Geek With (Lots of) Books: Super Special Secret Origin

How It All Started

Several years ago Rick Klaw wrote that he had decided to take a break from his popular column Geeks With Books which ran on SF Site. I ran into him that very week and expressed an interest in doing a couple of columns so that Geeks everywhere might have someone to rant and rave with. For whatever reason, I never ended up doing those columns at the time, but the idea kept lingering in the back of my mind. Recently I ran into John DeNardo of SF Signal and approached him with the idea. He liked it and this column was born. I liked Rick’s old title for the column and added my spin to it so that you get Geek With (Lots Of) Books.

Like Rick, I have been involved with books my entire life. I have worked in a bookstore. I helped open the first Walden Book Store in Austin in 1972. I found out soon that loving books and working with books were two wildly divergent ideas. I was a collector and worshiped at the altar of the paperback and later hardback.

Somewhere over the years I accumulated books. To be sure, there are a few collections within the walls, but it is mainly a mass accumulation. Before my massive sale two years ago, my wife, cat and I shared our living space with slightly over 20,000 volumes, assorted art prints, comics, movies, records, cassettes, CDs, and other entertainment related fun things. Early on I read voraciously – omnivorously, and indiscriminately. These days my time is at a premium. Where one summer I managed 120 books in the summer school break, I am now happy if I can squeeze in 50 pages before I nod off.

The previous couple of paragraphs probably describe too many of you out there. You are not alone. We are all members of the Brotherhood of Readers. For some, this is the Brotherhood of Evil Mutant Readers. Depends on your orientation. I tend away from Chaotic Evil these days.


In one of his final columns, Rick mentioned that he was attending AggieCon. I was there that weekend, just as I had been for the last 33 years. And I was selling books. For more than 30 of those 33 years I have sold books at this convention. It was innocent at first. At my first AggieCon (AggieCon 4 in 1973, my first SF convention) I met some wonderful people including Jack Williamson and Robert “Bob” Vardeman who were the Guests of Honor with Chad Oliver whom I had previously met. There was a small dealers room – again my first encounter with the like. I saw a few books priced $3 and $5 that I had seen in Austin bookstores recently for a quarter.

My student-math-besotted-brain reasoned that I should be the one buying the book for the quarter and selling for the princely profit. I tried it the next year, covered my expenses, had a place to sit, and saw all my friends. I now had a Modus Operandi for working a convention. Sit, talk, sell – rake in the dough.

Later I discovered the curse of the autographed book. At that convention, I obtained a few autographs – maybe ten from Joe Lansdale and Bill Crider. Through an amazing logistical snafu, I managed not to get my Michael Moorcock books signed. Understand that I had a shelf with some 70 signed Moorcock titles already on it (there are others hidden on some paperback shelves somewhere). I took a small box with roughly 30 titles to finish out the books I owned and get them signed.

While packing up after the great snafu and after talking with Rick, I began to think about book obsessions and autograph fiends. I tried to remember the first book I got the author to sign, the first signed and numbered title, the most interesting meeting, the wildest weekend. I thought they might make interesting subjects for discussion.

The First Autograph

The amazing Chad Oliver provided the first autograph I collected. It was the early 1970’s and I was in school at the University of Texas in Austin where Chad was a Professor of Anthropology. I saw a flyer for a lecture he was giving and I was familiar with the name but not the works. I had no Chad Oliver books in my collection at that time. (This being about 1973, my total book collection probably numbered 250 books, mainly Doc Savage and Thomas Burnett Swann). I wandered by my favorite used book store the day of the lecture and found a copy of Chad’s Mists of Dawn (his first book – a Winston juvenile with the wonderful Alex Shomburg end papers). The book was naked (no dust jacket) and lying in a shopping cart. I picked it up and saw that the front free flyleaf (or FFF, a term I had never heard) was gone exposing the title page when you open up the book. In pencil in the top right corner was the heavenly price “FREE”.

I took it home and went to the lecture. The price remained there and Chad smiled when he saw it. “Free?” he said. “They may still owe you some money.” I held on to that book for many years, eventually replacing it with a better copy and a dust jacket. Chad became the idol of all science fiction writers in Austin and we became friends. I was never so pleased as when he came to see me after my first short story was published and he showed me the secret handshake.

The Most Unusual Autograph

My most unusual autographed book had to be the copy of Blind Date by Jerzy Kosinski that I found in a Woolco in Laredo, Texas in 1980 for $1.00.

The Autograph That Got Away

The one that got away. About 1973 I was working and going to school. I made slightly less than $2 per hour and worked about 28 hours a week. My take home pay was about $45 a week to cover food, gas, rent, utilities, tuition, books and entertainment. I went to my favorite bookstore. The owner saw me come in and took me over to a little bookcase. From it she lifted a red leather volume. “I have to show this to you,” she said. I looked at the gold lettering. “Presentation copy” it said. Phantasmagoria it said. I knew that title! I opened up the volume and there it was – the tiny signature “Lewis Carroll”. The price was a mere $150. There was just absolutely no way I could get it. My brain kept screaming “GET IT!” My checkbook said “NO WAY, JOSE.” and I sat there holding this gem for five minutes before I had to give it back. For me, it was like being offered the Hope Diamond for a mere $500,000 when your total assets were 3 sticks of gum and a paperback of On the Road.

The 2nd Most Interesting Autograph

My wife, Sandi, and I spent a lazy Sunday afternoon tooling around Dallas Ft. Worth with Dan Simmons one day. We picked him up at the airport, took him to lunch and then over to a scheduled signing in Ft. Worth. After that we eventually ended up back at DFW and sent him on his way. This was part of a special “Dan Simmons Storms Texas” tour where he visited Austin, Houston, and DFW in one quick weekend. It was fun; he signed my books and doodled odd pictures inside them.

The Most Interesting Autograph

I went to a World Fantasy Convention in Arizona in the mid 1980’s. Among the books I took to get signed was a British hardback of The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. When I presented it to him to sign, he made Jim Blaylock come over and sign the FFF. One signed the “William” name while the other did “Ashbless”. (William Ashbless is the name of a fictional poet – a contemporary of Samuel Taylor Coleridge – invented by Powers and Blaylock while they were in college. He is also the protagonist of The Anubis Gates) Tim also brought Dean Koontz into the picture and had him also sign as William Ashbless. I have never found out the full story of Dean’s involvement but all three signatures grace that copy.

The Most Treasured Autograph

Joe Lansdale on Batman: Captured By The Engines. Joe dedicated the book to me, recalling a cold day when he and I and our wives went to a small state park to watch a small film group do an adaptation of “Fish Night” (one of his short stories). It was a long day but we had real fun. I remember us coming up with post-apocalyptic titles for stories. My favorite was “A Man Called Taxicab” but Joe liked “Captured by the Engines” and when that became a Batman story, I got the dedication.

6 thoughts on “Geek With (Lots of) Books: Super Special Secret Origin”

  1. My first autograph was from Erich von Daniken; this was around ’73-’74, so I must have been in the sixth or seventh grade at the time.  My dad noticed that he was giving a public lecture at the local college that night, so we high-tailed it over there, arriving just a few minutes into the lecture.  I had grabbed a copy of one his books, and he was gracious enough to sign it after his lecture as he took questions from everyone else.

     

  2. Great stuff Scott. Thanks.

    I recently got one of my more interesting autographs. I had two copies of the same photo from the studio presskit for The Forth Protocal. The photo features the books author Fredric Forsyth on the set standing and chatting with Michael Caine.

    One of the photos was signed by Caine. I packed them both up, back to back, and slid them into a clear PVC 8 1/2 x 11 inch sleeve for protection. I mailed them off to Forsyth for his signiture. I told him to keep the second one if he didn’t have it in his collection.

    After monthsI had written them off as lost when a package from England arrived. I opened it to find beautiful, clear signitures on both photos. They were signed right where one wants on a photo in big, clear blue Sharpie ink.

    I slid the one signed by Forsyth and Caine out and…it was just signed by Caine. I pulled the second photo out and it was unsigned.

    Then I looked at the clear PVC photo sleeve. Beautifully signed on both sides in that beautiful blue Sharpie ink. Forsth didn’t remove the photos. He signed one side, flipped it over and signed the other.

    Two friends, both more serious autograph collectors then I am, suggested I should resend them to Forsyth. No, I won’t. I have a couple of his books signed and that’s more then enough for me these days. Plus the PVC sleeve is cooler then a signed book to me.

    I LOVE that twice signed hunk of plastic.

     

  3. What a captivating window into your life. You left me wanting more. “Left them wanting more” might be considered calculated in some circles… but in your case… you’re just a master of words. Miss you. Les

  4. I’ll limit myself to two interesting autographs in my collection:

    1. Egan, Greg. Axiomatic. Millennium (UK), 1995. First edition hardback. Inscribed by Egan to SF editor David Pringle. Since Egan is something of a recluse these days, and never attends conventions or any other public events and refuses to do signed, limited editions of his work, signed copies of his work are all but impossible to find. I bought this off eBay many years ago (i.e., before their current State of Suck) after verifying its provenance with Pringle. Easily the niftiest assocation copy I have (discounting those signed to me).

    2. Batchelor, John Calvin. “Ain’t You Glad You Joined the Republicans?” A Short History of the GOP. Henry Holt, 1996. First edition hardback. Inscribed by the author to then Texas Governor and later President George W. Bush as follows: “March 1999/To Governor/George W. Bush/of Texas/In the hope that/you become that/rarest of states men/the 25th nominee/of the GOP/Best/(signature)”. Being a school teacher and librarian, Laura Bush is heavily involved in literary charities, and she donated this and a lot of other books inscribed to her husband to the Austin Public Library book sale.

  5. Thanks Scott:

           As always your articles always delve, into the underpinnings, of your topic. Who else but you would take, a free copy, of a book, to an author, for an autograph. Only you would think and appreciate that situation and be unable to resist sharing it. Thanks for serving up so much good stuff, to one who will never come close to that in a million years but can appreciate the experiences. Especially the one on the Autograph that got away. I could say that about rare coins, or massive cd box sets when I was really poor.

           Keep them coming.

     

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