Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Readers & REH

I currently work in the last remaining large national chain of bookstores in the U.S.. I chat with readers on a daily basis about books. Occasionally I will spot a customer with an H.P. Lovecraft book, or some kind of sci-fi/fantasy book. I invariably ask them if they have ever heard of Robert E. Howard. It's safe to say that about 95% of customers I ask answer in the negative.

This being the case, I usually re-direct my question, "Well, you know who Conan the Barbarian is, right?" They always say, "Yes!" My response is to tell them that Howard is the creator of Conan. If they are holding a Lovecraft book I also mention that the two writers were contemporaries and carried on volumes of correspondence toward the latter part of Howard's life. This is always followed by me declaring, "You know, Howard wrote horror stories as well." Unsurprisingly, this always surprises them. "Really?" They ask. I nod and say, "He also wrote westerns, pirate tales, boxing stories, and poetry." "Poetry?" They ask. "Yes, he was quite the poet," I tell them.

By the time I get to REH's poetry in the conversation they usually ask, "Do ya'll carry any of his works?" I then walk them over to the selection of Del Rey copies we keep in stock and pull a few and hand them to the customer. Their response is usually something like this, "I've read his Conan stories, but I had no idea he wrote anything else." Inside I'm smiling because I know if they like Lovecraft, they will really enjoy Howard. Thus, a new fan is gained.

I do the same thing whenever I see a customer with an Edgar Rice Burroughs work. However, the majority of ERB fans already know about Howard. Also, chances are high that the ERB fans are familiar with other Howard characters and stories besides Conan. It's with these customers I usually discuss pulp writers and historical facts about other writers of the same ilk.

I've seen several of these customers return to our store after purchasing a Howard book I've recommended. I ask them if they've had a chance to read Howard. Several have said, "yes," and they have told me they really enjoyed his work. Others have even thanked me for letting them know about Howard. All in a days work.

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