Alan Riquelmy: Book judging

Sometimes, I think, it’s the book that finds the person.

You’d suppose it would be the other way around. Someone walks into the bookstore, a title on their mind. They scan the shelves until they find it, pay the cashier and leave.

Certainly, that’s how things usually go, except when they don’t.

Stepping recently into an antiquarian book sale, I got the familiar feeling of being enveloped by history. It’s like when you find yourself in some massive library, lost among towering shelves with no one else around. You look at the time after awhile and discover it’s much later than you thought. The weight of the books looms over you, history bundled in paper, bound between leather covers.

Except here, in this place, all the old, musty tomes are for sale — history with a price tag, and not as musty as you first thought.

Most of these old books are in pristine condition. First print, first edition, covered in a clear book cover and far more expensive than you thought. There’s a lot of Ian Fleming, plenty of nonfiction about California, and a smattering of books I’m interested in.

What I’d really like is a copy of “The Catcher in the Rye.” I’d seen one both Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., both going for around $20,000. So, no, I’m not picking up a copy of that particular vintage, but it would be nice to find a later printing.

It’s not here, though. Disappeared in the back of Ed Banky’s car, most like, never to be seen again.

There’s plenty of other good finds at sales like these. I’ve stumbled upon a few, or maybe they spotted me as I slowly wound through the aisles.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, first edition, sitting atop a small bookshelf shaped like a pyramid. I flipped it open, checked the printing and condition, and quickly bought it.

“That went fast,” the seller mentioned. Wonder how long he’d had it before I whisked it away.

There’s this bit of information near the front. The author thanking various people, mentioning certain places, like the English Department on the campus of The University of Alabama.

I once sat there, on the second floor of Morgan Hall, in my first college-level English class. A stuffy, high ceiling room where we dug into Joyce and Tennyson. Loreena McKennitt wafting through the hall, and here, in this book that has nothing to do with any of that, a sentence from the author that can return me to that spot in time.

Maybe that’s why we keep going back to the old favorites. They remind us of a piece of ourselves that can be recaptured by flipping to the right page. Like chucking the football back and forth as the sun slowly sets, until some teacher tells us to go inside. We might have been standing outside Morgan Hall that day, throwing the ball. I can remember seeing Jane, out of the corner of my eye, as I made the final catch.

Or maybe it was in a book I read. Who can tell? I just might be the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life.

On this day, at the antiquarian book sale, I’m just about to go when the book grabs me. J.D. Salinger’s “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction” wasn’t on my bucket list. I’d read it years ago, and now here it was, somehow in my hand after handing the book dealer my card.

It’s not “Catcher,” but it’s a great book for my tiny collection. The big find will come next time.

Certainly, it’ll happen next time.

Alan Riquelmy is the editor-in-chief of the Sierra sun and editor of The Union. He can be reached at or at 530-477-4249

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