On a college trip to England, I wandered off by myself to explore a small town. I wanted to find a bookstore, and I wanted to find a very specific book. It was not a book I had ever seen, yet I thought it must exist. As I entered a secondhand and antiquarian bookstore, I thought to myself, “I want to find a book that tells the tale of Robin Hood, and I want it to include the story of how Maid Marian came to Sherwood Forest dressed as a boy to find him. I want it to be small and green.” I could picture the book in my mind, and we were, after all, in England. What better place to find it?
I began searching the bookshelves, and it wasn’t long before a small green hardbound book caught my eye. It had a lovely rounded spine from the era when books were stitched into the spine instead of glued. I pulled it out. “The Foresters: Robin and Marian. A Play. Alfred, Lord Tennyson,” it said on the cover.
This is it! I felt joyful, but not very surprised. It was as if I had willed the book into being. I quickly leafed through to see if it had the classic but often omitted story of how Marian found Robin, and it did. The book was 15 pounds, which was not cheap, but not steep either—about $25 at the time. I happily bought my magical find.
I think—I hope—we all know that feeling of finding just the book we’ve been looking for. I’ve had this experience many times, and it never stops being magical.
I often have a list of hard-to-find books when I go to Powell’s. Once, I went looking for a copy of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, selected and edited by Humphrey Carpenter. This book isn’t hard to find; I could easily have ordered a paperback copy at my own bookstore. But I really wanted the now out-of-print hardcover edition, with the title in calligraphy on the front cover. I searched on the computer at Powell’s and saw they had one hardcover copy of this book. I went to the shelf, and there it was, solid, heavy, and beautiful, exactly what I wanted.
Sometimes it’s the location of the book that’s exciting. After I read K.M. Soehnlein’s excellent novel Robin and Ruby, I wanted to read its predecessor, The World of Normal Boys. I looked in several bookstores but did not find it. Again, I could have ordered it myself and gotten my bookseller discount. But somehow, I wanted the thrill of finding it on the shelf. On a visit to Seattle, I went into Elliott Bay Books on Capitol Hill. Browsing there, I didn’t ask a bookseller for help, because I wanted the thrill of the chase. I didn’t see a Gay & Lesbian Fiction section, so I went to the S’s in general fiction, and there it was! I wanted to hug whoever decided not to ghettoize gay and lesbian fiction but to put it in with general fiction, where I feel it belongs.
I was sort of giddy when I bought the book, and I told the bookseller, “I found it! I’ve been looking all over for this book, and I found it!” He barely looked up from the cash register and sort of grunted “Oh,” but it didn’t matter.
At Paulina Springs Books, where I work, it’s usually children I hear exclaiming over a book. It might not be a rare or hard-to-find book, but it’s just the book they need, and they are so happy to find it on the shelf. I smile when a child exclaims, “Mom, they have it! Can we get it?”
For me, this thrill can only take place in a brick-and-mortar store, with a print book. I’ve scored some wonderful finds online—out-of-print books a family member requested as a gift, for example—but it’s not the same feeling. I love that multisensory memory of walking through a certain bookstore in a certain town, looking through the shelves until my eye or my hand lights on just the right book.
I have one last story. My father, a writer, poet and musician/songwriter, has sung, for as long as I can remember, a haunting song he calls “Gypsy June.” It’s about migrating with the seasons. It says fall has come in, tells the many signs of fall, and says that it’s time to move on. Dad told me he’d set the music to a poem written by someone else. On his song sheet, he’d typed, “From How Could I Be Forgetting by Ben Hur Lampman.” I never knew exactly what How Could I Be Forgetting was, and never thought to look for it.
One grey, cold winter day in Hillsboro, I found a used bookstore and went in to look for Christmas gifts. I browsed, talked with the bookseller, and found a few good things. Then my eye lit on an old book on a display stand all by itself. On the cover it said, “How Could I Be Forgetting? By Ben Hur Lampman.”
“Look!” I exclaimed to my husband. “This must be where Dad got that poem for ‘Gypsy June!’ I lifted the book down and looked through the contents. Sure enough, the poem was there, along with many other poems, essays, and stories Ben Hur Lampman originally wrote for The Oregonian. I bought the book and wrapped it up for Christmas. I was so excited to watch Dad open the book I could hardly wait. When he opened it, he expressed, in his own subdued way, the same surprise and delight I’d felt on finding the book. The thrill and delight of “I found it!” was passed along through me to him.
Now it’s your turn, dear reader. Tell me of your thrilling, magical or unexpected finds. And may you all find what you are looking for, or what you didn’t know existed.
Amanda MacNaughton is a front-line bookseller and the events manager at Paulina Springs Books in Sisters and Redmond and a regular NWBL contributor. Her favorite handsells this holiday season are Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan for adults and teens and The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann for children and young teens.