Design Observer

About
Books
Job Board
Newsletters
Archive
Contact



Observatory

About
Resources
Submissions
Contact


Featured Writers

Michael Bierut
William Drenttel
John Foster
Jessica Helfand
Alexandra Lange
Mark Lamster
Paul Polak
Rick Poynor
John Thackara
Rob Walker


Departments

Advertisement
Audio
Books
Collections
Dear Bonnie
Dialogues
Essays
Events
Foster Column
From Our Archive
Gallery
Interviews
Miscellaneous
New Ideas
Opinions
Partner News
Photos
Poetry
Primary Sources
Projects
Report
Reviews
Slideshows
The Academy
Today Column
Unusual Suspects
Video


Topics

Advertising
Architecture
Art
Books
Branding
Business
Cities / Places
Community
Craft
Culture
Design History
Design Practice
Development
Disaster Relief
Ecology
Economy
Education
Energy
Environment
Fashion
Film / Video
Food/Agriculture
Geography
Global / Local
Graphic Design
Health / Safety
History
Housing
Ideas
Illustration
India
Industry
Info Design
Infrastructure
Interaction Design
Internet / Blogs
Journalism
Landscape
Literature
Magazines
Media
Museums
Music
Nature
Obituary
Other
Peace
Philanthropy
Photography
Planning
Poetry
Politics / Policy
Popular Culture
Poverty
Preservation
Product Design
Public / Private
Public Art
Religion
Reputations
Science
Shelter
Social Enterprise
Sports
Sustainability
Technology
Theory/Criticism
Transportation
TV / Radio
Typography
Urbanism
Water


Comments Posted 09.20.10 | PERMALINK | PRINT | VIEW SLIDESHOW

Joshua Glenn

The "X" Factor


The X from the book Warrant for X (1945; first pub. 1938 as The Nursemaid Who Disappeared), by Philip MacDonald

I started collecting Cold War-era (i.e., from the end of WWII through détente) "X" paperbacks when I was 12 years old. From the pulp fiction pile in my grandfather's summer house in Maine, I smuggled home a 1945 Pocket Book edition of Philip MacDonald's Warrant for X. I didn't want to read it; I was obsessed with the free-standing "X" on its cover: two swipes of red paint topped by two narrower swipes of white. Thus rendered, the letterform struck me — though not in these terms — as the quintessential signifier of all things mysterious and dangerous, forbidden and sexy.


From the late Fifties through the Sixties, science fiction publishers seconded that emotion. Even as the free-standing letter "X" all but vanished from the titles of crime novels (why? all theories welcomed), it resurfaced in sci-fi novel titles, from Wilson Tucker's Tomorrow Plus X (1957) through by Theodore Sturgeon's Venus Plus X (1960), Andre Norton's The X Factor (1965), and Ben Barzman's Echo X (1968). Though I do have a couple of mysteries — and two romance novels — in my collection, the rest are science fiction.

I haven't attempted to track down copies of every single Cold War-era "X" paperback, but my research indicates that there are a couple dozen of them out there — not counting novels with non-freestanding-"X" titles like The X-machine, Phenomena X, Force 97X, or Formula 29X (all of which happen to have been penned by the same author, using various pseudonyms). If I sound like an overly uptight purist, I hasten to note that I'm not too proud to collect novels whose titles were changed: e.g., Tomorrow Plus X was first published as Time Bomb, while Echo X was originally Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. I can't afford to be that choosy: MacDonald's Warrant for X, the catalyst for three decades of collecting "X" books, was first published in 1938 under the "X"-less title The Nursemaid Who Disappeared!

The following slideshow features fifteen of my favorite Cold War-era "X" paperbacks. For more information on these titles and their authors, and to view more titles in my ever-expanding "X" collection, check out the pulp fiction gallery I've created at the website HiLobrow.
Share This Story

RELATED POSTS


Card Shark (a Poem)


Late Summer Reading


TWA: Still Kicking


The Enduring Influence of Richard Hollis


On My Shelf: The Metallization of a Dream



LOG IN TO POST A COMMENT
Don't have an account? Create an account. Forgot your password? Click here.

Email


Password




|
Share This Story



ABOUT THE SLIDESHOW

A slideshow pf "X" paperbacks from the collection of Joshua Glenn.
View Slideshow >>
Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, editor, and cultural semiotics analyst. He's cofounder of HiLobrow (named by TIME one of the Best Blogs of 2010), Significant Objects, and Semionaut. In the 1990s, he published the zine Hermenaut.
More >>

DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS