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Overbooked in Arizona

posted on 12 Nov 2017

Overbooked in Arizona by Samuel Hirsh Gottlieb

This is a relatively short cautionary tale about how a passionate interest in books can become a dangerous, destructive and even life-threatening bibliomania. We join our narrator on death row awaiting execution by lethal injection and the rest of the book tells us the sorry story of how he came to this pretty pass.

Hooked at an early stage by the desire to collect and trade in rare books, our narrator tells us how he learned to identify the books he began to obsess about; how he would drive hundreds of miles to scour shops; why his wife left him and ultimately why all his money flew out of the door too.

He becomes a book-snob, only wanting the very best first editions and disgusted by cheap reprints – his bête noir are Book of the Month Club books that are printed in their thousands. It’s a lesson he learns very early in his collecting life:

Next he stated that my book, unlike his, was not a first edition, and in fact was about the worst thing that a book could be. He almost shuddered as he said it: a Book Club Edition.

Lack of money drove him to ‘bottom-feeding’ – scouring charity and thrift shops and cruising for yard sales. The same vision kept him going despite his growing self-loathing – what if the big score was just around the corner in the next yard sale?

And he’s also racked by paranoia because there’s always other dealers scouring the same ground and they always seem to be there for the prime cuts ten minutes before he is. His sense of balance, his grip on the normal or the rational is close to flipping over from sane to insane.

And then one day the crunch comes. In the yard sale he told himself he wouldn’t stop for he finds box after box of the most fantastic fiction first editions. These aren’t just good examples, they’re perfect. He MUST have them. The boxes say that the price is $1 per book. So, trying to keep calm, he offers to buy them all and is led into the house to meet the grandmother who is selling them – only to find someone’s beaten him to them and has just written a cheque for the lot.

As you might guess, this is the straw that broke the camel’s back and all hell breaks loose. To cut a short story even shorter, our narrator ends up killing his competitors and finds himself under arrest for murder.

His trial becomes a political showcase for the prosecutor who is determined to keep the case in the news to further his own bid for public office and he isn’t helped by his rag-tag bunch of character witnesses. And so this is it. Guilty and just minutes away from execution.

In an afterword from his Rabbi we discover that the charitable fund that pays for his burial is the result of the sale of a donation of books from someone who collected Book of The Month Club editions.

Reviews of the book call it ‘wildly funny’ but don’t be fooled – this book is perhaps good enough to raise a weak grimace or a wry smile of recognition but unless you’ve got an extraordinarily juvenile sense of humour you won’t get much beyond that. To be fair there are some decent one-liners but as far as story goes it is absurd without any of the qualities of good farce.

If you’re crazy about books I'm sorry to say there’s better stuff out there than this – I wanted it to be a treat and I'm afraid it rather let me down.

 

Terry Potter

November 2017