Five American Writers Who Served

On November 11, America will pause to honor all those who have served in its Armed Forces. Veterans Day as we know it was established in 1954, when Congress changed the name of Armistice Day and broadened its definition—what had been primarily a celebration of World War I vets was redefined as a day dedicated to all military veterans.

Here at HPB, we’re thankful for all who’ve donned the uniform to fight for our country. But being the bookish types we are, we thought it’d be interesting to consider a few of the great American writers who spent time in the military. Most of these authors wrote about their war experience, and it’s safe to say that all of them were shaped by it in profound ways. The writer Norman Mailer called it the worst experience of his life but also the most valuable.

Joseph Heller
HellerThe novelist of Catch-22 fame joined the U.S. Army Air Corps at age 19, shortly after America entered World War II. He was sent to the Mediterranean island of Corsica, and from there flew 60 combat missions as a B-25 bombardier. After the war, Heller went to college on the G.I. Bill and worked as an advertising copywriter before the publication of Catch-22 established him in the literary world. The satirical novel, published in 1961, is decidedly anti-war, but it has been used by the U.S. Air Force Academy to teach about the dangers of bureaucracy. Heller even appeared at the Academy in 1986 for a celebration of the book’s 25th anniversary.

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Washington, Lincoln—and Adams, Too! (Rarest of Rare Collectibles)

Presidents’ Day began as a holiday to mark the birthday of the Father of Our Country, first President George Washington. It was later expanded to include the beloved 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. They’re most certainly worthy recipients of a holiday, but we’re thinking it’s time to also give a little love to Father George’s successor, second Prez John Adams. (Especially since he got cut from the hit musical Hamilton.)

And what better way to honor John Adams than to show off a first edition copy of this important 1787 book explaining his theories of the government of this country?

A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America
John Adams
1787, London. Printed for C. Dilly, in the Poultry
First Edition. In original binding.
$10,000johnadamsAdams intended to write a single volume. The first, published in London, was so successful that Adams was encouraged to write a second volume and then a third. The book promotes a mixed government in which “the rich, the well-born and the able” are separated into a senate, unable to dominate a lower house of representatives.

This copy, available at our South Arlington store, is in remarkable condition, considering its age and historical importance. The book is fragile but complete. There is an owner inscription from 1787 and a presentation inscription from 1909.

Interested in purchasing this piece of American history or learning more about it? Contact the Buy Guy!

Steve is the”Buy Guy” at Half Price Books Corporate.

3 Must See Movies This Black History Month

Anyone who knows me at all understands that I am a movie junkie. So when thinking about Black History Month, I can’t help but think one of the best ways to celebrate is to go down to your local cinema and check out some of the great films that are out about black-American culture and black-American history.

The first movie you should check out is Hidden Figures. This is the true story of mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who were all employed by NASA and were the masterminds of calculating trajectories and orbits to get the first American, astronaut John Glenn, in to space. Katherine Johnson was also given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November of 2015 by President Barack Obama for her work with the space program.

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Hey, Mr. President, read these books next!

ABC News reported yesterday that President Obama has packed an armful of books for a two-week vacation with his family in Martha’s Vineyard. Here are the six books he selected!

  

There are some great choices on his summer reading list, including award-winning fiction and non-fiction but what happens when any booklover finishes the last book on the TBR list? You ask, “What should I read next?” We’ve got the answer. If you enjoyed these selections, here’s a list of HPB Staff Picks to get you started on your next book.

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The Best of 1972: Books, Music & Movies

Back in 1972, Half Price Books embarked on its mission to provide people things to read and to listen to, at prices they could afford.  (And a few years later, with the emergence of the VHS tape, we offered them things to watch, too.)  Those early customers liked what they saw on the shelves, and the many customers who have come along since have kept us at it, four decades later.

So what were our customers looking for all those years ago?

What We Read in ‘72

Even in the earliest days, our Fiction section was always well-stocked.  Some of the current titles then were:

  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a parable about a seagull seeking perfection, was an unlikely bestseller from Richard Bach, who said it came along at just the right time.  It had been rejected by numerous publishers before Macmillan took a gamble on it and won
  • Other popular books of that year included Watership Down, by Richard Adams; Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, which was made into two movies, three decades apart; The Exorcist (published in ’71 and filmed in ’73) by William Peter Blatty; and The Winds of War, a hefty WWII tome written by Herman Wouk and turned into a popular miniseries, starring Robert Mitchum, in 1983

We were reading some more literary stuff, too:

  • Eudora Welty’s last novel, The Optimist’s Daughter, was published in 1972 and won the following year’s Pulitzer Prize for Literature.
  • The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor, written between the ‘40s and her death in 1964, won the 1972 National Book Award.
  • John Irving, who is still actively writing, published his second book, The Water-Method Man.
  • The second of the four books in John Updike’s 30-year-spanning Rabbit series, Rabbit Redux, was a commercial and critical success.

On the shelves of our Mystery, Science Fiction, and Romance shelves, customers were pleased to find some favorites:

  • P.D. James introduced detective Cordelia Gray in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman.
  • Frederick Forsyth’s spy novel The Day of the Jackal won the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel.  His book The Odessa File was also popular at the time.
  • Sci-fi fans were reading Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama and Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselves in ’72.
  • Victoria Holt was a decade into her long career as a historical romance author.

Several non-fiction titles were notable:

  • I’m OK, You’re OK, by Thomas Harris, was written in 1969 but became a bestseller in 1972.  It explained transactional analysis to the masses.
  • English veterinarian James Herriot recounted some of his experiences with animals in All Creatures Great and Small, which combined his first two books into one and kicked off a run of bestsellers.
  • The Boys of Summer, Roger Kahn’s loving history of the Brooklyn Dodgers, placed second on a 2002 Sports Illustrated list of “The Top 100 Sports Books of All Time.”

Several classics that remain popular in our Children’s sections were published:

  • Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Day became an ALA Notable Book, a Reading Rainbow book, and a multi-million seller.
  • Perennial favorite Judy Blume gave us Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great.
  • Freaky Friday, by Mary Rodgers, was made into three movies (1976, 1995, 2003).
  • Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves won a Newbery Award, and just this year was involved in a digital rights lawsuit over its e-book publication.

What We Listened to in ‘72

In pop music, there were some standouts available on LP, cassette, or 8-track, but not yet CD:

  • Roberta Flack first hit the Billboard charts—and stayed at #1 for six weeks—with “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” which had been used in the creepy 1971 flick Play Misty for Me.
  • Nilsson, who wrote nearly all of his own songs, had his second hit-written-by-others, the pop-operatic “Without You,” composed by two members of Badfinger, who also had their own ’72 hit, “Day After Day.”
  • Don McLean’s “American Pie”—sliced into two pieces—was the magnum opus of the year, a Cliff’s Notes history of American Pop in the ‘60s.

Several artists had multiple hits in 1972:

  • Al Green not only topped the charts with “Let’s Stay Together,” but reached #2 with “You Ought to Be with Me” and “I’m Still in Love with You.”
  • Bill Withers gave listeners the advice to “Lean on Me” but also to “Use Me.”
  • UK singer Gilbert O’Sullivan appeared in the US out of nowhere with “Alone Again (Naturally),” followed it up with “Clair,” and then fizzled out, at least stateside.

On the lighter side, we listened to Sammy Davis, Jr., croon about Willy Wonka, the “Candy Man,” and we heard Melanie sing about her “brand new pair of roller skates” and your “Brand New Key.”  Chuck Berry’s one-and-only number one single (incredibly) was 1972’s “My Ding-A-Ling.”

Some artists that were in our bins then are still active today:

  • Neil Young (“Heart of Gold” was his biggest hit) is still touring, releasing albums, and even writing books—another memoir is due this fall.
  • Elton John (“Rocket Man” and “Honky Cat”) still seems to be everywhere.
  • Aretha Franklin (“Day Dreaming”) has become the idol of millions of vocalists who’ve followed.

All three also had top albums in 1972.  Other classic albums included the Stones’ Exile on Main Street, Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly soundtrack, the soundtrack to The Harder They Come, and Steely Dan’s first album, Can’t Buy a Thrill.

Two late pop icons entertained us in ’72.  Michael Jackson went on to bigger and better things after his love song to a rat, “Ben.”  Elvis Presley was “just a hunk-a, hunk-a burnin’ love.”  Smokey Robinson, after 18 years with the Miracles, went solo.  And in 1972, for the first time, the top eight slots on Billboard’s Hot 100 were held by black artists.

What We Watched in ‘72

Francis Ford Coppola’s treatment of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel The Godfather was the movie of 1972.  It was top box-office, won three Oscars, including Best Picture, featured a very popular Nino Rota theme song, and was critically acclaimed.  That appreciation has stood the test of time: The Godfather is in the #2 spot on the American Film Institute’s list of all-time best American films, behind Citizen Kane.

Of course, there were other movies of note that year:

  • Movie Musical Cabaret, based on the musical by Joe Masteroff (which was based on the play I Am a Camera by John Van Druten, which was based on Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood), was also a critical and popular success.
  • Alfred Hitchcock made his penultimate movie, Frenzy, in 1972, still, at 73, the master of suspense.

There were also the aforementioned Superfly and The Harder They Come, as well as Deliverance, from the James Dickey novel, Dirty Harry, and Lady Sings the Blues.

Foreign films also did pretty well in ’72, including Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, and Fellini’s Roma.

So those are some of the things we were reading, listening to, and watching back in ’72, and our customers are still enjoying them all these years later—and we’re still stocking them, along with everything that’s come along since!

Steve is Staffing & Development Manager (aka the “Buy Guy”) at Half Price Books Corporate.

Remembering JFK: 50 Years after the Assassination

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Those are among the most famous words spoken by John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address as our nation’s 35th president.

On this 50th anniversary of his assassination, we take time to reflect on his life, his presidency, his tragic death and his legacy. In addition to the more than 40,000 books already published about JFK, there’s a shelf full of new titles which were released this year. Here’s a quick guide to help you discover some of the best-selling and most-talked-about nonfiction this season.

(Row 1) Five Days in November by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin, The Kennedy Assassination by Professor Matthew Smith and David Southwell, End of Days by James Swanson, The Day Kennedy Was Shot by Jim Bishop; (Row 2) Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly, Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House by Robert Dallek, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero by Chris Matthews, TIME JFK: His Enduring Legacy by David Von Drehle with Chris Matthews; (Row 3) Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin, Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy by Caroline Kennedy, Photographic History of JFK: His Life, His Legacy by Tim Hill; and Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio. 

Meredith is Associate Creative Director at Half Price Books Corporate. 
You can follow her on Twitter at @msquare21.

40 Years of Bestsellers at Half Price Books

You can bet that if a book was a bestseller at some point during the past four decades, our booksellers have seen dozens, hundreds or even thousands of copies of it.  Let’s track HPB’s timeline, noting some milestone bestsellers we’ve seen along our way.

1972  Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach / 1973  Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut / 1974  All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot / 1975  Curtain by Agatha Christie / 1976  Roots by Alex Haley / 1977  The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough / 1978  Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford / 1979  The Dead Zone by Stephen King

1980  The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum / 1981  A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein / 1982  Jane Fonda’s Workout Book by Jane Fonda / 1983  The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco / 1984  Full Circle by Danielle Steel / 1985  Texas by James Michener / 1986  You’re Only Old Once! by Dr. Seuss / 1987  The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe / 1988  The Great Depression of 1990 by Ravi Batra / 1989  All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum

1990  Means of Ascent by Robert Caro / 1991  The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy / 1992  Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words by Andrew Morton / 1993  The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller / 1994  Couplehood  by Paul Reiser / 1995  The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans / 1996  Primary Colors by ”Anonymous” / 1997  Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier / 1998  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling / 1999  The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw

2000  It’s Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong / 2001  The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen / 2002  The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold / 2003  The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown / 2004  Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris / 2005  Blink by Malcolm Gladwell / 2006  Marley & Me by John Grogan / 2007  “T” is for Trespass by Sue Grafton / 2008  Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler / 2009  The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson / 2010  The Help by Kathryn Stockett / 2011  Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson / 2012  Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Steve is Staffing & Development Manager (aka the “Buy Guy”) at Half Price Books Corporate.

Happy Birth Anniversary, Marilyn Monroe

For those that know me, there is one thing that everyone can unanimously agree on.  I am a HUGE Marilyn Monroe fan.  I’m not quite sure the why, how, or when that it started, but from a very young age I was in love with Marilyn Monroe.  Maybe it was her beauty or the fact that I had no idea who this woman was, but yet I saw her face EVERYWHERE. Over two decades, I’ve built my collection of Marilyn memorabilia from books, puzzles, plates, glasses, figurines, posters, purses– the list just goes on.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize the reasons why I love Marilyn so much.  I adore how every photo of her captivates you. You’re forced to stop and look.  How you can see the difference between Marilyn Monroe and Norma Jeane in the pictures. Marilyn – the bombshell, the legend, the sensual woman full of humor; and Norma Jeane – the sad, unsure girl who, just like all of us, lacks self-confidence and just wants to find love.  Like so many others I’ve read countless books and biographies about Marilyn Monroe, and watched every movie (most multiple times).  But, my favorite things about Marilyn have always been her quotes.   Her words are so simplistic yet inspiring.  Each one has a truth behind it, and so many are words spoken by Marilyn that we think inside our heads but never say out loud about the insecurities of being a woman, the worries of not being beautiful enough, the process of trying to gain confidence in yourself.

Here are just a few of my favorites:

  • “I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”
  • “I am good, but not an angel. I do sin, but I am not the devil. I am just a small girl in a big world trying to find someone to love.”
  •  “If you’re gonna be two-faced, at least make one of them pretty.”
  •  “I don’t mind living in a man’s world, as long as I can be a woman in it.”
  •  “Success makes so many people hate you. I wish it wasn’t that way. It would be wonderful to enjoy success without seeing envy in the eyes of those around you.”
  •  “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”
  • “I want to grow old without facelifts… I want to have the courage to be loyal to the face I’ve made. Sometimes I think it would be easier to avoid old age, to die young, but then you’d never complete your life, would you? You’d never wholly know you.”

Happy Birthday to the woman who became a legend, to the woman that will always remain young and beautiful, and to the woman who never found out who she really was.

Crystal is the Store Manager at Half Price Books Flagship in Dallas TX.

40 Years of Buying Everything Ever Printed or Recorded

When you buy everything printed and recorded all day, every day, for 40 years, at an ever-growing number of locations, you see a lotta weird and wonderful stuff!  Here’s a first installment of 40 memorable buys we’ve made over the years.

1. Now you see it. Now you don’t.

A few years ago, our Plano store was fortunate enough to purchase several books that were fore-edge painted.  What, you may ask, does that mean?

Fore-edge painting is an almost-lost art.  An artist paints a scene of some sort on the fore-edges of the pages of a book—the edges opposite the book’s spine—while those pages are fanned.  When the book is closed and lying flat, the painting is not visible. When you fan the pages: Voila! The hidden scene appears! Often, the bookbinder would add gilt or marbling to the page edges in order to further conceal the secret scene.  Our buyers wouldn’t have even known that the books they were buying were fore-edge-painted if the seller hadn’t made a note of it.

Here’s one of the books Plano bought, Poetical Works of Robert Bridges, from 1913, unfanned (on the left). Note that the book itself is not especially interesting or desirable to a collector; that is, without its little secret. Here’s a photo revealing the scene, an “Eton School Room” (on the right).

Fore-edge painting is very uncommon, so I wouldn’t suggest rushing to your shelves and fanning all your old leather-bound treasures.  But fore-edge-painted books could make an interesting collection (which you’d have to be prepared to show-and-tell). 

2. Family Heirloom

Way back in 1990, longtime employee Chuck Pierce was assigned to work the Religion section at one of our Houston stores.  One day, he spotted an old worn Bible that was in pretty bad condition. Just before he set it aside to be recycled, he opened it and, to his surprise, saw his father’s name along with the names of his siblings. Turns out that Chuck had serendipitously come across the Bible of his aunt who had passed away twenty-six years before. Chuck believes that he was meant to have that Bible and keeps it close-by to this day.

3. “We proudly accept this buy…”

Wisconsin District Manager Joe Desch and District trainer Carolyn Beck went out on a buy recently and didn’t see much among the books and CDs that was very exceptional.  “However,” says Joe, “this guy was amazing!  He was a writer for the Carol Burnett show and won an Emmy for his work on the fifth season.  He also produced the 25th anniversary TV special for the founding of the state of Israel and worked with Jim Henson.”  Joe is pictured here delivering his fantasy Emmy acceptance speech. 

4. Leafing through a classic.

We occasionally find flowers pressed into books sold to us, but once, when I was checking the condition of a Disney Giant Golden Book from the seventies, I noticed that a large, perfectly-preserved marijuana leaf was pressed between a couple of pages.  On further inspection, I discovered a total of twenty, one inserted every few pages throughout the book.

5. Psychiatric and Psychological Examinations of Jack Ruby

A collection in a file folder, bought at our Kenwood store in Cincinnati, Ohio, contained the findings of Dr. Francis Forster, a noted neurologist who was called to testify at the 1964 trial of Jack Ruby for the murder of Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.  Forster’s testimony countered Ruby’s insanity defense.

Documents included in the file: dictaphone recording and transcription of a meeting between Dr. Forster, assistant prosecutor William F. Alexander, and Dr. William Peterson; Forster’s interpretations of two encephalograms made of Ruby; copies of other physicians’ findings; and correspondence from Forster to Alexander.

This unique grouping of documents gained the attention of the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, and was donated by HPB to that organization. The Sixth Floor is a John F. Kennedy museum located in the old Texas School Book Depository building where Lee Harvey Oswald perched.

Certainly not all of our buys are quite this memorable, but there are enough to keep the buying gig pretty interesting!  Look for another five tales from the Buy Guy archives next month.

— Steve

“Robot” Introduced 92 Years Ago: Top Three Film Robots

Okay, science fiction fans. I heard an interesting fact. Yesterday was the anniversary of when the word ROBOT was introduced into the English language. It was introduced by a Czech playwright, novelist and journalist named Karel Capek, who introduced it in 1920 in his hit play “RUR,” or “Rossum’s Universal Robots.” Being a movie buff, iI of course thought of famous robots in film. I could compile quite a list, but just to make it more refined, I’ve narrowed it down to the top 3.

C-3PO and R2-D2.
I know that these are two robots instead of one, but these “droids”(as Mr. Lucas coined them) must come in a pair. C-3PO, the protocol droid, is equipped with over 6 million forms of communication and hates adventure and space travel. His counterpart, R2-D2, is an astrodroid with a bold personality and bravery who serves many purposes throughout  Star Wars – from starship mechanic to computer interface specialists. Their popularity is unsurpassed by any other. After all, where do you think the name for the “DROID” phone came from?

The Terminator. Who can forget Arnold Schwarzenegger portraying the cybernetic organism (cyborg for short) T-800 series 101. This robot is sent back through time to terminate Sarah Connor, future mother of John Connor, who is destined to lead the revolution against the machines. The Terminator is a methodical killing machine and one of the great robots in film.

WALL-E. This robot, a Waste Allocation Lift Loader, Earth-Class (WALL-E for short) is the last of his kind on earth, left to clean the planet of trash. You wouldn’t believe there could be that much personality within a robot that befriends a cockroach, but then WALL-E later falls in love with another robot, EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator). Wonderful characters, but what else would you expect from Pixar? This is one lil’ robot who stole our hearts.

There are my top 3 robots in film. Now, before you object, I want you to know that I considered Optimus Prime and Megatron from Transformers, but to me they were more memorable as toys than in the movies. Mashinenmensch from Metropolis also almost made the list — he was a big influence on George Lucas when creating the look for C-3PO.

Who is on your list as the greatest robots in film? Don’t forget where the word ROBOT came from, and more importantly… No talking or texting during the feature presentation.

— Jim