The most prevalent trait I’ve noticed about the older used bookstores – beyond the fact that I think I want to be buried under one if my time comes before I can be uploaded into a HAL 9000-like consciousness – is that they’re usually full of books that no sane person would likely have an interest in reading. You know the ones I’m talking about – the torn dust jackets, yellowed pages, cover designs that are nauseatingly old-fashioned with retro fonts. These are the books that you marvel ever got published, and which exist more as historical curiosities than actual literature.
And for the past few months, these books have been cataloged online throught the efforts of Awful Library Books. Started in April by Michigan librarians Mary Kelly and Holly Hibner, the site lists the older titles that public libraries still have in stock and which likely haven’t been checked out since the Ford administration.
This is a great site for two reasons. First of all, the breadth of titles they come up with are hilariously out of date, and in some cases shockingly un-PC. They evoke some sort of Brady Bunch-esque idealized view of their readers, and I’m sure if you were to open them up the language would be equally outdated. Don’t believe me? Here’s an example of some titles:
Don’t exactly look like the titles that’ll fly off the shelves, do they?
And that leads me to my other observation on this site – the books covered are silly and clearly for a past generation, but there’s something to be said for their nostalgia/camp factor. At some point, someone not only thought that producing these books was a good idea, but there was an audience of people who bought the titles and discussed them in the same context I and other critics discuss books. It makes me wonder how twenty years from now some of the glossy political books or mass-market paperbacks will be viewed by the enlightened next-generation Kindlebots.
It’s important to appreciate one’s literary past, no matter how strange, and ALB is a site that has that quality to spare. In their posts, Kelly and Hibner both are clearly very fond of their research material, and their judgment on culling the books from shelves is tempered with their gentle mocking of the subject matter. They’re not as cynical as I’d likely be, but in our world of shrinking literacy a little affection is a welcome quality.
So, I encourage all of you with a fondness for absurd titles – check this site out, and if you happen to have a particular title on the shelf send it their way at firstname.lastname@example.org.