I bought Annie Dillard's book in 1994. I did know of it, but had not found it in any bookshops here in Oz. And then stumbled over it being used (in multiple copies) as beige shelf-filler at a chain furniture store. I notice that Ikea uses non-English books as filler in its stores, so they are probably at minimal risk of being bailed up, as this other store (it wasn't Ikea) was.
Could I please buy a copy? I asked. Just one. I really want to buy this book.
It's just decor.
We don't have a price on it.
Can you make one up?
(Clearly I wasn't going to give up).
OK, they said, just one copy, $10.
Done, I said, handing over the cash.
Maybe it was around in some bookshops in Sydney, but it wasn't one likely to be stocked by many. Now, I'd hunt it up on the internet (you can buy over 100 used and new copies from amazon.com, for example, I just checked). But then, back then when the world was young and the closest I'd got to the internet was some Macworld caper a computerish pal was playing with (and I never got to see, since it wouldn't work when he tried to show me what it was like), back then, to find a copy of this was phone calls and guesses.
I reread it today. It's as wise and insightful and tough-minded as it was then, and has been on each rereading in the years since I bought it. If you're interested in writing, it's certainly worth reading. It may inspire you or make you despair, but that's your response. It's a fine book. Review, including quotes, here.
How the world has changed. It is so much easier to track down obscure books, and that's just one example among many. With the increments of days, months, years, it can be difficult to remember 'then'. 'Then', for instance, when there were maybe two antique dealers in Sydney where you could find antique samplers - now, the internet offers many, available from around the world, with a broader price range. Then, when buying vintage American quilts was virtually impossible (maybe one dealer in Sydney? - hoo-wow, now you can look at, and bid on/buy, from hundreds on the internet). Then, before digital cameras or blogs or Flickr or Skype or email, let alone the other possibilities of the internet.
Everything's changed, and yet not everything. I still buy books, read books, love books, browse bookshops in the real world as well as online. You can't get Kindle here, only another very very expensive reader, so the closest I've got to reading longer work on the computer is an ebook I still haven't finished. Nope, as far as I'm concerned the book is far from dead.
It's good to step back now and then, and reflect. Of course the kids say, that's what old people do...
I registered for my second webmail email address, at Yahoo!, towards the end of 1997, but my first one (from the long-defunct-swallowed-by-Yahoo! Rocketmail) was in existence for a year or so before that. A dozen years. Not so long.