Saturday 2 April 2011

Lewes Book Bargain: Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold (Sceptre, 2001, First Edition)

Might as well use the weekend to catch up on a couple more of those pesky lingering Lewes Book Bargains (thus leaving next week clear for more diverting matters). And here's a novel I bought in the Lewes branch of Oxfam for £2.99:

A UK hardback first edition/first printing of Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil, published by Sceptre in 2001. I've heard mixed reports on this one: on the one hand, my friend and former colleague Steve White reckons it's among the best novels he's ever read, while on the other hand my friend and current colleague Roly Allen found it a turgid struggle. So who to believe? I've always fancied reading it myself – there's something about the story of a magician performing ever more audacious stunts, leading to the death of a president and pursuit by a Secret Service agent which chimes with me – and the reviews at the time were positive. And let's face it, if I want to try a Glen David Gold novel, my choices are limited: he's only written two (the second being 2009's Sunnyside).

The cover image on this edition is by Mark Harrison, but I'm confused as to which Mark Harrison. I think it's this one, i.e. 2000 AD/Durham Red comics artist Mark Harrison, but it could be this one, a British painter who quit creating book jacket illustrations in 2003. Even if it's not, however, that Mr. Harrison's website is worth a look for some of the splendid landscape paintings on it, including a few painted round my local area of East Sussex. This one of Cuckmere Haven, not far from Lewes, is particularly fine, and also quite poignant, as the Haven's days are numbered: apparently it's become too expensive to maintain the sea defences, so at some point the plains will be allowed to flood.

Anyway, for the next Lewes Book Bargain, howzabout a spot of Stephen King...?

Friday 1 April 2011

Lewes Book Bargains: The Merry Month of May by James Jones (Paul Bacon Cover) and The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate

In an effort to clear a few lingering Lewes Book Bargains (as opposed to Lewes Bookshop Bargains, which are obviously an entirely different kettle of fish) out the way so I can move on to more exciting matters (exciting to me, that is; whether they'll be so for you is debatable), here are two books that have nothing in common other than they were both bought for a quid in the Hospice charity shop near the Lewes Waitrose and that I'm not sure I'll ever read either one of them. And they are:

A UK hardback first edition of The Merry Month of May by James Jones, published by Collins in 1971, and:

A UK hardback first edition of The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate, published by Hamish Hamilton in 1980. The reasons why I might not even read them (and indeed may well just take them back to the charity shop) are threefold. To wit:

1) Neither are the kinds of novels I tend to read, i.e. they're not genre fiction, and therefore will have to take their place behind the countless other novels I've got to get through first, related to which is:

2) I've got so many other bloody books to read that I can't see myself getting to these two for, literally, years. And finally:

3) And this relates specifically to The Merry Month of May, in that while James Jones exerts a certain curiosity for me due to the fact that he wrote The Thin Red Line – a novel I would quite like to try – The Merry Month of May is perhaps his least-liked book, and though it deals with an interesting event – the 1968 Paris student riots – it got such a kicking from the critics that, having bought it, I've now lost any urge I might have had to read it. Mind you, seems most of his books divided critics to a greater or lesser degree, so perhaps I'm being unduly cautious.

I think I'm more likely to give The Shooting Party a go, as it's Colegate's best-known book (due, partly, to it being turned into a film in 1985, which I recall enjoying) and it's very well regarded, as this Washington Post review makes plain. But both books, I suppose, illustrate one of the pitfalls of charity shop first edition book-buying, which is that sometimes you take a punt on a novel in the heat of the moment and later discover it's not for you after all. Weighed against that, of course, is the fact that the money you've handed over is going to a good cause, and in truth a pound or two really isn't that much dosh in the grand scheme of things.

I am left with a question, however: if I take both books back to the charity shop, would that in essence negate the point of this post (if, indeed, it ever had a point), thus turning it into nothing more than a colossal waste of everyone's time (I mean, more so than usual)? The only way to answer that is to try and salvage some modicum of purpose from this farrago; I guess I could get people to vote in the comments section on whether or not I should read either book, but I fear no one would bother to comment, which would only serve to make a further mockery of proceedings. No, the best thing, I think, is to plump for my standard fallback position, which is to discuss the covers.

That said, I'm not sure I can summon much enthusiasm for Craig Dodd's dustjacket for The Shooting Party; it's just a bit... well... sepia. I think I can do better on the jacket for The Merry Month of May, though, because that was created by Paul Bacon, and Bacon is well worth spending a moment on. An American book and record cover designer, he's credited with originating the "big book look" in the 1950s, whereby a novel's title and the author's name are featured very large on the front. Catch-22, Slaughterhouse Five and many other novels benefited from this design style, and The Merry Month of May is a prime example of it. But Bacon might be even better known for the record sleeves he designed for Blue Note and Riverside in the '40s, '50s and '60s; there's an interview with him about that aspect of his career here, and a gallery of his Riverside covers here.

All of which hopefully goes to show that there's usually something of note to uncover in even the most unpromising of books. (Post purpose successfully salvaged – and look out for further Lewes Book Bargains over the weekend...)

Thursday 31 March 2011

Lewes Bookshop Bargain: Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene (Viking US, 1970)

Time for another Lewes Bookshop Bargain post – which are similar to my Lewes Book Bargain posts, except they feature books bought in Lewes's sundry secondhand bookshops instead of in Lewes's sundry charity shops. And this time it's the turn of an American edition of a Graham Greene novel which I bought in A & Y Cumming at the same time as I nabbed that American first edition of Greene's The Human Factor (and, indeed, that British first of The Quiet American – bit of a Graham Greene bonanza, all told):

This US hardback first edition/first impression of Travels with My Aunt was published by The Viking Press in 1970, a year after the UK edition. The dustjacket flap copy is actually nicely crafted, so I shall let whichever copywriter it was who penned it summarise the novel for us: 

Greeneland has been described often as a land bleak and severe. A whisky priest dies in one village, a self-hunted man lives with lepers in another. But Greeneland has its summer regions, and in the sunlight everything looks a bit different. Here Aunt Augusta travels with her black lover Wordsworth; Curran, the founder of a doggies' church; the C.I.A. man obsessed by statistics and his hippie daughter; and old Mr. Visconti, who has been wanted by Interpol for twenty years. Henry Pulling, a retired bank manager, unexpectedly caught up with them, describes their activities at first with shock and bewilderment and finally with the tenderness of a fellow traveller going their way.

On the Greeneland website Graham Greene is quoted as saying Travels with My Aunt was the only book he wrote "for the fun of it", and that whilst writing it he "had no idea what was going to happen to Henry or Augusta next". He also threw in a number of private jokes that no one other than he would ever get, even using Kingsley Amis's surname for one character.

The dustjacket on this American edition was designed by Abner Graboff, about whom there's an embarrassment of riches online, thanks chiefly to Ward Jenkins and his Ward-O-Matic blog. Back in 2009 Ward decided to find out all he could about Graboff, whose beautiful designs and illustrations graced the covers of books by the aforementioned Kingsley Amis, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout and many others. The result was this introductory post on Graboff's career and a two-part interview – here and here – with Abner's son, Jon, all lavishly illustrated with examples of Abner's work. So click on those links and enjoy the fruits of Ward's labours.

But it's not just Graboff's jacket that makes this edition of Travels with My Aunt so pleasing. As with a lot of American hardback novels, the overall design and finishing is a cut above most British hardbacks. The book is wider than comparable UK novels, has textured lilac endpapers, white and purple headbands, deckled page edges and a cloth- and arlin-covered case with a gold de-bossed "GG" on the front:

Now, if all this strikes you as filthy slavering book fetishism, well... you're right. But there's also a (slightly) more serious point to be made here, something that Matthew Asprey touched on in a couple of comments on this Elmore Leonard post, which is that, generally speaking, UK book production is inferior to US book production. Matthew wrote two posts on the subject, both of which are worth taking the time to read. In the first one he details the decline of British book production, and in the second one he showcases a British and American edition of the same book, which makes for a fascinating comparison.

One area of book design where us Brits might still have the edge over our American cousins, however, is cover design. Obviously it's an outrageous generalization, but by and large I tend to prefer the jackets of the UK novels I buy to the US ones. Curiously, though, in the case of Graham Greene's novels, the reverse could be said to be true. It's probably a toss-up between the American and Stephen Russ-designed British first edition dustjackets of Travels with My Aunt:

Indeed Abner Graboff's design is almost an homage to Russ's. But if we compare the 1978 US and UK firsts of The Human Factor:

I reckon Janet Halverson's design for the American edition has it over Michael Harvey's one for the British first. Anyway: food for thought.

Lewes Book Bargains: James Blish, Cities in Flight Novels, Faber, 1965

Every now and again the charity shops of Lewes (the East Sussex town in which I live and work) really come up trumps. Don't get me wrong: there are always intriguing or interesting secondhand books turning up on their shelves – this first edition of Daphne du Maurier's Not After Midnight, for example, or this 1976 edition of P. D. James's Cover Her Face – but it's rare to come across something truly special (such as this first of Jackie Collins's debut). Earlier this year, however, the Lewes branch of Oxfam took possession of a fab collection of science fiction and fantasy books, mostly paperbacks from the '70s – I nabbed a huge stack of Michael Moorcock novels, which I'll be blogging about fairly soon – but also three splendid hardbacks, which I bought for a couple of quid apiece:

These are the UK Faber & Faber hardback editions of James Blish's They Shall Have Stars, Earthman, Come Home and A Clash of Cymbals, which, together with A Life for the Stars, form the Cities in Flight sequence. Spanning 2,000 years altogether, in its vast scope Cities in Flight takes in anti-aging drugs, gravity manipulation, spacebound cities and mining towns ("Okies"), alien attack and a matter-antimatter collision. So, y'know: there's a lot going on in it (innit).

These three particular editions are interesting for what they're not, i.e. first editions. They Shall Have Stars was first published by Faber in the UK in 1956; Earthman, Come Home in the same year (1955 in the US, I believe), and A Clash of Cymbals in 1959 (1958 in the US, under the original title The Triumph of Time). The editions you can see above, however, are all second impressions, and were all published as smallish (or "DuoDecimo" – or "12mo" – for the bibliophiles – or "nerds" – among us) hardbacks in 1965 under redesigned, photographic, thematically linked dustjackets (the original jackets all sported illustrations).

They're not terribly common in this edition/impression, so they were quite a nice find. Unfortunately none of them have cover design credits, so, despite much googling, I still have no idea who designed the dustjackets. But each of the books does have an Author's Note at the start – written specially for these second impressions – wherein Blish explains the publishing history of the stories. According to the Author's Note in They Shall Have Stars: 

The writing of Cities of Flight occupied me, off and on, from 1948 to 1962, and like many such long projects wasn't orderly at all, and was further complicated by the publishing history.... Briefly, however, the third volume, Earthman, Come Home, was written first, and was followed by the first volume—this one—to provide a "prequel." Then I wrote the ending, A Clash of Cymbals, and backtracked to the second volume, A Life for the Stars. Thus the novel as a whole contains some reminders of preceding events which economy would say it does not now need. But then, so does The Ring of the Nibelung, for similar reasons though to far nobler effect.

In the Author's Note in Earthman, Come Home (the third volume in the series), Blish reveals:  

The germ of Cities in Flight was a sketch for the last two chapters of this volume, in which—hindsight shows with its usual clarity—I set out to throw away an idea of Wagnerian proportions within the compass of 10,000 words. The alert magazine editor to whom EARTHMAN, COME HOME is dedicated refused to let me be so foolish. He rejected the story with a four-page, single-spaced letter in which he pointed out in detail the many questions I had failed to ask myself—thus involving me in a project which took me fifteen years to realize properly.

Blish goes on to note that Earthman, Come Home "shows my Okie cities at the height of their role" in Cities in Flight; that "how they got there is the subject of the two preceding volumes"; and that "the final volume... shows what use they made of their ultimate freedom". The Author's Note in that final volume, A Clash of Cymbals, details the book's changing title (apparently The Triumph of Time resembled the title of another Faber SF novel a little too closely), before ruminating on the nature of mortality: 

How would people react if they knew, with absolute certainty, the exact moment when they would die? I had already put my very long-lived characters through nearly every other possible test; this one, it seemed to me, would reveal each one of them at last in his essential nakedness. And, cruelly but inevitably, there would be young people too who would have to face the question.

Blish also states that "this is the only part of Cities in Flight (except for about a third of the first volume) that never appeared in a magazine; its U.S. book publisher got it into print too quickly to permit its serialization", before closing with: "Here, then, is how the cities passed. I shall miss them." Of course, as Oxfam Lewes only had three of the four Cities in Flight novels, that leaves one volume unexamined... or at least it would, if I hadn't subsequently bought this on Amazon Marketplace dead cheap:

The second volume in the series, A Life for the Stars. But as you can see by the dustjacket – illustrated by Robert MacLean – the design of the book is markedly different to the other three. A Life for the Stars was, you'll recall, the last novel in the Cities in Flight series to be written, although chronologically it is, as I say, the second. Which means it was only published by Faber in 1964 – so I'm guessing that the other three volumes were reissued by Faber in 1965 to capitalize on this new entry. It doesn't appear, however, as if Faber ever issued an edition in the same style as the 1965 ones; there was a second impression of A Life for the Stars in 1966, and the copy you can see above is the 1971 third impression – and ex-library too (from Skelmersdale Library in Lancashire, no less):

But insofar as I can tell, it had the same Robert MacLean jacket through each of those printings. So my little collection of Faber 1965 photographic jacket reissues of Blish's Cities in Flight can never be completed, because the second volume was never given that design. (And what's more, my copy of A Life for the Stars is a good half an inch taller than the other three books. How very annoying.) If anyone knows any different – or indeed if anyone knows who designed the jackets for the Faber '65 printings – the comments section awaits.

Now then. What shall we have next? How about... a Lewes Bookshop Bargain...?

Wednesday 30 March 2011

When Will There Be Good News? (Brighton Book Bargain), Plus a Kate Atkinson First Edition Cover Gallery

So, as I mentioned yesterday, around the same time I won that signed edition of Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn – the second in the novelist's series of four novels featuring Jackson Brodie – on eBay, serendipitously I also came across this in Oxfam Books in Brighton:

A UK hardback first edition/first printing of the third Jackson Brodie novel (purchased for the princely sum of £1.99), published by Doubleday in 2008. I haven't read this one yet, but it sees the return not only of the dour Mr. Brodie but of policewoman Louise Monroe from One Good Turn as well, now seemingly promoted if the dustjacket blurb is to be believed: 

In a quiet corner of rural Devon, six-year-old Joanna Mason witnesses an appalling crime.

Thirty years later the man convicted of the crime, Andrew Decker, is released from prison.

In Edinburgh, sixteen-year-old Reggie, wise beyond her years, works as a nanny for a GP. But Dr Hunter has gone missing and Reggie seems to be the only person who is worried.

Across town, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is also looking for a missing person, unaware that hurtling towards her is an old friend – Jackson Brodie – himself on a journey that is about to be fatally interrupted.

In an extraordinary virtuoso display, Kate Atkinson produces one of the most engrossing, brilliantly written and piercingly insightful novels of this or any year. When Will There Be Good News? sheds new light on to the nature of fate, and on to the human condition itself.

Hmm, might be slightly overselling it there, copywriter person. If the previous two Brodie novels are anything to go by, I'm sure it's a fine read, but shedding new light on (er, "to", unnecessarily) the nature of fate and on (er, "to" again, equally unnecessarily) the human condition? Them's mighty big claims, pardner. But hey, maybe the copywriter is correct. I guess I'll find out when I read the book...

I can't tell you who designed the dustjacket on this edition because there's no credit, apart from one for the front cover photo, which is by Tim Kahane/Trigger Image. It's entirely possible Transworld's Claire Ward had a hand in it – she designed the jacket for 2010's fourth Jackson Brodie novel Started Early, Took My Dog – but that's pure conjecture on my part. However, now that I have all four of Atkinson's Brodie books, I reckon it's about time for a UK first edition cover gallery:

Case Histories, Doubleday, 2004; dustjacket illustration by Michelle Thompson

One Good Turn, Doubleday, 2006; dustjacket illustration by Neil Gower, dustjacket design by Gavin Morris

When Will There Be Good News?, Doubleday, 2008; dustjacket photo by Tim Kahane

Started Early, Took My Dog, Doubleday, 2010; front cover photo by Tracey Paterson, back cover photo by Mauritius/Alamy, patterns by Petra Bonner/Dutch Uncle, dustjacket design by Claire Ward/TW

Marvellous. Right then. Next up: a bunch of Lewes Book Bargains, namely some rather spiffing editions of SF author James Blish's Cities in Flight tetralogy...

Tuesday 29 March 2011

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson (Doubleday): A Signed First Edition and a Short Review Thereof

Aaaand I'm back. Slightly longer gap than planned there: unfortunately I had something of a family medical emergency to deal with over the weekend, so blogging had to take a back seat. But I did manage to have a thoroughly pleasant day out for my birthday on Friday before the crisis erupted, during which I visited a couple of my favourite secondhand bookshops – Camilla's in Eastbourne and Much Ado Books in Alfriston (plus sundry charity shops) – and ended up with a stack of novels by, among others, Adam Hall, Anthony Price and Gavin Lyall. Plus I got to scoff a massive cream tea in Alfriston:

Yum. So it hasn't all been doom and gloom (and, fingers crossed, the medical emergency has been resolved too). I'll be blogging about the books I bought down the line sometime, but so far as the rest of this week goes, all being well I'll have a few (unrelated) posts on literary crime writer Kate Atkinson and science fiction author James Blish. Starting with this:

A UK hardback first edition/first printing of Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn, published by Doubleday in 2006 with a dustjacket illustration by Neil Gower and jacket design by Gavin Morris (Gower and Morris have worked together on a number of book covers – and in fact Mr. Gower lives and works in the same East Sussex town as me, Lewes, and often designs the covers for local listings mag Viva Lewes). Ah, but this isn't just any first edition:

Because it's also signed, although in this instance not with a full signature but with Atkinson's initials, something I believe she's known for. I won this on eBay for not too much money at all, and read it in pretty short order thereafter; I loved Case Histories, the first in Atkinson's series of novels featuring misery guts middle-aged private investigator Jackson Brodie, so I devoured One Good Turn – which is the second book in the series – almost as soon as I got it.

Much as she did in Case Histories, Atkinson once again presents us with a number of seemingly unrelated narratives, all of which gradually intertwine, with Jackson at the heart of them. The backdrop is the Edinburgh Festival, to which Jackson's partner, Julia (with whom he became involved in Case Histories), has dragged the reluctant Mr. Brodie because she's starring in a fringe theatre production. For his part Jackson has nothing better to do, having inherited two million quid at the end of the previous book and retired from the P.I. business to live in a house in the foothills of the French Pyrenees. Naturally he's now bored shitless, so when the dots begin to join between a road rage incident and a dead Russian girl, Jackson can't resist sticking his oar in.

It's those delicious coincidences and connections that make Atkinson's novels so special, but they wouldn't be quite so fascinating if the characters weren't so brilliantly drawn. Each chapter in One Good Turn is told from the perspective of, variously, a sad sack pseudonymous writer, a housewife with a newly comatose and hospitalized husband who's being investigated by the Specialist Fraud Unit, a single mum policewoman and Jackson himself, but in a sense it doesn't really matter whose head Atkinson has clambered inside: in her hands, even the most minor characters become utterly compelling.

Indeed, it's so enjoyable spending time in each of their companies – following their meandering thought processes, looking on as they're buffeted by events they have little control over – that, as with Case Histories, it's a real shame when the novel has to end. Thankfully, there are still two more Brodie mysteries for me to read – and as luck would have it, right around the same time as I won this copy of One Good Turn on eBay, I happened to find a first edition of the next book in the series in a charity shop in Brighton... a Brighton Book Bargain, if you will...