Simple Book Pleasures and the Glint of Gold.

I admit that it’s a bookish pleasure, but I love the fact that the books in the stack over there on the counter were in the hands of their authors: Gore Vidal, Joyce Carol Oates, and Joseph Heller. (I should point out that the fourth book in the stack – Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens – was NOT in his hands, as he was about a century gone by the time this fine-binding edition was published.)

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I remember seeing Gore Vidal debating/arguing with William F. Buckley, another intellectual with an aristocratic demeanor that was reminiscent of colonial-era gentry. (Incidentally, Gore wasn’t his real name: he was born Eugene Louis Vidal, but adopted the moniker of his grandfather. Thomas Pryor Gore was a US senator from Oklahoma at statehood and was reelected in 1931.)

I don’t remember Joseph Heller, but I remember well his book CATCH-22, which was popular enough that its title entered the English lexicon to describe an impossible situation. In the book – which followed a group of wartime pilots – anyone who was legitimately crazy was excused from flying a mission. The conundrum (the CATCH-22, if you will) was that if someone applied for a mental deferral they were considered sane enough to be worrying about their safety, and therefore would be required to fly the mission.

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Joyce Carol Oates was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize several times, and her novel THEM won the National Book Award back in the sixties. It wasn’t too much later that Franklin Library published the fine-binding book that I now have a copy of, which she signed with an unfashionable ballpoint pen.

For those of us – mere booksellers and readers – who will never bump into these famous literary figures, holding a book they personally signed is a particularly nerdish thrill.

These beautiful volumes are part of a Deep-South estate brought to Oklahoma and now residing on the shelves here in the shop. There are a good many signed books, beautiful fine binding copies that certainly must have been purchased as investment copies. They appear never to have been read – in truth, they appear never to have had their front covers opened. The edges are perfect, the 22K gold embossing is impressive.

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Some – like Jane Austen’s works and THE WIZARD OF OZ will not likely stay around long. People know that I’m not a collector anymore (Oh, I have a book or two in the office!) and I price these to sell by finding the lowest offered price on the internet, and beating it. The point being: if you know someone who appreciates leather-bound, fine binding books, this might be the time to take a look. I know it is plenty warm outside, but – believe me – cooler weather is inevitable, and the selection for gift-giving may not last until then.

There are dozens and dozens of books from the estate that are already shelved. Come take a look, and maybe sit down and have some lunch with us – serving a full menu daily from 11am to 2pm.

Come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 South Main St., Broken Arrow OK!

And Whatever walks there, walks alone.

“Fear,” the doctor said, “is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway.” And later, the doctor was gone, and “Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

I used to read books with eerie passages, like this one from author Shirley Jackson (I could give you the whole self-analysis rationale, but I’d rather you make it through to the end of this little note…). I don’t read them so much anymore. Like anything else – cars, movies, clothing – the offerings range from cheap and disappointing to over-the-top-stand-up-and-applaud good.

Shirley Jackson’s classic scary book, The Haunting of Hill House, is the PHD of Fright, the Mother Superior Sister of Sinister, and the Extension Ladder of top-level terror. But – it isn’t one of those with chain saws, fingernail-claws, or soon-to-be-toast teenagers muddling around in dark places.

When I finished the last page of Hill House, I shuddered like a Labrador just out of the farm pond. Wasn’t sure exactly what had just happened, but – either way – it was darn creepy.

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And there are plenty of people who reacted the same way. At its publication in 1959, the New York Times reviewer wrote of author Shirley Jackson: “In The Haunting of Hill House” she has produced caviar for the connoisseurs of the cryptic, the bizarre, the eerie, guiding us along the frontiers between commonplace reality and some strange ‘absolute reality’ of her own.”

Horror-master Stephen King calls it one of the most important horror novels of the 20th Century. And he ought to know one.

There are plenty of books on my “would love to have a 1st Edition” list – and Hill House is on it.

Again.

After years and years of searching (oh, there are a few out there for sale, but not in my price range), I happened across one that I thought I might be able to own. Thought about it. Thought some more. Finally, I decided I wasn’t getting any younger, and made the commitment. Felt like a kid with a new grape sucker when it arrived in the mail.

Wrapped the dust jacket in protective archival plastic and put it lovingly on the shelf, where it has been for the past six weeks, and where I have visited it – more than once. Showed it off to my daughter on Monday and asked her to take custody of it in the event of my being run over by a bus.

Yesterday, the book appeared on the checkout counter. Without my putting it there.

When I looked up, there was a somewhat familiar face – a customer who has purchased a number of collectible books from me over the years. I removed the card that indicated the price, and tilted it in her direction.

She nodded and said, “I’ve already talked to my husband about it. I told him some of my college text books cost this much, and where are they now?”

I had to agree, and – although my heart sunk just a little bit – I rang up the sale and gently placed it in a bag.

It’s sort of a running joke – that the books in the shop are a bit like my orphans and it is my duty to find them good homes. I know this one will be well taken care of and appreciated for the special volume that it is.

Would like to have gotten to know that particular book-child o’mine a little better though! In the meantime, I’m back on the hunt for another orphaned copy of the book…which is okay, too. I love a good safari!

We’re serving up some hauntingly delicious fare at lunchtime tomorrow, so…

Come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 South Main St, Broken Arrow, OK!

And now, I can visit only in thought and memory…

We can’t know everyone, and most of you will not have known Rick. He was the one dressed only in a tin-foil diaper, appearing at the stroke of midnight as the Baby New Year at a party in his senior year at high school. He was the fellow who would do something like that and think only – What larks!

That served as my introduction to the real Rick Smith, who at the time was a part-time DJ at KTMC in McAlester, where I was working afternoons. Many years later, when I returned to the station as manager, I hired Rick to work morning drive. By then, we were good friends and had a long history as such.

As an ice-breaker at the first staff meeting, I offered a fifty-dollar bill to the person with the most “unusual” item carried with them in their purse or billfold. There were some surprising things produced, but the staff agreed that carrying a folded picture of tennis star Chris Evert was unusual – to the point of being somewhat bizarre. Rick got the fifty.

He was never shy about his enduring crush, although I never did know the basis for it. Rick – over the years – kept company with some of the most beautiful women, and I teased him that his search for the perfect woman in his life should start with his tossing out of the folded Chrissie Evert.

When Rick and I called each other “brother,” it was not slang, but a term born of fraternal affection, as of adopted siblings. Often, Rick was “me brogie” – my corruption of Brother and Droogie, from Alex’s description of his henchmen in A Clockwork Orange. As a fun-loving droogie, there was none better than Ricky T.

With younger brother Robbie, we made the small town night life circuit, which mostly consisted of young men sitting or standing and looking at sports on wall-mounted televisions. We were cavalier in our regular weekly forays, but it was Rick who was in his element. He had DJ’d at a local spot – Crazy Uncle Alberts – and perhaps it was that experience that worked to his advantage.

Once, I arrived at the radio station at sign-on time, only to find him in the parking lot with a young woman sitting behind the wheel of a car I did not recognize.

Forgot my keys, said Rick. He grinned and scrambled out, and we hurriedly got the lights and the transmitter fired up.

He took a fill-in position at K95FM in Tulsa when I was news director there, and Paul Langston put him on a weekend shift at the oldies station to get him more hours. Steady work never did come to pass. I don’t remember how the opportunity arose, but Rick came into his own when he joined a station group in Grand Junction, Colorado. The town was small enough for comfort but cosmopolitan enough to draw vacationing A-Listers.

His quick wit always at the ready, Rick immediately became a recognized character about town, hailed and hand-shaken as we entered a popular restaurant when I visited one summer. Once settled in, he pointed at the door and described how he had once pulled open that very handle and barreled in, nearly knocking down a woman who was exiting at that same moment.

It was Chris Evert.

In the company of Elton John.

Because we were brothers, Rick admitted to me that he had once rehearsed a series of lines that he intended to use in the event that he should ever meet Ms Evert (I almost typed “ran into her” – but that would have been too literal). He confessed that he was completely overwhelmed and rendered speechless when the event actually occurred and that he only managed to mutter something apologetic and largely unintelligible.

But he HAD met her, he maintained with pride.

It might have been a long-lived career in Colorado for him, but his health took a sudden and serious turn that kept him off the air long enough that his position was filled. When he called me, he had just taken a fall and injured his wrist along with his pride.

By then, I had left broadcasting after a twenty-year career, and was working as an apprentice cook, with the idea of opening a restaurant. I convinced the owners to hire Rick as a line cook and that between the two of us, we would produce the work of three employees. They fell for it. And we made good on the promise.

Even with one arm in a sling, Rick became efficient at the grill, and – to both of our surprise – he enjoyed it. When his mother’s health began to fail, Rick moved out of my guestroom and back to McAlester to help in her care. There he continued to spend time cooking in addition to some microphone work at some of his old haunts.

My plan was to take a sojourn down that way, to reconnect and reminisce, someday soon. Alas, I have delayed too long.

But I tell you, brother, all it was – was that I was young. But now as I end this story, brother I am not young, not no longer, oh no. And my brother has passed from this life.

Where I itty now, O my brothers, is all on my oddy knocky, where you cannot go. Tomorrow is all like sweet flowers and the turning young earth and the stars and the old Luna up there and your old droog, all on his oddy knocky seeking like a mate.

Sleep well, me brogie.