My friend Karl from the antiques store called me up to ask me if I was interested in looking at some books in a house he was going to do an estate sale for. I’m always interested in estate sales, even thought I find that many people have accumulated a shockingly small amount of books over a lifetime. That was not true in this lady’s case, and in fact she’d accumulated a vast amount of almost everything, jammed into a fairly small house. It was really disconcerting to just step in there, with piles of stuff everywhere, most of it out and out garbage – dozens of broken coffee pots, bags of matches, bottle tops and clothe pins, indexed T.V. Guides and newspaper television supplement back to the sixties. She’d been a librarian and when her library computerized, she’d even kept all the thousands of old catalog cards. And then I found out they’d already been cleaning the place out for FIVE DAYS! When they first came in the door they could barely get in and found it largely impassible because of all the clutter.
Houses do reflect their owners and often you can feel the presence of a long time inhabitant even when they’re no longer around. Let’s just say the vibe I got was of extreme craziness – that kind of hoarding behavior is, after all, a form of mental illness, and one I have a propensity for. As Karl’s wife said it really made you want to go home and throw out a bunch of stuff.
The former occupant was no dummy however, and behind, around and on top of things were books, some of them puzzlingly obscure, many in gothic German, and a lot of mysteries and science fiction. I got some O.K. contemporary stock on the first floor, but it wasn’t until I reached the cramped shelves in the basement – almost impossible to get to without stepping on something that crunched beneath – that I found the gold. There were several shelves full of vintage 40’s and 50’s paperbacks, mostly in pretty good shape, and with some highly prized authors like Frederic Brown, Cornell Woolrich and Rex Stout, editions like Dell Map Backs, Gold Medals early Avons, and other cool stuff.
In the spirit of the season I grabbed for myslef a lovely little edition of Oliver Onions’s classic ghost story collection Widdershins, which she’d evidently lifted from the Flint Public Library in 1930, but despite the bounty I felt a little unsatisfied. Almost everyone, even (or maybe especially?) a little old lady who lives alone, is in possession of something sleazy and I don’t consider any book finding expedition complete until I’ve found an example, but I was despairing of discovering anything worse than pulpy until I found among the paperback Merit Book # 540 Vegas Wenches. As you can see, the cover is beyond classic and the back cover copy even more so. The only copy on ABE goes for $50, but I couldn’t give this baby up. I guess some book dealer will have to find it in a junk filled corner of my basement after I’m dead…