Saturday, October 02, 2010

Paperback Throwdown

Something just a little out of my usual realm today: a journey through some paperback cover art.

I kinda sorta collect old mysteries, particularly Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Rex Stout, and a small handful of others, plus a few sci-fi books here and there. Most of these books are paperbacks, because a) I'm cheap, and b) they tend to be far more common than hardback editions. Paperbacks aren't as durable, of course, *but* they do have one bonus feature: while hard cover volumes tend to have long ago lost any dust cover and thus their original artwork, paperbacks can't ditch the original cover, for better or worse. They're stuck with their original artwork, cheesy or lurid or bizarre as it may be.

Old sci-fi paperbacks in particular are known for being...odd. There are many with strange, brightly colored covers, often with motifs that seem to have no real connection to the actual story. Heinlein covers tend to be especially odd, in my experience. This particular one is tame compared with the last library book of his I checked out. Woo-hoo for pink sea-dragons!
Time for the Stars

Then there's C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength. I've read this book practically every other year since high school, and I still couldn't tell you what the cover is supposed to be about. I mean...what's with the painting of what is apparently bouncing orange balls and bolts of flying black lightning? No clue.
That Hideous Strength

Mysteries seem to do different things by decade and depending on the publisher's whims at that point in time. There is a whole series of Nero Wolfe books with cover art that could *all* be titled "Still Life With a Gun". Usually a revolver, but not always. They liked to mix things up, those cover artists of old.
Homicide TrinityIn the Best FamiliesToo Many Women

My favorite in this series: revolver plus chocolate. Nice.
The Black Mountain

There's another whole series of Nero Wolfe books with gobs of fake blood as a major component of every single cover picture. Apparently there was a special on red paint that decade. Or something.
Three Men Out

Many of the older Agatha Christie covers go along with the classic Still Life With a Gun motif, though in painting form rather than photography. And no, I cannot explain the GIGANTIC syringe and watch and revolver on Appointment with Death's cover. Or maybe they aren't gigantic, in which case that's a very tiny maze and skeleton and gate and trees. I tried to figure it out, but it just gave me a headache.
Appointment With Death

Revolver and dagger and jooolry. And burning candle. All carefully balanced without falling over. And without setting the house on fire.
Double Sin

Because of the cover art, I sometimes end up with two copies of the exact same book. This is partly because it means I can't remember if I already own a given book, since they look completely different, and partly because it's just fun to compare. For example, here's an old copy of Agatha Christie's Ordeal by Innocence. It's very worn, but if you look closely, you can make out the sort of 1930s style car, the woman's elegant hair style.
Ordeal by Innocence

And, for contrast, another edition. Can you guess which decade this is from? (Nice hairdo, huh?)
Ordeal by Innocence (80s)

And then there is this little gem, one glimpse of which is sure to make a teetotaler of even the hardest drinking guest.
Third Girl

A closeup of the scary cover thing. Isn't she lovely?
Third Girl Scary Closeup

I'll finish off with a Dashiell Hammett cover, which I love just for its complete over-the-top-ness.
Dain Curse

It's like an old movie trailer in one image: "Guns! Girls! Fast cars! Kidnapping! MURDER!!!"


Anonymous said...

I have those covers for the Heinlein and Lewis sitting on my bookshelves. Their relation to the books is somewhat tenuous to say the least. A lot of the covers from the 60s and 70s remind me of TV show openings with images and music that has nothing to do with, or suggest, the show.

I envy you that copy of the Nero Wolfe "Too Many Women". It is one of the more fun stories and I have the book-on-tape but can't find a copy. It isn't one of the more recent reprints. Bummer!


Little Flower Petals said...

One of these days I want to sit down and make a definitive list of which Nero Wolfe books I do and do not have. I've picked them up in rather haphazard fashion over the years at library sales and thrift stores, and filled in some gaps after many of them were reprinted due to the recent TV series by buying a few (*gasp*) brand new. Agatha Christie's books are more consistently available, but I have a lot of gaps there, too, and a certain number of duplicates.

I also have partial collections of Mary Roberts Rinehart, Mignon Eberhart, Dorothy Sayers, and a few others, plus some "thrillers", primarily Alistair MacLean. I gave away a bunch of his books in a recent move and I'm kicking myself for it....

If I happen to see an extra copy of "Too Many Women", I'll have to grab it for you!

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, You're a peach to offer to look. All the used copies on B&N and Amazon are $25 and up and that's too much.

I've read most of the MacLean books but only kept a few. Same with Agatha Christie and others. Just lack space. We have our books down to about 1,500 and that's after giving away several hundred. I did get the entire Nero Wolfe collection on DVD, which is unusual, but the series was so good I don't get tired of it.

I do have all the books by Heinlein and Clive Cussler but we have to be selective in what we keep these days. Even in retirement I don't have time to read everything. And October is the month when I do my annual reading of Lord of the Rings, Which I've done since 1965.


Duffy Moon said...

I have that same Lewis paperback ("That Hideous Strength") at home. Had it since I was a teenager, some -mumblemumblemumble- years ago. I've read it about 18 times, and I still love it.

But, yeah, the cover is completely bizarre in its vague inexplicableness.

Justin said...

Those are pretty awesome covers. Although most of my book collection is comprised of paperback (trade paperback, mostly), I don't think any of them look quite as cool as the two-faced girl or the last one by Dashiell Hammett.