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A Sunday Drive With Some Looks At Books

by  in Comic News Comment
A Sunday Drive With Some Looks At Books

As much as my wife and I had hoped to put this off, there was just no more stalling.

Our beloved little Mazda that had carried us all over the country for the last ten years was finally failing. When we’d had to replace the water pump a couple of months ago, our mechanic had told us it would be foolish to keep putting money into it, the car only had six months at best left in it. The patient had been pronounced terminal.

So there was nothing for it. We would have to get a new car.

I will spare you the narrative of all the aggravation that goes along with shopping for a vehicle. If you don’t drive, it would just be tedious and depressing, and if you are a car owner, you already know. Suffice it to say that at the end of seven weeks or so of looking, we are now the owners of a gray 2009 PT Cruiser. I like it because it doesn’t eat too much gas and looks to be safe to haul around students and their stuff, and the price was right.

Julie likes it because it looks “retro.” I never have cared about a car’s looks, I’m much more interested in its capability of getting us from point A to point B with as little fuss as possible. But I have to admit that I am secretly a little pleased that we found a car that looks so much like the 1940s Batmobile.

When I noted the resemblance, Julie immediately suggested we find a gray fin for the roof of our car, paint some teeth on the front bumper, and call it the Sharkmobile.

After we had signed all the papers and driven our new purchase off the lot, we decided we’d celebrate by taking a little day trip somewhere. Which in our household means back-roads bookscouting. Bellingham, north of us, seemed about the right distance for a one-day jaunt — maybe a truncated version of what we’d done for last year’s road trip.

After some thought, we decided we’d go up Route 9 to Acme, lunch at the Blue Mountain Grill, then west through Deming to Bellingham and loop around back home on the old highway along Chuckanut Drive. That would be a nice day’s ride. (Here’s a map, for those that are Pacific Northwest-impaired.)

I mention the Blue Mountain Grill for two reasons. One, because I know comics fans love their burgers and fries, and both at the Blue Mountain are incredible; and two, because Julie said I should have put it in the writeup of last year’s trip, it was a high point. “Why didn’t you tell them about that amazing lunch place we found on the old highway near Acme?”

So I am rectifying that omission here. Just for fun I looked it up on the net and was amused to discover the place is equally beloved by vacationing foodies and weekend motorcycle groups alike, Julie and I weren’t the only ones to think of it as being an essential part of any day-trip excursion along Route 9. Apparently, it used to be the Ranch Tavern, one of the nastiest biker roadhouses in Washington, but it was sold in 2006 to a pair of nice ladies who turned it into the pleasant family restaurant it is today. If by some chance you are ambling along the old Route 9 in our fair state, you should stop and check it out. Their web page is here.

But this is really supposed to be about books and comics. The point of all this is that we did eventually arrive in Bellingham, and there we stumbled across one of the most delightful bookstores I’ve ever set foot in.

I’m talking about Henderson Books. We’ve been to Bellingham a number of times — Julie went to college there, and there’s a couple of comics shows that we’ve been to up there as well — but somehow we’d never stopped here before. It was love at first sight.

Graphic novels and comics are actually the first thing you see as you enter, there’s a wall-high row of shelves just inside the vestibule that holds all sorts of stuff — lots of the usual discards you see in a used bookstore, CrossGen trades, Ultimate Marvel collections, manga digests, that sort of thing, but there were a few interesting finds as well.

Julie bowled out a lovely hardcover edition of Charlie Brown and Charlie Schulz, Lee Mendelson’s reminiscences about working with Charles Schulz on the animated Peanuts specials.

You never see that around, certainly not in hardcover for less than ten dollars, and I said she should grab it. Julie didn’t need to be told twice.

There was a lot of stuff like that — the sort of thing you might call, I don’t know, “low-end rarities.” Books that aren’t legendary or hugely expensive, but nevertheless you generally can’t get hold of them unless you’re willing to drop $30 or $40 each, through Amazon or AbeBooks or something like that. But Henderson’s had a bunch of them out in the stacks, neatly shelved, and not in a locked glass case either. There were about fourteen Trixie Belden books sitting in the juvenile section — some of them were the facsimile reprints from Random House, but there were a few original Whitmans from the sixties out there as well, priced very reasonably at ten dollars each. (Since our summer stop in Silverton, they always catch my eye now, and though I still have no interest in starting my own Trixie collection, I usually check out the price when I run across one in a store, just to satisfy my curiosity.)

There were a couple of things that I was actively salivating over when I saw them, but I finally talked myself out of spending the money.

THE CAVE GIRL, illustrated by Roy Krenkel. These are very rare. Canaveral Press did quite a few of these Burroughs limited-edition hardcovers in the early 1960s, edited by Richard Lupoff.

In particular, they had a couple of the Canaveral Press hardcover editions of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels: The Cave Girl and Savage Pellucidar. Unfortunately for me, they also knew what they had: although $35 each is not at all exorbitant considering how hard these books are to find, I wasn’t willing to spend that much, especially after we’d just written a big check for a new car. (The trouble is simply that, despite having a taste for antiquarian rarities and a lifetime’s worth of accumulated arcane knowledge about this sort of thing, I can’t afford to truly collect rare books. So on these excursions of ours, a lot of the time I find myself sighing and putting things back on the shelf.)

There WAS a locked glass case in the front of the store, and that was where the real rarities lived. I glanced at it but there was nothing there of interest for Julie or me except some really gorgeous Oz hardcovers. In particular, the later hard-to-find ones by Ruth Plumly Thompson, who continued the series after Frank Baum passed away.

On the left we have probably my favorite of the Thompson Oz pastiches, PURPLE PRINCE OF OZ. On the right is one of the 1970s Rand McNally Oz paperback facsimile reprints, books that are apparently now rarities themselves.

I was also surprised to see a couple of the 1974 paperback Oz facsimile reprints under lock and key in the case as well. They are without question the nicest of the various Oz paperbacks, I think, but I was startled to realize that those editions are apparently now collectible in and of themselves. I didn’t bother to inquire about the price, since the stuff that wasn’t under glass was already a little out of our range.

In the end I contented myself with three of Anthony Tollin’s Shadow reprints.

I know I’ve plugged these here before, and probably will again, but they really are a lot of fun if you’re any kind of pulp fan at all. Every book in the line — Doc Savage, The Avenger, The Whisperer, The Shadow — is just a great package done with love and care. I especially enjoy the extra historical material, usually some kind of historical essay from either Tollin himself or pulp historian and novelist Will Murray. I see them popping up in used bookstores all the time as remainders, and Henderson had three of them I didn’t already own at $5 each. I decided they were my consolation prize for being so strong about resisting the Burroughs hardcovers and scooped them up.

So that was Henderson’s. We’ll definitely be back there one of these days, and probably spend a lot more money. If for no other reason than that we were curious about Michael’s Books as well. That was a shop right across the street, and it actually had a sign in the window proclaiming them to be stocked with antiquarian rarities. But since it was Sunday, they were closed. We’ll get them next time.

*

But that’s not all. We did a little thrift-shop scouting, too, and I ran across some things that would possibly interest readers here.

In particular, I found all four of Greg Cox’s DC event prose novelizations at a dollar each.

The quality on these varies depending on the story being adapted, which is something you can’t really hold Mr. Cox accountable for. But what I can’t figure out is why these books exist at all in a world where we have trade paperback collections available of these stories. DC’s been doing this since Roger Stern’s The Death and Life of Superman back in the 1990s, and I didn’t really get it then either.

Which isn’t to say that the books are bad. Denny O’Neil’s Knightfall and Greg Rucka’s No Man’s Land prose novels are both terrific reads. But they were also significantly altered from the comics versions, and condensed years of sprawling interconnected serial storylines into a coherent whole. Likewise, Greg Cox does a great job with the prose versions of 52 and Countdown, performing the same chore of condensing and tightening a lengthy serial into a tight and entertaining read. (I was especially impressed with Countdown, Cox almost saved that for me. If he didn’t quite make a silk purse out of that particular sow’s ear, he at least managed to construct a usable synthetic one.) But to my way of thinking, that’s really the only reason to do a prose book like this. I don’t see the need for an Infinite Crisis or a Final Crisis novel at all when the trade collections are available — for almost the same price, even.

So why did I buy them? Because I was curious, and at a dollar each I could indulge the whim… and also on the strength of Mr. Cox’s name. I like Greg Cox’s other books. I am especially fond of his Star Trek novels featuring Khan and Gary Seven.

He also did some great stuff for the Byron Preiss Marvel novel series in the 1990s, particularly the X-Men/Avengers trilogy Gamma Quest, and also a couple of solid Iron Man books.

Honestly? If DC is going to commission a superhero novel from Greg Cox I think I’d much rather have an original than an adaptation of a comics story that I already know. In the meantime, I can’t really recommend you run out and buy any of the four DC Cox novels above. Your Greg Cox dollar is much better spent on his Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars or Iron Man: Operation A.I.M. or something original like that.

*

The other interesting find was a nice little science fiction rarity.

Regular readers may recall that on our recent road trip, I stumbled across a run of the old Laser Books series of paperback originals. These are mostly cheerfully undemanding space opera, though there were a couple of innovative books that sneaked through. I had the first fourteen when I was in high school and liked them okay, at least until #15, George Zebrowski’s staggeringly dull The Star Web, put me off them entirely.

I hadn’t thought about them in years until we ran across a bunch in Portland a couple of months ago. I picked up half a dozen then and have been continuing to pick away at them since, not really in any kind of serious way, but with an eye towards replacing the fourteen I enjoyed in high school. Generally I just trawl through the paperback section in used bookstores to see if I can turn any up.

In the course of doing this, I saw that when I ran across #9, Invasion by Aaron Wolfe, it was invariably priced way higher than a Laser Book ever ought to be.

Most places have Laser Books at a dollar or less, if they have them at all; they are regarded as the same kind of bookstore cannon fodder as Mack Bolan books or Harlequin romances. (In fact, Laser Books WAS an imprint of Harlequin.) But Invasion went for anywhere from eight to twenty dollars. I couldn’t figure it out. I remembered the book as being a nice little potboiler, one of the better entries in the series, certainly– but it wasn’t as though Aaron Wolfe was some kind of big name.

I’d avoided any kind of Googling or anything because this Laser Book thing was just a whim, a little shopping game I was playing in thrift stores and bookshops. Using an internet search engine seemed like cheating… but this Invasion anomaly bugged me. Finally, feeling foolish, I looked it up on the net.

Turns out “Aaron Wolfe” WAS famous. He was an early pen name for Dean Koontz. And as far as I could tell, Invasion has never been reprinted. It’s one of those bits of trivia that you just need to know, because there’s nothing on the book itself that gives anything away. It’s common knowledge in the book trade, as is the fact that Koontz also did a series of gothics in the 1970s under the name “Deanna Dwyer.” But it was news to me.

Anyway, all this is preamble. The point is, we found a copy of Invasion for three dollars and I glomped on to it. Score!

*

So that was our trip. We now feel like the car’s had its inaugural voyage, after a fashion, and it was nice to get in one more small road adventure before school started.

Of course, the new ride won’t REALLY be a true Hatcher nerdmobile until we get another one of Brandon’s Geek Pride stickers for it, but we’ll get to that eventually.

See you next week.

Tags:
Road trip!
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