Friday 13 September 2013

The Secondhand Bookshops of Suffolk: Aldeburgh and Westleton, Guest-Starring Manning O'Brine and Elleston Trevor

As we reach the end of the first week of posts about my – and Rachel and little Edie's – recent holiday to Suffolk, and with a second and possibly even (heaven forfend) a third week of such posts in prospect, it occurs to me in passing that I may be trying the patience of even the most ardent and steadfast of Existential Ennui readers with this absurdly self-indulgent endeavour, which, if the missives thus far are anything to go by, and the odd book-focused interlude aside, will continue to consist largely of a succession of pictures of me and a supposedly cute baby in front of a variety of secondhand bookshops in whichever godforsaken Suffolk town or village I've dragged Rachel and Edie to on the pretence of it being picturesque.

Still: in for a penny, eh?

So then. Where were we? Halesworth, that's where, the base location for the week's holiday, from which locale we ranged far and wide over the eastern bit of Suffolk, in the first instance to the seaside town of Southwold, where, sadly, there are no secondhand bookshops (although my good friend and colleague Roly Allen, who's very familiar with the area, assures me there used to be about four), and then to the similarly coastal but not quite as quaint Aldeburgh, where there is a single secondhand bookshop:

Reed Books 2. Apparently there was at one point a Reed Books 1, but it didn't seem to exist by the time we got there – a shame, because while Edie nabbed herself a Noddy in Reed Books 2 (the first book in the series, Noddy Goes to Toyland), there wasn't anything for me, and I suspect most serious secondhand book collectors would struggle to find much of interest either. Unlike the next bookshop we ventured to:

Chapel Books, in the little village of Westleton, about six miles north of Aldeburgh. As the shop's name suggests, it's based in an old chapel, with shelves arranged in a pleasingly haphazard fashion around the hall, and the occasional charming offer of tea from the proprietor (although it was a bit too hot the day we were there to take him up on it). Even though there was only a small crime fiction section, tucked away in the far corner, there was still plenty for both me and Edie to look at:

Lots of children's books, evidently, but also a good range of non-fiction, vintage paperbacks, science fiction, and a decent holding of modern firsts. I eventually emerged with three books:

Er, and a baby (Edie, in case there's any confusion). One of those books will form the basis of the next post, but the other two were:

A first Corgi paperback printing of Manning O'Brine's The Hungry Killer, published in 1956 (the same year as the Hammond hardback edition), cover art by John Richards (who also did the cover art for my 1955 Corgi paperback of Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man), and:

A 1955 Heinemann first edition of Elleston Trevor's The Big Pick-Up, dust jacket design by the great Val Biro.

O'Brine has been on my radar for a while now – indeed I have a first edition of his 1970 novel Crambo, the second in his three-book Mills espionage series, waiting to be blogged about. The Hungry Killer is part of an earlier, longer spy series starring Michael The O'Kelly – the fifth book in the series in fact, and notably scarce: there are only three copies in any edition on AbeBooks at present, none of them the Corgi paperback.

Trevor, on the other hand, is probably better known round these here parts under another of his aliases: Adam Hall, author of the nineteen Quiller spy novels (and one standalone thriller). However, The Big Pick-Up isn't an espionage work: like another Trevor novel I blogged about back in 2011 (The Killing Ground, 1956), it's a World War II tale, in this instance set during the Dunkirk evacuation; there's a review of it over at the Broken Trails blog.

Jacket designer Val Biro I've written about numerous times, and his wrapper for The Big Pick-Up is another cracker, that big, bold but elegant hand-lettering standing in marked contrast to the freely daubed gouache paint behind. Needless to say, it's now taken its place in my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1960s and 1960s gallery, alongside eleven other fine examples of Val's work (and taking the number of covers on the page up to a remarkable 111).

As for the third book I bought, and why it's special enough to warrant its own post: all will be revealed soon.

Thursday 12 September 2013

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell (Heinemann, 1962; a Halesworth, Suffolk Score), plus Kingsley Amis on Powell

NB: Linked in this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

The third and final book I bought at Ann Green Secondhand Books in Halesworth – not including little Edie's books; she came away with a good three or four herself – I didn't actually spot until our last full day staying in the Suffolk town, when during an amble down the Thoroughfare I decided on a whim to pop back into the shop. And noticed this:

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. Published by Heinemann in 1962, it's the first British omnibus edition of the initial three books in Powell's twelve-volume (as it would eventually number) A Dance to the Music of Time sequence – A Question of Upbringing (originally 1951), A Buyer's Market (1952) and The Acceptance World (1955) – and is really rather uncommon in this edition: there are just two copies on AbeBooks at present, both jacketless, both offered by American sellers, priced at £35–£60. Whereas this copy does have its dust jacket (albeit a little chipped and sunned at the spine) and set me back just eight quid.

According to one of those American AbeBooks sellers the Heinemann omnibus was "Published in an edition of 3,000 copies, on Dec.3, 1962, eleven months after the US [Little, Brown] 3-in-one. Powell credits the US omnibus volume with the commercial success of the Dance. The British omni, however, never took off and this is the only one published by Heinemann." That's as maybe, but my research suggests it did well enough for Heinemann for them to issue a reprint in 1964. Still, it's a scarce volume, and one to treasure.

The little-seen dust jacket was designed by James Broom-Lynne, who designed all twelve of the wrappers of the original Heinemann editions of the Music of Time novels (among many others, including Adam Diment's The Dolly Dolly Spy, to take an example from my own book collection), and utilises Poussin's 1634–1636 painting A Dance to the Music of Time – from which Powell got his overarching title. It's an attractive treatment, and certainly good enough to take its place in my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery.

I've been meaning to try Powell's Music of Time sequence ever since I learned that Donald E. Westlake was a fan – as indeed are Westlake aficionados Ethan Iverson and Levi Stahl, not to mention the author of the previous Ann Green Secondhand Books score, Kingsley Amis, who was friends with Powell and who devotes a chapter to his fellow author in his Memoirs (1991). Amis states that the first Powell novel he read was the author's third, From a View to a Death (1933), in 1941 or '42, and "immediately recognised a talent and a way of looking at the world that were utterly congenial to me, even though the bit of the world being looked at, with its butlers, country houses, etc., was quite outside my experiences". He calls the Music of Time sequence "a great roman-fleuve" and makes note of "the individual volumes being like novels, each with a distinguishable theme or subject – entering the adult world, marriage, the coming of war, etc. – while the sequence as a whole was more like life, in a way more realistic, than its components, with for instance characters such as the painter Barnaby coming and going haphazardly". Unfortunately, despite being an evident admirer of the sequence, Amis also inadvertently soured himself on the novels:

When the Music of Time sequence was complete in 1975, with Hearing Secret Harmonies, I wrote and read a huge lecture... on the thing as a whole. Putting it together involved, of course, slow and careful reading of each volume and the taking of copious notes. This had the distressing side-effect on me of making the books unrereadable, so far at any rate, though I mean to return to the charge in the not-too-distant future. I ought to have foreseen this, having published a short book on the works of Ian Fleming, The James Bond Dossier, in 1965, with a roughly comparable amount of work required and the same lasting result. But most people will think this a less lamentable deprivation.

That sly last line made me smile, but I wonder if Amis, who died in 1995, ever did revisit the sequence.

Anyway: that was the last of the books I bought in Halesworth. Next in this prolonged account of mine and Edie and Rachel's summer holidays we'll be heading to the seaside, and thereafter, slightly incongruously, to church.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Suffolk Score – Halesworth: Kingsley Amis, Memoirs (Hutchinson, 1991)

Continuing the showcase of the books I bought at Ann Green Secondhand Books in Halesworth during our (as in, my, Rachel and little Edie's) Suffolk summer holiday, we have this:

A 1991 Hutchinson first edition of Memoirs by Kingsley Amis, jacket design by the Senate, photograph of Amis by Lord Snowdon. Regular readers of this blog – of which there must be at least four or five by now – will know of my enthusiasm for a good many of Amis's novels, in particular The Anti-Death League, The Green Man and Ending Up, but I'm just as happy to read his non-fiction. His Memoirs are unusual in their structure, consisting, as Amis puts it in his introduction:

...not of a connected narrative but of a series of essays or sketches. Most of them are about individuals I have known more or less well. Most of the others are about self-contained episodes of my life, like my time in the army or my trip to Prague in 1966, though here again I have tried to focus on others rather than myself. I have done so not out of self-effacement but for several other reasons. Most writers lead dull lives whether or not those lives may be fun to lead, and are likely to be boring to read about in any detail. Writing directly about my own would anyway not appeal to me, even if I had a good memory for that kind of thing and had kept diaries with any persistence.

Even so, Amis goes on to admit that:

...there is probably quite enough about me in these pages, more than I intended or realise. And I have already written an account of myself in twenty or more volumes, most of them called novels. Novels they full are, too, and those who know both them and me will also know that they are firmly unautobiographical, but at the same time every word of them inevitably says something about the kind of person I am. 'In vino veritas – I don't know,' Anthony Powell once said to me, 'but in scribendo veritas – a certainty.'

All of which means that the Memoirs probably don't contain the episode where Amis fell down drunk in a ditch outside Anthony Price's house. Shame. On the plus side, however, there is this:

This copy is signed by Amis. Huzzah.

Amis mentions Anthony Powell above, and devotes a chapter of his Memoirs to his friend and fellow writer – and quite by chance Powell is the author of the third and final book I found in Ann Green Secondhand Books, actually during my second visit to the place (I missed it the first time round): a highly scarce volume of Powell's celebrated A Dance to the Music of Time sequence...

Tuesday 10 September 2013

The Secondhand Bookshops of Suffolk: Halesworth, Guest-Starring C. S. Forester and Ferreira de Castro

After a brief stopover in Essex, we begin the main Suffolk stretch of the thinly-veiled excuse to visit as many secondhand bookshops as possible in a week commonly known as the Jones-Day family holiday at our – i.e. mine and Rachel and little Edie's – base location: Halesworth, a reasonably attractive market town about fifty minutes' drive north of Ipswich. Our friends Ben and Emma had kindly lent us their holiday cottage for the week, and so it was entirely fortuitous (honest, guv) that Halesworth itself turned out to have a secondhand bookshop: Ann Green Secondhand Books, up the top end of the Thoroughfare. Sadly it was closed when we first got there:

not that Edie was too fussed, as you can see; but it was open again by the Tuesday:

and though much of the stock in the shop's single slim room wouldn't look out of place in yer average charity shop, Edie and I both came away with a good selection of books. Two of my finds I'll be blogging about separately as Suffolk Scores – they deserve dedicated posts – but I also found this in a box outside the shop for a quid:

A 1959 Michael Joseph first edition of C. S. Forester's Hunting the Bismarck (alias The Last Nine Days of the Bismarck, and later filmed as Sink the Bismarck!). Forester was recommended to me by spy novelist Anthony Price back in 2011, and although I still haven't made much headway with the particular Forester novel Mr. Price pointed me to – The Sky and the Forest – a flick through Hunting the Bismarck leads me to believe I'll have more luck with this semi-fictionalised account of the pursuit and destruction of Germany's most powerful battleship in 1941. The dust jacket design is by Kenneth Farnhill, to whom I devoted a post last year, and it's strong enough, I feel, to join his other wrappers in my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery. As is the jacket of the book I found here:

Revival Antiques and Collectables, one of Halesworth's handful of antique centres. This particular one boasts a couple of bookcases, from which I plucked this, again for a pound:

A pristine 1963 Hamish Hamilton first edition of The Mission by Portuguese writer and journalist Jose Maria Ferreira de Castro. Not the sort of thing I usually go for, I must admit, but it's an intriguing-looking novella, and quite uncommon in English translation, the Hamilton first being, I believe, the only English-language edition (which I guess explains why there are only three copies available on AbeBooks at present). The wrapper design is by a new name to me – Patricia Davey, who also designed distinctive dust jackets for books by, among others, Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany's, Hamilton, 1958), Raymond Chandler (Playback, Hamilton, 1958), Robert Ruark (Uhuru, Hamilton, 1962) and Iris Murdoch (Bruno's Dream, Chatto, 1969). Her jacket for The Mission is certainly a worthy candidate for inclusion in Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s – and I can reveal that there'll be further additions to the gallery before these Suffolk posts are done.

Before we get to those, though, let's take a look at another Ann Green find – a very special copy of an autobiography by one of my favourite authors...

Monday 9 September 2013

The Secondhand Bookshops of Suffolk (and Essex), or, Wot Me and Rachel and Little Edie Did on Our Summer Hols, 2013 Edition

Back from a week's holiday in the wilds of Suffolk, much of which, you'll be unsurprised to learn, involved me dragging Rachel – my long-suffering partner – and little Edie – our near-four-month-old daughter – round a succession of secondhand bookshops (and one book fair) in various far-flung East Anglian villages and towns – usually on the pretence that said villages and towns were "really picturesque, honest love" (which, to be fair, most of them were). After previous such jaunts I've posted lengthy photo essays depicting our – as in, mine and (often reluctantly) Rachel's – adventures (Edie being a more recent addition), but this time I'm going to break it up a bit, either by town, or by bookshop, or in some exceptional cases by individual books bought – reason being, it strikes me that I still haven't got round to blogging about a good number of the bloody books I bought on our holidays three years ago, and since I've no idea when I'll get round to blogging about them, on this occasion I'm inclined to unveil all of my purchases, rather than, as before, simply post a picture of a big pile of books.

Mind you, there is quite a pile to unpick (not to mention unpack) this time, comprising all manner of first editions and signed editions and spy fiction and crime fiction and non-fiction; although it has to be said it's almost eclipsed by Edie's pile:

which, as you can see, comprises not only fine volumes featuring Noddy, Big Ears and Tiny Ted, but a print for her nursery wall too.

You'll be seeing much more of Edie – and occasionally Rachel – in the ensuing Suffolk-based posts, but before we'd even got as far as Suffolk we managed to squeeze in a visit to a secondhand bookshop I'd been meaning to check out for ages:

Othello's, on the way to Leigh-on-Sea, near where Rachel's folks live in Essex. Not a bad shop as it turned out; prices were reasonable, and though much of the stock of modern firsts (my area of interest) looked like it had been there for a while, there was certainly a lot of it, and I managed to emerge clutching three books (plus one for Edie; see the bottom book in her pile above, The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast) which took my fancy:


British first editions/first impressions of Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs (Heinemann, 1989), Peter Cheyney's Dark Bahama (Collins, 1950) and Elmore Leonard's Touch (Viking, 1988). However, as I would soon discover, there was even better to come in Suffolk...