Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books, September 18, 2009

William Gay reading.

I'll be away all day today and will fix up any mistakes and add a summing up late tomorrow. Thanks to all of these wonderful contributors.

Rob Kitchin works at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth and is
the author of the police procedural, The Rule Book.
Rommel’ ‘Gunner Who?’ is the second book in a seven book series charting the experiences of Spike Milligan during and immediately after
the Second World War.  Born in 1919 in India to an Irish father serving
in the British Indian Army and English mother, and passing away in 2002,
Milligan is widely regarded as one of Britain’s most famous and
influential comedians in the second half of the twentieth century, known
for his surrealist and off-beat sketches and wise-cracks, influencing
acts such as Monty Python, Kenny Everett and Eddie Izzard. Prior to the
war he performed as an amateur jazz trumpeter in London, a role he
continued whilst serving in North Africa and Italy, and after being
wounded and hospitalised in Italy he ended the war as a full time
entertainer. After being demobbed, he shot to fame as one of the
co-creators and principal writer of The Goon Show, one of the most
popular radio programmes of the 1950s. By the late 1950s he was writing
for television and regularly appearing on the small screen. He was also
a noted writer, poet and playwright.

‘Stop it at once!’ said Dawson through his own laughter. We stopped.
‘Now stop it, or I’ll kill the bloody lot of you.’ A white star shell
lit the night.

‘What’s that?’ said Ernie Hart.

‘That, Ernie, means a child has been born in Bethlehem,’ I said.

‘Well, he’s two months late and the wrong bloody map reference.’
Another two star shells.

‘She’s had triplets,’ said Ernie. After an hour we reached the O.P. hill.

‘This way,’ said Bombardier Fuller. Birch and I followed with reel.

‘Stop that fokin’ noise,’ hissed an angry Irish voice, ‘you’ll get us
all fokin’ mortared.’

We took the spindle from the drum and unwound by hand. More flares,
suddenly a rapid burst of automatic fire. It was a Spandau, a return
burst, the unmistakable chug, chug, chug of a Bren gun. A flare
silhouetted us beautifully for the whole Afrika Korps to see. ‘Freeze,’
hissed Fuller. I had one leg raised when he said it. Somewhere a
German O.P. officer was saying, ‘Himmel! zey are using one-legged
soldiers.’ The flares fade. Fuller says, ‘I’m lost.’

‘I thought you’d never say it,’ I said.

We groped our way back to the party who were inside the Bren practising
fear and smoking.

I read the first six of the Milligan war diaries when I was a teenager
in the 1980s and I still have four of them, this one being the earliest
I have. ‘Rommel’ ‘Gunner Who?’ focuses on Gunner Milligan’s time in
Algeria, especially on the battle for Tunis, and draws extensively from
his war time diary including sketches and photographs. It also includes
joke pictures and little comedy scripts. It’s probably about 25 years
since I first read the book so it was interesting to go back and take
another look. In many ways it still holds up. The narrative is
engaging and witty, blending in pathos in just right measure.
Milligan’s story is interesting, traversing across North Africa swapping
artillery bombardments, being mortared and shot at, witnessing death and
destruction, letting off steam in bars, and the camaraderie of young men
in engaged in a dangerous endeavour. In other ways, it seems quite
dated, especially in relation to the politically incorrect language.
Several times, racist jokes are made at the expensive of the locals and
places are described in racist terms, for example, he calls a couple of
settlements ‘a wog village’. In this sense it is a product of its time,
but Milligan was well aware of such racist sentiments at the time of its
writing given criticisms of some of his other works which in trying to
address racial stereotyping reproduced what it sought to counter (I’m
thinking here of the television programme Curry and Chips). As
autobiographies go, it’s a largely enjoyable and informative read. As I
remember it, the next two books in the series were the best ones –
Monty, His Part in My Victory and Mussolini, His Part in My Downfall.

Margaret from BooksPlease
I'm a lifelong bookaholic and I started BooksPlease in April 2007. I t
rained and worked for a while as a librarian in a local history library and then as a cataloguer. More recently I worked in local government.My blog is mainly about the books I’ve been reading and those I’m considering reading. Now and then I also write about places I’ve visited and personal anecdotes or thoughts. I like to read a variety of book genres and I enjoy fiction of most types (I don’t like horror) and non-fiction, mainly history, philosophy, religion, biography, diaries and letters.

I'm not sure if Patricia Wentworth's Miss Maud Silver books can really be considered as "forgotten books", especially as I found The Brading Collection on the library shelves. At any rate I wasn't familiar with her books so I thought maybe it would fit the bill.I knew nothing about Patricia Wentworth, except the little that was stated in the book itself. She was born in India in 1878 and wrote dozens of best-selling mysteries being recognised as one of the "mistresses of classic crime." She died in 1961 and was as popular in the 1940s as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers. Miss Silver "was her finest creation".In The Brading Collection a worried Lewis Brading asks Miss Silver for help. He is obsessed by a feeling that something is going on behind his back, that whilst he is asleep someone is entering the annex to Warne House where he keeps his collection of jewellery, most of which has some connection with crime. Miss Silver, who has been compared by some to Miss Marple, is a former governess, now a private investigator, takes a dislike to him and refuses to take on his case. However when, a fortnight later, he is shot she helps the police to discover his murderer.As you would expect there are several suspects and the sequence of events leading up to the murder are carefully scrutinised by Miss Silver, described as a ... dowdy little governess out of a family out of a family photograph ... her hair very neat, her oldfashioned hat a little crooked, her hands in their black thread gloves folded primly upon a shabby bag with a tarnished clasp.(page 148)She looks as though she had just stepped out of a family photograph album of about forty years earlier. She is never seen without her flowered knitting bag and knits throughout the book, even when interviewing people; she quotes from Tennyson and has a razor-sharp mind. Behind her appearance, she has... an intelligence which commanded respect ... an integrity, a kindness, a sort of benign authority.(page 148)It all hinges on the timing of events, when people visited Lewis in the annex, whether the door was locked and who had a key. The suspects include Lewis’s secretary, James Moberley, reluctantly working for him under threat of exposure as a criminal, and his cousin and heir Charles Forrest, suspected by Stacy his ex-wife of stealing the Brading family necklace to fund the conversion of his family home into flats. Then there are Myra Constantine, who looks like a toad, ugly and venomous with flashing black eyes and her daughters, Milly and Hester, insignificant and bullied by her mother. Why does Hester enter the annex late at night? Is Lilias Gray, Charles’s cousin a reliable witness? It all builds up to a climax with a dramatic ending, involving a car chase, reminding me of cops and robbers films, as the culprit drives off in a police car, chased by the furious Inspector Crisp.
All in all this is a satisfying book, with believable characters and plenty of surprises, although I had worked out who did before the dénouement. I’m glad I found Patricia Wentworth and as there is a long list of her books there are plenty more to read.

Richard S. Wheeler is the author of sixty-nine contracted or published novels that largely deal with the American West. These include historical novels, biographical novels, and traditional western fiction. In recent years he's been writing mysteries, including some set in the upper Midwest, under the pseudonym Axel Brand. I've also written numerous short stories. You can find Richard here.

Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, by A. Scott Berg

I've finished rereading Scott Berg's great biography of Maxwell Perkins, which won the National Book Award in 1978. It is a massive book and took a week to get through. I've often wondered why it is my favorite book, and why I return to it with renewed thirst and joy, every little while.

For a long time, I thought it was because I had been a book editor and found common ground with Perkins. Or perhaps it was because my family is rooted in New England, though I grew up in the Midwest. There was something in Max Perkins' shy, awkward, introspective nature that rang bells in me.

The truth of it is that I have no idea why that book stands above all others in that place of the heart where I build altars. It is largely a description of the way Perkins, a Scribners editor, nurtured several wayward authors and the result was the most sublime period in American literary history. The list of those he encouraged and published is too long for this posting, but they include Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Ring Lardner, Edmund Wilson, Erskine Caldwell, Sherwood Anderson, John P. Marquand, S. S. Van Dine, Taylor Caldwell, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Alan Paton, and James Jones. No other editor has even come close to discovering and publishing a list like that.

Scott Berg writes tenderly. He had his hands full, because of the acrimony, the disappointments, the bitterness, the craziness, the hurt, that he was chronicling. Somehow Perkins managed to nurture each of his authors, supplied the specific criticisms that lifted their books to new heights, all the while trying to remain anonymous because he felt that editors should not take credit or be known to the public. He often said that a book belongs to the author, and it is the editor's task simply to bring out the best in the author and the book.

This great work by Berg shaped me. It deeply affected how I think about literature. It changed what I aspire to in my writing. I am not the same person I was before this book entered the place of honor on my shelf. I lost my father, whom I loved and admired, when I was young. All those authors he nurtured lost a father when Max Perkins died.

Rick Robinson: Killer in the Rain

Raymond Chandler stories originally published 1934-1941collection © 1964Ballantine Books 1977 paperback mystery short story collection Contains 8 stories: “Killer in the Rain”, “The Man Who Liked Dogs”, “The Curtain”, “Try the Girl”, Mandarin’s Jade”, “Bay City Blues”, “The Lady in the Lake," “No Crime in the Mountains”.

These stories by Chandler are both less and more than they seem. Every one of them was cannibalized by him and became part of a novel. Sometimes it was a character or two who made the transition, more often it was whole pieces of plot, in some cases the entire story became a novel, with only more plot and a few name changes.
In his informative introduction, Philip Durham traces the publication and cannibalization of these eight stories, part or all of which became The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely and The Lady in the Lake.
None of the stories in this collection appears in Chandler’s 1950 “official” short story collection The Simple Art of Murder. Once Chandler cannibalized a story he believed it should be buried, so the stories were left to fade away with the pulp magazines in which they were originally published, thus none of these stories was published by Chandler during his lifetime, though three were published in collections. “No Crime in the Mountains” appeared in Great American Detective Stories edited by Anthony Boucher (1945), “The Man Who Liked Dogs” appeared in Joseph Shaw’s The Hard Boiled Omnibus. (1946) while “Bay City Blues” appeared in Verdict (1953). Chandler maintained these stories were published by mistake and without his permission.
I bought this collection when I first discovered Chandler, and I enjoyed it greatly. It was my introduction to his writing, and I read it, Simple Art and Pickup On Noon Street before I ever got to one of his novels. When I did start on the novels – with The Big Sleep if I recall correctly - I was so enthralled I didn’t notice the pieces of these stories. Or I may hav e and just don’t remember now.
This collection is easy enough to find through the usual used book channels, and while these stories are not in the two volume Library of America set of Chandler’s works, they are to be found in the 1,300 page Raymond Chandler: Collected Stories published by Everyman’s Library, which contains all of Chandler’s short fiction, mystery and other. Whatever the source, it’s worth seeking these out. Very highly recommended.

I am an Australian who loves to read, travel and take photographs and when I can combine all three I am in heaven. I've always had a preference for mysteries and crime but over the past couple of years seem to have read almost to the exclusion of all else.

Bill Crider
Clea Simon
Kerrie Smith
Steve Lewis
Randy Johnson
Todd Mason
James Reasoner
George Kelley
Jeff Cohen
Eric Peterson
Paul Bishop
Rick Robinson
B.V. Lawson
Scott Parker

1 comment:

Scott D. Parker said...

I've got one, the sequel to last week's Tarzan of the Apes at my blog: