Six Strange Summer Reads


It’s the time of year when every newspaper gives us a list of summer reads, books selected – sometimes with the publishers’ collusion – to appeal to its particular demographic, so romances in Tuscan villas for the Sunday Times, and First World War exploits for the Telegraph.

There are plenty of good reads around this summer, many enjoyable but ultimately forgettable. Over the years I have developed a fondness for stranger fare, so here are six you may only enjoy if you’re as weird as me.

1. Maggie Muggins by Keith Waterhouse

When was the last time you read a comic novel? I love Wodehouse, but I rediscovered the delightful Waterhouse too, and wish more of his books were in print. Billy Liar is rightly famous (still, I’d like to think) but Maggie Muggins is overlooked. A pity because it’s also brilliant, but odder. It describes one day in the life of a rapidly burning out alcoholic hungover woman as she schleps from Earl’s Court to Soho, and captures the surreal comedy and tragedy of urban life perfectly.

2. Scoundrels by Cornwall & Trevelyan

Imagine one of those gung-ho Edgar Wallace-y type novels full of ripping exploits and stirring adventures, filtered through a modern tongue-in-cheek sensibility, and this is what you get; from climbing Everest to annoying Eva Braun, these chaps do it all with a cheery smile and a slap on the back. It’s been a long time since I whipped through a book with the same slapdash zeal as the authors. There’s a second volume threatened.

3. Poolside

What, no editor? This is an anonymously-edited anthology of short stories with an unusual theme. All of the tales feature swimming pools. And the roll-call of authors is pretty amazing, from Edna O’Brien to Ernest Hemingway, Fay Weldon to John Updike – and of course, John Cheever’s ‘The Swimmer’. But best of all, the paperback is completely waterproof!

4. Herewith The Clues! by Dennis Wheatley

The most bonkers of Wheatley’s murder mysteries, this one is, like the others, bound with ribbon and features a raft of photographs all posed for by the social-climbing Wheatley’s famous friends, although I can’t imagine the presence of The Lady Stanley of Alderley bumped up sales much. As with the earlier volumes, this contains little packets holding clues like cinema tickets, hair and fag ends. Although it boasts; ‘Five Times as many clues!’

5. Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rhames: The D’Antin Manuscript by Luis Van Rooten

This unique trick book appears to the untutored eye to be a dry annotated volume of obscure French poetry, complete with mediaeval woodcuts. The best way to give it to someone is not to tell them anything about it, and wait for the penny to drop. For this is a rare example of homophonic translation, a literary device that transforms a text in one language to its pronunciation into another with an entirely different meaning. Opening the pages to one poem we find:

‘Un petit d’un petit

S’étonne aux Halles

Un petit d’un petit

Ah! degrés te fallent’

Because of course, the book’s phonetic title, ‘Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rhames’, is ‘Mother Goose Rhymes’, and those four lines introduce us to Humpty Dumpty. Luis then annotates each passage to explain the new meaning of the poem, thus rendering the translation into twisted, hilariously pseudo-philosophical gibberish. Remember to take the wraparound cover off the book if you buy it, as the most recent editions have stupidly given the game away on the front. You can read more about Van Rooten in ‘The Book of Forgotten Authors’.

6. Censored: A Lierary History of Subversion & Control by Fellion & Inglis

Fancy something a bit heavier at the beach? Try this, a startling saunter through the Fahrenheit 451 hitlist, from bibles to Fanny Hill, Zola to Wilde, Lolita to The Satanic Verses. Oh, how we love to be outraged, while queueing for first editions. Time has stayed on the side of the authors while the censors have been forgotten. I’m with the banned.

7 comments on “Six Strange Summer Reads”

  1. Jan says:


    Hope you enjoyed the match I was working + could not watch the final penalties just didn’t have the bottle to watch – I could hear singing from Bridport pubs when I was on my way home. Just wonderful!

    Here’s hoping we make the final. Come on England!

  2. Helen Martin says:

    You startled me with Maggie Muggins. A Canadian of my generation would say she was a little girl with red pigtails and a friend named Mr. Magarrity (don’t know the spelling – it was mostly a radio program.)
    We’ve had the Mots d’Heures before and I can’t imagine how much work must have gone in their creation.
    The waterproof Poolside seems familiar, too.
    (Congrats, England for hanging in there.)

  3. Denise Treadwell says:

    Could barely watch! I dread penalty kicks, but what a triumph!

  4. Roger says:

    Was there a Shakespearean version of Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rhames, or am I having false memories again? The problem with summer reading is that it’s got to be exciting enough to keep you awake but not so exciting that you’ll find something else to do instead.

    A book would have to be very boring to persuade me to watch football instead. I’m not sure whether to – entirely theoretically – support England because friends of mine are happier if they win – or think they would be happier if they ever won – or equally abstractly support someone – anyone – everyone? – else because at least I won’t have to listen to people enthuse about them for several months afterwards.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Roger, the answer here is to cheer for Iceland or Croatia since we haven’t made it into the competition. Except for our women and men seem to think that doesn’t count.

  6. SimonB says:

    I’m cheering for England because I got them in the office sweepstake draw…

  7. Jan says:

    Helen that clapping thing the overhead hand clap is worth watching any Iceland match for.
    They make a great sort of noise at the same time.

    Plus it’s grand place to do your frozen food shop.
    ( Maybe you need to be a Brit to get that last bit. )

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