Stephen Osborne on Reading in Summer


Osborne remembers the mysteries and pleasures of reading used books in the summer sun @ Geist.

One summer day in the 1980s I discovered a used bookstore called Ace Books in a hole in the wall on Broadway in Vancouver. Ace Books belonged to the world of the illicit, the undergound, the seamy side of literature—comic books and dime novels, Westerns, crime, mystery (slightly more elevated crime), thrillers, sci-fi, romance, and drawers filled with dog-eared back issues of Playboy, Gent, Sir and other collections of what were still called men’s magazines in that epoch, the mid-’80s, before the big box stores destroyed the book trade as we had always known it.

I went into Ace Books that summer in search of novels by Raymond Chandler, author of The Big Sleep; Farewell, My Lovely; The High Window; The Lady in the Lake—to name four of the seven novels that were all that he had ever written and all that I would ever read, and which I had read more than once and which I would read again more than once in years to come.

Secretly I refused to believe that Raymond Chandler had written only seven novels. Every summer I would search out more copies, another mass market edition from the ’40s, ’50s or ’60s, of The Little Sister or The Long Goodbye or Playback, often with an unfamiliar cover, which would encourage me to think that perhaps I hadn’t read it yet, and then I could set out reading Raymond Chandler again as if for the first time. Cheap paperbacks at that time circulated through second-hand bookstores much like Ace Books, which smelled faintly of gym socks and high school locker rooms; there was nothing about Ace Books of the feminine, and now that I think of it, much of the book trade, at least in second-hand paperbacks, seemed to be mainly a man’s world; certainly the few women I saw enter Ace Books never stayed very long to browse.
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