Horror Drive-In: Ex-Library Books from Hell

Ex-Library books. They are the bane of collectors. You can hear howls of rage from sea to sea when secondary market sellers pawn them off as  “Very Good” condition. Ex-Library books are the red-headed stepchildren of the publishing world. I think they deserve a lot more respect.

It probably stems from my feelings toward libraries. I’ve always loved going to them. A giant building filled with books? That’s my idea of church. I even married a librarian (Hi Clara!). The library is my favorite charity and I support them as much as possible. Some might consider public libraries a trivial institution in which to donate, when there are so many people in desperate need in the world. I don’t. Libraries almost literally saved my life at times. When I had nowhere to go, no-one to turn to, I always, always had the library. Art, information, resources, entertainment, all that and more are available at the library. We need them like we need food, air, and shelter.

Libraries have many functions in today’s changing society, but their main focus is still books. And as we all know, books come and books go. In with the new and out with the old. So what happens to the literary orphans when there is no more room on the shelves in which to circulate them?

Well, the main way to disperse the discarded books is through sales. I never miss the sales when the local branches have them. Books are generally pretty cheap. A dollar a pop for hardcovers, and paperbacks are usually half that. But the library sales do not merely offer items that were withdrawn from circulation. The library is a popular donation site and people drop off the books they no longer have use for. Sometimes people die and their entire collections end up at the sales.

Even at rock bottom prices the books are often unwanted. Outlets like Better World Books sometimes take them and sell them at the online secondary markets, usually at very low prices.

After every effort to find new homes for the books has been exhausted, it’s off to the recycling center. Which I think is a shameful waste.

Sure, some ex-library books are falling apart, with split spines, loose pages, unidentifiable stains. Library markings can be way too obtrusive. Yes, I know that the books need to be identified and linked to the library they belong to, but sometimes the staff gets a bit too overzealous with the stamps, stickers, and glue. Other times the books are in very good to excellent shape.

We preserve the books as well as we can. You can never completely eliminate the library’s touch, but with care, patience, and Glue Gone, they can be restored.

These books deserve to live. Sure, I know that most everything is available in electronic form, but some of us still like books. Substantial books that can be held in the hands. That can be displayed with pride on shelves.

Over the years I’ve seen great books and authors disappearing from the library shelves. I hardly see books by Charles L. Grant or John Farris anymore. Some copies have found loving homes, but I am sure that others have been destroyed.

Think about it. Great books, stories that represent the lives and careers of writers who built the genre. Sturdy editions that will stand numerous re-reads. Lovely cover art, crisp folios sewn together, ink and cloth and paper joined together to make books. Stories to be cherished. Information and knowledge to be savored. Fun and laughs and love and terror, the fruit of imagination and endless hard work. Don’t these wonderful items deserve to be preserved?

Paperbacks are in vogue right now, thanks to an affectionate book by one of the brightest lights the horror genre has seen in ages: Grady Hendrix. You can hardly find old horror paperbacks in the thrift shops and library sales anymore. They are disappearing. That’s good, wonderful. I grew up reading mass market paperbacks, and I am grateful that new generations are discovering them.

Fans like it when the old paperbacks are bent, marked up, faded. They say it gives the books character. Why not the same for ex-library books?

I’d love to see ex-library books become as desired and hip as paperbacks currently are. Let’s face it. By and large, the better books were originally published in hardcover form.  They are our literary heritage and it’s time more people realize it..

Editor’s Note: This column’s author may be too modest to mention, but he has a huge new book out from Cemetery Dance (455 pages!) that collects a decade of his articles about the genre, covering movies, books, trends, and other issues that will strike the drive-in nostalgia nerve of CD readers. He Who Types Between The Rows: A Decade of Horror Drive-In is currently available as a trade paperback for only $18.99.

Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of TerrorSir Graves Ghastly PresentsThe Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon LoverThe Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. He can be reached at [email protected], and at www.horrordrive-in.com.

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