Friday, November 6, 2009

The Beginning


OK, this is my first attempt at a blog, not counting one I set up to publish some writings by my late mother, and I suppose I should go into a little background, assuming anyone ever reads this. I recently moved from my home of 17 years and in the packing process uncovered lots of stuff I had hidden away and had forgotten I'd owned. A box of old issues of the late JDM Bibliophile, correspondence from JDM's great chronicler Walter Shine, checklists of dozens of old pulp magazines, a VHS tape of Linda and A Flash of Green, and copies of the Shines' Bibliography, Rave or Rage and A MacDonald Potpourri. Needless to say, it brought back a lot of memories.

Back in 1973 I was done with college (temporarily, as it turned out) and, at a friend's insistence, picked up a copy of the first Travis McGee novel The Deep Blue Good-By. I was already a fan of Raymond Chandler and, to a lesser extent, Dashiell Hammett , and my mother was a voracious reader who made daily trips to the public library, and she loved mystery stories. Blue hooked me and I began reading the entire Travis McGee series in order, one right after the other, until I had reached the end (at the time The Turquoise Lament) and started looking for more. I was working at a local department store and was, after a few months, assigned to run the book and record department. Once every two weeks I would drive over to Cottage City, Maryland, where a huge book warehouse was located, and physically pick out books to stock in my department. It was here that I first saw, laid out along a small wall, every John D MacDonald paperback then in print. I felt like Howard Carter uncovering the tomb of Tutankhamen. I grabbed about ten copies of each title (enough to fill one wire wall bracket for paperbacks), put them in my cart and checked out. The books arrived at the store later that week and I began making room. Lots of other poor authors' works were relegated to drawers and to an upstairs stockroom, as I filled much of the paperback section with the works of MacDonald, arranged in precise order of publication. I purchased about five non-McGee titles for myself and waited to see if they would sell.

Boy, did they. Customers would walk up to the register with five, ten books at a time, remarking how they had been looking for this title or that title for years. Word spread and I started getting calls from all over the DC area asking for particular titles. One customer told me she'd been looking for a copy of Area of Suspicion for ten years (it wasn't that hard to locate!) My bi-monthly trips to the warehouse now mainly consisted of replenishing our MacDonald titles. Occasionally someone would be looking for something non-JDM we didn't have and complain about the space reserved for MacDonald, but our store was in a mall and I just sent them over to the nearby Walden Books. It was a fun time and I was amazed to see how my choice of stock could have such an effect on the store's book sales. It was also nice to have a ready, steady supply of titles to slake my thirst for more JDM. I made it through all of MacDonald's available titles in a little over a year.

In 1976 I met my future wife, we quit the store, and I left the MacDonald section to a probably bemused replacement.

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2 comments:

  1. Steve,

    I've been working on an essay on JDM for a book on southern detective figures and, in my research, I happened upon your blog.

    I'm utterly captivated by it. Your scholarship and interpretive analysis are so impressive and so important. Please keep it up! I'm making it a point to mention you in the essay! I think MacDonald will have a resurgence of interest in the not-too-far future and I'm very glad this will be here for the curious reader. And if I get a chance to teach a university-level JDM course, this blog will be required reading.

    Many thanks,

    Kris Mecholsky

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Kris. I'll get back to it eventually, I promise.

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