It can be a small world, this niche buying of used schol­arly books on Amazon. It can also be a sobering one.

I am on the lookout for both rare books in my field and copies of my own pub­li­ca­tions that are being sold way below list price. The former helps me remain cur­rent in my spe­cialty; the latter allows me to rescue cheap castoffs, amass a gift pile of author’s copies, and give my pub­lisher a fighting chance to sell our product. But I didn’t expect that I would find my own sig­na­ture on the title page of one such castoff, with an inscrip­tion to “Kent—Happy Trails!”

The book that I signed for Kent—whoever he is—was a quasi-​​anthropological memoir of vil­lage life in an obscure West African nation. Nearly a quarter of a cen­tury before, I had learned the lan­guage of that vil­lage, thanks to a two-​​year stint with the Peace Corps. I fell in love with the local cul­ture. When I returned to Niger four years later, in 1983, to under­take Ful­bright research, I immersed myself even fur­ther in the lan­guage and cul­ture of the region.

Read the article at Chronicle of Higher Education →