Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Needful Things: Pulp Novels for Your Refrigerator

If you've got any pulp fans whose stockings need stuffing, or if the front of your fridge is decorated solely with the free magnets from your local pizza joints, get your wallet ready. These retro-cool magnets sold by Auntie B's Wax are well worth the five bucks.

I Wake Up Screaming, and then I head to the fridge.

The 3 1/2" magnets are custom-made, so you'll have to nab your favorites fast. Many of the designs  are listed as "only one available." There are plenty of cover art reproductions with a high sleaze factor, like Sin on Wheels, Quickie, and Teacher's Pet ( "Judy stayed after class for special tutoring ... and earned her diploma the easy way!")

Some of the cover art magnets from Auntie B's Wax.

Mystery fans will probably appreciate the fact that a few of the magnets, while bearing hilariously vintage cover art, represent some books with worthwhile content. Cornell Woolrich's I Married a Dead Man (written as William Irish) is an excellent read, despite the goofy ghoul on this particular edition.

From book, to film, to refrigerator magnet.

Check out the full collection at the shop.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Free Bin: Gross Library Books, Boxing and Noir, Man Vs. Corpse

Welcome to The Free Bin, collecting recent links from around the web about books and other topics that strike my fancy (sometimes simply because the writing is excellent). Rummage around; you’ll probably find something good.

The greasy burger fingerprints are the least of your worries. (via Flickr, Creative Commons License)

  • An Italian TV station is debuting a reality competition show for writers, with the winner receiving a major book deal. The contestants on Masterpiece will be put through a series of writing challenges, but there’s no word yet on whether or not people really want to watch the writing process.

  • Boxer-turned-writer Barry Graham has a fantastic essay about boxing and noir, and what makes them both so compelling. (“If you think boxing is only about two men trying to hurt each other, you probably think Moby Dick is about a bunch of guys going fishing.")

  • Speaking of noir, this piece on Linda Darnell, part of Criminal Element’s Hard Luck Ladies of Noir series, is one that will stick with you. The gorgeous actress’ life was, the site says, “a recipe for a full-tilt Hollywood tragedy.”

  • Zadie Smith has an evocative essay in The New York Review of Books about the Italian painting from 1500 called Man Carrying a Corpse on His Shoulders. It’s a longer read, so if have the “send to Kindle” function enabled on your computer, hit “print” and send it to your device to read later. (I love this function, especially for reading magazine pieces. If you have a Kindle and don’t have it enabled, you simply must.)

Did you find something worthwhile? Did you read something else online recently worth sharing with the Book Dirt crowd? Do tell.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Book Review: William Tell Told Again by P. G. Wodehouse

Most of P. G. Wodehouse’s work falls neatly into categories. You’ve got Jeeves and Wooster, Blandings, Psmith, the school stories, etc. And then there’s William Tell Told Again. Published in 1904, it was Wodehouse’s first published book outside of the public school magazine tales. (See the Book Dirt review of Tales of St. Austin’s.) Like the school stories, it was intended for young people, though it’s got plenty of dry wit and sarcastic historical humor that make it more in the vein of 1066 And All That than anything most young people would read today.

First edition of William Tell Told Again.

Wodehouse’s collaborators are a bit mysterious. John W. Houghton contributed rhymed verses that accompany the text, but information on him, outside of the connection with this book, is elusive. Philip Dadd, the illustrator, is somewhat of a forgotten artist, mostly because his life was cut short. Dadd (who worked mainly as Philip J. S. Dadd) was both a painter and an illustrator, and was contributing war illustrations to London newspaper The Sphere when he was killed in World War I action in France. His last illustration appeared just days later on the cover of The Sphere, along with the announcement of his death, and the fact that “his work showed great promise.”

Illustration by Philip J. S. Dadd.

The biggest mystery surrounding William Tell and All That, at least until just a few years ago, was its dedication. Wodehouse dedicated his many books to no less than 43 people, including his mother, his brother, and “That Prince of Slackers, Herbert Westbrook.” (The dedication in Heart of a Goof is perhaps the most hilarious: “To my daughter Leonora without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time.”) Wodehouse also  had many authors dedicate their own books to him, including Edgar Wallace, Leslie Charteris, and Agatha Christie, who dedicated Hallowe’en Party “To P.G. Wodehouse, whose books and stories have brightened my life for many years.” It wasn’t until 2006, though, over a hundred years after William Tell Told Again was published, that the recipient of the dedication “To Biddy O'Sullivan for a Christmas present” was discovered. Biddy, it seems, was the daughter of Denis O’ Sullivan, a largely forgotten actor and friend of Wodehouse.

Illustration of the hat Gessler makes his subjects pay respects in his absence.

The book tells the history of the Swiss folk hero William Tell, with plenty of embellishments and jokes along the way, and if all you know is the story of the apple, it’s pretty entertaining. While the hilarity is not quite as developed as Wodehouse fans know it will be later on, the author takes every opportunity to make cracks, some of them dark humor. He describes the brutal ruler Albrecht Gessler’s executioner:

“The Lord High Executioner entered the presence. He was a kind-looking old gentleman with white hair, and he wore a beautiful black robe, tastefully decorated with death's-heads.”

The following exchange, when some men volunteer to confront Gessler over high taxes, is pure Wodehouse:

"Now, sir, if you please. We are wasting time. The forefinger of your left hand, if I may trouble you. Thank you. I am obliged."

He took Arnold's left hand, and dipped the tip of the first finger into the oil.

"Ow!" cried Arnold, jumping.

"Don't let him see he's hurting you," whispered Werner Stauffacher. "Pretend you don't notice it."

Gessler leaned forward again.

"Have your views on taxes changed at all?" he asked. "Do you see my point of view more clearly now?"

Arnold admitted that he thought that, after all, there might be something to be said for it.”

William Tell Told Again is a quick read, and perhaps an essential one for the Wodehouse fan, as it’s so different from his other works—enough to be considered a novelty. It’s in the public domain, so free copies abound,  but try to find an illustrated one if you can, or, if you’re a true collector of things Wodehousian, nab a physical copy. There are some beautiful reproductions floating around.

Written for Friday’s Forgotten Books. Links to the other reviews of obscure novels can be found at Patricia Abbott’s blog.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Needful Things: Matches Made to Look Like Banned Books

The Out of Print shop is mainly known for its book and author-related tee shirts, but what’s really got me squealing right now is a box of matches. I’m a sucker for tiny things as well as setting things on fire, so these matches particularly strike my fancy.

Boxed set of banned books matches, from Out of Print.

The match boxes are made to resemble miniature versions of banned or challenged books. The set of five comes in its own little case for $8.00.

The featured titles are Slaughterhouse-Five, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Black Beauty, Song of Solomon, and—perhaps best of all—Fahrenheit 451. 

Each box/book has its own unique design.

Each box of matches is illustrated with lovely vintage cover art, and on the back, there's text with information related to that particular title’s controversy. 

Reverse of the match box for Black Beauty.

Buying a set of the literary matchbooks helps send books to a community in need, so order a few extra as stocking stuffers. (Ordering information)

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Free Bin: Book Slides, Googly Eyes, and Other Links

I’ve been pondering a name under which to gather the various links I come across on my lazy weekends. The Rap Sheet cleverly collects crime-related links under the title Bullet Points, and I wanted something that suited my blog just as aptly. The name I’ve settled on comes from my long tenure at a used bookstore, where the free bin outside housed a collection of books deemed unsaleable, but for those willing to dig, could be a treasure trove of the obscure.

So, welcome to The Free Bin. Take whatever you like. It’s free. 


  • Joshua Glenn at HiLobrow has listed 60 great espionage novels, along with some lovely vintage covers for each pick. Because it’s a list of personal favorites rather than a best-of, there are some wonderfully eclectic choices (including my childhood hero, Harriet the Spy).
    One of HiLobrow's top espionage novels.

  • Researchers have determined that there’s a single word that appears in pretty much every language, relatively unchanged. When you find out what it is, you’re likely to say “Huh?”

  • The Googly Eye Books blog at Tumblr is exactly what it sounds like, a blog, in their own words, “combining two of mankind's greatest achievements: literature and googly eyes.” It’s hard not to be fascinated by the collection of books, both classic and modern, adorned with pairs of sticky googly eyes. Well worth a couple of giggles.
    Sherlock Holmes gets the googly-eyes treatment.

  • At The Library Journal, The Annoyed Librarian explains to self-publishers why libraries can’t (and usually won’t) put their books on the shelves, and it’s nothing personal. The comments section has some interesting perspectives too, from both sides of the circulation desk.

  • Remember the time Columbia University moved its whole collection to another building by putting them on a giant slide? The Paris Review does, and they’ve got pictures, not just of that particular book slide, but of other book slides.

  • Shock Totem magazine is reading submissions through November for their fiction magazine (tagline: “Curious tales of the macabre and twisted”). They’re open to most anything dark, with a maximum of 5,000 words: dark fantasy, horror, mystery, suspense, supernatural, morbid humor. See guidelines for details and payment.

Check back or subscribe for regular links to book-ish and writer-ish things. And if you come across something nifty, don’t hesitate to let me know.

Have you ever found a gem in a bookstore free box? What was your best free find?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Book Review: The Imaginary Blonde by Ross Macdonald

“The Imaginary Blonde” is actually a short story, though you can buy it through Amazon as a 99-cent e-book. Whether or not you think that’s a good price for one story may depend on how much you like Ross Macdonald. As it turns out, I’m pretty glad to discover I added it to my Kindle some time ago, as the book I ordered for this week’s Friday’s Forgotten Books review didn’t arrive in time. While this story may have been a last-minute read, it was a worthwhile one, and a good introduction to Macdonald, or, if you’re already familiar with him, a nice snack-sized treat. 

"The Imaginary Blonde" first appeared in Manhunt in 1953.
When “The Imaginary Blonde” was first published in the February issue of Manhunt, Macdonald had less than a handful of novels under his belt. Top billing in the issue went to Mickey Spillane, while Richard Deming, Jonathan Craig, Fletcher Flora, and others joined Macdonald (still credited then as John Ross Macdonald) in smaller type. Individual copies of Manhunt can be pricey, thanks to the fact that some of the stories in them weren’t reprinted. If you’re dying for a paper copy of “The Imaginary Blonde,” you can save a few bucks by finding it in the collection My Name Is Archer, released two years later, and pretty common in paperback. The story appears there under the title “Gone Girl.”

The action starts immediately, and it’s clearly hard-boiled territory (“I was tooling home from the Mexican border in a light blue convertible and a dark blue mood.”) It was a nice surprise a few pages in to discover that this was indeed a Lew Archer story, not to mention a solid one. After Archer loses the car he’s tailing, he ends up sleeping in a border town motel, only to be awakened by a screaming woman outside the room next door, her hand covered in blood from what turns out to be a pool of it in the bathroom. With no actual body, the woman playing dumb, and her father (the motel owner) doing some obvious covering up, Archer has his work cut for him. He follows the trail of lies from lingerie shops to be-bop clubs to ultimately find resolution—and the body.

What’s niftiest about the story is how complete it is. Unlike some shorts, it’s not a fragment, but a complete detective story in miniature. It could easily have been expanded into a novel by further exploring some of the characters and locations, but it doesn’t seem like much is missing here, with one exception: the problem of the imaginary, or missing, blonde of the title is resolved rather quickly, and in a novel, it probably would have remained a plot point for much longer. Luckily, there’s still plenty more story to unravel, and it does so with plenty of good, old-school crime action: car chases, fist fights, bloody noses, and guns.

Archer is cool as they come, whether flirting shamelessly with the lingerie store clerk, or giving as good as he gets with the cool-cat jazz piano player who only talks in rhyme. After a tedious string of the musician’s sing-song jabber is going nowhere, Archer fires back: “Where did she lam, Sam, or don’t you give a damn?” Macdonald’s writing is equally deft when it comes to setting the scene with only a few words, for example: “The room and the furniture seemed to have been built for a race of giants.”

The only weak spot in the story is the fact that clues are sometimes easily come by, which may be the author’s way of condensing the mystery into a short story. While thought to be knocked out, Archer overhears some thugs talking, and it's the sort of conversation where every detail is revealed, along with the names of all the speakers. Earlier, a woman’s slip found at the crime scene is monogrammed not only with an initial, but with a full first name, if you can believe any woman ever owned lingerie with “Fern” emblazoned on the chest. Sure is handy for cracking cases, though.

Archer’s at his best when he’s doing the actual work, rather than having the clues delivered in tidy wrapped packages. He does get to do some of it in “The Imaginary Blonde,” but if you’re craving more? It’s time to break out one of the novels.

It’s Ross Macdonald week at Friday’s Forgotten Books. Visit Patti Abbott’s blog to find links to all the reviews.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Needful Things: Hitchcock Posters in the Style of Penguin Crime Novels

The handmade-goods website Etsy is better known for crafty things—handmade jewelry, quirky knitted caps, etc.—but now and then, I’m stunned by some incredible design. A prime example comes from a seller known as Grimboid, who sells posters through Etsy in a shop called Headfuzz.

Check out this one, an original design for Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window:

Original poster design for Hitchcock's Rear Window.

I’m particularly fond of the one above, as the film is based on a story by one of my favorite noir writers, Cornell Woolrich. The others in the poster series are equally great:

Poster for Rope. Note the modified Penguin Crime logo.
Dial M for Murder. I love the simple, but evocative design.

If you haven’t noticed, the posters are brilliant modern interpretations of the old Penguin Crime book covers, substituting classic crime films and directors for books and authors. Any true fan of crime fiction will remember them. The cover art was stark, and sometimes fairly weird. Here are some of my favorite covers to jog your memory:

Jean Potts' Death of a Stray Cat, Penguin Crime edition.
Sayers and Simenon.
Stark cover design for a Stanley Ellin novel.

These covers show some of the trippier Penguin Crime designs.

The prints come in several sizes, and can be made to order in any measurement. The seller offers a special deal on orders of three. Visit the shop for more information.

What film would you like to see in the style of a Penguin Crime cover?

Note on the new series:

As a book lover, most of my discretionary income goes towards books. Now and then, though, I get all a-swoon over things book related as well. I’ll be collecting some of them here, so if you’re on the lookout for bookish holiday gifts, keep an eye peeled for the Needful Things tag.