Sunday and Monday on the Road
The rest of this year’s bookscouting road trip. Part the first can be found here, and part the second lies below the fold.
As you may recall, there wasn’t much in Blaine for us. (Unless you’re a fisherman or a smuggler, there really isn’t much for anyone.) So we decided to venture south on Sunday to Bellingham, because I knew there were two amazing bookstores there, Henderson’s and Michael’s. Interestingly, they’re right across the street from one another. We’d been to Henderson’s before, a few years ago, but Michael’s had been closed that day and I was hoping to have better luck with it this time.
All the places we visited– Bellingham, Lynden, and so on– were only a few minutes away from our motel by the main roads, but Julie and I avoid those. The back roads in the Pacific Northwest are endlessly entertaining, at least for us. You just never know what the hell you’re going to see, and the restaurants are all infinitely better than what you find along the freeway.
For example, passing through farm country, I suddenly saw this. “Oh my God, stop, stop, we have to get a picture, it’s Jim’s uncle’s marshmallow plantation!”
Our old friend Jim MacQuarrie is fond of telling people that someday he’s going to chuck city life and go back to working on his uncle’s marshmallow plantation (there is a great story about this that Jim recounts here) and by God, there it was in real life. So we HAD to get a picture. In fact, we got a couple.
Yes, yes, I know it’s just modern industrial hay-baling technology. Shut up. It looks like a marshmallow plantation and that’s the important part.
We decided to take an ambling, winding route down to Bellingham, thinking we’d find breakfast somewhere along the way, and eventually get to our bookstores. We’d arranged to meet Brianna, one of my former students that went to college in Bellingham and ended up settling there, because the last time we’d been up that way she had been quite put out with us for not calling her to come hang out with us.
After a while we found an establishment that would sell us some pancakes, and then Julie saw a bead store. (Beauty in the Bead, turned out to be a nice little place.) This is her thing and since she is so indulgent about my interests, I can’t say no. But I do not share her interest in beads and making jewelry, so I wandered into the hobby shop next door.
They had a lot of models, which is something I would love to get back into — I’d built quite a few when I sobered up back in the 1980s as part of my stop-fidgeting therapy, but I never had the patience then to be really good at it. Looking around the shop, what amazed me was the preponderance of nerd-culture models. I mean, I knew that you could get the Enterprise and the Millennium Falcon and so on, but this place had not only those but a lot of other, more obscure items; the Lost In Space saucer, the Spindrift, a Space: 1999 Eagle, and lots of others even more obscure.
The one that I felt a brief pang of acquisitive lust for was the complete Seaview set from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
Complete with cutaways, a Flying Sub, a diving bell, and even tiny crewmen. It was WAY beyond my limited skills and I knew I’d never be able to build it, but my God, the thought of having that in my office was so intoxicating that I almost had myself talked into it anyway until I saw that the price was well over a hundred dollars… which was pretty much the entire shopping budget for the rest of the trip. Oh well.
Julie emerged from the bead shop with a bagful, and by then Bri had called. She gave us directions to the Black Drop Coffeehouse, which she assured us was the best coffee place in Bellingham and perhaps the world. It was pretty good.
When Brianna arrived, she proudly presented me with a gift. “It’s your birthday present,” she said.
“But my birthday’s in November.”
“I know, but I actually bought it about five years ago and I keep forgetting it. I just saw it and thought, ‘Greg needs this,’ and here you are.”
It was The X-Men Pop-up Book, which I had never seen and in fact had no idea even existed.
Of course I was delighted. It more than made up for passing on the Seaview. It amused the girls that I was able to name the artists on each page.
I daresay most of you would have been able to as well, it wasn’t like they were obscure. Byrne, Cockrum, Kirby, and Neal Adams, mostly. It was great to see Brianna in any case and we had a lot of fun.
As it happened, the Black Drop is right next door to Michael’s and he was open. Bri excused herself to go do homework– she’s still doing graduate classes– and Julie and I went to see what Michael’s was all about.
It’s a very cool place and certainly the equal of Henderson’s. I don’t know why all these amazing people come to small towns in the Northwest and open rare book stores, but I’m glad they do. Michael’s had a pretty healthy selection of comics and graphic novel stuff, too.
And a full-size Spider-Man statue in the front window display, as well.
I was going to ask what that was all about but forgot, because I was distracted by the wall of “men’s adventure”– which is to say, the numbered series pulp paperbacks from the sixties and seventies that I love so much. (As recounted here.) It pleased me that he had special sections called out for both Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm and also The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Lots of Executioner and Nick Carter, of course, but my preference is for the lesser-known, Mack-Bolan-in-all-but-name knockoff series. I dunno, I guess I like rooting for the underdog. And sometimes you get lucky and stumble across something that’s great fun like this series or this one.
I restrained myself. I settled for the first two Liquidator novels, which I had never read, and also a collection of essays about Conan the Barbarian that I’d been meaning to pick up for years.
The Conan book is just a bunch of different articles about Conan and Robert E. Howard by different SF and fantasy authors like Fritz Leiber and Poul Anderson and Avram Davidson, as well as the usual seventies suspects L. Sprague deCamp and Lin Carter. It’s interesting without being too scholarly, but it’s definitely a fans-only sort of thing; you have to already be pretty interested in both Conan and Howard.
The Liquidator… well, he’s one more in a long line of angry guys with a grudge who’s Taking On The Mob because This Time It’s Personal. The blurb on the back of #1 says it all–
Man, they just don’t write them like that any more. The old back cover come-ons they used in those days almost read like a kind of amphetamine-fueled beat poetry; there was a real art to it. The Doc Savage and Avenger back-cover paperback summaries from the 1970s were what first sold me on those characters. Read these and tell me they don’t sound like just a big bag of awesome to a thirteen-year-old boy. (They also sounded terribly evil to my mother, which may have been part of the fun.)
I’m getting carried away a little, I know, but I really love these. Here’s the one from Liquidator #2: Contract For a Killing, that’s almost as good as #1–
I picked up one more book in the stacks– there was a like-new edition of Donald Hamilton’s The Devastators from 1965 for three dollars and so I decided to trade up, since the one I had at home was a little beat up.
With that, I decided I was done and Julie had finished looking by then as well, so we headed up to the front counter. The proprietor noticed I had the Helm (probably because it had been the only one left on the shelf) and said, “Hey, you might be interested in this, too.” and he pulled out a really pristine copy of Donald Hamilton on Guns and Hunting.
The Helms are pretty easy to turn up, but Hamilton wrote other Gold Medal paperback originals too and most of those are incredibly rare. This one is the rarest. Michael’s had it at twenty dollars, which is a steal. Usually it goes for about seventy. I knew it would be a good book, too; of all the sixties super-spy writers that followed in the wake of Ian Fleming and James Bond, Donald Hamilton was the guy that actually knew stuff about guns. One of the reasons the Matt Helm novels are so entertaining is Helm’s sneering contempt for people who don’t know what they’re doing, and the subject of firearms is where it comes out the most often. And Hamilton made Helm a hunter as well– one of the major characters in The Interlopers is Hank, Helm’s trained Labrador retriever.
Naturally I wanted it. But we were on a strict budget and it felt like an extravagance. It wasn’t like I was going to go home and turn a profit on it, I’m not a professional: I buy books to keep and read, not as investments. So I was torn.
Julie saw the naked lust in my eyes and said, “Oh, you should get it.”
“But it’s twenty bucks, baby, and we said we were going to keep the spending down.”
“We’re on vacation,” Julie said, loftily. “Just get it.”
It didn’t take a lot of persuasion. I nodded and the proprietor added it to the pile. I told him, “When you find a girl that doesn’t just tolerate your weird nerdy thing but actively encourages it, marry her.”
“I did!” he said, grinning. “And here’s the thing. When you let your interests run free, you are being more genuinely who you are… and THAT’S who she fell in love with.”
Julie thought that was the best sales pitch ever. It just melted her.
Parenthetically, I should add that if you are interested in learning more about Matt Helm, the best reference page I’ve ever seen is here. And Titan Books is reprinting the series in nice new editions, as well, and they’ve just gotten up to The Interlopers. One of my favorites, and not just because of Hank the Labrador. You should check it out if you haven’t already. Along with the others.
We decided– since we’d overspent– to skip Henderson’s, even if it was across the street. Too much temptation. But we did poke our heads in at a Value Village that we saw on our way back to the motel. Nothing there for us, although I noted that at some point somebody in Bellingham had really loved Cloak and Dagger.
Since I don’t, really, and they were absurdly overpriced, I passed. But I took a picture because I thought it was funny. They were the only comics in the place.
That was Sunday. Monday we had to head for home, but we were determined to make the trip last as long as we could, and decided to take the long way around the bay and down the coastline, stopping anywhere that looked interesting.
We really enjoy the small towns that are tucked away on the back roads, and I already mentioned the Pacific Northwest weirdness that can pop up at any time without warning; I am firmly convinced that’s what David Lynch was trying to capture in Twin Peaks. Ferndale, where we stopped to eat, is the perfect example. It looks at first glance like a sleepy little place that’s all Mom and apple pie…
…until, that is, you pass the freakish place we dubbed “Biker Golgotha” that sits on a hill that looms over the entire town.
It’s a work in progress, so we couldn’t be sure, but it seemed to be some sort of home remodel into a giant art installation that involved patriotism, gun turrets, and a biker memorial miniature graveyard with a shoulder-high representation of the crucifixion as its central feature.
I am sorry I couldn’t get better pictures– it was seriously strange– but I was afraid a closer approach would have gotten us shot as trespassers. Or infidels, or city folks, or just because God told him to.
I mention Ferndale only because I wanted to tell you about Biker Golgotha, and also to let you know that the single best breakfast we’ve ever had in all our travels over the years was at Cedar’s Restaurant there.
Seriously. The best. If you’re ever in Ferndale– which is unlikely, since it really isn’t a destination kind of place and I daresay Biker Golgotha scares any tourism away anyhow– but if you are, that’s the place to eat. Bring an appetite, because in these tiny farm towns they eat hearty and portions are huge.
The rest of the trip home was lazy and uneventful, since Cedar’s had put us into a happy food coma. But we did want to stop in Mount Vernon, because we’ve had good luck there before. We found a thrift shop we’d never been to, Bargains Galore.
There were no bargains there for us that day, though. It was a nice enough place but everything looked pretty ratty. Including the books; it was all Christian spiritual healing and Reader’s Digest Condensed on the hardcover shelves. But there was nevertheless an actual working bookscout scooping up armloads of paperbacks and dumping them into his shopping cart, while occasionally consulting his smartphone.
As far as I’m concerned, being able to whistle up obscure book facts on Google sucks a lot of the fun out of bookscouting. On the other hand, I don’t have to do it for a living.
Anyway, we left him to it, because the place I really wanted to look at was Easton’s.
Easton’s is another world-class bookshop filled with rarities that’s hidden away in a Northwest small town. We had been there a few years before and I was knocked out then by their selection of vintage juveniles. It’s still pretty awesome.
I was mostly admiring it and taking a couple of pictures when I spotted it. The Purple Prince of Oz.
It was the 1959 edition, a reprint that didn’t include the original color plates, and the dust jacket was gone. But it’s still a lovely book and goes for anywhere from fifty to a hundred dollars depending on what kind of shape it’s in. Mr. Easton had it for twenty.
Purple Prince is my favorite of all the Oz books Ruth Thompson did. She continued the series after Frank Baum died, generally with better work, and of all of hers, I think Prince is the best. I used to own it in the first edition and I’d sold it in college for dope money, an act that still shames me. (I’d had five Oz books and I sold them all one night in a fit of desperation to hustle up some quick cash, getting about seventy dollars for the lot at Powell’s in downtown Portland. Even back in the early 1980s that was stupid and I knew I was letting them go for peanuts, but I was too jangled and jonesing to care. Today I could probably get well over a grand for the five if I was fool enough to part with them.)
In all the years since getting cleaned up, I have tried to replace those five books. We have acquired several others in the series, all in great shape and some of them even firsts, but my original five are the hardest ones to find, it seems. So far I have managed to replace three, all in lesser editions, but still nice hardcovers. Purple Prince was by far the most elusive of them. I’d never seen any edition of it, not even at the Antiquarian Book Fair. And here it was for twenty bucks.
But… we’d already overspent. I quailed.
“Get it,” Julie said, seeing me hesitate.
I winced. “Baby, I know there’s a paycheck waiting at home but even so… are you sure?”
“When are you going to see it again?”
“I know… but…”
“Just get it.”
So we did. Mr. Easton told us it was the last of a set he’d had under glass in the case out front, a lot he’d gotten from an estate sale. “Woman spent years getting the whole set,” he said. “Paid too much for a few of them, too, some of the receipts were still in the books and I kind of went whoa on a few of them. She just really loved Oz, I guess.”
“We do too,” I told him. “It’s going to a good home.”
With that we were done, we were really out of money. So we didn’t stop again till we were home.
And that was our trip. Most fun we’ve had in quite a while. I hope we don’t have to wait as long for the next one.
In the meantime, I’ll be back next week with something completely different. See you then.