Sunday, December 28, 2008

Raymond Chandler

One of the good things about running a used book shop is that I get first pick. And for a thoroughly addicted bibliophile, there is no greater rush to be had than ripping through a box of books that has just walked in the door.

It was, therefore, with no little sense of anticipation that I unpacked a box of books about two weeks ago. Really good stuff here. And a rare gem!

Somehow, this customer was able to part with a copy of Raymond Chandler's Trouble Is My Business, a collection of short-stories by a master of hard-boiled detective fiction. The stories collected in this volume (published by Vintage Books, division of Random House, in 1988) were written in the 1930s and 1940s and were originally published in the cheap pulp detective magazines of the day. Such august tomes as Black Mask (H.L. Mencken's rag), Dime Detective, Detective Fiction Weekly and Detective Story Magazine are represented. Obviously, in addition to some pretty neat covers, these magazines managed to publish some pretty neat stories. (By the way, I stole the above picture from the cover of the volume).

So I've spent the last two weeks of December wondering why I haven't read more--or all--that Chandler wrote. I've already added him to the list of People-That-I-Wish-I-Could-Write-Like.

And this gets my vote for one of the best opening paragraphs of all time:

"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot, dry Santa Anas that comes down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge."
--Raymond Chandler, Red Wind

Other great lines:

"She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket."

"She was the kind of blonde that would make a bishop kick out a stained glass window."

Just between you and me, I am not quite sure what either of those lines actually mean. But I know what Chandler was saying. Neither of them would make it past a copy editor today.

It doesn't take too much imagination to hear Humphrey Bogart when you read Chandler. It would probably be harder not to hear Bogart when reading that aloud.

OK, so maybe I won't shelf this book in the "Classics and Literature" section of the shop. But I do think this one will go in the "Recommended" section, right next to Robert Heinlein. And it won't be there long.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

50 Cents

It was just a day or two before Christmas. I was in the shop, running around finding books for customers, putting out fresh coffee and generally being trying to be a good little bookseller, when a young lady approached me and said, "You probably don't remember me, do you?"

"No, I'm sorry," I said. "I don't."

"I was here about two years ago and I bought a pile of books," she said.

I nodded and smiled. (I try to do that a lot.)

"When you had written them all up," she continued, "I didn't have quite enough money to pay for them all. So you told me to take the books anyway. You said that I should pay you when I came back in."


"Well, I'm here," she reported. And with that, she handed me two fresh, shiny new quarters.

"Fifty cents? From two years ago?"


I touched her arm and said, "You will sleep better tonight."

She smiled. "Yes, I will," she said.

"So will I."