Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mr. K's Used Books, Music, and More

The luminous Mrs. V. and I just finished a whirlwind road tour of the Deep South (NY to St. Augustine to New Orleans to Vicksburg to Charleston to back home). The last thing we did before beginning what was supposed to be a ten hour plus drive straight through to Staten Island from Charleston, we stopped at Mr. K's Used Books. Wow, I didn't think places like this existed.

Here in NYC, even the paperback book traders are pretty much all gone. Skyrocketing rents and the competition from online sellers and e-books did them in. And, truth be told, most of them aren't too much of a loss. The really good used books stores were far off in Providence and distant parts of New Jersey. Anyone who ever tells you how great the Strand is isn't a person who buys genre books. The store's selection is pretty poor.

Mr. K's is a bookstore dream come true. Its selection in every genre is large and fairly comprehensive. While newer books tend to predominate, each section (especially mysteries) has a decent selection of older books. And the prices are great. Norton Critical Editions (books I pick up used whenever I come across decent copies) sell for $6 and under, a very good price. The prices I saw on mass market editions ranged from as little as $1.50 to $5 for rarer paperback originals. Hardcovers looked to priced the same way.

And, as the title implies, they don't only sell used books. They have a huge selection of CDs, and DVDs. The place is huge to the point of being overwhelming, which is great. 

And despite all my praise, I only made a few purchases (while Mrs. V. picked up a stack of decorating and art books, and mysteries). But what purchases they were. And I only found one of them, my wife found the others.

Mrs. V. spotted both the three-disc The Sabata Trilogy and Lin Carter's Imaginary Worlds. The first was on a shelf of new arrivals and the second was shelved in the literary criticism.

The last thing I got was on a whim. I was skimming the Political Thriller section when the Len Deighton books caught my eye. I've only read a couple of his books (the searing Bomber and the Hitler-Wins-thriller SS-GB), but I've always meant to read The Ipcress File. And now I've got a nice copy for under two bucks. Even if it stinks, who cares?

And that's what I most loved about the old days roaming around used book stores. Of course I wanted to find that perfect (and underpriced) copy of a Ballantine Adult Fantasy book, but it was taking a chance on something completely new. That's a lot harder now and I'm probably never going to spend money on a brand new book without a real serious recommendation from someone I really trust. In the past, I could go to the Book Pit in Red Bank, NJ, and fill up a shopping bag of horror books with cool covers, mysteries that looked nicely off-kilter, and all sorts of classic sci-fi I had never gotten around to reading.

So, if you have the chance, check out Mr. K's. They also have several other locations: Greenville, SC, Asheville, NC, and Johnson City and Oak Ridge, TN. If you get the chance, definitely stop in.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

More Worlds Fantastic and Strange

A few years ago I wrote a piece titled Worlds Fantastic and Strange fantasy maps. Just this past Tuesday, I wrote a sequel over at Black Gate called Guides to Worlds Fantastic and Strange with more ruminations on maps at the front of fantasy books. 

The thing about maps and fantasy is there's an endless supply of them, at least it seems that way. So, here's a bunch of especially good ones.


P.C. Hodgell's maps of Rathilien. Hodgell's an artist from a family of artists. Her maps are clean and elegant, with attractive fonts for the titles. There are also detailed 3-d style maps of various buildings in many of the books as well. Good stuff. 


Pauline Baynes, illustrator of the Narnia books, also ended up doing artwork for several of Tolkien's books. She did gorgeous maps of both author's worlds. Both of these would make wonderful wall posters (hey, that's an idea).


Drawn by Cliff Bird for REHupa #34 in 1978, I wish this map of Charles Saunder's Nyumbani had an outline of modern Africa behind it just like the one of Hyboria. Alas, it doesn't, and we just have to enjoy it for what it is: a guide to Imaro's travels. If that's not good enough for you, I've got nothing else to say.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Last Year and This Year

This past year was a haphazard one here at Swords & Sorcery: A Blog. First I tried to review all of Chaosium's Cthluhu Mythos anthologies, but Lin Carter killed that for me. Really, it was just too much of too much of the same stuff over and over again. To get to the really good stories I had to wade through lots of meh, to lousy, to hair-torn-out-at-the-roots bad stories. So after only a few volumes that whole business crashed and burned.

Then, in reaction to reading nothing but fantasy and being driven nuts by the state of the nation and the world, I turned to the Long 19th Century Project. While it crashed and burned as well, I will still go back to it. 

The rise of Western Imperialism and its attendant wars is one of the most compelling and interesting periods of world history. The great powers of today, save China, were forged into their modern versions during this era: industrialized America and Japan, Germany and Italy both united, Russia's completion of its southward and westward expansion, England and France chopping up Africa. 

My problem was I went overboard, trying to cram a vast stack of of books into my brain too quickly. I will definitely return to this in the coming year, just not with as concentrated attention, probably no more than a book or two at a time, but I will return.

Finally, there was, and still is, EPIC. It's going to be around at least until I finish the several series I've already started reviewing: First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Riddle-Master of Hed, and Fionavar. I need to read the next Kencyrath book from P.C. Hodgell, To Ride A Rathorn. Heck, I might even throw another Shanarra book in just for the heck of it. If I can think of anymore good stand-alones like Red Moon and Black Mountain I read/review them as well.

Then there are the reviews I've been asked to do (or will be shortly). The next Charles Saunders book should show up soon (oh, yeah!), a Gonji collection. Some other things I don't even know what they are yet.

And, as I've been doing for several years now, my short story reviews. I really don't read much new fantasy except in bite-size form, which suits me just fine. I get to read a wider array of authors, styles, and encounter dozens more ideas in a stack of doorstoppers. 

I do read a few books, mostly by people I know now, but very little of the popular stuff the kids are digging. With their terrible photo-realistic covers and their monstrous thickness and endless sequels, they just don't catch my eye. I need to read from people whose taste run similar to mine that a new book's good for me to chance it. I'm turning fifty this year, so I'm allowed to be crotchety.

And, of course, other posts about things that catch my fancy. Genre related things just not necessarily about a specific book or story, though they could be. You know, whatever.

I hope nobody got too bored or frustrated with my rapidly changing interests here during the last year. I like to believe I'm providing decent value (or amusement) for your dollar. I hope everyone sticks with me for the next twelve months. I don't know what it'll really bring, but I'm still having fun here and at Black Gate, so I with any luck that'll be apparent in what I write. Here's hoping, and a Happy New Year to everybody!