This Curios post is prompted by the confluent arrival of two books related to two things I am fond of: pulp pocket editions and Shirley Jackson.
These are Ace pocket editions of Shirley Jackson’s Hangsaman and The Sundial. You probably know Ace, whether you know you do or not, and you probably know Shirley Jackson, whether you know you do or not. And if you don’t, I’m here to tell you you should.
Ace is a long-running publisher of sci-fi, fantasy, and dozens of other genres; one of many publishers, like Dell and Avon, of those cheap, thin paperbacks you’ve passed over in thrift stores and that most used bookstores (including us) have a box or two of somewhere. But Ace also published books that were just too racy or out-there for their times. They were the first to publish William Gibson’s Neuromancer, for example, and William S. Burroughs’s first publication, Junkie, was an Ace Double, a format that packaged two novels in one so that each side of the wraps was the cover of one of the novels. Their reputation was for publishing books that were considered trash, but in doing so they managed to rack up a remarkable list of quality authors and novels that more reputable publishers just wouldn’t touch (but they also published a lot of trash).
One of their other genre specialties was gothic or horror novels. And that’s why you may know Shirley Jackson, as well as why Ace published her. At some point in high school or college you probably had to read her short story, “The Lottery,” about a small town that performs a horrifying ritual sacrifice each year. If you didn’t have to read it in high school, here’s an MP3 of actress Maureen Stapleton reading the story. Many of her novels and stories have a grisly or gruesome plot point, like collective, ritual murder, though she manages them with a remarkable subtlety that is all the more disturbing for being so. You may also have seen one of my favorite movies, The Haunting, based on her novel, The Haunting of Hill House. The 1963 film was directed by Robert Wise, who also directed The Sound of Music and West Side Story, among other things. (Run with all speed from the terrible remake from the late 90s, also called The Haunting.)
We have some of Jackson’s other works on the shelves at Bibliohead, so even if you couldn’t care less about vintage pulp editions, you should stop by and give Mrs. Jackson a shot. Let Jonathan Lethem convince you, if I haven’t.
(Thanks for the page on the Ace Double version of Junkie goes to RealityStudio.org, an unbelievably useful, helpful, and friendly resource for all sating all your William S. Burroughs cravings.)
Curios is a periodic series about an interesting used book; rare or common, expensive or cheap, we hope it’s a book you didn’t know you were looking for.