Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Browsing the used book store

Yesterday I had a few minutes to stop by a used book store that I pass on my daily commute.  It's been literally several years since I'd been in there; and several years since I'd browsed any such venue at all, for that matter.  With Amazon, of course, it's pretty easy to get what you want in terms of used books, but by the same token, it's easy to forget the joy of browsing the shelves and not having anything in particular that you're looking for.  This was like browsing the shelves at the old Half-Price Books when I was a kid, or even the shelves of the sci-fi section of my local public library in the 80s—back before it was only full of bland, fairly modern mush.

I did, however, actually go in looking for a few things—or at least wondering if I could find them—but I didn't, and so I ended up simply browsing.  Sadly, I only had a few minutes to spare, so I couldn't do as good a job as I'd have liked, but I did what I could.

After locating the sci-fi section (and being surprised that it was actually split between fantasy and sci-fi, although of course for some works, it's hard to decide where they "should" belong, so I had to look at them both anyway) I looked for some Leiber.  I have the first two books, Swords and Deviltry and Swords Against Death "omnibussed" together into Ill Met in Lankhmar and published by White Wolf in the mid-90s.  I was hoping to find the next one, since it's actually kind of overpriced and generally just not as available as one would think on Amazon.  I also looked briefly for Leigh Brackett and Edgar Rice Burroughs, just to see what (if anything) they had. I was also hoping against hope to find volume 4 of the James Silke Horned Helmet series—I actually picked up the first three volumes here years ago, and now (finally) I'm reading through them again.  I never finished the entire series when it was newish.  I found very little of what I was looking for (they did have some ERB, but I'll get to that in a moment) but of course, I found much that I wasn't looking for.

If you've never experienced the joy of discovering some forgotten classic on the shelves of a musty old library or used book shoppe, then you're really missing one of the great joys in life.  And I use the word classic somewhat loosely, of course.  If they were truly classic, they probably wouldn't be forgotten, but there is a lot of really good material that doesn't quite make the cut as classic, and it's a shame that it's little-read and hard to find anymore when that happens.

I ended up walking out with Sworn in Steel, the second novel of the Kin by Douglas Hulick—sadly, I don't own the first, although I have read it and its readily available at my local public library.  So is the second one, by the way, but because my reading is often sporadic, I prefer to buy and then read leisurely and at my own pace anything that I really want to make sure that I read anymore.  I also walked out with two entries in the Thieves World series—five and six, if I recall—that I stumbled upon kind of randomly.  I actually bought another entry in the series at this same store years ago (I think it was even the first one, although I'm not sure that I remember that correctly anymore. Sure would be awkward if it turns out it's either 5 or 6!)  General consensus and my own memory of the series was that it started out strong, but weakened rather quickly, so I'm not sure that volumes 5 and 6 were really the best ones to pick up, but meh.  It only cost me a few bucks.  Eight bucks in fact for all three books, which is still much more than I used to spend at used book stores, but then again, the cost of books generally has about doubled from what I paid as a teenager.

Books that I came close to buying, but ended up putting back on the shelf include the following:

  • The Eternal Savage by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  I'd never read this one, and it sounded interesting.  A woman, traveling in Africa to meet with Tarzan for some reason, instead comes across some kind of temporal displacement.  A cave-man comes into our time and fights lions and black African savages and whatnot (I suspect) before both of them are drawn back to the Stone Age.  I later discovered that this was originally titled Nu of the Niocene, then retitled The Eternal Lover before being retitled yet again (presumably so it doesn't sound like a romance novel.)  Curiously, the girl is posited to be the sister of the protagonist of The Mad King, a Ruritanian romance written by Burroughs which I have read (although not recently) and the two were written together in tandem, and published serially in Argosy kind of as a set.  Anyway, I didn't get this one, but it is available on Project Gutenberg, so I might get it as an ebook instead.  As an aside, I've picked up a bunch of public domain ebooks recently—including many by ERB—which I haven't added to my reading list.  I should probably get on that...
  • A few books by Elizabeth Boyer.  Curiously, I was thinking about her (or her books, rather) just a few days ago. I remember clearly reading her books from the library when I was younger, and enjoying them quite a bit, but I couldn't remember her name or the name of any of her books—just that she was near the front of the alphabet, and that the books featured a setting that was basically mythical Scandinavia.  It was a real find to stumble across two or three of her books at the used book store, and rediscover who she was.  I'll probably eventually go back for these, and if they're as good as I remember them being when I was 13-14 or so, then maybe I'll look up more of what she wrote.  On her Fantastic Fiction biographical blurb, it says she went to BYU, by the way, where she studied English Lit and Scandinavian mythology.  Given her age, if she went to BYU, she was almost certainly LDS (that's actually still true today, but would have been even more true in the 30s).  And given the heavy preponderance of English and Danish settlers who make up the traditional Western Utah/Idaho/northern Arizona/Southern California population of LDS members, she may well have had very recent Scandinavian roots herself.
  • Although I have The Book of Three and The High King in an old trade paperback printing (with weird cover art that kinda sorta resembles an old tapestry) I found those two plus The Black Cauldron in a very small, pocket-sized mass market paperback edition.  Missing were volumes three and four—but I almost got them anyway, because I remember distinctly liking these three volumes the best, and volumes 3 and 4 can be skipped if you read the summaries of them on Wikipedia, or in my case, just try and remember what happened.  My copies are literally falling apart.  This mass market paperback edition must have been published near to the release of the Disney movie, since the copy of The Black Cauldron features cover art that looks like the movie poster.
  • A couple of Fighting Fantasy Game Books—although in this case, the series title was a misnomer, since these were two of the black-covered non-fantasy books.  The only one of these that I still own (and I had to re-buy it from Amazon a few years ago) was City of Thieves, one of the first two that I originally owned, and if I'd seen the other of the first two I originally owned (Forest of Doom) or maybe some of the other older fantasy versions, I would have bought it in a heartbeat.  As it was, I picked up and seriously thought about the two that they did have—one was either Rebel Planet or Space Assassin (I can't remember which) a space opera, and one was Freeway Fighter, a kind of Mad Max or Car Wars post apocalyptic story.
I'd love to go back when I really have the proper time to browse—man, did I really love the browsing! But it's also curious how browsing leads me to search for things that I didn't find.  I might well go look for some of the old Fighting Fantasy Game Books again.  I might well look for more Thieves World anthologies.  I might well get the three Alexander books and then buy the missing two on Amazon.  And I might well finally pull the trigger on some other Amazon purchases that I've been meaning to do but haven't yet—the last James Silke novel, some more Leigh Brackett, some more Fritz Leiber.

But most of all, I'm delighting to kind of rediscover, to some extent, how much I enjoy discovering new books.  How much I enjoy reading, even if I don't always have as much time anymore to do it as I'd like, how much I enjoy old skool sword & sorcery—how much fun all of this always was to me, and why I always liked it so much from the get-go!

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