By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
In a litter-strewn hallway just outside a St. Paul specialty bookstore, Lisa Vecoli confronts a friend. "I'm going to be pissed if I find out you're buying out from under me," she says, only half joking.
With an alphabetized list and a checkbook at the ready, the long-haired, pickup-driving bibliophile is prepared to make sacrifices in pursuit of her passion: Lesbian pulp fiction of the '50s and '60s.
Like other pulp novels of the post-World War II era, those with gay content featured titles and cover art designed to woo readers on the spot. Women's Barracks, published in 1950 as an allegedly "frank autobiography of a French girl soldier," is credited with being the first lesbian paperback original. It drew criticism from the 1952 U.S. House Subcommittee on Pornographic Materials, and caught Vecoli's eye at a suburban bookstore in 1992.
"This looks like it could have lesbians in it," Vecoli remembers thinking.
Six years later, several bookshelves in her bedroom are stuffed with more than 500 cellophane-protected works, ranging from literary (The Price of Salt), to subtle (The Strange Women), to trashy (Satan Was a Lesbian), to downright raunchy (My Wife, The Dyke). Collector Barbara Grier, the nation's foremost authority on such tomes, has found nearly 10,000 books with lesbian content--including understated titles that use code words such as "strange," "twilight," "odd," "twisted," and "forbidden" to communicate all-girl themes to buyers.
With the exception of Claire Morgan's The Price of Salt, only a handful of these books merit reading. The typical Vecoli-described plot: Lonely woman gets job on Monday, meets lesbian co-worker on Tuesday, lusty lesbian love affair erupts on Wednesday, the pair split over a man on Thursday.
"Imagine walking into a store in Topeka, Kan., and seeing two women holding hands on the cover of a book," Vecoli says. "Even if a lot of it was depressing, there were still some real subversive messages that got through."
But who can worry about literature when there's lusciously illustrated cover art, catchy titles and hyperbolic blurbs to admire? Just gaze at the cover of Dance-Hall Dyke, which shows a pair of dirty dancers, one of whom is grabbing the other's tush. It promises to take readers inside "the vicious jungle of lesbian lures...the fickle and the fake screaming the obscenity of their passions, while tender lovers cry for understanding." Meanwhile, Satan Was a Lesbian bypasses the requisite blurbs, confident that its image of a maniacal Satan and a leather-ensconced woman brandishing a whip will sell plenty o' copies.
Vecoli, 36, earns the cash for her book-buying binges at Minneapolis City Hall, where she's employed as a political aide to Council Member Kathy Thurber. The gregarious insider says she doesn't aspire to elected office, even though she enjoys campaigns and policy-making.
Ambling into the specialty bookstore, however, Thurber is more intent on purchasing pulp. For a mere $95, she walks away with eight classics, including Pagan Lesbians, a book chronicling the lives of seven godless girls: Denise ("Tall...Dark...And Delightful") and Robbie ("Squat...Dark...And Built Like a Lumberjack!") and so forth.
"I've been resisting it for a year," Vecoli says, chuckling. "I just had to have it."