It may have been during the first episode of The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel that William Hope Hodgson’s occult detective Carnacki and the series of short stories he appeared in was mentioned.
This was before the documentary gave a little too much screen time to YouTube/podcast conspiracy theorists and deviated from genuinely interesting exploration of a mysterious disappearance and the creepy hotel where it happened, veering into that absurd faked moon landing Room 237 territory.
Or it may have been someone on Twitter who mentioned the stories, if I was scrolling while watching The Vanishing… because I can’t just let myself focus on one thing at a time anymore. I can’t find a tweet from anyone I follow about Carnacki from that time, although a couple authors have mentioned him before.
Whatever the trigger, the author’s name rang a bell. I remembered quoting him before. But I wasn’t familiar with what he’d written. Authors and titles all start to sound familiar after a while, and #gsbauthorquotes has only made the mountain of my to read pile even more dangerous to climb.
Maybe it’s been my recent interest in writing more horror or occult and supernatural themed stories, but the Carnacki stories in particular piqued my interest in a way they hadn’t a few years ago when I first quoted Hodgson.
I had to get a copy of the stories which were originally published in the illustrated magazine The Idler beginning in 1910 with “The Gateway of the Monster.”
In 1913, Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder was first published and included six tales. Three of the Carnacki stories were published posthumously, which led to debunked claims that two of them had been authored by August Derleth, the editor of the 1948 Arkham House edition. That edition was the first time all the Carnacki stories appeared together and further editions and collections have typically published all nine.
Hodgson was killed at the Fourth Battle of Ypres when struck by artillery fire. His death is recorded as either the 17th or 19th of April, 1918. Despite his sailing experience Hodgson had insisted on joining the Officer Training Corps and receiving a commission in the Royal Artillery. Reenlisting following a serious injury he returned to the front where he’d be killed.
That’s kind of how I ended up with this amazing, grotesque, pulptastic vintage paperback, or at least reading it now.
Since the exact date of Hodgson’s death in World War I is unknown—either April 17th or 19th—it seemed a good time to pull this one out and read a little.
Oddly, it begins with “The Thing Invisible” and not “The Gateway of the Monster” which was the first to be published. It seems “The Thing Invisible” was the last of the tales to be published in Hodgson’s lifetime, in 1912. When the single volume of stories was published a year later, this story was placed first, perhaps due to its popularity. Readers may have been more likely to recognize that title having just seen it in The New Magazine. That’s how the stories have generally been reprinted since, even with the addition of the three posthumous tales.
I’ve only read the first story so far, but it’s been enjoyable and I’m definitely slipping down the rabbit hole of adaptations and other works inspired by Hodgson’s occult creations.
Given how much of his writing built upon his years of experiences at sea, I’d love to read a fictional story about why he insisted on staying on land. A specter who chased him from the sea and eventually found him in Belgium. Or perhaps I’ve listened to The Magnus Archives’ episode “The Piper” about Wilfred Owen’s death in World War I too many times.
Even if that particular story doesn’t exist, I’m sure there are enough homages and adaptations beyond Hodgson’s original work to keep me entertained for a while.
Managing inventory at a bookstore was hard work, but when you’re managing inventory on your own bookshelf, sometimes you need a second opinion…
This is serious, so pay attention:
When I first discovered Loren Estleman’s amazing Amos Walker series of detective novels, I didn’t know whether I’d like them or not. I did what anyone should in that case: shop around and find a really cheap paperback edition, which I found through Motor City Books.
Also, the series is set in Detroit, so I thought I was being clever by buying as many of these through them.
Since I’d purchased the first in mass-market, I kept that up. Book fourteen, “A Smile on the Face of a the Tiger”, I had to buy in the larger trade paperback size, which hurt, but I got over.
Here’s the deal though, then came to “Sinister Heights”, the fifteenth book in this series, and I could only find it in hardcover. I held out hope that one would come up for sale, but it seems the book wasn’t put out in paperback at all. I could be wrong, but that’s how it looks, and it isn’t that far fetched.
An author I know mentioned once that the hardcover and paperback rights to his first book had been bought by two different publishers, the latter allowing it to go out of print. So perhaps something similar happened here, and publisher opted not to put a paperback edition out.
Estleman is up to twenty-four books now, the latest, “The Sundown Speech” was just released November 10th. I still have some catching up to do, but I’m getting close to the point where to keep current with Amos Walker I’ll have to buy the hardcover.
I have a handful of other books to read before I need to make a decision, so I have a little time. Take a look at the poll below and let me know what you think; should I go back to paperback and hold out as long as I can, or stick with hardcover?
It happens throughout the year, but it’s during the holidays when this particular customer has the power to reach right into your chest and rip out your heart, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom style. Like Mola Ram, this heartbreaking customer lies in plain sight, manipulating you and all those around them to their evil ends.
Or… in order to purchase Christmas presents. Ok, it may not be quite so sinister as enslaving children and stealing sacred stones towards the ultimate goal of world domination in the name of the great Kali, but it’s pretty up there.
The set-up is that you never see them coming. They usually don’t show up wearing a necklace of teeth or a ram’s skull with a shrunken head mounted on it. Fashion scarves and sensible outerwear, is what this lot typically appears wearing. They seem so sweet, so trustworthy; they could be your mother, your favorite aunt. Don’t let this fool you! They are no less dangerous than Thuggee high priest high on chilled monkey brain and snake surprise.
“I’m looking for this book for my son,” she asked, “I’ve looked on all the tables but can’t seem to find it. It’s called the Boys in the Boat.”
“Oh yeah, we should definitely have that,” I say, and type it in to the computer to pull up where in the store we put it. “I remember when that came out, I think it was one of the Buffalo News’ picks, everyone was looking for it.”
Small talk. I’m not particularly good at small talk, but I try. Usually I lose interest in what I’m saying and just kind of trail off. In most cases, it’s just to stall until our Pentium 4 IBMs can process the search and tell me that the book I’m looking for is, in fact, only six feet away. In my defense, we sold out of the stack of them on the table, so I couldn’t physically see the book from where I was standing. It was only on the floor underneath the table. Shut up.
I took her over, and put the book in her hand as we do, and prepared to have praise showered upon me before returning to the information desk where the next customer will undoubtedly crush out the desperate, smoldering attempt at holiday cheer I feel by yelling at me that we are “raping our customers” because our online prices are lower than those in-store.
But that is not to be, not yet.
“You don’t happen to have this in hardcover, do you? He really prefers that,” she says.
You can’t win.
Da Vinci Code, anything even remotely Harry Potter, or pretty much anything you’ve seen on the bestsellers’ list. These books can spend years in hardcover and all you hear is, “Do you have this in paperback? Why isn’t this in paperback? When is this coming out in paperback? Amazon has this in paperback, you know, I’ll just buy it there.”
Customers will ask for James Patterson’s newest release in paperback. That book came out three weeks ago: spoilers, it’s not in paperback. Not for a year. At least. And Amazon doesn’t have it in paperback, they have the option to preorder it in paperback. When it comes out. In six months.
It never fails though. As soon as it hits paperback and all the hardcovers have been returned because, well, who would want them anymore, that’s when suddenly everyone needs the hardcover. Hey, but sometimes we have one.
“I had one the other day, let me look it up again and see if we still have it.”
I check. One. One book on hand. Usually, this means we’re never going to see it, that we’re never going to find it. It’s difficult enough any other time of year, but Christmas? Yeah, it goes something like this:
you’re going to check the shelf, check the cart, check the other cart, check the sorting table, check the computer for when it came in, check the table again, look at pile of boxes still unopened and wonder, give up, check three other carts just because, look on the return shelf, check the computer again to make sure it wasn’t on hold, hope the hold didn’t expire in the computer but that the book was still physically on the holds shelf, check the shelf again, check the computer again to see when it came in, feel your heart sink when you realize it was six months ago, check the cart, check the shelf and find it.
You found it. You found it one bookshelf over and three shelves down from where it was supposed to be, and in no way alphabetical by author. But it’s there. It’s there!
I hand it over to her, and she’s as excited as I am. The store is incredibly busy, and she saw you running trying to find that single copy for her. Against the odds, you found it and its still looks perfect. It’s a little Christmas miracle.
Until three hours later you find it on the “What Teens are Reading” table under a copy of Hollow City, and your heart breaks a little. This happens all year long, you should be used to it. But it’s always more difficult during the holidays. While you’re searching for these books, dodging customers and digging through carts and shelves to find what they’ve whined about and guilted you to find, while you’re searching for this perfect gift, this present, they absolutely have to have or Christmas is ruined forever, you really think you’re making a difference.
That moment of excitement, of victory, you feel when you find that book—spot it out the corner of your eye on a completely wrong shelf, entirely by chance—is supposed to be exactly what someone is going to feel when they open this gift on Christmas. It’s a little Christmas present from Jesus and Santa and the bookselling gods, all for you.
So it hurts. It hurts when, for whatever reason (and one completely out of your control) you find that book discarded hours later. That was your connection to someone, your contribution to making someone’s holiday just a little bit more special. This time of year, it will crush your holiday spirit, and every time it will break your heart, just a little.
Some of these heartbreakers you can spot. You’ll start to predict when you’ll find that book later that night; their hesitation taking it from your hand, their instantly asking the price, them immediately slapping you in the face with it. (At which point, according to the code of bookseller conduct, you must challenge them to a dual at sunrise the next Tuesday before the new releases are put on sale.) Some take you by surprise. But if you want to work in a bookstore for Christmas, you won’t let it stop you. You can’t. You have to keep going, keep smiling, keep searching and checking and double checking for whatever crazy thing they may be asking for. One in ten might break your heart, but the rest? Well, actually, the rest will break your heart too.
It should still break, but for a different reason. Instead, it should break a little each time because the rest of those people, each and every one of those customers, now have that perfect gift they were looking for. On Christmas morning, they’ll get to see someone’s face light up as they open it. It might be the first book in a series a kid was hoping for, it could be a memoir by someone’s favorite musician, it might be a party game they want to open immediately and start playing.
That’s why you go home every day exhausted and sore and with your feet soaking in sweat and reeking in a way you never imagined possible. Seriously, it feels like you’re walking on sponges—that’s not normal. But it’s ok. It’s ok. As long as you remember that every person who walks through those doors isn’t just asking for your help, they are inviting you to be a part of their holiday experience. You’re not a computer screen promising free shipping if they spend a little more money. You’re the person who saw in their face just how much they wanted this game or movie or terrible teen series about steampunk assassins fighting supernatural in a prep school on the site of a former psych hospital, and you checked every shelf, every cart and shoved that old lady out of your way to get that perfect item for them.
They can’t do it without you. Literally. They can’t. These people will wander around the store in a daze until you ask them what they’re looking for. If it wasn’t for you they’d still be there at four in the morning wandering in slow motion down the middle of the aisle and stopping randomly for no reason at all.
Instead, because of you, they’re able to make someone’s Christmas. So be ready for the heartbreaker who will hide the book you found for them under that giant pile of Sons of Anarchy Collector’s Edition—no, I’m just kidding. We don’t have that, no one does, that’s on backorder until Valentine’s.
Be ready for them, those spirit-crushers who don’t realize finding that book for them was the sad high point of your day. But be ready for the other heartbreakers, too. The ones who take the books you found for them and give them a special place under their tree, who get excited to watch it get opened, who have given it a place in the life of someone they care about. You are going to save Christmas. You are going to change someone’s life.
So stay strong, don’t forget to smile, always double check the shelf, and for God’s sake man, change your socks.