There were no bookstores in my suburban town as I was growing up–this was before megamalls and big-box book retailers even existed. The next town over –a real town, with a center, not just amorphous suburban sprawl–had a bookstore, in the clocktower of a 19th century office block. But it was too far to walk, and I didn’t get up there much.
My heavy early bookbuying was done in drugstores and the local luncheonette, off revolving metal racks. The books were mass-market paperbacks, selling for 50 cents; slightly cheaper ones went for .35.
I found some great books on those racks–Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans, Frank Herbert’s Dune (toward the end of my drugstore-haunting period), and oddball one-off finds like the supernatural stories of Davis Grubb or Old House of Fear by Russell Kirk, which seems to have invented an entire subgenre of gothic romance all by itself.
The Alfred Hitchcock anthologies were a big favorite. Not only would you find crime, horror, and the supernatural all crammed together , by people like Richard Matheson, Robert Aickman, Robert (Psycho) Bloch, Edward D. Hoch, but they were only 35 cents. I could buy one, and still have money left over for a fist full of cheap, sugary candy bars.
I still have a lot of these paperbacks. I’ve been dragging them around for years; they tend to get double shelved now behind more “serious” literature, rediscovered only when I move (which I seem to do a fuck of a lot).
But this early training in drugstore bookbuying had a lasting effect on me. I associate those metal book racks with intense reading pleasure and literary discovery. Whenever I pass a book rack in Walgreens or some all-night grocery store I come to a screeching halt and thumb through all the titles.
I’m glad my book is coming out in hardcover. But I’ll feel I’ve really arrived if it goes into mass-market paperback and I see it sitting in a rack near the checkout counter, next to the sports and bridal magazines.
I wonder what my twelve-year-old self would have thought of it.
VINNIE’S HEAD St. Martin’s Minotaur March 2007
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