Saturday, August 02, 2003

You know you’re with a good bunch of folks when it’s mutually decided that those first two hours you’ve all spent browsing Powell’s main bookstore in Portland wasn't nearly enough time- that, in fact, another half hour is not only necessary, but vital. Such was the case last weekend when Cathy and I visited our friends, Rob and Katie.

One of the things I like about Powell’s (and there are many things to like about a bookstore that seems to take up an entire city block and is filled with so many tantalizing books) is the old, used ‘n musty trade paperbacks you can find. I like those high-end Vintage trade paperbacks, too- they look great, feel great, hell, they even smell great but they also cost more than double the mass-trade paperbacks, now seemingly reserved for romances, legal thrillers, science fiction and Stephen King only. Works denoted as “serious fiction” are not to be cheapened by the associations now tied to mass-pulp. For example, Vintage recently dressed up the collective works of Philip K. Dick (previously available in mass-pulp editions) in hopes of attracting the new, more status conscious reader. These new high end paperbacks also assuage the fears of those readers who fret over whether or not science fiction is in fact “serious” literature. Each comes stamped with the obligatory New York Times quote/seal of approval. Would I prefer these high-end editions? You bet. What’s a bummer, as I already mentioned, is that they’re a bit cost prohibitive for those of us not necessarily rolling in the bling bling and who like to buy and read more then a few books a year. It would be nice to have the option, but it seems like the only time “serious” works of fiction or non-fiction get the mass-pulp treatment is if they’re made into bloated Hollywood product.

This wasn’t always the case. Before book publisher’s realized that there was a lucrative market for high end trade paperbacks, “serious” literature also made the journey from stately hardback to cheap compact pulp. Thousands of them have found a cozy temporary retirement on the shelves at Powell’s. Oh, and they’re terribly cheap. I picked up 4 of them, each under $4 and all in great condition. Here’s what I got.

The White Album: Joan Didion
Ray Bradbury: The Machineries of Joy
Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Watchers: Tom Wolfe
The Woman in the Dunes: Kobo Abe

There were tons and tons more, of course, and I had to pass up dozens, but my own shelves are already overflowing with books I’ve yet to read. Sadly, they didn’t have the book I was most interested in finding, John Woodmorappe’s Noah’s Arc: A Feasibility Study.

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