Saturday, January 26, 2019

But Does it Spark Joy?

My Esteemed Uncle Ron and I make a pilgrimage every January to The Book Barn for opening day of their annual sale, arriving prior to the store's (there are four of them, spread along Main Street) opening. We've been making this trek for at least a decade, with only one exception (a few years ago I went alone; it wasn't nearly as fun without him). I've been a customer of the Book Barn for at least thirty years, and I wouldn't doubt if I've transacted a thousand books over that span, mostly buying, but sometimes trading for credit books I never connected with or no longer connect with. The place is an OOP (that's "out of print" for those who don't know) paradise, but also manages to get a fair amount of current stock despite many of the chain bookstores (some of which I managed years ago) having long since gone out of business. My Esteemed Uncle Ron was a professor of Humanities for many years and regularly publishes scholarly articles, books, and books in translation, primarily in Medieval topics. We have almost zero overlap in tastes (some crossover in history and what I call "drinking studies") and so he's a perfect partner to go book hunting with as I never have to wrestle him over a find.

We met at the appointed place at 8:30 and I drove the short distance to the store, splitting the quartet of donuts he brought from a local bakery on the way and discussing the weather--this was the first excursion in recent memory where the weather was both sunny and fairly warm; we usually count on the arctic weather (last year the temperature was in the single digits which was great for keeping the amateurs away). We arrived ten minutes early, and decided to vary our pattern a bit--usually we start at the Downtown location; this year we started at Midtown because that location is closing and being moved, so instead of the usual 30% off, the stock there was 50% off so the hard working crew will have less to move.
Danny's Pro Tip: Nothing removes unsightly sticker gunk like GOO GONE. And with such a delightful orangey smell!

Here's what I bought;

(Above) A whole lot of James Ellroy, who I've decided will be one of my Featured Authors for the year, meaning I will try and read their entire output. (2018 featured Patrick O'Brian, Stephen Greenleaf, and John Connolly). I found thirteen of his books, most of them in the Midtown location, and most of them with beautiful retro noir covers. Sharp eyes will notice I bought one title twice; not an accident, I found a copy with a cover I liked better at the Main Barn later in the day. Those with my sickness will understand. Since Ellroy was one of two authors I was specifically targeting (the other was Brian Lumley because I had a synaptic urge to reread his Necroscope series, which I've not done since high school, but no luck there--I usually get a dozen horror titles, but that genre was a bust for me this year!) I was especially happy to find a signed edition of his biographical work My Dark Places.

I centered on Ellroy because I recently re-watched L.A. Confidential, at least I started to until I saw that disgraced actor Kevin Spacey was in it, whereupon I ripped it out of the DVD player, snapped it in half and then in quarters before setting it on fire and melting it into a toxic puddle (all lies; I watched the whole thing; it's a great movie and he's great in it). I've read a few here and there in the past but never in order, with concentration. I'm looking forward to it.

BTW, I'm often asked by people, some who are intent to crush out joy, and some who are merely curious, if I, as a professional author who derives a percentage of his livelihood from book sales, if I don't feel a little conflicted buying books used so that the author doesn't make a cent from them. The answer? YES. (Mr. Ellroy would agree--check out his quote about Granny and L.A. Confidential in his Wikipedia entry HERE More regarding this guilt a little later.

I love fantasy and science fiction art books, especially from the seventies and eighties, especially ones with accompanying text and/or artists notes. Anything where the artist reveals a bit of their process or inspiration. One of my book dreams in that someone collects and publishes a book compiling my friend Jill Bauman's art, some of which was featured in Grady Hendrix's Paperbacks From Hell, but I'd love to see a nice coffee table hardback of her work. The books above all all paperbacks, but some good finds--the issue of Ariel that I was missing, which has a gorgeous Barry Windsor Smith cover and something called Amberstar written and illustrated by Bruce Jones, who was responsible for the Pacific/Eclipse comics Twisted Tales and Alien Worlds among others, but for those in particular he will remain a must-read for me. These plus A Cadillacs and Dinosaurs collection, a Sandman volume (Gaiman wrote the book, he writes the introduction on the Bryan Talbot art book)  with a Stephen King intro, and a volume of Warren Ellis's The Authority I haven't read.

Then for miscellaneous stuff, these:

I think I've read the Saunders before, but this is a nice clean copy and I don't think I own it, the new book of Franzen essays, Patton Oswalt's Zombie Spaceship Wasteland because I enjoyed Silver Screen Fiend, his recent standup, and the new MST3k. The Carver bio because I've read everything he's ever written (even the poetry, which is a stretch for me) and if I could just glean one technique or practice of his through his life it would be worthwhile, the Doo Wop book because I love Doo Wop music and style and the book is loaded with photos and illustrations, and the Megan Abbot book because I loved the cover and setting (I will read any Hollywood noir) and because it seems that I've been hearing her work being recommended often lately--I've never read any. Only when I got it home did I realize it has an Ellroy quote on the cover. The two in the top corner are off my daughter's college reading list, and the last one is called Cheap Hotels and is probably the one I am most eager to read. I don't know anything about it, but it is a memoir/book of photos by Daisann McLane, a NYT travel columnist, who went around the world staying at budget hotels and taking photos and writing about them. I fully expect it will be one of my favorite books by the time I'm done

I also bought one book for my Esteem Uncle, just because of the cover quote:

He laughed when I gave it to him and said he's pretty sure he read it in the early sixties.

I do think it is funny that my total for the day was 32 books, two over Marie Kondo's much-reviled recommendation of 30, once again placing me firmly outside the zeitgeist (although my clutter-count is actually 29; two are for my daughter and Don Camillo and His Flock went with my uncle. Then again, Ms. Kondo was not speaking to me, specifically, and the vast amount of umbrage directed her way was maybe a little misguided. I found this article which I think does a better job of giving perspective on Marie Kondo's target audience and intent. She isn't a monster by any stretch of the imagination; she's trying to help people who need it, not those of us who are fortunate not to require that sort of help, and shouldn't be vilified for her attempts.

Back to feeling guilty about buying used books--I have complex feelings about the issue. When I was younger, there's no way I could have afforded the volume of books I read without libraries, used book stores, and yard sales. And without that volume of reading, I wouldn't be a pro--I'm in total agreement with Stephen King's quote about not being able to be a writer unless you are a reader. Now, though, I can afford a fair amount of new books and don't have to rely on the vagaries of the second hand bins to keep feeding my cortex. So why, if I can afford it, and not buying the books new is essentially robbing the author, do I still buy used books.

Because it, to me, is fun. It sparks joy, which is what Marie Kondo was really trying to stress.

I consider the "vagaries of the second hand bin" as much of a way for the universe to speak to me as the books themselves are; the greatest finds are those that send me pursuing the author's other work.  I truly hope that reading Abbot's The Song is You and McLane's Cheap Hotels sends me on a quest to buy their backlists and to eagerly await their next works. Most of my favorite authors, the ones who I buy every new hardcover they release, came from a library or used bookstore discover. Of the authors and artists mentioned above, I can confidently say that Ellroy, Windsor Smith, Jones, Ellis, Gaiman, King, Carver, Saunders, Oswalt, and Schultz have all made money off me, as have Moorcock, Niven, and Zelazny, who have stories in Ariel. These thoughts assuage my guilt.

To assuage it further, I confess I saw three hardcover copies of my first novel Generation Dead for sale there, but not, strangely, any of my other books. You should not feel guilty at all about purchasing one, I would certainly not think any less of you. I would instead be hopeful  that in the mystical conversation that you and I and the universe have during your reading of the book you would then fing the impetus to seek out--and pay full price for, dammit!--my other books, which you can find HERE.

I really do love the smell of Goo Gone.


Jeanne said...

I do love the quotation on the Don Camillo cover, which is funny because I try not to judge--or pick out--books by their covers.

Daniel Waters said...

I confess I buy books for their covers all the time. I've heard arguments that you can judge a book by it's cover because the "better" books get more design budget and attention, but I find that theory spurious in several ways. In the best case scenarios, there is some aesthetic tie between the cover art and the interior of the book--not necessarily a representational tie--when I was in college I bought loads of those Vintage Contemporaries because of the covers, and in high school and college I was buying Bantam Spectra science fiction paperbacks because of the cover designs, and in both cases there were rewards to be found when the sensibility of the cover art enhanced or underscored the fiction housed within. But just as often there was heartbreak and disappointment.

And then there was the time in my late twenties and I realized that my three favorite books at the time--Infinite Jest, Generation X, and a beautiful new edition of Beryl Markham's West With The Night--all had blue covers with clouds on them. Coincidence or conspiracy? And imagine my delight when Generation Dead came out with blue sky...

I often bought vinyl records because of the covers, also