July 24, 2002 News & Opinion » Featured story

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Two-bit cultural literacy 

Used bookstores are great. Garage sales have their value. You can even find some good books poking around in people's trash. But thrift-store bookshelves contain some of the best literary discoveries.

                  Like garage sales, there's a certain core library that all thrift stores seem to stock: the requisite three copies of The Godfather, a few Danielle Steele opuses, National Geographic, Harlequin, Silhouette, and Tom Clancy romances. I've yet to figure it out, but Henry Roth's Call it Sleep (reissued in paperback in 1964) seems to end up in every thrift store with even a 2-foot shelf of books.

                  There are times when a certain despair overtakes me while searching the heaps of broken-spined paperbacks. It feels like this is where books go after they die. But these are better than dismal remainder shelves; at least most of the books in the resale shops have been read before being given away.

                  My collection contains some specialties. For instance, I have the largest number of Big Hand books in the known universe. These are paperbacks with the cover art showing a hand disproportionately larger than the other figures. The best ones show a scantily clad woman lounging in the gigantic male palm. I also hunt for severed-head covers, King James Bibles, anything by Philip K. Dick, Little Golden Guides, and, of course, deep-discount remainders of books I've actually written.

                  Prices have gone up in the last few years. Twenty-five cents is the magic number, as far as I'm concerned. It's got to be a pretty amazing find for me to spend top (as in: one) dollar for a dog-eared paperback.

                  Here's a random sample of some of the best literary tomes I've dredged up in the last few years.

                  • Suburbia, Jungle of Sex --- "To Candy Williams, life in the country meant money, liquor, and lust."

                  • Torture Love Cage --- "Think you can take it, mister? Don't say YES until you've read this book! Ex-Intelligence man Matt Raven thought so too --- until he was lured into a subversive heaven-hell chamber of sex and torture no man ever dared imagine!"

                  • Raptured --- By televangelist Ernest Angley. He was working this turf 30 years before Left Behind. "Heal! Heal!"

                  • Parade to Glory --- "The Shriners and their Caravan to Destiny" (maximum fez action here).

                  • I Killed Stalin --- "Through terror, torture, and perversity with a US secret agent."

                  • Boy George Fashion and Make-up Book --- complete with cut-out patterns and mascara diagrams.

                  • Sin Eater --- "Who was the 6-foot 6-inch fiend that set out to rape every woman in an entire town?"

                  • Dancing Madness --- knocked-off quickly by the editors of Rolling Stone in 1976, to exploit Disco mania. Best chapter: "Hi, I'm Karen Lustgarten and I'm going to teach you the LA Hustle."

                  • Brutal Ecstasy --- "She murdered many men --- most of them with her magnificent body!"

                  • Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses --- "Moses' magical spirit-art, known as the Wonderful Arts of the old, wise Hebrews, taken from the Mosaic books of the Cabala and the Talmud for the good of Mankind."

                  • I Prowl by Night --- "A bold new look at the causes of perverse desire --- the frenzy that drives a man to the windows of unsuspecting women!"

                  • Michael Jackson's Dancing the Dream --- 150 pages of deathless poetry ("Children of the world, we'll do it"), glossy photographs, pen-and-ink drawings of baby seals, ruminations on God and other cosmic stuff, and pictures of people who've yet to reach puberty.

                  • The Love Machine --- "You'll gasp as the BIG MAN reproduces human sex drives to the shocking extremes of ecstasy and horror!!!"

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