The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Obscure Publications for Sophisticates

I found a few pieces of naughty book trade ephemera that I thought I'd share.

First this set of bookstore tickets / trade labels from The Coffee N' Culture Book Shop in Corydon, Indiana. Both were pasted into a 1964 Grove Press paperback of City of Night by John Rechy.
The upper label seems fairly above board, and even community oriented, since they produced the town's local paper.

Below that though is another label--same typeface, same border--offering "Obscure Publications for Sophisticates - Adults Only" with a PO Box in Denver, Colorado. I'm guessing the Indiana obscenity laws were strict and this bookseller had a little something on the side out of state and used this second label to inform worldly readers who were browsing things like the Grove Press.

Next this bound in subscription card "inaugurat[ing the] happy American exile"of the Olympia Press, found in a Bee-Line release of The Demon's Feast by Louise Walbrook in the Traveller's Companion Series:

(click for larger version)

I just listed a tall stack of the New York Ophelias and Traveller's Companions. Check them out if you're feeling sophisticated.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ipad Apps for the Anglophile

I was looking up a few references in Rob Chapman's excellent Syd Barret bio A Very Irregular Head and came across these Ipad apps for the Anglophile in us all.

First off, this digital version of the classic Pollock's Toy Theatre which lets you produce Monty Python-style, cut-out theatrical productions with authentic Victorian-era graphics.

The app is available here.

Next The Sun's App displays their famous "Page 3" girls in full 360 glory...and I think they give you a wink and a smile.

This put's Hot Metal's "Wobble-vision" to shame.

Here's The Sun page promoting the App (not sure about U.S. availability). Ironic that the Page 3 girls are now probably the most innocent part of the Murdoch media empire.

I'm sadly padless and haven't tried either of these, but between these and the upcoming BBC Iplayer App, I'm sorely tempted.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Classic Games as Classic Paperbacks

U.K. artist A.J. Hately has been designing covers for alternate video game manuals inspired by classic British paperbacks. It's a stunning series. Here are a few from some of my favorite games:

Katamari Damacy:

Super Mario Land

Shadow of the Colossus

The series continues on her Tumblr site, Wilderness as a Girl, and she has prints available.

I love that most of the books take their titles from literary-sounding game locations, characters or lines (and that the Katamari book has an intro by Myth of Sisyphus author Albert Camus).

Going to keep an eye on the series and spend some time picking out a print or two.

Link via Joystiq.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Paperback Review: The King in Yellow

So it's been a long, long time since I last checked in. Between malaise, time consuming freelance gigs, and attention drift to lower maintenance social media (and subsequent exhaustion with those), I've barely been able to moderate the comment spam without being paralyzed by guilt.

My schedule has opened up though and--now that I have something to link promote with my spanky new ecommerce site:'s time to dip the toes back in.

I'm going to start slow and just try to read and review one vintage paperback every one to two weeks.

My first:

The King in Yellow

The King in Yellow is a collection of short fiction published in 1895 by Brooklyn-born writer, Robert W. Chambers. The first four stories ("The Repairer of Reputations", "The Mask", "In the Court of the Dragon", and "The Yellow Sign") are linked by the recurring appearance of a notorious, suppressed play entitled "The King in Yellow," the second act of which will drive an impressionable reader insane.

This fictional work plays a varying role in each of the four stories. In "The Repairer of Reputations," the narrator--after a brain-scrambling fall from a horse--works with a mutilated dwarf to bring about the Imperial Dynasty in America and the reign of the King in Yellow. In a later story, the book merely sits on a shelf and is noticed with a shudder. Each successive mention of the book adds to a sinister alternate history that forms the backdrop to this collection.

Robert W. Chambers, a bestselling author in his time, is today remembered primarily for his influence on H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft discussed Chambers in his Supernatural Horror in Literature, paid tribute to Chamber's use of the book within a book with his Necronomicon, and directly integrated The King in Yellow--and his lost cities of Hastur and Carcosa--into the Cthulhu mythos.

Chambers' influence also seems clear in the work of Daphne Du Maurier, particularly "Don't Look Now" and her time travel romance The House on the Strand.

Chambers' style, in the four linked stories, is vivid and evocative. His writing feels less dated than Lovecraft's though the stories do have somewhat trite and predictable outcomes (or perhaps they have since become horror cliches). I keep emphasizing the first four stories because the remaining tales in the collection have no real connection to The King in Yellow. Two stories--"The Demoiselle D'Ys," and "The Street of Four Winds" are passable supernatural tales but with excessively romantic endings. The remainder I struggled with, finally flipping ahead to see if they became interesting but that didn't seem to be the case.

Reading this left me with several questions that Google and Wikipedia don't want to answer. Maybe there's a Chambers aficionado out there who can help me out?

1.) Was this originally published in book form? I see the 1895 first edition but I don't see any reference to earlier serial publication. It seems a very peculiar structure for a work conceived as a book. I did find one web reference to the non-KIY related stories being being added later but it wasn't sourced.

2.) Was this book a bestseller? I know a number Chambers' later romances became bestsellers but not sure about KIY.

3.) Are there earlier occurences of books within books that are haunted or drive the reader insane? The only thing that comes to mind is Don Quixote but it took a whole library of books on chivalry to drive him mad (and most of the name-checked titles were real). I feel like there must be something in Kaidan Japanese ghost stories at least.

4.) Lastly, where did Chambers live in Brooklyn? I always like to check out dead author haunts.

The edition I read was an Ace paperback (M-132) from 1965 with a cover painting by Jack Gaughan (based on Chamber's own design for the first edition).