Tuesday 19 March 2013

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis: First Penguin Edition (1961, #1648); a Lewes Book Bargain

Y'know what? That post on the first Penguin edition of Evelyn Waugh's Scoop from the other week has got me hankering after some more hot Penguin action (steady), so rather than showcase random softcovers in amongst the Peter Rabe paperback posts, let's stay with the Penguins for a little while and pluck some vintage examples of the publisher's wares from my collection – such as this:

The first Penguin edition of Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim, Penguin #1648, published in 1961, with a cover illustration by Nicolas Bentley, who would later illustrate Amis's excellent book on booze On Drink (Jonathan Cape, 1972 – in fact one of three boozy books Amis wrote). Not an especially uncommon Penguin this one; I found this copy in a dump bin outside one of Lewes's secondhand bookshops – probably A & Y Cumming – a few years ago, and you can pick up copies online quite easily. But it's a nice edition in which to own Amis's debut novel, I feel, and certainly a damn sight less expensive than the 1954 Victor Gollancz first edition, i.e. a few quid as opposed to a couple of thousand.

This particular copy of Lucky Jim has popped up on Existential Ennui before, back in 2010, when I used it to illustrate a highly tedious essay on Kingsley Amis, but it's never had its own dedicated post. However, there's little point in my reviewing the thing; as Amis's best-known work, doubtless there are already countless critiques available online – I can't be arsed to look right now, but I'd be astonished if there aren't – so I'll simply restrict myself to saying that while it's not my favourite of the Amis novels I've read (that honour would go to either The Anti-Death League or Ending Up), it's still first rate, and an indispensable part of the Amis canon – and even more so now that Twitter users have adopted the novel's eponymous lead, Jim Dixon's habit of deploying "faces" to denote emotional states (*Sex Life in Ancient Rome face*).

Actually, I've changed my mind: I will direct you to one review of the book, because during the writing of this post I came across an excellent Penguin collector blog, one to which I suspect I'll be referring again before too long: A Penguin a week, in which, unsurprisingly given the blog's title, owner Karyn Reeves reads and reviews a Penguin a week. A splendid and admirable endeavour, I'm sure you'll agree.

And I've another Lewes-found Kingsley Amis Penguin lined up for the next post: a collection of short stories, no less, dating from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s...


  1. Hi Nick,

    Thank you for the mention, and for your comments on my Penguin collecting and reviewing endeavour. I wish I'd seen this post sooner, as only a few days after this I travelled past Lewes on the train on my way to Eastbourne, unaware that there was a bookstore worth visiting.

  2. Quite a few, Karyn! Maybe not of so much interest from your perspective though; a couple of the Lewes shops do stock old Penguins, as you can see, but nothing on the scale of Camilla's or Tome in Eastbourne. I saw on your excellent blog that you didn't make it to Tome; shame, as I think you'd have been impressed!