Monday, February 19, 2007

The Case of the Dusty Paperback

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!


Linda (FM) said...

What a great story!

Princess of Everything (and then some) said...

Oh I like this! You were a weird kid?? I would have never thought! I am glad you grew out of it! *snorts*

I vote yes on getting the last book. I bet you would be one of the few people in the world that had them all. That would be a great tribute.

Patti said...

"BUY THE BOOK!" the OCD in me is shouting.

You're famous, even if it is for being weird.

I was weird, too, only I read Larry McMurtey books...much better than the Pathfinder books my dad wanted me to read.

reverendmother said...

Love it!

cheesehead said...

I adore this story.

You are so good at this.

Mary Beth said...

Definitely buy it.

I'm sorry to say that my collections include nothing more weird/cool than all of the Jalna books and all of the (um, um) Cherry Ames Nurse stories.

You win, man!

SpookyRach said...

Mary Beth: I am howling, howling I tell ya! about the Cherry Ames Nurse stories. That totally qualifies as weird on a whole new level.

Thanks for signing up on the Blog Log. I can't get your profile to show up on the sidebar, but I know you are there.

annie said...

I just love your stories! And you are so good at weaving them.

Aww, you should get that last book. I know it will mean the end of an era for that little weird kid, but, hey, life goes on, and now the weird grown-up must take up the calling and find something else weird to collect.

PS - You know what I hate? It's when you get your reply all typed out and you look down to post and the word verification box is there waiting, but there is no word to verify!

P M Prescott said...

Nice to read about others who obsess over particular books and devour them like candy. Makes me feel in good company.
My advise, buy the book -- place it in a place of honor and test your willpower on how long you can hold out before taking it down and reading it.

little david said...

DON'T SEEK THE LAST BOOK! Its absence leaves mystery for you. As long as it is out there, your nearly complete collection still has a secret. And besides, one day, the B O O K W I L L F I N D Y O U.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Count me in the Weird Kid club...

I, too, discovered Perry Mason through my dad, and read my first one at about age 11 or 12.

"The Case of the Glamorous Ghost" was the first one I read. I remember the cover having this scantily clad blonde apparition floating through a grove of trees... in night.

How delicious! Now, I am hit with a sudden urge to collect Mason paperbacks!

beth said...

I'm with Little David - let the book find you..

And I'm finally - duh - figuring out where you are. I remember Slide Road. I graduated from that huge university in your town...spent many a night playing loud 80's music in various venues throughout town. Memories...

klasieprof said...

Not that my vote counts, but I think that "THE BOOK" will find you. It is already out there, among a haunt or individual that you know.
You will be looking at a friend's books one day, or at a garage or estate sale, and BOOM. Out will come the perfectly coiffed hand of Della, small fingernails buffed and polished, and grab your wrist stating..."here it is Perry, the new owner'.
Just out of interest's sake..(so we can all google it), what is the missing book title, if you feel like sharing.
I was able to stay married to a preacher mean guy for WAYY longer than I should have by reading WESTERNS. We lived in OKC, and Zane Grey and Louis L'Mour kept me sane. Helped me get strong, Helped me dump the chump. Their Hero's would never cheat on their wife, and I wanted the same for me.

Anonymous said...

don't tell us the name of the book, please, otherwise someone will send it to you and spoil the moment. let it find you in it's own time. books have patience, as should we.

Trace said...

Really cool, Spooky! You have yourself quite a collection. Very cool indeed, "kid".

Janie said...

Great story!

Reverend Dona Quixote said...

My mom introduced me to Perry Mason. I watched the show, read many, but not all of the books.

However, I did wind up collecting almost all of them in paperback
in one day.

I worked in the seminary library at the Big Denominational Upscale University I attended to get my M Div. During the time time I worked there, the library underwent a massive renovation and some uncatalogued, extraneous books were given to the staff.

Included in the lot I received was the Perry Mason Paperback collection that Highly Revered Deceased John Wesley Expert left in the library. They all had the silver spines, all originally sold for 35 cents ...

It just fascinated me that this noted Wesley scholar read pulp detective fiction ... so you're in good company.

Where's the collection? Once when I was more financially hard up than usual, I sold the entire thing to a used bookstore in a small town in Texas. Got $75.

Wonder if you got any of those books?

SpookyRach said...

Hey, dona quixote! I know exactly the versions you mean. I have several of those silver spined volumes myself. Email me, if you want and tell me which little town.

Anonymous said...

Me too. I liked Perry Mason books when I was a kid too. My mom and dad had a stash of them. Never read anywhere near all of them though, and never collected them.