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Four Days on a Deserted Island, part two

by  in Comic News Comment
Four Days on a Deserted Island, part two

Last week I told you about our struggle to get to Whidbey Island for a four-day bookscouting vacation, despite a fearsome (snort) Seattle snowstorm. And here is the second part of that account.

*

As we were leaving Wind and Tide Books, I noticed a flyer in the window. I nudged Julie and pointed. “Hey, check it out.”

The Whidbey Playhouse was mounting a production of It’s A Wonderful Life, and it opened that very night.

Julie beamed. It’s A Wonderful Life is her favorite movie.

“We should totally go,” I told her. “It’ll be fun.”

“Are you sure?”

“Why not? We’re on vacation. And it’s just up the street, I know we passed it on the way down.” I resolved to check into getting us tickets later for that evening’s show, but in the meantime, there were bookstores and secondhand shops to investigate.

Just a block or so up from Wind and Tide was Community Thrift, which we decided was worth a quick look. We’ve learned that you can never judge by first impressions with places like this, but in this case it was about what you’d think from a glance at the windows. The book section was a couple of sad little shelves in the back, largely stocked with those vile Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and way too many of the Left Behind paperbacks. Even so, Julie found some shirts she liked, and I managed to bowl out a couple of interesting hardcovers from the tired-looking bookshelves.

These were both Why Not? purchases, but I can almost never pass up a vintage hardcover western, and PEPPERMINT STREET was an award-winning juvenile in great shape.

The Long Rifle is one of those classic Westerns I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while. It’s the story of young Andy Burnett, a young man who’s inspired by finding Daniel Boone’s rifle to go west and get out from under his Pennsylvania family’s plans for him to be a farmer. Stewart White was one of the early western writers… though he was born in 1873, so he was probably thinking of himself more as a contemporary novelist. A great many of his books were drawn from his own experiences growing up, and his The Blazed Trail was something of a sensation when it came out, it exposed a lot of the corruption in the lumber industry of the time. White also was instrumental in mythologizing Daniel Boone for the modern age, not only in The Long Rifle but also in his Daniel Boone, Wilderness Scout.

Interestingly — well, I thought it was interesting — in 1918 White and his wife became involved with the spiritualist movement. At first it was just ouija boards and such, but later Mrs. White claimed to be a full-on medium, channeling spirits she called “the Invisibles” who sent her messages via automatic writing. White embraced the movement and many of his later works were about these spirits of the afterlife — so that today, you find as many references to Stewart Edward White in occult encyclopedias as you do in books about the rise of the American Western.

Journey From Peppermint Street I knew nothing about at all, other than that it was a Newbery and National Book Award winner. But that made it a pretty good bet, and anyway, it was in terrific shape for a hardcover juvenile from 1970. One more for the Why Not? It’s Fifty Cents! pile.

The alert reader will have noted by now that so far, the comics and comics-related books are looking pretty thin on the ground in Oak Harbor. This is true. Except for the Infinite Crisis audiobook CD set, which I’d bought, and a worn ex-library copy of Ultimate Spider-Man volume one at Community Thrift, which I’d passed on (it was too tattered even to pick up as junk to give to the kids) there simply weren’t any comics to be had. There was a comics shop in Oak Harbor, the Book Rack up on Midway Boulevard, but they weren’t open yet.

A couple of thrift shops up on Midway were, though, and we gave them a quick look.

Julie didn’t find anything at our next stop, but I did pretty well.

The Raven’s Nest is clearly where all the old Mack Bolan books on the island go to die. The paperback shelves were choked with them.

I took a picture to give you an idea. All the paperback shelves looked like that. For every other kind of novel there were about five starring The Executioner or Stony Man or Able Team or whatever. On the opposite wall, though, there was a small shelf labeled ‘Vintage’ and I thought that was worth a look.

Side note: a lot of thrift stores, and even some used bookstores, do this. The way you can tell it’s for real is because if the books are genuine rarities, the ‘vintage’ shelf is either behind the counter by the register, or under lock and key in a glass case. Out in the open like this one was, it’s usually just a shelf of old books with delusions of grandeur. (I’ll come back to this, because of an embarrassing moment I had later. This is some of that foreshadowing they talk about in lit class, kids.)

On this particular “Vintage” shelf, it was mostly crap; three volumes of an old encyclopedia set, a college math textbook from the early 1960s, stuff like that. But a couple of them were interesting enough to pick up.

I just thought these looked like fun. The 'vintage' value was negligible.

My soft spot for old-school juvenile boys’ adventure novels should be plain by now even to those who came in late, and these two both looked like they had possibilities.

The Motorboat Boys Among The Florida Keys looked like another failed Stratemeyer effort, which is why I picked it up– I get a big kick out of all the more obscure efforts from there to get a series started. (For every Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, there are at least a dozen also-rans like Biff Brewster or Doris Force.) But in fact this was a completely different series from one of Stratemeyer’s competitors; launched in an effort to go after the Rover Boys market, one supposes. They were all written by “Louis Arundel,” which is a pen name, I suspect, because I can’t find anything about him or any evidence that he ever wrote anything else.

The books are about the adventures of the six members of the Motor Boat Club: Jack and Jimmy aboard the Tramp, George and Nick on the Wireless, and Herb and Josh on the Comfort. They sail around the various waterways of the U.S. and have adventures. In fairness, this probably sounded a lot more exciting when motorboats were a new technological marvel back in 1913, when this was published. There were seven books in the series between 1912 and 1915, of which Florida Keys is the fourth. This copy was a little beat up and missing a couple of the front pages– title page and copyright and so on, everything I just told you about it I had to dig up on the net. But otherwise it was in good shape and it was only fifty cents. Why Not?

The Secret Cave of Kamanawa I bought just on the strength of the illustrations — something I almost never do, but these were amazing.

The book was published in 1968, and the illustrations are by a fellow named Ray Lanterman. Just flipping through the book in the store I immediately fell in love with the subtlety of the light and shadow in everything he was doing. I always say I’m a story guy, and I am, but in this case the art is what sold me. It happens for me like that once a year or so, and this was apparently the 2010 episode.

A good thing too, because unfortunately the story by Helen Berkey isn’t really worthy of the magnificent illustration job. The titular secret of Kamewana’s burial cave promises much more suspense than there actually is, and really the only time the book comes alive at all is when the author is recounting the story of how the king and his bride escaped from the island of Molokai. Ms. Berkey is far more interested in Hawaiian myth and legend than she is in plotting a decent mystery. Still, it’s pretty to look at and it only cost a dollar.

Next door was the WAIF thrift store and animal shelter, a nice little bit of island synergy.

The Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation, or WAIF for short, uses a couple of thrift store outlets on the island as their primary fundraisers, and the main one on Midway is right next to the pet shelter. So in theory one could drop by to donate something to the store and possibly get lured into adopting a pet, or alternatively, come to get the kids a puppy and be seduced into spending a few bucks in the store. Both sides of the equation were doing pretty fair business that morning.

The WAIF book section took up most of the upstairs, a lovely expansive place that was the equal of any you’d see in the major thrift outlets in Seattle. You could tell, though, that it was a routine stop for the local bookscouts and that it got picked over pretty regularly.

At lunch Julie asked me how I knew that and I couldn’t really explain. There’s a difference between a good book department that is clearly getting regularly trawled by dealers and a book department that’s just crappy, but it’s a hard thing to put into words. The WAIF shelves were obviously well-cared for and there was a wide variety of genres represented, but just as obviously, the good stuff was gone.

But how, you and Julie both ask, can you tell good stuff was ever there in the first place? It has to do with the feel of the store itself, but also I think it’s because you can see a higher level of quality to the discards. The leavings here were things like the original James Blish Star Trek paperbacks– worth forty to fifty dollars each in good condition to a collector, but the ones at WAIF all had split spines and frayed covers– and a moderately nice copy of the British paperback edition of Tom Clancy’s Hunt For Red October.

The sort of thing a dealer picks up and thinks Maybe… but then puts back. Lots of books like that on the WAIF shelves, but not a lot of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books or paperback Longarm westerns that most used book dealers would end up putting in their three-for-a-dollar curbside cart. That’s kind of how you tell. I’m afraid I can’t explain it better than that.

In the end I settled for two more fifty-cent Why Not? hardcovers.

I just thought these looked cool.

The Richard Belzer book just looked like fun light reading, the premise being that actor Richard Belzer gets caught up in a real-life homicide. The Law And Order version of Galaxy Quest, you might say. It’s an entertaining enough read that I made it a point to find the sequel, I Am Not A Psychic! when we got home.

Coils I bought because I like Fred Saberhagen and the cover looked interesting, and also this was an illustrated edition with lots of nice pen-and-inks scattered throughout by Ron Miller.

Miller did the cover too, but it was credited inside to Howard Chaykin. That is an odd little typo, because Chaykin did do the cover to the paperback edition. The original Chaykin piece was a wraparound that covered both the front and the back of the paperback– Howard Chaykin painted quite a few of those wraparound paperback illustrations in the early 1980s and they’re really good, which is why it was such a crime that later editions of Coils cropped this art so badly.

On the left you have the original Chaykin cover, and on the right you have the later edition with the weirdly-cropped version.

…sorry, digressing. Anyway, it was a strange typo to make, considering that the hardcover usually precedes the paperback. But this was a Book Club edition, so I assume that explains it.

At lunch Julie picked up a Whidbey Island News, and a little booklet catalogue of holiday sale specials from the Independent Bookseller’s Association fell out. The local store stamp said it was there courtesy of the Book Bay in Freeland, just down the road from Oak Harbor, and we determined that would be our next stop.

The Book Bay was a nice little place, but it was strictly new stuff, and Julie and I are all about digging for secondhand treasures. We did much better a block up, at the Freeland WAIF outlet.

These bookshelves hadn’t been ravaged like the ones at the Oak Harbor store, and there were quite a few finds. (We were to find that the further south you go on Whidbey Island, the higher the quality of the secondhand-shop pickings get.) If we were genuine professional bookscouts, we’d have left with a crate of stuff. In particular, there was a nice hardcover first edition of The Silence of the Lambs that I probably should have snatched up. If I were a dealer, I would have, but I buy books to keep, and anyway it had a personalized bookplate glued in the front. I did fall for a hardcover first edition of Cinnamon Skin, the second to the last of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee books.

That’s a forty-dollar book from most dealers and here it was for three dollars, which meant that the half-off Black Friday sale price made this… a buck and a half. We were beginning to understand why Whidbey’s a dream vacation spot for book people.

Julie was waving at me to come see something over at the other end of the store. It turned out that this particular WAIF store actually had a “Vintage” books section in a glass case next to the register.

It wasn’t put together by a real bookscout (if it had, both the Thomas Harris and the MacDonald hardcovers would have been kept in there) but it had been assembled by someone with a pretty good eye. There was a signed hardcover of Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles and a couple of other pieces of similar quality.

But Julie was waving at me to make sure I saw the two Tarzan juveniles in it.

The Whitman juvenile edition of the Burroughs book isn't that hard to track down, but this one was practically new -- and Big Little Books in good shape are always a safe investment.

There were two, both Whitmans, which Julie knows I’m fond of. The “Authorized Edition for Young Readers!” version of The Return of Tarzan is something you run across every once in a while. Whitman did three or four of these abridged edition Tarzans in the late sixties. Along with Return, I’ve seen Tarzan and the City of Gold and Tarzan of the Apes, and I think there was at least one more besides that, though I couldn’t say for sure without looking it up. (Whitman also did several Doc Savage books in this format, as well.) So this was not really a rarity; but it was practically new and I thought Phenix or possibly Rin’s girl Kerowyn might like it.

Tarzan and the Red Hyena was a Big Little Book, more of a collectible than a read, but you almost never see this one for less than forty dollars. It looked to be in really good shape but under glass it was hard to tell. I asked the cashier, “Would it be all right if I looked in this glass case?”

“Sure,” the woman said. A moment later she turned her back to ring someone up.

I blinked. Well, okay, I didn’t mind waiting, but the place wasn’t that busy. When the customer left I tried again. “Um… excuse me…. the case?”

“It’s fine, go ahead,” the woman said. I looked helplessly back at her and she added gently, “It’s not locked.”

Oh.

The difference between city life and the island in a nutshell. Feeling foolish, I opened the case up and found the Whitmans both to be in pristine shape. Five dollars each, and they were half-off as well which made it five for the pair. Those and the $1.50 Cinnamon Skin made it a total, with tax, of a little over seven bucks for roughly ninety dollars’ worth of rarities. I thought about going back and getting The Silence of the Lambs just as an investment, but decided to leave it. No need to be greedy. But I was definitely warming to the Black Friday concept.

Julie had found some nice picture frames, as well. We decided that was more than enough for the day… it was getting late, and we had an evening at the theatre planned, after all. Comics and the Book Rack could wait one more day.

*

And speaking of one more day, once again this has sprawled on to such length that I think I better stop for now…. you are all very patient to have come this far.

So I’ll be back with the conclusion (promise!) next week, with the most amazing scores of all and even some actual comics. Really.

See you then.

Tags:
Road trip!
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