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  •   Books: Good Buys, Good Finds, No Atmosphere

    By Martha M. Hamilton
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, November 22, 1998; Page H5

    Shopping for books online has its benefits, but it's a long, long, long way from the soul-satisfying experience of browsing in a good bookstore.

    I have used Amazon.com to look for books for the 12-year-old daughter of friends and had found some helpful suggestions. But until this week, I had spent little time in online bookstores.

    Of the online megastores, I found Amazon.com the most useful. I had technical problems with both Barnesandnoble.com and Borders.com. I also checked out the online version of my neighborhood bookstore Politics and Prose, one of the independent booksellers that has decided to go online itself. And I checked into the Advanced Book Exchange, an out-of-print service that links customers with bookstores around the globe.

    I found that ordering online produced the biggest savings on best-sellers. The hot new Tom Wolfe novel, "A Man in Full," was available at the three megastores and also at Politics and Prose. At all of the megastores, it was 40 percent off list price, or $17.37. Add $2.95 for shipping and handling, and it was still cheaper than $28.95 full price at Politics and Prose. On the other hand, Politics and Prose recently had Wolfe as a speaker and could have sold me an autographed copy, had I wanted one. And if I were a member of Politics and Prose, I could have received a 20 percent discount.

    The Advanced Book Exchange (abebooks.com) turned out to be a find. For a few years, I've been searching for "A Passion for Mushrooms," by Antonio Carluccio, to give to friends. I finally found it through this site, and for only $10 (plus $4 shipping and handling).

    I had ordered a book from the local bookstore Olsson's in September, and I finally got a call this week to notify me it had arrived. I could have gotten it faster through online services, it appeared, but at no real savings. Anyway, I have a 15 percent discount certificate for Olsson's and I get $10 off for every $100 purchased. And I'm looking forward to browsing there in person this weekend, looking for Christmas gifts for family and friends.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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