Once upon a time, back in the olden days, there was no internet.
This was not as tragic as you might think, from your vantage point in 2013. Yes, some things were less convenient than they are now, but people managed just fine without it. In some ways, people managed better. They spent less of their time reading blogs and interacting on social media, for one thing, and more of it reading books and writing letters.
One thing was very different, though. Now, pretty much any book, new or used, can be tracked down online. Finding a book is no longer the issue--cost is. If it was ever published, chances are it's out there for you if you're willing to pay the price.
In the old days, if you wanted an out-of-print book, you scoured every used bookstore you could find. Sometimes you asked the bookseller to look for it; that bookseller might advertise that she had a client for it, and other book dealers would offer it to that bookseller. Or a book scout would come into the picture--these hardy souls kept track of people's want lists and did the legwork, hitting bookstores and thrift stores, library sales and yard sales, and often turned up lost treasures.
Then there was the Buckley-Little Catalog.
This was the brainchild of noted conservative and man of letters William F. Buckley. He thought it would be a good idea if authors could sell their own copies of their own out-of-print titles directly to consumers. It would be a little money in the author's pocket, which is always a good thing. And people looking for particular books would have a place to find them--and have an interaction with a beloved author, to boot.
The catalog launched in February 1984. It included notables like Edward Abbey, Harlan Ellison, Ed McBain, John D. McDonald, Joe Haldeman, and more.
For me, the Buckley-Little Catalog was a blessing, if only for one thing. It put me in touch with the author Sidney Offit, whose brilliant The Adventures of Homer Fink was an early favorite book. Offit was a kind of Renaissance man of the literary world--senior editor of Intellectual Digest, book editor of Politics Today, and contributing editor of Baseball Magazine, Offit was also a noted novelist, and served on the boards of the Author's Guild and the Pen American Center, where he was the curator of the George Polk Journalism Awards. He was a friend to authors everywhere, a noted raconteur, a teacher, and a great writer.
He had some books listed in Buckley-Little, and I wrote to order one, Only a Girl Like You, enclosing with it a brief note describing how much Homer Fink had meant to me. Offit sent it promptly, with the inscription:
To Jeff Mariotte
With the warmest best wishes of our mutual friend Homer Fink and
Obviously, I hadn't waited long after the first edition of the catalog came out to place my order.
But Offit wasn't done. In addition to the book I'd ordered, he sent a second book, his young reader's novel The Boy Who Made a Million. Inside that one, he wrote:
To Jeff Mariotte--
This fading edition is offered as a "dividend" for your kind words.
"The Buckley-Little Out-of-Print List Catalogue"
I didn't maintain a correspondence with Offit, although I should have. I hadn't written much then that had been published--it was still a few years before my first professional short story sale, long before my first novel. But his generosity of spirit showed through, in that brief interaction. He's the kind of writer other writers look up to, and it's no surprise that he's been a friend to so many for so long. My connection with him didn't last, but my appreciation for him and his work has never faded. And I have the Buckley-Little Catalog to thank for that.
Top that, internet.