Prized Books and Unexpected Ducks

by Mel Gilden

Despite the stack of To Be Read books already on your night table, there may be some books you think of as The Ones That Got Away.

It's true that in a world where online bookstores carry almost everything, it is rare that you cannot find the prize you've always wanted to read. But when I was a kid there were no online bookstores, and worse yet I had very little money to call my own. I was pretty much at the mercy of adults and the public library. Two books from that period come immediately to mind.

In 1959 I saw A Journey to the Center of the Earth for the first time, and was mesmerized by it. (When I tell people that Pat Boone is in one of my favorite movies, and that one of his scenes includes a sheep and a group of nuns, many of them don't believe me. But it is all true.)

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Pat Boone, Peter Ronso, James Mason, and Arlene Dahl

For many months I searched the library we frequented but could not find any version of the original Jules Verne novel. Then, one Saturday morning I found it. I didn't know then and don't know now whether the library had recently purchased the book, or whether it had been checked out for months at a time — but I guess it really doesn't matter.

I didn't even look for the other book I wanted to read because I didn't think it existed. The book was Three Men In a BoatTo Say Nothing of the Dog by Jerome K. Jerome. Robert Heinlein mentioned it in his science fiction novel Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, but I was pretty sure that Heinlein had made it all up, particularly the author's name.

Jerome K Jerome

Jerome K. Jerome and friends.

Many years after I read Heinlein's novel for the first time I was browsing in a small used record store among the LP albums — yes, there was vinyl in those days — when I came across a short shelf of used books. Much to my astonishment, one of the books was Three Men In a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. It cost a dime, which seemed a small enough price to pay for something I'd been searching for since I was twelve.

In each case — finding A Journey to the Center of the Earth, and finding Three Men in a Boat — it took me a moment to confirm that I was seeing what was there and not some mirage. But I did not wait long before I quickly pulled the book from the shelf. I didn't want somebody else to grab it and make off with it. I read each book with great pleasure and even today, each of them is one of my favorites.

The books you search for are probably not mine, but I wish you luck in finding them. Stay vigilant. You never know when one will present itself.