Looks At Books

For whatever reason, I seem to be on several mailing lists for book reviewers and book marketing people. Occasionally they want to ask me stuff and so I answer it. Sometimes if I get one that’s particularly entertaining to fill out, I decide I’ll turn it into a column, and so here we are.


Your Favorite Book Cover:

Oh my God that is an awful question for someone like me. I can’t decide. It really depends on the genre and the artist and what kind of mood I’m in that day. The best I can do is narrow it down to a few favorite artists.

I think the artist that perfectly captured the spirit of the story more than anyone else is Gino d’Achille with his covers for the Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars books.

Martian awesomeness

I know the Frazetta ones are more sought-after but these are the ones that feel more like Barsoom to me than any others.

Frank McCarthy’s James Bond covers for Bantam were a huge influence on me when I was teaching myself to draw, back when I was about fourteen.

McCarthy James Bond is the BEST James Bond.
McCarthy James Bond is the BEST James Bond.

I know when it comes to Robert E. Howard everyone thinks Frazetta is the one and only, but really I am more of a Jones guy.

The mighty Jones!

That’s the late Catherine Jones, who was Jeff Jones when he painted these covers. As much as I dug the Chaykin version in Marvel comics, the truth is that the Jones version of Solomon Kane is the one I see in my head when I read the books. It’s just perfect.

THE Solomon Kane. Accept no others.

I could go on and on. The George Wilson Phantom covers, the Jim Steranko Shadow covers, the Lou Feck re-envisioning of Star Trek…. honestly, it could be its own column.

I guess my real answer to this question is “pulp paperback 1970s covers.” That’s my favorite kind of book cover. Sadly, that style seems to have largely gone away, though Hard Case Crime and Tor Books are hanging in there.

Old school, baby.

A couple of others. But it’s mostly photo covers and giant lettering these days.

What are you reading right now?

A couple of different things. Still kind of on my Western kick. Right now I’m working my way through these two omnibus editions of Louis L’Amour.

Cowboys, pard.

What five books have you always wanted to read but haven’t got round to?

I always meant to check out more from John Varley, ever since my old friend Joe and I saw him at the first Orycon, back when it was a little one-day affair at Portland State…. this was back when The Ophiuchi Hotline came out. I picked that one up up the following year and liked it a lot. I like Millennium too. (Book and movie both.)

But people keep telling me that those aren’t a patch on the Gaia trilogy, so let’s say that’s three of them.


Other two would be…. hmmm… the problem with this question is the word “always.” I usually get to the books I’m interested in fairly quickly. So this is harder than one might think.

I keep meaning to get around to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. That’s been on the list for a while.

Oh, and the rest of the Rama books by Arthur C. Clarke. I loved the first one, and I enjoyed the second one well enough, but the other two have been sitting by the nightstand for a while. They keep getting other books stacked on top of them. It’s been at least three or four years now.


So there you go.

What’s the worst book you’ve ever read?

I’m going to go with The Star Web.

Just deadly dull. Put me off Laser Books for years. Eventually I gave the imprint another chance and today I have quite a few, but nothing by George Zebrowski. I gather he’s a beloved old-school SF author in some circles but my God that book just stank on ice.

What book seemed really popular but you didn’t like?

Never warmed up to Harry Potter.

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?

Diane Duane’s Rihannsu books. Best Star Trek tie-ins ever.

Star Trek Rihannsu

The first two are stand-alones; the remaining three are a continuous narrative. There’s a nice omnibus edition with the first four.

Seriously, if you like Star Trek you will love these.

What are your three favorite poems?

I am revealing what a giant nerd I am (well, honestly, that ship’s probably sailed) but it’s Robert E. Howard’s two about Solomon Kane and another Howard one, Adventurer. I’m not much on poetry but I’m sentimental about these because I was allowed to use them for a school project when I was in high school.

Badass sword-wielding poems.

Where do you usually get your books?

Used. Mail-order or Goodwill.

When you were little, did you have any particular reading habits?

Same as now. Read omnivorously whenever I had the chance.

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was too good to put down?

Probably End of Watch. The Bill Hodges books are the best thing Stephen King’s done in years.

The Hodges trilogy

Have you ever “faked” reading a book?

Not since high school. Even then the part I was faking was having to slow down. Usually I’d blow through the assigned novel in an hour or two and then be stuck waiting for everyone else to catch up.

Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?

Good God yes. Why do you think I get so carried away talking about old paperback cover artists? That’s how I first found a lot of my favorite genre series things.

Impulse buys

Not so much any more, though when we are on our back-roads bookscouting expeditions I’m more likely to take a chance on something with a cool cover if it’s cheap.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

Probably either The Secret of Terror Castle or Taran Wanderer.

Still very fond of both of them.

What book changed your life?

Hmmm. Probably either the Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, the Educator Classic edition that started a lifelong love affair with the Holmes stories and eventually led me to writing my own… or David Gerrold’s The Trouble With Tribbles. The story of how he wrote and sold that episode crystallized my own ambition to be a writer myself.

Life changers.

Can’t decide so I’m going to say both of them resulted in some major life changes.

What is your favorite passage from a book?

Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. The whole book, but here’s a taste.

Hernandez looked at me and said: “Come back in the morning and sign your statement. We’ll have it typed out by then. We ought to have a P.M. report by ten o’clock, preliminary anyway. Anything you don’t like about this setup, Marlowe?”

“Would you mind rephrasing the question? The way you put it suggests there might be something I do like about it.”

“Okay,” he said wearily. “Take off. I’m going home.”

I stood up.

“Of course I never did believe that stuff Candy pulled on us,” he said. “Just used it for a corkscrew. No hard feelings, I hope.”

“No feelings at all, Captain. No feelings at all.”

They watched me go out and didn’t say goodnight. I walked down the long corridor to the Hill Street entrance and got into my car and drove home.

No feelings at all was exactly right. I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between the stars. When I got home I mixed a stiff one and stood by the open window in the living room and sipped it and listened to the groundswell of the traffic on Laurel Canyon Boulevard and looked at the glare of the big angry city hanging over the shoulder of the hills through which the boulevard had been cut. Far off the banshee wail of police or fire sirens rose and fell, never for very long completely silent. Twenty four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is trying to catch him. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes people were dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy tires. People were being beaten, robbed, strangled, raped, and murdered. People were hungry, sick; bored, desperate with loneliness or remorse or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs. A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness.

It all depends on where you sit and what your own private score is. I didn’t have one. I didn’t care. I finished the drink and went to bed.

Who are your top five favorite authors? (Aside from number 1, in no particular order)

Even narrowing it to five is hard. In no order at all: Rex Stout, John D. MacDonald, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and David Gerrold.

What book has no one heard about but should read?

The Shattered World, by Michael Reaves.

Shattered World

What books are you an ‘evangelist’ for?

Well, I already talked about Diane Duane’s Star Trek books. But Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm is pretty amazing too- nothing like Dean Martin. Think James Bond as written by Mickey Spillane.

Matt Helm

What are your favorite books by a first time author?

I assume this means debut novels. Hard to beat Chandler’s The Big Sleep.

The Big Sleep

What is your favorite classic book?

My definition of ‘classic’ is probably not the same as most people’s. But I’ll say Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I have it here in a dozen different editions, comics, prose, DVD and so on, so I must like it a lot.


Okay! That’s it! Your turn!

Knock yourselves out in the comments below, folks. I’ll be back next week with something cool.


  1. M-Wolverine

    Where did they sell those Bantam Bond books with the nipple on the cover? Can image a lot of bookstore shelves probably didn’t want to display those.

    My Bond book covers were the Signet, mostly the post ’61 series ones.


    And while I really enjoyed it, I did feel that Dracula kind of ends with a thud. All this build up and chase and then no exciting climax. It’s probably a sign of going up in a movie not literary culture, but still. I actually found Frankenstein much more engrossing with a stronger finish than the adaptations, usually.

    1. Alaric

      Yeah, I thought Frankenstein was a stronger book, overall, than Dracula, too. I think the fact that I read the two back to back probably got in the way of my enjoyment of Dracula somewhat. Dracula had some great moments, though.

      1. M-Wolverine

        I actually like Dracula the character better, and it’s a great novel. But the book has the excellent parts at the castle that everyone recreates, then starts to meander a bit outside of Lucy, then has an exciting chase and, SPOILERS, they kill him. Done. No big fight, so special way to kill him. Maybe it’s just saying he’s so powerful they can’t if he gets back by dark, but dramatically it leaves a little something to be desired.

  2. Le Messor

    I think the correct answer to that first question was:
    “All those generic covers in all black with one red photographic element… or generic the Assassin’s Creed covers with some person in a hood and nothing else… that have nothing to do with the content of the book.” 😀

    “What book seemed really popular but you didn’t like?”
    Kudos for being willing to answer that on a public forum!

  3. Annoyed Grunt

    “Think James Bond as written by Mickey Spillane.”

    Greg, I started picking up paperbacks a few years back almost solely because of your enthusiasm. I probably have about 200 of them in my ‘to read’ pile but that one sentence has just moved those few Matt Helm novels to the front of the line.

    On a somewhat related note, do you have any thoughts on Philip Altee’s Joe Gall series? I’ve only read two so far and I’m not sure what to think of them yet. The first novel had so many different plot points that I got literary whiplash trying to keep everything straight. A few installments later the first half of the book is about the main character developing a heroin addiction to go in deep cover. Definitely interesting but it took forever for the main plot to start. I’m hoping I’ll Goldilocks the next in the series and it will be juuuuuust right.

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    Favorite book cover is tough; but, if I had to pick one, it would be NC Wyeth’s cover to the Scribner’s edition of Treasure Island. I have a poster of it, on my wall.

    Reading right now: Pyramids, by Terry Pratchett. I just finished his final book, Shepherd’s Crown, which sees Granny Weatherwax pass away and Tiffany Aching ascend to non-leadership (witches don’t have leaders) of the witch community of Discworld. I’ve got several Pratchett Discworld omnibi, including the one with Pyramids, Small Gods and Hogfather. Pyramids sees a young desert prince (think ancient Egypt) go off for training as an assassin; but, find that he can’t kill in cold blood, and who has to return home to be the pharoah and the new living god. He isn’t happy about it and wants to make changes, but seems to be fighting eons of non-progress. meanwhile, his dead father’s spirit isn’t able to move on, as he is tied to the pyramid that’s being built for him, that he now realizes he doesn’t want. Discworld is filled with satire and this one seems to be taking aim at ancient Egypt, the funeral industry, who monuments are for, and how to make people see the future, when they are stuck in the past.

    Wanted to read but haven’t got to: Donald Hamilton’s stuff, the Jungle Book, Conan Doyle’s Brigadier Gerard stories, Le Carre’s Smiley books (I’ve read Tinker Tailor… and have omnibi of the older and subsequent ones), the Spider collections from Carroll & Graf (been sitting on those for a while, read Spider vs The Empire State this past summer). I was a bookseller for 20 years, I have a big “To read…” pile.

    Worst book I ever read? Not worst written; but, I hated Kate Chopin’s The Awakening with a passion (had to read it in college). It was just so depressing and whiny and I just wanted the character to go away. Nothing to do with her being a female; just one who wouldn’t take charge of her life. I loved Willa Cather’s O Pioneers and Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklin, both with female protagonists who face a lot of adversity; but, keep working to make their lives and their family’s lives better.

    Popular book I didn’t like: Da Vinci Code-no character development, hinges on ridiculous interpretation of symbols that do not have absolute meanings, bad pulp plotting, and so on. Also add anything by Tom Clancy after Hunt for Red October, but especially Cardinal of the Kremlin. It’s filled with ridiculous negative stereotypes, especially about computer experts and lesbians; to the point of making old exploitive pulp books look open-minded. Also, Clancy doesn’t know jack about the real military, apart from what he read in Jane’s Defense publications (which is all tech stuff).

    One book I always recommend: Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men-every teenager should read it, especially teen girls (plenty for the guys, too) and adults will find tons to love. Pratchett had a real eye for humanity and what makes people tick and hits you with all kinds of truth, wrapped in wry humor that lets it sink in, unnoticed, until the ideas seize your brain. This is a man who answers the question of whether there is a cat god with ” That would be like…work.”

    3 favorite poems: Rudyard Kipling’s “If,” William Blake’s “The Tyger,” and “Butchered to Make a Dutchman’s Holiday,” Harry (“Breaker”) Morant.

    Where do I buy books ? Wherever I find them. Used to be at work and used bookstores and the internet; not it’s mostly the other two. Reading habits? My dad took us every week to the bookmobile. I’ve been hitting books wherever I could find them, ever since. Any visit to a mall was a scouting trip for a bookstore.

    Stayed up reading? Can’t remember. I’m too used to reading whenever I had down time; so, it doesn’t bother me to read in snippets, no matter how good. Never faked reading a book; but, wished I could have, with the Awakening. Did I mention how much I hated that? ‘Cause it bears repeating!

    I bought tons of books because of the cover. The best decision in that mold was Kim Newman’s Man From the Diogenes Club. It introduced me to some great British pulp fiction, inspired by a lot of favorite British adventure series, and a new favorite author.

    Favorite book as a child? The King with Six Friends, by Jay Williams, art by Imero Gobbato. A deposed king wanders the land and finds 6 friends, with extraordinary abilities, like a picture book version of the Justice League. The king befriends each by saving them from a predicament, earning their loyalty. they then aid him in passing a series of tasks, to wed another king’s daughter. It was probably the best book I ever read about leadership, which I read at age 5, well before I became a naval officer. The art is breathtaking, too. I spent 30 years trying to find it again, before I finally did.

    Book that changed my life? Not so much a single book as Dr Seuss. He made me want to read books and taught me to look at the world with both an open mind and a skeptical eye and to see the part we all play in the world around us.

    Favorite passage is tough. Tons of good ones in Terry Pratchett’s work, tons of good ones in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. The best was probably a section of Harpo Speaks, by Harpo Marx, where he details the rules that he had with his family (wife and kids, not so much his brothers). They are a perfect guide for raising kids and dealing with life, in general. Very wise and very funny man. It’s amazing how often that seems to go together, in my experience.

    Top 5 authors: Terry Pratchett, Alexandre Dumas, Kim Newman, Alistair McLean, and Fritz Leiber.

    Book no one has heard of but should read: Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff (Jesus’ Childhood Pal), by Christopher Moore.

    Book I’m an evangelist for? Anything by Terry Pratchett; but, especially the City Watch and Witches books, in the Discworld series.

    Favorite book by a first-time author-A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. How’s that for a first novel?

    Favorite “classic” book-Well, if we go by the literary snob narrow definition, The Three Musketeers. If we go by my definition-Fahrenheit 451 or The Guns of Navarone (maybe Day of the Jackal).

    Favorite column-this one!

  5. darkemeralds

    Oh, man, Taran Wanderer! One of my youthful life-changers, too. The motif of trying to find your craft, and loving the one that you don’t have real genius for–that has always stuck with me. And speaking of cover art, the covers for those editions of all five Prydain books were wonderful!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.