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A number of friends have been asking me about ‘The King In Yellow‘, a series of short stories by author and H.P. Lovecraft pal Robert Chambers. I wouldn’t shut up about it when I read it several years ago, to their mild annoyance, but now that HBO show ‘True Detective’ has made mention of a Yellow King, suddenly they’re all TELL ME EVERYTHING YOU KNOW.

As I haven’t seen one second of the HBO show, I doubt anything I share would be informative, and still recommend reading the book. Do you like Lovecraft, but could do with toning down the purple prose, upping the human psychological factor, moving the action to New York City and adding in a different forbidden tome of mystery you must never read or you’ll DIE?! Then you will love ‘The King In Yellow!’  I’m not claiming any sort of high ground having read it sooner; heck, I only came across the book because it was the name of the last Dead Milkmen album. It’s a really great high gothic read, and I wouldn’t have come across it but for a bit of digging.

In that same spirit, a quick search on Project Gutenberg revealed Robert Chambers was as prolific as his other fiction writing chums, with 43 of his books available free. There’s the one tie I can make – a TV show with a name like ‘True Detective’ seems to directly reference the creator’s love of pulp genre writing. The sheer list of his titles is a joy in itself:

The Gay Rebellion

The  Crimson Tide: A Novel

The Tracer of Lost Persons

Police!!!

My friend asked ‘does it REALLY have three exclamation points?’ when I typed it out for them.
POLICE!!!
Yes.

In Search of the Unknown

Cardigan

Who Goes There!

The Slayer of Souls

The Danger Mark

A Young Man In a Hurry (wonder what that’s about)

Blue-Bird Weather

Quick Action

and the extremely exciting-sounding Adventures of a Modest Man.

Best of all, some out-of-context images from the above!

explosion of mammoths dancing with rage The Gay Rebellion

 

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Last week, killing time before a lecture, I wandered around the stacks of Columbia’s immense Butler Library. Each regular-sized floor of the building crams two ‘stacks’ in, low-ceilinged warrens filled with racks on racks on racks of every type and subject of book imaginable. Human presences are an interruption in the flow of books, and the absolute minimum amount of space possible is grudgingly set aside for moving through the shelves. Light is on an as-needed basis – tiny squares at the end of rows flick on a light for that row only, and only for 15 minutes. Footsteps and door slams from other floors echo up through old grates blowing stale air. It’s basically an ancient leather-and-paper scented horror movie set, and I immediately fell in love.

As I’d picked a floor, stack, row and shelf at random, imagine my shock seeing the very book I’d just given as a gift (and angrily realized I had no copy for myself to read at home (how do I do that so often?)), Julia Wertz’s ‘Drinking At The Movies’. My wish was granted by a giant sentient haunted library!

wertz

( it looks like it says ‘ButtStax’ on the right)

wertz2

I also found it hilarious someone at Columbia must have filled out all the paperwork and request forms to formally have this added to the library’s holdings. Looking around some more, I realized I’d wandered into the ‘comics’ section – they had EVERYTHING! All the Tin-Tins, even the super-racist ones! All variants and eras of Batman! The entire run of ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’! ALL OF HEAVY METAL!

heavymetal

Someone had to BIND THAT AND GOLD STAMP IT. A quick perusal and I found books by several people I know in real life:

A goodly collection of Tony Millionaire’s work:
maakies
(wait, was this donated by a ghost?)

Koren Shadmi and Dash Shaw:

korendash

…and Brendan Burford’s collection ‘Syncopated’ (Syncopated #2 was actually out at the time).

syncopated

Yes, I have access to ancient Medieval chapbooks, rare handwritten notebooks by prominent artists and scientists, and the full writings of the greatest philosophers in human history in every language, but the next months of my life will be spent reading all of ‘Madman’.

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This was another irresistible Strand Rare Book Room purchase, partly due to the bombastic, hysterical tone of the cover, and partly because it never, ever, ever acknowledges the GIANT elephant in the room. What might that be, you ask? Why, let’s look at the subheader there:

“THE GREATEST CRIME IN THE WORLD’S HISTORY”.

This book was republished in 1910. Wasn’t there maybe something, say, about 40 years earlier, that might have been just as, if not a tad more great in its magnitude of criminality and immorality? No? You sure? Okay then, onward and upward!

I don’t mean to make light of any form of slavery; the horrors that this book speaks out against are still going on today – if you’d like to see a modern take on the exact message presented here I recommend watching ‘Lilya 4 Ever‘. Human trafficking is a deplorable and shameful practice we all need to help eradicate, especially those of us in countries where these women, and yes, the majority of the victims are still women, are taken.

What gets me about this book is the thick layering of Victorian morality over the message, how once a woman ‘falls from grace’ she’s doomed forever, how she’s to blame for whatever happens to her. Hence the major focus being how to prevent women from falling in the first place, which happens to include bringing down traffickers and making sure ladies are aware of potential traps. Of course, once the trap is sprung, if they’re caught it’s their own fault.

Below is a gallery of all the images from the book – click for comments on each image and a larger view.

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I have a weakness for vintage detritus, especially old books. I cannot walk away from a library sale without at least one oddity otherwise destined for the dustbin.

Each is like an eccentric family member – charming, obstinate, a little worn around the edges, and most of what’s said is completely irrelevant save to them. Below are some of my favorites (click on any to see them larger):


This one deserves a further post; the author admits to a lonely childhood leading to friendship with the irascable prairie dog.


Oh boy! To think, one day women can treat the brave men who venture into space! Truly it is the most exciting profession for women, especially given the other options.


It seems to me this book will be read as long as bored teens continue not knowing how to use the card catalogue. THIS IS FLAGRANT FALSE ADVERTISING.


“Uh, sir, phrenology was dismissed as quackery 160 years ago.” “Of course you’d say that; you have the brainpan of a stagecoach tilter!”

In the realm of Absolute Bunk Studies With Awesome Graphics, Phrenology ranks second only to Alchemy.


I wish I could say this is the only romance novel involving Laird title claims and psychic peasantry written out entirely in a bad Scottish burr, but I’d probably be wrong.


Even the cover color scheme is patriotic! USA! USA! USA!


From the co-founders of the Campfire Girls and authors of ‘The American Girl’s Handy Book’, this charming tome is filled with all sorts of crafts and games kids can make and entertain themselves with.


This sounds exciting as watching slides of your friend’s visit to the DMV.


Doesn’t Rip look like he just woke with a wicked hang-over?


Wait, what?


(Psst, it’s that way).


Apparently they’re really into parasailing.

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Bluebeard

A tragedy of being a teacher’s child is seeing beloved childhood books brought into the classroom and destroyed over time by thoughtless students. One year they’ll scribble on the illustrations with pink crayon. Another year someone will pencil in everyone eating penises or saying ‘UR A FAG!’ The book’s spine is cracked after being opened halfway and slid under a desk to stop wobbling. Strange sticky patches accumulate. Pages get torn out, half-ripped, dog-eared.

There’s little to do but watch; classroom libraries are such sad, motley collections of library castoffs, archaic textbooks and cheap paperbacks it seems miserly to reclaim anything, and after just a year of abusive treatment most books are unfit for any other space (classroom libraries are the bottom of the barrel for books just like kindergarten toys are the end of the line for toys).

One rare exception was walking into a 5th grade classroom and seeing my copy of ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ nearly untouched (save for some girl repeatedly writing her name in red marker on the inside page). I snatched it off the shelf and was shoving it inside my already-crowded bookbag when the teacher came in and reprimanded me. Thinking fast and having excised many an age-inappropriate paperback from classroom libraries before*, I said the book was too violent for 5th graders, and opened to the story ‘Bluebeard’, illustrated by Gustave Dore, to prove it.

‘Bluebeard’ is one of my favorite fairy tales; with spousal serial killing central to the plot, it resists watering down and kiddie-friendlifying, despite the Grimm Brothers’ sanitizing effort. The teacher concurred it would traumatize the kids and said I could take the book back home. Excelsior!

*If you’re a teacher’s kid, your summer ends 2 weeks earlier than other kids. As soon as they open the school you’re drafted into classroom prep, including weeding and sorting shelf after dusty, crooked shelf of worn books. Some common offenders are below.

80s Romance Novels - Combining Class and Mullets
Straight Up Romance Novels
I never knew how exactly these ended up in elementary school classroom libraries, but without fail I’d pull several from the shelf every year.

The Mods!
The Woefully Outdated
Books having nothing to do with curriculum or the current decade. I pulled several science books from the shelves (and kept them, of course) that wondered if man would ever reach the moon.

Cinderella Nurse
Pulp Paperback
Combining the confusion of the Straight Up Romance Novel and The Woefully Outdated as to how the hell it got there.

Programmed for Love
Age Inappropriate
This is about as current as it got, bookwise. I just stacked these up for the 7th grade classrooms.

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