INTERVIEW: "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" Hunt Rebirth's Oracle
I’m not the only one in our household with itchy feet. My wife gets occasional bouts of wanderlust as well.
“Okay. Where?” Just because I didn’t have itchy feet myself that day, you understand, doesn’t mean that I’m not up for hitting the road at a moment’s notice.
“I don’t know. Pick a direction.”
I pointed. “That way. East. We haven’t been there in a while.”
East from us means the foothills of the Cascades. I would have been willing to make it an overnighter, but Julie said no, we already have the Victoria expedition planned for the end of the month, we should just make this a day trip.
So we ended up heading out towards North Bend. Here’s a map.
That whole area, over by Snoqualmie and North Bend, is something of a tourist destination up here because it’s where they shot Twin Peaks, and twenty years later, the locals are still pushing that.
What’s not as well known about the place is that the bookscouting used to be pretty good, too. There were all sorts of cool antique places and junk shops through there– I turned up a couple of nice 1910 hardcover westerns in one of them about five years ago.
Unfortunately, most of the places we remembered are gone now. There’s a lot of new development and it looks more like The Village from The Prisoner than it does Twin Peaks, these days.
Snoqualmie, especially, is all Starbucks and SubWay’d out these days. I suppose, for the locals, it makes more economic sense than a bunch of dusty old junk shops, but I still miss them.
We weren’t really looking to do much shopping that day anyway, since it was the Sunday of a three-day holiday weekend. Just wanted to go for a drive. But we did luck out in North Bend, when we happened across the perfectly charming Phoenix Used Books.
It’s in an actual house on a largely residential street, and we would have just blown by it if not for the neon “Open” sign shining brightly in the front window. A sandwich sign directed us to park in the back.
We knew it was going to be our kind of place when we saw this posted in the window.
And the inside was completely charming as well. It seemed like it would be very tiny and cramped from the outside but it really didn’t feel that way at all.
I wandered over into the children’s section, since I have a couple of ongoing quests for certain kinds of young-adult fiction (weird orphaned Stratemeyer series, Three Investigators, stuff like that.)
I didn’t see anything of interest for me, though I really approved of the way it was set up in general; very warm and inviting, a place that was clearly designed for the children and not the parents.
There weren’t a lot of comics or anything like that but they did have a lot of manga.
There was also a room full of ‘antiques’ and junk, and the geek demographic was well-represented there.
The trouble was, as much we loved the place, we weren’t really finding much. Julie turned up an art book on Lewis and Clark, the companion to the Ken Burns documentary, and she picked that up because she knows I’m kind of a Lewis and Clark nerd.
And I found a nice first edition hardcover of Prime Evil, a horror anthology with a lot of good stuff in it. But overall, slim pickings.
But then on the way to the register, I stumbled across a hardcover edition of Carson of Venus by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
And also, incidentally, published by Edgar Rice Burroughs. There was a time, back in the 1930s and 1940s, when Burroughs was setting himself up to be the King of All Media. He financed his own movies, had his son drawing his comics …and for a while there, he was publishing his own books.
So when I saw the little Burroughs on the bottom of the spine, I got really interested. These are very rare books… at least in the sense that you don’t often find them out ‘in the wild,’ so to speak. They tend to be hoarded by collectors and dealers.
Unfortunately, this one wasn’t quite the score I’d thought at first glance. A first edition would have been an incredible find, or even one of the later early printings — fourth, fifth, somewhere in there.
But this one felt like some kind of low-end reprint from the late forties or even the early fifties. For one thing, despite the title page claiming that this edition is illustrated by John Coleman Burroughs, there aren’t actually any illustrations. Also the cover boards are bound in beige buckram, not blue. Stuff like that. Still, it’s a nice book and it’d probably go for fifteen or twenty dollars from a dealer and we got it for five. So that’s something.
When we eventually arrived at the register, I saw that they did have a ‘vintage’ section under glass in the front counter itself, and I bowled out one more find there. A Whitman juvenile, the Power Boys in The Mystery of the Vanishing Lady.
Now, the Power Boys were no Hardys, nor did they even have the staying power of Whitman’s other teen sleuth Trixie Belden. They only lasted six books, of which Vanishing Lady is the last. I asked the girl at the register what she wanted for it, thinking it was going to be fifteen or twenty, and she pulled it out and said, “Five.”
So I told her to go ahead and throw it on the pile, thinking I’d certainly get five dollars’ worth of entertainment out of it even if that was just researching the series.
Oddly enough, there isn’t any research available to speak of. No one seems to know anything about the series other than that it was yet another failed juvenile series to toss on the scrap heap, along with Brains Benton or Perry Pierce or the Buck and Larry Baseball Stories. The sum total of wordage available on the Power Boys is a couple of snarky blog posts here, and I’ll just refer you to them because they are hilarious.
As for The Mystery of the Vanishing Lady, after reading it I can to see why the series never really caught on, because Jack and Chip Power are pretty generic as teen sleuths go. They’re kind of insufferably superior (especially Chip) and they don’t even have a comedy-relief sidekick, just a Dalmatian named Blaze who never even barks a warning or bites a villain or clues any parents about someone needing a rescue. The mechanics of the mystery are not terribly challenging. I have a hunch “Mel Lyle” is some sort of house name, because the writing itself has that vague over-edited feel, heavy on the exposition, and the whole thing feels kind of dull.
On top of all that, the books are in no way collectible and a few minutes on Amazon and AbeBooks has made it clear that five bucks is the going “collector” price. Nevertheless, I did get five dollars’ worth of amusement out of it between reading it and writing this column, so I don’t feel cheated. And the illustrations are kind of cool, some very nice line art from Raymond Burns.
That haul was actually enough to make the expedition a success. We continued north on 203, content just to admire the scenery and enjoy the rural, small-town atmosphere.
We passed through Carnation, a nice little town that’s about four blocks long, and was in the middle of its summer festival. There was actually a play going on, apparently for free, and we stopped for a moment to see what that was all about. It turned out that it was the Cascade Community Theater doing an adapted Shakespeare thing called “Windsor’s Merry Wives.”
We didn’t stay, though, because it was almost over when we got there, and we decided not to stick around for the spaghetti feed that followed.
But it turned out that there was more bookscouting action to be had a little ways further along, in Duvall.
We never even got to the antique place, actually, because Duvall Books was so AWESOME.
It doesn’t look like much from the street but once you’re inside, it’s a wonderland.
I ambled over to the juveniles and immediately saw two volumes of the Educator Library Classics for a buck each: Captains Courageous and The Virginian.
The Educator Library Classic editions were a “children’s series” of classic novels, but instead of abridging the text or doing a dumbed-down version, they were profusely illustrated and had really wide margins, where they helpfully provided definitions of the difficult words or archaic idioms, and even sometimes little diagrams as well. You might call it the literary equivalent to Pop-Up Videos or DVD commentary.
Generally you got them at grocery stores or newsstands in the late sixties and early seventies. It was a great way to introduce kids to classics…. certainly I thought so. My first Sherlock Holmes was the Educator Classics Edition (with both cover AND interior illustrations by the great Don Irwin.) I tend to scoop them up whenever I see them just on principle, and these were like new. At a dollar each it was a steal.
It was far from the only steal in Duvall that day, though. There was also a shelf of graphic novels and I saw a Modesty Blaise strip collection from Titan, Yellowstone Booty, for six dollars; even used, it usually goes for ten or twelve on Amazon.
Then on the next shelf over I saw a 1917 hardcover edition of San Rohmer’s The Yellow Claw for two dollars. (The sixth printing, it turned out.) Pretty beat up, but two dollars? I couldn’t pass that up either. Over in Crafts, Julie had found a book on beadwork, as well, and we’d still only gotten about half the length of the store.
My favorite score of the day, though, was over on the Westerns shelf.
Hopalong Cassidy and Cottonwood Gulch by Clarence Mulford. Two classic western novels in the original hardcover, and Cottonwood Gulch was in pristine shape. I whipped them off the shelf and under my arm so quick they left a smoke trail. Hopalong was five dollars and Cottonwood was fifteen, both very reasonable prices.
When we finally got up to the register with our armload, Julie was delighted to see a bucket of geological oddities and immediately engaged the proprietor in a discussion of the best places for rock hounds to prospect in Washington. It distracted the fellow enough that he had to count everything up twice — they’re very low-tech at Duvall Books and don’t use a cash register, just a hand-written ledger. They don’t take debit cards either, we discovered, probably because there’s no land-line telephone at all. My kind of place. When Julie and I retire, if we can’t find anything in Seaside or Depoe Bay then Duvall might be where we end up as a plan B.
We were actually a little bit lost by this time, but decided to just keep going anyway. Which is how we ended up in Monroe. (We were kind of trying to find our way back to either Highway 9 or Highway 2– Julie was asking for directions “back to the highway,” and I thought she meant 9, to the east, when she really meant 2, which was south, and since we weren’t in a hurry, it didn’t really bother us too much when we ended up somewhere not really close to either one.)
We’d figured, after our really magnificent haul in Duvall, that we were done for the day, especially since by now it was after six. But the St. Vincent De Paul thrift store in Monroe was open, and it was 99-cent Book Day! which certainly bore further investigation.
Unfortunately, our run of luck had ended. Most of the books weren’t even worth 99 cents.
The stacks looked like they’d been shelled. Not in the sense that eager customers had been pawing through them, but in the sense that as far as I could tell, no one in Monroe liked to read at all, and they’d been tearing up the place seeking vengeance on the printed word. It was a ‘book section’ in the sense that, well, it had books in it, but no genuine book-loving person had ever been near it from the looks of things. The volumes were just randomly piled on the shelves every which way, with no regard to title or subject matter or even separating the adults from the juveniles.
With one exception.
You can call it snobbery if you like, but honestly, a place that not only carries Reader’s Digest Condensed Books but actually enshrines them in their own special section is not a bookseller to be taken seriously.
Nevertheless, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and for 99 cents each I found a couple that I’d probably have passed on if they were priced any higher. A hardcover of Louis L’Amour’s The Lonesome Gods to replace my trade paperback, and also a hardcover first edition of James Luceno’s Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader. (That book I picked up not for me but for our friend Rin, since I’m not actually a Star Wars person. My tribe are largely Trek people.)
Slim pickings for 99-cent Book Day, but I suppose it barely was enough to justify stopping. Anyway, we’d had such a run of luck already that finding a third great shop in the same day just seemed greedy.
That really was it for the day. Eventually we did find our way back to Lake Stevens and from there to Highway 9 south for home.
Wrestling the day’s purchases into the house, I promised myself that someday, I really would get caught up on all my reading. Honest.
But, I had to admit, probably not before we get hit with another case of bookscouting wanderlust. Because that’s how we do things around here.
See you next week.
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