Being a writer, I have a library, and it’s a pretty good one. Despite the fact that my bookshelves groan and creak from the amount of paper I cram into them, I’m always on the lookout for more.
So you can bet that when I found myself at a sprawling small-town market days event this summer and found a vendor selling vintage Louis L’Amour paperbacks for 25 cents each, I had my wallet out faster than you can say “Hondo.”
Louis L’Amour was one of the greatest genre writers of all time. He died in 1988 but his books are still in print, and his sales count is somewhere north of 320 million copies and climbing. Besides being great reads, the four paperbacks I scooped up for a buck are a great window into a particular period of mass market publishing.
These books were first published in the 1950s and early 1960s, but the Bantam and Fawcett paperback editions I found are from the late 1960s. All are priced at 60 cents, and all of them run from 115-125 pages—about 40,000 words.
That was a pretty standard genre novel back then. An inexpensive 120-page paperback is a format that has all but disappeared from bookstore shelves, although the short novel has found new life in the ebook era. My own Connor Rix SF thrillers (look over in the sidebar) run in the 50,000-word range, and I’ve found that to be a comfortable length for telling a complete story without saddling the reader with a long slog.
The cover art on these titles also captures a particular flavor of 1960s illustration. Sadly, none of the cover artists are credited in these books. The Radigan cover has a signature, but I can’t read it. The style is reminiscent of Fred Pfeiffer’s, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t do these. Sharp-eyed followers of Western art will no doubt recognize these brushstrokes; if so, drop a line in the comments.