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Monday, December 27, 2010

THE MAGICAL MONARCH OF MO

Last week, while away for our anniversary, my wife and I found treasures.  I won't tell the story of her finds, as I'm sure she'll be posting it up on her own blog, but here's mine:

I grew up with a book called The Magical Monarch of Mo, by L. Frank Baum--you know, the same guy who did The Wizard of Oz.  It's a collection of short stories that all occur in, and around, and to the inhabitants of the land of Mo.  Of the many stories and books my dad read my five siblings and me at bed times, this was the most common and our collective favorite by far, if I can speak for my brothers and sisters.  Such is the power of this book--over me, at least--that it even became the central metaphor, as well as lending one of its characters as title, to my most recently completed book (still waiting to hear back from an interested publisher).

Some years ago, my dad got a call from his oldest sister, who said, basically, "Johnny, you have my copy of The Magical Monarch of Mo, and I need it back."  Ridiculous.  Dad had had the book for well over a, uninterrupted quarter century.  Isn't there, like, a statute of limitations on book ownership?

I've been looking for this book--the same edition (any edition is rare enough as it is) --for fifteen years.  Every book store, library, estate and garage sale, and what-/whoever sells a book, I've checked for this edition.  Even Ebay, where I've actually found, but for hundreds of dollars.

Last week, Angie and I went up to Logan, Utah for a day away.  Among other places, we stopped by a used book store.  Out of habit, certainly not hope, I hiked across the quarter acre (seriously--and that just upstairs) of claustrophobic bookshelves to the children's section.  I won't get into the awe-inspiring blend of treasure and crap that crammed, floor to ceiling, this old store, or the fact that I went to the wrong children's section on first attempt, then wandered around poetry and philosophy for fifteen minutes or so.  Eventually I found the next children's section and there, right there with all the other Bs, all but invisible, was the book.  The same edition.  In slightly better condition than I remember my dad's (my aunt's...)!

I started to tremble.  I felt tears well up.  (Pathetic, I know, but I've been looking for this book for half of my life!)  I took it carefully from the shelf and carried it to my wife.  On the jittery walk back across the store, I fumbled open the cover and saw penciled there,"$50."

I'm unemployed!

It could have said $200 and I'd have bought it.  I showed Angie.  "You have to buy it," she said.

"I have to buy it," I replied.

We took it to the counter.  The lady opened the cover.  She said, "It's thirty dollars.  You're aware of that?"

I opened my mouth, and Angie stepped on my foot.  I guess I could have misread the label--faded, bad handwriting.  (And I haven't gone back to look.)  "Would you take ten for it?" she asked.

"Fifteen?" she replied.

"Deal!"

I've had the book for a week now.  Tomorrow it goes in a specially packaged, well-insured, pre-paid USPS box for Scio, Ohio, where my parents live.

Very exciting.

6 comments:

  1. Congratulations. Very cool story. I read this one on my Nook a few months ago, but I'm sure the book is cooler. I think that some of these Baum books are very hard to find. Apparently this one was, at least.

    Also, how could they ask $50 or even $30 for an old, used book? I know it means a lot for someone like you, but it's not like it's an original copy of the Gutenberg Bible or something. I'm glad you were able to bargain for it.

    Anyway, I'm very happy for you. This is cool.

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  2. Do you collect baseball cards?

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  3. Very true. I see the connection.

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  4. It's a hard thing to define, though.... All the same words. This on'es got different illustrations, but those don't change the story. I guess that's another thing that makes us human. (I haven't thought this through as it's just occurred to me, but what is the evolutionary advantage of nostalgia, among other things?)

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  5. See, I'm wondering, though, because I can see YOU spending a ton of money on the book because of your personal history. But how many book collectors are there really for a book store to charge $30/$50 and have a reasonable expectation of selling it? I'm probably just totally ignorant of this, but it just seems high to me.

    Evolutionary advantage to nostalgia? Hmm. Perhaps it goes with the general human nature to prefer older, safer things to newer ones. In other words, genetics would favor those who stuck with the knowable, safe berry over those who just randomly stuffed whichever type of new food into their mouths. But I get depressed if I start thinking about emotions in this sense too much.

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  6. Yeah -- emotions as nothing more than physiological survival tools.... Ugh.

    Funny thing about this store: Angie spoke with the attendant who said the owner comes in regularly and jocularly comments that the store doesn't make enough money to pay the electric bill. And, by her, it's true. She says he maintains the store because it's a hobby. Wow.

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