College sometimes seems like a place to do dumb things. We get so drunk that we clog the dorm room sink with the portion our body rejected. Or we streak naked across the quad and past the bell tower on a late night dare. For me it was spending money that didn’t come easily in the first place. I was reminded of this the other day when browsing my bookshelves, I pulled from a shelf my copy of the The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls. Upon touching it, I was instantly transported to the B. Dalton bookstore in the Moreno Valley mall in the fall of 1993.
I was standing in the science fiction aisles, holding in my hands a brand new copy of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. It was a massive thing, weighing something over 5-pounds. It also was not cheap. Coming in at $75, it was easily the most expensive book I’d ever considered buying. Indeed, it was probably three times more than any book I had paid for to that date. I was a senior in college, and working in the dorm cafeteria while taking classes to earn money for school. $75 was more than I could afford.
But I wanted this book.
I thought of it as the Encyclopedia Galactica of science fiction. Flipping through its pages was a tantalizing preview of all fo the things I might read at some point in the future, when I could afford to buy books. Better yet, it was a guide to books I might check out from the Eaton Collection at the Tomás Rivera Library, where I went to school. I don’t know how long I stood there debating whether or not I should buy the book. On the one hand, I couldn’t afford it, not really. On the other hand, I really wanted it.
I ended up buying it. The date was November 13, 1993, just about 28 years ago. I ended up writing a check for $72.73, which is what the total came to after my 10% discount and plus the 7.75% sales tax. I know all of this not because of any phenomenal memory on my part but because I found the receipt in the back of the book. It was almost 6 pm when I finally made the decision to buy the book.
In the 28 years since, I have paged through and skimmed this book countless times. It is a well-used book. Long ago, the dust jacket disappeared and I’ve duct–taped part of the cover to hold it in place. At one point, back in 2007, I began to read the book cover-to-cover. I never finished. I stopped on page 197, having just completed the entry on Orson Scott Card. I know this because the bookmark is still marking the place that I stopped. I used the book frequently as a reference when I was writing my Vacation in the Golden Age series. Every now and then, I am tempted to go back and continue reading it.
This is one of those books that serves a double-purpose. I can use it as a reference, or simply to skim through for pleasure, perhaps for a suggestion for something to read. And doing so always reminds me of my senior year in college, where I was taking a full load of classes, working as much as I could in the dorm cafeteria, and writing and submitting stories to magazines. These days, the Encyclopedia is available online and is probably much more current than my 28-year old edition. Still, I like flipping through the pages, learning things I never knew, discovering new things to read, and being transported back to my early 20s when I wanted the book so badly, I bought it even when I couldn’t really afford it.
Sometimes, I’d sit on my bed and flip through the Encyclopedia and imagine that my name was there in its pages.
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