Saturday, June 10, 2006

Vintage Paperback Books

When I was a kid, being dragged along by my mom to the grocery store was only made tolerable by being able to hang out looking at magazines or at the paperback rack. It was looking at paperbacks in 1956 that caused my personal epiphany, discovery of The Mad Reader. It changed my life. Not always for the better, but it did change. But, that's another subject.

I used to love looking at the old covers on paperback books. When I was seven and playing in our garage I found a whole cupboard over the workbench full of paperbacks; they were mostly potboilers, mysteries and sleaze with really great covers. They belonged to my dad. He was the proverbial traveling salesman, and when not staying with farmer's daughters (heh-heh) he was holed up in motel rooms at night with very little to do but read. In those days motels didn't come with HBO and ESPN. They didn't even come with TV's.
I made the mistake of taking a couple of the more exotic-looking books into the house and proclaiming to my mom, "Look what I found in the garage!" The next time I went to the cupboard the books were gone. I learned a lesson at that time: If you find something great, don't share it.

However, over the years I've found some pretty nice vintage paperbacks, mostly in thrift stores, usually costing from 50¢ to 75¢. Unlike my mom, I want to share some of them with you.

The first is Pocket Books 459, The Dragon's Teeth by Ellery Queen, a 1947 printing. What I like the most about this book is the non-representational art on the cover. This book isn't about dragons…but I like the way the art director chose to use this cartoony, bizarre-looking critter on the cover. Very eye-catching.

Back to more realism in the art, this cover of Fast One by Paul Cain, Avon Books 178, from 1948, has been reprinted in several forms. I always wondered…is the guy dropping dead from the sight of the babe in the bathtub? To find out I could always read the book, but I don't think vintage paperbacks are to read. I think they're to be collected so people can look at the lurid covers.

Speaking of lurid covers, The Case Of The Curious Bride, a Perry Mason mystery by Erle Stanley Gardner, Pocket Books 177, from 1942, is a great example of the old law in publishing that having a skeleton or skull on the cover raised sales figures. That's apparently why so many old books and magazines feature bones on the covers. Anyway, this is a nice example of what I call The Skeleton Law of Covers.

Finally, we jump from the 1940s to the 1960s with The Long Sword by Hunter D'Allard (pseudonym of Willis Todhunter Ballard, a prolific producer of paperbacks under several names), a 1962 Avon paperback. This is a suggestive cover; it's hidden from the bluenoses, who would pass it over as being just another historical paperback, but if you take a closer look you understand what the title, The Long Sword, really means. Girl in bed…sword at crotch…clothing folds indicating bulge in front of trousers. Aha. Now I get it! Oooo, this one should be hot! Then you get inside and read, "Her warm hand touched the bare breadth of his wide chest and she ran it swiftly down, across the taut muscle of his stomach, laughing up at him gaily. He loosened the pants and she yanked them down, the hand following along his leg and squeezing once around the thick ankle…"

Ankle, huh? Ankle, my…uh…ankle!

Anyway, fun books. I'll have more for you sometime.

Ciao for now, El Postino

1 comment:

darknight said...

Early pubic experiences are surely the most exciting and should be cherished. I really liked your story. I had a similar experience when I was 11, when accidently coming accross a great Penthouse magazine (Dec, 1978). Unlike you, I hurried to bury the evidence under a tall tree in the local public garden. I gloated over it for a couple of months in what has proved to be a very different steamy summer. And then the first rain came... nothing was left of that splendid chrome paper but soaking shreds of naked beauties.
This teaches you: don't share your great findings and don't bury them under a tree.

By the way, do you know of any web-site that allows downloading of Vintage Paperbacks?