Friday 15 October 2010

Lewes Book Bargain: James Bond: The Authorized Biography by John Pearson

Our final Lewes – the East Sussex town etc. etc. – Book Bargain (for now; it's a safe bet that in the near future I'll be buying further books from the various bookshops and charity shops that litter Lewes, for which I can only apologise to my long-suffering girlfriend) is a real oddity:

A UK hardback first edition of James Bond: The Authorized Biography by John Pearson, published by Sidgwick & Jackson Limited in 1973, with a dustjacket designed by the wonderfully named Bartholomew Wilkins and Partners (wot ho). I bought this in the Lewes Antique Centre – the same place I picked up that copy of Richard Price's Samaritan for a quid – where I think it had been lurking for quite some time; I seem to recall glancing at it before. But on this particular trip I decided to nab it.

What's interesting about the book is that it is, at root, a Bond novel. In fact, it could be considered more of a Bond novel – as in belonging to the original Ian Fleming literary canon – than John Gardner's 007 novels, which kicked off eight years later in 1981 with Licence Renewed, and which followed a necessarily altered continuity to the Fleming novels, updating Bond and his colleagues and accoutrements for the modern age. Whereas, like Kingsley Amis' 1968 Bond novel Colonel Sun (written under the pseudonym Robert Markham), The Authorized Biography is very much about Fleming's original James Bond, featuring a 007 who's aged in line with the years that accumulated over the course of Fleming's – who died in 1964 – and then Amis' Bond books. Indeed, from that perspective, The Authorized Biography and Colonel Sun are the only post-Fleming Bond novels that could be considered canon, although you could make a strong case for Charlie Higson's 1930s-set Young Bond books.

All of which no doubt sounds terribly nerdy and dull to most people, but is the kind of thing that keeps Bond fanatics up at night. I'm not quite that nerdy about Bond, but I do find this sort of thing fascinating... which would therefore, by my own reckoning, make me quite dull. Hmph. Also, I've been ever so slightly insomniac since That Night, so fretting about the canonical nature of a James Bond book in the wee small hours doesn't actually seem that strange to me.

Anyway, The Authorized Biography is, as I say, a novel, rather than simply a fictionalized biography. It's written in the first person, and is ostensibly John Pearson's account of his search for and encounters with James Bond – as in the real, living, breathing James Bond, who does actually exist and is on permanent sick leave in Bermuda. What follows is an account of Bond's life, with stories from his school days, his wartime experiences, the times between missions, and so on. It's also revealed that Fleming's novels were written to convince SMERSH that Bond was only a fictional character, which is an intriguing but bizarre notion.

Notably, the book is authorised by Glidrose, Fleming's publishing company (inside it's copyright both Glidrose and Pearson), which lends the canon argument more weight. Pearson was Fleming's assistant at the Sunday Times, where Fleming was foreign manager, and wrote a 1966 biography of Fleming. He's also written a few other novels, mostly based on other people's properties, but he's better known for his true crime books, including a few on East End gangsters the Kray twins (one of these, The Profession of Violence, was the basis for the 1990 film The Krays).

So there you have it. And that's probably yer lot for this week. Next week, if all goes according to plan, Existential Ennui will see the return of one old friend and one fairly new acquaintance: Donald E. Westlake – or more accurately Richard Stark, and perhaps one other Westlake pseudonym too – and Ross Thomas. See you then.

Lewes Bookshop Bargain: X v. Rex by Philip Macdonald

I've still got a couple of recently bought Book Bargains to blog about, both of which, as the title of this first of two posts suggests, were bought in Lewes, the East Sussex town in which I oh you know the drill. So let's see if we can't get 'em squared away by the end of the week. And look! Here's one now:

A 1955 first Penguin paperback edition of X v. Rex by Philp Macdonald. I found this in the cheapo paperback dump bins outside second hand bookshop A & Y Cumming up Lewes High Street (the Bow Windows Bookshop has similar dump bins, as do a few other Lewes book emporiums). Really, I just liked the sound of the story: a policeman is killed in a country town near London, and then another, and another, until panic spreads and the government becomes involved (the "X" of the title is the killer; not sure who "Rex" is though... Rex Stout? Rex Harrison? T.Rex? Rex-N-Effect?). In fact, according to the ever-reliable (ahem) Wikipedia, it's a very early example of a serial killer novel, before the term 'serial killer' had even been invented.

X v. Rex has a somewhat convoluted publishing history; I think it was originally published by Collins in 1933, under the pseudonym Martin Porlock. It then gained the title The Mystery of Mr. X for a Literary Press printing, possibly around 1934, again under the Porlock pseudonym, before finally being published once again as X v. Rex under Philip Macdonald's own name in this Penguin edition. To add to the confusion, it was also published as The Mystery of the Dead Police, again under Macdonald's own name, certainly by Dell in the US in 1955, possibly by Collins in the UK earlier. What I do know for sure is that Macdonald largely wrote whodunnits or locked room mysteries, which makes X v. Rex even more unusual. Leafing through it outside the shop, though, two things grabbed me more than the serial killer angle: the political intrigue, with the Prime Minister growing increasingly alarmed at the situation with the murdered policemen; and that the descriptive prose is intermingled with diary entries by the killer himself.

This edition of X v. Rex was one of ten books issued as a Penguin paperback to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Collins' famed Crime Club, along with the likes of Agatha Christie's Murder in Mesopotamia and Nicholas Blake's A Question of Proof; all ten books were published on the same day in 1955. Which is quite a neat little idea, and just goes to show that even back then publishers weren't above the odd publicity stunt...

Thursday 14 October 2010

Lewes Book Bargains and Further Thoughts on Design: Samaritan by Richard Price, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Cuts by Malcolm Bradbury

First up, an admission: this is the second version of this post I've had to write. That's because Blogger, as is sometimes its wont, went off the deep end just as I was putting the finishing touches to the original version and deleted the entire draft. Consequently, and despite much furious keyboard bashing and fruitless back-searching, I lost the lot, which was, and continues to be, really, really annoying, particularly as I was rather pleased with that version. Although, now I come to think of it, there might be a proverb about that; something about pride and falling over. I dunno; I'm too furious to contemplate it right now. Anyway, I can only apologise if this post is a bit sub-par – I mean, more sub-par than normal. If it's any consolation, it was written with steam coming out of my fucking ears.

So then. Where were we? Ah yes. As that mouthful of a post title suggests, continuing this somewhat random week of round-ups, catch-ups, and comics archaeology, today I've got three books with absolutely nothing in common other than they were all bought at various venues around Lewes, the East Sussex town in which I live (previous Lewes Book Bargains can be found 'ere, 'ere, 'ere, and 'ere). However, as with yesterday's post about Kate Atkinson, today, along with my by-now traditional and incredibly informative ramblings about novels and authors and the like, I'll also be looking at these three books with my design head on – which is similar to my regular head, except slightly better proportioned and with a more stylish haircut – and formulating a number of highly speculative, shapeless, badly though out points about their covers. Oh you lucky, lucky people, you.

And let's begin with the most recent book bargain:

A UK hardback first edition of Richard Price's Samaritan, published by Bloomsbury in 2003. Price, for those who don't know, is a writer's writer, i.e. the kind of writer other writers admire and aspire to be as good as, or at least approach. David Simon made use of his talents on a number of episodes of The Wire, while the likes of George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane (both also, not entirely coincidentally, former Wire writers: Pelecanos actually got Price involved in the show) owe him a debt. Price's novels are few and far between, just eight stretching across a thirty-five-plus year career, mostly dwelling on the underbelly of urban America, the best known of which probably those that were turned into films – Clockers (1992) and Freedomland (1998). In August this year Price signed a deal with Henry Holt to write a series of straight-up detective novels under a pen name, Jay Morris. I read an article at the time to the effect that Price got so sick of slaving and sweating over worthy and difficult-to-write (but not to read) books that he figured he might as well try something a bit easier instead (and maybe make some crazy bank in the process). And why the hell not.

I have a first edition of his debut novel, The Wanderers (1974), sitting on my shelf waiting to be read, but the fact that I haven't yet read anything by him didn't stop me from snapping up this copy of Samaritan when I came across it hiding on one of the stalls in the Lewes Antique Centre, not least because it was only a quid. The cover design on this one is by former Bloomsbury design director William Webb and it's perfectly fine, as these things go: moody, clean, simple. But it does conform to that image-library/font school of design I was talking about yesterday. Not only that, but its combination of sans-serif typeface and lowering urban scene is also pretty much what you'd expect from a contemporary crime novel cover, although I suspect that may well be intentional. What do I mean by that? Well let's mull that one over, shall we, while we look at the second of today's bargain books:

A UK hardback first edition/first impression of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, published in 2005 by Faber. Now, this isn't the kind of novel I'd normally buy – not that it's any particular kind of novel, as in, it's not, say, a crime novel, or a science fiction novel – rather, it couldn't really be called a genre novel, and as I think we've established by now, it's genre novels – crime, science fiction, etc. – that I tend to go for. Although, having said all that (rather tortuously), Never Let Me Go does actually possess genre elements – in particular SF – concerned, as it is, with clones being bred to act as organ donors. In any case, that aside, Ishiguro is still an author I'm interested in, so when I saw this in the Lewes branch of charity shop Oxfam for less than three quid – ooh, look: I've left the price sticker on the back – I grabbed it, sharpish like.

The cover design here is by London firm Two Associates, and as with the Richard Price book and the way its cover resembles those adorning other contemporary crime novels, the cover of Never Let Me Go is very much what we expect a literary novel to look like. Which is to say, it conforms to our current expectations – formed by countless other books and indeed films, film posters, adverts, and so on – of what a literary novel should look like: a blurry image, an elegant font. And like the Price novel, it almost certainly plays to those expectations. After all, one of the purposes of a book cover is to be attractive to, and therefore to attract, the sort of person who might be interested in that book; to get you, the book-buyer, to pick up and buy that book. So in that sense, playing to the gallery is perfectly understandable: Samaritan looks like a crime novel – looks like novels by the aforementioned Pelecanos, Lehane, and even, say, Ian Rankin, and consequently might well attract anyone interested in crime novels or the works of messers Pelecanos et al; and the Ishiguro conforms to the stereotype of what a so-called literary novel should look like, right down to the faux staining and distressing (this isn't a notably scruffy copy; those scuffs and marks you can see on the jacket are a design choice), and would therefore quite conceivably attract a bookworm of a literary bent.

So are Never Let Me Go and Samaritan examples of good cover design? Or simply effective cover design? And isn't effective cover design the same as good cover design anyway? Let's ponder those posers while we regard our third and final book:

This is a UK hardback first edition of Cuts by Malcolm Bradbury, published by Hutchinson in 1987. Bradbury is one of those authors who seems to have been with me all my life and yet whose novels I've never read a one of (there's a theme developing here...). I think my mum might have had a copy of The History Man – his best known book – at one point, and I distinctly recall seeing his works in Beckenham library when I used to haunt those unhallowed halls in the '70s and '80s. He was an academic as well as a novelist, an authority on modern fiction, penning books on Evelyn Waugh and E. M. Forster. Cuts is a novella rather than a longer work, and is particularly pertinent at the moment, as it's about budgetary cutbacks, specifically those at a provincial university.

I bought it in the Lewes Flea Market, which isn't usually a terribly rewarding venue books-wise, mostly housing shonky book club editions in amongst its random selection of furniture and knick-knacks. Cuts stood out by dint of its distinctive jacket; the cover painting – and therefore the dustjacket, as the painting virtually is the jacket, and vice versa – is by Tom Phillips, a very well known artist and Royal Academician, so it's necessarily a different kind of jacket to the previous two books. On top of that, it dates from an era before Quark XPress and InDesign and Photoshop and online image libraries and indeed computers being used in the design process at all, really. Which seems strange, I know, but once upon a time that's how things were: when I was on my art foundation course at Ravensboune in 1988, the design students were still focused on quaint things like pens, paper and rulers. Computers just didn't figure in the equation.

So can we make a meaningful comparison between the cover of Cuts and the covers of Never Let Me Go and Samaritan? Of course we bally well can. Technology and methodology march on, but cover design is still cover design. And on a purely window-dressing level, it has to be said that the Price and the Ishiguro are rather prettier than the Bradbury, which is notably awkward, even ugly in comparison. But that is, I'd propose, the only category they do categorically triumph in.

Aesthetically, there's a lot more going on in the Bradbury, which is a cavalcade of textures and colours and types of type and angles and planes and just areas of interest. Furthermore, as we've established, to a greater or lesser degree the Price and the Ishiguro pander to and play to the stereotypical cover expectations befitting their particular sought-after audience. That's potentially an effective marketing device, but it's also a very boring one. The Bradbury, on the other hand, isn't trying to be like anything else (although it does perhaps owe a debt to, for example, Kurt Schwitters), and as a result seems so much fresher than the other two, despite having a good number of years on them. It also does a better job of reflecting the thing that's the most important thing of all: the words inside the book (almost too literally, one might argue). That clapperboard on the cover, for instance, is a direct reference to an element of the plot of Cuts, concerning the editing of a television programme. That, to me, says more about the novel than a photo of a city says about Samaritan or another, blurrier photo of a girl says about Never Let Me Go. (Although, as I say, I haven't read any of these books yet. I could, as ever, and as is often the case, be wrong.)

Of course, there's room for subtlety and suggestion on a book cover, although less so these days. But there's really nothing subtle about conforming to stereotypes or playing to them either. So which of these covers is the better? Honestly, I'm not really sure. I don't actively dislike any of them, and they could all be said to be valiant efforts, one way or another, at getting people to recognise and hopefully buy each book. But I do kind of wish there were a few more book covers being created these days that were as willfully individual as that Cuts dustjacket. There is, after all, more to life than InDesign and image libraries.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Kate Atkinson, Case Histories, Started Early, Took My Dog, and Book Design

There's no rhyme nor reason to this week's posts (one could make a similar case for most weeks' posts...); I'm still trying to catch up on the backlog of books that's been building up, so, much like yesterday and the day before, the next few days will essentially consist of a random series of posts on whatever takes my fancy. And today, we have two books, starting with this:

A UK hardback first edition/first impression of Kate Atkinson's Case Histories, published by Doubleday in 2004, with an intriguingly abstract dustjacket illustration by Michelle Thompson. I've only just started reading it, and am enjoying it thus far (character and digression seem to be watchwords), but I've never read any other of Atkinson's books. So why, if I'm not familiar with her oeuvre, did I track down a first edition of this particular novel, I hear you cry? Excellent question. Well, as I say, I'd never read any of Atkinson's work, but I saw her new book, Started Early, Took My Dog, was out (published by Doubleday), and getting good notices. And of course Started Early is the fourth of Atkinson's novels to feature private investigator Jackson Brodie, and I couldn't very well buy the fourth book in a series without at least getting the first book in the series, now could I? I mean, that would be sheer madness.

So I bought Started Early, Took My Dog, ostensibly so Rachel (a.k.a. The Bird) could read it, as she's read a couple of the other Brodie books, and I found an inexpensive first edition of Case Histories so that I could start reading the series too. But I'm not very far into it yet, and I get the feeling Atkinson deserves more than my customary one-line largely-sight-unseen plot summary (Book Glutton, I know you're an Atkinson fan, so feel free to enlighten/elaborate in the comments). So... yeah. Really, this post is even more pointless than usual.

Ah, but of course I do have a point to make (there's a shock) and that's concerning the cover design on Started Early, Took My Dog. Now, as a rule, I'm not overly keen on contemporary cover design, at least not that which graces (disgraces?) novel dustjackets. The form for designers seems to be: find a nice font; alight on a vaguely relevant/failing-that-moody image of a person/house/if-all-else-fails-tree from an image library (which can lead to amusing duplication; The Rap Sheet has lots of examples of the same pics popping up on different covers); bung on a texture; job done. (The jacket for Case Histories is all about that unusual illustration, although I guess it at least displays a mind at work in the picking of that illo.) Truly distinctive or memorable jackets are few and far between, and cases are an afterthought, if that.

I'll hopefully be returning to this subject tomorrow (what was that about there being no rhyme or reason to this week's posts? Yeah, I might've lied there; there's always a plan, no matter how half-arsed), but there's usually an exception to every rule, however rambling that rule may be, and the UK hardback of Started Early, Took My Dog is such an exception:

That's a lovely piece of cover design, one of the best I've seen this year. What I like about it is there's evidently a lot of thought gone into it, not least because there are so many names listed on the jacket back flap it almost reads like the closing credits of a movie, or maybe a particularly elaborate band intro. We've got Tracey Paterson credited for the front cover image; Mauritius/Alamy credited for the back cover image (those pesky image libraries are never far away...); Petra Borner/Dutch Uncle on the patterns; and Claire Ward/TW on overall design (and John Bonham on the drums – good evening Norwich, we are here to rock you).

But let's not get too glib (...), because the end result is definitely worth the many cooks that brewed this particular broth. There's a great balance to the jacket, and a nice link between the jacket and the case, with that purple colour and Petra Borner's patterning present on both. The picture on the front continues to intrigue me; I think it's a painting, but I'm not completely certain, and I'm struggling to find anything on Tracey Paterson beyond this list of artists (if that even is her). In any case, the choice of the photo of the abbey on the back is a nice counterpoint to Tracey's front cover image, which I guess is down to Claire Ward, who I believe is creative director at Transworld, Doubleday's parent publisher.

There's clearly a lot of care and attention gone into the book as an object, something you hold in your hands, something tactile, something you'll want to keep and look after. The detailing extends to a subtle bit of embossing on the author's name on the front of the jacket, and even to the endpapers, where there's a nice stone effect instead of the standard flat colour:

It's a good example of how book design can still be beautiful and interesting, even in this age of InDesign, Photoshop, image libraries and all the rest. And the publisher has even seen fit to extend the design across Atkinson's backlist, repackaging the whole line:

Splendid stuff. Well done that publisher. And, as mentioned, more on cover design tomorrow.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Notes from the Small Press 2: Monitor's Human Reward by Chris Reynolds

Something a little different for this second instalment of Notes from the Small Press – which, if you've just joined us, is, or at least is intended to become, a series of posts about small press comics; first instalment here (and indeed third instalment here). Usually on this blog I babble on about stuff and either show book covers or comic book covers or a few sample pages to illustrate whatever point I'm trying (and often failing) to make. Today, however, I'm reproducing an entire comics story.

The story is called Monitor's Human Reward, written and drawn by Chris Reynolds, and it is quite simply my favourite short comics story, ever. I first read it in the December 1986 issue of Fast Fiction, the small press anthology I wrote about in the previous Notes from the Small Press (I think it also made an appearance in Paul Gravett's brilliant Escape magazine, and it may well have been in Reynolds' own Mauretania series too). Something about it really connected with me; I knew nothing about the title character, Monitor – for some reason he wore a helmet with his initial on the side of it, but other than that he was unremarkable. In fact I still know virtually nothing about Monitor, who has featured in many of Chris' comics over the years, and in a way that only enhances the effectiveness of this story. It's a part of its mysterious allure; in Monitor's Human Reward, what's unsaid is as important, if not more important, than what's plainly stated.

Reynolds was an important part of the 1980s UK Fast Fiction small press scene, publishing his own Mauretania Comics periodical and contributing to many anthologies. His oddly awkward, blocky, somehow cinematic renderings are instantly recognisable, while his stories are a beguiling mixture of the ordinary and the otherworldly – a kind of everyday extraordinariness. There've been a number of collections of the Mauretania material and also Chris' more recent comics, including a 1990 Penguin Mauretania paperback (now available from Chris' website), 2004's The Dial and Other Stories (ditto), and 2005's Adventures from Mauretania (ditto again). There are some brilliant, strange and strangely affecting comics contained in those books, all of which are well worth a look.

I'm still not sure why Monitor's Human Reward left such an impression on me. I think I'm slightly afraid to examine why it means so much to me in case deconstructing it somehow causes it to lose its power, like taking a much-loved mechanical toy apart and then not being able to make it work again. But I recognise the emotions it evokes: an unspecified longing; a sense of not knowing what it is you want until it's right in front of you; how it feels to arrive home. I like the way it's as if the story is being made up as it goes along, and you can see that happening; I don't know if that's how it was created, but it could have been, and that makes it more real, because in real life all our stories are being made up as they go along. It lends it a freshness to go with its innate timelessness. It moves in unexpected directions, with little moments along the way that appear to have come as as much of a surprise to the tale's creator as they do to us. Like the scene where Monitor reads the letter on the doorstep and discovers... well. You'll just have to read the story yourself.

Monitor's Human Reward is presented here exactly as I originally read it, scanned from my copy of Fast Fiction #21 – click on each image to see a larger version. A huge thank you to Chris Reynolds for granting permission to republish it; please go visit his website, take a gander at the Mauretania links and his wonderful paintings (I'd definitely recommend clicking on the 'more paintings' link; some of Chris' landscapes are fantastic), and perhaps buy some stuff. And enjoy the story.

Notes from the Small Press 1: Fast Fiction Presents the Elephant of Surprise

Notes from the Small Press 3: Small Pets

Notes from the Small Press 4: Anais in Paris by Mardou

Notes from the Small Press 5: The Curiously Parochial Comics of John Bagnall

Notes from the Small Press 6: Ed Pinsent's Illegal Batman and Jeffrey Brown's Wolverine: Dying Time

Notes from the Small Press 7: The Comix Reader #1

Notes from the Small Press 8: A Help! Shark Comics Gallery

Notes from the Small Press 9: Some Gristavision Comics by Merv Girst

Notes from the Small Press 10: Some Sav Sadness Comics by Bob Lynch  

Monday 11 October 2010

From the Lewes Book Fair: American Gods by Neil Gaiman / Saturday by Ian McEwan

Final post about the Lewes Book Fair (first and second parts, if you're a particular glutton for punishment), which took place at its regular venue of Lewes Town Hall on Saturday. If you're curious as to what it looks like, Book and Magazine Collector ran a feature on it this month; the article and some of the photos can be found here.

Existential Ennui seems to have a sizable US audience these days (not to mention Canadian, Australian, French, German, Dutch, South Korean... I could go on; hello, wherever you are), and I'm not sure how au fait our American cousins are with the concept of book fairs (not that there's much of a concept there). So for any passing Yanks, or indeed anyone else who's never been to one, book fairs are essentially one-day (for the most part) marketplaces for bibliophiles, held in town halls, community centres and the like, with a selection of book dealers flogging their wares. They range in size from small, provincial affairs with ten or twenty dealers (I blogged about one of these, the Pevensey Book Fair, a year ago) to big city, weekend-long events like those held in London's Chelsea and Bloomsbury. Book fairs burgeoned in the 1980s, and while bricks and mortar bookshops are on the wane, book fairs are still going strong, with up to forty or fifty taking place in a single month in the UK.

I've only really started going to book fairs in the last couple of years, but I did spend many years prior to that going to comic marts, which are the comics equivalent. The best way to approach both, I find, is with an open mind; by all means take along 'wants lists' of particular books or comics (and Lord knows that's exactly what I did, many, many times, in that increasingly strange and distant era before the advent of internet shopping), but you'll get more out of a book fair (or comic mart) if you simply browse each dealer's stock carefully and have a look at anything that seems interesting. You might not find something you've been actively searching for at a book fair, but you're guaranteed to find something you didn't know you wanted.

Case in point, the Lewes Book Fair on Saturday, which seemed stronger on my area of interest – modern firsts – than usual. There were a fair few James Bond firsts on display, as well as early firsts from Raymond Chandler and Graham Greene, all of which were well out of my price range. I did see a copy of Our Man in Havana that I could've afforded, but the dustjacket was a little tatty, and anyway I've still got The Honorary Consul to read. I also manhandled a first edition of Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – a book I loved years ago, recommended to me by a tutor on my art foundation course at Ravensbourne – which seemed remarkably cheap, before I realised it was a fourth impression and put it back.

But apart from the Ross Thomas and John le Carre firsts I blogged about over the weekend, I also bought two books I wouldn't ordinarily have gone out of my way to purchase. First up:

A UK hardback first edition/first impression of Ian McEwan's Saturday, published by Jonathan Cape in 2005 (with, once again, me reflected in the protective dustjacket sleeve... I really must get a scanner at home). This is one of those books that falls into the category marked 'always wanted to read but never quite got around to getting', so it's perhaps not quite a completely out-of-the-blue buy. But it was in fine condition for a good price, so I figured, why not? It's a very well known novel, set during the February 2003 anti-war marches, which is part of the reason I wanted to read it.

And the other book I got was this:

A UK hardback first edition/printing of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, published by Headline in 2001. This really was an unexpected purchase; I've read and liked lots of Gaiman's comics work (The Books of Magic, parts of The Sandman, his underrated and still unfinished Miracleman run, the Death miniseries, and more besides) and the thoroughly amusing novel he wrote with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, but I've never tried any of his other novels. This copy of American Gods was pristine and only a tenner (bought from the same guy who sold me Saturday and A Perfect Spy), which is a damn sight cheaper than firsts go for on AbeBooks, where, ex-library copies aside, there are very few UK first editions listed, and the couple that are listed are at least thirty quid. I liked the sound of the myths 'n' Americana story, so I bagged it.

And yes, I know more recent UK paperback printings boast the Gaiman-preferred expanded text, which was originally only available in the 2003 Hill House limited edition, but this hardback looks plenty big enough to me. I've got quite enough books to read as it is; a potential additional 12,000 words in American Gods is, like, half a Richard Stark novel, near enough. Gotta get yer priorities straight, innit?