There has been only one time in my life that I was seriously tempted to steal a book.
Every job I had in college had something to do with books– book making, book selling, and book lending. (I might be a little obsessed.) The book-selling job was at a used bookstore, and it was a blast…especially the part when it was my turn to sort and price the boxes of old, moldy books people dug out of their attics and tried to sell us for exorbitant prices.
I learned really fast that “old book” usually equals “worth a penny online.” Really, a penny. That’s what some of these cracked-spine, losing-pages hardcovers went for. Which meant, sadly, I got to add them to the toss pile. But one day, I found the dirtiest, crappiest, most expensive book I’ve ever laid my eyes on.
I almost threw it away without even looking it up. The cover had come completely off and the pages were falling out. Pubbed in 1792. But I looked it up, and got dealt a jaw-dropper. It was not worth a penny. It was worth over $3,000.
And why is that, you may ask? Because it’s Jane Austen’s disputed first work in print.
The Loiterer is a periodical published by Jane Austen’s brothers when they were at Oxford together. All 60 issues were bound in two volumes when the boys graduated. Jane was about 13 at the time, and many critics believe, based on the style, that a letter from “Sophia Sentiment” in the 9th issue was hers.
I’m not going to lie. I came this close to logging it as a throw-away item and sneaking it home in my bag. Okay, not really. One time I stole a decorative rock from my uncle’s garden and the guilt tortured me for two years before I finally absolved myself and gave it back. I don’t think I could’ve lived with that book on my conscience.
Besides, the near-fainting freak-out I got to see my boss do when I told him was totally worth it.
For a brief time, I got to touch and read and smell a book by one of my idols– a woman who had been dead over a hundred years, but whose books had formed a small part of who I am. And that, my friends, is why I love books. Why I love to read them, and write them, and help people find the books that will form a small part of who they are.
It’s my biggest dream that someday, my book THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE will help shape a person in some small way. Until then, at least I know it’s shaped me.
|Shallee McArthur originally wanted to be a scientist, until she realized she liked science best in fictional form. Her debut YA sci fi, THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE comes out November 2014 from Sky Pony Press. Her other adventures have included wrangling a group of volunteers in Ghana, changing her hairstyle way too often, and raising two small nerdlings with her husband.|