I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land

I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land

Illustration By Jon Foster

Dust jacket illustration by Jon Foster

Jim is in New York City at Christmastime shopping a book based on his blog—Gone for Good— premised on the fact that “being nostalgic for things that have disappeared is ridiculous.” Progress decides for people what they need and what’s obsolete. It’s that simple. Of course, not everyone agrees. After Jim bombs a contentious interview with a radio host who defends the sacred technology of the printed, tangible book, he gets caught in a rainstorm only to find himself with no place to take refuge other than a quaint, old-fashioned bookshop.

Ozymandias Books is not just any store. Jim wanders intrigued through stacks of tomes he doesn’t quite recognize the titles of, none with prices. Here he discovers a mysteriously pristine, seemingly endless wonderland of books—where even he gets nostalgic for his childhood favorite. And, yes, the overwhelmed and busy clerk showing him around says they have a copy. But it’s only after Jim leaves that he understands the true nature of Ozymandias and how tragic it is that some things may be gone forever…

From beloved, multiple-award-winning, New York Times best-selling author Connie Willis comes I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land, a novella about the irreplaceable magic of books.

Limited: 1250 signed numbered hardcover copies


(excerpt: As our narrator ducks out of a rainy New York street into a mysterious bookshop…)

I was messing with the damned umbrella when the rain turned into a downpour and I ducked into a recessed doorway and saw it was a bookstore.

The old-fashioned kind, about a foot and a half wide, with dusty copies of some leather-bound tome in the front window, and “Ozymandias Books” lettered in gilded copperplate on the glass.

These tiny hole-in-the-wall bookstores are a nearly extinct breed these days, what with the depredations of Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Kindle, and this one looked like the guy on WMNH would be ranting about its closing on his next program. The dust on the display of books in the window was at least half an inch thick, and from the tarnished-looking brass doorknob and the pile of last fall’s leaves against the door, it didn’t look like anybody’d been in the place for months. But any port in a storm. And this might be my last chance to visit a bookstore like this.

The inside was exactly what you’d expect: an old-fashioned wooden desk and behind it, ceiling-high shelves crammed with books stretching back into the dimness. The store was only wide enough for a bookcase along each wall, one in the middle, and a space between just wide enough for a single customer to stand. If there’d been any customers. Which there weren’t. The only thing in the place besides the guy sitting hunched over the desk—presumably the owner—was a gray tiger cat curled up in one corner.

The rest of the desk was piled high with books, and the stooped guy seated at it had gray hair and spectacles and wore a ratty cardigan sweater and a 1940’s tie. All he needed was one of those green eyeshades to be something straight out of 84 Charing Cross Road.

He was busily writing in a ledger when I came in and I wondered if he’d even look up, but he did, adjusting his spectacles on his nose. “May I help you, sir?” he said.

“You deal in rare books?” I asked.

“Rarer than rare.”

Which meant wildly expensive, but a glance outside showed me the rain was coming down in sheets, and it was still two and a half hours to my dinner appointment. And it wasn’t as if I had to actually buy anything. If he’d let me browse, which if the books were that expensive, he probably wouldn’t.

“Were you looking for anything in particular, sir?” he asked.

“No” was obviously the wrong answer, but if I named some title, it would be just my luck that they’d have it, and I’d be stuck paying two hundred bucks for some tattered, mildewed copy. “I just thought I’d look around,” I said.

“Be my guest.” He waved a hand at the shelves. “We’ve got an enormous selection, I’m afraid.”

Yeah, I thought, looking at the titles on the nearest shelf. And if it wasn’t all stuff like Surviving the Y2K Apocalypse and Gibbons’ History of the Liberty of the Swiss and The Vagabond Boys Go To Bryce Canyon, you might actually be able to move some of this merchandise. “Thank you,” I said, and he nodded and went back to writing in the ledger.

Jon Foster
Connie Willis
Deluxe Limited
88 pages
United States
Subterranean Press
Out of Print