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I WON'T BE FOOLED AGAIN
It all started with Orwell.
As anyone who knows me can tell you, I am a collector. Comics, CDs, DVDs, mugs, t-shirts, but especially books. I have sets of works by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Anthony Trollope, Graham Greene, Erle Stanley Gardner, Anne Tyler, Ian Fleming – all favorites most with uniform (and also unusual) editions of their works. Some years ago, I began picking up editions from the out-of-print, 20-volume Complete Works of George Orwell. This was purportedly the definitive collection of the writer whose real name was Eric Blair. Published between 1987 and 1997, the uniform editions were attractive – and generally hard to come by.
I didn’t know how difficult it would be to complete the set when I started. Indeed, I was deceived by my early successes: I picked up five or six (or more) volumes almost immediately remaindered at the Strand Book Store for $6.95 apiece. Then it got more difficult, as I found more pricey editions on the internet.
My girlfriend didn’t understand my collector’s obsession with completeness. I would tell her a complete set was more valuable for resale (which is true) but I didn’t add that a collector rarely sells unless forced to, and that part of the joy of collecting was the hunt.
But even this hunt got frustrating – by the time I had snagged 18 volumes, I despaired of obtaining the final two: Animal Farm and 1984. And then, suddenly, Animal Farm surfaced on a British web site. I snagged it, just barely missing 1984 as well. Well, they say everything comes to he who waits…
Then in 2010, a seller on Amazon offered the book for a reasonable price (considering its scarcity). I ordered it. When it arrived, it was the Harcourt Brace edition, perhaps the most commonly available volume. Disgusted and disappointed, I wrote the dealer – an outfit called EliteDigital UK that was based in London but had shipped the book from New York – an angry letter, accusing them of incompetence.
Someone named Gloria wrote me an apologetic e-mail, saying, “I'm sorry again for the mixup with the item. It is obvious that one of our staff made a mistake. No need to return the incorrect item. We will ship you a replacement if we can get one, if we are unable to then we will issue you a full refund. Thank you for your understanding and again our sincere apologies for this mistake.”
Fast-forward: two years later, a seller on Amazon offered the book for a reasonable price. I ordered it. When it arrived, it was the Harcourt Brace edition. Déjà vu all over again. I complained to the seller, who had included a note saying he hoped I was satisfied because he always strived for a “five-star” rating. Someone named Gloria wrote me an apologetic e-mail, saying, “I'm sorry again for the mixup with the item. It is obvious that one of our staff made a mistake. No need to return the incorrect item. We will ship you a replacement if we can get one, if we are unable to then we will issue you a full refund. Thank you for your understanding and again our sincere apologies for this mistake.”
I smelled a rat. Checking my e-mails, I found that the 2010 seller and the 2012 seller were one and the same. EliteDigital UK. Remembering the old George W. Bush adage, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice, ah, I won’t be fooled again,” I wrote “Gloria” back: “You'd better issue me a full refund. I have little confidence that you can find the book I want, nor do I believe this was a simple mistake (the existence of this careless staff-member, who appears as the scapegoat in both [identical] e-mails makes me think this happens often enough for you to have a form letter blaming him). I even wonder if Claudia exists.”
July 11, 2012