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.
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.