Friday, December 07, 2012

A Horror Story for Some of Us

The comments in the previous post about the smell of old books made me think of something that happened several years ago. I was down on the Gulf Coast in the little town where Livia and I sometimes go, and of course I made the rounds of the little used bookstores there, as I always do. As soon as I stepped into one of them, I knew something was different about it. For one thing, there was a perky young woman working behind the counter instead of the grouchy old guy who usually ran the place. She was talking to another customer who asked about the previous owner, and she said, "Oh, yes, when I bought the place the first thing I did was to go through the stock and throw out all those old books!"

That's right. All the Westerns, mystery, men's adventure, and SF books from the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties were gone, replaced by dozens and dozens of copies of the bestsellers from the past twenty years. And of course they took that wonderful smell with them.

I turned around and walked out.

The new owner had every right to do what she did, of course. And maybe she had the right idea. The store is still in business, or at least it was a few months ago when we were there last. I guess most people who go away on vacation (it's a big tourist area) would rather read the latest James Patterson or Nora Roberts novel than some smelly old paperback published forty or fifty years ago. I'll even admit that I've gone back in there (after vowing that I wouldn't) and have bought a handful of books. It's hard to resist the temptation, and besides, you never know what treasure might sneak past the owner and make it to the shelves.

But that phrase "throw out all those old books" still makes me shudder. I'll bet it affects some of you the same way.

(Apologies if I've told this story before. It's getting harder to remember what I've talked about and what I haven't.)

11 comments:

Bill Crider said...

My house is starting to smell that way now. Maybe I have too many books. Hahahahaha. I can never have too many books.

Anonymous said...

Funny, our daughters played with us a game of What Is...? at dinner a few nights ago, and "What is your favorite scent?" came up, and my instant answer was the smell of old books, especially paperbacks books. No one agreed with me, but knowing me, they understood...kind of.

~ Ron C.

Walker Martin said...

It certainly is possible to become addicted to the smell of old paper. I ought to know because I am one of the victims. In 1956 I had the summer off from school and I knew exactly how I wanted to spend my time. I saved up my allowance and ordered the 1950-1955 issues of GALAXY SF from the publisher.

I read an issue a day that summer and it made me into the reader and collector that I still am today. When I opened the box from the publisher, the smell of over 60 mint GALAXY's rose up and hit me in the face with a life changing force. It was the greatest scent I've ever smelled, far better than any perfume.

I still love the smell of old books and magazines and I've filled my house with my favorite titles. I've noticed that each pulp title has a distinct scent, BLACK MASK smells different from WEIRD TALES, ADVENTURE different from ARGOSY. Somehow the e-books just don't compare...

Walker Martin said...

I see Ron mentions the smell of old vintage paperbacks. What a great scent! I have one room which is nothing but paperbacks and several paperback display racks from the 1950's. The smell when you open the door is overpowering and I mean that in a good way. Often when I'm feeling down, I just go into the paperback room and sit for awhile, inhaling the aroma of old paperbacks. It always cheers me up...

RJR said...

James, you know I agree. That "old book" smell is the best in the world. I just bought some John B. West books from ABEbooks and it took me back to the first time I bought them in a used nookstore in Brooklyn. One of my favorite stores which, soon after that, burned down.
I also got that sinking, sick feeling when Kathy Bates burns that manuscript in MISERY.

RJR

Charles Gramlich said...

I felt a little empty spot in my soul when I read "throw out all those old books." Were crueler words ever spoken?

Anonymous said...

Some three decades ago I owned and operated a secondhand bookshop for about eight years and I recall the most surprising, disappointing thing I learned being that nearly one hundred percent of the customers came in looking for half-price copies of the latest trendy books. Got to the place where I held back what collectables were traded in as they never sold and ate up the shelf space of the higher priced titles (and these many years later am still moving those collectables on Amazon; at least I didn't "throw them out"). The store did well but I must admit that it's not a bookshop I would have appreciated much as a collector/customer.

--Stephen Mertz

James Reasoner said...

Steve, that agrees with the experience Livia and I had when we owned a couple of used bookstores back in the Eighties. I had a few customers who liked the older books (mostly Westerns) but near-current romances and bestsellers were the only things that moved consistently.

Cap'n Bob said...

I worked for a number of years for printing companies and the smell of fresh ink and paper was always intoxicating to me. Old books have a different, earthier scent that's also enjoyable, but you have to remember it's mostly the smell of decay.

Tom Roberts said...

Nearly thirty years ago when I was working in new chain bookstores one of the tasks was of course unpacking and shelving the arrivals, particularly at holiday time when the cases seemed endless. There was an aroma when opening cases of books from the distributors.

Being an hourly employe (for something like $4.00 and hour at the time) I thought they smelled like .... ink and MONEY ... money for the store owner, and money for the distributors. But little for me.

The smell was nothing akin to the enticing aroma of a Gold Medal or Lancer or Bantam or Ace paperback.

Tom Roberts
Black Dog Books

Carl V. said...

Oh how I wish I would have been standing near that trash can when she did it. The idea of books being thrown away horrifies me!