Ruminations From the Western Slope

Ruminations From the Western Slope
Colorado River near Moab, Utah

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Pulps

When I lived in Redding, California in the early 90s, I frequented Cal’s, a used bookstore ensconced in an old warehouse south of town on old Highway 99. Old Cal had pretty much retired from the business and left as his charge a young, hip fellow named Steve to more-or-less run the place. The cavernous building held thousands of books and ephemera, most of it organized and shelved from floor to ceiling. Also included were bins of old vinyl, comic books, and an herbal store in the back....a rather eclectic and hip little establishment.

There was also a large loft where dozens of boxes of uncatalogued titles were strewn about. Due to safety issues with the loft, they were largely unavailable to the public. But one quiet Sunday morning I showed up early, and Steve allowed me to climb the wooden ladder and hang out in the loft for awhile as long as I kept a low profile. That was pretty easy that morning as no one else was in the shop. Steve had the Grateful Dead playing on the sound system while I scurried up the ladder into no-man’s land.

What awaited me there was a wonderful world of pulp. Hundreds of paperbacks from the 1940s and 50s. Dell, Avon, Popular Library, Bantam, Ace, Pocket endless array of racy covers and lurid texts. As I sat amid the piles of paper, I was transported back to another time and place, smelling the musty odors and feeling the tactile old paper beneath my fingers. In no time at all, I had loaded up with several dozen titles which I bought for $2 a piece.

Not long after that, when I got a hold of a price guide, I found out just how valuable some of those titles had become, and thus a great and rewarding hobby was born. I learned about how some of the paperbacks were valuable because of the cover art; others because of the authors which might include the more well-known pulp writers such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ellery Queen. But also the cult favorites like Cornell Woolrich, David Goodis and Jim Thompson.

Apparently some one else got a hold of that price guide as well because when I returned to Cal’s some months later, the pulp titles had been all sorted, shelved and were priced appropriately. Some one had figured it out. Since that time however, I have acquired well over a thousand titles through yard sales, online auction sites, library sales. And I still get a good deal once in awhile. And I still get a thrill out of a really great find. I cannot really explain the appeal of these aged books that originally sold for 25 cents and were never meant to be sophisticated entertainment. But they capture an era and a feeling for the pop culture of the time. And they are little works of art in themselves.


  1. I'm going to comment again to try out the new settings...