The Search for Scalzi

(Posted by Laurel Halbany)

No, not John Scalzi himself. He’s…he’s over there in Ohio somewhere. I mean his books.

I didn’t want to buy Old Man’s War right off Amazon–I generally prefer to buy from independent bookstores when I can, and failing that, it’s an excuse to go into a physical bookstore and browse. Unfortunately, I live in a smallish town where the next closest bookstore is a Borders; the next independent bookstore is about a 45-minute drive in either direction.

One of the features of my job is that I am frequently sent out to tiny, remote towns. My firm represents people harmed by asbestos, and it’s not unusual for a client who is ill or dying to have retired to a small town because it’s affordable or near family, and when they aren’t physically able to come to the Bay Area for a deposition, we go to them.

These two things came together when John posted that the second run of OMW was on its way. I should really pick this up at an independent bookstore, I thought, and then, Why not a bookstore at one of those little towns?

Thus began my quest: The Search for Scalzi.

The first thing I discovered is that many small towns simply don’t have a bookstore. People get their books at Wal*Mart, or I suppose Amazon, or the grocery store on racks. For anything like a real bookstore, you go over to the big city. In some of the towns I’ve sayed in, “the next big city” is an hour or more away and is still too small to have a bookstore. When they do have a bookstore, it tends to be very tiny, heavy on local-interest books and paperbacks.

I thought I had a pretty good chance on my last trip, since I stayed in California and was in a small farming town. The “next big city” bookstore owner explained that she doesn’t carry hardbacks often, and doesn’t order SF hardbacks, because people generally don’t buy anything but paperbacks. “Except when a new Robert Jordan book comes out, you know, those sell.”

This isn’t a commentary about OMW being obscure or hard to find. It’s not as though I’m clawing my way through stacks of pristine copies of Hokkaido Popsicle or the latest Laurell K. Hamilton and just not finding any Scalzi. I seriously underestimated how few and how rare brick-and-mortar bookstores are outside the big city, and how independent booksellers, struggling to keep their doors open, have to make very narrow choices about what they can put on their shelves.

I really feel bad about not having bought the damn book yet, so I’m probably going to stop at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books next time I’m down at the courthouse. But I can always use a second copy, eh?

The quest goes on.