The Out-of-Print Blues

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The Out-of-Print Blues

the-mad-scientists-club-bertrand-brinleyNot all that long ago, I was in a swell position that allowed me to put back into print great novels that had fallen by the wayside. These weren’t strange books that nobody knew, but major novels—among them Newbery Honor-winners by Eleanor Estes and others; some truly fabulous fantasies by Meredith Ann Pierce, Jane Yolen, and other greats; and various other books that should never have gone out of print in the first place.

It happens more often than we’d like, books going out of print. Part of the natural lifespan of a title. At first it seems a sad thing, and it makes you wonder whether this is all worthwhile, this publishing business. But then a beloved classic is restored to print, and finds a vibrant life with a whole new generation of readers, and you realize that that, too, is a part of the lifespan of a book. I Capture the Castle? Was out of print until J.K. Rowling talked about her love for it. And now it is a new favorite of many and was made into a so-so movie.

One of the books I was dying to reissue was The Mad Scientists’ Club (that’s the cover of the Scholastic paperback edition I owned as a kid there on the left), but Purple House Press beat me to it. They specialize in superbly produced reissues of strange classic books such as the vaguely disturbing-yet-hilarious Mr. Bear Squash-You-All-Flat.

There are other books that I miss and wish were still out there on shelves (such as the subject of a soon-to-come “Books We Love” entry, The Furious Flycycle by Jan Wahl), and soon it will be easy enough to have access to them digitally. The list is probably endless, but which titles do you wish were still around, so that you could pick them up and pass them on to someone, saying, “You are going to love this book!”

  1. I’d really love to see a return Go to the Room of the Eyes by Betty K. Irwin. This is largely personal–I met her at a young writer’s conference, checked the book out of the library, and then basically kept it for the rest of the year until the school librarian chased me down at my locker. The book is set in Seattle and I always wanted to find the house. What’s more, there’s an unpublished sequel–maybe this would make way for that.

    Beyond that, though, Betty K. Irwin was just sort of an awesome lady. She was a doctor, a mom of six AND a children’s author. She wrote about big, serious issues for kids (familial dysfunction, crappy schools), and she was really nice to awkward 10-year-olds who wanted to write books someday.

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  2. What’s interesting is how e-books will affect print status; does a print-on-demand book ever go out if it? J A Konrath wrote a terrific post regarding his (?) books and their print status on Kindle; basically, Konrath is losing something like $10,000 per year because of his publisher, and now makes more, digitally, from older books he us putting on Kindle himself.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if a book automatically went completely full-text on Google the moment it went “out of print” (if, that is, the author were dead). Is the author of “I Capture the Castle” making money from Rowling’s plug, or is it just a case of a publisher capitalizing on Oprah-level publicity for which it doesn’t have to share the profits?

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  3. Martha Bee,

    I *love* “Go to the Room of the Eyes” which I read when I was in elementary school. Just a few weeks ago, I was telling my daughters (7 and 10) about the book and they were really excited to read it, so I logged onto amazon.com and found it was out of print. But our county library system had ONE copy available and they reserved it for me. My 7 year old read it in two days and *loved* it (I think just as much as I did) and my 10 year old is reading it now. I usually don’t like to check out books from the library–I tend to accrue late fines, and I like to support the publishing industry–but if it weren’t for libraries, how would one be able to read a book that is no longer available without forking over a couple hundred bucks for a Kindle?

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  4. It doesn’t necessarily fall into the classics section, but I wish it would: Barbara Helen Berger’s magical “When the Sun Rose” is possibly my favorite picture book of all time. I use it in my classes and when parents inevitably come to me with “I must have it, why can’t I find it?,” I have to sigh and point them to the used sections of Powell’s, Amazon, or ebay.

    Also it makes me sad that anything by Eleanor Estes could ever go out of print.

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  5. Timely post! I just finished THE MARVELOUS INVENTIONS OF ALVIN FERNALD, also reissued by Purple House, and THE MAD SCIENTISTS’ CLUB is next on the tarmac. Loved those books when I was little. Purple House has also done the Jolly Roger Bradfield books, which I can’t believe ever went out of print.

    THE 21 BALLOONS is still around, but another great du Bois book is PETER GRAVES. I tragically misplaced my only copy some years back. Another old favorite I’d reissue is THE RED ROOM RIDDLE by Scott Corbett. Not a great book by any stretch, but it’s spooky and fun, and when I first read it the twist at the end was a total shock: see, it turns out the little boy was really a ghost! Shyamalan used the same trick 30 years later.

    On the subject of e-readers, I can’t help but think they’ll go the way of the Segway. The technology is cool and innovative with some practical uses, but it hasn’t completely revolutionized transportation, as some (especially the people making them) predicted.

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  6. LOGANBERRY BOOKS is a great website for finding out-of-print children’s books. I found several of my favorites there. They also offer a great service called ‘Stump the Booksellers’.
    I heard the owner in an interview on NPR and it was fascinating to hear listeners call in with these vague descriptions of childhood books and I’ll be damned if she didn’t know the title and author of each and every one of them.

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  7. Michael: You’ve reissued books by Meredith Ann Pierce? Which ones??

    John: I love Alvin Fernald! (“Hey, Old Man.” “Hey, Old Bean.”) That puts me in mind of the Homer Price books I just reread. (Can’t explain the connection: they sit next to each other on my shelf.) Are those out of print now?

    I went to a lot of trouble to get a library discard of The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha, by Lloyd Alexander, a few years back. I couldn’t believe that book had slipped away. And I buy reissues of Zilpha Keatley Snyder books whenever they come out (even though I own the originals), to encourage that publisher to keep it up. (Well I give the new ones away. To an avid young cousin who always takes notes when I make book recommendations, and reports back.)

    I need to look The Mad Scientists’ Club up!

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  8. Ooh…I just wrote about this on Editorial Anonymous’s site. For whatever reason, all 3 of my kids LOVE the book The Green Machine, by Polly Cameron. They’ve all memorized it and they crack up when they read it. BUT, it’s out of print. We actually bucked up and paid some ridiculous amount on eBay for a copy (like $70) and we were going to give it to them at Christmas a few years ago…but our house caught on fire while we were out one night. Bye bye Christmas presents (and the house, bleh).
    So for now, we repeatedly check it out from the library. I’m tempted to “lose” it.
    Check it out for yourself, though. It’s cute. We got a similar one from Scholastic one year, but it’s not as good. It was “I Can’t Said the Ant.”

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  9. Also…we only discovered the many eleanor estes books recently…and so a big “Thanks” to you for redelivering those to the world.

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  10. One of my favorite books as a kid was ME AND CALEB, which, I believe was a Newbery honor? I remember there was a gold medal on the jacket, anyway. I read my old,l beaten-up copy to my kids years ago and sniffled my way through the part where the dad has to go shoot the family dog b/c he broke his back saving the family from a snake. I think there was a ME AND CALEB AGAIN as well but I never read it. I love books that make you laugh out loud in one chapter and put a knot in your throat in the next. Sigh;)

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  11. . . . DRAGONMEADE by Rona Randall (1974 or 1975)

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