Browse Month: October 2010

White whales, crazy rivers

“…as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote.” – Moby Dick

Finding something you seek is gratifying. Not finding what you seek when you know it’s out there is maddening. I threw search power at it, I asked after it incessantly, and I was ready a number of times to pay up. My white whale? Somewhere Down the Crazy River, an out-of-print book published in the UK in 1992. Authored by Paul Boote with Jeremy Wade, the book documents their travels to India and the Congo as they search for legendary fish. Apparently it was a fantastic read. Unfortunately, it was also impossible to find, it was sought after, and those who had it in their possession were holding on to it. The book has quite a loyal following of readers who consider it inspiring, and worth reading more than once. This lover of books and travel was eager for the good read. So began the (long, mind-numbing) search.

Attempt #1: About a month in, I found a copy for sale from a shop that I located through the US’s Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. I purchased it online immediately. An hour later, a shop employee emailed me explaining apologetically that the store no longer had the book, and that my money would be refunded right away.  Attempt #2: A few months later, I came across a British angler’s site and he mentioned that he had several angling books for sale, including two copies of the book. I emailed him, fingers crossed; his response a few days later: “Dear Marilise, I am sorry, both books have been sold. Regards, Martin.” Attempt #3: A couple of months later, I found a used hardback in pretty good condition on a British bookseller’s site. Paid for it right away only to get this a few hours later: “Dear Marilise, we’re so sorry, we had sold it and didn’t get a chance to remove it from the online inventory/so sorry to disappoint you/we’ll refund you right away/yada yada yada.” Le sigh.

I thought about doing an interlibrary loan request. While no local libraries carried the book, NYC’s main branch had it. At risk of sounding ungrateful to our public library system (a system which I proudly patronize and appreciate by the way), I knew myself well enough to admit that I had a little too much stubbornness to borrow Crazy River from a library– I wanted to pore over my own book whenever I felt like it; a library copy that I would have to give back after three weeks would only increase the thirst for ownership. Taunting me a bit was the existence of a completely unrelated book by a different author called Somewhere Down a Crazy River. Note the difference–A crazy river, as opposed to THE crazy river. Of course, Google and every online purveyor of books gave me mixed search results for both books all the time. Somewhere Down a Crazy River was available everywhere, while Somewhere Down the Crazy River was unavailable everywhere. For the record, I have nothing against the other book.

I started thinking about giving up. While my search style was far from perfunctory, I had to admit that it was getting me nowhere. But I knew the book wasn’t going to appear if I didn’t search methodically for it on a regular basis. So I began to search less, but didn’t stop altogether. Attempt #4: Recently, I found a copy on Amazon’s UK site–the first copy I’d seen available in several months. I was glad to find it, though a tad disappointed that it was in somewhat crappy shape, but I wanted to read the book enough that I was willing to overlook that. So I added it to my cart, then couldn’t purchase it because the seller had disabled international shipping. I asked her if she’d be willing to ship to the US, but didn’t get a reply. Ah well, so close… When I wasn’t buying nonexistent copies of this book on various websites, I was corresponding with many friendly, helpful, well-meaning people at different bookshops in the UK and around the States.

My last resort was trying the authors directly. I was a bit reluctant to go that route, unsure how to formulate the following stream of thoughts into a presentable request: ‘I’d love one of your sought after, out-of-print books/Name your price/Please don’t name a price that I can’t afford.’ But I was worried that the copies still out there would just find their way into the hands of people other than myself and I’d lose my shot. Attempt #5: I was determined to remain sunny in my outlook, so I tracked down one of the writers online and sent him a message explaining that I had been searching for his book for a while and asked him whether he’d be willing to sell me a copy. A few hours after I sent my message, I received an answer–Mr. Boote responded that he did have a copy that he could sell me. Oh…and his copy was a pristine hardback. Le smile.

Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it. – Patrick Jake O’Rourke

When it rains, it pours. Two days after getting the reply, I got an email alert that the book had turned up on a particular website and that it was available for sale. Later that same day, I got a separate email from a UK bookfinding service that I had gotten in touch with in July. He sends me a message saying, “Dear Marilise, I am pleased to report that I have now located a copy of the book. Please email.” Go figure. I responded that I had just found a copy from someone else and thanked him for looking. I am slightly ashamed of myself for reveling in my find and momentarily forgetting that I had asked several book-finders and book-sellers to please actively search for the book on my behalf; I hate when people waste my time, and I hate to think I’ve done it to someone else. At least this book sells easily– if he has it in hand, he’ll have no trouble finding someone to buy it. I immediately went through my old emails and found all other book sellers with whom I was in touch, and promptly sent them messages letting them know that I’d found what I was after.

So, the book’s now in hand, along with a wonderful documentary about fish and life in northern India that he kindly sent along with it. I’m reading the book, savoring the storytelling and have made a note of a few other writings mentioned in its pages that I’d like to check out, most of which should prove easier to acquire than this book. A gem of a moment for me: two mornings ago I was reading and had to put the book down after my heart skipped a few beats–out of nowhere there’s a mention on page 20-something of one of my absolute favorite films, Greystoke, a movie so dear to my heart because each summer for several years, my cousins and I watched it every day during their long visits from Haiti. **And this great film also has a lovely-but-hard-to-find soundtrack that finally got its official CD release about a week ago through La La Land Records, and the CD includes in-depth liner notes. Just thought I’d share…

I’m normally a fast reader, but I haven’t even reached page forty yet. I predict much drawn-out delight and inspiration.

“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” – Erasmus

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