There they are, lined up in a box and I instinctively begin the flipping motion with my hand. My brain keeps sending me endorphins…good…keep going…good…why not…you might find something. Paperbacks for sale at book fairs are the equivalent of the magazines for sale at the supermarket checkout line.
Nonetheless, I can’t help myself. Nor can many others, since there is usually a short, insufferable wait to plunder the little guys.
Whenever I find myself a new weird little addiction, I ask myself why I’m doing it. I’m get slightly paranoid that I’m in too deep. After all, I’m pretty puritanical (deep down inside), like most Americans. But, also, like most Americans, I consistently sniff out trouble to get into.
As an Antiquarian, I should be careful. I am a book collector’s drug dealer, after all. No fooling and no judgments, collecting is a drug. If you want something that isn’t essential to sustaining life, and it is costing you money, you are entering the very wide spectrum of a “drug”. With a small “d”. (Please, I went to college in the 80s, I know the dif.)
Let’s face facts. The Pulp and Genre paperbacks are a gateway drug. They are cheap and they are fun and they are printed in highly fueled, four color printing. You just don’t see that kind of book illustration anymore. The art is vivid; the pulp books from the 1930s are lurid and nightmarish, the genre books from the 1950s and 1960s are naughty and psychedelic. IF you can find them in any condition other than beat to hell, they may not make your future fortunes, but they will constantly delight you and your friends.
And…I can’t stress this enough…they don’t take up much space. With cheap apartments being shared by too many young folks and the walls of expensive housing being replaced by floor to ceiling windows, SPACE may be the last real luxury.
This accessible, experimental approach to publishing cheap books began in the 19th century, went full bloom just before the Second World War, rebranded itself in Midcentury, faced steady decline for decades but stubbornly retains a steady popularity in genre fiction and trade paperbacks.
Just so I don’t seem like too much of a human trilobite, I do appreciate whimsical 18th century hand-colored drawings of white people in drawing rooms. It’s just that I like silly, nasty illustrations of half-clothed, full-bodied folks getting down to bad business better. (Don’t get me started on Kung-Fu movies, as anyone can tell you.)
And now, when I am in some little bookstore, tucked far away from judgement, I find my hands reaching out for a second look at those dusty, sinful little paperbacks.
And dig those covers! Mid-century Sci-Fi robots fighting gooey interplanetary, tentacled creatures. Halter-wearing prison lesbians in a girl fight. Big LTDs and Ghetto Pimps and busty broads. Muscular, blonde Sheriffs facing down tall, dark outlaws in red scarves.
Who can resist? These are the books that will one day promote a Hipster, to a collector. So, reader, I buy ’em.
What’s on my turntable: Amoroso by Joao Gilberto
Favorite song: “Besame Mucho”