Wednesday, August 10, 2005

"No Frills" generic books

At Look What I Found In My Brain!, Lucy Snyder remembers generic books.

Fewer people remember that, for a very brief period of time in the white-label heyday of the early 1980s, someone attempted to market generic genre books.

Yes, completely generic paperback books. They had a plain white cover with just the title in black block lettering: ROMANCE or SCIENCE FICTION or HORROR or WESTERN.

The funny thing is I do remember these. I never saw them in a store, but I remember a TV news show doing a feature on the books. I must have been 10 years old. Even then, I asked myself "how can a book be generic?" Of course, I know better now. There's many ways books can be generic. But to sell them as such is a bit much.
I remember this particular news show because I remember visiting my father in Long Island. His house was filled with "No Frills" items. I'd go in the bathroom and there would be a white tube with a blue line that said "Toothpaste" and somewhere along the side "No Frills." Items like that seemed to be from another universe. My house was filled with frilly items like Crest and Scope. So when I saw the TV story, I paid attention.
The only reference I can find to the books is a cached page from Kathmandu Books:

The ''No Frills'' series was a collection of generic books issued in a plain white cover with black writing. The series was put together by Terry Bisson, and this particular volume was written by John Silbersack. A near fine copy in wraps with a short closed tear and corner crease on the back cover.

I don't know anything about Silbersack. A Google search shows him to have been an editor and to also have written a few media tie-ins, including "Buck Rogers: Rogers Rangers." Terry Bisson, on the other hand, is a well known science fiction writer. His Web site mentions that he created the "No Frills" line in 1981, but gives no further information.
Does anybody know anything more about these books? I'd love to have an image of one.


aqb said...

It just so happens that I am searching for the generic series that you mention here.
As it is two years since your post, perhaps you have learned something more?
In '90 or '91, a co-worker had shown me three or four titles in the series; I remember "science fiction" and "war", but not the others. He loaned "war" to me, and I have to say that i liked a number of the short stories quite well. In particular, there was a prose story about a british soldier that lost his girl in the incendiary bombings -- he was grief-stricken, but not able to express his emotion (perhaps from shock? perhaps from fear of 'taboo' behavior, like crying?) and after reporting to his post immediately afterwards, apparently commits suicide. This story was so nicely written that is has stayed with me through the years. I wish that I could learn the author, or find that book again!
Anyhow, on with the search :)
Thanks for your post.

Brian said...

No, I haven't been researching this since then (in fact I've barely been blogging.) But in a quick search, I did find the New York Times review of these books here:

You may have to piece that together, sorry.
Although, I don't see a "war" book. Are you sure that was part of this line? Most of these seem to be novels, not short story collections.

Regardless, good luck in your search and thanks for reading.

DouglasLong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
aaronwez said...

Aha. Thanks for the NYT link.
When I received the book from my friend he was showing them all to me. The one he left on my desk was just like the others: all white, black letters, I think it said "generic" somewhere on it but I may be mis-remembering... the title on the front cover was, simply, "WAR".
I wonder what else it could have been, if not from this series?

The mystery not only goes on, it gets deeper, too! Ah well, I won't loose sleep over it, to be sure. Tks for your reply, and for your new posts at Weirdwriter, as well as the old.