October 2009 | Fine Books Editors

Anything, Anywhere

That old saw that book collectors like to recite that "anything can be anywhere," can, quite honestly, waste a lot of your time.  I think that's one reason that sites like AbeBooks and Biblio.com have become so popular -- they are, if nothing else, efficient.

I have also noticed -- and I don't know if it is just me -- that flea market books are decidedly less interesting.  It has been awhile since I've found anything of note in such a place.  I think the access to price data on used books has greatly reduced the chances of finding something noteworthy.

But I keep looking, and if nothing else, I will occasionally find something of interest to me personally, even if it is not particularly valuable. 

This past weekend, for example, with a little extra time on my hands while in Greenville, NC, I decided to duck into an "antique" store to look around.  This involved actually parking the car, and I was torn about stopping in the first place.  When I entered, I was greeted promptly with, "We close at 5."

"What time is it now?" I asked.

"It's five 'til five," the clerk responded.  Should I turn and leave or give it a quick walk-thru.

"I'll just be a minute," I said.  With no books in sight, this wouldn't take long, but about two minutes into my efforts, I spotted five or six books, which, even from a distance, I could tell were an assortment of old college yearbooks.  As I stepped closer, two were titled Yachety Yack, which I recognized as the yearbook of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  I can't say why I knew that, exactly, since I never attended there, but my father had, and perhaps he had mentioned it along the way.  I pulled the books out, and what struck me first was how much thinner the 1942 yearbook was than the 1941.  World War II, of course, had drained so many of the college boys away from campus in just a single year.

Although my father had never purchased a college yearbook -- he professed to being too poor for one -- I realized that with him having been born in 1920, he was almost certainly among the students in one of these books.  Sure enough, among the junior class in 1941, he was there -- nineteen or twenty years old, looking younger than I had ever seen him.  When you stare into a photograph of a parent in their youth, you really open a floodgate of emotions. You know this person hadn't yet thought of you -- hadn't thought perhaps about much of anything. 

I quickly looked through the 1942 yearbook, but of course, my father was not there.  He had gone to war, as I knew he had, and although he later became a doctor, he would never return to Carolina to finish his undergraduate degree.  After the war, I suppose, everything was different.

I bought the yearbook, of course -- $35, which was overpriced but yet a bargain to me.  I made the store clerk happy that she had waited a few extra moments, and for myself, I understood all over again the value of a book.