In a mostly futile quest to purge myself of repeated viewings of the same television shows and movies on Netflix, I've taken to lurking around used bookstores.
The purpose of this change in behavior is two-fold. There is the aforementioned desire to cease my incessant screen fixating and also a pathetic attempt at socializing. That "socializing" consists mainly of avoiding eye contact with the other hunched over misanthropes who hang around used book stores, save for the occasional muttered half-acknowledgment.
I'm fortunate in this new endeavor. I moved to Boulder County about a year-and-a-half ago after languishing for nearly a decade in an ill-defined geographical area I refer to as the Redneck Wasteland. Reading there is illegal or, at the very least, sternly frowned upon.
But here, at the base of the lovely Rocky Mountains, people actually read, and the half-dozen or so second-hand book stores I've found are a cornucopia of not-too-musty paperbacks for frugal consumer and not just a collection of dog-eared V.C. Andrews novels.
I went through a phase of trying to read classic literature — Hemingway and his perfidious aversion to adjectives, Orwell and his clean, clear copy so bleak and devoid of humor that it should be kept out of the hands of depressed teenagers. I bought a copy of "Moby Dick" but never read it, because I've already seen "Star Trek II," so I know how it ends, more or less. Williams Shatner is the whale, right?
After coming to grips with my own lack of culturing and refinement, I moved on to the mystery section, which is really a spectrum more than a genre. Some of it is real trash, not worth reading. Some of it also real trash, prurient but well-written and entertaining. That is what caught my interest, specifically, an imprint called "Hard Case Crime."
"Hard Case" has republished old, out-of-print crime fiction titles by writers like Lawrence Block and Donald Westlake. I had never heard of these writers and likely would have passed over them if it weren't for the book's artwork.
The "Hard Case" books, in addition to bringing obscure crime fiction back from the dead, has also resurrected lurid — at least by 1960s standards — cover art that would have come on pulpy books. Mostly it's cheap women smoking cigarettes and bad men in cheap suits.
Sure, it's not exactly high art, but I have been surprised at how well some of these writers can turn a phrase. As a professional writer (and obsessive compulsive) I can't abide bad writing for fear of contaminating my own.
"Hard Case" also offers new titles done in the hard-boiled tradition. Stephen King contributed one called "The Colorado Kid" which name-drops the Boulder Daily Camera. That filled me with joy upon seeing it as I read the book the weekend before starting at the Camera. It seemed like a good omen.
Clocking in at a brief 150 or so pages, "The Colorado Kid" was also the first Stephen King book I've ever read. The man can write. I just don't have 600 pages of time. I'm a busy man. Two hundred pages or less, please.
This is Bear's first column for the Daily. Come back on Thursdays to read more. Stalk him: twitter.com/johnbearwithme.