I started something last night that I haven't done for years.
It may come as a bit of a surprise to you, but I was a weird kid. Yes, I know you find that hard to believe. Last night I started reading from a series of books that I started collecting as a weird kid.
One day when I was about ten years old, I found my dad watching an old black and white TV show. When I asked what he was watching, he explained it was a rerun of one of his mother's favorite TV shows - Perry Mason. That made me curious, so I stuck around to see for myself. By the time Mason used his incisive cross-examination to corner the murderer on the witness stand, I was hooked.
My dad told me the show was based on a series of old books and he just happed to have one in his stash. I devoured it. My little ten-year-old self was totally engorssed in the murders and the style and especially the characters. Did you know that Della Street is actually a speaking part in the books? I added Perry Mason to my list of people I wanted to be when I grew up.
We lived in a tiny town at the time, and when Dad had to make Saturday hospital visits, we'd all go along so we could eat out, watch a movie or maybe spend some time browsing the shelves of a bookstore. After reading that first book, I would collect my allowance and beg to be taken to the used bookstore to buy Perry Mason books. The books had been out of print for about ten years by the time I discovered them. The only place to find them was at used bookstores.
At first I could usually find 8 or 9 books at a time. I'd buy all I could get my hands on, then start reading as soon as I got back in the car. By the time we got home, I'd be halfway through the first book. When I decimated the supply at one store, I'd move on to another. I had the Big Flat Yellow Pages listing for bookstores practically memorized. My parents drove me all over town so I could find more treasure.
Most of the time I could sniff out the Perry Mason novels in a new store in a matter of moments. Since the books are little more than pulp fiction, they were often displayed next to the racks of used porn.
This was before the internet and there was evidently quite a market for used porn. But, I digress...
There are 86 Perry Mason books written by Earle Stanley Gardner. I have 85 of them. (There are also a couple of insipid pastiches written by Thomas Chastain which I also own, but they don't count.) It took me several years to amass my collection. By the time I finished Junior High, I'd pretty much completed it. I looked long and hard for the last book and could never find it. Then one day I just stopped looking. I didn't really want to find it. That would mean I was finished. The collection would be complete, entire, done. I just didn't want to be done with it.
I haven't read a Perry Mason book since my first semester in college. I didn't really read one then. I just skimmed a couple to refresh my vast store of previously useless detecitve story trivia, which I used to write a paper for my freshman comp class on the reasons for the popularity of characters such as Perry Mason and Sherlock Holmes.
I've moved a few times since then and always packed up my 85 Perry Mason books (along with hundreds of other books) and taken them with me. After the last time I moved, I considered getting rid of them. After all, I hadn't read one in nearly two decades. But I couldn't quite part with them.
And now all I would have to do is enter the title on the Amazon website, and within a matter of days I would be the proud owner of the final book. But I'm not sure if I want to do that.
Maybe I'll re-read a few more and then decide.
My favorite haunt for finding the books was at The Book Rack on Slide Road. I was such a regular customer that they gave me all sorts of freebies - mostly bookmarks and really cool padded, leather-looking book covers. I still use the bookcovers.
One Saturday I jangled the bell over the door of the Book Rack and made my way to the back of the store. The books I wanted were on the lower shelves. The store was dim and quiet. I was the only customer.
It was a good day. I found more than a dozen of Gardner's books that I didn't already have. I filled my arms and carried them to the front counter to unload. There was a young man, probably a college student, working the cash register. He scanned my piles of books, checking the prices. Then he looked over the books and down at me.
"You're that kid."
I looked at him quizically.
"You're that kid who buys all the Perry Mason books. I've heard about you," he said as he rang up the sale.
I grinned at him, grabbed my bags and rushed out the door. I hopped in the car and wondered what the clerk meant - was it a good thing or a weird thing to be "that kid"?
Then I opened up the first bag to get started on my reading. I found not one, but two brightly colored, padded, leatherish bookcovers. Score!