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A Saturday Backroads Afternoon

We don’t really need a reason to hit the road. Generally, it’s just that either Julie or myself gets a case of mild wanderlust, coupled with a need to get out and away from under all the various work things that pile up.

This particular Saturday, it was mostly me. I had finally got more or less caught up, after the weeks of work leading up to taking the class to the Emerald City convention, as well as a bunch of other commitments. What’s more, the office library was finally rebuilt and the review pile had been cleared.

This is now what I see when I turn my back to the computer. Converting a room full of boxes and loose piles of books into THIS was such an ordeal that it essentially put me off monthly floppy comics for the rest of my life... though I still have a few on my pull list, they are on their way out.

The bottom line was this. It was the first day off I’d had in two months where I didn’t feel like just staying in bed all day. I was rested.

Amazingly, so was Julie. Her schedule has been as hard on her since she decided to go back to school a few months ago as mine usually is on me. So for us both to be feeling caught up on work, healthy, and rested on the same day was something of an occasion that deserved celebrating, and I said as much to my bride.

“Which direction?” was all she needed to know.

Julie had homework due Monday, and I’d used up my time off from my various jobs for ECCC, so we regretfully decided we could only manage a day trip, an afternoon’s drive. Still, that’s better than nothing.

Since we’d been north and east for the last couple of those, I suggested south. “Let’s see if we can find that road we came up on from Centralia that time, I want to see what it looks like in daylight when the stores are open.”

So south it was.

The route, more or less. For the Northwest-impaired, Seattle proper is just off the top edge of the map, kind of in the middle.

We went from our home in west Seattle out past the airport to 188th and on past the East Valley Highway, and in no time at all we were in farm country. We kept on, avoiding the freeway and staying on farm roads, towards Kent.

Despite being barely half an hour out from the city, Kent is a pretty rural place.

You'd never know there was a major urban corridor-- the Seattle-to-Tacoma stretch of Interstate 5 is largely all urban sprawl at this point-- just a little way off to the right.

Julie was driving; partly because she enjoys driving and I don’t, even on largely-deserted back roads. She says it relaxes her. But the other reason is that, in the same way I carry entire back stories of hundreds of DC and Marvel characters in my head, Julie carries a map of every thrift store and junk shop in the greater Seattle area in hers. She had already thought of places she wanted to stop along our route. I’m happy to let her navigate, because I usually haven’t been to the shops she is thinking of and I often find interesting books.

The first of these was the St. Vincent’s thrift store in Kent.

This is a nice, well-run place, overall.

I was very pleased to see that they had a clean and well-maintained book section. This is always a luck-of-the-draw kind of thing when you’re looking through this kind of place, it really depends on the personalities of the individual employees. Sometimes the folks in charge of the section are genuinely book people, and sometimes not.

When thrift-store employees genuinely care about books and reading, you can always tell by the shelves. These were very nice; somebody in Kent loves books.

I was interested to see that the hardcover fiction was organized in a non-standard way, but it made perfect sense for a thrift store that gets a lot of traffic. They’d segregated out the standard stuff you always see– the Danielle Steele, the Stephen King, the Tom Clancy, the John Grisham, the Mary Higgins Clark, and so on– and given each of those authors their own shelf. THEN they split the remaining books out by genre. I assume it’s easier for the staff because then they don’t have to fuss so much with the shelving arrangements when new donations come in. But it was also terrific for me, since I was able to bypass an entire row of shelves and get right to the interesting stuff.

Truthfully, it looked like the dream arrangement for professional bookscouts, who spend all day digging through thrift stores and get really sick of seeing dozens upon dozens of Danielle Steele books everywhere they go. Julie tells me that thrift stores, Goodwill in particular, are finally getting wise to all the professionals trawling their bookshelves (apparently the downtown Seattle Goodwill even has one on staff who advises them about which books to hold back and sell online.)

But at least on this afternoon in Kent, you could still turn up some nice pieces. I found two.

Not HUGELY valuable rarities but still a nice couple of vintage adventure novels in hardcover. I was pleased to find both of them.

Both of them were Book Club editions, but from back in the fifties when those were done slightly less on the cheap and bore a much closer resemblance to the original editions. And amazingly well-preserved. (There were several other similar naval adventures in the ‘vintage’ section, which suggested to me that someone’s grandfather had recently passed away or something and a younger relative had just put all the books in a box and donated them without looking at them; because from the pristine shape they were in, they looked like they’d all come from the same home. No sun damage, no tanning, nothing.)

I chose the two I did for fairly arbitrary reasons. Admiral Hornblower In The West Indies I picked up just because I hadn’t read it and I am slowly working my way through C.S. Forester’s books as I run across them.

The Golden Hawk
was completely on the strength of the cover art. I just liked the look of it. It’s the story of pirate Kit Geraldo, and his search for revenge on the corrupt island governor that killed his mother. He makes common cause with the fiery female pirate Rouge, who also has reason to hate the governor, and together they have a hot-blooded Caribbean swashbuckling good time trying to take out evil Don Luis Del Toro. As it turned out, this was a very successful book when it came out, and it was made into a movie with Rhonda Fleming and Sterling Hayden in 1952.

Apparently it was a bestseller in both hardcover and paperback, and the movie did pretty well too.

Author Frank Yerby has an interesting claim to fame; he was the first African-American best-selling author, the first to sell a million copies and to have a book of his made into a movie. He did it with ‘costume’ adventures like The Golden Hawk, but always managed to sneak in some social commentary. (For example, a saucy female pirate captain like Rouge was unheard of when the book was published, and Kit’s dark secret is his mixed parentage; he is the product of a rape.)

Yerby at the time of THE GOLDEN HAWK on the left, and then in his later years on the right.

Despite this, he was often criticized by black leaders of the time for not writing more pointedly about racial issues. But Yerby always said his job was to entertain, not to ‘inflict’ his politics on readers.

That doesn’t mean he didn’t have any. Citing the civil rights situation in the U.S. as being intolerable, Frank Yerby moved to Spain in 1955. Fascist Spain under General Franco apparently was preferable to Yerby, which kind of boggles the mind when you think about it. Of course, he was rich, which doubtless helped. (Nevertheless, the state of Georgia still proudly claims Frank Yerby as one of their own– I dug up the photos of him from their online state encyclopedia.) He settled in Madrid, where he spent the rest of his life, writing thirty more bestselling novels until he passed away in 1991.

I wish I could say I knew all that when I bought the book, but I did not– I just liked the cover. But now that I do know all of it, I’m doubly pleased to own it; and the book’s a fun read, too. About half bodice-ripping romance and half Errol Flynn swashbuckler, and Frank Yerby definitely knew how to bring it for the action scenes. I’m not surprised his books did well.

Glancing through the juvenile section, I found a couple of nice Oz hardcovers, as well.

We usually are good for Oz books in hardcover when we find them.

Not originals, of course. These were the Konecky & Konecky facsimile editions from the early 1990s. But except for the publisher’s imprint and the glossy cover boards, they are indistinguishable from the originals. I just like having them around to read, and since it was half-price day, we got them for a buck and a half each. (I do wish the publishers that pick up the Oz books for reprinting would go beyond the Baum books, though… it’d be nice to be able to get inexpensive copies of the Ruth Thompson books as well.)

That was it for Kent. We ambled on south towards Auburn, where Julie wanted us to try our luck at the Goodwill.

Sadly, Auburn’s Goodwill was the classic example of a book section run by thrift-store employees who do not care about books at all.

You can't really get the full sense of it from the picture but trust me, this book section looked like it had been shelled.

I know I sound a little ridiculous and fussy, and I certainly don’t expect thrift-store staff to have degrees in library science or anything, but it wouldn’t kill them to separate the fiction from the non-fiction, or the adults from the juveniles. I don’t even need them to go alphabetical by author or separate out genres or anything. Just, for Chrissakes, apply a little thought to the idea that people can find books they want more easily if you give them some sense of where to look for them. ‘The books are in the book section’ is not adequate.

As it was, this was just a pile that happened to be stacked in sections on the shelves, barely a half-step up from a table at a garage sale. Normally I wouldn’t even bother digging through it all, but today I could tell Julie was going to be a while.

And I did find a good one. This was a real bookscouting, diamond-in-the-pasture kind of moment for me because I’d been wanting this particular book for years. It was Robert Ludlum’s fourth novel, Trevayne.

The reason it’s collectible is because he originally published it under a pen name, “Jonathan Ryder.” Robert Ludlum published three novels under a pen name– two as Jonathan Ryder (Trevayne and The Cry of the Halidon) and one as Michael Shepherd (The Road to Gandolfo.) Unlike most other writers who use pen names, Ludlum wasn’t switching genres or anything. The books are all recognizably Ludlum-style espionage adventures. He didn’t like using the pen names, and later said it was only because his publisher insisted that he not flood the market. So newer editions have all appeared under the Ludlum name.

But the early ones with the pen names are highly sought after by collectors. And here in this shitpile of a book section was, by God, a hardcover “Jonathan Ryder” edition of Trevayne.

Original Jonathan Ryder editions of TREVAYNE are valuable in paperback or hardcover. The hardcover edition is on the left, paperback on the right.

It wasn’t a first edition. The spine was a little cocked and there was some slight sun bleaching on the dust jacket. Nevertheless, that was a pretty hot item to dig out, and I was ridiculously pleased with myself, finding it there for two dollars. And I knew I could probably fix the spine by clamping some weights on it. (The nice thing about working in printshops is that I can do a lot of my own bookbindery and repair.) The moral of the story, I decided, is that no matter how crappy the shelves look, if you have the time to go through them, take the time.

Anyway, that was it for Auburn. We hit the road again, continuing southeast on route 162, until we reached Orting.

Neither one of us had ever heard of it before, but it’s a pleasant little place once you get away from the strip mall that dominates the north end of town.

Orting's main drag. How do you know it's a good day in western Washington? You can see the mountain.

We decided it was time to stop for dinner.

Now, normally I would skip over this part. But we found an incredible restaurant and they deserve a plug.

Julie complains when I put her in the picture but I sometimes sneak her in there anyway.

The Around The Corner Cafe is exactly what its name promises. It’s a small-town restaurant with a traditional menu.

But the food itself is amazing. This is why we like to try small-town indie restaurants when we travel; it makes all the difference when it’s a farm town place that’s getting everything fresh and local.

There's a selection of pies, and also jars of homemade preserves and honey, up at the front counter by the register. I assure you, dessert was practically a spiritual experience.

I had possibly the best burger I’ve ever had in my life, and Julie said the same thing about her prime rib. The staff were all genuinely friendly and there was a delightful small-town vibe to the place– everybody knew everyone and there was a lot of laughing and kidding one another going on. Just a great restaurant all around. If, by some freakish turn of events, you ever end up in that part of the state of Washington, you definitely should check it out. But bring an appetite, because they eat hearty in Orting.

The only downside of the entire dining experience was this butterfly sculpture hanging on the wall; Julie grumped that it was staring at her.

At this point, you may very well be grumbling, okay, fine, you had a nice trip and found some rare books and ate a nice dinner. When are you going to talk about COMICS?

The truth is… well, I didn’t find any on this trip, not even a few crappy dog-eared Archie digests. In fact, after dinner we ended up wasting the rest of our trip trying to find the town of Electron, Washington– a road sign told us it was just ahead, and we were determined to get a picture of downtown Electron. (Upon seeing the sign, I instantly had a vivid mental picture of a shiny little town where everyone is dressed like the Weisinger-era Kandorians and the cars all have fins.)

This is how we like to picture the town of Electron, Washington.

But we never did find it, and when it got dark we gave up and headed for home.

So, no comics at all this trip.

But Julie did find me a book of cartoons at our local Goodwill, while I was busy writing: Burr Shafer’s Through History with J. Wesley Smith. So the weekend was not a completely comics-free event.

Your school library probably had one of these.

Burr Shafer was one of the great magazine gag cartoonists, back when there still was such a profession. He was very popular from the 1940s to his death in 1965.

His most significant creation was “J. Wesley Smith,” a doofus who had cameo appearances throughout history.

The Smith books were beloved by librarians and schoolteachers everywhere, because they were a way to get kids talking about historical events.

Me, I just liked them because they were funny. When I was in junior high school I read their copy of The Wonderful World of J. Wesley Smith some hundreds of times.

Now it can be told: I stole this joke from Burr Shafer when I was thirteen. I still use it, whenever I need to reinforce how much I loathe Christmas.

I’d forgotten all about J. Wesley Smith and his skewed view of history until Julie came home with that… and I was delighted to renew my acquaintance, especially since I had not seen this book before. Now Burr Shafer’s on the shopping list again.

Because, to be honest, the afternoon didn’t really sate our wanderlust. We feel an actual road trip coming on, with books to be scouted and backwater towns to explore. Probably some time in the next couple of weeks, if we can make it work with Julie’s school schedule.

Maybe we’ll even find some real comics then. We’ve been having quite a run of luck; last night I turned up a bunch of cool stuff at the local Value Village. But nothing comics-related, sadly.

Of last night's haul, probably the coolest piece was this nice little juvenile hardcover SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR. Signed editions go for around a hundred online-- this was a dollar. No bookscouts screening donations at THAT thrift store, that's for sure.

But in the meantime, well, I’ll see you back here next week. Talking about actual comic books. I promise.

15 Comments

Have you got the Ruth Plumly Thompson books that Books of Wonder put out? They’ve got her first two in hardcover and her last four in softcover for okay prices. Del Rey’s 1980’s paperbacks also covered a big chunk of her Oz books as well, though they’re a pain to find in decent condition for a non-ridiculous price.

Have you got the Ruth Plumly Thompson books that Books of Wonder put out? They’ve got her first two in hardcover and her last four in softcover for okay prices.

No, but I’m delighted to hear they exist. The Oz books are an occasional treat for us; we succumb when we find a hardcover at a reasonable price that we don’t already have, but I don’t go prowling for them. I’m glad to hear that Ruth Thompson is getting her due, though. If you pinned me to the wall and tickled my feet I’d have to admit that I usually prefer hers to Baum’s.

Del Rey’s 1980s paperbacks also covered a big chunk of her Oz books as well, though they’re a pain to find in decent condition for a non-ridiculous price.

Well, if I’m paying a ridiculous price, then by God, it better be hardcover. But really I don’t much care for Oz in paperback. Even the trade-sized ones don’t feel quite right to me. I like them in hardcover. It’s a little OCD, yes, but part of the fun of the hobby is appreciating books as artifacts.

Man, I haven’t been in a St. Vincent de Paul store in years. I’m not even sure there are any around here these days.

I had that J. Wesley Smith book — the very first one you showed. I didn’t find it as funny as I’d hoped.

No worries about the lack of comics! My girlfriend and I are very much cut from the same cloth; we love taking little trips and scouring thrift stores, and it’s fun to read about your exploits doing the same. :) Unfortunately, the local thrift stores are of the variety that tend to liberally throw the books they receive in the general direction of some shelves, with no sorting at all. We have better luck at the local antique stores, but the books are predictably more expensive at those. (Case in point: I found two of the Doc Savage novels last weekend at one store, and the $1.25 price would have been just fine if the books hadn’t been literally held together with scotch tape! I still came home with yet another edition of Frankenstein– I can’t resist buying any time I see an edition I don’t have, if it’s cheap– and the Super Powers “Which Way?” book featuring Batman that I remember reading when I was a kid. They were worth the trip.)

Totally agree about finding local restaurants too, we always try to find places like that and avoid chains. Generally, our experience has been that, the dirter the place looks, the better the food is! For instance, we went to a place called Christie’s upstate a few years back. The foundation was crumbling on one side; the building was literally LOPSIDED. We walked in, and the lady at the counter was scratching under her hairnet. She saw us, and asked, “Whatchy’all want?” The guy working the grill was smoking. Several boards were missing from the floor against the nearest wall. We were having serious doubts about this place, but it turned out to be one of the best meals we’ve ever had!

Hope you two get to take the longer road trip soon! Sounds like it is overdue! :)

Well, if I’m paying a ridiculous price, then by God, it better be hardcover. But really I don’t much care for Oz in paperback. Even the trade-sized ones don’t feel quite right to me. I like them in hardcover. It’s a little OCD, yes, but part of the fun of the hobby is appreciating books as artifacts.

Well, the Del Reys are about $8-$10 for a very good one, so it’s comparable to a new paperback, which isn’t that bad (though I think there are a couple that are rarer and go for more). But given that I had a bunch of chances as a kid to get them used for one or two dollars, it seems ridiculous to me. I’ll second you on the hardcover being superior, though. I only have a huge one and done paperback that has the entirety of the Baum Oz stories, with no illustrations. It’s really pretty terrible. I grew up reading a nice facsimile set of the illustrated hardbacks from the local library. If I had money to burn, I’d get a set of the Baum facsimiles. But I don’t think that’ll happen, given that it’s $225 for 15 books, and I didn’t spend that much money in total on the 80+ books I bought last year.

‘salright about no comics discussion. You haven’t done one of these columns in awhile, so it’s cool.

I did have a nerdgasm over the pic of your office, though. drool… I have that Superman boxed set, too!

I believe that once you saw a sign stating where Electron was, you were unable to precisely reach that as a destination, per Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

Maybe it’s best that you never do find the mysterious town of Electron; that way, you can always think of it as this wonderful place populated by robots, with illuminated spires and shining arches, and hovercraft darting between them. A town that actually forms a sparkling ring around two even smaller settlements, the super-charged and vibrant Proton and the brooding and indifferent Neutron…

Love the travel tales. I’m more envious of your organized office than all the stuff within it. I was curious (nosy) about whether you find yourself wondering what to keep and what deserves shelf space. (Starting to have the same issues with DVD’s and series sets.) I cull trades and comics and give them to kids at school or donate to the school library. (My librarian loves me and other librarians in the district are envious of her graphic novel selection). But every time I go through my stacks I find myself wanting to keep less. I wonder if that happens because I value what I have or I’m just realistic and know i won’t go back to things. I was wondering if you had the same quandry. Also noticed from your picture that your office seems mostly comic related. Do all the books you get on your trips get stored elsewhere? Also wondered if you were suprised at how popular your book scouting columns are.

Yea! A travel column! I enjoy all your columns, but your travels with Julie are some of my favorites. AND you mentioned Frank Yerby. No body mentions Frank Yerby anymore. Thanks for the brief biography. Yerby is one of my favorite authors to go to when I want a swashbuckling story in the Sabatini mold. I have a half dozen of his paperbacks on my shelves (VERY IMPRESSED by your library by the way). My Golden Hawk’s cover isn’t nearly as dramatic as either of the ones you show, but it was a good condition paperback for twenty-five cents so I’m not going to complain. :)

Don’t worry about not mentioning comics – I love your book scouting stories because most of it’s new to me. If you were recounting some story about Bill Finger of Steve Ditko or Neal Adams or something, but I’ve never even heard of Frank Yerby and it was fascinating. The stuff about Robert Ludlum is really interesting too.

Keep up the good work

Love the travel tales. I’m more envious of your organized office than all the stuff within it. I was curious (nosy) about whether you find yourself wondering what to keep and what deserves shelf space. (Starting to have the same issues with DVD’s and series sets.) I cull trades and comics and give them to kids at school or donate to the school library. (My librarian loves me and other librarians in the district are envious of her graphic novel selection). But every time I go through my stacks I find myself wanting to keep less. I wonder if that happens because I value what I have or I’m just realistic and know i won’t go back to things. I was wondering if you had the same quandary.

Ha! Well, it’s not a quandary– it’s just a chore that I had been putting off. That was part of the reason redoing the library took so long; I was sorting and culling as I went. We donated four cases of books to my school’s “Literacy Night,” a stack of 12x17x12 boxes over four feet high… and the hell of it was, after we’d done that, you couldn’t tell anything was gone. The room was as overflowing as ever.

But yeah, we thin the herd every so often. As I get older I get more ruthless about it. Longboxes of comics, especially, because I don’t reread them. (Part of the ruthlessness comes from having had to move them all a couple of times. Even though Julie and I are at the age where we pay movers, it’s still a horrible ordeal.)

Finally I just decided that the stuff I really like and reread I will get in a collected edition, because we now live in a world where you can actually do that. So I have been slowly doing that replacement process for the last year and a half or so. I used to have a nearly-complete run of Teen Titans, the one that started with Wolfman and Perez. Now I have the first omnibus, volume four of the Archive Edition, and the trades Terra Incognita, The Judas Contract, The Terror of Trigon, and Who Is Donna Troy? Those will completely cover my Titans needs for the rest of my life, and every one of those books came in here at half price or less from an online dealer.

I’ve finally figured out that I should just get stuff that way in the first place. All my Marvel reading is a year or so behind because I only buy discounted used trades. Recently I decided DC is going to be done that way too. I’m not quite as testy with them as David Brothers is, but I am getting so annoyed with them lately I decided to vote with my wallet. I have a very short list of public figures that have behaved in such a squalid and terrible manner I can’t enjoy their work any more– for example, it’s become very difficult for me to watch anything with O.J. Simpson in it, despite the fact that I loved the Naked Gun movies and The Towering Inferno and I even had a soft spot for Capricorn One, once upon a time. But I can’t get through them now, I am unable to separate the person from the work. That doesn’t happen for me very often, but it DOES happen, and it’s starting to happen for me with some comics. When companies or creators behave so badly I don’t want to give them money, but I still can enjoy the work, I buy used. That’s my compromise. Oddly enough, doing it that way works out much better for my finances and for my library as well as for my peace of mind.

Also noticed from your picture that your office seems mostly comic related. Do all the books you get on your trips get stored elsewhere?

Well, we call that room “the library” but really the whole apartment is a library. The office/library is where the westerns, pulp, SF, and comics live; the front room is for mysteries, general interest, and DVDs. The office has all four walls devoted to bookshelves and a little island of short boxes in the middle of the room (that’s what the Superman box is parked on) surrounded by bookshelves on three sides. The front room is much bigger but only has two walls of shelves, one for the books and one for the DVDs. The books get sorted and put away according to genre, and as we acquire more, I add more shelving and rearrange the stuff that’s here. It’s an ongoing project. About the time I get it to where it’s perfect, we’ll probably have to move again.

Also wondered if you were surprised at how popular your book scouting columns are.

I’m always amazed at what readers latch on to. Greg Burgas and Sonia and I were laughing about this when we had dinner at ECCC a month ago. The ones I really slave over and rewrite and research the hell out of for days, those get maybe eight or ten comments. The ones where I just type up an annoyed fan rant or make fun of something about superhero comics, something that takes me maybe an hour to write, those get swarmed. Greg and Sonia both said the same thing happens to them.

But I’m glad people like the bookscouting ones because I really enjoy writing those. It does surprise me that they seem to have caught on, but then comics people do tend to also be book people for the most part.

I sometimes feel the more I know about the creators / behind the scenes the stuff and knowledge about what is coming out, the less I enjoy the actual new comics. On the other hand i love reading blogs, commentary and Twomorrows type books / magazines on comics and creators and find it doesn’t diminish my love old stories, but enhances it. I find myself following less new stuff and waiting for discounted trades. I think part of it is because comics (for me) were always cheap entertainment and as prices on things escalated I found myself gravitating to stuff that gave me bang for my buck like trades, Essentials, Showcases and Omnibuses. Thanks for responding to me my questions and for sharing your love of books, comics etc and your knowledge. Even when you write about Pulps (which I rarely get into) I feel educated and get a better appreciation for them and everything else you write about.

Love the bookscouting/travelogue columns

Google Maps says that Electron is on Orville Road just east of Lake Kapowsin. The Street View option shows that there are no buildings there; it’s just an intersection.

I recently discovered the phantom town of Idiotville, Oregon. And the town of Boring, Oregon made news recently with their new sister-city relationship with Dull, Scotland. It’s now my ambition to drive from Boring to Idiotville by way of Wankers Corner, which is close to your old stomping grounds, Greg.

It’s now my ambition to drive from Boring to Idiotville by way of Wankers Corner, which is close to your old stomping grounds, Greg.

I went to high school with Lisa Wanker; a very nice girl, actually, who managed to stay good-natured despite the constant ribbing about her father’s tavern, which was usually abbreviated to the unfortunate name of Wanker’s.

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