With my To-Be-Read Pile growing by the week, I can freely admit that I have a problem. Not necessarily a crippling addiction, but a fevered impulse that won’t allow me to walk by a used bookstore without stopping in and checking the stacked shelves of dog-eared and dusty fiction. When this happens, to make me feel less guilt, I often quote Harlan Ellison: “Who wants a library full of books you’ve already read?”
I even have dreams where I’m in a bookstore not on any map, and I get on my knees and unearth stacks upon stacks of horror and bizarre fiction that I never knew were written. Lovecraft’s rare collection of misanthropic crime stories he’d written during his brief stay in New York City. The post-war werewolf novel written by John Hawkes of ‘Beetle Leg’ and ‘Lime Twig’ fame. A pristine paperback of Shirley Jackon’s only science fiction novel, complete with cover art by surrealist Richard Powers. A perfect, unread copy of M.R. James’ ‘Even More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary.’
But as we know, the above has no place in reality, and the magic of discovering gems in a bookstore have mostly been replaced with pre-meditated purchases via the wide array of Amazon sellers. So it was with a sudden, joyous slap in the face (of my dreamscape clumsily stepping into reality) when I stopped off in Portland, Maine on my way back to Boston, and found a bookstore that could have been the same one I had once imagined in sleep; the same one in which I found a copy of William Burrough’s novelization of the Cronenberg film, ‘They Came from Within’.
In reality, the bookstore is called ‘The Green Hand’. Upon entering, I noticed the ‘recent arrivals’ section exhibited some interesting selections from Ramsey Campbell, a stack of post-war pulp paperbacks and other gems that I already owned but was surprised were there for the taking. Further down the aisles, I noticed a section behind the register cloaked in a clear plastic tarp. From my vantage point, I leaned in and spotted a few titles not obscured by the plastic, and realized that underneath was a gold mine. Eagerly, I waited for the woman at the register to ring up another customer, and when she was free, I blurted out words as if I were talking in code (excited, an understatement), and eventually managed to ask if I could sneak by and look at what was offered in the hidden section. I was afraid she would tell me ‘No’, that those books had already been bought and were on hold for somebody else. But seeing that I was quite enthusiastic, she smiled and told me that all those copies were ‘duplicates’, and pointed to the horror paperback section off on the other side of the store. And then the shakes started. The excitement was making my line of vision bend and sway as if I were on the doorstep of an oasis.
The Green Hand was like having a key to the candy store. I started with the A’s, skipped over to the S’s. Pulled books out and placed them back in, leaving them an inch out of the shelf so I wouldn’t forget it was there for a potential purchase. At one point, I had two stacks of paperbacks totaling twenty plus. But thankfully I ended up using restraint, such an elusive thing to me, and came away with:
The Bloodwind – Charles L. Grant, For Fear of the Night – Charles L. Grant, Shadows 1 – ed. Charles L. Grant, The Elementals – Michael McDowell, The Cipher – Kathe Koja, Darklings – Ray Garton, Meta-Horror – ed. Dennis Etchison
Today treated me well for my ‘original horror paperback’ passion. I felt like it was 1986 all over again and I was that young, awkward Doug ogling the lurid and grotesque paperbacks lining a wall at Waldenbooks or Barnes & Nobles. This was back in the day when the ‘Horror’ section was madly blooming with scores of novels and collections. Some were bad, of course, some were given the most expolatative covers imaginable – some horribly tacky and some downright fucked up, some even artful, dare I say.
So the point of this entry is not to say that my mad love of books is currently focused on the horror paperbacks of my youth, but that ‘The Green Hand’ is a wonderous place where the genre still has a warm, thriving home. This isn’t the type of bookstore where a lone horror paperback is stuffed within shelves crowded with cut-out copies of modern medical thrillers and romance titles where all the covers look alike; red high heels and even redder lipstick kisses. This place is one of my new favorite spots. Hands down. And it’s all thanks to the owner, Michelle Souliere. For fans of genre ‘with eclectic interests’ should keep in mind that anytime you’re in Portland (or in the large state of Maine, for that reason), you should do yourself a favor and stop into ‘The Green Hand’. Maybe you’ll be like me and have that eager, and nearly hallucinatory, moment that you are in a place you wished were closer to home. And even though you may not find those unwritten books from your subconscious mind (Flannery O’ Connor’s decadent vampire novel, perhaps), you’ll still find some nuggets to bring you back to a different time of literature when the industry seemed healthier, and maybe a bit more eccentric and unabashedly pulpy, than it does today.