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Out of print bestsellers

By Ron Charles, book editor / July 17, 2003



A funny thing happened on the way to obsolescence. The Internet revolution, which was supposed to consign printed books to the shredder, instead energized the market for old ones. Thousands of used bookstores no longer need to wait for an interested buyer to spot some cherished but lost title on a dusty shelf. Databases on the World Wide Web can now connect the most obscure book with anyone who can recall a favorite title or author.

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While towers of Hillary and Harry threaten to crush shoppers at Barnes & Noble, we were delighted to get the first out-of-print bestseller report from BookFinder.com, the world's largest searchable book inventory. These titles enjoy the conflicted distinction of being the most wanted of the least available books in America. By analyzing data from out-of-print book searches between July and December 2002, BookFinder produced 10 topical lists of the most requested titles.

To see what some of these books are like and how to get them, we crawled out onto the Web and bought copies of the top book in six different categories. We made our purchases through several online sources, all of which provided seamless access to inventory from an enormous number of used bookstores around the country. Payment with a credit card was easy, and all shipments arrived as promised in two or three weeks.

If you want to brave the out-of-print world, remember you'll face far more choices than when you buy the latest Grisham hardback at the mall. Out-of-print books are offered in a variety of candidly described "conditions," from signed first editions to badly worn paperbacks.

Bookworms, dig in.

Biography
The Curse of Lono, by Hunter S. Thompson, 1983 (Half.com, $32.10, paperback lightly worn)

The legendary founder of Gonzo journalism has tried just about everything, legal and otherwise, to get a good story. In the early 1980s, he set out for the "harsh little maze of volcanic zits" that is Hawaii, to cover the Honolulu marathon for "Running" magazine - choosing Lono, god of peace and agriculture, as his place-setting alter ego. Famed British sidekick Ralph Steadman adds comic relief as both a tortured character and a no-punches-held illustrator throughout the book. Just 10 pages in, the reader is already assuming the lead role in one of Steadman's daring, full-page drawings: eyes bulging, mind reeling, body pulled forward through each grisly chapter by some menacing and unpredictable force. This is a page-turner, made all the more impressive by the maladroit mix of subject matter - running and politics in the middle of the Pacific - and by Hunter's trademark tendency to veer off course into unrelated tirades. A Gonzo masterpiece. By Elizabeth Armstrong

Crafts & hobbies
How America Eats, by Clementine Paddleford, 1961 (Abebooks.com, $75, hardback without jacket, light wear, musty odor)

It would be any food editor's dream assignment: a 12-year eating tour of America in search of the country's best recipes. Clementine Paddleford, on assignment for "This Week Magazine," relished the task. Starting in 1948, she crisscrossed the US, sampling dishes in restaurants, at family dinner tables, and even on fishing boats. What resulted is "How America Eats," an exhaustive and fascinating look at America's regional specialties. Classics such as "New England Boiled Dinner" and "Devil's Food Cake" are reminiscent of early versions of "Joy of Cooking" or the "Fannie Farmer Cookbook." More interesting, however, are the folksy descriptions of regional food that begin each chapter. In today's world, where California strawberries show up in stores all over the US, and Maine lobsters can be shipped anywhere in a day, it's refreshing to be reminded that the identities of America's regional cuisines were once more distinctive. By Jennifer Wolcott

Fiction
Anthony Adverse, by Hervey Allen, 1933 (Half.com, $6, two-volume hardcover without jacket, lightly worn)
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