Five Things I learned during my first year collecting vintage horror paperbacks

Last Christmas I talked about Grady Hendrix’s wonderful Paperbacks from Hell and how it reignited my passion for those horror “trash novels” I read faithfully back in the ‘80s. Since then, I’ve been avidly searching for them online and on foot and can now boast a solid collection of 150 books; a number I hope to double by 2020. I’m also reading them again at a steady rate of two books a week which has not only proven a great way to unwind after a busy day at work but improved my attention span for more serious reading as well. Now, I’m not here to make scientific claims on the importance of mindless reading, but rather share updates on my collection and what I’ve learned since that Christmas 2017 post.

  1. The Power of YouTube

Okay, so you’ve read Paperbacks from Hell and are all fired up about collecting. How can you keep that level of motivation after it finds a permanent spot on your shelf? Fortunately, there are some wonderful YouTubers (actually, I believe “BookTuber” is the correct term) to inspire you throughout the year. I have two personal favorites; one of which is Cameron Chaney. Cameron is so dedicated to books, he’s convinced me to turn my living room into a makeshift library. In addition to more mainstream books, he does a regular series on horror which begins with a pitch-perfect montage of vintage horror paperback covers I could watch over and over. It’s so darn good, I wish he’d dedicate a video specifically on the books he used for it; especially since I’m getting tired of constantly trying to pause and read who the authors and titles are. Chaney’s collection of books is not only pristine but features a poster of The Uncanny X-Men which proves he’s got great taste. Hats off to his amazing channel!

Cameron Chaney

My other favorite channel is Paperback Mania featuring Leon the “Paperback Maniac.”  Leon regularly shares his latest finds; calling my attention to many books I’d never know existed otherwise. As the case with Chaney, Leon also highlights the various publishing companies, does reviews, and even discusses specific authors. I love a good “book haul” video and this guy delivers them faithfully. Both Leon and Cameron are younger than me and likely born around the same time these books were in their heyday. As someone who actually read them “back in the day,” it’s really gratifying to see younger readers celebrating these books; especially since they couldn’t get away with a lot of that material in today’s sensitive world. I just finished reading a book called Damon from 1976 and all I can say is OMG!!! Which brings me to my next revelation…

Leon the Paperback Maniac

2. Don’t read these books if you’re PC or even moderately put off by offensive material

The aforementioned Damon was a good read and had an interesting twist ending. That’s assuming you’re able to get that far having just read through a story about a sexually voracious five-year-old. In other books, such as William Johnstone’s Bats, the word “fag” is used; no, not from a bigoted character in the book but the narrative itself. Now I’m an openly Bi guy who understands it was a different age. I see it as evidence of how far we’ve come as a society. Like an ’80s slasher movie, these books can never truly be replicated in a more enlightened modern world, but boy does their ignorance often crack me up. You just gotta appreciate them for what they are.

The Spirits aren’t very PC in vintage horror paperbacks

  3. Paperbacks from Hell was a blessing…and a curse

The success of Hendrix’s book didn’t just inspire me, it created something of a movement. With higher demand comes higher prices, making it harder to find good deals. In fact, just about every used bookstore, I’ve gone to will have Paperbacks from Hell prominently on display. If you’re looking for a bargain, local libraries and estate sales are going to be your best bet – though every so often I’ve had success online.

A lucky cheap “lot” on eBay 

  4. Beware the Internet

eBay may be everyone’s primary hunting ground but it’s often a crapshoot. One of the most prolific sellers is thriftbooks who have multiple warehouses of stock. If you have trouble finding a title, chances are they’ll have it but proceed with caution. Although their books are fairly affordable, they rarely offer pictures and, when they do, it’s usually a stock photo. Their books arrive in a standard green, plastic envelope and I literally hold my breath every time I open one. 

Beware when a book is listed as “Good” or “Very Good” in their description because I’ve had ones I’ve paid $4 for that look great and others $20+ that were a hot mess. Oddly, it seemed the more expensive the book, the more likely it was going to look terrible. The most notable case was with a copy of Deadly Nature by V.M. Thompson. This was one I read back when I was in junior high and I even did a book report on it in English class. For nostalgic reasons alone, I was thirsty for a decent copy. I finally splurged on one thriftbooks listed as “Good” for like $30 – more than I’ve ever paid for a single vintage paperback. After it arrived, instead of warm fuzzy memories I was filled with anger. The book was torn in several spots, the spine had creases galore, and one of the center pages was sticking out as if giving me the middle finger. After a refund/return, I found another one a week later for ten bucks that a regular seller offered in much better condition.

Fortunately, thriftbooks is excellent regarding refunds/returns but, regardless, I now refuse to pay more than $10 for any book online unless it offers detailed photos, including the spine. That’s another thing I noticed, many sellers that do include photos conveniently leave that one out. For me, it’s the first thing I look for since it’ll be the most visible on my shelf. I mean, what’s the point of collecting these books if you can’t Golem-gaze at em on a regular basis.

My precious…

5. Shabby books need love too

I’ve always been gentle with my paperbacks but still get nervous reading one in good condition. Every once in a while someone on eBay will offer raggedy books dirt cheap. These “reader condition” books offer a chance to enjoy them without becoming a nervous wreck.

I displayed the book on the left and read the one on the right

Those are the biggest things I learned about collecting vintage horror paperbacks so far. Stay tuned as I share my next “book haul” a.k.a. my favorite book covers from titles I’ve obtained since my last “It Came from the Library” entry.  I’ll keep my horror book holiday tradition and post that on Christmas Day.

Dave~

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