The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the ability to order books online. One can avoid all manner of ghastliness. The public library usually furnishes whatever queer and misbegotten tome I’ve gone in search of, but too often it furnishes darker things besides—such eldritch sights as one might fear from a place with rules against “being less than fully clothed” and “misusing” the restroom “including [by] bathing.” Although used bookstores yield the odd treasure, I am by no means one of those antiquarians who finds himself, tentacles—er, spectacles—askew, intoxicated by a pungent bouquet of spores, molds, and fungus. Chain bookstores provide their own species of the unspeakable. Last time I went to Barnes & Noble, I saw a sign advertising Teen Paranormal Romance. As some might say: Oh my Elder Gods.

Back when “roman ...