Exploring the Okanogan by Elizabeth Widel: Discover used books, rather than Web

First contact came in hunt for a history of the alphabet

The other day I learned of something I should have picked up years ago: The world of used books.

My first contact came through a book store in Seattle, which someone had recommended in my hunt for Oscar Ogg’s “The 26 Letters,” a history of the alphabet. It sounds deadly and proved to be fascinating.

They didn’t have a copy but would advertise in their trade journal. They got 27 replies, and I got a good-condition copy of the book, which I still have.

Since then, the Internet has replaced those trade journals .

I wanted a couple of copies of R.W. Tabor and Ralph Hagerud’s “Geology of the North Cascades.” The owner of a local bookstore turned to her computer and clicked a few keys. The book’s fourth printing was in 2010 and it is now out of print.

“But I can try the used book listings for you,” she said, and clicked a few more keys. Several were offered, and I asked for two. They cost more than the original first printing had. In a few days they were here. This reminds me of what I learned a few years ago when Dee Camp, in The Chronicle newsroom, turned from her machine and said, “Here’s a bookstore in California advertising a copy of your book.”

It had published in 1973 and is long out of print. It had sold here at $8. The California store was offering it for $60. I wanted it, but not that badly.

I’m glad the two men’s book on the geology of this area did so well. I regard it as a quality piece, a compendium of trails for people to hike, together with the geology of the area and illustrated by charming line drawings, both of the physical features of the area and of the geological principles the men discuss.

But catching this small glimpse of the possibilities for books after the stock of published copies runs out is a little like having a second chance at life.

Realize that books on scientific topics get dated and inaccurate as new research comes in. But once in a while, surely, there will be a time or times when people want certain information from such books, and it is good to know there are means of getting it.

Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for

The Chronicle. This is the 2,824th column in a series. She may be reached at 509-826-1110.

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