It’s been six months since I joined “Hey There’s a Dead Guy,” and as Jeff warned me up front, the hard part of blogging has been thinking of things to write about. Some weeks I have a topic I am enthused about and life is easy; others, I have to stretch my mind a bit. I took Jeff’s advice to jot down ideas as they occur, and now have a hefty (and messy) file of notes, magazine clippings, and indecipherable scrawls on receipts. There are several items which are interesting but don’t merit a full post. It seems like a good day to clean the file and share some of these random tidbits. (Guess which kind of week it’s been!)
WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?
Michael Popek is a used book dealer in Oneonta, New York. Like all of us in this business, he discovers “bookmarks” left behind, ranging from airline ticket stubs to pressed flowers. Last year, he published a book, Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages, showcasing some of the curious items he has found. He has photographed the found objects with the books in which they were placed; the combination piques the reader’s curiosity about the previous book owners even more than do the markers alone. There is a package of unused cap gun caps in a copy of Tom Swift and His Rocket Ship; a ticket for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from May 1954 tucked in copy of Thoreau’s Walden; and a venomous letter referring to the addressee as “a slime,” “a walking mass of ego,” and a “voyeur,” among other insults, tucked into a copy of While Waiting, a book on pregnancy.
My own finds have been less intriguing: bookmarks from bookstores all over the country, photos, postcards, a Popsicle stick, greeting cards, appointment cards from doctors, and just today an instruction card from British Telecom on how to pay cash for an overseas call (using MCI as one of the options). Perhaps because I deal in more contemporary books or because I have not been as clever at retaining and cataloging my finds, Popek’s compilation is much more fascinating than any I can offer. You can view some of his treasures on his blog www.forgottenbookmarks.com.
It’s a bit sad to realize that the next generation may be deprived of this type of view into the lives of today’s readers; electronic communication has cut down on the number of handwritten letters and postcards, pictures are often not actually printed on paper, and “bookmark” has taken on a whole new meaning.
WRITERS ARE READERS TOO
We booksellers have our own form of voyeurism, and another book published last year is a treat for those of us who like to sneak peeks at other people’s book shelves. Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books, edited by Leah Price is a feast for the eyes, full of striking photographs of the personal libraries of thirteen writers, including Junot Diaz, Jonathan Lethem, Stephen Carter, Alison Bechdel, Claire Messud and James Wood. The pictures alone would make the book a worthwhile investment; Price also asks each author to list his or her top ten books, and interviews them in detail regarding their reading habits, way of organizing their books, and even the selection of shelving.
I’m not particularly a fan of Diaz’s books, but he won my heart. He has a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf next to his refrigerator. He only throws away books that are in such bad condition that they are no longer readable; he gives away what he no longer wants, sometimes to homeless people who resell them. James Wood, when asked if there were shelves beyond those that he allowed to be photographed said, “I have a separate bookcase for ‘unread books I want to read sometime soon.’ Of course, it’s enormous and dispiriting.” Most of us can empathize with that comment. He also comments on the frustration of lending books, having learned, as I did long ago, that if you want a friend to enjoy a book you like, give them a copy. If you lend it, you will never get it back.
Unpacking My Library is eye candy for the book lover.
LARRY MCMURTRY, BOOKSELLER
I’m always surprised to find out how few people know that Larry McMurtry is a used book dealer. His store, Booked Up Inc. in Archer City, Texas, consists of four buildings and about 400,000 books. It makes my 35,000 seem paltry. McMurtry was for a while the author of the “New Books” column in Harper’s Magazine, and in January of this year he reviewed One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com. After a few kind words for Bezos as a “farsighted merchant whose company provides an excellent service” for which all readers should be grateful, he excoriates him for his “obvious irritation at the continued existence of the paperbound book.” He says Bezos thinks the traditional book has had its run, and it’s time to do away with it. “Then he will no longer be bothered with old-timey objects that have the temerity to flop open and cause one to lose one’s place.”
McMurtry goes on to discuss his own views on the future of the book, with which I heartily agree. Although the culture is shifting to e-books, McMurtry finds it possible that this will not go on forever. “It might be a bubble; history grinds slowly.” My own prediction, for what it’s worth, is that e-books will level out once the initial fascination with a new technology wanes. They will serve a useful function and be part of everyone’s reading agenda, but will not be the sole mode of reading. This week has brought a surge of business here, as people prepare for vacations. Typical comments have been: “I have a Kindle but I don’t want to take it on the beach (or boat or by the pool);” “I can’t read my IPAD in the sun;” and, my favorite, “I’m not sure what I want to read, so I just want to browse.” The bookseller from Texas not only has more books than I do, he writes better: “. . . Bezos shouldn’t be persuaded that our Gutenberg days are over, at least not from where I sit. One thing we offer that he can’t is serendipity, the thrill of the accidental find. Stirring the curiosity of readers is a vital part of bookselling; skimming a few strange pages is surely as important as making one click.”
I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th, with plenty of time to read.
Ed here: Olman's Fifty http://olmansfifty.blogspot.com/ has become one of my preferred sites for reviews. The man is intelligent, even-handed, seems to have no particular axe to grind and is damned informative. Here's a recent sample. This was especially interesting to me because when I was in my teens I thought the protagonist was a pretty cool guy. But when I saw it again recently I realized he's a phony, lazy, self-pitying jerk and not at all representative of what of what the so-called Angry Young Men were about.
Look Back in Anger by John Osbourne
As a stand-alone story or theatre piece, I wasn't really sure what to make of it. In context, with my limited knowledge of the period and the books and films that came out of it, I get what is being conveyed here. This play launched a new voice and a new representation of what England was going through at the time and it caused a lot of controversy. But by itself, it did seem just kind of depressing. The guy is such a jerk! I mean, I get his frustration and the shittiness of the system and the culture in Great Britain back then. But he has an attractive wife who irons and makes tea and all he can do is shit on her because her parents are socially uptight. I guess that's just my modern perspective speaking. There is also a strange element where Jimmy is constantly railing against the rich and is a total jerk, but of course gets the hot upper class babe and then gets her friend as well. And once he gets them, all they do is iron and make tea and try and understand and tolerate why he is treating them like shit all the time. The 50's - they were bugging.
I went to high school during the long-ago Motown days on the west side of Detroit.
It was actually in a pleasant-enough white suburb of mostly ranch-style houses, a nearby Dairy Queen, a small park and even an ice skating rink at the end of our street.
In those days, downtown street gangs with names like the Stilettos or the Bagley Boys pretty much consisted of tough guys with switchblade knives, brass knuckles, sap gloves, bottles, fists and very few guns. In fact, no one much thought about carrying a gun. The thought never really came up, I guess. Most of the gang members (racially mixed, by the way, white, black & Hispanic) had colorful names like Cockroach, Junebug, Farmer, Cornbread Red, Judo Smith and Jabbo (real name Leroy, but he’d already stabbed more than one person in his young life).
Everyone I just named was a pretty good guy. Really. Even Jabbo. And I have no idea how any of those guys are doing these days. I’m thinking they’re mostly retired now and living in Florida somewhere.
I hope so, at least.
I was never in an actual gang (too consumed with the need to live), but every weekend several of us suburban boys headed out to the Walled Lake Casino, a teen hangout where many of the Motown legends performed (as practice, it seemed) before heading out on actual tours. For a dollar or two, several hundred of us at a time got to see The Spinners, The Miracles, The Temptations, The Contours, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, etc., etc., etc.
Literally, the entire line-up from Berry Gordy’s Hitsville USA down on West Grand Boulevard eventually showed up.
Another plus in those days: white soul group Billy Lee & The Rivera’s (later known as Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels) performed virtually every weekend, blasting out the place with the best rendition of Shake A Tail Feather (except for the original Five DuTones’ version) ever heard.
And, of course, with several rival gangs from the big city attending, there were numerous fights every weekend, both inside and (more often) outside in the parking lot. It was not uncommon to walk out and see a young man standing on a car hood kicking a rival in the face and, a moment later, see that same young man dispatched with a thrown wine bottle bashing in his head.
As non-gang-members, my friends and I mostly just watched, nodding approval if one or more of the few gang members we’d gotten to know were winning any particular skirmish. In those days, shockingly enough, there were almost no dead bodies left in the street. Or the parking lot. At least, not at the Walled Lake Casino.
In fact, the same guys would show up every weekend, fighting the same rivals, and race away afterwards in hopped-up Chevy’s and Ford’s, with the occasional Olds 442 or Pontiac GTO thrown in. Luckily, we got to travel in my buddy’s bland-looking 1964 Plymouth Belvedere with bench seats, that happened to be hiding a 426-cubic-inch engine with a 4-speed. It was blindingly fast. We won a lot of races on the way to the Dalys on Telegraph Road (known as Bloody Telegraph) in those days.
That was back when Dalys’ fantastic Chee-Chee Sandwich was called by its first name, a melted cheese & chili. It was, and still is, the best and most original sandwich in existence. Believe me, I’ve been in every state in this country and I’ve checked.
Anyway, of all the gang boys and girls (there were a few, girls, 3 blonde sisters in particular known as The Bitches), the single individual titled above truly was the toughest kid I ever knew. That any of us ever knew. That I’ve still ever known.
Danny Wilson (I’m using his name because he was dead at 18) was the most fearsome kid we ever met. In any fight, he was so ferocious he often had to apologize to the person or persons he’d just beat the living shit out of.
A natural leader and extremely charismatic, Danny would often be in the middle of a fight before the rest of us even knew it. I turned around once to say something to him and he was already on the ground, biting some struggling man (not a kid!) who had him gripped around the neck, biting the guy on the chest to get away.
And, the shocker of it all, Danny was all of 5’5” and less than 130 pounds.
Gang boys who stood 6’2” and weighed in at 220 pounds steered clear of him. More than once, we’d see a much larger guy start something with the smart-mouthed Danny Wilson, only to get his teeth kicked in. It was as if Danny would just suddenly be hanging onto the other guy’s hair or shirt, pulling him down and kicking or punching the guy’s brains out.
I never saw him with a weapon. He didn’t need one. No one ever saw him lose.
He was also, I should mention, a career criminal at that young age (16 or so). Danny would steal anything or break into anywhere. We’d met him straight out of the juvenile detention home, when his folks moved into our neighborhood.
To give their downtown kid a better chance at straightening out.
And when I first moved out to Hollywood, a short story I wrote about one of Danny Wilson’s many dangerous exploits (where he and a close friend of mine were almost killed) managed to get me the famous and iconic agent Mike Hamilburg as my first literary representative.
Mike had sold Taxi Driver for Paul Schrader and Helter Skelter for Vincent Bugliosi for big money, so I was more than impressed with the man. This was especially true when we met at the La Cienega Boulevard Norms Family Restaurant for breakfast the next day and he assured me I had a born ear for dialogue. Which he also told me couldn’t be learned, only developed.
As a screenwriter.
That first meeting with Mike Hamilburg kept me going for a very long time in Hollywood. And the Danny Wilson story I’d written and submitted to him was basically true, although fictionized to protect the clearly guilty.
But Danny’s weirdest caper, which turned out to be his last, was when he bent back the large fan blades high up on the cement block wall of the local dry cleaners late one night, climbed up there to break in, and got stuck. The next morning the owner, and then the police, laughed at him before pulling him out.
That crime, and his record, got him sent to big-time and grown-up Jackson Prison at 18 years old. Within his first month there, he was dead.
We were all shocked to hear it, to say the least.
And then his father told us the story he’d heard from a friend of Danny’s who also happened to be inside at the time. The other prisoners learned to be afraid of him soon enough. They also realized he couldn’t be controlled. Not in the least. And so several of them poured flammable cleaning fluids on him and then lit it.
Apparently, it is possible to be too damn tough.
Scott D. Parker
So far this summer, I have been reading more than writing. Hate to admit that, but it's true. Part of the problem of non-writing is that words just aren't flowing. The other part, however, is that I'm really enjoying just reading. Here's a list of some of past few titles: The Chase (Clive Cussler), Master Mind of Mars, Captain Blood, On Stranger Tides, The Presidents Club, and Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain.
When I'm not reading books, I'm reading comics. A LOT of comics. And not only the new ones from DC and "Atomic Robo" from Red5, but old ones, too. I've pulled out many of my long comics boxes and have flipped through them, gazing at all those covers. Inspired by the new "Batman in the 1970s" feature series over at bare bones e-zine, I've started re-reading many of the same titles. It's really neat to rediscover how Batman was portrayed before Frank Miller got a hold of him.
Now, back in the day, the Batman team-up book, the Brave and the Bold, was my favorite, and I recently pulled out #122, the first team-up of Batman with Swamp Thing. I'm not here, today, to discuss the story itself, but everything in the book except the story. The advertisements. In all of my historical research when I had to read and take notes from an old newspaper or magazine, I always loved looking at the ads because they often gave a more clarifying picture into the time of the magazine than the content.
The same is true for comics. Issue #122 had 32 pages, of which 18 told the story. Removing the two-page letter column, that leaves 14 pages of ads. Throwing in the insides of both covers and the back of the book, you actually have 17 pages of ads. Four of those pages are house ads for other DC comics and publications, leaving 10 pages of non-DC ads. (And I'm not including the glorious ad that Shazam starred in for Twinkies. Remember when your favorite hero hawked dessert products?)
The number of ads isn't really what I'm focusing on. It's what the ads are selling. Sure you had the standard ones: Slim Jims, "X-Ray glasses", binders in which to store your comics, magic stuff, and the near omnipresent ads for "100 Green Army Men" (although this one is a naval task force). What struck me were the ads offering up ways for kids to earn money by *working*. Both inside covers display a full-page spread of prizes kids could earn by selling personalize Christmas cards. This was not a page of things they could buy, mind you, but prizes to earn by working. Sell 9 boxes of cards and you could select a pair of walkie talkies, 16 gets your a pocket electronic calculator, and 25 gets you a portable 8-track player. Or, if the young salesman didn't want any of those things, he could pocket $1/box sold. Not a bad deal for 1975.
Another ad was for LaSalle Extension University. Here, readers of this comic book could send off a postcard and receive information on any number of carer opportunities: accounting, dental assistant, automotive mechanics, drafting, interior decorating, executive development, or even the high school diploma program.
What do these ads say about the comic buyer in 1975 ? He (or she) had the opportunity to order more comics (naturally), buy any number of cheap toys ("X-ray" glasses), or buy Twinkies. But it also provided an opportunity (key word there) for self improvement.
I buy comics digitally almost exclusively nowadays and the ads are few and far between. Mostly house ads for other DC merchandise and video games, but that's all that is there, Gone are the ads for trade schools. Candy is still there, too. Gone are the ads encouraging young people to sell stuff to earn extra money.
Might this say something about our culture? What do you think?
My favorite Tarzan films still tend to be the ones produced by Sy Weintraub in the late 50s/60s (specifically Tarzan's Greatest Adventure, Tarzan the Magnificent, Tarzan And The Valley Of Gold), but these are a lot of fun, too, and I'm thrilled to finally have them in my library.
FREE FOR ALL:
Starting in a matter of hours, at 3am Eastern time on Saturday, June 30, you can download my short story, “Welcome to the Real World”, absolutely free.
The story’s one that was written too recently for inclusion in Enough Rope, my omnibus collection. It’s a golf story, and its sole appearance in print was in Otto Penzler’s golf anthology, Murder in the Rough. It’s one of the dozen Stories From the Dark Side I recently enrolled in Amazon’s Kindle Select program, and that means I get to give it away.
So that’s what I’m doing. This is not sheer altruism on my part; it’s my wistful hope that you’ll like the story enough to sample some of its dark-side fellows. But I won’t feel betrayed if you don’t. What I’m aiming at right now is the highest possible number of free downloads while the deal lasts. So spread the word!
The story’s free for three 24-hour days, and the window doesn’t slam shut until 2:59am Eastern time, Tuesday, July 2. It’s a Kindle exclusive, but you don’t need to be a Kindle owner in order to take advantage of it. A free Kindle app, readily available from Amazon, will enable you to read Kindle books on your Mac or PC, iPhone or iPad or Android, and almost anything else. (And at least two enterprising fellows figured out how to read Kindle-only books on a Nook; scroll through the comments that follow this recent post. While you’re at it, you’ll see the full list of Stories From the Dark Side.)
FREE FOR SOME:
One interesting element of the Kindle Select program is a benefit restricted to Kindle owners who belong to the Amazon Prime program. As a perk of membership, they get to borrow one title per month at no charge. Borrowing a 99¢ short story is probably not the best possible use of one’s monthly slot, but a full-priced book for free is not bad, and I’ve had a decent number of borrowings already of Ehrengraf For the Defense, the 11-story collection just published earlier this month. (If it’s a bargain at $4.99, it becomes an absolute steal when it’s free.)
Some of you have expressed concern that borrowing the book might deprive me of my royalty. Not so. Amazon pays authors for borrowed books. By all means, feel free to borrow any available titles of mine.
I’ve been assured these prices are good through the end of July. I hope they’ll be made permanent, but there’s no guarantee of that. All the more reason to act now.
And, also for writers but for readers as well, my Open Road eRiginal, Afterthoughts, remains a stupefying bargain at 99¢. (But you snapped it up months ago, right?)
ALMOST FREE IN LB’S BOOKSTORE:
The Specialists, a one-book series and a signed small-press hardcover first edition, for $4.99.
Break Writer’s Block Now!, Jerrold Mundis’s groundbreaking how-to primer, a simple approach to a complicated problem, reduced to $5.99.
The Burglar Who Studied Spinoza and The Burglar in the Rye, signed hardcover firsts reduced to $9.99.
Tanner’s Tiger, the Subterranean Press hardcover, signed, for $9.99.
46 different Large Print Books, most of them one of a kind, most of them hardcover, all of them signed, $9.99 apiece.
20 different Audiobooks, most of them one of a kind, almost all unabridged, $9.99.
20 additional items, including UK editions, anthologies, a little of this and a little of that, and all for—yes, $9.99.
A LONG LONG WAY FROM FREE:
While $9.99 may look like our default price at LB’s Bookstore, we have some high-ticket items as well. As an alternative to the trade edition of The Specialists, on special at $4.99, you could dig deep and opt for the signed-and-numbered limited edition of that title, housed in a custom slipcase and yours for $29.99.
We had three copies of the ASAP limited edition of Ronald Rabbit is a Dirty Old Man, a very special item which we offered for $49.99. They’re all gone, but we found a few more in another carton, and will list them soon. (Meanwhile, if you want to read what Isaac Asimov called “either the dirtiest funny book or the funniest dirty book ever written,” we’ve got the Subterranean Press trade paperback for $19.99.)
And what else have we got that’s nowhere near free? Well, how about the Dark Harvest hardcover first editions of The Sins of the Fathers and Time to Murder and Create? The first has an intro by Stephen King, the second by Jonathan Kellerman. Each is priced at $99.99. The true worldwide first of Even the Wicked is Orion’s UK edition; it was on-sale in October of 1996, with Morrow’s US edition delayed until February 1997. Orion printed around 1000 copies, and most of those went to libraries in the Midlands. We’ve got 7 of them for—you guessed it—$99.99.
We’ve listed six titles at $49.99, including the Subterranean Press signed-and-limited edition of Cinderella Sims and Crippen & Landru’s signed-and-limited of The Lost Cases of Ed London. That’s two of the six, and I’ll leave you to ferret out the others on your own.
HOW MANY SHADES IS THAT?
I’m not sure, but the question brings to mind a favorite exchange:
Q: What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy?
A: I don’t know and I don’t care.
But you know, don’t you? And you don’t have to care a whole lot to click your mouse a couple of times and download Welcome to the Real World. And enjoy the summer!
Ex-con Conway Sax is still the Barnburners' (sort of like the AA) special problem solver. Savannah Kane used to be a Barnburner and Conway's lover. She returns into his life after seven years. She has some problems involving blackmail and a Massachusetts politician.
When he gets involved his wife isn't too happy about it. Soon people start dying and more and more lies turn up.
Sax sacrifices his relationship and risks his life to make good on the promises he made in the past and tries to fulfill the duties he feels he is honor bound to fulfill.