For whatever reason, about a month after learning about Spider World by Colin Wilson, I found myself in California; digging holes, cleaning toilets, and building things for a New Yorker who wasn’t sure what he was trying to build.
And accounting. I was also doing some accounting.
In my free time, I was scouring the book stores and comic book stores for treasure. In the comic shops I was looking for a copy of a comic book that I’d lent out to a buddy who pretty much disappeared and whom I never saw again; and in the bookstores, I was looking for Spider World, by Colin Wilson.
Pleasantly, on the OC bus system, one can acquire a day pass for only $5. I recommend you do so not on Sunday when service is cut back more significantly than you might expect.
While searching the various book stores in the area, I came across one that seemed to hold particular promise: The Book Junction. I got the impression that it would be a dumpy place loaded with poorly organized volumes, and a lot of science fiction and fantasy. A book could hide in a place like that for years. It didn’t have a website, so their hours were not obvious, and I had to resort to Yelp — and ohhh, what a delight was their Yelp page. I have downloaded it in case it’s ever taken off the internet.
Now, I have experienced my fair share of eccentric and ornery book dealers. I was chased away from a magazine stand at the bus station in La Paz, there was a vendor in Ireland who was trying very hard to discourage me from purchasing anything, and then there was the guy who put gardening books in the science fiction section…
It seemed appropriate that I should go to this place. To this place, that was never open. To this man, who would not open his doors for eager customers, but was willing to run outside and yell at them for quietly lamenting to each other that it was never open — pedestrians that dared express a desire to enter the shop and purchase something!! (There was more than one review speaking to the unpleasantness of the customer service)
It seemed that I was destined to meet this unbalanced bookshop owner, and surely it would be here that I would find Spider World, by Colin Wilson. Surely, I would find the book, he would refuse to sell it, and I would have to challenge him to a duel of riddles or Pacman or a knife-fight to the death. Either way, the book would be mine.
But when I got there, on a very slow-bus Sunday I saw that the ‘Sunday’ line on their “Store Hours” sign had been angrily (I assume angrily) crossed out with a thick black marker. I was leaving the next evening, but of course they were closed on Monday as well.
i was sure that one day I would set foot into that bookstore, and look through books, experience bad customer service, and face down the owner. But today was not that day.
And that made sense, because if this was where I was going to find the book, it seemed far too early to succeed. After all, the Pequod didn’t find Moby Dick right away. Instead it encountered a series of vessels that had survived successively closer encounters with the white whale. The last vessel they met was only limping away from the encounter, with a final warning. And only then did Ahab come face to face with his nemesis, where he finally met with the beast’s full wrath (at least, that’s how I remember it).
After all, it was only a few days earlier that I had been in a bookstore with a friend of mine — a bookstore that wasn’t even on my map, but tucked away near another book store I’d scouted.
This place had all kinds of old and beautiful stuff. Earlier I’d suggested Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel to my friend — and there, in a glass case was a first edition copy of it! Somehow I’d missed what was right beside it.
We kept browsing until I gasped loudly, “Kimberly! Kimberly!” She rushed over.
And there was Spider World: The Tower by Colin Wilson. Right next to Clan of the Cave Bear. The man took it out of the case for me and let me look at. “This is a first edition.”
“How much…?” I asked hesitantly.
That, for me, was far too much — well out of my price range. No, the book hunt requires that I find a relatively cheap used copy. It is cheating to just throw a bunch of money at the quest. I couldn’t buy this one. It wasn’t in my budget, and it wasn’t the way of the bookhunt. It was there to show me yet again that the book really does exist. That it is out there, somewhere. Waiting for me.
“Well, it was only printed in the UK. Good luck find it!”
Indeed. If it really was only printed in the UK, then the copies lying around North America would be sparse indeed. How rare was that pulpy paperback I’d seen all those years ago?
Our first chances — the ones we often miss, are usually the easy ones. It’s those second and third chances, once we know what we want, that are much much harder. But I suppose things wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if there wasn’t something out there, pushing back against a determined effort, and the focus that comes with the frustration of past mistakes.
No, this was lovely. I have dreamed the book. I have discovered the book. And now I have seen the book. Next, I must have the book, in my hands. And then I will read the book.
And so I went to bed happy that night. A little closer to that missed opportunity, all those years ago. The book was not yet in my hands, and I would keep looking.