouldn't have spent more than about three or four bucks on it, and probably less, but I took a chance—and fell madly in love.

To this day, I will rhapsodize about this book to ANYONE not speedy enough to get away!

(PS: Since I came in a day late to this conversation, I missed yesterday's topic, Favorite Book(s) from Childhood. But, aha! Here's a blog I recently posted on that very subject!)

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