I took a vacation recently (well, a really long weekend) and as I like to do, visited a few book stores during that time. One was Haslams in St Petersburg, in business more than 60 years and 30,000 square feet of books. I browed for a while and picked up one old book on wood, maybe 1910 or so, and I thought about how heavy it was, literally. Old books use that thinner paper and it’s denser, feels…serious. They also had a few display cases with ‘valuable’ books; first editions, signed copies, things like that. Being a book kinda guy I was tempted to buy one, just because!
The other was Paperback Palace,a more common store front type place at about 5000 square feet. Nothing really noteworthy about this one,a good no nonsense book store with mostly paperbacks, though it did one one set of shelves on the small 2nd floor that looked in danger of tumbling like dominoes!
I read a lot, sometimes I want to try something new, sometimes I want the equivalent of comfort food. For me that often happens when I see a book I’ve read before and think, hey, I want to read that again, or maybe I just see an author’s name and want to read something they wrote.
I was in a science fiction mood so I grabbed a few by Gordon R. Dickson, of which the best was The Pritcher Mass, which is hard to describe in a sentence. Let’s say it combines a doomed planet with a smart college student and a witch!
I browsed the Western section and saw Louis L’Amour, so I had to have one of those. I had read a good portion of the ones on hand, and finally picked Flint. Orphaned child gets raised by gunfighter, gunfighter gets kills, child goes to New York, gets rich, marries badly, and is diagnosed as being terminally ill. Decides to walk away from it all and go back ‘home’, winds up in the middle of a conflict, meets a new woman, and finds out he isn’t dying after all. This book in particular has a few ancillary characters, one is Milt, who works for the woman rancher owner that is in trouble. He’s the quiet, been around the block type, and toward the end is in the town saloon with most of the crew when the enemy starts to accumulate, a fight is brewing. One of the others suggest leaving before trouble starts, but Milt says “no, I ain’t gonna miss this”. A man after my own heart!
The other I grabbed was Golden Rendezvous by Alistair Maclean. It’s set on a cargo ship/super luxury liner and the main guy is the first officer. The voyage has gone badly, gets delayed, and once finally at sea odd things happen; a man disappears, another is killed, said first officer gets cracked in the head, and finally the ship is taken over and set on course to meet another ship. But they’ve picked the wrong ship, wrong first officer. He’s thinking and figures some of it out, has an interesting fight to the death in a cargo hold with loose crates sliding back and forth during a hurricane, and then carries the dead loser up a ladder to toss him overboard – and does it with a badly damaged leg to boot. Things happen, the bad guys seem to win, and as promised transfer everyone to the other ship, and it’s over. Or is it? The fun part of this book is what is unsaid. He’s not an ex-assassin, ex-whatever super dude, he’s the first officer on a cargo ship. Did I mention a missing atomic weapon too?
As I browsed and relaxed I thought about the simple joy of finding a book I last read, oh, 10 years ago, and that was written in 1962. As the world moves to ebooks will I be able to find those old but not quite famous books? Even if they all get converted and published, will I enjoy the discovery process as much? Will Amazon have an algorithm that shows me stuff I read long ago if I switch to vacation mode? Maybe. But somehow I doubt it will be as much fun as just wandering shelves of books.