The Hess Report


Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Best Book Site I've Ever Seen 

One of my co-workers turned me on to a site called abebooks.com. They are an aggregator of inventory information for used and specialty booksellers around the world. Just like Amazon marketplace or half.com, they just broker the sale itself, so, while you're ordering from them, the order actually goes to the third party bookseller who fulfills it.

The thing I love about Abe is that you can easily filter search results based on book collecting criteria: hardcover, first edition, signed by author, etc. That's right -- that book that you've read your paperback edition of so many times that it's held together with masking tape on the binding? A signed first edition hardback is on Abe for $40.00 (ymmv).

I'm guessing that I could spend the entire $700 billion of the financial rescue package on Abe without trying too hard.

Last week, I placed my first order, for The House with a Clock in Its Walls, by John Bellairs. I got a hardcover copy with good dust jacket for less than $8 shipped. First editions are available (with various degrees of library markings) from $29 - $210. I just wanted a nice hardcover for the bookshelf, though, so I didn't need to go for the FE. Here's a sample book description from one of the listings. You can get a feel for the level of inspection these books go through:
N.Y.: Dial, 1973, 1st Edition, 1st Printing, 1973. Hard Cover. Book Condition: Fair. Dust Jacket Condition: Good price Clipped. Mercer Mayer and Edward Gorey (illustrator). First Edition. ----------hardcover, ex library, purple cloth, in a Good price clipped dustjacket, sticker on spine, bottom corner of front flap is clipped as well but this is not a book club, libraries seem to be prone to clipping both corners of the front flap, wear at extremities to dustjacket but still an attractive copy of this 1st edition, any image directly beside this listing is the actual book and not a generic photo.
Very cool. The book itself is the story of Lewis Barnavelt, an orphaned boy sent to live with his uncle. Unlike Harry Potter, which would come decades later, Lewis is decidedly not mistreated by the uncle, who, it turns out, is a sorcerer. The way that magic is presented in this series of young adult books is far more appealing to me than that found in HP, as it seems to twist the very fabric of reality whenever and however it is used. The dread that you experience as a reader during a particular car chase scene, or at the end of the book when they must confront the ghost of Selenna Izard, is so far beyond anything that the HP books managed to summon. I reread the book a couple of years ago, and, while it's clear that the intended audience is in the 9-13 year old range, it completely holds up for an adult as both a work of fantasy and for scares. Maybe it was just the recall of my first experience reading the book decades ago, but I was seriously creeped out (in a good way!) after finishing it again.

If you have kids and they're into both Harry Potter and those silly Goosebumps style books, give them this for an excellent hybridization of the genres that predates them both. I'm guessing that Maddie will love it. More about the book here. And check out abebooks.com.

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