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Another Sunday Drive With Some Looks At Books

People occasionally ask me, “So have you been on any trips?” or “When are you doing another road trip column?” This is very flattering, especially since I really enjoy writing them.

But we just haven’t been on a bookscouting trip in quite a while. The reason is simple; we couldn’t afford it, in terms of either time or money. Julie has been out of work for months, so I took on a lot of extra commitments to get us through… and when she finally did get a decent job that’s actually in her field, it ended up as a night-shift gig, so our hours don’t match up.

So the only time we really have at the moment when we’re both off work and awake is Sunday afternoon. Despite not being able to take a real trip, though, we still get itchy feet. Last Sunday we decided that we should go for a drive… somewhere. Anywhere.

We ended up heading south on route 162. Mostly it’s farm country, not terribly interesting, but it’s a pretty drive.

On a sunny afternoon, though, it’s tremendously soothing and pleasant to be on a back road with no traffic and nice scenery. This was actually taken by me from our moving car, trying to catch a woman galloping on her horse, but she and the horse went right behind the trees as I took it.

We meandered south through Kent and Auburn, with the idea that we’d eventually end up in Orting at the cafe we’d liked so much the last time we were through there. A couple of hours’ worth of driving, dinner, and then home.

Unless you live here, there’s really no way to adequately describe the general eccentricity of the Pacific Northwest small-town vibe. There’s a sort of culture-clash atmosphere that’s really hard to get across in words– most everyone works hard at something, and politically the needle moves way to the right once you’re out of Seattle, but there’s also a lot of aging hippies and counterculture types who discovered decades ago that they can live perfectly well on an income that’s maybe a quarter of what it costs to live in the city. So in the years since the sixties, there’s been a kind of blending.

I think this was summed up by the woman we saw leaving the St. Vincent thrift store just as we arrived– silver hair in a brush cut, skin tanned to the consistency of leather, with a denim jacket that had an Iron Cross embroidered on the back… in rhinestones.

Like this, but with Nazi imagery instead of a cute pony.

Heavy metal– but bejazzled. For the look that says, I’m hardcore and badass– but also interested in crafts. I didn’t take a picture because I didn’t want her to beat me up, but she was very much emblematic of the population.

As for the actual bookscouting? The St. Vincent’s in Kent always has good stuff and I cleaned up.

A well-kept book section in a thrift store is a thing of joy and the St. Vincent’s in Kent, Washington is the best I’ve ever run across.

Right out of the gate I saw a lovely new hardcover edition of the Alfred Bester classic, The Stars My Destination. Technically, it wasn’t THAT new– it came out in 1996– but it was a really nice book with an introduction by Neil Gaiman, and for three bucks it was well worth trading up from my battered old Signet paperback.

The book was packaged by the late Byron Preiss, who also put together an amazing graphic novel version of Bester’s novel with Howard Chaykin, long ago.

The original, volume one of two, came out in 1979; that was the one I knew about. The project fizzled and volume two never showed up, until Marvel/Epic put both out as a single volume in the early 1990s. That’s the one to get– pictured here, it has THE COMPLETE…. at the top. Beware, because that’s the only difference on the cover between the version with the whole story and the first-half-only version from the 1970s.

Which someone really should bring back into print because it’s GORGEOUS. Well worth owning.

Speaking of Byron Preiss, I found these two anthologies, also in hardcover: The Ultimate Dracula and The Ultimate Frankenstein.

These were two of a series that Preiss was doing in the 1990s; there’s also The Ultimate Werewolf, the Ultimate Alien, The Ultimate Dragon, and eventually he partnered with Marvel to do The Ultimate Spider-Man, The Ultimate Super-Villain, The Ultimate X-Men, The Ultimate Hulk, and The Ultimate Silver Surfer. In turn, the first couple of those were successful enough that Preiss was able to launch the Marvel Novels series that started with Diane Duane’s The Venom Factor and ran throughout the 1990s.

…sorry, went off a side trail there for a moment. The point is just that I was surprised and pleased to see them in hardcover since I was not aware that there had ever been hardcover editions. So I scooped those up.

I also came across a couple of interesting rarities and oddballs. There was the original hardcover of Mark Rascovich’s naval suspense epic, The Bedford Incident.

This is a $30-40 book in hardcover when you find it in good shape; even the Book Club editions are about $15 with an intact dust jacket like this one.

I just picked this up because I thought it looked cool, but it’s apparently a very highly-regarded book and was even made into a movie in 1965 with Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier.

I really want to see this now.

The movie is apparently the third in what film buffs refer to as “the nuclear disaster” trilogy of 1965, with the others being Dr. Strangelove and Fail-Safe.

All this was news to me, but part of the fun of this is coming home and doing the research. (Yes, I said ‘fun.’ I’m a big nerd, okay?)

Another one that jumped off the shelf at me was this one, Beach Red by Peter Bowman.

This was originally published in 1945, and it was the 1945 Book Club edition I had run across. The book is based on Bowman’s own war experiences in the Pacific islands, and purports to tell the story of one hour in the life of an infantryman in a unit mounting an island invasion. It’s very grim and scary and not at all the kind of rah-rah story you’d expect from a World War II novel published in 1945… it may be one of the earliest books to try and document the trauma that soldiers on the ground go through. The book is billed as a novel but it’s really more of a prose poem.

The stream-of-consciousness narrative and the red-splash chapter headings are very effective.

To my amazement, this one was made into a movie too, in 1967.

I’m guessing the movie isn’t a real rah-rah effort either.

Those were both cool books to come across, and it’s the second time I’ve bowled out vintage war and naval adventure hardcovers from that particular store.

Then there was one of those bookscouting finds that are fun because they’re just so unexpected. It was a first edition of John Dunning’s The Bookman’s Wake — signed.

Now, as it happens, I already own The Bookman’s Wake in a first edition hardcover, and that one’s signed by Mr. Dunning specifically to me.

My birthday is actually in November. The story behind this is much longer than I can get into here, but knowing John Dunning was in my corner has been remarkably helpful over the years.

Three days later. Same tour. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do with the extra signed edition– I think it’s going to be a birthday present for a friend that’s got one coming up. But it was cool just to find it.

Traded up to a nice first edition hardcover on Michael Hardwick’s Prisoner of the Devil, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche in which Holmes tries to free Alfred Dreyfus.

(Paperback on the left, hardcover on the right.)

But probably my favorite find of the day was The Black Stiletto, by Raymond Benson.

Now, Mr. Benson was on my radar because of his James Bond books; he ranks pretty high with me among those who’ve tried to carry on after Ian Fleming, certainly much higher than John Gardner.

But I had no idea he’d moved on to doing…. well, what amounts to a pulp-superhero kind of book. The Black Stiletto opens with Martin Talbot dutifully visiting his mother in her assisted-care home, and discovering that though today she is just a sweet elderly lady with Alzheimer’s, in the late fifties she was actually the notorious masked vigilante– the Black Stiletto. Going through her diaries, Martin is shocked to realize that his mother had a whole other secret life, one he never knew about. What’s worse is that one of the Mafia thugs his mother put away as the Stiletto is finally out. The aging hitman’s had thirty years to figure out who that masked woman was and he’s determined to get revenge…

It’s a great book and damned near impossible to put down. The bulk of the story is the flashback to 1958, the diary excerpts detailing why and how young Judy Cooper adopted the identity of the Black Stiletto and took on the mob. But the framing story with Martin and the recently-paroled thug is great too.

I was delighted to discover there are two more and made it a point to seek them out.

Those arrived this week and I’m very much looking forward to them. Mr. Benson says there are going to be five in all. I’m flabbergasted that I didn’t hear about these sooner– between my interest in James Bond, pulp fiction, and superhero stories, you’d think I’d have run across them before now– but I’m delighted to be able to catch up, and for not a whole lot of money, either. Everyone grouching about how there aren’t any good female adventure heroes, well, these are for you. (Kelly Thompson, especially… you should be ALL OVER these.)

So that was the haul from St. Vincent’s, and quite a haul it was, too.

We hit the road again and found a couple of nice places in Auburn we’d never seen before. A promising thrift shop, and also Comstock Books, an actual rare-book house that also does bookbinding and repair.

Comstock Books, especially, looked to be completely our kind of place. Unfortunately, the downside of it being Sunday afternoon is that by the time we got down there, everything was closed. But it certainly seemed like a place worth visiting, and we’ll be back.

And that was pretty much it for the bookscouting. Our diner in Orting, the Around The Corner Cafe, was exactly where we’d left it, and still doing the best milkshake in western Washington.

Probably that’s going to be it for the trips, too, at least until Julie puts in enough time at the new gig to be able to transfer to a more normal shift. Although we are hoping to sneak down to Portland for a couple of days in August to see Trek in the Park, and maybe we’ll get over to Cameron’s or Powell’s for an hour or so before hitting the road for home.

But a Sunday afternoon drive is better than nothing. Clearly, though, we just have to get an earlier start.

See you next week.

13 Comments

My wife and I are currently doing the day/night work thing and it’s a serious drag. I feel you on that one. Hopefully you work things out!

That is a nice haul for such a short trip. And thanks for the tip on Beach Red especially. I have to say – and this is unusual for me – I’m actually more interested in the movie now than the book.
Otherwise, that Chaykin-illustrated version of Bester’s Stars has kind of been my holy grail for years now. It’s virtually impossible to find a reasonably priced copy of that complete edition.
Like P. Boz, I’m hoping you and Julie are able to work out your schedules as well – I just love your book scouting posts!

That Black Stlleto book looked interesting so I’ve just downloaded it to me Kindle – thanks for the recommendation.

Andrew Kolvek

July 14, 2013 at 6:31 am

After years of keeping my eye out for a copy of the Bester-Chaykin Complete edition, I found one a couple of years ago. Near perfect shape and very cheap. I had only seen parts of it in some Heavy Metal magazines nearly 30 years, but that had prompted me to get the novel and read it. I haven’t had a chance to read the Chaykin book yet, but plan on it soon.

The Stars My Destination just might be my favorite S-F novel ever (if there is a more perfectly realized protagonist in S-F than Gulliver Foyle, I’ve yet to encounter it). The graphic novel is one of the best adaptations from another media that comics has produced – Chaykin really knocked it out of the park with this one.

Ha! I saw the first summer of Trek in the Park. Campy, somewhat humorous but somehow I was expecting more. Maybe it’s improved over the years.

And thanks for the tip on Beach Red especially. I have to say – and this is unusual for me – I’m actually more interested in the movie now than the book.

The whole movie is on YouTube here, if you have a good connection and ninety minutes or so to spare.

Thanks, Greg – good to know that’s there just in case.

The Ultimate Spider-Man was released simultaneously with The Venom Factor, so its success didn’t really allow for the launch of the Marvel novels line so much as complement it.

going to have to now hunt for those black stilletto books for now intriqued to learn if the old hitman hopefuly failed trying to kill the black stilleto. plus also may go to you tube and see beach red.

Love these book scouting posts, even if just a day trip like this one! Black stilletto sounds great thanks!!

That St. Vincent’s in Kent is nice. I stop by there when I’m at the courthouse in Kent, and it always brightens my day with their selection … before I head to Half-Price Books in Tukwilla.

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