Paradise is a kind of a library

Christmas is almost upon us and once again, I left the business of searching for gifts almost to the last minute.

Some people were easy to choose gifts for but there was one was person whom I got stuck over. Just in time, I remembered chatting to them when they happened to mention that they were looking for a particular book.

It was the Snow Goose by Paul Gallico and was printed very many years ago and unavailable in local new book stores. We do have quite a number of secondhand bookstores in town but, to be quite honest, with the Durban heat and the Christmas rush, I really didn’t feel like trekking around looking for one particular book.

Anyway, I didn’t have to go out searching because there was already a solution in the form of a website that I don’t think I’ve mentioned before. The website is AbeBooks and can be found at

It is basically a cataloguing service for secondhand bookshops all round the world which display their stock on the site. They currently have around 110 million books listed by any number of bookshops including, I notice, quite a few here in South Africa.

The number of books is staggering and I can’t say I have ever looked for something and not found it listed. Well, nothing except my own book, Facts About Durban; I suspect those are so popular they haven’t reached the secondhand market…

Anyone visiting the site can easily search for books that they’re looking for by either the author name, title, keywords, or ISBN number. The system lists the available copies of the book, together with details of each including the price, shipping cost, condition, and bookstore location.

By default, the books are listed from the cheapest to the most expensive which is quite handy when looking for the cheapest price, say, for a hardback with a dust jacket. The individual bookshops under the a AbeBooks banner have complete freedom over the pricing that they want to apply to each of their stock items and there are often widely varying prices, so it pays to check.

You can add the book you’ve chosen to your shopping cart and, once you’ve finished shopping, you go to the checkout. The first time you buy at AbeBooks, you have to fill in your address and credit card details but the system remembers you, and subsequent purchase are much quicker.

I went to the site and entered The Snow Goose in the title field and in a very few seconds, I was presented with a list of available copies ranging in price from a dollar each to a signed first edition for $875. I opted for one of $1 ones (plus $10 for shipping), because I wasn’t looking for a collectors’ copy.

Once you’ve paid, the system sends orders to all the bookshops from whom you’ve ordered and deducts the price, including postage, from your credit card. It sends you a confirming e-mail to say that the shipment is being processed and, later, once the individual bookshops have dispatched your order, they send you a follow-up e-mail.

I have used a AbeBooks on quite a number of occasions now, and have had absolutely no trouble with any of the merchants I dealt with. All my orders have been to overseas stores because South African ones are usually more expensive, and charge you the same for shipping as the overseas ones do.

The Snow Goose hasn’t got to me yet, but with any luck, I’ll have it before Christmas in time to wrap it up and put it under the Christmas tree.

There’s a quotation at the bottom of each AbeBooks web page: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” – Jorge Luis Borges. The implication being, I suppose, that AbeBooks is where they’ll buy the books.

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