The plan for the story was simple: My editor and I would pick out a list of eight books from a range of genres and eras, and I'd hit four of what I consider to be the better used bookstores citywide and see what I could find.
What I discovered: You need a back-up plan.
Of the eight books - ranging from common to very rare - the most I found at one store was five. The next best total? Two. The other two stores had none of the books.
But those unscientific numbers from our completely random experiment don't tell the entire story. The store that had the most books was the Strand, which seems like an easily predicted outcome, as it is one of the biggest and most impressive used bookstores in the country. Yet they didn't have a single copy of Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" - a blockbuster novel that also spawned a blockbuster movie.
Meanwhile, at Westsider Books, a smaller, cramped uptown shop, I found a copy rather easily. By contrast, on Amazon.com, there are nearly 2,000 used paperback copies available, many for a penny. This is certainly not a rare book.
The other thing to mention is that all four stores had a bunch of Crichton's other novels. Sure, you might not find "Jurassic Park," but his other thrillers, such as "Sphere," were relatively easy to find. Stores that didn't have David McCullough's "Truman" biography had other books about the president. They were close, but our list was specific - though when you're looking for a bargain, beggers can't be choosers.
Even when I couldn't find a particular book as I trolled the shelves, I found many other items to add to my overflowing personal library. I couldn't find Clair Huffaker's western "The Cowboy and the Cossack," which I've been after for the past five years, but I did find the third part of a fantasy series I'd been searching for a while. Score!
Part of the allure of used bookstores, besides the inherent financial savings, is the adventure of the hunt and the pleasure of unearthing a rare literary gem. For this bibliophile, there's no better feeling.