$3 Book Club: Old Books, Old Ideas

I’ve been reading.

If you’ve been reading this blog you may recall that my 2023 plan to dig into some vintage science fiction was something I coined the three buck book club, and was the result of some thrifty used book shopping and a notion that half-a-century old science fiction might be worth a second read.

Or in my case, a first read.

I wasn’t particularly wrong.

And my reading has introduced me to a small stack of novels that (chosen by literal chance and randomness) I would never have encountered in any mainstream way.


But it has also introduced a new problem.

Old books are full of old ideas.

I guess I knew this, but I didn’t think it would punch me in the gut so firmly as it has.

I’m on my second novel of the project and so far I’m two for two on some very misogynistic protagonist characters and a solid one hundred percent for some cringe-worthy bits of colonial-bent racism.

These books are products of their time.

But their time in the past had a few ideas that are probably — certainly — not worth dragging into the present.

Sunlight in Cleansing

Thus, I find my role here a little muddled.

At one end I could turn this into a kind of, to borrow a politically charged idea, “woke witch hunt” against decades-gone authors who had the misfortune to be randomly plucked from used-bookstore obscurity by some guy looking for something cheap to read.

On the other end, I (as a middle-aged Caucasian man in a position of privilege) could articulate that perhaps it isn’t my place to talk and write about that particular aspect of these books and focus on the stories they tell.

And yet…

An yet there is a tangled mess here that isn’t so easy to unravel.

I tend to think that discussion and education are pretty good solvents for bad ideas.

I can’t undo what these folks thought, believed or wrote. I can’t change the fact that uncountable numbers of cornball science fiction books still exist on shelves around the world filled with deeply rooted concepts that today would bin those stories before they made it past an agent. I can’t change any of that.

I can acknowledge it. I can call it out. I can make sure that as I pry open their dusty covers and look for the bits of vintage treasure inside that I also try to make sure everyone understands that there is some rot in there too.

Inevitably someone else is going to find copy of these books, and if they are anything like me google the title and read or watch what comes up. And there on the screen is my article, my video…

What would you want them to know?

the three buck book club

It only makes sense that a guy who cooks on cast iron, spends time in the outdoors and enjoys cooking clean, simple food would also be into vintage books, right?

I decided that I want to read more in 2023.

I want do do a lot of things in 2023, but reading is something that is pretty achievable.

Book. Quiet. Go.

That said, books are getting expensive. (Grumpy old man alert!) For example, I bought myself a few of the Witcher novels for a Black Friday sale and even discounted they still cost me something like $18 each for paperbacks. And while I love the library, I’ve always been something of a slow, scattershot-type reader and tend to need to renew every book two or three times, or I end up returning it and never finishing it. I also got into e-books for a while but have resorted back to the tactile paper novel for things that are not work-related.

So, spend a lot of money on books? Read less? Ugh! What’s a guy to do?

One solution: I was at the local used bookshop on my lunch break the other day. I was hunting for something very specific, but then on a whim started picking out other books that caught my eye…. books that fit a particular set of characteristics:

  1. They were all science fiction
  2. Based on copyright dates, every one of them were written and published before was old enough to really get into reading proper novels, so say mid-80s and prior vintage stuff,
  3. Each of them plot summarized some absolute cheese, camp, cornball, classic sci fi (which is kinda my vibe recently)
  4. None were going to cost me more than $3 per book… used of course

In other words, I had the makings of a 2023 project in my hands, right there at the cash register.

The Three Dollar Book Club was born.

How many of these old campy books from the last century could I read through this year?

Would people be interested in semi-serious reviews of corny old books?

When could I start reading?

What I’m trying to say is that if you’re the kind of person who cooks on cast iron, spends time in the outdoors and enjoys cooking clean, simple food … are you also, maybe into vintage books? Or at least, into reading about a guy who finds himself with a small stack of three dollar used novels from the seventies and eighties?

If so, you might be in the right place. Stay tuned.

Words on Sketching

Learning by doing.

It can work, but at some point a guy needs to look to some other sources for guidance and advice. Like, say… a book (or ten.)

What was the best anything that you read in 2021?

As much as I’ve taken to the internets this past year in an attempt to hone my sketching technique, watching videos and reading forums, what has been most useful is the small but growing collection of art instruction books that I have in my personal library.

Books on figure drawing. Books on perspective art. Books on comics. Books on general drawing skills and books with very specific topics for very specific art-ish subjects. Even some new books I’ve picked up the past few months about urban sketching have found a place on my nightstand where I peruse them before bed many nights.

Are they deep literature and mind-expanding novels? No.

Are they reading material to take on a vacation or to relax with? Not exactly.

Are they something I would recommend? If you are interested in sketching, of course.

As with many things worth learning there is usually a book about it.

Not every subject can be taught from a loaf of paper, but I’ve found that sketching is one those subjects that can be enhanced by reading about it.

I think it has helped me.

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.

Book: Handbook of the Canadian Rockies

I don’t buy many paper books these days, so I caught even myself off guard when I dropped fifty bucks on this doorstop-grade loaf while on vacation over the summer, and in a souvenir store no less.

We had spent the day in the wilderness and flipping through the pages it caught the dangling threads of my vacationing soul and pried open my wallet.

I had woken that same morning and gone for an eight kilometer trail run up the side of a small mountain to an overlook of the town where we were staying. I’d met a friend (who had moved out to there a few years back for career reasons) and she’d led me on a 7am (and two degrees Celsius in July!) run along a quiet road and up towards the trailhead of a short day hike path that was still quiet of all human life save us. We ascended a few hundred meters of elevation into the early morning crisp air and stood on a smooth boulder with a vista view spanning what seemed fifty kilometers in multiple directions, and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of envy that she could go up there any time she wanted and I was due to drive back to the city the next day.

Flipping through the display copy of Handbook of the Canadian Rockies by Ben Gadd that evening evoked some overlapping emotions I’d been feeling from that whole week-long excursion into the National Parks, but in particular tugged at my heart in the same sort of way that standing atop a small mountain did at the dawn of that day.

A few minutes later I was standing at a cash register, tapping my debit card on the kiosk and watching my own copy being handed back to me with a crisp little receipt bookmark protruding from the edge.

When I was a lot younger I was fascinated by the kinds of books that were stuffed with bounties of information, the kind of books like encyclopedias or almanacs that could surprise you with any visit. Those kinds of books you pry open to a random page and are greeted with a sub-sub-heading of some curious topic and you just read.

This is that kind of book.

I opened the book three times at random as I started to write this paragraph and on those three visits I was greeted with a page filled with information about local lichen species, then a page detailing the dietary habits of the mule deer, and finally a two-page spread timeline of the major geological events of the area dating back a few billions of years.

If that kind of thing isn’t your style, you’re probably also not the kind of person to feel pangs of wonder at the beauty of a particular rock formation or pause in the middle of a long hike to contemplate a small copse carpeted by lush green moss.

A month later I’ve consistently kept this book on my nightstand and made something of a habit of opening the book at random (if not every day) a few times per week and reading a few pages here or there about the history, flora, fauna, and geology of my nearby mountain escape…

…and then pining to be back there.

If that isn’t an endorsement for a book, I don’t know what is.