Saturday 14 May 2011

Lewes Book Bargain: The Political Animal by Jeremy Paxman (Michael Joseph First Edition, 2002); Signed

If you've checked in on Existential Ennui over the past day or so you might have noticed some odd things occurring, chiefly that last post on Eleanor Philby's The Spy I Loved appearing on Thursday, then disappearing, then eventually reappearing late on Friday. Reason being, Blogger were pissing about with their system and managed to crash the whole thing, deleting a day's worth of everyone's posts in the process. They'd promised they'd restore them all, but all I got back was a much, much earlier, quarter-written version of that post. Luckily I'd saved a later version of it elsewhere, so I managed to reconstitute it without too much trouble, but it was a frustrating experience nonetheless, particularly the distinct lack of information coming from Google/Blogger. Time to switch to WordPress, perhaps...?

Anyway, I mentioned at the end of that previous post that I thought I might find time to squeeze in one last non-fiction book, and so I have:

This is the UK hardback first edition/first impression of The Political Animal, published by Michael Joseph in 2002 (featuring a detail from H. M. Bateman's A Speech About the Government on the front cover). Its author, Jeremy Paxman, will be well known to British readers, but for our overseas friends: Paxman is a journalist and broadcaster who helms BBC2's daily in-depth news magazine Newsnight, and makes the occasional factual series, too. He has a well-earned and well-deserved reputation as a fearsome interviewer: in a 1997 interview with the then-recently departed Home Secretary, Michael Howard (no relation), he famously asked Howard the same question (or variations on it) fourteen times.

He's also, obviously, an author, having written enjoyable books on the English (The English: A Portrait of a People, 1999) and the monarchy (On Royalty, 2006), among other subjects. I've read a couple of his books, The Political Animal being one of them, which I dipped in and out of over a long period in a paperback edition. And it is, in truth, the kind of book you do put down and return to; it's more a collection of long essays than one long narrative, leaping back and forth through British history as it charts the course of a politician's career from youthful idealist to newly elected MP, then government minister and eventually has-been. But Paxman's characterizations of politicians and insights into their motivations are sometimes amusing, sometimes revealing, and certainly informed by long experience.

So, if I've already read The Political Animal, what made me buy this copy (from the Hospice charity shop down near the Lewes branch of Waitrose)? Quite simply, this did:

It's signed by Mr. Paxman, which, combined with the fact it's a true first, makes it quite appealing to anyone who happens to be both a political junkie and a bibliophile. Which is to say: me.

And that really is that for the non-fiction first editions. Next: P. M. Hubbard...

Friday 13 May 2011

A Forgotten Book? Kim Philby: The Spy I Loved, by Eleanor Philby (Hamish Hamilton/Pan, 1968)

First, an admission: this latest book in this series of posts on non-fiction first editions was something of an eleventh-hour addition. I was inspired to track it down as a result of writing the first post in the run, on Patrick Seale and Maureen McConville's Philby: The Long Road to Moscow. Y'see, on the dustjacket back flap of that biography, there's a note to the effect that Seale and McConville assisted Philby's third wife, Eleanor, in the writing of her memoir about her master spy husband. My interest duly piqued, I set about tracking down a copy of that memoir, and managed to find a near fine first edition which the seller – Jenny at Lost World Books in Great Yarmouth – was kind enough to send to me in record time – which just goes to show how Existential Ennui's carefully cultivated air of meticulous planning and rigorous scheduling is in reality little more than flighty but ultimately serendipitous happenstance. And here is that book:

This is the hardback first edition of Kim Philby: The Spy I Loved by Eleanor Philby, with a dustjacket front cover photo by Olga Mathews. It was published in the UK by Hamish Hamilton in 1968 in conjunction with paperback publisher Pan Books, who issued a simultaneous mass market softcover edition. Essentially it's Eleanor's memoir of her time with Kim, from her first meeting with him in a Beirut bar in 1956 (when Eleanor was still married to New York Times correspondent Sam Pope Brewer), six days before the Suez war exploded, to their final parting in 1965, when Eleanor left the now-defected Philby in Moscow. Although the book isn't as linear as that would suggest: for example it begins with Kim's disappearance from Beirut in January 1963.

Published just a year after Philby's own autobiography, My Silent War, it's the kind of book you'd have thought might have been something of a small sensation back then, and well-remembered now; Eleanor writes in a lucid, unfussy manner, perhaps assisted by journalists Seale and McConville, and it's certainly an intriguing tale, told from an insider's perspective. But that doesn't appear to be the case. After the twin 1968 hardback/paperback editions there were no further UK printings. AbeBooks has just twelve copies of the Pan paperback listed worldwide, and only around seven copies of the Hamilton hardback edition. Meanwhile there are only six copies listed of the 1968 US Ballantine paperback, which goes under the alternate title The Spy I Married – thus rather missing the point of alluding to Fleming's The Spy Who Loved Me.

There's precious little about the book elsewhere online, either. This contemporaneous 1968 Time review of four Philby-related books mentions it in passing, and it was used as a source for this 2003 Guardian piece on spies and their lovers, but that's about it. One has to wonder why it fell out of print so swiftly, particularly when it has some good images in it too, including Kim's handwritten note to Eleanor after their final parting on the back cover, Jane Bown's great photo of Philby (also used on the cover of the aforementioned Philby: The Long Road to Moscow), and a couple of Eleanor's own pics from Beirut.

In fact there's probably more online about the 2004 movie the book inspired. A Different Loyalty was directed by Marek Kanievska, who also directed Another Country (1984) and Less Than Zero (1987 – and which, incidentally, has a terrific hip hop/rock soundtrack); it stars Rupert Everett as Kim and Sharon Stone as Eleanor, renamed respectively as Leo and Sally Tyler Cauffield. The book isn't credited, but the film's synopsis suggests (I haven't seen the movie) that the story is very similar. Judging by its reviews, however, it's apparently rather arid; Slant magazine (whoever they may be) labelled it a "dry-mouthed melodrama in serious need of a more Sirkian touch".

Even so, one would have thought its release might have prompted a reissue of Eleanor's memoir. Such was not the case, however, and sadly The Spy I Loved seems destined to lurk in semi-obscurity. Although perhaps this post will go some small way towards addressing that...

And that's about it for this run of posts on non-fiction books... although I do have one further non-fiction title I might be able to squeeze in over the next day or so – a political work which I bought in a Lewes charity shop the other week, and which is actually signed by its author. But whether I manage to post something on that or not, the next run of posts will be on a crime fiction author who, once again, I was moved to investigate thanks to Book Glutton after he left a comment on this post back in March. That's P. M. Hubbard – coming soon...

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Lewes Bookshop Bargain: Jonathan Cape, Publisher, by Michael S. Howard (Cape, 1971, Hans Tisdall Cover)

Next in this series of posts on non-fiction books I've bought fairly recently – and as a kind of sequel to yesterday's post on John Pearson's 1966 tome The Life of Ian Fleming, Creator of James Bond – I thought we could take a look at a book about the publisher of both that biography and Fleming's Bond novels – not to mention the publisher of the book about that publisher itself:

This is the UK hardback first edition of Jonathan Cape, Publisher, published by – you guessed it – Jonathan Cape in 1971. Written by Cape's then-chairman, Michael S. Howard – the son of Bob Howard, who succeeded the founder of the publishing house, Jonathan "Bertie" Cape – the book is an account of the publisher's development, and was issued on its fiftieth anniversary. I bought this copy for four quid in A & Y Cumming on Lewes High Street, having gained access once again to to their labyrinthine basement, where each flick of a light switch reveals yet another bookshelf-filled room.

Books about books are always curious things (although there is a small but definite market for them); books about publishers even more so, and books about publishers published by that same publisher verging on nepotism. But Jonathan Cape, Publisher looks to be an interesting read, and is of particular interest to literary Bond fans: there's a good fifteen or so pages devoted to Ian Fleming, information which author (and friend of Existential Ennui) Jeremy Duns drew on for this article on a 1962 interview with Fleming. But there's plenty of other non-Bond material in there too, notably on T. E. Lawrence, including a reproduction of one of his contracts with Cape:

The dustjacket on this first edition was designed by Hans Tisdall, who numbers among his many other designs the jackets for the 1960 and '64 British first editions of Lampedusa's The Leopard and Hemingway's A Moveable Feast:

Indeed, typographer and designer Michael Harvey based his Tisdall Script on Tisdall's trademark brush-drawn lettering. But Tisdall is perhaps better known as a painter; his semi-cubist, angular paintings of seaside scenes are held in many collections, including the Tate's.

So then; we started this run of non-fiction book posts with a biography of master spy Kim Philby, and we'll round it off with a book about him as well – a little-seen, extraordinary, candid tome which again boasts input from the authors of that first Philby biog...

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Lewes Book Bargain: The Life of Ian Fleming, Creator of James Bond, by John Pearson (Jonathan Cape, 1966)

Thus far in this week of non-fiction first editions we've had a biography of a master spy and an autobiography of a spycatcher. Now it's the turn of another biography, this time on the creator of the most famous fictional spy the world has ever known:

The Life of Ian Fleming was first published in hardback in the UK by Jonathan Cape in 1966, two years after Fleming's death. Written by Fleming's former assistant on the Sunday Times, John Pearson – who would go on to pen the second post-Fleming Bond novel (following Kingsley Amis's Colonel Sun), James Bond: The Authorized Biography, in 1973 – it's widely regarded as the definitive text on the 007 author – as opposed to Donald McCormick's later biography, which, as author Jeremy Duns pointed out, er, isn't. Jeremy has just posted an article on The Life of Ian Fleming on his blog (prompted by this very post, in fact), as well as on Andrew Lycett's 1995 Fleming biography, so head over there to read more about both books.

I bought this first edition in the Lewes Antique Centre – where, coincidentally, I also got the aforementioned James Bond: The Authorized Biography – for a few pounds. There's a touching inscription on the reverse of the front endpaper, the other side of which bears a reproduction of one of Fleming's own bookplates; Fleming was an avid book collector, a subject I'll return to momentarily.

The dustjacket was designed by noted artist and children's book illustrator Jan Pienkowski, and features a bust of Fleming in his early twenties sculpted by Simone Panchaud de Bottoms, who was the mother of Fleming's then-girlfriend in Switzerland. Publishers Jonathan Cape produced fifty replica busts to celebrate the publication of Pearson's biography in 1966, few of which survive to this day. The book itself contains a section of illustrations and photographs which are almost worth the price of admission alone (you can see Augustus Johns's pencil sketch of Fleming above). One I was particularly interested in was a picture of Fleming's bedroom at his London home, 16 Victoria Square:

Oh to be able to zoom in on those shelves and read the spines... For Fleming was, as I mentioned, quite the bibliophile. Charing Cross Road secondhand bookshop Any Amount of Books' blog, Bookride, recently posted a fascinating series of essays on the subject of Fleming's book collecting, which can be found here, here and here. Those posts also detail the contents of a letter found in the blog owner's copy of the biography, from Pearson to a friend about Fleming's rebellious nature. Well worth reading when you have a moment to spare. And one final note about John Pearson before we move on: I've just been informed by Emma Chaplin and David Jarman at local listings magazine Viva Lewes that Mr. Pearson lives very close by, in the village of Kingston, just a couple of miles from where I'm sitting right now. Small world...

Anyway, next on Existential Ennui, we move from a biography of Ian Fleming to a book about the publisher of that biography – and indeed of Fleming's own novels...

Monday 9 May 2011

Eastbourne Book Bargain: Spycatcher by Peter Wright and Paul Greengrass (Viking US, 1987, First Edition)

The previous post in this series on a bunch of espionage-related non-fiction books I've bought in various Sussex (and elsewhere) locations fairly recently was on a biography of master spy Kim Philby; now it's the turn of an autobiography by a hunter of spies – one which does, in fact, feature the aforementioned Mr. Philby:

This is the US first edition/first impression hardback of Spycatcher by Peter Wright, published by Viking/Penguin in 1987. I got this in a charity shop in Eastbourne (for a quid) on my birthday day out back in March; the shop assistant had only just stuck it on the shelf, so I was quite chuffed to be able to grab it, because although copies of Spycatcher are abundant in charity shops and bookshops, first printings are less so – the US first edition went through at least nine printings that I know of. So how come? And why an American edition rather than a British one?

Well, Spycatcher, you may or may not recall, was banned by the British government in 1985 when Wright first attempted to publish it. Wright was a former Assistant Director of/counterintelligence officer in MI5, and the book was a candid account of his time in the secret services, including his (and others') suspicions about the "fifth man" in the Cambridge spy ring (which included the aforementioned Philby), who Wright identified in the book as Sir Roger Hollis, head of MI5. Under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher the Conservative government successfully managed to stop its publication... but only in England. Despite their further attempts to stop the book being released in Australia, it was published over there, and in the States. (There's a good summary of the various legal shenanigans here.)

Consequently the only copies of the first edition available were overseas ones, which went through multiple printings. So it was nice to lay my hands on a first printing of the American first edition:

Even though the true first edition is recognised as being the Australian one, which was printed in Dublin and available in the UK for a single day before the injunction against the book came into effect. (The interior photos in that true first were omitted in the rush to print the thing.) Interestingly, later printings of all editions featured a change to the front cover: the addition of a co-writer credit, one Paul Greengrass, who was, back then, a journalist but who is rather better known these days as the director of two of the Bourne movies.

I haven't read Spycatcher yet, but my estimable colleague and friend Roly Allen (whose birthday I believe it is today – happy birthday, mon frere) has, and reckons it's one of the best books he's ever encountered. High praise indeed. Anyway, next up: from a former spy, to the creator of perhaps the most famous spy on the planet...

Sunday 8 May 2011

Brighton Bookshop Bargain: Kim Philby: The Long Road to Moscow, by Patrick Seale and Maureen McConville (Hamish Hamilton, 1973)

The last few posts here on Existential Ennui have all been espionage-themed – being, as they were, on Len Deighton's "Harry Palmer" novels – and as it 'appens, the next few posts will be, too. Except, rather than looking at espionage fiction, I'll be looking at some spy fact, as I embark on a week's worth of blogging about various non-fiction titles I've picked up in Lewes (the East Sussex town where I live and work) and the surrounding area (for the most part, anyway). And we begin with a book I bought for four quid in Colin Page Antiquarian Books in Brighton (which is about eight miles from Lewes for the geographically inclined, and is where I also nabbed a couple of those Deighton novels):

This is the 1973 Hamish Hamilton UK hardback first edition/first impression (the hardback went through a couple of printings and a book club edition) of Philby: The Long Road to Moscow. Written by British journalists Patrick Seale and Maureen McConville, it's a thorough account of notorious spy Kim Philby's life and career, published ten years after Philby's defection to the USSR. Now, there have, of course, been umpteen books about Philby over the years – Philby himself even wrote one after he defected – but this one looks reasonably authoritative. Seale and McConville assisted Eleanor Philby on her 1968 memoir of her husband, The Spy I Loved (keep that one in mind, folks...), while Seale met Kim Philby in Beirut in 1960 and subsequently inherited Philby's Middle East correspondent appointments for The Observer and The Economist in 1963 after Philby fled to Moscow. Indeed, there's a photo inside The Long Road to Moscow showing Philby at a Beirut cocktail party:

Not to mention a number of other fascinating pictures, including an excerpt from Philby's childhood diaries and a page of notes from his Cambridge days:

I've blogged about Kim Philby before – tangentially in this post on John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, more explicitly in this one on Alan Williams's 1974 book, Gentleman Traitor. Gentleman Traitor was a novel, however (although not an entirely fantastical one: Williams also knew Philby, as Michael Barber revealed in the comments on that post), whereas The Long Road to Moscow is a factual account, and a seemingly respected one at that. Although perhaps not by Philby himself: Soviet double agent Oleg Gordievsky once sent a copy of the book to Philby, who returned it to Gordievsky bearing the inscription, "To my dear colleague Oleg: Do not believe everything you see posted up on me!" But it does have that great photo of Philby on the front of the Jeanne Cross-designed dustjacket, which was taken by famed Observer photographer Jane Bown.

All being well I'll be returning to Kim Philby later in the week. But next in this week of non-fiction firsts: from a master spy, to a catcher of spies...