They probably started life as the “Penny Dreadfuls” of Victorian England and graduated to being “dime novels” when a dime was worth something. By the time I was buying them they were “pocket books” and certainly cost more than a dime but a great deal less than a hard covered novel. If indeed any publisher would bother to incur the cost of publishing their like in a hardcover edition.
Printed on thin pulp paper (which if the few I still have hanging around* are any indication turn from a dun colour to an aged denture yellow very quickly) with slivers of wood visible, the covers were paperboard and the illustrations faintly lurid. No matter the subject there was always the tantalizing promise of something salacious in the cover “art”. The accompanying blurb had little to do with the content but a great deal to do with the readers libido. They are the sort of books you just don’t see in respectable libraries.
However, and you just knew there was going to be a however, my close friend Lara, a full-fledged librarian, assured me that beneath that respectability and all that dewey discipline there were stories lurking amongst the bookshelves that would put Penny Dreadfuls to shame. So I began a search and turned up titles that would have made Mrs Kennedy, our local librarian, blush. Or would they? I’m not so sure now that I’ve met and partied with librarians.
I’m glad to see that all those MLS degrees have been put to good use by the graduates of some of the finer universities.
I found that this glimpse into the secret world of librarians and libraries has given me an new respect, I think that’s the word I’m looking for? No? Maybe appreciation would be a better choice for those who work the stacks, trundle the carts and decipher the Dewey Decimal system.
And it also may answer the question posed in the title of this searching, searing look into the dark, echoing but yet silent world behind those towering, forbidding rows of books:
*Mostly old cookbooks before any of you get any ideas!