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• 1 “A Hound It Was” • Sometime in the mid-1990s I was lucky enough to interview Robert Madle, a dealer in science fiction and fantasy pulp magazines, as well as a member of First Fandom, the now much-diminished group—never large—of those pimply teens who attended the inaugural 1939 World Science Fiction Convention. “Every so often,” Madle told me, “I’ll get a call from somebody looking for, say, Astounding from 1934 to 1937, and I immediately know this is a guy in his seventies hoping to relive his youth, who wants to reread the stories of his childhood.” When young, these doctors, lawyers, and businessmen had studied with longing the corner drugstore racks gaudy with issues of Weird Tales, Black Mask, The Shadow, and Thrilling Wonder Stories. Now retired, these old men—and a few women—yearned to feel again some flicker of youth’s incomparable freshness when every magazine and cheap paperback proffered a vision of how exciting life was going to be. And never quite is. Still, a few books retain more of their magic than others. 2 • The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902), by Arthur Conan Doyle, was the first “grown-up” book I ever read—and it changed my life. Back in the late 1950s my fifth-grade class belonged to an elementary school book club. Each month our teacher would pass out a four-page newsletter describing several dozen paperbacks available for purchase. I remember buying Jim Kjelgaard’s Big Red and a thriller called Treasure at First Base, as well as Geoffrey Household’s Mystery of the Spanish Cave. (Years later, I would race through Household’s famous Rogue Male, about the English hunter who tries to assassinate Hitler and who instead finds himself relentlessly tracked and pursued.) Lying on my bed at home, I lingered for hours over these newsprint catalogs , carefully making my final selections. I had to. Each month my mother would allow me to purchase no more than four of the twentyfive - and thirty-five-cent paperbacks. Not even constant wheedling and abject supplication could shake her resolve. “What do you think we are, made of money? What’s wrong with the library?” After Mr. Jackson sent in the class’s order, several weeks would pass and I would almost, but not quite, forget which books I had ordered. Then in the middle of some dull afternoon, prob- “A Hound It Was” • 3 ably given over to the arcane mysteries of addition and subtraction, a teacher’s aide would open the classroom door and silently drop off a big, heavily taped parcel. Whispers would ripple up and down the rows and everyone would grow restive, hoping that the goodies would be distributed that very minute. Sometimes we would be made to wait an entire day, especially if the package had been delivered close to the three o’clock bell when school let out. Romantic poets regularly sigh over their childhood memories of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower. But what are daisies and rainbows compared to four sleek and shiny paperbacks? After more than thirty years as a literary journalist , I have seen and reviewed new books aplenty. Ah, but then, then, at my wooden school desk, etched with generations of student initials, I would methodically appraise each volume’s artwork , read and reread its back cover, carefully investigate the delicate line of glue at the top edge of the perfect-bound spines. Afterwards, I would glance around, sometimes with barely suppressed envy, to survey the gleaming treasures on the desks nearby. Certainly no rare first editions have ever been so carefully handled and cherished as those apparently ordinary book-club paperbacks. 4 • To this day I can more or less recall the newsletter ’s capsule summary that compelled me to buy The Hound of the Baskervilles—as if that ominous title alone weren’t enough! Beneath a small reproduction of the paperback’s cover— depicting a shadowy Something with fiery eyes crouching on a moonlit crag—blazed the thrilling words: “What was it that emerged from the moor at night to spread terror and violent death?” What else, of course, but a monstrous hound from the bowels of Hell? When I opened my very own copy of the book, the beast was further described on the inside display page: A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its...


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