Thursday, October 03, 2013

Treasure hunting

The annual book fair is in town this weekend, a huge event I try to visit every year. Bookstores, various culture organisations, and many authors gather there in a wonderful chaos. In addition to new books, the fair always has one large hall that is dedicated to second hand books. Probably every single second hand book shop in the country brings their inventory there. It feels like that anyway.

Every year, I start from the used books hall. The books there are always more interesting than in the other halls where the chain bookstores bring the latest bestsellers – all of them the same ones. I find the atmosphere in that hall more suitable to my temperament too. But it’s an exhausting and overwhelming task to go through the thousands of books, hoping to find one or two that I like, even if I skip the wares of vendors who specialise in books that I’m not interested in. After a while, I’m unable to see the individual books, they just become a colourful blur of spines. 

So I’ve come up with a system. Before I start, I decide on a book that I will hunt. Searching for a special book makes the experience more fun and the task easier, on top of which comes the joy of success, should I happen to find what I want. Also, it prevents me from buying too many books on a whim. An important factor too.

For many years, I had the same book that I looked for, but never found: What Katy did at school by Susan Coolidge (1873). It’s the second book in Coolidge’s Katy series about the Carr family and especially the eldest daughter Katy, five books in all.

Susan Coolidge: What Katy did at school
I loved the series when I was a child and read the books over and over again. I lived through the ups and downs of Katy’s life – her severe injury followed by a miraculous recovery, her time at an all girls’ school, her trip to Europe where she eventually found her happily ever after, and the lives of her sisters as settlers in the Midwest. The books were slightly preachy; I could see that even as a child, but I didn’t care. 

I was past the age of reading the series when I began to collect it. I found the first book in a second hand shop, a 1948 translated edition. The rest I bought as a facsimile of that edition some years later. But the second book in the series was sold out. 

Curiously, the book turned out to be difficult to find, providing me with the excitement of the hunt for years. I occasionally ran into other books in the series, but never that one. It always puzzled me, because I didn’t think it was such a rare book. There had even been that facsimile edition.

Last year, my long hunt came to an end. I finally found the book. It was more expensive than I thought it would be – in general, the second hand books have become pricier at the fair – but I had hunted it for so long that I absolutely had to buy it. And it was a 1948 edition instead of the reprint so I decided it was worth it.

My exiting hunt was over. However, it means that for the first time in years, I don’t have a special book to look for when I go to the fair. I’ve decided to take it as a challenge. It might be fun too. I will keep my eyes open for something new, for different treasures. I’m sure I’ll find a nice book or two to rehome. Who knows, maybe I’ll find a beginning of a new collection there too, that will keep the hunt going for years.