Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Power of a Book Out of Print

Note: The following was originally written last night as a bit of encouragement to some of my fellow authors who will also see their books go out of print when Booktrope closes today, for many and varied reasons.

I was asked to post it again, and so I am posting it here. I hope it gives hope to anyone who has ever put a book out there and then either removed it from circulation or had it taken down with the closing of a publisher. It's a story about a book that went out of print before I was born, and how much it means to me, still.


Some forty-one years ago, when I was just a scrawny little thing with hair the color of straw and enormous blue eyes too sensitive to open wide in the sunlight, there was a library in a small shopping mall not far from our home.

The mall had a restaurant, a candy store, a book store and a few shops of sorts…but my love was the library.

On one trip to that library, my mother discovered a book that would become my favorite; The King’s Procession, by James and Ruth McCrea. 

Brightly illustrated, it told a story about bravery, kindness, and loyalty.

How I wanted to own that book.

The only trouble was it had gone out of print years before; and so the only way to get it was to keep renewing it from the library.

We did that—renewing it instead of returning it—for a good long while. But then one day there was a request from another reader for the book, and so it had to be returned. My heart was heavy as I gave it over to the librarian, somehow I knew I’d never see it there again.

In two weeks or so when it was time for the book to be returned, Mom and I made a trip to the library but alas, no King’s Procession. The book was not returned on time.

The book was never returned at all.

Week after week we’d check, but the librarian would only shake her head. Someone had simply decided, it seemed, to keep it.

The idea of stealing a book from a library was hard enough for me to comprehend, but then came the worst shock of all to my four year old system; one week we went back to visit the library and found that it was gone.

Without warning the place had just closed up. I remember standing on my toes with my forehead against the window, peering in to see the empty shelves, rows and rows of them.

I don’t remember if I cried that day, but I know that I sure felt like it.

They never did bring the library back to Northville Square.

The little mall still exists, I found, and last year I took a walk through it for the first time in almost forty years. It’s sparsely populated with boutiques now, including a small antiques store I wished I could have browsed longer before my asthma started complaining. I love antiques, but my body does not love their unique, vintage fragrance.

There is a point to this story, though, and one that I want everyone who is feeling lost right now, whose books are going out of print tomorrow, to remember.

I never forgot about The King’s Procession, and I searched high and low for it for thirty years. Then long about the time I was going to turn thirty-five, I realized that we had a marvelous tool now called a search engine, and surely someone must have heard of the book or had a copy at some point. Maybe there was one on Ebay for auction, maybe someone had one in their home and had no interest in it. 
Maybe a copy for me was out there, just maybe.

I found it on a site called Alibris, a fine condition copy that had been from a library. It even had the dust jacket (rare).

Then I found they had another copy from another seller. No dust jacket, but it was in splendid condition as well.

Immediately I ordered them, one for myself and my daughter and one for my mother. And when I held that book in my hands after thirty years, it was like reuniting with an old friend. I remembered, somehow, every illustration, the poetic turns of phrase, and the sweet simple message it contained; that new is not always improved, and love and loyalty are the most important things of all.

Today, that book is one of my most prized possessions: a book that went out of print during the decade before I was born. A book I happened across that made such an impression on me that I never forgot it; and I will never forget it.

The authors will never know. I don’t know if they’re even still with us in this world, but they will never know what their book meant to that little girl and means to this grown woman, whose own books are now going to be out of print.

This experience gives me hope; that maybe one of my books will stay with someone, any someone, out there, so much that one day they will wander to a site like Alibris (which is now selling used copies of my books… talk about coming full circle) and find a copy of a book that means something to them, for whatever reason.

It could be your book they go searching for and find, and cherish even more for its rarity.

So don’t despair if you’re not sure how you’ll get your books out there again right now. Trust that they have touched someone out there already, just by existing. Someone knows your characters’ names, imagines their faces and voices, and understands the story you were trying so hard to tell.

As I prepare to place the rest of my novels up on what I imagine to be the world’s biggest public library (Wattpad) I do so with the hopes that as many people can check my books out, as it were, as they like; and that they might see something in them that will stay in their hearts.

Here’s to you, James and Ruth McCrea. How sad you must have been on the day when The King’s Procession went out of print; but how happy I like to think you’d be, if you knew that your story lives on in my family, passed down to the next generation, and cherished between us for all our lives.

So my books will be out of print after tomorrow; there will still be some of them ‘out there’ and that makes everything, all of it, worth it to me.