RARA-AVIS: Pulp collection goes to SUNY-Buffalo

From: southpaw@altavista.net
Date: 02 Jun 2000

A serious fan of 'fugitive literature' Pulp fiction collection finds respectable home Carolyn Thompson - Associated Press Friday, June 2, 2000

Buffalo, N.Y. --- For 30 years, it was love. George Kelley and the little numbers who kept him company in all those hotel rooms.

They'd always own a little piece of his heart. And a great big part of his home. Or so he thought.

But Kelley had another love, the one he married, and she said he'd have to choose.

He knew she was right. The affair was over, and for the sake of clean socks.

So Kelley sent packing his collection of 25,000 volumes of pulp fiction that had turned his basement into a library --- and an obstacle course.

''My wife gave me an ultimatum,'' he recalls. ''She said, 'I can't get to the washer and dryer. You have to make a decision between the books and clean clothes.' ''

The books are now at the State University of New York at Buffalo's Lockwood Library. Five years after Kelley donated them to his alma mater, librarians have catalogued each volume. It's the first time many of the cheesy sci-fi, romance and detective novels from decades past have found a place in the National Bibliographic Database, let alone a permanent spot on a shelf.

''Libraries were kind of snobby,'' says Lockwood's director, Judith Adams-Volpe.

In their heyday, pulps were meant to be quick reads that, at 10 cents to 25 cents a pop, could be tossed out at story's end. The low-grade paper gave pulps their name, and hardly encouraged their saving.

Kelley, 50, began collecting them as an adolescent. One summer, after returning from camp, he found that his mother had disposed of 1,000 comic books, leaving his bedroom and closet disturbingly clean.

He started with science fiction paperbacks published by ACE Books, double books bound back to back with two covers. With ACE's western and mystery doubles, the habit grew as Kelley did.

When he worked for Opinion Research Associates of Madison, Wis., in the 1970s, Kelley logged 100,000 air miles a year and visited bookstores wherever he went. He'd read three or four paperbacks a day, in cabs, airports, hotel rooms.

''My worst nightmare is to be in a doctor's office with nothing to read,'' says Kelley, who chronicles his reading habit like an addict.
''I got into the Hardy Boys early on. I just never got rid of anything.''

Following tips from readers and collectors, Kelley chased down titles through used book stores and flea markets, amassing a collection of books and magazines that runs from detective stories to science fiction, through action adventures, westerns and erotica. Published from World War II through the 1980s, they include lesser-known authors as well as masters of the genre such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ed McBain.

The collection, banished to the basement when the weight began to damage the floors upstairs in his home, is tantalizing.

It includes complete sets of Galaxy Magazine, first to publish Ray Bradbury's classic story ''Fahrenheit 451,'' and Locus, a semiprofessional ''fanzine'' begun by devotees of sci-fi in the 1970s. There also is an original copy, worth about $500, of ''Junkie'' by William Burroughs.

''These books just don't exist anymore,'' says Kelley, who teaches business administration at Erie Community College. ''It's kind of a fugitive literature.''

Kelley put the books in zippered plastic bags early on, hoping to keep pages from discoloring. It worked, and the books remain bagged at Lockwood.

Thanks to Kelley, works like Carter Brown's ''The Hellcat'' won't be lost. The cover, featuring a bikini-clad siren and a cheetah, beckons:
''Al Wheeler tangles with a fiery redhead who has a flaming temper --- a sex kitten who can claw as she caresses, kiss . . . as she kills.''

Or Hank Janson's ''It's Bedtime Baby,'' with this cover tease: ''Eleven suspects with two things in common. A tattoo on their bottom and a canceled membership card in a college Virgin's Club.''

Some estimate the collection is worth a fortune. But there is value beyond dollars.

Experts say pulp fiction provides a trove of popular tropes, political trends and culture traits. ''These books document our changing tastes and social mores,'' says David Schmid, who teaches popular literature and culture courses at the University at Buffalo.

The collection has already proved to be a handy resource. When Oxford American Magazine was serializing an Elliot Chase novel, ''Dark Wings Has My Angel,'' even the author's family didn't have a copy. The university did.

''This is what people did when there was no TV,'' says Kelley, who has a doctorate in English from the university, as well as master's degrees in English, library science and business administration. He has written numerous articles on the topic.

''It's what people spent their beer money on. To understand what was going on in that time, you have to have a collection like this.''

Adams-Volpe hopes to create a database of detective fiction for academics, cross-referencing psychological traits and such preferences of villains and victims as favorite foods and locales.


# To unsubscribe, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to majordomo@icomm.ca.
# The web pages for the list are at http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/ .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 02 Jun 2000 EDT