Nostalgia, we have agreed, is embarrassing. Maybe even reactionary. The notion that some fading aspect of this or that material culture—usurped by the web—is lost, and that that is a loss is, well, not the sort of thing to mention in mixed company.
Some of my best friends are Kindles.
The other day, I was at a library book sale and some of the not-really-booksellers with their price-checking tricorders were raiding the stacks, unafraid to put their shoulders past the too-slow little old ladies. One dealer smelled so strongly of hipster Kools I couldn’t stop glancing for a current cigarette.
The three left with four boxes of books. Dead faces, mute, totally uninvolved. They were all about my age. I knew that the books they took would show up online, priced several dollars below the books listed by “bricks and mortar” booksellers with the result that the first page of almost any book you care to search for consists of dollar paperbacks disclaimed as possibly underlined, highlighted, spine-broken, dog-eared, or dog-stained.
As I watch the slow disappearance of the used bookstores whose walls once gave up some overwhelming portion of every book I’ve ever read, I fall into the rut of lament. I can only repeat that online you seldom find what you weren’t looking for—you only find a search engine’s best guess. Finding what you were not looking for, creating the possibility you would find out what you did not already know: this is what the word browse meant and while, with skill, you can browse online, most of us—whether we admit it or not—are led exactly where we were already going to go.
Who can resist the flattery of the search engine?
Part of what this means is that many, many books no longer have any value at all—and will disappear into recycling. A while back I found a few bushels of paperbacks in a library recycling bin. They were unmarked, donations, but were adjudged to be worthless. I found a few things of which I’d never heard and a great many more by pulp novelist John D. MacDonald. My dad likes MacDonald and I pulled about forty titles back from the brink. Before I mailed them, I wrote down the taglines and titles.
We all know about pulp cover art, but here, like rubbings off tombstones, a fossil record of casually unacceptable social mores, and as ephemeral as salty candy, are thirty-one John D. MacDonald titles and taglines:
The Price of Murder
She was so alive and he needed her so badly there was nothing to do but to kill her.
A young widow turns up missing, and a whole town asks—
Where is Janice Gantry?
Dead Low Tide
The Brass Cupcake
With a girl like Letty, a guy never knew whether he was getting the brass cupcake, the gold ring, the wooden nickel, or the lead slug… until it was too late.
The town was sitting on some ugly secrets… and it took the murder of a teenage tramp to blow off the lid.
A tough man on a tough assignment in a town that knew how to handle strangers—and the local girls who took up with them.
All These Condemned
There was only one man she had ever made happy—the man who finally had the courage to murder her.
She was a sex kitten with the claws of a tigress. She was…
They were two nice people who hated themselves for what they were doing—and tried to call it love.
They said it would be like taking candy from a baby. Some candy. Some baby…
Judge Me Not
Everything they said about what she was and what she did was true.
The Beach Girls
Under the bright Florida sun, six willing girls would find love; one sinister man would find death.
A Flash of Green
Saga of a scandal-ridden town…
The Neon Jungle
Border Town Girl
There was no turning back for her.
Please Write for Details
The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything
One day with Bonny Lee was a like a three-year lease on a harem.
Cancel All Our Vows
A graphic, probing novel of desire, temptation, and infidelity.
The Empty Trap
Probes the steamy private lives behind the elegance of a resort hotel.
The master story teller in his most famous book.
Cry Hard, Cry Fast
A ruthless collision of passions.
Beautiful people—hiding an ugly secret.
She knew all about men and very little about murder. But she was willing to learn—for a quarter of a million bucks…
End of the Tiger
Murder in the Wind
Area of Suspicion
She had been all things to two men…
You Live Once
…and somebody thought that was one time too many for a woman with a haunting suspicion—and no scruples at all.
One by one the hold-up gang converged on the sleepy Southern town.
One Monday We Killed Them All
In just six days McAran tore apart the quiet world of Brook City, On the seventh he rested, waiting for the carnage that morning would bring.
A Man of Affairs
A book with a hero.