The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Sin Merchant

Lately my specialty has been sex / sleaze paperbacks from the 50s and 60s. They're great fun and they are sought out by a variety of collectors. Some purchase them for the camp value, many collect the writers who pseudonymously churned these out, plus the covers are excellent examples of poverty row graphic design.

Robert Silverberg (as Don Elliott, Loren Beauchamp), Donald Westlake, and Lawrence Block (both as Andrew Shaw) seem to have produced hundreds of these on their own. Harlan Ellison also did a few; Gore Vidal and many more.

Paperbacks from this period were some of the first to address gay themes and other taboo subjects. While they were almost never positive or approving of alternative lifestyles they were at least portraying gay and lesbian characters and helping to create and support a subculture.

I have read a few of these that caught my eye. Mostly the ones set in New York City, written in hipster slang. They aren't necessarily high art, but because the writers didn't have their name on the book, and they had to turn them around quickly to make a decent buck, they are remarkably free and spontaneous. This was the passage that caught me from Sin Hipster by Don Holliday:
"There is nothing on Earth so abominable as three drunken sailors staggering through Greenwich Village, whistling at girls, talking loudly, their ridiculous hats tipped far forward and their necks strained backward so they can see despite the hats; pretending they are worldly men of the sea...One sailor alone might be all right, might know a little something. And two sailors, well, perhaps they are good friends and are looking for something together. But three sailors....what can one say? Hence three white suited abominations swagger through the streets. Something, somewhere must be wrong with the navy."
This novel also feature a bitter bookstore clerk with a nymphomaniac girlfriend nicknamed Mechanical Annie, endless parties, and sex scenes that are more imaginative than the usual (which tend to be of the "my hand moved ever lower across the smooth white mounds of her buttocks" variety). Highly recommended.

There are many resources if one wants to start a collection of these books. Strange Sisters is a cover gallery of lesbian themed paperbacks, Paperback Parade is a bi-monthly print zine that publishes carefully compiled lists of collectible titles plus interviews with authors, artists and publishers from the golden age of paperback publishing.

Enjoy! Just don't blame me if you get all sin sick and join the lust lost.


John Klima said...

Don Elliot is a Silverberg pseudonym. In my library's book sale they have an Elliot book called THE SIN SWITCH for 25 cents. I've been tempted to pick it up about every other day.

Maybe tomorrow I'll bring a quarter to work?

William Smith said...

Grab it Mr K! Besides you don't want the kiddies to get their hands on such filth. A lot of the pseudonyms belonged to the publishers and a multiple writers used them but "Don Elliot" traveled to different houses and I believe was mostly Silverberg. I haven't read that much of his SF actually but you might be able to tag his style. According to Author pseudonyms

Silverberg went under:
[Gordon Aghill, Robert Arnette, T.D. Bethlen, Alexander Blade, Ralph Burke, Robert Burke, Walter Chapman, Dirk Clinton, Walter Drummond, Don Elliot(t), Richard Greer, E.K. Jarvis, Ivar Jorgenson, Warren Kastel, Calvin M. Knox, Dan Malcom, Webber Martin, Ray McKenzie, Alex Merriman, Clyde Mitchell, David Osborne, George Osborne, Robert Randall, Ellis Robertson, Eric Rodman, Lee Sebastian, Leonard G. Spencer, S.M. Tenneshaw, Hall Thornton, Gerald Vance, Richard F. Watson, L.T. Woodward MD]

More aliases than a CIA agent.

John Klima said...

I took the dive and parted with my quarter this morning. I am know the 'proud' owner of THE SIN SWITCH (it's about swingers)!


William Smith said...

Excellent John. Now cover it in a plain brown wrapper and report back.