Forgotten. But Not Gone.

I’m traveling today through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey…wait a minute. Let me begin again. I kind of feel the way that I did the first time I walked into a Rocket Fizz store a couple of years ago and saw all sorts of different brands of candy that I hadn’t seen the 1960s.  I’m not talking about candy, however. I’m talking about books. To be more precise, I’m talking about buying books through the mail, long before something called “Amazon” became a business.

This feeling occurred while I was trying to decide what to write about for my blog post this morning. That would be the one you are reading right now. I had four — yes, four — different topics going but they all each and all kind of meandered into nowhere. I got on a tangent involving how the science fiction genre has changed and got nostalgic for The Science Fiction Book Club (SFBC). Those of you of a certain age will remember book clubs. There was Book of the Month Club, SFBC, and the Mystery Guild (MG). There might have been a club for romance books as well. I belonged to the SFBC for almost fifteen years, from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s. It was easy to join. You perused an ad insert— usually in a science-fiction magazine — tore it out, filled out a membership card, selected a certain number of books for a few dollars plus postage, and mailed it and  your check to the club. You agreed to buy two or four books at the regular price sometime over the following two years. Every three weeks or so you were sent (there was no email in those days, no Amazon, no internet, no cable television) a catalog offering two feature offerings, a backlist, and a few exclusive three-in-one volumes or some such thing. If you wanted the two feature books, they made it soooooooo easy! You didn’t have to do anything!  You just waited and the SFBC would send you the books. If you didn’t want one or both of them, however, the cat was on your back to send a pre-printed card back by a certain date, affirmatively stating that you didn’t want the books. The card also gave you the opportunity to order other books if you wished. It was kind of an honor system. It was cool, but it was also a bit of a pain to send the cards in on time. If you didn’t do so for a couple of months your front porch soon resembled that of Mickey Mouse’s in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” except with books instead of brooms. I kind of lost interest in the whole concept when the science fiction genre began to change and while the idea of The Mystery Guild was intriguing I was kind of sour on the whole mail order thing. I could pretty much get whatever I wanted from bookstores. I quit hearing about book clubs and the like in the 1990s and assumed they had gone the way of the phone booth.

And I was wrong!

I discovered not one-half hour ago that the SFBC and MG have bravely and mightily soldiered on, in updated fashion. They both have changed a bit. No more catalogs, and no more honor system (you submit your credit card information when you join). They do have a couple of enticements to get you to join and to remain a member, and, most importantly, to continue buying books. I have to give them credit for staying with the mail order game for books. I mean, after all, that they had a hand in creating the concept of books and with The Book of the Month Club more or less ruled the territory, until ol’ Chrome Dome from Seattle,, genius that he is, kind of moved in and took over the sandbox. Both clubs continue to stake out their genre niche, however. You can access the Mystery Guild website here and the Science Fiction Book Club website here.

I’m kind of wondering…why don’t more readers talk about this? Why don’t I see more of a MG presence at reader/author conventions like Bouchercon and Thrillerfest? Or are they there and hide when they see me coming? Is the fact that these businesses have continued to operate well known to everyone but me, kind of like the Channel Zero anthology on the SyFy Channel?  And…if you don’t feel like answering those questions…tell me if you would one or more things that you loved as a child (or teenager) that you thought was gone forever, but have discovered is still around. Please. And thank you.

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32 thoughts on “Forgotten. But Not Gone.

  1. My bookshelves are crammed with Mystery Guild editions, but I let my membership lapse. I just don’t have room for more physical books anymore. There were some glitches, like getting books I hadn’t ordered and having to take them back, but their customer service folks were always helpful.

    • Thanks Terry, I know what you mean about room for physical books. When a collection becomes an accumulation it’s time to shift. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I didn’t know those book clubs were around anymore either! Years back I was a member of one of them until my sweet husband got laid off. Later I never rejoined because Barnes & Noble opened a store in town, and also I discovered our local used book store.

    As for something I loved as a child that I thought was gone forever: Star Trek. I loved it so much that I watched the reruns well into the ’70s. Imagine my joy when Picard and his gang arrived in the late ’80s!

    • As I recall, Priscilla, financial considerations influenced my cessation as well, to some extent. There’s a quote from Erasmus that roughly translates to “When I have money, I buy books; and if I have any left I buy food and clothes.” That doesn’t always work, but it should!

      As for Star Trek…Gene Roddenberry did a concert hall tour in the mid-1970s where he gave a presentation for about 40 minutes and then showed the original Star Trek pilot. The former was entertaining, the latter very interesting (no Kirk, and a smiling Spock, which was SO strange). He closed with the news that there was going to be a full length Star Trek movie with the original cast. You would have thought that he was giving away boxes of money.

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. The reason I finally resigned, left, quit, or forgot to return my card to the SFBC was not the fault of the club–it’s because science fiction changed. AND I WANT THE OLD BACK!

    I so want the old back but, alas, the new has zoomed in on new kinds of wings, new kinds of power systems, new kinds of technology, new kinds of people, well, beings, that I can no longer identify with.

    (Well, I couldn’t REALLY identify with all the old beings, either. The Damned Thing was about a cloth thrown under a radiator that began to accumulate germs and viruses and other strange stuff, and it eventually evolved into a living being kind of thing, the last of which we saw was on fire and flying into the face of the storyteller. I think it was on fire. I think it was the face of the story teller. I think it was a long time ago.)

    So, if I can’t get back the old stories, the good kind of stories I so loved, I won’t indulge in science fiction at all.

    But I will have my revenge. In the first book of my series, I write about a former 4’11” girl Marine MP who got past the USMC height requirements because, well, she’s one heckuva a girl-next-door, and she keeps running into paranormal beings and situations. I discovered that, for one of the novels down the line, I would have to have a character that doesn’t now exist, and I didn’t simply want her applying for a job in the former MP’s hometown police department. So, I decided to bring her in through a novella that will still part of the series.

    But it is a 1950s-style novella, complete with confrontation with plain ole outer space guys who fly around in old-fashioned saucer space ships, and an outer space Watcher who drops in to help the earthling. The outer space guys don’t have a cool, evil 21st Century home world, and they don’t have cool designations. They’re just big ole ugly guys–evil, ugly, bad guys.

    I know it’s not something an SFBC would be interested in. But by gum, I am. I’m going to have fun with it.

    And for every 9mm round that my hero, or heroine, squeezes off, the bad guys are going to return a volley of plasmoid. One of the characters may even have the name Buck Corbett, Space Patrol Cadet. And every 9mm round is a protest against the new science fiction.

    We ought to be able to wipe out the bad guys, oh, say, a half-dozen semi-demi-parsec units–three, maybe four days. (One whole semi-parsec unit would be thousands of centuries too long.)

    So, “To the limits! And beyond, Space Patrol Cadets!”

    You’ll never see the inside of any kind of book club.

    • No you won’t Jim, and more’s the pity. I envision your bookshelves as being crammed with Murray Leinster, Robert Heinlein, Clifford Simak, and Keith Laumer novels. Good on you! THAT was science fiction! Thanks and good luck with that series!

  4. Oh geez…the memories. I joined the BOTMC in my early twenties and it exposed me to a wealth of writers I might have otherwise whiffed on — Saul Bellow in particular in those days. And the MG was very kind to me in my early publishing days, picking up our series for distribution. I am glad to hear they are still kicking.

  5. Kris, I was just a wee lad when my father — who was not a big reader — joined BOTMC. He got HAWAII by James Michener — a very big book at the time — for free and then books started coming to the house by mail which I thought was amazing. Little did I envision what the future would bring. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Wow, this takes me back~

    When I was a kid, Mom was a member of the Literary Guild Book Club (some offering not quite so “literary”). I read some of her buys (Herman Wouk), and she’d buy some things just for the fam… (that’s how I was introduced to John C. MacDonald ~ a 3-in-1 volume titled _A Tan and Sandy Silence_)

    I enrolled in a history book club in college (still have Shelby Foote’s 3 volume history of the War Between the States), and a record club -that’s right 12″ vinyl right to my dorm door~ (truly showing my age now) ~ and I’ve still got all, or at least most, of those (Billy Joel, Gato Barbari, John Klemmer, Weather Report, Aerosmith…). Similarly, video (now DVD’s) from Disney, though the boys are all older than I am now…

    And like un-subscribing from some e-solicitations, you’d check the “un-enroll” box several times and return mail a few unwanteds until they’d get the message…

    • George, I wasn’t quite that intellectual. That’s very cool. I wish, however, that you hadn’t brought up record clubs. Now you got me started. I discovered during my early teen years in Akron WLAC-AM in Nashville. I could only pick the station up at night, but they had a soul program on from 7P-10P which was basically a long commercial for Ernie’s Record Mart, a legendary Nashville record shop. They did mail order and had some sort of club which I immediately joined. I mowed lawns all summer and spent every dime I made there, ordering albums from (then) obscure artists like ZZ Hill and better known artists like Solomon Burke whose records I couldn’t find. I went nuts. I got invited to a lot of parties, too, and it wasn’t for my personality. It was for my record collection. Those were the days. Thanks!

  7. With the exception of Harlequin’s monthly book service, I don’t think a romance book club has ever existed, at least for long.

    My mom loved Reader’s Digest Condensed Book until she started letting me visit the library for her, but I’ve never been a fan of book clubs because my tastes never fit what they wanted to shove at me.

    If you like older sf, most of various authors’ backlists are now available as ebooks, and some newer authors, mainly self-published, have revived the older traditions.

    • Marilyn, I just found out that something called Rhapsody Book Club, a romantic book club was started in 2000.It’s since been folded over into Doubleday Book Club, interestingly enough.

      Thanks for the tip about the vintage science fiction selection in e-books. I am amazed at what you can find, particularly with regard to some of the older things like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and H.P. Lovecraft. There are also collections of Wierd Tales stories and the like. There goes my Saturday! Thanks again.

  8. I don’t remember the book clubs but there was a similar music CD ordering program that I did for a while.

    As to re-discovered stuff: I love that Cracker Barrel stocks “Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews” candy bars. Delicious!

  9. BK, I certainly remember CD clubs. Columbia House had one, I think, as did RCA. They merged at some point but I don’t believe any exist now, other than for a couple of independent labels who run promotions occasionally.

    You do NOT want to get me started on Cracker Barrel. It is my life’s ambition to visit every single one at least once. BTW I worked with them on a merchandising deal on behalf of a client several years ago and they were wonderful to deal with at every step of the process and afterward. They also sell Skybars! Go Cracker Barrel!

  10. Good afternoon, Joe.

    I didn’t answer your blog this morning, because I couldn’t think of anything. I did join Outdoor Life Book Club as a kid. Most of the books were about hunting and fishing ( and I couldn’t find evidence that the club still exists.) But one of the books was The Frontiersman, by Allen Eckert, an historical novel about Simon Kenton, who settled in western Ohio. Later, Eckert moved to my hometown, and I was able to meet him and get the book autographed. He was amazed that I had an early edition of the book.

    And since BK brought up food, I’ll add my long lost (or forgotten) food. As a youngster, I fixed my own breakfasts on Saturday mornings, buckwheat pancakes. Later, I conned my wife into fixing them for me, until she told me that Aunt Jemima no longer made a buckwheat pancake mix. Now, several years later, I have found a custom mill in northern Ohio that makes the mix. And my wife is back to pampering her undeserving husband with buckwheat pancakes on Saturday mornings.

    Have a good weekend. And I hope you find more long lost treasures from your childhood.

    • Good afternoon, Steve. As always, thanks for stopping by. I had never heard of the Outdoor Life Book Club but I see that at least a couple of their offerings are available on e-bay, one being from 1954 (twenty years before you were born!). It sounds like it was an interesting concept.

      I never developed a taste for buckwheat pancakes. I think I tried them once at a restaurant down south as a kid. I should swing around and give them a second chance. BTW, I’m not sure if the mix is any good but I see that Arrowhead Mills and Bob’s Red Mills make buckwheat pancake mix in case your mill in northern Ohio should stop. And while we’re loosely associating, my friends in Louisiana won’t use anything other than cane syrup on their pancakes.
      I bet Cindy loves the opportunity to spoil you. You’re worth it. Have a great weekend.

  11. How nice that you found them again, Joe! I miss the Book Mobile. Oh, how I wish my granddaughters could experience the magic of wall-to-wall books on wheels. I fear that may be gone for good. Sigh.

    • Sue, you just live in the wrong place! Move to central Ohio! We have bookmobiles all over the place. I should appreciate them more and I thank you for mentioning them.

  12. I never joined a book club, but I do remember them. Anybody else remember the “Draw Me” adds with a cartoon face, asking you to draw the face and send it in? I think they were selling some kind of “be an artist” book set or something.

    … That, and sea monkeys. I remember sea monkeys. They might still be around.

  13. Carl, I remember those “Draw Me” ads very well. My artistic ability is limited to stick figures. John Nagy would have sat me down in a corner and made me wear a dunce cap.

    Sea monkeys are still around. I could never get them to grow/work/whatever until adulthood when we got some for my younger daughter. We got a good batch somehow. They were a riot, though, like a cat, they don’t train well. You can get them at Wal-Mart, apparently. Have fun!And thanks for the reminder.

  14. I was a member of the Doubleday book club back when I first started working. I’d get home from work, grab the book and the dogs and hit the beach. That was before kids and we had time and money to burn.

    • Cynthia, you were lucky, my pets have never really let me read. And now I have a cat that walks across my keyboard. Thanks for the reminder that there are some pets that you can not only take to the beach but will also let you read while you do it!

      • Joe, at the time my husband had a Siberian husky who loved to run and swim. My collie was not a swimmer, but would run up and down the beach and bark at the husky. Fortunately it was a deserted beach. I miss it.

        • A deserted beach, two dogs, someone you love, and books…doesn’t get any better that, Cynthia. Thanks for sharing.

  15. I belonged to Doubleday in the early nineties, when we lived 150km from the nearest bookstore. I loved receiving my catalogue and choosing which books to order. It felt like an indulgence. Kind of miss it….

    • Linda, books are a necessity. Indulge away. Thanks for the reminder…the 1990s don’t seem that long ago, but everything is much different, isn’t it, including how we may and can buy things, particularly books…

  16. I think I belonged to all the major book clubs back in the day. I started out from a very young age like 3 or 4, with the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club. I would get a new book each week. The post office was right across from the library and I was so excited to go to the library and check out the maximum number of books and sometimes receive my new books at the same time. I don’t know if that book club still exists, I haven’t heard about it for years now. I was a member of The BOTM, MG, and Literary Guild all at the same time. My favorite was BOTM because you got each book in hardback for $10 and free shipping. As for the things we remember as a kid, I am going to really age myself now, are caps. Remember those? Some used them in guns but I liked to get a roll of caps and hit them with a sharp rock. I’ve never been a fan of guns, even toy ones.

  17. Thanks, Rebecca. Wow. The Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club…alas, it no longer exists, which is a drag. There IS, however, something called My First Reading Club, which offers three new books to members on a regular basis. It’s not quite the same, but it’s the right idea for sure.

    Caps! I remember those. They are still around! Most of the ones that are sold now are made of plastic, but the paper ones are still available at WalMart, etc. We used to do the same thing, as far as setting them off with rocks, etc. Thanks for the memories.

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