July 26, 2023

Read anything interesting lately?

Remember those ads in the middle of TV Guide where the issue was stapled together, ads for the book of the month club or the record of the month club or a plastic model of the Apollo spacecraft, printed in color on heavier stock with a perforated reply card? Sure, we all do! If you're like me (and, once again, I hope you aren't), you probably found it hard to resist tearing out the card, folding it back and forth along the perforation until it came off without tearing the rest of the ad, even if you didn't have any intention of sending it in. (I used to use them as bookmarks.)

It's always fun to find one of these intact and unmarked in an old issue. It's another of those time capsule deals; it's fascinating to look at an ad for a book club and see what kind of books people read: how novels weren't all action or adventure or romance but actually dealt with ideas; and how nonfiction books were about history or biography or the works of Shakespeare. And people actually read them! (Or at least impressed their friends, who would think they had read them, which is interesting in and of itself.)

The issue of July 20, 1968, which we looked at last Saturday, has one such ad, and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at it. How many of these books do you remember? 

Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls was a big best-seller back then; there was something scandalous and forbidden about it, even though Truman Capote supposedly called it "typing, not writing." E.M. Nathanson's The Dirty Dozen had just been turned into a movie the month before, so a lot of people would be interested in the book. There are classics like Gone With the Wind and Of Human Bondage, authors like John O'Hara, Catherine Marshall, Chaim Potok, and James Jones; favorites from TV like Art Linkletter and Alfred Hitchcock, and Bruce Catton's Civil War trilogy. There's true crime: books about high-profile accused murderers like Carl Coppolino and the Boston Strangler. And you can't beat five for 99 cents!

My mother belonged to a book club, so I recognize many of these books. Back then I read everything I could find about World War I flying aces, and Eddie Rickenbacker was an early hero of mine, so she got the Rickenbacker autobiography you see on page one. (I still have it, too; it's a fascinating book.) She also had Michel, Michel; I never read that, but it's the kind of story you don't see much in novels today, about a Jewish boy raised as a Catholic in World War II, who now has to decide which faith he will follow. I don't recognize any others, but I know we had many; several of the JFK biographies that were written in the aftermath of his death (my mother knew I'd be interested in them someday), and novels like Paradise Falls and Five Smooth Stones. I don't know what they were about, but I remember the spines. Again, a look at a time long past.

So what about you? Did your family belong to a book club? Did you read any of these? TV  


  1. I didn't join a book club back then, but I did succumb to the temptation of 12 free LP records offered by Columbia House, in exchange for having to buy 10 more at regular (and inflated) prices. And it seemed like that obligation took as long to pay off as a college loan.

  2. By any chance, do you still have those old EQMMs I sent you all those years ago?
    Did you ever look at the back covers?
    Just for fun, dig them out and do that now.

    For many years, long before I started buying EQMM, The Detective Book Club owned the back cover (inside and out) - and continued to do so well into the 1980s.
    I never joined (I was still in high school), but I have to admit that I was tempted ...
    The DBC, as you no doubt noticed, had a deep connection with Erle Stanley Gardner:
    for decades they repackaged the Perry Mason novels, as well as "A.A. Fair's" Cool and Lam books, into well-designed multiple volumes, that must have looked really nice on family bookshelves (years later, I found a few of these in second-hand stores, and I can imagine what a whole wallful of them must have looked like).
    The DBC's basic stock was triple volumes of new mysteries by various other authors, which kept them in business for those same decades (I've got a couple of those, too).
    As for my family, they took Reader's Digest Condensed Books for a year of so, but lost interest and let it lapse (but that's another story).
    When I became an "adult", I did indulge in a book club of a sort:
    In the '70s, Fred Dannay and his publishers started Masterpieces Of Mystery, a collation of stories from EQMM's 30-plus year inventory, with editorial comments and author photos, all bound up in red-and-gold pseudo-leather binding - quite nice looking.
    I lost most of these in moves over the years - but in recent times, I've been able to replace the lost volumes from online sources, and I now have a sort-of complete set on my shelf here at home, a pleasant memory of my youth.
    Of course, there were other such clubs over the years, for devotees of all genres; I don't know how many of these are still in business, and I'm not inclined to find out, but there you are ...
    I could go into a whole riff on the overall collapse of the bookselling business in recent years, but why bother?
    When I was looking forward to my "retirement", there were still quite a few chain bookstores around, and here in Chicago we still had a few really good second-hand stores around; almost all of them went out of business right after I had time enough to get to them ...
    It's hot as Holy Hell here in Chicago, and I've had a bug all week, and the last thing I needed was to depress myself even more - meaning that I'd better stand down now ...

    1. Yes - still have them, but at your suggestion I grabbed one of them from the bookcase and really looked at some of those titles. Fun memories there!

      Speaking of Condensed Books, my mother subscribed to the children's version of that for me for a few years, which is how I became acquainted with David Copperfield, Treasure Island, and some of the classics. I always enjoyed the "grown-up" version of them, and again that's where I first read Arthur C. Clarke, Fawn Brodie, and others. I do prefer the unabridged books, though!

      We have some used book stores around here - not as many as I'd want, but it's still possible to kill some very pleasant hours with them, especially the ones that are old-school enough that they have cats living there.

      Hope you're feeling better, and it's cooled off a bit there. A bit late answering this, but when it's time to clean out the garage, it waits for no one.

  3. Belatedly (and just a bit off-topic):
    Just back from another look at one of those old EQMMs - specifically the June 1965 issue, which was the first one I ever bought new off the magazine rack at the drugstore (I was a high school sophomore at the time).
    This is where my path was set for life: the first Ellery Queen story I ever read was here ("The Gettysburg Bugle"); my first encounter with Fred Dannay's chatty introductions to the stories and their authors; and the other stories, of all kinds (including science fiction), because Fred Dannay took in all kinds of storytelling - this was a better literature class than the one I was getting at Oak Lawn High ...
    .... and on page 131, the capsule book reviews by Anthony Boucher, which set up yet another direction for me, which continues to the present day ...
    Here's another fun exercise for you; go back to that old magazine and look up that page; just look it over, and tell us if anything in there catches your notice, nearly 60 years after its appearance here.
    Have fun!

    1. You're not going to believe this, but we just finished watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People - both by le Carre - and I ran across the movie version of The Quiller Memorandum on YouTube. Then I open up to page 131, and the first review I see from Boucher talks about "the closest rival to le Carre." Who is it? Adam Hall, author of The Quiller Memorandum! Fitting, don't you think?

      You're right about this - he's also reviewing In the Heat of the Night before it's turned into the movie, a new book from Dick Francis, and a trio of stories from Artie Shaw. That's fantastic! Now that I have a little time to read, I'm going to keep this issue out and read the rest of it!

      I never got into reading magazines like this back then, and I'm sorry about that, because they don't make 'em like this anymore. Thanks again for giving them to me!

    2. You weren't into reading magazines like EQMM "back then"?
      Are you referring to 1965 (when you would have been in kindergarten), or to when you would have been my age, ten years later (mind you, 1975 was a pretty good year for EQMM too)?
      No matter, I guess; over that decade, EQMM didn't change all that much - some older authors passed on, newer ones came on board, features came and went ... and time marched on.
      I think the major change was when Tony Boucher died in early 1968; it took a while for Fred Dannay to find a really good replacement in Jon L. Breen (but that's another story ...).

      Anyway, I've been sorting through my old EQMMs (far from a complete collection - and could you imagine having 900+ old magazines lying around your house?), and a few random thoughts occurred to me:
      - Over the years, I managed to accrue several sets-within-sets of EQMM, in this wise:
      - The calendar year 1991, which was EQMM's 50th Anniversary: they put out thirteen issues that year, with tributes to many of the magazine's long-standing (and still-active) contributing authors, plus quizzes, pictures, historical articles, and so much more.
      - The year 2005, the Ellery Queen Centenary, marking the 100th birthdays of Manfred B. Lee (in January) and Frederic Dannay (in September).
      The magazine's format had evolved over time: Ten issues a year (March-April and September-October were double-sized), but each issue was EQ-centric, with stories old and new, plus historical features and reminiscences from older authors who knew Fred and Manny Back In The Day - a real feast for a long-term EQvian like me (history always was my favorite subject).
      Those are two examples, which I keep in special places here at home.
      I've got lots and lots of others ...
      Sometime in 2025, EQMM will put out Issue #1000.
      That one I'm looking forward to.


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!