When I was a teenager, I started collecting paperbacks. That was in the mid-1960s, when books were still selling for 50c or less. Actually, it all started with Scholastic Book Services. Those Mephistophelian tempters came into my junior high school, and offered me the kingdom. A catalog full of paperback books. We didn’t have a bookstore in town, and I was still poised between the children’s section of the library with the heart-warming animal stories I had grown up with, and the adult section that still overwhelmed me with its darker possibilities.
But borrowing a book really doesn’t appeal to someone who has collecting in his soul. So when Scholastic appeared, I was psychologically ready. Allowance in hand, I would carefully go through the pages, and pick out potential treasures: this is where I discovered Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain. I gobbled them up, then carefully placed them on the bookshelf above my desk. And about this time, my grandmother—who was also a voracious reader and a kindred spirit—gave me a pile of Edgar Rice Burroughs books. When asked recently what book changed my life, I immediately thought of At the Earth’s Core by Burroughs. That was the book that really introduced me to a whole new world of adventure.
And a whole new level of collecting. I quickly discovered that besides this handful of Ace paperbacks, Burroughs had a whole slew of books available: the Tarzan books, the Mars series, Venus, the Moon. Naturally, I had to have them all. And eventually I did. But it didn’t end there.
Now I had access to all those books listed at the back of the Ace paperbacks. I sent for a catalog. Whoa. The world of paperbacks expanded again. I was intrigued by all these new names: Poul Anderson, John Brunner, Phillip K. Dick, Murray Leinster, Jack Vance. I already had overspent my allowance, so I quickly grabbed the lawn mowing and leaf raking concession from my siblings and earned more doing outside chores. I sent away for a box full of Ace Books. And by that point, it was all over.
I was hooked.
I mailed away for Ballantine, Pyramid, Bantam, Dell and even Airmont catalogs. I sent a postcard request for any book publisher catalog that looked even remotely interesting. My chore money was spent before I even received it. I worked way ahead of myself. It was like having a teenage credit card. One summer I painted the entire outside of the house (and in 100+ degree heat, no less).
I have no idea what my folks thought of all this. They were certainly very accepting. They had watched me collect stamps, baseball cards, 45s and comics. I’m sure by the point that I started to fill my shelves with paperbacks, they figured they might as well support this mania, too. Not all collectors were so blessed—how many horror stories have you heard about the parents who threw their kids comic collection out as soon as they went off to college? Inconceivable…
Anyway, it started with Scholastic fifty years ago, and by now, the house is just filled with paperbacks: in every room, on shelves, in boxes, in stacks and piles, by the bedside and yes, even in the laundry room. Collecting is a mania. I suppose in its own way, small press publishing is, too. But now I have an excuse.