Dynamist Blog

Saving Lost Books

On National Review Online Cathy Seipp offers a paean to the Internet's role in keeping out-of-print books in circulation.

No longer must we book geeks troll dusty old shops (mostly to no avail) for particular sentimental favorites. Several years ago I began to easily find most of McKenney's and Bracken's books online for just a few dollars each, along with those of another out-of-print author I'd often fruitlessly searched for, Judy Van Der Veer. Information about obscure and forgotten writers like Van Der Veer, whose atmospheric tales of ranch life in the San Diego backcountry have been described as "lyrically minimalist" by California state historian Kevin Starr, is another great gift from the Internet.

One Van Der Veer novel, November Grass, was recently reissued as part of Heyday Press's California Legacy Series. What I consider her best, though (because it's the only one with a real plot), is the 1966 children's classic Hold the Rein Free, about two ranch children who steal a thoroughbred mare from her heartless owner. It's still out of print but available used online for as little as a dollar or two, plus shipping. Even rereading this story as an adult I found it such a page-turner that I'm surprised it's never been optioned by Hollywood.

As prices get bid up, online auctions reveal just how much customers want out-of-print books. And that information has brought some once-lost books back into print. Tiny Purple House Press has flourished by bringing back old children's books. The press is named for Mr. Pine's Purple House, founder Jill Morgan's favorite book as a child.

Turns out the book was also Jeff Bezos's favorite, leading to an unexpected plug on an Amazon promotional email. "Within a day, the book's sales rank leapt from 50,000 to 15," report Beth Kwon and Maccabee Montandon in a Fortune Small Business feature. "'I was ecstatic,' says Morgan."

Recently reissued in a 40th anniversary edition, Mr. Pine's Purple House would make a fun gift for the nonconformist child in your life. As a child, I particularly enjoyed its characters' colorful surnames.

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