Canada is as much of a refuge for you – as a Wisconsin lumber camp is for a lost virgin.
Quick reads are a terrible thing on bike tour, as you spend more time looking for replacement books and reading in camp, than you do biking. Better Henry James on your bike! This summer, however, bent as it is with work and little biking, has been fine for pulp fiction’s swell diversion.
Ah Summer! Long, lazy days…and one or two page-turners edges greasy with suntan lotion. It’s hard to imagine hoarding pulp fiction to read only in January, but that’s the kind of dolt I used to be, brooding through Jim Thompson novels snug in a sweater and hat.
Better to sit on the porch with a beer and ready fingers to turn the page!
McSweeneys’ has been reprinting odd books. And so, through the wonder of the library, I came across The Riddle of the Traveling Skull (and its odd anti-cover cover) by Harry Stephen Keeler.
I was thinking deeply in the meantime. My forehead was so corrugated, as I could sense by feeling alone, that an Eskimo’s fur coat, sprinkled with nothing but Lux, could have been washed on it.
Keeler wrote over 50 dime novels, and published most prolifically through the 30’s and 40’s. This book was a wild assembly of characters and presuppositions, with a bumbling (though I’d have not done better) candy salesman as the sleuth. When you are busy cornering the market on Julu beans from the East Indies for candy dye, I suppose you’ve not much time to hone your deductive reasoning. Of course, he had to piece together the relationship between Suing Sophie, O.M. Lee the Human Spider, Doris- faithful or faithless- lover, Filkins the Butler(!), Philodexter Maxellus, and a priest or two, after getting clobbered on the head by a guileless Chinamen, named Ichabod, who stole his traveling bag. That would be the bag with the skull in it. Dashing around Chicago, where many of his novels are set, there’s little to do, but hold on to your metaphorical fedora and hope for the best. In this case, I’d say the candy salesman, who got it completely wrong, did just fine.
With another month of summer before school starts, I’m looking for more of his books, joining the fan club for five dollars, and taking recommendations for thrilling or tawdry reads, or possibly both (Adios Muchachos by Daniel Chavarria comes to mind)!
Have you tried digging through Project Gutenberg? A cheap Palm off of ebay, a few AAA batteries, and you’ve got all the books you can read for a year in a space smaller than any paperback you can reasonably hold. Splash out a bit on the Palm and you could get one with a backlight, too, which doubles as a torch quite nicely!