Tuesday evening, downtown Monterey hosted a three-block-long Farmers Market. As Karen and I wandered among the produce, arts and crafts, and street food vendors, we noticed a used book store half a block down a side street and stepped inside to find a small two-story shop packed with tomes both old and new, lit and smelling just right.
The proprietor was a distinguished older woman. We could tell from overhearing her conversation with another customer that she had read, and had a strong opinion about, every book in the place. I climbed the creaky dog-legged stairs, found an interesting book on the craft of writing (Stein on Writing by Sol Stein) marked $7, and brought it back down to buy. As I turned the corner onto the first floor my eye caught a trio of books high on a shelf, and standing on my tip-toes I was just able to pull down one of the three volumes comprising the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, circa 1770.
"Just out of curiosity," I said, "how much are you asking for these?"
"Oh no," she scoffed, as if someone asking the price of a book in her book store was the most absurd thing she'd ever heard. "No no no."
In the next half second, three possibilities occurred to me:
1. She had sized me up and decided I couldn't afford it, which was probably true.
2. She had sized me up and decided I didn't deserve it, which hurt my feelings.
3. It just wasn't for sale to nobody no-how. Which turned out to be the case.
Still trying to convince her I was worthy, I blurted out, "I love the Britannica. I have the ninth edition from 1892." It was passed down to me by my great-grandmother and holds a place of honor on our family-room bookshelves.
"No no," she said. "I've never seen a set like that and doubt I'd ever find another."
"I've never seen it before, either," I said.
"Did you look at that one?"
"Yeah, I thumbed through it."
"Now you've seen it," she answered, crisply closing the matter.
Still not sure where I stood with this formidable woman, I handed her the Stein book I'd found upstairs.
"Well, since you won't sell me the encyclopedia," I said as lightly as I could manage, "I'll take this instead."
She looked at the Stein book.
"Do you want to be a writer? Or are you?"
"I am a writer. Hoping this book will make me a better one."
She gave me another quick once-over.
A $2 discount. I took that as a sign I'd been deemed a little worthy after all, paid the lady, and stepped happily through her door back into the market.
|The Old Monterey Book Co., 136 Bonifacio Plaza, Monterey.|
I didn't think to take a photo, but found this online. Thanks to
L.D. at the Monterey Daily Photo blog.