A writer reaches a new level of humility the first time he finds one of his books for sale in a second-hand bookstore. It's like finding your first gray hair.
There the book sits on a dusty shelf, like a full-grown dog hoping to be adopted by a kind-hearted person. And what are the chances of that happening, with all those frisky new puppies to choose from?
It's happened to me numerous times in New York City, and the really painful part comes when you open the front cover and find your handwritten inscription to one of your friends.
Yeah, that's right. Your "friend" sold the book for a quick buck, without even bothering to tear out the inscription page!
The first time it happens, it really hurts. Then you have time to think it over, and you realize that space is precious in New York City, and new books come in all the time, and there's only so much room on the lifeboat.
At least your friend didn't throw the book in the trash, right?
Now this story takes a hairpin turn - a 3600 mile turn, to be exact - all the way to the leafy British suburb of Hampton, where I live. Check out this little bookstore, right by the local train station:
It's one of my favorite places, filled with rickety racks of second-hand books. I've been going there for years, and sometimes I'm shocked by what I find.
Like the time I came upon "The Boys Of Summer," by Roger Kahn. A book about the Brooklyn Dodgers, in a British book shop? How the hell did that get here?
But that was nothing compared to the shock that hit me on my latest visit, when I dropped in to browse and my eye caught a familiar yellow cover on a dog-eared paperback.
Oh yeah. It was my 2009 novel "Raising Jake," jammed on a rack beside Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon."
I'd been second-handed in a second country, and to make matters worse, the inscription page was intact. No need to identify my British "friend." You know who you are!
I brought both books to the sweet little old lady at the desk.
"I wrote this one," I couldn't help telling her as I handed her my book.
"Oh my!" she said. "Well, we cannot charge you for that one!"
A lovely gesture, but I insisted upon paying. Hell, it was only one pound and fifty pence - a little over two bucks. Same price for "The Maltese Falcon."
I left the shop laughing. I'm not even upset at my British friend who ditched my book.
Because for a while there, I got to stand shoulder to shoulder with Dashiell Hammett. First-rate company for a second-hand book.